Saturday, July 30, 2005

2005-2007: The Year(s) of the Comic Book Video Games

Ok, so here's the deal: The reason I got into voice acting in the first place was because of video games (like Dungeon Master on the Atari ST), comic books (all of 'em), and action cartoons and anime (Akira to X-Men).

So though comic book-based video games have had a checkered past at best (ahem, Batman), the next few years are looking to explode with high-caliber, solid comic book games that are going to create an earth-bound nirvana for those of us who are fans of both mediums.

So, here's a snapshot in time for the exciting entries into this crossover genre. I may have to give this post some additional stickiness ...

2005-2007: Years of the Comic Book Video Games

  • OK, at the beginning of 2004, I said 2004 was going to be the year of the comic book video game, because of The Red Star, 100 Bullets, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Batman, and others.
  • So I was arguable a little off, because Acclaim tanked, taking The Red Star and 100 Bullets with it. Bummer, but The Red Star build I played sucked big time, and despite some gorgeous 100 Bullets assets by the stellar local boys at The Animation Farm, I saw nothing that hinted at the quality of gameplay. Hulk was passable, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu continued the industry's disrespect of the franchise. Daredevil was canceled.

    But, X-Men Legends from the superstars at Raven Software? By itself, made 2004 the year of the comic book. Mix the X-Men with a solid RPG? And add co-op (albeit offline co-op)? Brilliant.

    And I've got to give a nod to the Austin contingent for NCsoft's City of Heroes, the first fully (and well-realized) super hero MMORPG. And they launched a comic-book tie-in via Top Cow Productions, the dudes behind The Darkness (see below). Plus, the boys and girls of NCsoft's keep on giving, with expansion packs, addition of player-versus-player (PvP), and more (keep reading)
  • So, what makes this year and the next two good for comic book geeks? Read (and drool) on:

    • Batman Begins (June 2005; Multi) -- Decent, if linear take on the Dark Knight.

      SCORES: 6.7 (XB); 6.8 (Ps2, GC) 7.6 (GC); 6.8 (XB, PS2)

    • Fantastic Four (July 2005; Multi) -- Solid, fun romp (even if it misses the mark a bit).

      SCORES: 5.8 6.5

    • The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (August 2005; Multi) -- The game that let's you destroy everything. Awesome boss battles. A cast of previously missing (or miss-presented) Hulk stalwarts like the Abominiation, Devil Hulk, etc.

      The September issue of The Official Xbox Magazine has got a playable version of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. It's a timed demo, which I hate (unless it's relevant to a well-implemented mini-game), but it gives a taste of the forthcoming carnage.

      Pre-order (at least at Gamestop), and get a free re-print of the Incredible Hulk #1 comic book. The re-print also features updated cover art tributes from current hot artists.

      SCORES: 8.2 (Ps2, GC) 8.4

    • Ultimate Spider-Man (September 2005; Multi) -- Spider-Man games have probably had the most success in the video game world. This new title will let you play as Spider-Man and nemesis Venom. The game story is being written by super-scribe Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Mark Bagley (the guys behind the comic book), and continues the story where the series left off. It also promises a unique "3D Comic Inking Technology" that makes it look like you're actually playing a comic book. It also promises "More Spider-Man universe characters than ever before."

      The September issue of The Official Xbox Magazine has got new video of the game.

      Pre-order (at least at Gamestop), and get a free "Making of" CD, which includes developer interviews, concept art and animation, Screen shots, and game trailers for Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic 4 and X- MEN Legends II.

      SCORES: 7.1 8.4
    • Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (October 2005; Multi) -- OK, I'm a big fan of comic books, and of well-done co-branding, and Nemesis is both. Born from a partnership between Electronic Arts and Marvel, this is a game and a comic book, using the stable of Marvel heroes and villains, and new EA entries. Character designs are being done by Jae Lee, and other heavy hitters Mark Millar and Terry Dodson were recently announced for backstory and interface/character design, respectively. What am I pissed off about with this game? My boy Captain America will only be on the Sony PSP version! Yeargh!! C'Mon, EA, make him unlockable or a later download for Xbox! C'Mon! Please?

      6.4 (PS2, XB); 6.3 (GC) 5.1
    • X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocolypse (Fall 2005; Multi) -- Take what worked in the first game and make it better? Make the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants playable? Add online co-op ("Online co-op is the new hotness" -- freaking finally, and you heard it here first!)? Yay! And, Raven Software, the folks behind the first-round, and helming it again!

      The September issue of The Official Xbox Magazine has got new video of the game.

      SCORES: 8.1 8.5
    • City of Villains (November 2005; PC) -- As if NCsoft's City of Heroes wasn't enough! This full-on sequel to CoH puts you in sinister super sneakers with new powers and nefarious plans.

      SCORES: 8.2 8.0
    • The Darkness (2006; Xbox 360) -- Here's a game I mentioned before, so I'll just repeat: "Are you kidding me? Freaking awesome comic from Top Cow that is looking very slick in the trailer -- no gameplay, yet, but this is being done by Starbreeze Studios -- the genius studio behind The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay."
    • DC/JLA RPG game (2006; Xbox 360 and PS3) -- From Warner Bros. and possibly developed by Sony (huh!), the game will include super heroes like "Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Zatanna". The game will feature customizeable skills and cooperative multiplayer (hopefully the new hotness of online co-op).
    • Marvel MMO game (2007; Xbox 360) -- Microsoft announced in July it negotiated exclusive rights to develop and publish massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) using Marvel's characters for the Xbox 360, published by Microsoft Game Studios.
    • Marvel RPG (2007; PC, Next-Gen) -- A few weeks later, publisher Activision (folks behind X-Men Legends, X-Men Legends II, and Ultimate Spider-Man) announced it extended its already heavily-used licensing with Marvel for a non-persistent role playing game (RPG).
    • The Red Star (TBD; TBD) -- Yeah, this was supposed to be out last year. Sure, the demo was lacking. Bummer, publsiher Acclaim tanked two weeks before release. Anyway, creator Christian Gossett was on-hand at last week's Comic-Con International, and said the game had been picked up by a major publisher, and "we should expect a major announcement soon." Hmm .. Majesco? Possibly THQ?
    • Darkwatch: Curse of the West (August 2005; Multi) -- OK, this was also on my list for last year, but High Moon Studios -- which was a US studio formed as part of the Sammy/Sega merger -- broke from the parent company to form their own studio, so they get a bye. Anyway, it gets included in this list because I've been watching and talking about this game for a while, and when I first read about the efforts going into it, I wrote about it becoming a multi-channel franchise. And so it is. Besides the game launching this August 5 (wonder what my weekend will be like?), Heavy Metal Magazine published a story that leads directly into the game in the July issue, and a graphic novel and series are rumored in the works. This thing looks seriously cool, so check out the new single and multi-player demo in this months Official Xbox Magazine, and a great write-up in the August Play Magzine. As far as the gameplay and story, think Jonah Hex meets Blade, with the frenetic pace of Painkiller.

      SCORES: 7.9 7.9 (XB); 7.6 (PS2)
Pick up napkin. Dab. Re-read. Repeat.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sony gets Unreal; What's on the Xbox 360 hard drive?

  1. Sony gets Unreal
  2. Consequences of Grand Theft Auto
  3. Can't we all just get along (with HD optical)?
  4. Electronic Arts gets the rest of the LOTR
  5. I'm turning Japanese (I really think so)
  6. What's on the Xbox 360 hard drive?
  7. Halo 2 adds more awards
  8. Christians got game


  1. Sony gets Unreal

    • Sony entered into a licensing agreement With Epic Games to use the Unreal 3.0 Engine. Unllike Microsoft saying the engine will be their preferred middleware, Sony gets sublicensing rights. This won't be free (but will be "substantially discounted"), but an evaluation version will be made available for the PS3 dev community as part of the PS3 Software Development Kit.
    • The announcement dovetails into similar SCEI sublicensing agreements -- most notably the Ageia PhysX SDK (aka "NovodeX") and Havok (physics and animation SDKs).

  2. Consequences of Grand Theft Auto

    • OK, so I haven't been writing about the so-called "Hot Coffee Mod" for the PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, because I didn't want to give additional press to what looks like an irresponsible PR stunt (and I won't link to the game, company, or articles in this blurb.
    • In case you're blessedly out of the loop, there's a purported PC mod that unlocks somewhat graphic sex mini games. While Take Two Interactive initially denied they had anything to do with the content, blaming "enterprising 3rd parties", industry site was able to unlock the same content on the PS2 with cheat codes.
    • The content would move the game from its current "Mature" rating to "Adults Only" (AO). As a result,, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Circuit City have pulled GTA from store shelves and websites.
    • Since GTA is one of the summer's biggest releases (and going back to my "irresponsible PR stunt" comment), analysts are putting the cost to the industry at ~$50 million. The FTC announced Wednesday that they will begin an investigation of Take Two Interactive.
    • I'm fairly pissed at Take Two, because they've undermined a lot of good folks' work to responsibly rate and distribute game content.
    • You can read the ESRB finding and recommendation here.

  3. Can't we all just get along (with HD optical)?

    • Sony and co. are backing Blu-Ray DVD. Toshiba and others are backing the competing HD-DVD. And the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) finally weighed in via president Bo Andersen, who's called for compromise in the DVD format war. Anderson said, "the launch of a single high-definition DVD format is unquestionably preferable to a 'format war' that could cause consumer confusion and lead to a reluctance to embrace either format."
    • Microsoft has called Sony's decision to put Blu-Ray in the Ps3 "extremely risky", and aren't going to include any hi-def optical drive in the initial Xbox 360. However, both Microsoft's J Allard and Robbie Bach have said "we have a next-gen optical strategy", hinting at possible subsequent versions of the Xbox 360.

  4. Electronic Arts gets the rest of the LOTR

    • J.R.R. Tolkien's world had been torn asunder. Giant Electronic Arts had the rights to the Peter Jackson movies, and was producing great games. Vivendi Universal Games had the license to the books, and ... wasn't doing such great games.
    • This is all about to change. EA announced an expansion of their rights allowing them to make games based on the books. They also gave details on the two Middle Earth games: The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II (a sequel to the successful PC RTS) and The Lord of the Rings Tactics (a Sony PSP tactical strategy game, and probably to be renamed).

  5. I'm turning Japanese (I really think so)

    • This week saw the XBox summit in Tokyo, and a bunch of new and previous announcements show a lot more Japanese love for the Xbox successor.
    • A small sampling:

      • Ridge Racer 6 (Namco) and Mobile Suit Gundam (Bandai) will mark the franchises' first entries onto Microsoft's console. Bandai also announced they're developing 2 other games for the Xbox 360.
      • Resident Evil 5 (Capcom).t
      • Tecmo has show recent Xbox love with Dead or Alive franchise exclusivity, added to the announced Dead or Alive 4 lauch title with Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2, the still-mysterious-as-all-get-out Dead or Alive Code: Cronus, and a new title, Project Progressive.

    • A full list of publishers and games can be found at, though it doesn't list which games are coming stateside.

  6. What's on the Xbox 360 hard drive?

    • Microsoft submitted the content of the Xbox 360 hard drive to the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to get the content age-appropriate approved for EU release. Unlike the PS3, the Xbox 360 will ship standard with a removable hard drive.
    • Here's the full list (WMAs are audio clips; WMVs are video clips; and I'm really curious about "DVD OF GAME"):

      • 00:22:59:00 DVD OF GAME
      • 00:03:19:00 01 DRIVE AWAY.WMA
      • 00:04:03:00 16 - Z TRIP - FURIOUS.M4A
      • 00:03:54:00 17 - SUNSHINE - WHAT YOU'VE GOT.WMA
      • 00:02:57:00 BAND GIRLS MONEY.WMA
      • 00:03:54:00 BROTHER.WMA
      • 00:02:38:00 C'MON EVERYBODY.WMA
      • 00:04:14:00 GET UP.WMA
      • 00:03:30:00 HAPPENS ALL THE TIME.WMA
      • 00:06:42:00 HDD_FINAL_MASTER_DOUG.WMV
      • 00:03:44:00 HELICOPTER.WMA
      • 00:01:02:00 IMPOSSIBLEFIELD_2MBPS.WMV
      • 00:04:35:00 KRAFTY.WMA
      • 00:03:32:00 PRESSURE.WMA
      • 00:02:56:00 PUNK ROCK SUPERSTAR.WMA
      • 00:04:21:00 SHALLOW.WMA
      • 00:03:41:00 STREETCAR.WMA
      • 00:03:39:00 TAKE IT AWAY.WMA
      • 00:03:34:00 THE RAZOR.WMA
      • 00:06:50:00 WARREN_MILLER_2MB.WMV

  7. Halo 2 adds more awards

    • Taping for the 3rd annual video game awards, G-Phoria wound up last night, and Halo 2 took home a warthog full of awards.
    • Besides "Game of the Year", Halo 2 took the most awards overall, and bagged "Best Shooter", "Best Multiplayer Game", "Best Sound Design", "Best Original Soundtrack", "Best Boss" (Scarab battle), and "Best Male Voice Performance" (David Cross, who complains about how hearing his voice while playing Halo 2 takes him out of the game. I'd like to have that problem, David.)
    • Other games did well, too, like the well-deserving God of War (Sony)
    • Full list at G-Phoria 2005.

  8. Christians got game

    • Today through Saturday, the Christian Game Developers Conference is going on in Portland, OR. Christian games have gotten recent attention with the announcement that the hugely popular Left Behind series will be made into video games, with the first release (an RTS) out this fall, after being in development since 2001.
    • N'Lightning Software CEO Ralph Bagley made the comment "Fifteen years ago, the Christian music world looked like Christian games today."
    • I'm hoping Bagley is talking about the nascent state of the industry, and there's not a parallel to Christian music in the late 80s and early 90s, where the bar for entry was so low that several sub-par "artists" who couldn't get a break in the mainstream "converted" and pummeled people's ears with their drudge. I'm going to get nasty-grams ...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Playable Xbox 360 revealed? Sony to own next-gen race?

  1. Playable Xbox 360 revealed; Microsoft employee fired (probably)
  2. Shadowrun coming to Xbox 360? As an FPS?
  3. Sony to still own next-gen market?
  4. Changes at Midway for new Gauntlet game
  5. New online game rental company
  6. Xbox Live hits 2 million mark


  1. Playable Xbox 360 revealed; Microsoft employee fired (probably)

    • So, is running an article about a kid who's posted some photos of a working Xbox 360. Evidently, the kid's step dad recently started with Microsoft as a tester, brought the Xbox home, and let his kid play it, take pictures, and post the picts on the Internet.
    • This is either another viral marketing campaign, or precursor to a firing. The picts are interesting, in that they show the Halo 2 startup screen. What's weird about the picts is the unfurnished apartment, the oddly placed pillow behind the kid (which could be hiding an Xbox Now, or an alpha or beta dev/debug box), and the American Flag T-Shirt that smacks of well-placed Mom-n-apple pie subtext.

  2. Shadowrun coming to Xbox 360? As an FPS?

    • Last year, I mentioned Microsoft had applied for pen-n-paper RPG trademark Shadowrun (think Lord of the Rings meets Gibson). I also said, "Given the late filing (November of this year), it seems likely the title could be for the next version of XBox [sic]."
    • FASA Studios animator Theron Berson said he’s working on Shadowrun, and "[i]t's a first-person shooter based on an old paper RPG"!
    • Here's to a bunch of franchise opportunities, and some healthy competition between this title and Huxley. Also, if you surf over to FASA Studios website, you'll see postings with "next-gen" requirements.

  3. Sony to still own next-gen market?

    • Maybe. Defines how you define "own". Analysts seem to be consistent, with Microsoft owning up to 40%, and Sony with ~60%.
    • What's interesting to me is the caveats from analysts: Sony will succeed if "its online experience matches that of the Xbox 360", and "its Cell processor technology meets its full potential."
    • I hope so. Good for gamers.

  4. Changes at Midway for new Gauntlet game

    • I'm excited about Midway Games's take on the Gauntlet franchise with Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows. I am a little nervous that the two people I was most excited about being on the project -- "game god" John Romero and top designer J.E. (Josh) Sawyer -- bailed withing a week of each other. Does this affect the release of the game (updated with online co-op)? At least according to Sawyer, the game ain't done yet ...

  5. New online game rental company

    • DONOBI Games just launched as a new online games rental subscription company. Like Gamefly, it's 2 games out at a time, but for $19.95 a month (as opposed to Gamefly's $21.95). You also get a year subscription to Play Magazine -- a really good publication, covering gaming, anime, and animation.

  6. Xbox Live hits 2 million mark

    • In just a year, the Xbox Live community has doubled to 2 million, according to Microsoft. This is an impressive indicator of what happens with focused marketing of a coordinated service.
    • Other numbers/comments of note:

      • That's like a new subscriber every 30 seconds for the last year.
      • Numbers are based on actual subscriptions, as opposed, to say, network adapters shipped to retailers (or, new models of consoles with built in networking shipped to retailers).
      • "More than 20 million pieces of content have been downloaded to date."
      • This Christmas should see more than 300 multiplayer Xbox and Xbox 360 games available.
      • You will be able to seamlessly transfer Xbox Live accounts across your current Xbox and the Xbox 360.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Xbox 360 Shortfall? Xbox 360 vs. Playstation 3 vs. Nintendo Revolution (sorta)

  1. Not enough Xbox 360s?
  2. XBox 360 beta dev kits are out
  3. Fable: The Lost Chapters coming to Xbox
  4. Xbox vs. Playstation 3 vs. Nintendo Revolution
  5. Who's showing the most Xbox 360 love?


  1. Not enough Xbox 360s?

    • So, GameSpot is running a story about the rumor of Xbox 360s running out on the pre-order front. Rumors came from information saying multiple GameStops and EBGames weren't taking anymore pre-orders.
    • So I went to a local GameStop to get the skinny. GameStop has indeed sold out of its first-week allotment of consoles (as set by corporate HQ). The second allotment is set for a week later. So, yeah, I dropped $50 to preorder the bad boy, in the hope that there will be extra consoles in the first allotment, and I'll get one early to play with and blab about.
    • The nice chatty GameStop clerk let me know that getting an early console is likely, since "unlike EBGames, GameStop doesn't oversell on pre-orders" (EBGames oversold pre-orders of the Nintendo DS by as much as a third in many stores). The problem is GameStop just bought EBGames, which will be finalized this fall, and it'll be one pre-order bucket -- which means the 360s could still be oversold.
    • The $50 pre-order is just insurance for me, though, since it's fully refundable. When it gets closer to Nov., I'm going to buy the console at the place that has the best launch promotion going (usually Best Buy). GameStop and EBGames are not taking online pre-orders, and Amazon, Circuit City, and Best Buy have not announced pre-order plans.

  2. XBox 360 beta dev kits are out

    • Developers finally got beta dev kits last week, and given how impressive E3 demos were on the alpha kits, I'm curious to hear developer feedback over the next few weeks.

  3. Fable: The Lost Chapters coming to Xbox

    • OK, Xbox Fable owners have been in a bit of a tizzy since finding out a bunch of the content for the game that was cut has been re-added, cleaned up, and bolstered with new content -- for the PC version of the game releasing in September. Turns out Xbox owners are going to get the same love this fall -- at a $19.99 Platinum Hits price point. That's showing love to the faithful, Microsoft.

  4. Xbox vs. Playstation 3 vs. Nintendo Revolution

    • No, this isn't yet the exhaustive, head-to-head comparison I keep promising. Honestly, it's little more than a clever and not-so-thinly-concealed teaser to get my blog picked up by multiple search engines.
    • The truth is the all three consoles (with a "maybe" on the Nintendo front) are going to be freaking powerful, blow anything currently out of the water, and are going to be a beast for developers to maximize (with the possible exception of Team Ninja's Itagaki), for 4-6 years out.
    • Which leaves the short-term differentiation in 3 key areas:

      • Console exclusivity -- From a next-gen perspective, Microsoft by definition gets next-gen exclusivity for 6+ months. Sony is poo-pooing this (pseudo-scatalogical references are sooo funny!) by saying developers/publishers won't be able to produce anything impressive for the 360 in the first iteration of games. In doing so, they're snubbing these folks -- which they argbuably wouldn't do if they weren't a such a strong first-party developer/publisher (but hey, they're no Nintendo). More to poke holes, though, is the fact that 6 months is enough time for the first, second, and possibly third big waves of "big games" to hit (think the "Christmas in March" we had this year).
      • Marketing -- Ok, I dunno if it's successful, yet, but I'm impressed that Microsoft is doing such an aggressive, varied and different marketing campaign this time around, which shows they're either serious, learning, or willing to risk. Bill Gates has said the Xbox 360 can own the living room, but you can't market it as such -- you have to get it into the house as a games machine, and then make it easy to own the house. The've done a good job so far with MTV kickoffs and J Allard's Moby-esque makeover (though he's still nowhere near as cool as Moby). Sony's marketing is pretty much, well, the same -- badmouth the competition, and try to create the perception that the next generation doesn't start until Sony launches.
      • Services -- OK, arguably, here's where Microsoft shines. Between a recharged Xbox Live, solidifying "this-gen" pilot offerings (Xbox Arcade, voice chat, messaging, Media Center Extender, and video), and offering new services (Xbox marketplace), M$ is giving Sony reason to try to smear them.

    • Possibly more importantly, there a few parts of the console race the big three don't want to win:

      • Most expensive console -- Microsoft says the Xbox 360 will be "in the neighborhood of" $300 -- which has most analysts saying $299, with a few naysayers saying $349. Sony's console is expected to cost between $399 and $499.
      • Biggest loss -- Microsoft takes a loss on the current Xbox. They've made a decision to do that, and since the Xbox sits in their Home Entertainment division, the lost is absorbable. Sony has been badmouthing Microsoft's "bad business model". However, analysts are saying the PlayStation 3 is going to cost approximately $474 per console to manufacture. While Microsoft's FY05 and FY06 losses for the new console look like they'll total in the hundreds of millions, analysts are saying Sony's losses on the PS3 will exceed $1 billion -- in the remainder of the fiscal year that sees the PS3 launch. I know everybody does it, but I hate hypocrisy ...
      • Most features dropped -- This is the PR nightmare that can kill good marketing. People are badmouthing Microsoft's decision to not include next-gen optical (HD-DVD or Blu-Ray), while Sony has announced they're including their self-backed Blu-Ray standrad. Microsoft's reasoning is strong: The standards haven't been ironed out, they don't want to "pick wrong", and adding next-gen optical is expensive. However, both J Allard and Robbie Bach have said they have a next-gen optical strategy, and it's built into the support of the Xbox 360. And there's that who VHS (JVC) vs. Betamax (Sony) thing. Sony, on the other hand, has a consistent industry record of "promise a lot, drop a lot". They did this with the PlayStation 2 ("Emotion Engine"? BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!), but really took it to the next level with PSX (which is more a precursor to the PS3 than is the PS2) with dropped features and a botched rollout that made it a failure in Japan, and unreleasable in the US. And this week they announced they've officially dropped the promised PS3 router functionality, "due to the expense of its inclusion". Dunno how they're going to use the 3 gigabit ethernet ports, or if those are going to get dropped, too ...

  5. Who's showing the most Xbox 360 love?

    • Nope, it's not Microsoft.
    • Actually, Sega went whole-hog at E3, with multiple playable demos, original IP, big-gun potential sleepers like Condemned: Criminal Origins, and recent announcements of traditional Sega IP being resurrected for next-gen. They're not only eager to shake off their ill-fated attachment to the DreamCast (which was better than Sony, dammit!), but showing a lot of love to the stateside market, which is a bit of a change for them.
    • Midway got some initial "bad press" for supposedly not supporting the Xbox 360 at launch. They fact of the matter is they're working on at least 7 titles for the 360 that will launch between November and Paril (probably). With new franchises like Area 51 (you know there's going to be a sequel), Psi-Ops, Blitz, and The Suffering, I'm a big fan of big companies that innovate in a (currently) largely originality averse market.