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January 2009

Need For Speed Regroups, Spawns Multiple New Titles

Need For Speed It would appear that Electronic Arts is not putting the Need For Speed franchise out to pasture after all, as there's word of three — count 'em — three new entries in the franchise currently in development (or maybe four if extra comments are to be believed) set for release later this year.  While my Speed-loving co-worker cringed at this when I first told him the news, I think that EA is being smart about regrouping the franchise.  Previous Speed titles were flung across all of the consoles, meaning that the game could not be too technically advanced so as to not play properly on the weakest available hardware.  We know all too well the pain of seeing a game designed with, say, the Sony PlayStation 3 in mind stripped down for an appearance on the Nintendo Wii.  Now each new game is aimed at specific console technology, meaning that the developers can build the experience to make the most of the target hardware's strengths.  Joystiq has the breakdown:

  • Need for Speed: Shift (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, PSP) -- A "hardcore racing simulation" overseen by Black Box executive producer Michael Mann, and Patrick Soderlund, the co-founder of DICE and current senior vice president of EA Games Europe. External developer Slightly Mad Studios will be responsible for putting a realistic spin on the franchise.
  • Need for Speed: Nitro (Wii, DS) -- As you might expect, this one will feature a "unique visual style," courtesy of EA Montreal. Nitro promises to take full advantage of the unique controls on offer for both platforms, but without sacrificing depth. According to Munro, "We do not want to fall into the trap of creating a 'Need for Speed Lite.'"
  • Need for Speed: World Online (PC) -- Jointly developed by Black Box and EA Shanghai, this free-to-play online racer is set to launch in Asia this Summer, with a North American release slated for next Winter.

Now the powerhouse consoles can host the core racing enthusiasts while the Nintendo systems offer up casual-based fun for the whole family.  Hopefully this will please both audiences, and if it means that we'll never have to suffer through another half-assed watered-down Need For Speed title shoehorned into the Nintendo Wii, then all the better.  That PC-exclusive game is the odd one out here, but it sounds as if it's meant more for the Asian markets with other regions brought in as an afterthought.  As for that fourth mystery title, my wild guess is something destined for either the Sony PlayStation Network and Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade or Nintendo WiiWare as a downloadable title.

Impressive Batman: Arkham Asylum Trailer Raises Hopes

Batman: Arkham Asylum I've been waiting a very long time for a new Batman game that understands the character and sends him on an adventure worthy of his talents.  The last game that captured the essence of the Dark Knight is The Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Super NES released in 1994 by Konami, but now if this new trailer from Eidos is to be believed, the upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC may just hit the sweet spot.  Have a look at this video to see Batman and The Joker come into conflict yet again, unstoppable force versus immovable object.

Bringing two stand-out voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series back to portray Batman and The Joker (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, respectively) is inspired, but hiring the man who helped shape the aforementioned animated effort, Paul Dini, to write the game's story shows me that the developers truly "get it" and that this Batman game could be, at last, one for the ages. We'll find out for sure when the game releases in the summer.

(via Kombo)

Sonic Tries Again In Black Knight

Sonic and the Black KnightSega is bringing Sonic the Hedgehog back for an encore to last year's pair of new adventures in Sonic and the Black Knight for the Nintendo Wii, another storybook game that follows in the tradition of 2007's Sonic and the Secret Rings.  This time around the blue blur is armed with a sword in addition to speed and must... oh, the details don't really matter at this point.  MTV's Stephen Totilo spent a little time with the game recently and offers up some details on how the adventure unfolds.

Sonic wielding a sword is an odd gimmick, though arguably less odd than Sonic turning into a were-hog as he did in last fall’s “Sonic Unleashed.” In one level I played of the new game, I had to run Sonic down a path dotted with apples (instead of rings). I had to time swings of Sonic’s sword to knock down targets propped up along the path. A stampede of cows charged toward Sonic. Pressing Z generated a shield that bounced them back. As with “Secret Rings,” Sonic will earn powers, but I only saw these basic abilities in my brief time with the game.

Sonic appears to gain experience points for completing levels in a skillful manner. This earns Sonic extra “followers” who manifest themselves in the game’s town, a feature I was told about but didn’t see. Sonic’s “friends” also appear in the game, though I didn’t see Knuckles or any of the rest.

After experiencing two flavors of Sonic Unleashed I think I'm done with hopes that Sega can rediscover what made Sonic so much fun back in the old days.  At this point I'm just taking each new Sonic game on a case by case basis and hoping for the best, yet prepared for anything but.  I'm looking forward to trying Black Knight when it releases in North America next month, but all that I'm really hoping for is a few hours worth of enjoyment before I move on to the next new release that demands attention.  Consider it an attitude of Sonic and the Realistic Expectations.

Mario & Luigi 3 Packed With Core Gamer Goodness

The next Mario & Luigi title is about to launch for the Nintendo DS[i] in Japan, meaning that commercials and other marketing materials are breaking free into the wild.  Check out this video clip of gameplay highlights that shows a little of the previously mentioned plot and plenty of platforming challenges and RPG battles.  A core audience game from Nintendo?  How'd that happen?  Let's not question it and instead celebrate its joyful existence.

I feel like a thirsty man in the desert stumbling across a full canteen after watching this video clip.  More like this, Nintendo, please!  We're getting this one in North America, right?  Right??? 

(via Kombo)

Ben Judd Puts Bionic Commando: Rearmed To Bed

Bionic Commando: Rearmed Bionic Commando: Rearmed for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC was my own personal pick for 2008 Game of the Year and was the only game from last year that I liked so much that I bought it twice (initially for the PC and then, later, for the PS3).  Now reading this postmortem discussion from the game's producer, Ben Judd, over at Gamasutra has me admiring the work that went into the game all over again.  Don't miss Judd's thoughts on what went right, what went wrong, and what really surprised him during the development process.

The original game ends with a classic image of last boss Master D's head exploding. The money shot. It had to be in there or the fans would be extremely disappointed. But at what cost?  The cost was a censored version. I can't think of any other game that would be a teen-rated game with the exception of three seconds at the end. Had we not included the over-the-top head popping last scene, then we would have only needed one version, and could have saved bug-checking an entire new version of the game. This is another area where I wonder if the amount of time and money we put into creating a censored version was really equivalent to the sales that version achieved.

I'm assuming the censored version was for some of the European markets that look down on gore the way our North American censors reject nudity and sexual content.  Rearmed didn't need the explicit shot of Master D's head exploding to be fantastic game, but it didn't hurt for it to be included.  The same could be said of the little dialog touches that reference the original game (such as the "explod" typo and the "get the heck out of here, you nerd" line).  One thing from the original game that is missing in Rearmed is the moment in one of the neutral zones where the hero, Spencer, encounters the leader of the Badd army, Generalissimo Killt, and cannot attack him because of the neutrality agreement governing the area.  This is, to me, one of the moments in 8-bit gaming that changed my perspective on how plot could do more for a game than simply tell me in the instruction manual who to shoot and who to save.  Here was the big boss himself right out in the open without his army midway through the game, and yet I couldn't touch him without being attacked by the neutral peacekeeping force.  Then again, he couldn't attack me either for the same reason.  A stalemate right there in Area 15... I love it!

Nintendo's Satoru Iwata Will Deliver GDC 2009 Keynote

Satoru IwataNintendo Co. Ltd. President Satoru Iwata is going to deliver this year's Game Developer Conference keynote speech.  Usually this would be a time for celebration.  Previous GDC keynotes from Nintendo personnel have brought us announcements such as the mysteries of the machine that would become the Wii and the revelation of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, but this year I am a little more pessimistic about the event.  Why?  Check out the title of the presentation in this news article from Kombo.

Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo Co., Ltd. will deliver a keynote address at the 2009 Game Developers Conference, kicking-off the main conference's schedule of lectures, panel discussions and roundtables that provide the central forum for learning, inspiration, and networking in the games industry. The address, "Discovering New Development Opportunities" marks Iwata-san's first return to the GDC keynote stage since 2006. The Game Developers Conference takes place March 23-27 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

"Discovering New Development Opportunities".  If that isn't the code phrase for "casual crap is profitable", then I don't know what is.  I know that sounds very negative of me, but considering how far down the casual audience road Nintendo has gone this generation and how the company seems to be working on fewer and fewer high quality core audience games, I'm not sure what other conclusion I can draw from this news.  When I was young, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles on one side of the family would always tell my parents that Nintendo was something I would outgrow, but I never imagined that one day Nintendo would outgrow me.

Third-Person Mirror's Edge Hack Provides New Perspective

Faith When Mirror's Edge was released late last year for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, some people said that the game would play so much better if it were not locked into a first-person perspective.  Some of us need to see our character run and jump in order to time actions properly.  Now fans of the game's PC version have found a quick little hack that will pull the camera out of heroine Faith's head and allow players to control her from a third-person viewpoint.  I'll direct you to Greyfox of the On-Mirror's-Edge Forums.

Not sure if anyone knows this, but here's the command line for 3rd person view and also no clip view!

Go to "Documents\EA Games\Mirror's Edge\TdGame\Config\" open the file "TDInput" with notepad. Add this line to the "bindings" list:


then press F4 a few times!

I haven't tried this and do not know if it actually works, but the screenshots provided have me convinced.  There's also a YouTube video showing the hack in action.  Don't hold Faith's jerky movements against her.  Remember, we weren't supposed to be able to see her like this, so her motions are likely unoptimized.

While I still think the game would be easier to control with a third-person perspective, watching this video brings up a whole new pack of issues that would need to be addressed if this camera angle were an actual option and not a hack.  Maybe we're truly meant to only see through Faith's eyes after all.

(via GameBrood)

Ambitious Lost Planet Movie Is Expensive

Lost PlanetCapcom really wants to make movies. I can understand that. After all, the company does own the rights to many popular game franchises that could become decent films if the right creative people were involved. There's a new Street Fighter movie just weeks away from release that has somewhat of a mild buzz attached to it. Start small, right? Then GO HUGE with a $200 million Lost Planet movie!  Empire has the story.

Lost Planet, the hit game from Capcom, is in development as a film, and their "Head of Character Contents Business" Toshihiro Tokumaru has revealed that the film's likely to cost $150-200 million.

Good luck making that movie, gang. Somehow I can't imagine the major movie studios stepping up to spend that kind of money in this sour economy on an untested property like Lost Planet when there are larger, more potentially profitable properties just waiting in the wings.

Weekly Poll: Instant Wiiplay

Weekly Poll for 1-19-2009Purchasing downloadable games isn't a regular habit for most people, it seems.  I tend to buy at least one a month, but I tend to stick with titles that I think I will continue to play long into the future such as Bionic Commando: Rearmed or Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.  Too many downloadable games are instant gratification fluff that lack replay value and I see no reason to throw money away on such things.  Give me staying power any day.

Speaking of replay value, Nintendo is about to release the first wave of New Play Control games for the Wii.  As you'll recall, these are games that originally appeared for the GameCube that have been reworked to include Wii motion controls instead of the traditional control stick paradigm and sold at budget prices.  First out of the gate are Mario Power Tennis and Pikmin.  Will you try these games?  Or are the original GameCube versions enough?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Kombo Breaker - Episode 12: K-K-K-KOMBO BREAKER!!!

Kombo BreakerThe Kombo Breaker podcast continues to roll on, and this week we're continuing to tweak the show's format in search of the maximum possible entertainment that can be contained in a ninety-five minute audio file.  This week our show begins with a focus on me, Matthew Green.  As part of efforts to introduce our panel to you, I talk about my background, my gaming origin story, and how I came to be a part of the Kombo team.  Then we move on to talk about the games in our lives this week and discuss three of the week's top news stories (hint: Ghostbusters is back for its second podcast in a row).  We wrap things up with some brainstorming about which movies or television shows that have yet to become video games should get the gaming treatment and an announcement of our new game club feature, so break out that copy of Okami that you bought yet never actually got around to playing.  There's intriguing discussion, fun music flashbacks, and more; join us, won't you?  Download the MP3 file directly or subscribe at iTunes.  Check out the accompanying show notes, too, and don't forget to let us know what you think of the show.  Without you all out there this is basically four guys talking shop to amuse themselves which is fun for us, but kind of misses the point of the whole podcasting idea.