Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ category

E3: Behind the Lips

July 28, 2008

E3 was different this year. The July timing meant there was little in the way of new announcements and the invite-only format kept the spectacle at bay. But the more intimate environment allowed for more time with each game, more chances to speak with developers, and generally a more valuable experience for the media.

Some US journalists I spoke with were disappointed that many of the builds they saw were the same as shown at pre-E3 events in June, but for international media it was often the first time we’d seen these titles in person. Ironic that what is ostensibly a US show proved more helpful for non-US media.

I saw a bunch of great games over the course of the week. Personal favourites included Mirror’s Edge, Prince of Persia, Far Cry 2, Age of Booty, De Blob, STALKER: Clear Sky, Colonization, and my pick for “best in show”, Left 4 Dead. But perhaps the most interesting demo I attended was for Microsoft’s Singstar tribute, Lips.

My time at the Xbox room was scheduled for Thursday 2pm – 4pm, the dead zone in other words right at the tail end of the show. It’s at this point that everyone is over it and just wants to go home. My time with Lips was at 3pm, precisely the same time Shigeru Miyamoto and his entourage decided to pay a visit and check out the competition.

Halfway through Keiichi Yano’s endearing presentation, Xbox’s US PR knocked on the door and kicked us out. Mr Miyamoto was clearly more important than some Australian journos. We’d been “Shiggy’d”. What was most frustrating – to be honest, karaoke games aren’t my thing so I wasn’t that fussed about Lips itself – was that when we had to vacate the room Yano had just hinted at how the motion-sensing Lips microphone could have other gaming applications.

There’d been a lot of talk in the lead-up to E3 that Microsoft would introduce “waggle” to the 360 in an effort to mimic the success of the Wii. Turns out they didn’t. But perhaps in the Lips microphone they did. I didn’t get the chance – curse you, Miyamoto! – to ask Yano about how sophisticated the motion-sensor inside the mic actually is, but the way he cryptically mentioned other gameplay possibilities (that they couldn’t demo at the show) gave me pause for thought.

Could the Lips microphone really be Microsoft’s “waggle wand”?

Keeping Faith in Fallout: What happens when our favourite games change hands

June 28, 2008

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Bethesda and play Fallout 3. I’ll shortly be posting extracts from an interview I did with lead designer Emil Pagliarulo, and you can read my hands-on impressions of the game in an upcoming issue of the Official Xbox Magazine. But for now I want to discuss what happens when one major developer inherits a classic series from another major developer.

I’ve been thinking about change recently, and how gamers tend to be somewhat frightened by it. We want to be dazzled by new technology and we say we want innovation and originality, but it seems what gets us most excited is something familiar given a new lick of paint. So, on the one hand, Fallout 3 should be exactly what gamers want – an old idea updated with cool new graphics; on the other hand, it’s kinda scary. How do we know Bethesda isn’t going to ruin an old favourite?

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Choice and Consequence: The meta-game of Execution

June 5, 2008

I’ve just played Execution, a self-described “short experimental game”. Download it now and then come back, otherwise I’m going to spoil it all for you. Trust me, it really is short, you’ll be back here within ten minutes.

So, Execution is a game where you have a choice – indeed, just one choice. And the consequence is permanent. Shoot the guy and he remains dead when you start a new game. Hit ESC without shooting him and you “win”. At least, that’s how it seems.

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The Bread Crumb Trial: Why Fable 2 should be wary of half-baked design choices

May 26, 2008

In Ultima VII: The Black Gate, it was possible to bake your own bread. You would collect the ingredients and, tediously it must be said, combine them to cook on a fireplace. You could eat the result. For years afterwards, a PC PowerPlay colleague and I would jokingly cite “baking bread” as the must-have feature for any game proclaiming “endless player freedom” or the capacity to “do anything you want”.

Randy Smith has written a quietly defiant column over at Next-Gen – which originally appeared in a recent issue of EDGE. Quiet because the former Ion Storm designer has an easy-going, almost laidback style. Defiant because he’s railing against – albeit in a casual way – a prevailing trend in game design: hand-holding, or to put it another way, the design philosophy that states the player should always be having “fun”. What’s interesting about this last aspect is that it’s implied that there’s only one way to have fun, and the game designer knows best.

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