Friday, June 29, 2007

New TimeSplitters!

Longtime readers know my Timesplitters / Free Radical love. As much as I'm stoked about Haze, I was worried that game and the "Secret LucasArts Project" were going to shaft F.D.'s next Timesplitters, a la Halo to Oni (back in the day).

If you're not a fan of the franchise -- you're broken. Fortunately, Kataku's Mike Fahey sums up why you should be:
"I've always found the Timesplitters series to be the among most entertaining and technically proficient console FPS games ever created, plus I get to be a monkey in multiplayer which is a selling point no matter what genre your game is."
Want more? Free Radical's Steve Ellis says "they're 'gearing' up to insert monkeys and guns into all the wrong places".

Nice ...

GTA IV trailer ...

In case you missed it, here's the new Grand Theft Auto IV trailer.

Gotta say it's starting to look more compelling ...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

My Xbox 360 is dead ...

OK, it didn't catch on fire like my original Xbox, and it has died before (twice), before teasing me and coming back to life and staying that way for a year and a half.

But now it's dead. Dead dead. Hung screen dead.

It started by delaying my weekly Monday night Halo 2 pwnage, then was fine for the night.

Things got progressively worse this week, until today, it hung every time I started. It hung on Gears of War (I was helping a buddy kill General RAAM, which we'd just done, then the thing hung, and ended his game, too; that sucked). It hung on Halo 2. It hung on the Dashboard. It hung on Carcassonne.

So I got on the phone with 1-800-My-Xbox. 10 minutes on hold. Then met a nice domestic sounding person who made me walk through all of the steps I'd already walked through from the Knowledgebase article (and this one, since that happened once).

I got this box the day of launch, so I'm well off warranty, and it's $140 to fix the beast. But that beats $300-400 for a new or refurbed one. And seriously, the Elite makes no sense to me.

I got off the first call to think about whether I was up for spending that money. When I got back on (after trying several more times to game), I got dialed into a very loud Indian call center, and had walk through all of the steps again, because the agent couldn't understand the previous ticket, and I had to convince her the thing was, indeed, hanging. And I had to keep reminding her it was my Xbox 360 was broken. Not an original Xbox. And not my personal PC.

So now, the repair process begins, and I'll chronicle it, Incredible Journey style, for all of you (except without the dogs and cats).

Here we go ...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Assassin's Creed" film contest ...

Following the lead of Midway's "Stranglehold: True to John Woo" film context, Ubisoft is holding a film contest for its upcoming Assassin's Creed game, in partnership with the Independent Film Channel.

The Ubisoft press release has lots of goodies. Like the prizes:
'The grand prize winner will receive $10,000, an Xbox 360™ video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, an Xbox 360 version of Assassin's Creed and inclusion of their short film inside the Limited Edition version of the game. The winning film will also be aired on the IFC television network in November to coincide with the launch of the game.'
'Two "runner-up" prizes include $2,500 cash, an Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, an Xbox 360 version of Assassin’s Creed and inclusion of their short film inside the Limited Edition version of the game. Their short film will be aired on the IFC television network.'
What the press release doesn't have is the submission deadline.

Fortunately, the IFC Media Lab has more useful details -- "Submissions will be accepted on Media Lab from June 25th to August 20th."

Also, the entires should incorporate "one or more of the following":
  • Planning, assassination, escape
  • Social stealth - using crowd as a means of disguise or escape
  • Assassination in public and in close proximity to the victim
  • Assassination of historical figures
  • Conspiracy surrounding historical assassination

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New look to ...

There's a new look to, and while (in the words of Major Nelson), "it’s just a visual redesign", as a usability guy, I'd say it's a lot more.

Taking a spin through the site, it's easier to get to all of the stuff I want -- especially the "My Xbox" stuff that used to buried in flaky navigation. Better, that "My Xbox" stuff doesn't show unless you're logged in -- a great usability technique to get content to the folks who need it, without muddying the interface for those who don't. (Clicking on the link provides a drop-down menu if you're logged in, and takes you to the register / login page if you're not.)

And there are other tweaks and improvements, like the link to the "backwards compatibility" topics being near the top of the "Games Front Page" (at least for now).

The site's search has been updated with Microsoft's Live Search, of which I haven't been a fan, but I have to admit the results are lot more applicable than when I searched for the same things 6 months ago.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Hail to the Chimp" updates ...

I've mentioned Hail to the Chimp before -- The upcoming GameCock-published, Wideload-(Stubbs the Zombie) developed brawler ... thing we'll see sometime in 2008.

I'm a big fan of Halo's daddy (and Wideload founder) Alexander Seropian, writer Matt Soell (can talented smart-ass writers really be this nice in person?), and Stubbs, so I'm looking forward to this game.

There's a new preview over at, including screenshots and video. They say a lot about it, but I particularly like this little nugget about trying to classify the game:
"So what is Hail to the Chimp? We're thinking something along the lines of a stylish kid-friendly modern online fighter parody... with political themes... and animals. Imagine if a high school full of animals held a fighting tournament to see who should be elected student class president and you're getting close."
I totally dig the art style, which is a new take on cell shading, and is driving me nuts, because it's reminding me of some impossible-to-recall kids book or cartoon I grew up with. Maybe Chuck Jones-era Bugs Bunny from the late 60s to early 70s. Maybe Phantom Tollbooth. Maybe felt Bible stories. None of which have anything to do with this game.

Art Director Seth Grima describes it:
"It's kind of like if you were to take a storybook, cut out the images, and make multiple layers almost like a diorama. And kind of picture it like living paper, moving around... backgrounds look like high school plays where they just used to cut out waves and shift them back and forth -- that's kind of how we want our layering to look. And the shading looks as if you just took a pencil and shaded all your elements."
But the best part for me is the 4-way, online and offline co-op. I hope it's also jump-in-jump out.

BioWare + Sonic = SONIC RPG

So, BioWare just announced they'll be partnering with SEGA to bring a Sonic The Hedgehog RPG to the Nintendo DS.

While I didn't see this coming, it's not that weird to me. I mean, there's a Mario RPG for the DS, and it's pretty good. And if you want someone to do an RPG, I think you want it to be BioWare.

Michael Fahey over at is having trouble with it, though.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Halo merchandise monstro-morphs...

Dang, I'm good.

From an earlier post of mine:
"(I wonder if JoyRide Studios lost the Halo franchise to McFarlane Toys? That would be sad.)"
Turns out McFarlane Toys is now doing the Halo 3 toys, with five figures (Master Chief, Brute Chieftain, Jackal Sniper, a two-pack of Grunts, and light-up action Cortana) and three mini (3-inch plastic and die-castmetal) vehicles (Warthog, Ghost, and Brute Chopper). The Brute Chopper is new for Halo 3, and this may be the first place it's been officially confirmed.

It's nice to see the figures will maintain a sense of relative scale (5", 6", 5", 3.5"and 4.5", respectively), and despite my previous rantings (across a few blogs) about the lack of articulation in McFarlane's toys, the press release says at least Master Chief will have "more than 18 points of articulation" (would that be "19"?), which ups the Joyride Series One's 15 points. No articulation notes are given for the other figures, which makes me nervous.

But wait, there's more!

Fox, having co-stalled the film that was to be co-produced by them and Universal Pictures, have now signed on to be the primary licensor for Halo, and will provide "a broad array of products, from books to apparel to collectible merchandise."

I've got mixed feelings on all of this licensing. As pro-game as I am, it's a game, not a blockbuster movie. Now, 14.5 million units on a franchise is inarguably market penetration, but is it enough? Also, even executive VP of domestic licensing for Fox Elie Dekel acknowledges, "Fox's licensing division focuses primarily on teens and young adults instead of kids". That makes Halo a great fit for Fox, but does it make for mass-consumerism for a mature-rated game (17 or older) demographic?

Also, the McFarlane toys, oddly, are due "by spring 2008" -- putting them 6 months (or more) after the release of Halo 3.

But the franchise undoubtedly has legs, so I'm curious to watch how all this licensing plays out.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

Gamasutra is running a timely feature, "What Father's Day Means To Game Developers". OK, it's not so much a feature as industry folks with family responding to how having kids influences their work, and what they're currently playing as a family.

There's some good stuff from game folks who are making use of their built-in age and gender demographics. From a less utilitarian perspective, it's obvious to see families inform game creator's motivation and passion for their craft, making it more than "just" a job.

And if you're looking for a Texas connection, there are interviews with Michael Sellers (CEO and Chief Alchemist) over at Online Alchemy; Dan Magaha, a producer over at NCSoft Austin; Rob Fermier, who's a programmer, Ensemble Studios; and Erik Doescher, lead designer and artist at Gearbox Software.

See? Topical and regional. That's a free twofer.

Happy Father's Day.

Don't miss Gamasutra's other Father's Day offering, "How Killing People With My Dad Improved Our Relationship".

Oh, and for those completists amongst you:

  • "Tom Henderson -- Game Designer, Between gigs" is, I think, a Senior Game Designer over at Heavy Iron Studios/THQ.
  • The "free, side-scrolling shooter on Xbox Arcade" mentioned by Wolfgang Engel from Rockstar San Diego is the Microsoft intern project Aegis Wing.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Back in the saddle ... (Updated)

I haven't written in a week. Fine. I've been on vacation.

Apologies to those of you who hang on my constant industry updates and insights, and ...

Y'know what, screw it. People who need daily updates probably stopped reading this thing a week ago.

For those sentimentalists among you, I'm going getting into the WayBack Machine and doing a post similar to the original "Xbox Buddies Newsflash" of years ago -- lotta brief summaries.

In brief:
  • Video game comics
  • Tenchu Z
  • Castlevania film update
  • Gamecock's EIEIO
  • Halo 3 "goodies"
  • Soul Calibur IV (video)
  • Xbox 360 changes
  • David Jaffe
  • Gears of War DLC
  • 3D Realms announces announcements
  • BioWare's 2009 MMO
  • Carmack's game engine (video)
  • Junction Point updates
  • Steamed Capcom?
  • Sony launches blog
  • Dark Sector due 2008
  • Episodic content expands
  • Usability and Human Factors
  • Peter Cullen (video)
Here we go ...

Video game comics:

It's not just Halo and Marvel -- now Gearbox Software and Dynamite Entertainment are going make a comic book series based off upcoming Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. Relative newcomer Dynamite is pretty amazing to me (check out their titles), and I'm looking forward to more comic book goodness from them.

Tenchu Z:

Tenchu Z finally hits the Xbox 360 stateside. The Japanese demo I played way back when left me underwhelmed, but I'm sure this thing has gotten at least two coats of polish since then. And there's the overwhelmingly redeeming facet of getting to fight pirates -- as a ninja. Seriously.

Castlevania film update:

Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, AVP: Alien vs. Predator) is out. Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard, Ronin) is the new Castlevania hotness. To quote Kotaku's Michael Fahey, "So we have a relatively untested director with one major sleeper hit under his belt, but White is also slated to direct Frank Miller's Ronin, and Miller's properties aren't exactly fluff that studios hand out to just anyone."

Gamecock's EIEIO:

This is mainly for its local Austin connection (and my respect for these particular industry folks). but indie-publisher-looking-to-break-the-deep-pockets-mold Gamecock Media is throwing a party at the same time as this year's greatly reduced Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Gamecock's shindig is called the "Expo for Interactive Entertainment: Independent and Original" ("EIEIO"; those guys are nothing, if not punsters).

The gig looks to be shaping up to be less inclusive and more Gamecock-y, but they've got 6 titles for which I'm already stoked, and promise two "major unannounced next-gen titles" (does anyone ever promise two minor titles?). I'm guessing at least one of those two will be from Big Rooster.

Gamecock has not knocked down my door and invited me to their party. I'll let you know if that changes.

Halo 3 "goodies":

Can't get enough Halo 3, now that the beta is over?

Get ready for two, limited-edition wireless controllers (one Spartan, one Covenant), and a limited-edition wireless headset. The controllers will set you back an extra $10 (at $59.99 MSP) over the non-LE wireless controllers, but you get a free Halo 3 figurine. Given the art and figurine are designed by Todd McFarlane (an amazing business and licensing creative), I'm looking for pretty-to-look-at, non-functioning tchotkies. One would hope this applies just to the figurine (Toddy, I like your stuff, but if they aren't fully articulated, it's just your take on the Precious Moments concept).

Better picts of the accessories are available at

(I wonder if JoyRide Studios lost the Halo franchise to McFarlane Toys? That would be sad.)

Soul Calibur IV:

I'm sorry, but weapons-gimmicky button-mashing franchise Soul Calibur is my favorite fighting game. I'm so happy Soul Calibur II now plays on the Xbox 360. And I don't feel like I missed out on the PS2-only Soul Calibur III, given critical and popular reception. But Soul Calibur IV looks to add beautiful interlocking fiber armor and more ... Ivy (fans of the franchise know what I mean). And, so far they're guaranteeing 60fps and 1080p when the game hits sometime in 2008. Buttery ...

UPDATED: I like this open letter to Namco posted on

Xbox 360 changes:

Picts of cracked open repaired Xbox 360s reveal something interesting. A new (additional) heat sink / pipe combo.

So, if we tally up the following:
  • Heat sink / pipe combo (now)
  • Quieter DVD drives (now; in new units and some repaired units)
  • Smaller, cooler, cheaper CPUs (July-ish)
  • Smaller, Cooler GPU (Fall 2007)

By this Christmas, we should see a quieter, more robust 360 -- a scant three years after the console's release.

UPDATED: From Microsoft (a la

"Regularly updating console components is commonplace within the industry
and is a standard aspect of the business for a variety of reasons including cost
reduction, improved manufacturability and improved performance."

David Jaffe:

The dude behind God of War and Calling All Cars might be making good on his "going independent" mutterings. Cell phone picts have surfaced on Jaffe's site, indicating an in-process build out, possibly of a development studio. Will he become a Sony "Second-party" Dev (playing it safe), or will he branch out and show some Wii, 360, PC, and other love? We'll see ...

Gears of War DLC:

A Gears of War free title update (with new achievements) hits late tonight (June 14th) / tomorrow. It'll add eight new achievements for the "Annex" game-play type and Hidden Front Maps. It also includes an improved version of the "Roadie Run" controls.

Also, according to Major Nelson:

'The "Annex" gametype is now available for free and the "Hidden Fronts" Multiplayer Map Pack is available on Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points. All four multiplayer maps will be available for free after Sept. 3, 2007.'

3D Realms announces announcements:

3D Realms, the developers of the forever-in-development Duke Nukem Forever, have two upcoming non-DNF announcements. Says creative director Raphael Van Lierop:

"I can say that we have a big announcement coming in the next four weeks, and I'm not sure, but I believe we have another major announcement coming in the next four to six months... while I can't say exactly what these are, are they about Duke Nukem Forever? No."

BioWare's 2009 MMO:

BioWare Austin's (Star Wars-themed?) MMO opus won't be hitting until 2009. Yes, "9". Last I heard, they were using a middleware solution so they wouldn't have to build their own engine, so maybe all the extra time is for incredible MMO add-ons and deepenings. PvP newness. Branching paths to the nth power. Cross-platform play. Voice acting for every NPC organism (call me). Important stuff like that.

Carmack's game engine:

Demoing during a Steve Job's keynote address, id Software's John Carmack showed off the new "id Tech 5" game engine -- designed for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and ... Macintosh. Looks slick, promises to make amazing development easy, blah blah blah.

It is cool that it seems to decouple the game play from the asset reworking, so, after finalizing game play, you can still "put artists on it to go ahead and make it look as good as we have time and resources to do."

Junction Point updates:

Another on the Austin gaming connection, over at the recently reworked, new concept art for unnamed game(s) is showing up throughout the pages. And there's a new, bare-bones WordPress blog for Warren Spector and other Junction Point devs to use as a pipe through which to share their brilliance with the rest of us.

Steamed Capcom?:

Capcom's jumping on Valve's Steam distribution / download service, which is huge. Microsoft, Sony, GameTap, RealNetworks, Valve -- there are a ton big (and a plethora of small) players in this space. As broadband speeds increase, ultra-wideband wireless becomes a reality, and fiber becomes the norm, the winners are going to win big.

Sony launches blog:

Joining the now-gen, Sony has launched an official Playstation blog, with the inaugural post by none other than President & CEO Jack Tretton. Some good, reasonably transparent stuff here.

Dark Sector due 2008:

For gamers, this holiday is going to rock. For those (like me) waiting for Digital Extremes' Dark Sector, you're going to need to wait until after the holiday. According to D3Publishing:

"We've decided to pull Dark Sector out of a very crowded holiday season and it is now slated for release in Q1 2008."

Episodic content expands:

Telltale Games got a $6 million influx. What they're using it for is more of their successful multi-platform episodic content.

Honestly, "Episodic Content" and "Digital Distribution" are two of the two New Hotnesses of gaming, so Telltale is on the forefront, and playing this wicked smart.

Usability and Human Factors:

Usability is not a choice. Good usability is. So I like this apropos Penny Arcade strip. Devs, take note.

Peter Cullen:

Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime in the 80s cartoon, upcoming Michael Bay Movie, and video game tie-in, gives a brief video explanation of his role and the voice of Optimus. As a voice actor, I'm inspired. As a fanboy, I have goosebumps.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Big Rooster game development company ... is running a story about "new" game development studio Big Rooster, LLC, founded former Human Head Studios Chairman and CEO Timothy Gerritsen , Animation Director Jeff Dewitt, Art Director Rowan Atalla, and former Midway Technical Director Jason Blochowiak.

I say "new", because I thought these guys had been around all year (and the news section on their site has posts since January). Also, though sites are saying there's "no word" on Big Rooster's in-development game for the end of this year, their site say it's an XBLA / PlayStation Network version of the Talisman board game.

All I know is though Talisman is being published by Capcom, Big Rooster's next game better be published by GameCock ...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Xbox Live adds country, anime, and gay content ...

This just in from "we're marketing to everyone, and damn your twentieth century contradictions":

Xbox Live is adding a ton of content from new partners Country Music Network (CMT), Logo (MTV's lesbian, gay and bi-sexual aimed channel), and anime distributors FUNimation (Samurai 7, Trinity Blood) , and Geneon Entertainment (Akira (in HD), Lupin the 3rd) -- who join current anime big-gun distributor ADV Films.

More at

Monday, June 04, 2007

Video Games Live ...

I'm really hoping I get to attend Video Games Live this year.

What is it, you ask?
"Video Games Live™ is an immersive concert event featuring music from the most popular video games of all time. Top orchestras & choirs perform along with exclusive video footage and music arrangements, synchronized lighting, solo performers, electronic percussionists, live action and unique interactive segments to create an explosive entertainment experience!"
I just got pinged by the show's producer, and I'm glad he reminded me, because the Texas dates are coming up. Check out the calendar for dates near you.

If you're in the industry, and want to contribute to the show (they're looking for designers, composers, artists, producers, programmers, etc. willing to take part in the VGL post-show "Meet & Greet", where you can get on stage and sign autographs after the show), you can contact them via the official Website, or get a hold of me, and I'll get you in touch with the show's producer.

And show up early. You can play games, mix and mingle, participate in or gawk at the costume contest, and just generally acknowledge our geekdom.

And during the concert, if you're selected, attendees can get on stage and play games while the orchestra interactively keeps pace, and win a $2,500(ish) AMD Ferrari Laptop.

I, for one, am looking forward to it.