E3 Impressions

E3 this year has been exciting, predictable and uninteresting in equal measure. Nintendo have seemingly fully learned their lesson from the casual-fests of the past and this year really came out strongly with a surprise lineup of hardcore titles we didn’t know about. Nintendo seem keen on continuing their foray into the 2D platforming revival with Kirby and Donkey Kong games for Wii, and surprised everyone with a Kid Icarus game. The surprise was not the fact that it was Kid Icarus, but the fact that it was a title for the newly announced and shown off 3DS and not the Wii, as was previously rumoured.

Last years Nintendo conference was actually very strong for the hardcore crowd, following the disaster of the year before, but they went even further this year to entertain the core gamers who generally attend E3. There were some casual titles this year but they kept coverage of them to a minimum which I thought was a smart move.

Microsoft’s conference was in my opinion the weakest of the 3 main companies. While Nintendo have seemingly learned from the past and decided to focus less on casual games and more on the traditional market and Sony have included a good mix of both, Microsoft have gone in the opposite direction which I think is a bad move. Kinect is the new name for Natal. It’s not a terrible name but I’m sceptical of how well it will work for more in-depth types of games. Can the controller free concept deliver on its promise?

I’m also not a fan of the voice control aspect of the device either. Voice control is hardly new and Sony could probably do it with their eye camera if they wanted to, but so far they haven’t shown anything like that. I just think that talking to a machine is always going to make you look silly and feel awkward.

The most important aspect of this whole thing is that even if the device is great and has good support software wise, will the price be low enough to sell units and more importantly get casual players on board. It will likely cost around £100 when combined with £200 for the system itself. £300 seems a bit steep for a casual gaming family. The Wii is considerably cheaper and while it doesn’t offer the same level of technical power and also requires multiple expensive controllers and add-ons to use multiplayer, the initial outlay will put quite a lot of people off I imagine.

Then there’s the problem of Xbox 360 just not being a very appealing name for anyone other than core gamers. They will have to work very hard with casual game advertising in order to really sell this to the wide audience that Nintendo currently enjoys.

Sony I think had just the right mix of traditional hardcore games like Killzone 3 and Infamous 2 along with Twisted Metal, innovative titles like LittleBigPlanet 2 and their foray into full motion gaming with Move. SIXAXIS was their first, unsuccessful attempt but I think they have the right formula this time around. Move is the perfect motion controller, or at least so far. You combine the accuracy of camera tracking with the buttons and accelerometers of the Wii Remote.

Move seems like the perfect fit for sports games such as Tiger Woods and Grand Slam Tennis, both of which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s far from limited to that one category though. Unlike Kinect, which I feel at this point is somewhat limited in what types of games it can be used in, I think Move has much more potential to fit into many different types of games seamlessly.

I think there are two barriers for the Move to overcome. The first is the cost of buying multiple controllers for friends and family groups, but Nintendo haven’t been set back by this problem so far so I don’t see Sony struggling too badly. Of course, Nintendo supply the Wii Remote as their default controller so that does help them but even so. The other issue could be the complexity of the setup. You need the eye camera somewhere in front of your TV as well as the controllers and possibly a subcontroller (nunchuk or duelshock 3) which is similar to the sensor bar but it could get confusing for some.

Moving away from the motion control aspect, I felt the rest of the press conference from Sony was strong. While there weren’t really any surprises, and Playstation Plus doesn’t really offer much that I would be interested in, I think they showed good demos of great upcoming games, and we now have a release date for Gran Turismo 5 which is very exciting for me.

To point out two negative sections of the show, I would say that firstly Sony put too much emphasis on 3D. The technology is still in its infancy and the TVs and glasses are very expensive. Hardly anyone will actually be buying it and I think they should be keeping it low key for the first 6 months to a year of availability because they’re spending considerable amounts of time talking to only a very small percentage of their customers at this time. At the moment Nintendo are the pioneers of 3D because they’re making it available to everyone for presumably a reasonable price.

They also introduced a new PSP advertising campaign. However, they didn’t lower the price and while they did show God Of War: Ghost of Sparta and announced Patapon 3, they only showed it briefly in a video of upcoming games. To me they are sending mixed messages. On one hand, they want us to consider the PSP still alive and kicking, but at the same time, with no price cut and hardly any talk of new games, you wonder if they even believe it themselves.

I think the lack of a PSP2 could hurt Sony badly in their battle with Nintendo and Apple for the next generation of handheld gaming. Nintendo have already stated that they will release the 3DS before the end of March next year. Will Sony have even announced PSP2 by then? If not then it will be likely at least 6 months or maybe even more between the launches of the two systems, and I don’t think they can afford to give Nintendo a head start. Especially because of all the hype and positive press that the 3DS has had surrounding it at E3 and beyond.

E3 was a massive show with so many games announced and shown off. I can’t really go into everything in this post, but overall I think this E3 was a great show with a lot of interesting announcements. 3DS was the big winner and Sony did a solid job. I think Microsoft have something to prove now especially with their motion control. They did announce the slim system with wi-fi but that’s only good to a point. It should have been done years ago.

I’ll have more thoughts soon, and will be back to more regular posts on F1 and all other topics. Thanks for reading.


Modnation Racers Review

Modnation Racers is simply put, a mashup of Mario Kart and LittleBigPlanet with HD graphics done in a nice art style. The creation aspect of the game will astonish and amaze you in the incredible amount of creative power they give players. What separates this game from LBP in creation is that it does a great job of also making it very easy for anyone to create tracks, cars and mods while not sacrificing power that the serious creators require.

LBP provided such incredible tools for creation, and while LBP did allow you to make more than just one type of level like MNR does with race tracks, it was hard work trying to figure out how to make it all work well. Yes, they were all 2D platformers generally, but the level design could play in many different ways. Modnation is always a track with a beginning and an end and some corners. Of course, LBP2 will take it to a whole new level with full game creation and other views than just 2.5D but that’s for later and possibly MNR2 to compete with feature wise.

But while MNR doesn’t quite offer equally powerful level customisation as LBP does, where it excels is in its mod creation tools which allows you to make characters which actually look like who they’re supposed to. In LBP, any costumes either made or bought were Sackboys dressed up as the intended character. While that suited that game, I love how you can find realistic looking mods for almost any character you can think of.

To be clear then, the customisation aspect of this game is absolutely incredible. What you can make and find online will astound you. With that said, this is a kart racing game, and without good driving mechanics, tracks, weapons and online play, the customisation isn’t really enough to save it.

While I don’t think the controls are perfect, and while I’m not a huge fan of all of the weapons and the shielding system, I think the gameplay is solid and while not up to mario kart level, it’s still very good especially for a system with very few other titles of note, if any at all in this genre.

I haven’t yet played all of the tracks but from the half or so I have played, I think they’re pretty fun and well designed. It was always going to be tough to compete with Mario Kart in track design but they’ve done well regardless.

Online play is great. There are multiple modes which include XP races which limit you to the default tracks and standard rules and custom races which let you host a race with your own track or another track you’ve downloaded. You can also join in split-screen mode but unfortunately, like mario kart wii, you can’t get XP from these modes or import your character from another PS3 profile into the game as a guest character like you can in LBP. This is disappointing but overall not a huge problem.

The biggest issue I have with the game is the absolutely punishing difficulty of the offline career mode. I thought this about inFamous too. Even on easy mode in that game it was annoyingly difficult. The career mode in this game will make you feel awful at times and even when you drive an almost perfect race with great drifting and slipstreaming skills, and using the weapons in the best way you can, it’s still a struggle to get into the top 3 and especially to win races. Yes, mario kart Wii was infuriating at 150cc and mirror mode levels at times, but even so, I got it done eventually. In this, I honestly don’t feel that I could be doing a lot better in my racing style and ability. There are some areas where I could improve but I don’t think it would be enough to make me able to win comfortably.

Overall I do recommend the game to kart racing fans. I consider myself good at these type of games generally. I’ve been able to dominate on Mario Kart Wii online in the past but this feels much more hardcore. Winning online here will take a lot of practise to give yourself a chance to really do well. This game will attract a more hardcore audience despite its family appeal and colourful art style simply because of the console it’s on. You won’t get the same number of casual players to beat for easy points like you would on the Wii.

Go and get this game, marvel at the creation aspect, and if you’re like me, hope that they patch the difficulty along with the long load times soon.


Quick Thoughts: Downloadable Content Backup Policy

I deleted beaterator on my iPod Touch to save some space since I’m running out of my 8gb. I thought I had synced it to itunes but apparently I haven’t. Or at least somehow not synced my apps. I don’t know how that happened. I’m sure I did but this just highlights the absolutely abysmal iTunes re-downloading policy, or lack of it.

How can they be so heartless to paying customers when companies like Sony have a much more lenient, customer friendly policy. All they’re doing is making people less open to downloading content, especially movies and TV shows because they know that if their storage fails, they lose the file forever. Making endless backups of things is more work than pleasure and no one wants to have to deal with all that stuff when they just want to enjoy their content.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be backing up your data. It’s an important thing to do for all your important data and media. However, the content download services like iTunes should provide a secondary safety net for situations where backups don’t work or you make a mistake like I did in this case, just to provide peace of mind to consumers where currently there is doubt and insecurity.


Playstation Move – A Perspective

Sony announced what was then known tentatively as the “Playstation Motion Controller” at E3 last year. Back then, while we didn’t know a lot of the finer details, what we did know was that it appeared to be far more accurate than the Wii Remote, even with motion-plus and that it could provide a more tactile control system for possibly more hardcore type games as well as casual ones. Something that Natal can’t really claim.

A couple of names have been rumoured for the final product since then. Those were Arc and Gem. In the end Sony decided on a simple name that clearly described the purpose of the device.

One of my initial concerns about the move was that they never showed a supplementary device to hold in the other hand with an analogue stick, as Nintendo have with the nunchuk. I feel as if motion control, to be used in a more hardcore way and to provide the best experience, you need to have elements of classic control as part of the overall setup. Sony now have announced their take on the nunchuk formula in the shape of the subcontroller which boasts and analogue stick, a couple of face buttons and possibly a trigger on the back as well as being wireless.

While many will simply say that Sony have stooped to simply copying Nintendo, my view is that a device like this is practically a must have for many types of games. For example, I was a big fan of Grand Slam Tennis on Wii which used a motion-plus remote and nunchuk combo for the optimum control. Having precise analogue stick control of your character makes it easier to focus on your shots and not where your character is standing. My hope is that now EA Sports will be able to simply translate across the same control scheme essentially, but the Move will allow greater accuracy and a more fun tennis experience, while also providing HD graphics and probably better online play. For this type of game, it really removes any chance of me buying the Wii version.

I also loved Tiger Woods 10 on Wii last year. It made great use of motion-plus as well and didn’t use the nunchuk which allowed complete freedom of movement. I expect the PS3 version, which has already been confirmed to support the Move when it is released, to take all the great elements of the Wii version and multiply them.

Of course, not all games are suited to motion control and it’s really personal preference as to whether or not you feel you would rather use classic or motion for different genres. I personally prefer classic control on a lot of my Wii games when given the choice. Mario Kart, F1 and more are much more fun with the more precise duel analogue setup of the classic controller. On the other hand, I can’t imagine playing Excite Truck, Wii Sport and Wii Sports Resort, Boom Blox (and bash party) and others any other way.

Gamers shouldn’t feel threatened by motion control because I’m confident that they won’t become the norm. They will be great in some ways, limiting in others but I think there will be a choice for gamers as to how they play.