Friday, August 31, 2012

PAX Prime 2012, Day One  


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PAX: Today was the first official day of PAX Prime 2012.


Once again taking place in the Washington State Trade & Convention Center located in downtown Seattle, there was more to see and do than one humble writer could possibly cover. However, I did my very best, and here is what I saw…

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Starting the day off was a quick chat with Harrison Pink, lead designer of The Walking Dead, Episode 3: Long Road Ahead. Harrison was a great guy, and very easy to talk to. His enthusiasm for the series was obvious, and with Ep. 3 still fresh in my mind (I just finished it last night) I had plenty of questions. Here are some highlights from that chat:


>Telltale has been listening closely to player feedback from the previous two episodes, and they are tuning the content ahead conscientiously.

>Episode 4 is aimed to increase the level of stress and tension to an even higher degree than was seen in Episode 3, and if you haven't already played through 3, let me tell you... it is certainly no picnic.

>Lead developers left the infamous “batteries" puzzle in Episode 1 because they thought it was funny, but there are lines of dialogue in both Ep 2 and 3 that call back to how silly it was.

>Work is happening on the remaining episodes concurrently, and the goal is to have the entire series available and in player hands before the end of the year.

>Kenny’s odd responses in Ep. 2 was simply a bug, and not player misinterpretation, as some people have suggested.

>The muddled final scene in Ep. 2 was simply intended to let the player know that they were not as safe as they assumed they were, and nothing more.

>Robert Kirkman plays the new episodes when everybody else does (his choice) and not before.

>Telltale’s next major release will be based on the comic series Fables, but there is currently talk of a "second season" of The Walking Dead. This is not confirmed, however, and there were no details available.

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Moving on, I hit the Capcom booth next. I've never been the biggest fan of Devil may Cry even though I thought the re-release of DMC3 was quite good, but the revamp being led by Ninja Theory looks like it may be the best game of the series overall.


Main character Dante’s younger, brunette-er design was appealing, and the way his weapon morphed into different forms to suit the occasion continued the legacy of fast action while lending a slightly different flavor, creatively. As he made his way down the streets of a demonically-twisted city, the graphics were nicely gritty and detailed, and he's now got grab/pull abilities that make a slight platforming element possible while leaping about the walls and roof tops. I need to see more, but the demo that I saw was quite convincing.

Before I left Capcom, I took a quick peek at Lost Planet 3. I enjoyed the first two games in the series, so I'm assuming that I would probably enjoy this third one, as well. 


It seemed closer in terms of design to the first than the second (single-player focus, snowy environments, etc.) and the graphics were quite sharp. If nothing else, it looks great.

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Although I did not have time to have a hands-on with the new Tomb Raider (hopefully I will manage that before the convention is over) I was quite impressed with the parts that I did see. For starters, it's visually amazing. In the section being demoed, Lara was hunting deer in an open-world forest environment. Seeing her move about looks quite natural, and there is no question that the overall tone of the game is quite different than anything that's ever been done in a Tomb Raider before.


After bagging her deer, she returned to a makeshift camp. Once there, a skill tree opened up with a variety of survival-based options that could be improved. This particular aspect is absolutely new to the series, and quite intriguing... with any luck, I will have more to say on this one later.

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I don't have much interest in PC gaming, but watching Primal Carnage made me wish it was getting a console port. Basically, it's a multiplayer combat game with the teams being mercenaries versus dinosaurs. 


The humans toting guns part didn't look super engaging, but adding the dinos really changed things up… speaking of which, why aren't there more games where players can control dinosaurs? 

Seriously, people.

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Next up was X-Com: Enemy Unknown. Sitting through the presentation, it was interesting to hear the person speaking comment on the fact that most of the people in the audience probably had no experience with the original games, and potentially no experience with turn-based strategy. As sad as that sounds to me, he was probably correct.


In any event, as someone who was a huge fan of the original from back in the day, I have to say that this game looked completely f****** awesome. It is essentially the exact same game that I knew and loved years ago, only given a massive graphical upgrade and a few other twists that bring it into the modern age, such as adding small incidental animations to increase the adrenaline factor of combat.

For example, moving a soldier into a cover point inside a building from an isometric perspective is all well and good, but seeing that same soldier charged ahead and burst through a door in a close-up action view made the game feel incredibly dynamic.

Management aspects of the game (alien research, weapons research, etc.) are still intact, and it's quite clear that the people behind this update had no intention of fixing the original formula, which was in no way broken. Slicker graphics and a few tweaks here and there was all that I thought was necessary, and it seems like the developers agreed. I'm so incredibly hyped for this right now, you don't even know.

You don't even know.

(P.S. - the commander of the in-game demo squad was Sid Meier. How cool is that?)

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If you read this blog, you know the sort of appreciation I have for the original Dead Island. I'm a big, big fan. Naturally, Dead Island: Riptide would be on my radar, so I made a point of seeing it as soon as possible. I did. And... well…


Frankly, although the game being shown was in a "pre-alpha" stage, I thought the section the developers chose to demo was quite boring and inappropriate. Apparently, the segment was taken from a few hours into the campaign where the players have to defend a structure from oncoming waves of zombies.I'm sure it would be fine to play through when taken in the context of the campaign, but all we got to see was the developers shooting zombies in the same small environment for too long.

I was itching to see some of the new weapons and new environments, and the developers stated that there will be a new character joining the original cast. Unfortunately, we were not shown any of this. I don't mean to sound negative because I'm certainly a fan, but it was deflating to be given such a small, uninspiring section of what we can look forward to.

In terms of facts, here's the scoop: at the end of Dead Island, the players escape in a helicopter and head (we assumed) to the mainland. Nope. I was told that at the beginning of Dead Island: Riptide, the players have a brief series of mishaps and end up on a neighboring island chain. The developers value the tropical setting, so we are getting that again.

Key differences? Apparently water plays a much bigger role, and the player is able to drive boats around in an open-world fashion. Zombies will also attack from underwater, so being afloat doesn't guarantee safety. In addition, new weapons and a fifth playable character who apparently has a skill set completely different from any of the previous four. There have also been some tweaks to make the multiplayer a better experience for those who group up, and the main campaign should deliver between 20 to 30 hours of gameplay that basically mirrors the original.

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Later in the day, I made my way to Konami’s offsite area and got my hands on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The demo was fairly short, but it gave a good idea of what the larger game would be like.

Set in a VR training mission, the player learns how to use "sword mode" where time stands still and main character Raiden can alter the position of his sword to instantly slice through an object in any direction or any angle. However, this power is only available when Raiden has a sufficient amount of energy. When he's running low, the game reverts back to a more traditional form of combo-based swordplay.


Slicing through objects is great at first, but the appeal wore off slightly when I tried to slice through a small cell door and was completely stopped. So apparently, Raiden can crack the armored outer hall of a Gekko assault cyborg, but is defeated by third-world architecture.

The other power on display in the demo was his "ninja run" where he takes off at a reasonable clip (I expected faster, honestly) and will auto-parkour his way over anything in his path. Towards the end of the content, an assault helicopter launched a volley of missiles at him, and by holding the run button, he sprinted up into the air, hopping from missile to missile.

It sounds cool when I describe it here, but when I was playing, it felt very scripted and not at all like the kind of thing that could be performed at a player's discretion. I could be completely wrong, but that was what I took away from it. I'm definitely interested to see more of Revengeance, but Metal Gear has lost some of its cachet with me recently, and there were certain elements of the demo that gave me a little bit of a spider sense tingle. We'll see.

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This brings an end to my report from PAX Prime 2012, day one. Tune in tomorrow for more impressions from the show floor!

Preview: State of Decay, XBLA & PC  


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Preview: Although PAX Prime doesn't officially begin until tomorrow (or rather, later today by the time you read this) there were a few events happening in Seattle before the show opened. One such was a preview for an upcoming XBLA/PC game called State of Decay. The developers, Undead Labs, were kind enough to extend an invitation to see the Alpha build, and I was glad to accept.




I didn't know much about the game other than that it was an open-world, third-person title about surviving a zombie apocalypse. A quick look at one of the trailers got me incredibly intrigued, and after having the chance to talk with several of the people responsible for creating the game, I got even more fired up.

There's a lot to discuss with regard to State of Decay, but the first thing that’s important to note is that it takes a much different approach to its zombie theme than most of the competition. Although I can certainly understand some players feeling burned out on the undead, I would say that very few games which feature zombies have attempted to address the survival aspects of the concept in a cursory fashion, much less in any substance. SoD bases its entire experience around it.

The game takes place in a huge tract of land with two central towns and numerous other areas to explore. Although it's officially set in "Anytown, USA”, it was suggested that the team took some inspiration from Eastern Washington state -- a hot, dry, rural area that stands in stark contrast to the tech metropolis currently booming underneath the Space Needle.




The player is free to go absolutely anywhere on this map, and every building on it can be opened and entered for the purposes of exploration, hiding from the undead, or scavenging for supplies. Scattered cars can be commandeered for faster travel, but characters are easily able to scale slopes, hop fences, and otherwise move in a natural, logical fashion through the landscape.

As the player explores, they will come across survivors. Some will be friendly and some not-so-friendly, but at this point, there are reportedly no hostile human factions to contend with, just the undead. After meeting people, the player has to build relationships with them before they can be recruited. Once trust is established, the player is able to switch from their original character and take control of them.

I was quite curious about this player-swapping, so after a few more questions, it was explained that State of Decay takes a "community" approach. Rather than investing in any one particular character, the player is encouraged to take turns with each member of their group in various ways. The most obvious one is that each character has a limited amount of health and stamina. Frequent activity will drain this, and it can only be replenished by letting that character rest. To continue playing, a fresh character must be put into action while the exhausted one hits the hay.




Another interesting way of encouraging these other characters to be used is that they each have varying skill sets. While the combat-centered former soldier is sleeping in the barracks, the former gardener can tend the vegetables in a guarded safe-zone planting area to increase the food supply available to the group. Another character may be great with carpentry, another may be a faster runner, and so on. While many skills are common to all characters, there will definitely be an advantage to putting those with special aptitudes on work details which suit them.

This brings me to what is probably the most unexpected and fascinating part of State of Decay - the sim aspect.

Once a sufficient number of people have been returned it into the group, the player can assign them different roles in a variety of locations. Some can tend the safe houses and outposts which are built by the player, some can staff clinics, some can help research new weapons and generate ammunition, and so on. For the community to survive, it will take more than one gung-ho hero chopping heads off of the undead to win the day. In this game, every able hand must pitch in, and the player controls it all.




One of the developers shared an interesting example of how this might play out when he described discovering some ammunition in a house on the other side of the map. He radioed back to headquarters and told one of his non-active characters where the supplies were, and then that character used pathfinding AI to make its way to the goal. As that character was traveling, it picked up a pack of zombies as it crossed town, so the developer hopped in a car and ran down the horde to in order to give the runner some assistance.




There's quite a bit more to say on this game, but it's quite late and I have a full day of PAX in the morning. (Sorry, just keeping it real.) In the interest of saving time, let me rattle some of these factoids off, rapid-fire style:

>Staff members include an animator from God of War and a writer from Fallout: New Vegas
>Every character in the game suffers nonrecoverable permadeath if taken down by zombies.
>Players can order non-active characters to perform various tasks all across the map in real time.
>There are 20 ‘major’ characters and 30 minor ones.
>Both XBLA and PC versions will be single-player, and feature identical content.
>The game can be played indefinitely, but there is a campaign with an ending.
>All dialogue will feature full voice acting.

At this point, the game has been in development for around two years. There is no question that the team still has more work ahead of them, but what I saw today was quite impressive. Toss in the fact that it's a downloadable XBLA title, and what they've created seems to approach a scale and complexity currently unmatched on the service.




If you're attending PAX Prime this year, the developers and State of Decay will be on the show floor. If you're not, then stay tuned for further updates on this one in the future. I've got my eye on it, and my inner zombie fan is positively rotten with anticipation...

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Interview with: Nels Anderson, on Mark of the Ninja  


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Interview: Ninjas. Action movie fans and people who dig throwing sharp metal objects love them. Corrupt merchants and power-mad ministers working against the Shogunate hate them. 

Either way, there’s no denying their presence in popular culture over the years - all you need to do is mention the word, and everyone instantly conjures a mental image of a shadowy figure dressed in black, performing amazing physical feats and moving as silently as a whisper.

… Unless you're a game developer, that is. 

Looking back at the various ninjas that have populated the gamescape over the years, the vast majority of them have focused on combos and combat, rather than truly employing stealth to its greatest degree. Klei Entertainment wants to change all that. With their upcoming XBLA release, Mark of the Ninja, they aim to bring sneaky back, and they're doing it in a big way - 2D.




I was fortunate enough to speak with Nels Anderson, lead designer on Mark of the Ninja while playing a chunk of the game that clearly demonstrated the ways it stands apart from the competition. 

Here's what Nels had to say.


Thanks for speaking with me, Nels. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and with your relationship to Mark of the Ninja?

I'm Nels Anderson and I'm the lead designer for MotN. My background is actually rather technical- I have a BS and MS in Computer Science. Prior to working on Mark of the Ninja, I was at Hothead Games working on DeathSpank, where I did a lot of the gameplay programming on those couple of titles.


He flipped up and clung to the ceiling right after I snapped this.

How does MotN differ from other ninja games, and why did you want to create it?

Heh, well the biggest difference is that Mark of the Ninja is a game actually about being sneaky! Aside from Tenchu, nearly all ninja games are ultraviolent, brutal, pure action games. And while that's fine, you can make solid games that way, that's certainly not the only (or the most interesting) thing you can do. Ninjas so clearly afford being agile, stealthy, clever, etc. So we wanted to make a game actually about those aspects of the ninja archetype. Plus, personally I love stealth games and as a designer, I think it's a very interesting "genre" (or whatever the appropriate term is) to work in.



How tough was it to nail the special visual cues that let the player know whether they are being stealthy enough or not?

Very, very difficult. We only arrived where we did with a ton of experimentation, playtesting, iteration and throwing away lots of work. We played Ninja far, far more than anything we've ever done in the past. The tricky bit is that just about every single aspect of the game has to all be working in concert to ensure the game's systems are clear. For example, with the level art, it wasn't just a matter of creating areas with visual appeal. They had to seem dark, but they couldn't just be black or black. And beyond that, as navigation surfaces, it had to be perfectly readable as to which areas were surfaces could be climbed upon, which could be jumped through, etc. Every aspect of the game had this usability challenge, from environment art, to animation to AI to controls. And the only way we were able to make it work was a ton of iteration and playtesting.


Visual cues tell the player how sneaky they are.

Were there elements to the game that you weren't able to get to work, or that had to be left out for any reason?

I don't think there's anything that we left out that we didn't want to. There were plenty of things we left out just because we didn't like how they were working. Originally we experimented with a more robust and complicated combat system, but it ended up making the game far more of a brawler. We absolutely wanted Ninja to be a stealth game, so we tweaked and adjusted that until it go to where we wanted it. There were a number of other things like that, including the ability to stop time in a localized area, that while they may sound cool, didn't produce good gameplay at all.



Is it possible to complete the game without killing anyone, as in, being completely stealthy?

It absolutely is! The whole game can be completed without killing anyone. I'm not going to say it's just as easy as a more ... unmerciful route, but it's certainly possible. It definitely changes how you approach the game too. There are certain items and equipment that facilitate that total stealth playstyle if they player wants to pursue them. Because that was really the game's mantra- player choice. I explicitly did not want the game to be a series of challenges where you just have to find the right solution or right ability. It's a game about providing the player with a set a tool (and that includes their ability to understand the game's systems) and then to approach the game's challenges as they see fit.



What is the most difficult achievement in the game to earn?

Hmmm ... probably the "Ghost" achievement, which is award for completing an entire level without killing a single enemy and without being detected once.


Thief - PC

What is your favorite stealth game (other than this one) and why?

I'd probably say Thief. The setting is interesting and familiar, without being derivative. The systems are robust, and the level design is incredibly tight.



What is “the Mark” of the ninja?

Heh, this refers to the tattoos the player's character receives. These tattoos give whoever receive them great ability. Nothing supernatural, but height of human possibility. Like being an Olympic athlete in 15 different events. However, whoever receives these tattoos is also driven insane, so the clan has ritualized their use. They're only given when the clan's very survival is threatened and when the crisis is resolved, the tattooed ninja will kill him/herself before they become a danger to themselves and the clan.



Best ninja movie ever? Worst ninja movie ever?

Nearly all ninja media is really, really cornball. There are a few movies from Japan, mostly in the 60s-70s, about ninja that are pretty solid though. The Shinobi no Mono series (I think there are 8 films, I didn't watch them all) is a good example. While not exactly ninja, the films based on Lone Wolf & Cub manga were quite good too. As for the worst, well, anything of this ilk would do.




It's nighttime. There's a full moon overhead, and you're in a traditional Japanese Courtyard, on a sneaking mission for your clan. You can hear guards approaching. You've got seconds before you’re discovered. What do you do?

 Leave a jug of liquor sitting by a well, leap into the well and press against the walls inside. Once the guards find the booze, cheer their good fortune, they'll be even less useful than they already were. Plus, they'll take the blame for their lapse of duty when something is stolen. Blame is a powerful ally and a ninja needs any advantage they can get.

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Infinite thanks to Nels Anderson and the entire Mark of the Ninja team. Also to Klei, for helping such a great project come to fruition. If you'd like to know more about the game, you can click on over to Klei’s website, or just check into the XBLA Marketplace on September 7th, when the game is released!

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Being a Pirate  


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Games: For my next big review, I've been working on Risen 2: Dark Waters (360). 


I was a big fan of the first Risen, and I was always disappointed that the game never got the credit I felt it was due. It was rough, to be sure, and I can understand why a certain section of people wouldn't give it the time of day. That said, there was a lot of great stuff happening in that game once you got past appearances, and people who I would've expected to dig into it never did. I was hoping that with the release of Risen 2 that more folks would give a chance, but again, it seems to be getting the cold shoulder.

What I like about it is that it's a smart game. The writing is consistently above average, and has a real sense of wit and humor. It's also smart in the sense that many of the quests are interesting and varied, and they fit well with the game's world.

I also appreciate that there is very little handholding going on in Risen 2. The developers clearly expect the players to puzzle things out for themselves and to make guesses, or use intuition. They don't completely hang you out to dry, but it takes a lot more thinking to get through the game than it would for a standard RPG.


On the other hand, I came very close to abandoning twelve hours of progress because of some poor planning on the part of the developers. I love them, I respect the hell out of them, but I think it's pretty clear that they are consistently shooting for something which is just out of their reach. I mean, I would rather see developers striving to achieve rather than resting on their laurels and turning out the same-old, same-old, but this was one situation that shouldn't have happened.

Essentially, my character is a pirate and I needed one more crewman before I could set sail. I knew that there was a man available in the local jail, but the commanding officer had the key in his pocket. Risen 2 is a game that lets players pick and choose skills as they see fit, but the problem here is that some skills are far more useful than others. Since I was building a lawful-ish pirate who focused on swords and guns, I didn't put any points into pickpocketing. Without being able to pickpocket the commander, I was at a loss to proceed.

After consulting with the game’s PR person, I was informed that there were two other ways to solve the quest -- except I couldn't do those either. I hadn't learned Voodoo, so I couldn't possess the commander. There was a nearby cannon which could have blown the door off of the jail, except that a previous quest told me to sabotage it, so it was no longer in working order.


The simplest fix for this situation would have been for the developers to not give me the quest to sabotage the cannons until the prisoner was out of jail. If that was the case, I could have easily gotten through the quest with no problem. However, all avenues were closed to me, and I was seriously contemplating starting over from scratch to re-spec my character correctly.

It wasn't a preferable option. I might have cried a little bit.

However, I wasn't quite ready to give up hope at that point. Fortunately, there was a lockpick teacher on the other side of the island, and I earned the required gold by selling every item I had. He taught me his lessons, but even so, I still didn't have enough skill. After rummaging around and finishing off one of the final sidequests left open to me, I scraped together enough experience to up my thievery stat, and I was finally able to pickpocket the commander by the skin of my teeth.

Seriously, itwasthisclose.

Although I managed to get myself out of this pickle, it very easily could have gone the other way. If I had completed the sidequest earlier and used those points for a different skill, I would've been stuck. The same goes for the gold. If I had sold some of my inventory off and bought the musket I’d had my eye on, I wouldn't have been able to afford to buy the skill in the first place, and then I would've had no choice but to restart the entire game.

I don't share this story with the intention of scaring people off from Risen 2 - not at all. Although I definitely think hitting this potential game-ender could (and should) have been caught by the developer, I think it says something that I would have been willing to start the game over from square one rather than calling it quits and moving on. There aren't many games when I would've even considered that whether I was on the hook for a review or not, so that speaks to how interesting and rewarding I find this series in certain ways.


My full review will be coming later, but if you're in the market for a roughly-made, challenging WRPG and you don't mind being asked to think a little, check out Risen or Risen 2. Neither are for the faint of heart or those with low tolerance for imperfections, but if you manage to click with either of these, I think you'll find they're worth the effort.

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Giveaway: My good friends over at Hidden Variable gave me five codes for their recently-updated game, Bag It! It's a unique little puzzler where you fit groceries inside of a bag, making matches and being conscious of putting sturdy things on bottom and fragile things on top. 


If you'd like one of these codes, all you have to do is tell me the strangest thing you've ever bought (or done) in a grocery store. Post a comment here and the first five people who do are winners! 



***************PR/NEWS/INFO***************


NIS America proudly announced their plan to release Mugen Souls in North America on October 16 this year exclusively for the PlayStation 3. Mugen Souls features a free-roaming battle map, turn-based combat, and massive amounts of customization and growth to maximize the fun fans can have with the game.


About Mugen Souls
There exists a small galaxy in the universe containing seven worlds, shimmering in seven colors... These worlds exist and act independent of one another. This has allowed them to develop and nurture rich, unique cultures. Then one day, a decree was sent out... “I'm gonna make everything in each of these worlds bow to me!” – The Undisputed Goddess, Chou-Chou

Features
• Expansive worlds to explore: Travel freely on each world to explore and find treasures and items. Monsters are roaming about, so be cautious or fight them head-on and make them your subservient peons! 
• Free-roaming style battle maps: Use Combo attacks to execute spectacular moves with your allies! Destroy Crystals on the battlefield to activate Hyper mode!
• Moe Kill: Execute the Moe Kill technique to enslave enemies and turn them into items by exploiting their weaknesses!
• Customization: Create a full cast of characters! Customizable body parts, facial expressions, and job classes!


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Protect your Vita in style!  Pre-order Persona 4 Golden™ for PlayStation®Vita and receive a free P4G-themed protective Vita skin.  The skin adorns your Vita with the stylish, vibrant aesthetics of Persona 4 while protecting it from small scratches and dust.  It is easy to apply and won't leave any residue when removed.  Also included are 8 exclusive matching wallpapers, each featuring a main character from P4G and all designed to perfectly coordinate with the protective skin.  
Manufactured in Japan by Dezaegg, this Vita skin is the same one made available to Japanese fans, down to the use of the original title for the game, Persona 4: The Golden.

Offer only valid from participating retailers while very limited supplies last.  Not available for individual sale.
Persona 4 Golden is out this Fall exclusively for PS Vita system.  For more info, visit www.atlus.com/p4g.


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Simutronics, the creators of the immensely popular and award-winning Tiny Heroes, today announced the launch of One Epic Knight for free on iOS devices everywhere. A new infinite runner, One Epic Knight features simple controls, numerous upgrades, and addicting gameplay that will amaze free-runner fans with its unparalleled epicness. Download One Epic Knight today on the iTunes App Store - http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/one-epic-knight/id469820028?ls=1&mt=8

In One Epic Knight, players will take charge of an Epic Knight who is on a quest for epic loot. While avoiding spike traps and lava pits, gamers must carefully maneuver through an ever-changing dungeon maze to find secret passages and treasure rooms. Along the way, the Epic Knight can collect swords to combat enemies, shields to break walls and spikes, crystals for extra speed, and a leg of meat to pave a path of destruction. As gamers acquire treasure, they can upgrade the Epic Knight’s armor and weapons and purchase new outfits and power-up potions. No obstacle can prevent the Epic Knight from getting his epic loot!

One Epic Knight stands out from other iOS titles as developer Simutronics enlisted the help of a behavior psychologist while developing the game. This was done to ensure that the movements, animations, and sounds in One Epic Knight were polished and refined, leading to an awesome gameplay experience for fans and gamers everywhere.

Simutronics had previously released a preview trailer for the game, which you can view here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oY62whUckxY&hd=1

Challenge the dungeon and download One Epic Knight from the App Store now -http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/one-epic-knight/id469820028?ls=1&mt=8


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Today, Big Fish, the most trusted global leader in casual games, announces the chance to play Phil Gordon, one of the world's top Texas Hold 'em poker players, on August 31, 2012, in Seattle at the Penny Arcade Expo, a popular gaming conference attended by more than 70,000 consumers. To enter for the opportunity to play Phil Gordon, win a round-trip ticket to Seattle, accommodation for one night, and free entrance into the Penny Arcade Expo, players will need to download the Big Fish Casino app for free  from theiTunes StoreGoogle PlayAmazon Appstore for Android, or Facebook, and start playing in the Texas Hold ‘Em Sit & Go Tournament at the High Roller table in the Big Fish Casino app. 

 The tournament will begin at 12:00:01 a.m. (PT) on August 18, 2012 and end at 11:59:59 p.m. (PT) on August 25, 2012. The winner of each Sit and Go Tournament will be automatically entered into the sweepstakes, and four winners will be drawn on August 27, 2012.  Limit one entry per person and e-mail address per day during the sweepstakes period. The sweepstakes is open to legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, 21 years or older.  NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Odds of winning sweepstakes depend on number of eligible entries received.  See Official Rules for details, including free method of entry. 

More information about Big Fish Casino and Big Fish can be found at www.bigfishgames.com.


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Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack Now Available on Steam for PC
Today we are pleased to announce that indie developer DrinkBox Studios has released Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack on Steam for PC .

Having launched earlier this year on the PlayStation®Vita to critical acclaim, Mutant Blobs Attack has now hit Steam with new features and custom content. In celebration, to sweeten the deal, DrinkBox Studios has opted to put Mutant Blobs Attack on sale for only $7.19 during its first week on Steam,10% off its normal price! That's one heck of a lot of blob for your gaming buck!

Steam Launch Trailer on YouTube: http://youtu.be/lNrd32e64Fg 
Mutant Blobs Attack Steam Page: http://store.steampowered.com/app/206370


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Dear wandering samurai,

We are pleased to announce today that Way of the Samurai 4 has been released as a digital download exclusively for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system on the PlayStation®Network and is now available for purchase at a price of $39.99. The latest sequel in the fan favorite series,Way of the Samurai 4 lets players choose their path as a lone Samurai warrior in the midst of an ongoing power struggle between three feuding factions.

 For more information please check out the official site:www.wayofthesamurai4.com  

Way of the Samurai 4 is rated MATURE with Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity and Sexual Content by the ESRB.


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Dear gunslingers, 

We are pleased to announce today that we have teamed up with Red Entertainment to bring Gungrave: Overdose to Playstation®Network for only $9.99. Originally released in 2004 and popularized by its over-the-top action, flashy firepower, beat-downs with coffins and visual flair by Yasuhiro Nightow of Trigun fame, Gungrave: Overdose is a beloved example of addictive gameplay that brings substance with style to the table.

Set two years after its predecessor, Gungrave, Gungrave: Overdose once again stars fan-favorite Beyond the Grave as he seeks to destroy the narcotics empire Seed, built by the Corisione family. Two more characters, Jyuji Kabane and Rocketbilly Redcadillac, join Beyond the Grave on his mission as playable characters, each with his own unique way of fighting that lives up to the extravagant gameplay the series is known for.
   
Gungrave Overdose is rated MATURE with Blood and Violence by the ESRB.


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Last week Capcom announced Resident Evil.Net, the free online service that will enhance the Resident Evil 6 experience for players across the globe and today sees the official release of a video showcasing all of this service’s features:
·         Comprehensive stat tracking
o   Enemies killed
o   Weapons used
o   Medals earned
o   And more
·         Compare your game with those of friends and other Resident Evil 6 players around the world
·         Link your status with Twitter & Facebook
o   Share your latest achievements with friends
o   Receive alerts when your high score has been beaten
·         Free Smartphone App to launch alongside the service
o   Will support iOS, Android and Windows devices
·         Earn RE.Net points just by connecting to the service or entering events
o   Exchange points for cool items including additional Mercenaries costumes or figures to place in your very ownResident Evil diorama
·         Compete in regular organised events such as:
o   Join fellow gamers to defeat a set number of enemies
o   Aim for a high score in Mercenaries Mode
·         Champion Belt events
o   Compete in these special events to win the ultimate accolade, the Champion’s Belt
o   Can only be held by one player at any time
o   Players will need to defend their title or watch it fall to another player

The free Resident Evil.Net service will be available when Resident Evil 6 launches on October 2 – a date which is now 100% confirmed as the title has passed the gold master stage of development for X630 and PS3, and manufacture of this latest instalment in the multi-million selling series has begun. A PC release will follow soon.


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Natsume Inc., a worldwide developer and publisher of family-oriented video games, unleashed an unprecedented Natsume sale for their PSP library exclusively for PlayStation Plus members.  As part of the Harvest Moon 15th anniversary celebrations, three classic titles from the series have been included in the deep discount.  If you don't already own these titles, at 50-75% off, there's never been a better time!

A total of five Natsume titles are available now at a deeply discounted price on the PlayStation Store exclusively for PlayStation Plus members.  Natsume also hinted via Facebook and Twitter earlier this month that there may be more titles coming to the PlayStation Network, though nothing official was announced at the time.

A full list of the five sale games, with their original release dates, includes:

Adventures To Go! (10/27/2009) - $14.99 USD, sale price $7.50 (50% discount)
Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl (7/31/2007) - $14.99 USD, sale price $7.50 (50% discount)
Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley (5/20/2010) - $29.99 USD, sale price $7.50 (75% discount)
Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon (5/15/2007) - $14.99 USD, sale price $7.50 (50% discount)
Reel Fishing: The Great Outdoors ( 11/6/2006) - $14.99 USD, sale price $7.50 (50% discount)

Players can follow news for all of the beloved Natsume franchises including Harvest Moon and Reel Fishing viawww.natsume.com, or by harvesting all of the latest Natsume news at www.natsume.com/facebook andwww.twitter.com/natsume_inc.                  

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Interview With: Jesse Turner, Artist of Shellrazer (iOS)  


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Interview: While at the most recent Seattle Indie Expo (SIX), I had the chance to meet Jesse Turner, artist for the recent iOS release, Shellrazer. I was blown away by his energy and enthusiasm, and there's no question he's a very talented artist. Dude can draw the hell out of turtles, yo.




Although I didn't have a ton of time at the show, Jesse was quite gracious and willing to follow up with me afterwards, and here's what he (and his teammate Nick Waanders) had to say.


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Thanks very much for taking the time, guys! To start off with, can you tell me who the Shellrazer team is? what are your backgrounds, your previous experiences, and so on?

Jesse: I’ve always drawn a whole pile. I tried film for a bit and moved some lights around, and was a 3D artist in games for about 3 years after that. I drew for cartoons for about a year and through a massive amount of social drinking, ended up here at Slick Entertainment working with Nick.

Nick: I started my professional games industry career in 1999. I’ve worked at Guerrilla Games in the time it was still called Lost Boys Games, and at Relic Entertainment. In 2007 I started Slick Entertainment with a former colleague from LBG. The shipped titles I’ve worked on are Homeworld 2, Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War, The Outfit, Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, N+ (XBLA), Scrap Metal (XBLA, iOS), and Shellrazer.



Jesse Turner, at SIX


So, a turtle with guns on its back. How did Shellrazer come about?

Nick: It started about 9 months ago. My business partner, and also artist at the company, decided it was time for him to do something else. This put me in a bit of a conundrum: Should I continue working on games by myself, or should I go work at an established game studio again? 

I decided to continue by myself, and shortly after that decision was made I met Jesse Turner at the Full Indie meetup, a monthly indie developer meetup in Vancouver. We hit it off and we started working on Nature of the Beast (the working title for Shellrazer). 

After a month we had the prototype ready and we showed it to some people at the next Full Indie meetup. There I met Shane Neville, who also worked at Relic, but at a different time period than me. He signed up for the tuning, design and PR & marketing. A few months of intense development later, we needed audio, and we met with Jennifer Lewis, again at the Full Indie meetup.

Jesse: It was originally going to be a much simpler game with only one weapon on the back of a turtle with rudimentary speed controls. I wasn’t too familiar with touch controls at all, so Nick’s familiarity with the interface really helped give it some legs.

After we had a little prototype with some baddies and weapons we knew we needed some solid design work to make the thing fun so that’s when we got Shane on board.



How long did it take to put Shellrazer together? As the artist, what was your process?

Jesse: We built and shipped Shellrazer in about 6 months. We wanted to make it quicker but after Shane brought a whole bunch of great things to the table we knew it would take a little longer and be worth our while.

I’m a pretty fast artist and I can get stuff done quickly, which made making the game really interesting. Basically we never “Pitched” anything on paper, we just built it and tried it out. This resulted in a lot of things being thrown away but it never really mattered. We also never did revisions to any of the art because it was faster to just redo the whole element. It was the most fun I’ve ever had working on anything and I think you can kinda see that in the final product.





How's the response been?

Jesse: I’d say it’s been pretty positive. our initial costs are handled and people seem to be really enjoying the game. What’s extra cool about the game is that it became a cooperative one between parents and their kids, we never planned anything like that and it just happened really organically.



What are future plans for the IP?

Jesse: We are currently working on a super cool gauntlet mode with weekly leaderboards and maybe even a few new weapons. We are actually looking into carrying the Shellrazer universe into a few different games, it’s so much fun to draw in that universe with such goofy rules I believe we could come up with some really cool stuff.



What you like about iOS as a platform, and what could it do better?


Jesse: I don’t know too much about implementation or technical elements so I’ll steer clear of those. What I really like about the platform is that my art can actually live there out in the open. People who tackle art in a stylized way like myself tend to have a tricky time doing exactly what they want and making a living from it.

Nick: I really dig the iOS platform. It’s basically like programming for a console: if it works on one, it works on all. I think the iOS platform could improve on the discoverability of apps in the Appstore. It’s very hard to get noticed in the flood of games being released on the platform.



Your favorite game/developer/inspiration?

Jesse: My favorite artist in games has always been Dan Paladin over at Behemoth. I pretty much wanted to get into games because of that guy, and he’s always been a huge inspiration to me. I’ve been lucky enough to meet the guy on a few occasions and his genuine personality, kindness, and skill is something that I’ve always wanted to aspire to.





If aliens landed on Earth and told you that they were going to eradicate corn, wheat, or rice and that you could only pick one to save from extinction, which grain would you save, and why?

Nick: I would ask the aliens to come over for a night of poker, and feed them Whiskey (corn), Beer (wheat) and Sake (rice), and see which one they have an explosive reaction to (alien immune systems can’t possibly be resistant to all of these, floating in space for ages like that). Then I’d pick the crop required to make that drink. I’d prefer if their head would explode on beer. I like beer.

Jesse: So I gotta pick between spirits and beer? I guess there’s food or something in the mix but man alive this is a tough one. I think when faced with a race with the technology to eradicate a specific grain I’d be a lot more comfortable drinking myself to death on some good ol’ corn mash whiskey.


https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/images/cleardot.gif

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Infinite thanks to Jesse Turner and Nick Waanders of Slick Entertainment. Shellrazer is now available on the app store, so take a few moments and check it out. I guarantee it will be the neatest game with a gun-toting turtle you'll see this year!


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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Where'd All These games Come From?!?  


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Games: A few weeks ago, it seemed like there wasn't a single thing to play. Now, it seems like there's too much to handle! Jumping right into things...


>Risen 2: Dark Waters (360) I was a huge fan of the original Risen, and although I'm only a few hours into this sequel, it seems to be quite a worthy successor. Taking on a pirate-based theme, the player will explore a series of islands and level their character up as they see fit. 

Giant enemy crab!
The graphics aren't cutting-edge and production quality is a little rough, but the game certainly has it where it counts -- the writing is great, the quests are interesting, and the game really engages the player by refusing to hold their hand and asking them to step up to the challenge. I am definitely looking forward to putting more time into this one.



>Papo & Yo (PSN) Although this game seems like it's been in development forever, I'm a little surprised at how many people haven't even heard of it. In a nutshell, it's a semi-biographical art-house title that functions partially as an environmental puzzler and partially as an extended internal dialogue that's been transformed into something for players to participate in, and witness. 

It's not a lemon!
It's something of a critic’s game in that it eschews much the standard trappings in lieu of providing a more focused experience, but that's quite alright in my book. If you're looking for something different, this is it.



>One Epic Knight (iOS) This one isn't coming out until 8/23, but I've had review code for a few days now. If you're a fan of the auto-run genre, you will definitely want to check this out. While it doesn't completely reinvent the wheel, it adds a lot of depth and variety to a genre that has generally been pretty streamlined. 

Sparklerun!
It's still about running really fast and dodging stuff, but you'd be surprised at how different something like this feels just by adding a few smart tweaks. Also, I am quite happy to say that the developers don't abuse in-app purchases – they’re there if you want them, but they are totally not necessary to enjoy the game. 

SEE WHAT THEY DID THERE, PITFALL?



>Kard Combat (iOS) I stumbled across this one while googling for CCG/Strategy games, and it has quickly become one of my favorites so far. The thing that makes it great is that it's very simple and streamlined, and the UI is totally user-friendly. At the same time, the cards (very similar to something like M:tG) have some interesting interactions with each other, and it definitely feels as though there’s a satisfactory amount of options without being confusing or overwhelming. 

Much simpler than it looks! Trust me!
I've been playing it nonstop for the last two days, and it's still keeping my attention, easily. If you're in the market for something like this, this one is a big winner.


>Gravity Rush (Vita) I hate to end this section on a down note, but if I must, I must. I was waiting for GameFly to send me this one for quite a while, but once I finally got it, I grew bored of it almost immediately. This is doubly heartbreaking not only because the game is visually beautiful, but because the damned Vita has so little to play on it at the moment. 

How can something that looks so awesome end up so boring?
I really thought this one was going to be the game to make me start carrying the Vita around again, but not so. I think after about an hour or so, I had seen all I needed to see and I felt no desire whatsoever to return to it. I wouldn't have guessed this one would've been such a snoozer, but no matter how much I told myself I should like it, I just... didn't.

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TV: Alphas (SyFy) Just another quick shout-out for Alphas here. If you haven't already started watching this, go watch it right now. The entire first season is now up on Netflix, and the current season (S2) is only up to episode 3 or 4. It will take no time at all to catch up, and I think you'll want to.

The current cast.
Although I will be the first to admit that the show got off to a weak start, the writers and actors found in their respective grooves after a few episodes, and the season finished strong. I was quite happy to see a satisfactory amount of development with most characters, and there was definitely some quality time spent on the human side of things -- although the cast generally catches a bad guy in each episode, I really feel as though the characters have opened up and gained a fair amount of depth. I can relate to them as people, and that's really the key to why this show has quickly become one of my favorites.

Of special note is the character Bill Harken. I really disliked him in the first few episodes -- he's an ex-FBI agent who wanted to get back in with the Bureau. He had a real attitude problem, not to mention that he seemed pretty pathetic as an agent. As I followed the show along, I started liking the fact that I disliked him. He came off as human, fallible, and someone that seemed somewhat real… he was focused on himself, he made bad choices, but you could understand where he was coming from even if he rubbed you the wrong way.

Bill's alright in my book now.
As things progressed, I really enjoyed seeing Bill reconsider his approach to things, and I thought it was especially clever the way that the writers tied his power (superstrength) into why he acted the way that he did. There are a few scenes when he discusses having children with his wife, and I felt those really resonated… it's not that they were especially unique or mindblowing in any way, but I really appreciated that the show took the time to give viewers another side to Bill has a way of further humanizing a character who could have easily become a heavy-lifting one-trick pony.

Finally, props to the writers for keeping things very tight and sensible. Every time the wife and I had some question about what just happened on screen, the writers predicted those same questions and would inevitably answer them a few moments later. I'm also quite glad that there's been no ridiculous power-swapping, or any gizmos that take powers away for the purposes of any one episode. The show's reality has been very consistent and logical to the extent that a show about superpowers can be, and that is exactly the right thing to do, if you ask me.

Anyway, enough gushing... go watch Alphas if you like mutants, the X-Men, flawed people with superpowers, Misfits, the first season of Heroes, or anything along those lines. Start with season one and give it a few episodes to blossom. My bet is that you won't be disappointed.



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The Kefling world just got a lot bigger thanks to a free update that released earlier today, adding support for Microsoft Studios’ Avatar FameStar program to A World of Keflings. The program, which offers players the chance to earn Fame and other rewards by completing in-game challenges, adds a substantial amount of new content to the game including a full year’s-worth of free weekly quests, a new kingdom to build in and more.

The new kingdom features sandbox-style gameplay reminiscent of the first Keflings game, A Kingdom for Keflings. Once in the new kingdom players will discover they can now build Kefling-sized ships that will sail the many seas and waterways scattered across the new map. They will also encounter the Rockstar Kefling, a new quest-giving Kefling who will set them to each weekly challenge. Completing these challenges gives players the chance to earn Fame that will help them level-up in the Avatar FameStar program and earn cool rewards like Avatar FameStar costumes. Each completed weekly quest also unlocks a blueprint for one of the more than 50 unique ships players can build for their Kefling fleet.

But completing weekly quests is just one way players can earn Fame in A World of Keflings. Today’s update adds a slew of challenges, similar to Achievements, that players can tackle to earn Fame. Some challenges must be completed while playing the main campaign, while many others are achievable while playing in any of the game’s kingdoms, including the new Rockstar Weekly Challenge kingdom, the alien kingdom from the It Came From Outer Space DLC and the candy kingdom from the soon-to-be-releasedSugar, Spice and Not So Nice DLC.

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ClaDun x2, the sequel to the highly praised dungeon crawler action RPG game ClaDun:This is an RPG!, is available today on PC through Steam. Providing even more gameplay, features, and replay value, ClaDun x2 contains everything that made the first game so well-received and adored, plus much more!
There will also be a demo available for ClaDun series newcomers! The full version can be yours for only $19.99 in the United States, £14.99 in the United Kingdom, and €18.99 throughout Europe. For pricing in other regions, please check the ClaDun x2 page on Steam.

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Extra Credits today announced the winner of the Extra Credits Innovation Awards for this year’s PAX 10. Extra Credits’ writer, James Portnow, and editor Daniel Floyd will present the Johann Sebastian Joust developers Die Gute Fabrik with a prize of everlasting fame…or at least a trophy that could serve as a really snazzy paperweight at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Seattle, Washington on 8/31/12.

The Extra Credits Innovation Awards were introduced in 2011 to celebrate creative and daring game design that drives the industry forward. “It’s worth celebrating games that take a risk,” said writer and producer James Portnow. “These are the games that will make gaming tomorrow even more than it is today.” 
Johann Sebastian Joust exemplifies the innovation and creativity the awards hope to capture as “The Greatest Playstation Move Game that Sony Will Never Release for Liability Reasons”.  The bold choice of abandoning  a screen entirely and demonstrating that incredible, joy filled experiences can be created by embracing our childhood playground games and bringing them into the electronic age has won Johann Sebastian Joust this year’s Extra Credits Innovation Award.

A playable demo of Johann Sebastian Joust will be presented by Penny Arcade among the PAX 10 collection of this year’s most promising independent games. 

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Valve, creators of bestselling game franchises (such as Half-Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead, and Counter-Strike) and leading technologies (such as Steam and Source), announced today that Mann vs. Machine (MvM), a new co-operative game for its free-to-play online action title Team Fortress 2 (TF2), is now available to download for free via Steam on PC and Mac.

MvM lets you and five friends fight a lethal horde of robots on all-new maps, with the opportunity to upgrade abilities and weapons along the way. Band together to survive all of the robot waves in a variety of missions to earn incredible loot and unlock new achievements.

To find out more about MvM, please visit http://www.teamfortress.com/mvm/.  For more information on TF2, please visit http://www.teamfortress.com/.

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