Feb 27, 2009

Blockbuster Canada: BOGO Nintendo DS

This weekend only Blockbuster Canada is selling the Nintendo DS system at a great deal - buy one, get one half off. If you don't have a DS yet go grab a friend and get out there. With this deal each DS works out to just over $100 (regularly $139.99), a total savings of about $80 for the two units.

You had better hurry though, this deal is only good until March 1st.

NextGen Player Review: The House of the Dead: Overkill

Play as the fresh young Agent G just out of the AMS academy, accompanied by the F-bomb dropping, gun slinging, vengeance seeking, badass Isaac Washington and the fowled mouth, chopper riding stripper Varla Guns. You join these unlikely companions as they travel across the Louisiana bayou in search of the crime lord Papa Caesar in this seven part thriller.

This is a grindhouse-like movie story line complete with grainy video cut scenes and all, that takes you across many interesting levels that include the opening farm house in "Papa's Palace of Pain", a hospital of the dead in "Ballistic Trauma", a Carnival where the clowns are truly scary (if they can be any more scary then in real life) and finally into the deep hells of the county prison known as "Jailhouse Judgment".

Headstrong Games and Sega really came out of the gate strong with this prequel to the original The House of the Dead, providing levels of new horror and taking full advantage of the Wii Remote's point and shoot capabilities. This is a game that causal, arcade style and the hardcore zombie mutant killing gamer will enjoy. The game offers a normal mutant setting and an even more gruesome extra mutant setting, allowing gamers to tweak the experience for their personal style and skill level.

The game also provides three entertaining mini-games for players that have mowed down their fair share of mutants; "Stayin’ Alive" - think Gears of War 2's Horde mode where you face a continuous wave of mutants, "Victim Support" - a mode where you save the civilians and help them escape and "Money Shot II", where up to four players kill mutants to achieve the highest score.

Amongst many of the games highlights, it also misses out in three ways. First, the Nunchuck is virtually useless being reserved for the "C" button grenade toss which you rarely use. Secondly, the extra mutants in a two player game provide little challenge for two players (however, in single player mode this setting does make you sweat). Lastly the final boss fight (no I won't spoil the ending - you can read elsewhere for that) left me with the feeling of - That's it? That was the final boss? Really?

Pros:
* Killing Clowns at the Carnival during the "Carney" level
* Lots of action, blood and gore
* Voice acting is true to Grindhouse style including cliches, one liners and excessive language
* Fun for both causal and hardcore gamers
*Did I mention killing Clowns?

Cons:
* Little to no use for the nanchuck attachment
* Extra mutants settings added little challenge to the two player game play
* Final Boss ending was a bit weak

NextGen Player gives "The House of the Dead: Overkill" a...

Feb 25, 2009

EB Games - Killzone 2 Promotion?

As NextGen Player continuously scours the internet to look for great gaming deals, we've recently come across news of a deal that may sound too good to be true. On Canadian deals website RedFlagDeals.com, there is a post in the Deals section of their forum stating quite a tempting deal on the purchase of the very soon to be released Killzone 2.

Here's the deal.

Running from February 27th to March 1st (this coming weekend), if you trade in any of the following PS3 games, you can get Killzone 2 for $9.99 plus taxes. Acceptable PS3 trade in games are:

Prince of Persia
LittleBigPlanet
Call of Duty World at War
Fallout 3
Need for Speed Undercover

The ability to trade in Prince of Persia or Need for Speed Undercover and get Killzone 2 for $9.99 seems hot to me. The deal is said to be valid at EB Games locations across Canada. I would suggest you call your local EB Games to confirm this trade in deal for this weekend.

An Interview with Noelle Hunt Bennett, Big Fish Games

Noelle was not only the moderator of the Women in Games panel held at this year's VFS Game Design Expo, she is also the creative talent recruiter at Big Fish Games.

I was curious to know more about the various skills and qualities video game recruiters look for in a potential artist or designer. With Noelle's help, I was able to shed some more light on this. If you happen by the Big Fish catalogue, you will quickly see that one of their specialties is the seek & find game.

So it's no surprise then, for Big Fish at least, exceptional illustration and PhotoShop skills are very sought after. And formal training is a big plus. But why am I paraphrasing when you can hear it all for yourself? As usual, you can plug into our interview by subscribing to NextGen Player on iTunes or listening to it on the Mevio Channel.


Feb 24, 2009

NextGen Player Review: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

The "corridor shooter" is a somewhat derogatory description for first-person shooters nowadays. The implication is that your game play is too simplistic, too old school or just plain out of touch. This is despite the fact that many of the finest shooters ever made are at their heart fairly basic run-and-gun exercises. Titans like Half-Life and BioShock come readily to mind. They've just cloaked their true identities in captivating, story-driven cut scenes, or pulled off any number of clever techniques to make you feel like you're not just following the bread crumbs from Point A to B to C...

Then we have games like F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin. This is a game that has no desire to hide its roots and proudly wears the label "corridor shooter" like a badge of honour. And why shouldn't it? In this age of faux tactical realism and open-word ambition, F.E.A.R. 2 gets down to the brass tacks and does so in a single gunfight better than most other games can muster in the course of their eight-hour campaign.

Our sequel begins just thirty minutes prior to the explosive climax of F.E.A.R. yet for all intents and purposes, the rest of the story plays out the same. You are now Michael Beckett, a member of yet another group of elite FEAR operatives sent in to secure Genevieve Aristade, the president of the very morally bankrupt Armacham Corporation. It's quite the volatile situation you're thrown into, having to battle Aristade's personal guard then, experiencing the cataclysmic death of the city, followed by encounters with wraiths, mutant freaks and Alma Wade herself. Alma is F.E.A.R.'s main baddie, mascot and J-horror icon, all long haired and pale skinned. Her motivations are as nebulous as the story, which never really compels or makes a lick of sense. Narrative was never the game's strong point and it's a weakness easily made up by its many other virtues.

One of those virtues is style. In terms of F.E.A.R. 2's tone, there are few games that so adeptly combine Japanese horror, the X-Files, John Woo bullet time and Quake. Actually, no game does this. Few games these days also give you a meaty 10-hour campaign to play through. Your journey to find Aristade and defeat Alma will take you through corporate headquarters, ruined city streets, subway systems and one extremely creepy, abandoned school.

By the time the first F.E.A.R. arrived on current-gen consoles, its graphics looked tired with its stark colour palette and repetitive use of office-themed levels. In contrast, F.E.A.R. 2 is stunning. It's also slightly more varied in setting, even though you'll be happy to have seen your last crumbled street or subway tunnel by the time you're done. The Lithtech engine was never a technical marvel compared to the likes of Unreal and Crytek, so it's all the more impressive to see Monolith Productions pull out every visual trick in the book to give their game such an eye-catching presentation. These tricks are necessary to depict the hallucinogenic sequences that frequently plague your character, but do just as well rendering fire, cascading water, bullet trails and exploding viscera.

Speaking of viscera, the improved visuals also do a fantastic job of depicting the action you'll find yourself mixed up in. The gun play in F.E.A.R. 2 remains its strongest selling feature. It all comes down to feel of the guns and the satisfying feedback you get when firing them. The kick of the controller rumble, the gun animations, the reactions of your foes as they get riddled with bullets and the gut-busting sound effects all combine into a glorious symphony of destruction. And we haven't even touched on the slow motion yet. Like the Point Man before him, Michael Beckett also benefits from inhuman reflexes. With a press of a button, you can switch into reflex time, which slows down the world around you while still allowing you to aim and shoot at normal speed. Reflex time drains with use but replenishes quickly. The game's design promotes liberal use of it too, which is a good thing since it gets you out of jams and elevates the feel of combat to an insane level of interactive cinema.

There are some new wrinkles to the basic formula set down by the first F.E.A.R., some of them successful, others less so. One of the best additions are the short n' sweet turret and power suit sequences. At a couple points in the game you'll take command of a mech>-like armoured suit and lay waste to the scenery with dual cannons and cluster rockets. While these segments are not really fleshed out, they don't wear out their welcome either. The sequences on a fixed turret are also fun, but the power suit shines as the best way to break up the monotony of shooting guys in hallways.

When firing your guns on foot, you now have the option of pulling the left-trigger to aim down your sights a la Call of Duty. This is a great touch and an invaluable game play tweak. Another features lets you topple or flip environmental objects for cover. Unlike the sight-aiming mechanic, this one is completely useless. Not only is there no sticky cover system in F.E.A.R. 2, most of the objects you're able to interact with in this manner are barely high enough to shield your knees. And if you're ducking more than shooting, you're most certainly playing the game wrong.

As in the original, success in F.E.A.R. 2 comes down to good aim and judicious use of slow motion. Formerly feared as gaming's smartest AI adversaries, the replicant soldiers seem to have lost a few brain cells over time. Rushing in when they should be flanking, and fleeing when they should be pressing the attack, the AI never quite seems to click into a competitive groove, only offering up a challenge in later stages if only by their overwhelming numbers.

Which brings us to the game's puzzling laundry list of flaws. As already suggested, the game is remarkably easy on the Normal difficulty level. It may be a minor issue for some, but when your game hinges on the building of tension and creepy atmosphere, all those supporting efforts are dispelled when foes fall so easily and health, armour and ammo pick ups are so plentiful. Level design, despite the injection of some pretty outdoor environments, also feels unnecessarily old-fashioned. While F.E.A.R. 2 embraces the corridor shooter ethos like no other, it does so far too literally and ultimately to its own detriment. The outdoor streets and elementary school levels hold much potential for more open exploration, but the use of impassable rubble and locked doors reinforces F.E.A.R.'s corridor shooter roots and any potential there is left untapped.

This strict linear progression is offset, of course, by some of the best scripting in the business. Monolith's scripting prowess is probably second only to Valve's and this talent goes hand in hand with their incredible flair for visual tricks and scares. F.E.A.R. 2 is not a scary game by any measure, but it can be very unsettling. Even as you fall into that predictable rhythm of hectic battles and spooky quiet moments, the designers still find a way to play with your senses and misdirect your eyes when you least expect it.

I only wish that when my eyes are being distracted, it is not towards picking up yet another text log to read. This is an antiquated story-telling device that needs to be put to out to pasture because it breaks the pacing and not all the logs are that interesting to read. An argument can be made to just skip them, but some people, like myself, are story junkies. However flimsy the narrative may be, I need to get the story in my shooters. Dead Space and BioShock have both proven how effective audio logs can be, so I don't understand why (besides cost) this wasn't used in F.E.A.R. 2.

Many of the above flaws are easily forgiven in light of how solid and self-assured the core game is. Unfortunately, Monolith has decided to include multiplayer and similar to its implementation in last year's Condemned 2: Bloodshot, it falls well short of the mark. For a variety of reasons, the great feel of combat from the single-player campaign is all but lost in multiplayer matches. The deficiency goes far beyond the lack of slow-motion. The weapon balance is shoddy and there are a paltry six maps included for play across some very standard game modes. Even the exaggerated head bob, which gave you a sense of place and weight in single-player, does nothing but annoy you once you're competing online, where a sense of responsiveness wins out over immersion any day.

By far the most interesting mode is Armored Front, which sees two teams vying over control points with the aide of a powerful mech suit per side. This is fun for a while but suffers from serious balance issues of its own. As expected, the suits are overpowered and victory hinges on which team has the best mech jockeys.

F.E.A.R. 2 is actually an outstanding first-person shooter that should not be overlooked on the Xbox 360 or the PS3. All the more shameful that a slew of puzzling design decisions need to drag down its appeal. The single-player campaign concludes with a whimper, not a bang, as well as the obligatory tease at another sequel. Here's hoping that Monolith uses that next opportunity to give their narrative a much-needed boost so that I actually care what happens next. I'm also hopeful that another F.E.A.R. game will finally bring with it a respectable multiplayer component in the same league as Halo or Call of Duty. In an age when those franchises exist, there's less of an excuse for other developers to skimp on either their single or multiplayer experiences. It's truly what separates the good games from the real triple-A titles.

Monolith has shown that they can deliver, so why keep labouring within the confines of small ambitions?

Pros:
- Fantastic gun play in single-player
- Lengthy campaign (14 missions)
- Excellent visual effects and scripting

Cons:
- Too easy for experienced players
- Unrefined and shallow multiplayer: if it's going to be like this, leave it out
- Overall experience is solid but feels paint-by-numbers

NextGen Player gives "F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin" a...

NextGen Player Review: Savage Moon


Tower defense games have seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to games like PixelJunk Monsters on the PSN, and Savage Moon seeks to capitalize upon this trend. However, whereas PixelJunk Monsters proved that tower defense games can be highly engaging and strategically deep, Savage Moon suffers from some turret issues, erratic AI and a significant exploit that reduces the game to a tech race.

The story behind Savage Moon is simple enough: in the distant future, humans have long depleted the resources found on Earth, and have spread across the stars to harvest resources from wherever they can. They soon discover planets called Imoons that are resource rich and contains the three minerals essential for galactic survival (Coltan, Zirconolite, and Hematite).

Of course, there is a huge catch to extracting these minerals. Imoons are actually living asteroids that contain an auto-immune system that protects itself like a living body would. This auto-immune system manifests itself in the form of Insectocytes - swarms of savage bug-like creatures - that defend their Imoon with relentless attack.

To protect your mining operations, you have at your disposal a selection of 12 towers, some for attack and some for support. You begin the game with Machine Gun Towers, a basic turret with rapid-fire and low damage. Through researching technologies, you can deploy advanced towers, each with their own unique properties. For example, Mortar Towers provide high explosive indirect fire, Laser Towers fire concentrated laser bursts and Mine Towers launch land mine in between enemy waves. In addition, all towers can be upgraded five times for additional firepower.

The strategy doesn't stop there though, as there is a catch. Towers can only be built on level ground or on Blocking Towers and cannot be placed on uneven or volcanically active rock. While this is conceptually easy to grasp, it's sometimes hard in practice to tell exactly where you can and cannot place turrets. Often times it boils down to an unnecessary exercise of moving your cursor around the map to find acceptable turret landing locations.

To add some more depth to the strategy, early on the game introduces Command Skills that allows you to alter you attack, defense and economic capabilities. If you want to add some attack power to your turrets, turn on the Weapon Bonus. For added protection, turn on the Armour Bonus. Finally, for additional dollars per kill, flick on the Credit Bonus. There is one snag however, by turning on a bonus you automatically drop your rating in the remaining two categories. Turning on two of the three bonuses with give you a small boost to each, while decreasing the remaining stat. While Command Skills add a little strategy, the basic concept seems to revolve around maxing out your Credit Bonus during the initial, weaker enemy rounds, and and eventually moving your bonuses to Weapon/Armour as the enemies get more advanced.

The games also gives the player the power to manually advance the next enemy wave before the natural clock time. As a reward, the player is awarded with extra credits to be used towards deploying towers, researching technologies or upgrading your towers.

The Insectocytes in Savage Moon are varied and plentiful. You'll initially encounter basic ground units such as the crab-like Swarmers and Soldiers, as well as air units such as Flyers and Stings. As you progress, the Insectocytes evolve into larger and more deadly creatures. For example, on the second Imoon you discover, large spider-like Tanks will attack you with relentless vigor.

Insectocytes are habitual creatures that march toward your mining operation using the path of least resistance, which can cause a lot of frustration. If you place a tower in the direct path of the insects, they occasionally exhibit sentience and will take another, less dangerous route to your base. Often times, this redirection will result in Insectocytes taking paths your turrets cannot reach - and leading to the destruction of your mining operation. You'll need to do a little trail-and-error experimenting to see how various tower emplacements affect your enemy movements.

Compounding this frustration is the often unpredictable and erratic behaviour of your towers. For some bizarre reason your Machine Gun Towers go into a dazed surveillance mode when not attacking, often taking them many seconds to refocus their turrets when enemy forces approach. Your attack towers also seem to switch focus at random, allowing partially damaged Insectocytes to pass by your offensive without notice. Further aggravating the situation is the seemingly uselessness of certain towers. Laser Towers, while powerful, take so long to recharge that you'll wonder why you ever built one in the first place. Also, Mine Towers frequently lob grenades completely outside the path of the bugs and even on high ground they can't walk on.

However, all that pales in comparison to the strategy crushing exploit that plagues this game. Once you reach the second Imoon you'll unlock Amp Towers that boost all the stats of surrounding towers. Even one Amp Tower can boost the range, damage and area effects of your towers to obscenely high levels. Even still, you can drop multiple Amp Towers, thereby exponentially increasing all your tower stats. With only a handful of Amp Towers, you attack towers range can increase to literally 1/2 of the map, and your traditionally weak Machine Gun Towers can wind up being more powerful than your highly explosive Mortar Towers. When you add a Repair Tower to the mix, your Amp boost is so effective you literally have an indestructible wall of defense. To keep the game fair, there should have been a cap on the amount of boost Amp Towers can provide.

The audio and visual aspects of the game are mixed bag. Sounds mainly consists of bug squeals, cries, shrieks and wails. The music is very atmospheric and industrial, giving you all the clanks and bangs you'd expect from a mining operation. The graphics of the maps are okay, if not a little bland. Thankfully, the Insectocytes are nicely detailed and animated well. The same can also be said of your towers. Overall, the looks and sounds work, but do leave a bit to desired.

When you first get into Savage Moon, you might feel you're onto something quite special. However, as the game progresses, the game quickly unravels. If you're looking for a tower defense game for you PS3, pick up PixelJunk Monsters. If you've played the game, and are looking for another challenge, Savage Moon should fit the bill. It's a satisfying game overall, albeit quite frustrating at times.

Pluses:
- Enemy insects and towers are nicely designed and detailed
- Controls are simple, intuitive and the menu system is a breeze to navigate
- The game provides a fair challenge, and with 12 maps it's good value for the price
- Vengence Mode adds additional replay value

Negatives:
- Maps are very somewhat bland, uninteresting
- Insects are generally mindless attackers, but occassionally exhibit moments of sentience that really throws off your strategic planning
- Turrets aim is inconsistent and seems erradic at times
- No online/offline multiplayer is disappointing
- Large game exploit with Amp Towers reduces the stategy to...well, nil

NextGen Player gives Savage Moon a...

Feb 23, 2009

Far Cry 2 Developer Challenge


Ubisoft and Microsft recently released a new Jungle Seizure map for the PC version of Far Cry 2. In addition, Ubisoft is running a contest to give PC owners of Far Cry 2 an opportunity to play against the game's developers online. To enter the contest all you have to do is register on the Far Cry 2 contest webpage and then answer a few survey questions. Registrants will be entered into a draw and have the chance to play in one of three Developer Challenge Nights that will be held on February 12th (this draw is done), March 12th and April 9th. So there are still 2 chances left.

On the contest website you can download both the Jungle Seizure map and a 90 day trial of Microsoft Visual Studio for free.

For more details, you can visit the official Far Cry 2 Developer Challenge contest site.

An Interview with Ellen Beeman, Microsoft Game Studios

Ellen Beeman was my first interview at the VFS Game Design Expo and it was a real pleasure to speak to such an affable veteran of the industry. She is currently the lead producer in MGS' First Party Experiences Group and she comes loaded with years of experience developing for various platforms. She's even been heavily involved in one of my favourite franchises of all time, Wing Commander.

On this day, I managed to keep my nerd nostalgia in check and stick to questions pertaining to her Game Design Expo presentation, "Designing for Consoles". We talk a bit about bridging the gulf between PC and console gaming, as well as what will happen to well-written stories once all the online frag fests and MMOs have taken over the world.

Listen to this interview on the NextGen Player Mevio Channel

Subscribe to NGP on iTunes

Feb 22, 2009

An Interview with Tara Mustapha, Electronic Arts

Tara Mustapha, Electronic ArtsMeet Tara. Tara is a game designer and her latest project was Skate 2. You might recognize the Skate series as the new EA franchise that temporarily put Tony Hawk's skateboard video game monopoly on ice (and back to the drawing board). The latest Skate game builds on the strengths of the original, ensuring a bright future ahead for the series.

It's a pretty impressive notch to add to your growing list of achievements, especially for a young designer like Tara. NGP caught up with the EA developer and Women in Games panelist for a quick chat during the VFS Game Design Expo held earlier this month.

Listen to this interview on the NextGen Player Mevio Channel

Subscribe to NGP on iTunes

NextGen Player Review: ZAGG invisibleSHIELD

I don't know about you, but I can't tolerate when the screens on electronic devices get scratched. The cost to replace a screen is not something to easily ignore either. So this got me thinking, what can I do to protect the screens on my shiny new DS and my older PSP? That is when I stumbled across the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD.

The people at ZAGG generously sent us two invisibleSHIELDs for review; a full DS Shield protecting both of the screens and the entire external face of the case and a single piece PSP screen application. Here are the results of our tests.

ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for DS
Type: DS invisibleSHIELD
Despite being the more complex to apply, the end result of the invisibleSHIELD application is a seamlessly hidden and weightless application that provides a scratch proof layer to your DS. I event tried the key scratch test myself with the same amazing results seen in this video.

Total Number of Pieces: 11 (2 Piece screen option available)
Difficulty to apply: 7 / 10
Bubbles: 1 on external lid of DS
Time to apply: 30 minutes

ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for PSP
Type: PSP invisibleSHIELD
Having only one piece to apply definitely made this the easier of the invisibleSHIELD applications. A straightforward and easy to apply process made for a quick and easy job with great results.

Number of Pieces: 1
Difficulty: 4 / 10
Bubbles: 0
Time to apply: 10 minutes

Pros:
- Weightless, scratch proof protection
- Improved touch feel for DS screens

Cons:
- Slippery cover immediately after application - grip improved after a week (DS)
- Number of Pieces added to complexity (DS)

NextGen Player recommends the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for the DS and PSP.

Feb 21, 2009

NGP Does Halo 3 Mythic Map LAN Party


Recently NextGen Player had the opportunity to hang out, have fun and test out the soon to be released Halo 3 Mythic Map Pack at a Halo 3 LAN party that was held in Toronto and hosted by the good folks at Xbox Canada. The Mythic Map Pack will be included with the collector’s edition of the upcoming Halo Wars that is scheduled for launch on March 3rd. Soon afterwards, the new map pack will be available for purchase via XBL.

The event was held at the Gladstone Hotel in the Queen West area of Toronto. Much like other Xbox Canada events, the Halo 3 LAN party provided a great night of gaming as well as the usual great spread of food and...um...beers. But enough about the perks. We were there to game and show off our rusty Halo 3 multiplayer skills. Let’s just say the guys of North of 49 have nothing to worry about...well not anytime soon at least.


We played quite a bit that evening and overall enjoyed the new maps. The Mythic map pack consists of 3 new maps named Assembly, Sandbox and Orbital.

Assembly is a circular multi-level map with room to run circles or run diagonally from one end to another. It’s a fast paced map where you’ll find yourself constantly running while trying to evade from or take out your opponents.

Sandbox is your standard linear map with bases situated on either end. As per the name, this map has an Egyptian feel to it with pyramid like structures serving as the main bases as well as cover in between. This is a very open map where the use of a sniper rifle can come in handy. As well, since there is a fair amount of open ground to travel on, use of a Wharthog or Chopper is quite effective for running down the opponent.

The last is Orbital. This is a space station layout comprised mostly of hallways and stairs (this is a two level map). Scattered throughout are cube like containers that provide decent cover. There are also some good hiding spots if you can find them.

But why read about these maps when you can view them in action. That’s right, for your viewing pleasure, NextGen Player took HD footage of the new maps in multiplayer action (unfortunately I don't have the Orbital map footage available - for some reason my recording was corrupted).

You can view them by going to our YouTube channel. Links below. Enjoy.

Assembly map footage.

Sandbox map footage.

Oh, and big thanks to Xbox Canada and the High Road team (you guys rock!) for hosting this event.

Feb 20, 2009

NextGen Player Review: The Maw (XBLA)

Charming is not a word I would apply to many games these days. It seems that gamers have been bombarded by gritty experiences designed to make our pulses quicken over the last few years. How refreshing then, to play a game like The Maw, where bright colours and silliness are the order the day, rather than visceral disembowelments and gushing wounds.

The Maw doesn't spend a great deal of time on backstory or character development. All you need to know is that you're a blue alien named Frank who looks like he fell off the set of a Pixar movie. You'll soon make the acquaintance of a purple pile o' goo who is only known as The Maw. A fast friendship is formed, which is good news for Frank because the Maw has a tendency to devour everything in his path. Escaping the clutches of the Combine, or ahem..."Galactic Council" as they're known (I defy you to play the game and not think of the Half-Life 2 baddies when you encounter them), you set about exploring stages and watching the Maw eat everything in sight.

The real beauty of the game (aside from the graphics, which are cartoony but very pleasing to the eye), is in the expressions of Frank and the Maw. Frank is not what you'd call a talkative fellow, but manages to communicate his feelings very well through gestures and gasps. The same can be said of The Maw, (despite only possessing 2 rows of teeth, a wagging tongue and a big eyeball), manages to effectively communicate his desires and motivations. It's a fair bet that those motivations are most often, "I want to eat that" and "why aren't I eating that yet?"

Along your trip, you'll discover The Maw can absorb some of the powers of nearby creatures by consuming them. You'll need to make use of these powers to solve puzzles and escape the various environments, all the while watching the Maw grow from the size of a puppy to...well, let's just say he gets quite large before all is said and done.

There are a couple of hiccups I should mention. Controlling the Maw can become a bit tricky as he grows in size, I wouldn't have minded a quicker movement speed for the hungry behemoth. I also encountered a bug on the 2nd to last level that made progression through the level impossible, requiring a restart. These small issues can't take away from what an enjoyable experience The Maw is. I highly recommend this game if you're worn out on blood and guts adventures and just need something that will make you smile.

NextGen Player gives The Maw...

Feb 19, 2009

An Interview with Drew Murray, Insomniac Games

Drew Murray, Insomniac Games
Fresh off the success of Resistance 2, Insomniac lead designer Drew Murray lead a presentation at this year's VFS Game Design Expo titled "Drowning in Ideas: Prototyping Resistance 2".

Drowning may have been putting it lightly. Touching on everything from weapon design minutiae to great enemy concepts that eventually got lost in the iterative design process, Drew catalogued a great many examples of the successes and failures of his latest game.

I was lucky enough to be able to meet with Drew afterwards so that we could further explore the ideas and hard work that went into not only Resistance 2, but that which goes into creating video games as a whole.

You can listen to our interview via Mevio or simply subscribe to the NextGen Player iTunes feed.

Listen to this interview on the NextGen Player Mevio Channel

Subscribe to NGP on iTunes

Feb 18, 2009

An Interview with Brenda Bailey, Deep Fried Entertainment

Brenda Bailey is the COO and managing partner of Deep Fried Entertainment. Founded in 2005, this Vancouver-based studio has developed titles for the Nintendo Wii, DS and Sony PSP. Brenda was also one of the panelists at this year's special Women in Games talk held at the VFS Game Design Expo.

I got some face time with Brenda before the panel and talked to her about career options in the games industry, the state of women in the video games workforce and the future of Deep Fried.


Listen to this interview on the NextGen Player Mevio Channel

Subscribe to NGP on iTunes

Feb 17, 2009

Red Alert 3 $29.99 at Best Buy Canada/Future Shop

C&C:Red Alert 3 With the Halo Wars demo out and the game's retail release just weeks away, you could be forgiven for overlooking the other RTS games that have come out for the consoles thus far. While it's true Ensemble Studio's swan song features some of the most well thought out RTS console controls ever conceived, you have to ask yourself, "Does it feature Tim Curry chewing up scenery with a bad Russian accent?"

Enter EA's Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. This game was released to the PC and 360 last November and has already been discounted to $29.99 at Best Buy Canada and Future Shop. After picking up FEAR 2: Project Origin I had reassured myself that I had enough gaming content to last me well into the spring. Well, what do you know, my will is weak.

Get while the gettin's good (or be really thrifty and wait for another price slashing).

A Look Back at the VFS Game Design Expo - Part 2


The Vancouver Film School opened its doors to the public on February 8th as part of its annual Game Design Expo. The event felt a bit more disjointed here compared to the structured lectures and panels held at the Vancouver International Film Centre the day before.

A lot of that was due to my late arrival and subsequent hopping around between interview appointments. I missed a large chunk of the game design presentations and demo classes and insisted on hanging out in the corner room where past VFS alumni were showing off their old class projects. More on that in just a bit.

What I did catch of the presentations was fairly basic stuff. There was a large showing of youngsters with their parents in tow, so the discussions leaned towards a broader overview of game design principles. Nick Newhard and Jake Birkett of Big Fish Games hosted a talk called, "10 Secrets to Designing Instantly Enjoyable and Addictive Games" and it was a pitch-perfect primer to game development. Light-hearted enough to appeal to gaming neophytes yet substantial enough to show that games development as a serious discipline and a justifiable investment for education.


As for the alumni showcase, three teams of recent VFS grads were in attendance to demo their class projects. What's remarkable in all three games was the strong influence of popular puzzle games, most notably Portal and Braid. One game in particular, Synchrony, was built on the Unreal engine and looked stunning. It didn't occur to me to ask but the similarities were probably not a coincidence and the result of an overt project theme set out by the instructors.

The Open House concluded with the Women in Games panel. Composed of five women (four of them based in Vancouver) working in the industry, it was an intimate and eye-opening discussion on the current state of women in games and all the work that still needs to be done to promote the field as a viable career path for young women.

I was able to speak to three of the panelists: Brenda Bailey (Deep Fried Entertainment, Tara Mustapha (Electronic Arts) and Noelle Hunt Bennett (Big Fish Games). Their interviews will be featured on the site as we continue our coverage of the Game Design Expo this week.

Feb 15, 2009

An Interview with Kelly Zmak of Radical Entertainment


Kelly Zmak closed off day one of the 2009 VFS Game Design Expo with his humorous and insightful take on the games production cycle. His leadership experience and love for the industry is undeniable. Kelly's zest for the games business spread easily to all who attended his speech, and I watched as both industry vets and young VFS alumni flocked to the lobby afterwards to congratulate the Radical Entertainment president on his motivational lecture.

Some twenty minutes later, Kelly sat down with NGP to discuss games. Among some of the topics covered were Radical's 7.1 post-production audio studio, his stance on independent game developers and a "little known" new title with the name that stars with a "P" and ends with an "E".

Listen to this interview on the NextGen Player Mevio Channel

You can also get to the interview by subscribing to the NextGen Player iTunes feed:

Subscribe to NGP on iTunes

Feb 14, 2009

NextGen Player Review: Interpol

NextGen Player Review: Interpol Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos may be considered a welcome change of pace from the twin-stick shooters and old-school revivals that are the staple of the Xbox Live Arcade portfolio. It could just as easily be accused of being an interminable bore for an audience weaned on more fast-paced, stimulating games. After sitting through a few levels of Interpol, I definitely feel that I fall into the latter camp. Interpol is not without its merits, of course, and what makes me stifle yawns may provide a few hours of relaxed distraction for others.

The player takes on the role of a secret agent coaxed out early from their beach side vacation to track down the unfortunately named, Dr. Chaos. The nefarious doctor and his three cronies have escaped the authorities and it's up to you to follow their trail and bring each of these criminals to justice.

And with that barest of premises established, the player is thrust into a globe-spanning mission of intrigue and danger, where sharp observation skills win the day and the fate of the world hangs on your identifying random nick-knacks strewn about some one's messy living room. Uhh, what?

Despite what the flimsy narrative would have you believe, the core of Interpol's game play is that of a seek-and-find puzzle on the order of a Where's Waldo book. I more closely related it to those Photo Hunt touch-screen games that you find in bars, and arcades when there were still any around. Instead of asking you to pick out differences between two similar photographs, you're presented a single scene and given a list of items to find. A single mission is typically comprised of 3 separate scenes and all of them need to be solved within a shared time limit to successfully complete the mission.

Completing a series of missions will culminate in what you might call a "boss fight" but it is in fact just another scene with a stricter time limit and a more specific set of items to secure, such as finding 10 discs hidden around the Statue of Liberty's face. Hey, no one ever said secret agent work had to make much sense.

There's a limited hint system available if you get stumped but there's almost no incentive to not use it unless you are gunning for a top score or an Achievement. True, desperate situations may arise when you've exhausted your hints and you can't nab the last few clues. In all honesty, the time limits are so generous and the scenes so compact, you're bound to get lucky before the clock hits zero. Interpol designers may have been intelligent enough to penalize you for sweeping the cursor around the screen while jamming on the 'A' button but you'll still learn how to beat the system quite easily.

Interpol touches all the bases of a very basic formula. That makes up a big part of its main deficiency as well, because the game does so little to enhance or add to the simplistic core mechanics. They give you a magnifier glass but it's next to useless. The graphics are sprite-based, so all you see magnified are large, blurry pixels that actually deter you from finding the clues. The story, if you haven't yet guessed, is pure window dressing and does little to compel you to the next scene. The writing barely approaches tween levels of sophistication, so if you're like me you'll click right through the text briefings, eager to be on your way.

A trawl through one loosely linked locale after another wouldn't be so bad if the presentation was sound. Interpol is a fairly attractive package that features colourful, hand-drawn graphics reminiscent of the PC point-and-click adventures of yore. Pretty as they are with their ambient background animations, I can't help but feel that they chose the wrong art style for this type of game.

If you're going to ask me to identify representations of real-life objects, your drawings had better be spot on. Unfortunately, most of the scenes in Interpol don't look clear enough to make the act of seeking and finding an enjoyable one. I groaned every time I saw things like "wallet" on the clues list because the artist's representations of such everyday objects were not always up to snuff. Often times I would just find clues by accident, more out of an act of guessing than actually identifying something for what it was.

The visuals simply worked against the purpose of what the game is about and it was enough to turn me off from pressing on further. It's an attractive package to be sure. When they're not hurting your eyes from excessive pixel-hunting, the graphics have a fair amount of character and colour. The audio is also bolstered with a catchy secret agent theme song and some clever ambient sound effects. But when you get down to the core of it, none of the high production values really made for a better game, just a higher price tag.

In fact I wished the developers put less effort into the presentation and their throw-away story and just fine-tuned the basic game play to a razor's edge. I'll go as far to say they could have repackaged a version of Photo Hunt, slapped in Achievements and I would be a happy camper.

As it stands, there are far better games to be had on XBLA for 800 Microsoft Points. Interpol is best suited for more casual gamers who aren't into twitch-based play, competition or a large time investment. It's a "cool down" game of the simplest kind. For more experienced gamers, however, the appeal is limited and your points are probably best spent elsewhere.


Pros:
- Simple, pick up & play mechanics
- Relaxing pace
- Solid production quality

Cons:
- Attractive but unclear artwork makes the seek & find harder than it should be
- Throw-away story
- Pace and challenge level may bore experienced gamers
- Overpriced

NextGen Player gives Interpol a...


2.5 out of 5

Feb 13, 2009

2009...Year of the PS3?


Already a month into 2009 and one of the questions on my mind has been if this will be the PS3’s year to standout and shine. Sure...in 2008 the PS3 had its moments. Great titles such as Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet and Resistance 2. The onset and release of Home Beta. Growing console sales (up 40% in 2008). But amongst all of these positives, it seemed as though much of the focus in 2008 still revolved around the Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii and DS.

Rolling into 2008, Xbox 360 had already claimed exclusive DLC for Grand Theft Auto 4 and at E3 that year announced exclusive DLC for Fallout 3. News that they would also get Final Fantasy XIII was huge and at the same time took some of the lustre away from PS3’s exclusive line-up in 2009. Console sales continued to be strong for the Xbox 360 as the console jumped ahead during the critical holiday season with a price drop. The launch of the NXE later in the year brought new life to an already solid Xbox LIVE platform. On the flip side, Nintendo was also solidifying it's presence with the continuous surge in hardware sales of both the Wii and DS, also boasting some heavy hitting titles of its own in Super Smash Bros Brawl, Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit, and continual sales of 2007 titles such as Wii Play, Mario Kart DS and Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.

But that was all in the past...2008 is yesterday’s news. We’re now in 2009. So what does that mean for the PS3? Likely an opportunity to truly set itself apart from the pack. So let’s break it down for a clearer picture.

Console sales for the PS3 has finally reached 20 million units worldwide. VGChartz showed in January 2009 this important milestone for the PS3 – and a big one at that. To have finally reached the 20 million mark was a great way to ring in the New Year. They’ve been steadily keeping pace with the Xbox 360 and are approx. 8 million units behind. Not bad considering that the Xbox 360 had a year head start in the market. Then there's rumours pointing to a $100 price drop later this spring which makes for a very attractive price point for people sitting on the fence about purchasing a PS3. Another key influencer to aid in the sale of the PS3 is the blu ray factor. Blu ray movies are continuing to drop in price and many new releases sell at a price point only slightly above its DVD cousin. As momentum to adopt the blu ray format continues to grow, this trend will likely help to sway potential console buyers to seriously consider the purchase of a PS3 as well.

Game titles lined up for 2009 boast some of the most hotly anticipated games for the year. First off, there’s the exclusive Killzone 2. The overall reviews and impressions on this game have been nothing short of amazing. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the sequel to the highly successful Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. It’s safe to say there will be many people looking forward to picking up this game when it releases this year. God of War 3 is another exclusive that many fans have been waiting with baited breath for its release. The God of War franchise has been one of the most successful for the PS2 and so it’s not unreasonable to think it will bring similar success for the PS3. Final Fantasy XIII...yes, it’s no longer an exclusive in North America and Europe (as was announced at E3 in 2008), however that shouldn't take away from the fact that this game will no doubt sell successfully on the PS3 platform. Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer has gathered alot of buzz due to the life like visuals that truly take advantage of the PS3’s processing power. These are some of the key titles that the PS3 will rely on to bring...as Borat would say...great success. Having a strong line-up of exclusive titles is exactly what Sony needs to sell more hardware in 2009.

Let’s move on to online. PS3 launched the open beta for Home in December 2008. Since the launch, it’s been reported that Home has generated approx. $1 million dollars (USD) in virtual goods sales. That’s pretty impressive considering that it has been open to the public for only 2 months now. Home should serve as a solid revenue generator for Sony as long as it continues to develop it into a socially focused and user defined experience. And the key here is the social aspect. Home is a virtual playground that allows PS3 users to easily engage with each other or by one's self on many levels – listen to music, play games, chat, watch videos, shop, personalize, buy virtual clothes, furniture, etc. Combine this with the already popular free online play and evolving multiplayer structure and the future looks bright for online.

How about Trophies? Well, what about them? More games supporting trophies adds increases the overall fun factor. C’mon...many of us will admit it’s pretty cool when the Trophy notification pops up on the screen after you’ve accomplished a certain task. In addition, as of January 2009 Sony is making Trohpies mandatory in games released for the PS3.

Multimedia capabilities will continue to be a strength for the PS3 in 2009. Whether it be streaming HD video, listening to music, watching blu ray movies, PSP integration or connecting an external compatible device such as a HD Sony camcorder, there are many things outside of gaming that will bring added value and increased level of interaction to the PS3.

So there you have it. A holistic – well, as holistic as I can get – outlook for the PlayStation 3 in 2009. Looking at all of the factors above, it’s hard to argue against the PS3 having the potential for a great and probably most successful year in its existence. Will it be enough to propel it beyond the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii? It’s too early to tell at this point, but definitely not unrealistic.

Feb 12, 2009

A Look Back at the VFS Game Design Expo - Part 1

The 3rd annual Vancouver Film School Game Design Expo came to a close last weekend. It was a whirlwind series of industry lectures, design classes and alumni game demos that culminated in a Victor Lucas-moderated discussion panel on Saturday and a special Women in Games panel on Sunday.

It's worth noting that the expo differs from other gaming events in that there are no world-exclusive game announcements, marketing keynotes or the unveiling of top-secret 3D engines. This event is more a forum for prospective students considering a career in games plus any enthusiast who has a curiosity about how games are made and how the business is run. In short, anyone who paid the $75 ticket fee to pose with booth babes or watch Peter Moore fumble through Rock Band on stage would have been sorely disappointed.

For everyone else, there were plenty of highlights during the 2-day expo to stimulate the mind. An infectious air of positivity pervaded the event. Both the Vancouver International Film Centre and the VFS campus are not very large venues and made for intimate settings for industry insiders and public attendees alike. The atmosphere could be best described as low-key, with well-behaved game fans and a smattering of company recruitment booths filling up the narrow Film Centre lobby. There wasn't a blaring loudspeaker to be heard nor any flashing lights to signal some fantastic spectacle. It definitely did not feel like a public event but more of a subdued industry schmooze. More than anything, I think that is a testament to how approachable everyone was, from the VFS volunteers and coordinators on up to the respected industry professionals in attendance.

Industry Speaker Day
Ubisoft creative director, Clint Hocking kicked off the first day of the expo with his rousing keynote address, "The Next Generation of Player". Roaring through presentation slides and over 50 years of modern history, Hocking mapped out the changing landscape of today's gaming populace. This is one comprised of a rapidly shrinking boomer generation, just now beginning to make way for a massive influx of Generation Y adults and with that, the emergence of that demographics's peculiar tastes in gaming. And Generation X? In his rapid-fire and hilarious delivery, Hocking made a case for the gradual end to his generation's stranglehold over video game development, a reign a marked by overly difficult games, solitary experiences and an unhealthy dose of cynicism.

The keynote address was an eye-opener and its impact on the discourse of games resonated for the entire weekend. With his astute cultural observations and ironic sense of humour, Clint Hocking himself could be mistaken for a younger Douglas Coupland... if the local icon had chosen to create video games for a living instead of throwing his lot into all those other artistic mediums except games.


The presentations following the keynote were dryly technical in comparison but no less fascinating. Matt Searcy set a sobering tone to his "Level 1" design process lecture when he announced that the studio he was employed at, Humanature, was closed by its parent company (Nexon Publishing) not two weeks earlier. Much of Searcy's recent work with Humanature focused on free-to-play games on the web but the lessons revealed in his prototyping lecture are universal to all scales and markets of game development.

Those same lessons laid the thematic foundation for presentations given later by Drew Murray (Insomniac) and Scott Dossett (Epic). Murray took the audience through the various design hurdles he and his team faced in the development of Resistance 2. The presentation covered the gamut of techniques, from weapon and enemy conceptualization to scripting, level design and usability testing. Much credit needs to be given to Murrary for his candor; he is a humble man who is all too eager to go out of his way to point out his own errors and miscalculations.

Scott Dossett's presentation was greatly aided by gorgeous Gears of War 2 cinematics played in full on the big screen. With much of his topic focused on the nuts and bolts of motion-capture animation, the audience was also treated to some behind-the-scenes video of mo-cap sessions as well as some very funny audition tapes. The Epic animation team eschewed the common practice of hiring martial artists or acrobats as their actors and instead opted for performers with improv or stage experience. This was exemplified in one hilarious audition tape showing a series of improv actors walking into the studio in-character as "Dizzy", the derrick driver for Delta Squad. With nothing to work with but some character traits and their imagination, the actors did a fine job of capturing the essence of Dizzy and proved the wisdom of the Epic team to use performers who could not only do the physical work but really put themselves inside of the role.

Microsoft lead producer, Ellen Beeman and Radical president, Kelly Zmak both took a less technical bent with their presentations. Beeman showed herself to be personable and a real veteran of the games industry, although her lecture seemed rather brief. The following Q&A session also revealed just how difficult it can be to effectively answer questions while wearing the corporate muzzle. Kelly Zmak closed off the day's presentations with a blast of his infectiously high energy. Already a bit of a staple of the Game Design Expo, Zmak's speech worked to undo and clarify some of the harmful misconceptions that still surround video game development. "It's not all fun and games" was part of the take-home message. But far from being a downer, Zmak still managed to invigorate the crowd and spark some genuine excitement for the future of the industry.

You can grab some photographs taken at the event on Flickr. Later this week we'll cover what happened on the second day of the event, the free Open House held at the VFS campus.
NextGen Player Photos of the VFS Game Design Expo on Flickr

Feb 10, 2009

Timed Exclusive: Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X Demo (Xbox 360)

Stand back Tom Clancy fans, the Xbox 360/PS3 console war is starting get a little off the wall and your being taken for the ride. Today Xbox announced that GOLD members will be able to download the demo for Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X as of February 11 at 2:00 A.M. Pacific Time.

The catch is - it is an extremely short timed exclusive - 1 day to be exact. So all you PS3 gamers out there just relax and enjoy your day go play the Killzone 2 demo and then pick-up H.A.W.X from PSN on the 12th.

Just be glad you're not a PC gamer as they have to wait until February 26 to get their hands on this dogfight sim.

Key features of the H.A.W.X demo include:

  • Co-op enabled for up to 4 players – Jump in/Jump out

  • Gain experience points and unlock up to three real, licensed planes

  • Choose between two different game modes (normal and expert)

  • Two missions available: (1) Operation: Off Certification (Training mode); and (2) Operation: Glass Hammer (Rio De Janeiro)
For more information on Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X, visit: http://www.hawxgame.com or www.ubi.com.

An Interview with Scott Dossett of Epic Games

The 2009 VFS Game Design Expo wrapped up on Sunday, bringing to a close two very intense days of presentations, panels, hands-on demos and an endless supply of muffins.

I was on hand to attend both the industry speaker day held on Saturday, February 7th and the Vancouver Film School open house on Sunday the 8th. The line-up of industry pros selected to deliver lectures was a varied assortment of business leaders and design auteurs from the likes of Ubisoft, EA, Microsoft and more. Each of them brought something unique to the table, revealing another magical piece of the game development puzzle one moment, and in the next introducing another challenge yet to be overcome by the next generation of game creators.

Among these industry heavyweights was Scott Dossett, the senior animator at Epic Games. His talk was titled, "Reinventing the Chainsaw: Cinematic Pipeline for Gears of War 2". Not surprisingly, the presentation featured a lot of Gears of War 2 footage as well as an amusing behind-the-scenes look at the motion-capture techniques used to create the epic cutscenes that are the hallmark of the series.

NextGen Player caught up with Scott before the start of the Game Design Expo and we asked him to share some insights about his craft.

NextGen Player: One of the most important hallmarks of the Gears of War franchise is the quality of the animation of Marcus Fenix and the Locust. How were you able to perpetuate the amazing work done on the previous games for Gears of War 2?

Scott Dossett: For the original Gears of War’s animations, our goal was to make sure Marcus’ actions looked deliberate and confident, and to avoid anything that felt awkward. It’s a simple concept, but it was fairly complex to implement.

For Gears 2, we continued with that philosophy but added more transitions, more random breaks, and more of a sense of determination in his movement. We even hired local actors to play ongoing roles for cinematic content, and that decision added consistency and dramatically impacted the cinematics.

NGP: While working on the Gears of War series, did you aim to mimic "realistic" movements for the various characters or did you prefer to establish your own rules for presenting realism within the game?

Scott: It's always a tough balance between making a character's movements too realistic, and potentially boring, versus making the character's movements too stylized, and potentially unbelievable.

For our motion captured movements, we start with a realistic base and exaggerate it to match the stylized world. While we don’t want anything to look boring, we’re also aware that movements that are too stylized detract from believability and immersion, so we have to walk that fine line.

NGP: Do you think it's possible to make animations too realistic to the point where viewers become hyper aware of flaws or inconsistencies? Is the 'uncanny valley' a problem animators share with other specialists, like 3D modelers and texture artists?

Scott: It seems like it's more of a lack of humanistic flaws, or making something move too perfect, that causes the uncanny valley. Our characters and animations are exaggerated and stylized enough that we don't really hit that point. But the uncanny valley is an issue shared by many disciplines: modeling, texturing, animation, and so on.

We try to put enough humanistic imperfections into our animations to make them believable, but our goal has been to hit the peak just before the valley; as long as we keep that in mind, we’re confident that we won’t fall into it.

NGP: Your job involves managing a 2,500 square foot motion capture studio. Do you see games animation increasingly sharing techniques used in film or is procedural animation going to mark the next big transition for digital artists?

Scott: Games and movies are both art forms that share common ground. It seems like a natural progression that the two industries will increasingly share many tools, techniques and pipelines.

Motion capture is just a tool, like a paint brush or a sculpting knife. The programming behind procedural animation is a tool as well. The important thing is to make sure that you use the proper tool for the medium, and that you have the proper talent behind the tool.

NGP: In your role as Senior Animator on Gears 2, were you responsible for overseeing the implementation of additional animation features for the Unreal Engine 3? How were these features implemented in the game?

Scott: Epic has a dedicated team of developers working on different parts of Unreal Engine 3 at all times, so these tasks don't just fall onto the senior staff. For Gears 2, I often worked in Matinee (our engine's nonlinear editor), and was able to collaborate with the engine programmers to help implement quite a few improvements and fixes to it. These improvements offered better pathing for in-game vehicles, and helped in the creation of cinematics.

NGP: After your experience with Gears of War 2, were there any lessons learned to help further develop and improve the Unreal Engine?

Scott: Sure, the Unreal Engine is always evolving based on our needs as well as lessons learned from shipped games. Matinee will be regularly upgraded, and the animation importer will continue to change and improve. And, we have plans to add some completely new animation tools in the future.

NGP: What key pieces of advice do you have for aspiring young animators looking to break into games?

Scott: It takes a lot of hard work and a special eye to be able to analyze and break down the movement of something, and then rebuild it in a different medium, and then stylize it.

Observe your surroundings, and always watch how the people and things around you move in real life. Not just walk cycles, but expressions, emotions and interactions. Now I sound like Yoda. "Between you ...the rock ...and the ship" :)

But seriously, observe your surroundings and apply that to your animations, and that will help you create believable, compelling animations, whether they are stylized or not.


NextGen Player would like to thank Scott Dossett for taking the time out to give us a small glimpse of what's involved in the gargantuan task of animating assets for today's triple-A video games.

Stay tuned to the site in the coming days as we bring you more news and features from this year's VFS Game Design Expo.

Here Are Your Most Wanted Wii and DS Games for February '09, Canada

Nintendo Feb 2009 Most Wanted ListOh yes, it's that time of the month again. My inbox was adorned today with a very tantalizing email from Nintendo of Canada. Specifically, the February edition of Nintendo's News For Canadian Gamers email newsletter.

As always, my favourite part of the email is the ever evolving Most Wanted Whatever lists. I say top whatever, because for some reason the Wii most wanted list is a solid 12, whereas the Nintendo DS most wanted list consists of 13 titles. Last month the DS most wanted list was only 12 titles long. So either Nintendo arbitrarily decides how many titles to include in these lists, or some sneaky devil working at Nintendo thought they could plop in a 13th title without the QA team noticing. Bingo - you were caught!

But enough dittle-dattle, here are your Most Wanted Wii and DS titles for February '09, Canada:


Wii

1. Wii Music
2. Animal Crossing: City Folk
3. Mario Kart Wii
4. Wii Fit
5. Super Mario Galaxy
6. NHL 2K9
7. Wario Land: Shake It!
8. Mario Super Sluggers
9. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
10. Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree
11. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
12. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

NINTENDO DS

1. Personal Trainer: Cooking
2. Personal Trainer: Math
3. Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia
4. Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir
5. Kirby Super Star Ultra
6. Crosswords DS
7. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness
8. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time
9. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
10. Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day
11. Professor Layton and the Curious Village
12. Mario Party DS
13. Flash Focus: Vision Training in minutes a Day!

Gaming Deal From The Source

Hello NextGen Player readers.

Not only is it the mission of the NextGen Player team to provide you (our devoted and valued readers) with cutting edge, insightful and informative gaming news, but it is also our pleasure to share equally important updates on gaming deals.

That's right...at the core of it all, we're just gamers riding out the tough economic landscape to find valuable gaming deals so that we can afford to continue what we love to do many hours a week. GAME.

So enough rhetoric...here is a truly awesome gaming deal opportunity. The Source has advertised in their recent email newsletter a VIRTUAL DOOR CRASHER deal.

The Source VIRTUAL DOOR CRASHER Deal - Xbox 360 Game BundleThis means it is only available for purchase on their website. Starting on Wednesday, February 11th (for one day only) at 10am EST, you can have the opportunity to purchase an Xbox 360 game bundle that includes Condemned 2: Bloodshot and The Incredible Hulk for only $29.92. Heck, I'd pay that much just for Condemned 2 alone.

So get ready to flood The Source website tomorrow morning at 10am sharp to snatch that deal.

A Visit to Dr. Mario

Late last year my Wii Balance board died as it simply stopped registering weight on the right side of the board. A combination of holidays, spending time with my other consoles, and several game releases (GOW2, WOTLK sound familiar?) kept me from calling Nintendo support for help. Also the fear of long hold music, being handed to multiple reps who can't help till you finally get that one person that says "the first Customer Service representative should have done this". I'm sure you have been there.

So last week I finally did it - I bit the bullet and called Nintendo support. What an experience just like I thought; long hold times, a million buttons to get to a person, a big hassle about my Wii Balance board being out of warranty. Well not exactly!

From start to finish the call was over in about ten minutes. I was provided two options; ship it and pay or drop it off at a location conveniently on the way to my office with same day service. I'll bet you can guess which option won. Showing up at the repair location I was happy to see Dr. Mario there waiting for me at the door ready to look under the hatch and give my sick Wii Balance board so much needed TLC.

The best part is that Nintendo covered the repair under warranty and swapped out the old busted board with a shiny new one, in and out of the repair shop in under fifteen minutes - 1UP Nintendo!

This is just one example of Nintendo support understanding and helping their clients. Like when they helped this guy whose house burned down and replaced his Wii.

Vancouver's Blue Castle Games to Develop Dead Rising 2

News came today that Blue Castle Games has been contracted to develop the next installment of Capcom's Xbox 360 hit, Dead Rising. The sequel will see a multi-platform release on the 360, Playstation 3 and the PC.

Blue Castle Games was formed in 2005 and is based in Vancouver, BC. They will be taking over development duties on Dead Rising 2 from Capcom's internal studio, Production Studio 1, with Keiji Inafune returning as the producer.

Although Capcom Production Studio 1 will still provide development support, it's a curious and rather inspired choice for Blue Castle to be given the reigns of this young, successful franchise. Blue Castle Games broke onto the scene with their multi-platform release of The BIGS for 2K Sports and most recently released MLB Front Office Manager last month. Going from a stats-heavy sports management simulator to free-form zombie mayhem it hardly a logical progression and a massive creative leap when you consider how off-beat and oddly charming the original Dead Rising was when it came out in late 2006.

Not many details have been revealed about the sequel except that Frank West is no longer the protagonist and the settings will move far beyond that of a mere shopping mall. A release date has not been announced, so you'll need to play... well, take your pick of games now... in order to get your zombie fix for the time being. With any luck, the talented folks at Blue Castle will treat Dead Rising 2 as a great opportunity to reinvent themselves in an entirely new genre of video games.

Source: Wikipedia, Blue Castle Games

Feb 9, 2009

Let's Watch My Favourite LoadingReadyRun Video, Shall We?

I used to own a Commodore 64 back in the day. Yes, I still consider the early 1980's to be back in the day. Sadly enough though, maybe it's time to consider that wayyyyyyy back in the day.

As a proud C64 owner I played endless hours of such classics as Montzuma's Revenge, Gianna Sisters, Aztec, Jumpman, Fall Guy and of course the irresistable Maniac Mansion. That's why whenever I check out the website of the Victoria, BC based team LoadingReadyRun, I always *sigh* and smile. There's just something magical about comma eight, comma one that feels like a bowl of warm chicken soup.

For those of you unfamiliar with LoadingReadyRun, they are a fantastically funny comedy group that uploads a new comedy video each and every week. Trust me, they embody hilarity. If you don't believe me, check out my personal favourite video - Reject WiiPlay Games.

Enjoy my friends!

PGL Toronto Event Photos & Self Pitying

For those of you interested in the Canadian pro gaming scene, this weekend the Pro Gaming League came to the Renaissance Hotel, downtown Toronto.

Matt and I were on hand to check out the event and watch Halo 3 players far more skilled than ourselves pwn the heck out of each other. Within minutes of watching them play I realized they knew how to jump to areas I didn't even know you could jump to. I also bore witness to some outstanding sniper frags that I only wish I could perform. Some of these players could accurately snipe while jumping to these far off plateaus. Damn!

Now listen, I know that I'm pretty mediocre at Halo 3 (highest rank I ever achieved was 27), but these pro gamers made me feel like a total n00b. I got pwned just watching them. The lesson here is that no matter how good I think I am at a particular video game, there's also plenty of people out there that could mop the floor with me, put me through the ringer and then hang me out to dry.

I think I'm going to stick to offline play for a long, long time. I've got plenty of ego wounds to lick.

For a passel of photographs Matt and I took at the event, check out our Flickr Album by clicking on the image below:

Feb 6, 2009

Let's Learn A Bit About The VFS Game Design Program, Shall We?

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the VFS Game Design Expo that I'm sure you've heard all about. Now some of you people out there might be asking yourself "well what exactly is the VFS Game Design Program?". That's where I come in. Sit down, and I'll tell you a tale.

For starters, VFS stands for the Vancouver Film School. It's a school based (naturally) in Vancouver, BC that specializes in Production, Animation, and Game Design. The Game Design program is a one-year commitment that will earn you a Diploma in Game Design upon completion. The program covers all aspects of game design including storytelling, level design, game art, motion capture, scripting, cinematics, and the business of games.

So what about your prospects after graduating you ask?

Well, according to a recent VFS Game Design graduate salary and job satisfaction survey from the 162 graduates since the graduation of its first class in 2005:

  • 84 percent of respondents are currently employed in the game industry

  • Over 50 percent of respondents expected to earn between $40,001 and $60,000 in 2009

  • 77 percent of respondents working in the industry considered themselves to be fairly compensated

  • 93 percent of respondents working in the industry enjoy the work they do

  • 90 percent of respondents working in the industry are positive about their long-term career opportunities
Well one thing is certain. VFS graduates probably have a brighter future than I do!

If you're interested in learning more about VFS, they are having an Open House event on this Sunday, February 8.

Oh, and did I mention that NextGen Player will be there?

Killzone 2 Demo Impressions

Killzone 2
Guest contributor: James McIntosh

I'm sure many of you out there much like myself have been wondering if the hype surrounding Killzone 2 is true. While I'll wait until the retail version is available to pass final judgement, I did have a chance to test out the demo (made available to those who pre-ordered the game from EB Games/Gamestop in Canada). Allow me to provide my take on Guerilla Games’ latest foray into the FPS segment with the brief 15 minute experience that the demo provided.

The first thing you notice when you load the game are the pristine graphics. It is not an exaggeration to say this is the best looking game to ever hit consoles. It very well could be. The game looks like it’s pre-rendered, and the frame rate is fast and smooth. The hud eats up very little space so you’re left to enjoy the view as if it was through your own eyes. A lot of comparisons are being thrown towards the Unreal Engine 3 powered Gears of War 2, which due to awesome production values looked incredible. But there is something about the Killzone 2 visuals that are distinctly PS3 and set it above Gears 2. Whereas Gears 2 characters look solid in the 3D space, Killzone 2 looks almost as if it has been graded like a war film. This gives the game such a bleak beauty that it's hard not to stare in the middle of a firefight. Your depth of field changes when you reload and fire, and explosions are bright and utterly realistic.

The character animations of assault rifle victims, which are such a mainstay in the games' marketing, add so much to the experience during a battle. With bodies flailing in defeat, it's satisfying to squeeze off a few more rounds as they fall. The camera never impedes character movement, and the way you bob and weave through obstacles, ducking in and out of cover to attack, all help it come together even more.

Sound is also excellent in full 7.1 surround, which is almost a necessity so you can pinpoint where an errant grenade may have landed by the “tick-tick-tick” sound it makes, or for locating your squad mates.

I’m not usually a fan of FPS on the PS3, primarily because I find the controller a bit awkward for FPS fragfests. When a multi-platform FPS is released I’m usually inclined to get the XBOX 360 version simply because the controller is more attune to this form of gaming. That being said, control is solid and tight in Killzone 2, but for 360 vets you may want to increase the look sensitivity slightly as the default setting is a bit slow at targeting the various Helghast running around the screen. Button placement is similar to the Resistance series, and takes minimal time getting used to. One thing that is really nice about the gameplay, small though it may be, is that running feels like RUNNING. Tap the left stick down to initiate a sprint and you’re hauling ass across the maps like you stole something. This helps add to the visceral feeling of the game, much like the roadie run did for Gears of War. The physical world of Killzone is filled with exploding fuel barrels and compressed-gas tanks that add a variety of gameplay options for dispatching the ornery red-goggles when they drop in from the ceiling to ruin your day.

As fun as Halo, better looking than Gears 2 and dare I say far exceeds Resistance 2. It’s a straightforward game that has been polished raw, spat on and then polished some more. A simple formula executed perfectly, with emphasis placed entirely on being a fun and immersing experience.

Killzone 2 ships February 27th.