Apr 30, 2009

Can Wolverine Break the Movie License Curse?


And so it begins. Tomorrow we see the release of the long-awaited X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the big screen. Hitting stores shelves the same day will be the video game tie-in of the same name, available for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

I am suitably hyped for the film component of this cross-media marketing blitz. Despite the tepid reviews, my love for comic book movies and for Wolverine specifically ensures the question of my ticket purchase is a foregone conclusion. A star vehicle for our favourite mutton-chopped, mutant canuck as been teased for years. What self-respecting movie and comic book nerd wouldn't be excited? But the big question as it pertains to the writers of this blog and to all of you reading is just how good of a movie game will this be?

Although I may be fine with risking $12 (or rather, $7 with my prepaid Famous Players voucher) and 90 minutes of life on a movie, the same cannot be said for a $60 game and a few hours in front of the tube.

Traditionally, video game adaptations of movies have never fared very well at the hands of critics or at the retail counter. Gamers approach these kind of games with trepidation and with good reason. They are typically rushed products, rife with bugs and uninspired design mechanics. They are regarded as quick & dirty cash-ins, just another cog in the machinery that is our modern entertainment industry.

The thing is, gamers know this, publishers probably know this and developers are no doubt intimately familiar with the pitfalls of movie-licensed games. There's actually been a trend of late for publishers and developers to step up their efforts to improve the quality of their product. And in the absence of quality, there is still the marketing angle being pushed of, "THIS is the movie game that finally breaks the negative stigma of movie games". This message is then disseminated to the gaming press and we all hold our collective breath wondering if this truly is the case.

Well, one only needs look at games like The Bourne Conspiracy and Wanted: Weapons of Fate to see that the industry still has some ways to go in elevating the quality of movie games.

So it's not unreasonable to cast a doubtful eye towards the next great hope. The X-Men Origins: Wolverine games comes to market with a full head of steam, gliding on the coattails of some extremely sexy trailers along with the barely contained over-confidence of developer interviews with various Raven team members. And why not? This game looks like a wild ride: breath-taking set pieces, blistering melee combat and unprecedented displays of gore. Wolverine's fury has rarely been so unflinching in its grit and violence.

So the hype is there and god knows, so is the pedigree. Raven built their name on being one of the finest purveyors of Quake engine-powered shooters (Hexen anyone?). They have also transitioned very well to current-gen console development as the masterminds behind the fantastic Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.

But is it enough to break the curse that has plagued movie games for so long? Activision and Raven would certainly like you to think so. My skepticism persists, however, as developers continue to make Starbreeze's work on the Riddick franchise look like a once-in-a-lifetime fluke instead of the new standard for the genre.

C'mon, Wolvie, make us proud! I dare you to brood and slash your way to our hearts.

Exclusive GTA IV Xbox 360 Bundle to Hit Canada

Canada is about to get a sweet new exclusive Xbox 360 Elite Console bundle featuring the blockbuster mega hit GTA IV. This bundle package will be available the week of May 2, 2009 and will only be available in Canada.

The Xbox Elite bundle comes with a black wireless controller, Xbox 360 HDMI cable and Xbox 360 Black Headset, GTA IV Xbox 360 Game, 400 Microsoft Points and two limited edition GTA IV stickers. The complete package will retail for $399.99.

Keep your eyes peeled, May 2 is only two days away.

NGP at the 2009 ELAN Awards: Flickr Photos

This year's ELAN Awards have come and passed and I was fortunate enough to be there to celebrate the great achievements in video gaming in 2008. While my camera batteries were not up to the task of snapping pictures all night, they recorded a few moments before giving up the ghost.

Check the ELAN photos and other NextGen Player-captured imagery by visiting our cozy Flickr gallery, or click on the album image below:

Apr 29, 2009

NextGen Player is GDC Canada Bound

Start the clamour, sound the bell, it's official - NextGen Player is bound for GDC Canada on May 12 & 13, 2009.

Who will we meet? What will they say? Most importantly, how big will the meat cube be?

Soon my friends we shall find out. Mmmhmm, soon indeed.

Pictures from The Hand Eye Society Social

On April 23 I had the pleasure of attending the *second* social event from The Hand Eye Society, a Toronto-based group that aims to mesh together our local video game communities. It's an interesting concept, and worked better than I imagined in my head.

The night began in a quaint bar called Unit, located on Queen west downtown Toronto. It's long, it's narrow, it's dark - a perfect ambiance for gamers to mix and mingle.

Over the course of the evening I chatted with many interesting folks including Shaun Hatton the charismatic Editor of Toronto Thumbs, Jon Mak the founder of Queasy Games and developer of the highly acclaimed PSN game Everyday Shooter, Raigan Burns from Metanet Software and developer of the classic ninja action game N+, Ryan Henson Creighton the President of Untold Entertainment, and so many more stimulating people. (And I do mean stimulating in the most innocent of ways.)

While I was at the event I managed to snap a passel of photographs that I've uploaded to our Flickr account. If you want to check them out, click on the photo image below.

Oh, and one more thing, you've just got to check out this post from Abootplay.ca which presents the absurdly interesting monstrosities that we built that night out of clay. Here's hoping Pronto Pillyflup gets to one day star in it's very own video game!

Apr 28, 2009

Halo Wars Launch Party Photos

By Paul Hunter

Last month the NextGen Player team had the rare opportunity to attend an Xbox Canada Halo Wars launch & LAN party. The event took place on the evening of March 2, a cool four hours before the public retail launch of Halo Wars. Accompanying me on the outing was none other than Andrew Green, NGP's Senior Writer and my fellow UNSC cannon-fodder.

The night began a little sedated, but quickly unravelled itself. Xbox Canada, in their usual lavish manner, provided us with cheese-dripping Pizza Pizza and some hearty Canadian beer. Perfect appetizers before devouring many hours of Halo Wars madness.

The event was littered with media types from all walks of life, all gaming away on LAN connected Xbox 360s for some 3v3 and 2v2 Halo Wars action. Before jumping into a PVP match, Andrew and I decided it would be best to warm up with a Skirmish match against the AI. That way we could acclimatize ourselves to the level environment and reacquaint ourselves with the basic controls of the game.

First off, the game was simple to control, but maddening to master. As I mentioned in my in-depth preview of Halo Wars, it can be quite a chore to configure your army with precision. So, I stuck with the select all units tactic for simplicity. We had our confidence boosted after the crushing defeat of our AI opponents.

Next up was the true challenge - a 3v3 against two members of the General Games team, Justin Amirkhani and Raj Patel. Both teams had a third mysterious player that entered the fray. I say mysterious only because I never bothered to learn their names.

The match was full of MAC Blasts, Cleansing Beams and squawking Covenant Grunts fleeing from the terror. Ultimately we succumbed to the power of the dark side (aka our opponents) and humbly accepted defeat. Justin came in 1st place, Andrew Green 2nd and me in 3rd. While we didn't win, we did place in the upper-half of the standings and almost being a winner is what counts. Well, almost.

If you want to have a gander at some of the photos I took that night, feel free to click on the image below to visit our Flickr set:

Bethesda Picks up WET


The last time NGP wrote about WET, Montreal-based developer A2M were fresh out of their showing at the Montreal International Game Summit and sharing some juicy details about their upcoming 3rd-person action shooter. They were also in a bit of a limbo, being deep into development on their new game, yet blowing in the inhospitable business winds without a publisher.

At the time we all wondered who would be the first smart cookies to snap up WET. We wondered no more when over the weekend we received a press release outlining some general details about the game and dropping the name "Bethesda Softworks" as the publisher, all but confirming the new arrangement.

I thought it was an inspired choice for Bethesda to publish WET. Widely known for their epic open-world style RPGs, Bethesda could use a touch of diversification in their portfolio that until recently, began and ended with The Elder Scrolls series.

Their lineage encompasses more than that, of course. Back in the 1990s, Bethesda developed a series of first-person shooter games based on the Terminator movie license. The first of these, released in 1990, barely qualified as a FPS and it was absolutely horrid. Later Terminator games fared a lot better but sometime in the mid-90s Bethesda stopped with the man-on-robot shooters, cranked out a couple decent racing games, then focused on developing their RPG legacy.

With the main dev teams at Bethesda surely tied up with various Elder Scrolls and Fallout projects, it really makes sense for them to publish an exciting new IP placed in a genre they aren't really known for at all. Third-person action? The last few Bethesda games have baseline, nearly unplayable third-person camera modes, so it's great for A2M to come in now and patch up this hole in Bethesda's skill set.

Regardless of how the partnership works out in the long-time, it's safe to say this is great news for both A2M and gamers now that WET has the proper support to see a release on Xbox 360 and PS3 sometime in this fall.

The 3rd Annual ELAN Awards


The 3rd annual ELAN Awards took place last Saturday at the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel and it was a real energetic, warm gathering of industry professionals coming together to celebrate 2008's best in not only video games, but visual effects and animation.

I grudgingly slapped on my swank golden tie and all-purpose dress suit to take in the evening's festivities. First up on the agenda was a little bit of pre-party mingling. There was friendly, close-knit feel to offset the classy surroundings. Sequestered on the convention level of the hotel, just outside the Pacific Ballroom where the dining and awards would take place, attendees of all stripes leisurely toured the concourse as they chatted and sipped from the plentiful flutes of sparkling champagne.

I myself made certain of always keeping a glass of bubbly in hand as I made my rounds. In my other hand was my camera, which I was sure to take many, many photos with......Alright, so the photo idea didn't pan out as expected. While I made certain to pack extra sets of batteries with me, I didn't expect all of them to have close to zero charge. Oops. Here gentle reader, is just one of the many trials and tribulations of your typical games writer.

Undeterred, I mingled my way into some interesting conversations, including a prolonged discussion of all things Fallout with a very poised, very enthusiastic young man who turned out to be Shane Plante, nominee and eventual winner of Best Student Animated Production for his short, Snared. I also traded some hellos with Offload Studios founder, Bill Henderson and his wife/co-founder Debbie. An extremely young company based in Abbotsford, BC, Offload Studios specializes in 3D printing and was responsible for producing the impressive award statuettes handed out to all the evening's winners.

It seemed like an eternity -- although that was probably my grumbling stomach talking -- before they finally opened the doors to the ballroom to kick off the main event. Guests made their way to their assigned seats. I lucked out and found myself sitting with Tiffany Chester, sister to ELAN co-founder Holly Carinci, along with her possé of friends and close acquaintances.

Then the lights dimmed, the loud speakers boomed in and the show was underway. Tom Kenny, the inimitable voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, took to the stage as host and really started the night off right with his high energy, improvisational skills and joke-laden opening monologue.

As for the awards, I won't enumerate every single one that was handed out that night, but I will stress just how completely Left 4 Dead and Valve dominated all the major awards, taking home statuettes for Best PC Game, Best Art Direction, Best Multiplayer and Best Video Game of the Year, among others. It was a near sweep, upset only by the likes of other heavy contenders such as Gears of War 2 and Fallout 3.

There were some rough spots to the ELAN show production this year. The presentation screen wasn't always clear and the demo reels became repetitive. Sound and overall cueing of segments could have used some more polish as some presenters found themselves getting cut off mid-sentence while a pre-recorded announcer read out the list of nominees for them. These were all minor hiccups that did little to damper the festive atmosphere of the show and only speaks to the fact that the ELANS is still a young event that is rapidly finding its feet and is growing each year.

As if to stress the point, many notable personalities were absent, chief among them Gabe Newell and Shigeru Miyamoto, who was inducted into the ELAN Video Game Hall of Fame. Valve staff writer, Chet Faliszek, accepted the numerous awards bestowed upon Left 4 Dead.

Overall, I had a blast at 2009 ELAN Awards. I very much expect it to increase in profile and impact as the show, and the video game industry as whole, matures.

The final tally of winners in the video game category are:

1. VIDEO GAME OF THE YEAR
Left 4 Dead
Valve

2. BEST CONSOLE GAME
Fallout 3
Bethesda Softworks
Todd Howard, Game Director; Emil Pagliarulo, Lead Designer & Writer; Gavin Carter, Lead Producer

3. BEST PC GAME
Left 4 Dead
Valve

4. BEST CASUAL/ARCADE GAME
Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst
Big Fish Games
Pat Wylie, Adrian Woods, Chris Campbell, Producer

5. BEST MOBILE/HANDHELD GAME
Club Penguin :Elite Penguin Force
1st Playable Productios/Disney Interactive
Tobi Saulnier, Founder & CEO, 1st Playable Productions; Zhenelle Falk, Producer/ Designer; Andrew Carroll, Lead Programmer; Ian McConahey Stead, Lead Artist

6. BEST SOUND in a VIDEO GAME PROD'N
Mike Larson, Audio Director; Steve Jablonsky, Composer; Jamey Scott, Sound Designer; Joey Kuras, Sound Designer
Epic Games, Microsoft
Gears of War 2

7. BEST ART DIRECTION
Istvan Pely, Lead Artist
Bethesda Softworks
Fallout 3

8. BEST GAME DESIGN
Gabe Newell
Valve
Left 4 Dead

9.OUTSTANDING TECHNICAL INNOVATION
Gabe Newell
Valve
Left 4 Dead

Apr 25, 2009

NextGen Player Turns One

By Paul Hunter

NextGen Player is officially one year old as of this weekend.

Ironically enough I've been sitting at the screen for an hour or so wondering how I could possibly sum up this experience succinctly and accurately enough to properly convey my emotions. To put it bluntly, NextGen Player has been a thrill ride with all the adrenaline-pumping excitement you would come to expect. This website has always been a fun side project of mine (as I also work full time) and as such, I try and put in as many evening and weekend hours into it as I'm able to afford. It can be a tough balance with all of life's responsibilities and challenges, but ultimately it's been a very rewarding ride thus far.

NextGen Player has had a whirlwind of success in the past year. We've already well surpassed 100,000 page views in our debut year. While we're no Kotaku or Joystiq in terms of sheer traffic, when I first started this blog I wasn't sure if anyone would read this at all. Having tens of thousands of readers visit our humble corner of space on the 'net is more than I could have ever hoped for.

Not only that, but we've had the privilege of attending many industry events including MIGS, VFS Game Design Expo, and tonight we're off to The ELAN Award show. We've been invited to many media launch parties including Gears of War 2, World of Warcraft: WOTLK, Halo 3: Mythic Map Pack and many more. Most significantly, NextGen Player was named a finalist in the 2008 Canadian Blog Awards for "Best New Blog". For everyone who voted for us, I want to thank you for supporting what we do.

Above all, I want to thank you, the reader, for honestly supporting us over our short history. It's knowing that people actually give a damn that makes all my time worthwhile. While we all love writing, it's our community that really gives us purpose and conviction. We're not sure how all of you found our site, but we're glad you did - and we hope you stay and chat.

While I may have founded this site, I certainly cannot take all the credit. I want to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Shin, Andrew Green, and Clinton Ma for all your contributions. Also, I want to thank Matt Vernhout, who while not still with the site, contributed quite a bit over the past year. It's the dedication these people have poured into NextGen Player that has made it was it is today. All this without even a nickel of pay.

I always like to think that NextGen Player is something different, that our focus is somehow different the rest of the stuff out there. The intent of this website was to give Canadian readers a place to read their news, and to give all of us an opportunity to share the amazing stories of Canadian gamers with the rest of the world. We're here for this country, but most importantly, we're here to remind the world that Canada is a strong and growing nation of gamers.

I am always interested in what our readers think we are doing well, what we can improve upon, and what new features you'd like to see on the site. All of us here at NextGen Player are community-focused. At the end of the day, your input will help grow and shape the site in the years to come. If you're interested in reaching out to me, please send an email to paulATnextgenplayerDOTcom.

Thank you for reading NextGen Player - we couldn't have done any of this without you.

[cupcake photo courtesy of Theresa Thompson - thanks!]

Apr 24, 2009

UFC 2009: Undisputed Demo Impressions


MMA and fighting game fans were in for a treat yesterday when the demo for UFC 2009: Undisputed was made available on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace. The retail game, by Yukes and published by THQ, will see a North American release on May 19th, 2009. With some great UFC events behind us and the prospect of a few more exciting fight cards scheduled through out this summer, the timing of this game's release is impeccable.

I got a chance to tear into the Xbox 360 demo last night. Being a bit more than a casual fan of the MMA, and the UFC in particular, I couldn't help but share some impressions of what could be one of the most intricate fighting sports games of this generation. Hit the jump for the full demo impressions.

Chores and other personal responsibilities were easily cast aside yesterday as soon as I returned home from the office. I was eager to boot up the Xbox 360 and jump into the UFC 2009: Undisputed demo. "Jumping in" is not entirely accurate. The demo itself is really only a single exhibition mode and an extensive tutorial training mode whose depth stopped me dead in my tracks. The tutorial is optional but I knew better than to leap headfirst into the octagon without grabbing a clue first.

And it's a good thing I did: UFC 2009 has a massive command list of moves. The tutorial is broken up via menu screen into 5 major lessons, covering everything from basic movement and strikes, to submissions, transitions and clinching. There's even training segments on counters, reversals and what's known as "ground and pound" (GnP). It's all very impressive. Basically, almost any attack you'd expect to see a fighter pull off during your average UFC pay-per-view event, you'll see it in the game.

The meat of the demo is, of course, the exhibition mode. In a strange case of deja vu and reliving very recent history, the only playable fighters available are Chuck "Iceman" Liddell and Maricio "Shogun" Rua. MMA fans probably still have Rua's devastating KO win over Liddell fresh in their mind from last weekend and it's a nice touch to have the demo feel so current with recent events.

And now, the main event you've all been waiting for. How does this game play?

The short answer is: very well. As mentioned already, the command list is huge and is quite a bit more daunting than other fighting games due to the nature of MMA and how you need such smooth transitions between standing, striking, clinching, takedowns and ground grappling. Every single input on the Xbox 360 controller is put to use and it's no small feat that Yukes has been able to translate the vast repertoire of moves into a scheme that will at first feel very awkward but very quickly shines in its elegance.

With such a breadth of controls at my disposal (as well as a string of humiliating knockouts at the heavy hands of Chuck Liddell), I even ventured back to the tutorial for a refresher on attack clinching and working on my ground game. Imagine that, a tutorial that you can, and perhaps need to, replay! Although it skimps a bit in some areas, such as showing you how to break off or defend against the deadly Thai clinch, it's a great tutorial mode overall. I hope developers of more traditional fighting games take some notes and implement more helpful tutorials into their own work instead of throwing players into the deep end of the pool as they are so apt to do.

The exhibition matches I played using both Rua and Liddell were raucous, addictive affairs. Fights are intense and mirror the real televised events with jarring precision. The graphics are largely superb, with the most attention lavished on the fighters' appearance and the mimicry of the live broadcasts, from the TV graphics right on down to the play-by-play commentary of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Surprisingly, the game's rendition of announcer Bruce Buffer and the gorgeous "octagon girls" are a bit off but it's a small price to pay when everything else about the presentation is so confidently handled.

What's most striking about UFC 2009: Undisputed is how faithful it tries to stay to the source material. The focus is definitely one of a simulator as opposed to an "arcade" style of game, which means there is a real absence of gimmicks. Visual tricks like slow-motion zooms are kept to a minimum, which should please the purists who only care for the nuts & bolts of combat and turn their noses up at unnecessary frills.

At the same time, the presentation and overall feel of the game play can feel oddly sterile. Despite the awesomeness of the simulation, controlling the fighters can feel like a first lesson in puppeteering, something further emphasized by the often underwhelming feel of connecting with blows, even when it's a clean right hook to your opponent's ear. Wild, highly energized ground and pound battles in a real MMA fight look positively bored and clinical in the video game. And if there's one damning criticism I can level at the game so far, it's that it seems so much easier to be victorious through strikes as opposed to submitting your opponent. Submissions are very hard to pull off and even playing on the easiest difficulty I was not able to submit the AI once through half a dozen bouts.

I've heard reports that the submission game is more balanced in human-versus-human matches but I wasn't able to test it out the couch versus for myself. If that's the case, than I expect the Xbox Live portion of the final game to really take off and possibly overshadow the single-player mode. Granted, if they plan on offering a complete experience, Yukes would do well to fine-tune the single-player submission mechanics either before retail release or via a post-launch update.

My minor criticisms aside, the UFC 2009: Undisputed demo was mightily impressive and left me even more eager to get my hands on the full game next month. MMA fans have a lot to be happy about in May. A solid current-gen video game rendition of their favourite sport AND a few days later, a major UFC pay-per-view event. The fighting life is definitely good.

The 3rd Annual ELAN Awards this Saturday


Listen up, fans of video games and fans of award shows. The 2009 ELAN Awards go down this Saturday night, April 25th, at the elegant Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

With a bevy of industry heavyweights locally and abroad, the show is sure to be a raucous hub of insider networking and merrymaking. NextGen Player will be in attendance to soak in all the glitz and glamour the video gaming industry has to offer. Should we make it out without too much of a hangover, you can expect a full, mostly sober, report after the last trophy has been handed out.

Check out some of these links for our coverage of the 3rd Annual ELAN Awards:

ELAN Awards Will Rock Out With Splitting Adam

Miyamoto to be Inducted Into Video Game Hall of Fame

ELAN Video Game Award Nominees Announced


3rd Annual Elan Award Categories Announced

Apr 22, 2009

Q&A Time: Future Shop's Used Game Program

Ever since we announced on NextGen Player that Future Shop would be entering the pre-owned game market, Canadian gamers have been asking me the odd question here and there about the program. The main questions I get are "when will the program launch at the xxx location?" and "what differentiates the FS used game program from other programs in Canada?" Well, as a kind service to our readers I tossed the questions over to Future Shop’s Merchandise Manager, Brian Zhang. Here's what he had to say:

NextGen Player: A lot of gamers have been asking us when the used game program will be rolled out completely across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), any idea when this will happen?

Brian Zhang: Future Shop is planning to launch in all stores in the GTA. We’re still waiting for licenses for Future Shop’s Vaughan and Keele & St. Clair stores. Currently, the following stores in the GTA offer customers used gaming:

Store#Store Location
062Yonge & Eglington
051Brampton
615Orangeville
626Orillia
630Brampton East
074Barrie
601Whitby
613Oshawa
075Ajax
602Richmond Hill
052Scarborough
076Newmarket
055Markham
619FS Markham East
057Weston
067Toronto - Downtown
053North York

NGP: Are there more locations across Canada that currently do not sell used games where we might see the program roll-out?

Brian: Used gaming at Future Shop has launched nationally across 120 retail locations out of 139. Our intention is to launch in all markets legally possible.

NGP: What's the best way for gamers to stay abreast of the latest Future Shop used gaming news and deals?

Brian: The best resources for anyone to stay on top of all the latest used gaming news, is checking Future Shop’s store flyers and our website, specifically www.futureshop.ca/usedgames. It’s worth noting that Future Shop now sells used games online at www.futureshop.ca.

NGP: Are there any key differentiators/advantages between the Future Shop used game program and other programs on the market that you'd like our readers to know about?

Brian: Future Shop has a number of key advantages for used gaming customers. First, Future Shop’s used gaming program offers choice. Customers can turn your old games into a cell phone, digital camera, ipod or even new a video game – the choice is theirs.

Second, Future Shop gives exception value. We give customers competitive value for your trade-ins

Third, it’s our offers. Customers receive great offers and incentives towards future purchases

Lastly, I’d say its peace of mind through Future Shop Used Games Guarantee. There’s a 30-day guarantee on all used games. Used games are inspected quality assurance. If there’s a problem, we’ll exchange it for the same game or provide an in-store credit. See one of our associates in-store for details.

NGP: Thanks Brian for your time, and good luck with the program.

Apr 20, 2009

LBP Golf Contest: You Could Cast The Swing Vote

Earlier this month Media Molecule and Playstation Canada launched a new LittleBigPlanet contest in honour of Sackboy's leap to Hot Shots Golf: Out of Bounds.

The challenge posed to the LittleBigPlanet community was to design, create and share a custom made golf course, with the top 9 holes declared the Official LittleBigPlanet Golf Course. Not only that, but the winners can bask in the glory of owning their very own (and über rare) SackBoy crown.

Well, with the submission phase finished, it's now time for all you SackBoys and SackGirls out there to vote for the winning courses. All you have to do is fire up your copy of LittleBigPlanet, search for golf levels (Canadian entries will be prefixed with this text: "LBPGolfCA"), and finally *heart* your favourite levels. Media Molecule will then select the 9 winning holes from eligible levels that get the best ratings between April 14 and April 27. Of the 9 holes, two will be selected from Canada submissions. Full contest details can be found on the Playstation Canada website here.

So what exactly does a LittleBigPlanet golf level look like? Well, this:

Apr 19, 2009

Quebec Prohibition on English Video Games Clarified

Earlier this month the Toronto Star and the French-language site Jouez.com reported on a new piece of legislation passed in Quebec that effectively bans English language video games if a French version is available. Well, as it turns out that's not exactly correct, and Jouez.com has posted two updates on their site to further clarify this new law.

Before we get into the clarifications, let's back up for a minute and explain the history behind this legislation. Back in September 2007 the Office quebecois de la langue francaise and the Entertainment Software Association of Canada signed an agreement for the gradual francization of video games over the following 18 months.

You see, historically game publishers have not put a lot of effort into the translation of video games into french and many games still are packaged with English content and English packaging. Game developers often cite the extra time and effort associated with translation as a financial barrier. Not only would developers need to translate the in-game text, but often times the game has to be re-programmed because the French text doesn't fit in the same text boxes of the English version. When you add-in audio voiceover and cut scene translation, you've got a lot of work on your hands.

So that's the past, and now 18 months later, the changeover took effect on April 1, 2009. According to the clarifications on Jouez.com, English versions of video games will continue to be available in Quebec. Furthermore, the legislation provides that when a video game is produced in France (in PAL format), it must now be available in Quebec (NTSC format) at the same time as the English version, or within a reasonable amount of time due to technical reasons.

There you have it, not nearly as dreadful as many news sites had originally reported. It looks like all those panicking retailers, and day-one-must-play Quebec gamers have little, or nothing at all to worry about.

Ultimate Gaming Setup On A Budget - Part 2

Earlier this week, NextGen Player's contributing writer James McIntosh shared part one of valuable information on how to build the ultimate gaming setup on a limited budget of $2,000. Here is the rest of the article...enjoy.

Ultimate Gaming Setup On A Budget - Part 2

The Panasonic PT-AX200U is also a mighty fine projector that does everything the Optoma does, PLUS it’s about 20% brighter and has a slightly better contrast ratio (6000:1 vs. 4000:1 for the Optoma). It also has 2 HDMI inputs vs. 1 and has a “Game Mode” that is apparently more responsive for fast action.

I’ve seen both in action and both offer sharp, bright, beautiful images. The reason I went with the Optoma was a simple one - price. In the US either projector can be had for around $1000 USD or less via online stores like ProjectorPeople.com, but in Canada the story is slightly different. The Panasonic Canadian MSRP is $2200, and the cheapest I’ve been able to find one is for around $1800, and since our dollar went down it’s not really cost effective to be purchasing from an American web site. When I initially put my setup together, the Panasonic was $1300 USD at it’s lowest, at the same time, every Cosco in the GTA was selling the Optoma HD640 WITH an 92” panovision screen for $950 CDN. Simple decision here.


If you are reading this from the states however, you might want to consider the Panasonic as it’s much easier to get. As I write this, post economic meltdown, there has been some changes due to the lower value of the Canadian dollar - the current price of the HD640 with screen bundle at Cosco is around $1099 CDN.


A short word on screens - they’re great and offer a nice reflective matte surface to display your games, but you can also sell the thing on eBay and just project on your wall. Pick a colour like Behr Silverscreen in an eggshell, or spring for a couple gallons of Screengoo (google it) for a better surface. The nice thing if you ditch the screen is you can go as big as your room will allow. But you should budget at least a 10 foot distance from the viewing area to wherever you mount your projector to get a decent sized image. The more room you have the bigger your screen can be. If I were to move my projector back around 2 feet, I could pick up another 25-30 inches or so, bringing it up from an obnoxious 8 feet to an even-more-obnoxious 10 feet. When you’re measuring your screen in feet vs. inches, life is just automatically better.

Lastly, your speakers. Where are we now, $1100 for the projector plus $350 for the receiver thus leaving you about $650 for speakers and cables? This is where you might have to get creative as a decent set of speakers can run hundreds, if not into the thousands. I stole my Dad’s old StudioLab surround setup, added two more old speakers from a home-theatre-in-a-box I bought at a liquidation sale, and then added a brand-new 10” Klipsch powered subwoofer for $300 (you need a powered Sub with these types of receivers, as they usually don’t power a sub like smaller home-theatre-in-a-box setups, but instead a monaural output for an RCA to run to a powered box).

Unless you have a Dad who’s too lazy to ever use his speakers again after moving, you’re going to have to shell out for some of your own. What you want to do is find a decent pair of front uprights, a decent center and an average-to-decent powered sub. If you have really good fronts you can even skip the woofer, and the 4 rears can be slapped together with whatever you can find, you can use smaller speakers and upgrade them later and still have your complete 7-channel sound-field, which is absolutely essential for playing Dead Space in your dark home theatre. For the sake of completing the article I’ll spec out the JBL SC500.5 surround setup. It’s a decent sounding setup for a room that isn’t too big, and the speakers are small and won’t intrude on your décor, while you save up for a nice set of PSBs or Infinity loudspeakers. Small speakers have come a long way but nothing sounds quite like big speakers that can move a lot more air.

The rundown:

$349.00 - Sony STRDG720 (currently Bestbuy.ca for $299.99)
$1099 - Optoma HD640 Projector/Screen combo at Cosco
$7 – 3-foot HDMI 1.3 Cables (1 per system you expect to chain to your receiver) – Monoprice.com
$22 – 15-foot HDMI 1.3 cable to run from receiver to projector, scale appropriately – Monoprice.com
$399 – JBL 5.1 Home theatre System (SC500.5) Bestbuy.ca
$123 - to spend on speaker wire, power bars, cable channels and a couple of crap speakers to complete your 7.1 setup.
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$2000 (erm.. plus tax)


Apr 18, 2009

Dawn of War II 25% Off, Ends Monday

After picking up my new laptop last weekend I found myself suddenly becoming more in tune with PC gaming news. Before I knew it, my long-estranged copy of Guild Wars: Nightfall was installed, along with the Steam client and a re-downloaded copy of Peggle. Ah, Peggle...

More to the point, I just wanted to inform and remind the lovely NGP readership of Steam's current promotion of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II. The game's regular price of $49.99 has been slashed to $37.49 until Monday, April 20th. That's a savings of 25% on your digital download for a solid game that has only been out since February of 2009.

Developed by Vancouver's own Relic Entertainment and published by THQ, Dawn of War II follows up on the popular original by putting a new twist on the RTS formula. The story campaign can be played solo or in co-op and it emphasizes squad tactics, combined with addictive loot gathering and leveling elements to create a unique action-RPG/strategy hybrid. The multiplayer mode returns to familiar RTS territory but opens up the options by allowing all races/factions to be playable. The full playable roster includes those lovable Orks, the mysterious Eldar and the vicious Tyranids.

This may be the perfect time for RTS and Warhammer 40K fans to pull the trigger on this game. A demo is also available through Steam for those inclined to try before buying. It has made a mockery of my rather modest non-gaming laptop -- forcing me to dial down to the lowest quality of graphical detail -- but my short time with the demo was positive. If it didn't chug on my rig I'd definitely jump on this offer.

Apr 16, 2009

Assassin's Creed II Details Revealed

Assassin's Creed II - EzioToday Ubisoft released details about the much anticipated Assassin's Creed II that is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal. The game is scheduled for release during the 2009 Holiday season across all current-gen platforms.

Assassin's Creed II takes place in 15th Century Italy during the Renaissance period. This time around, you play as Ezio who's been betrayed by rival ruling families of Italy.

Being a huge fan of the original Assassin's Creed, I have high expectations for part deux. With the first, Ubisoft Montreal really pushed innovation in creating a game with vast and richly detailed environments that were highly interactive. Crowd and enemy AI that demonstrated realistic reactive properties. A combat system that introduced fantastic countering mechanics and an addictive stealth assassination feature.


Let's hope this next iteration replicates what the first did and builds upon it. For more details on the game, you can read about it in the latest edition of Game Informer magazine or this weekend in Sun Media newspapers across Canada or online at wham.canoe.ca.

To view the teaser trailer, check out our YouTube channel.

You can also visit the offical game site at www.assassinscreed.com.

Apr 15, 2009

Candid Interview With 'Grand Theft Childhood' Authors

I had the privilege of interviewing the highly impassioned authors of Grand Theft Childhood, a book that has spurred tremendous debate on the possible correlation between violent video games and real-world aggression. In the interview, I discuss with Dr. Lawrence Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson many topics that I'm sure has been on the mind's of many gamers out there - especially given how prevalent the topic of video game violence has been lately in the media.

We explore many pressing topics such as whether exposure to violent videos can result in increased levels of aggression, how the increasing sophistication of graphics and it's depiction of violence is impacting our children, and we also delve into whether video games should play a role in the social development of children. We even dabble a bit on sensitive topics such as the Virginia Tech shooting, and the tragic tale of Brandon Crisp.

Trust me when I say this, some of their responses will surprise you.

Ultimate Gaming Setup On A Budget - Part 1

We here at NextGen Player pride ourselves in being able to provide our valued readers with gaming related news and information that is insightful and useful. Here we aim to please yet again. Many gamers out there (much like ourselves) yearn to possess a gaming setup that provides the ultimate video and audio experience.

That said, NextGen Player presents to you our take on the 'ultimate' gaming setup all for the cost of approx. $2,000 CAN (pricing accurate as of the date of this post). That's what you'd likely dish out for a half decent 46" to 50" flatscreen television.

This great information comes courtesy of James McIntosh Jr, a regular contributor here at NextGen Player.

Ultimate Gaming Setup On A Budget - Part 1

Ultimate Gaming SetupI get a lot of questions regarding my home theatre setup, which I primarily use for gaming. I also receive snide comments from others about being made of money, which can be kind of annoying. So in an effort to answer these questions, dispel the myth that I’m living off a trust fund, and provide a copy-and-paste link to send to my friends, I submit to you my how to build your own 92” screen with 7.1 surround sound setup for around $2000.

The heart of any decent setup is the Receiver. It functions as your media switcher, and it simplifies your output to your display. I heartily recommend the Sony STRDG720. It’s a full 7.1 receiver and it’s fully compatible with your PS3. It has 3 HDMI inputs, and can do full uncompressed audio over the HDMI source, meaning you can hear the original mix of your BD titles with no compression. When in 5.1 mode, such as when you’re playing Xbox 360, it will split the rear signals and distribute them to the extra speakers if you have them available. I even have my Dreamcast hooked up to it using the VGA adapter and VGA -> component video converter. If only the receiver had a VGA in...not many do as I have found.


Another subtle but HUGE advantage of doing the receiver --> projector route - screen lag in music games like RockBand you can sometimes experience on an HDTV are virtually eliminated. Meaning your timing on the drums will be much more accurate and your singing won’t be an echo of what’s playing on the screen.

And yes, I still rock a Dreamcast. It’s on the dead format shelf next to my Xbox 360 HD-DVD player.

STRDG720 – retails for $349.00 at best buy. (I bought mine open-box and got it for $330) Also available are the 820 and 920 models, which are slightly more powerful (770w vs. 735W) but quite a bit more expensive. $499 and $699 respectively, the only major difference is the XM radio Connect and play feature, but this is for gaming, right?

Oh and BTW, don’t spend money on shielded HDMI cables. HDMI is digital, meaning on or off. Cheap cables will do fine so long as they’re category 1.3. You can get them from Monoprice.com or Canada Computers.

Now, on to the display. I spent a long time shopping around for the right HD projector and there are a couple that have risen to the top in terms of performance and price. Before I begin, there are 2 types of projectors, LCD and DLP. LCD projectors surfaced after DLP and have caught up to being as good as DLP projectors, but tend to be a little more expensive. The two projectors that own this segment of the market are the Panasonic PT-AX200U and the Optoma HD65/HD640.

I use the Optoma HD65/HD640 DLP Projector (different names for the same projector, but the HD640 is sold exclusively at Cosco, so far as I can tell, whereas you can find the HD65 at various computer retailers and big box stores). The Optoma is considered a native 720p projector, but it’s Texas Instruments DLP processor will display 1080p/60hz just fine and is capable of running 1080p at 24hz for Blu-Ray movies. BD titles prefer to run at 24hz to match the movie’s original frame rate. For games, most run at 720p anyways, and the PS3 switches video modes on the fly so there won’t be any need to fiddle with the input on the projector, ever. The Xbox 360 is a slightly different story as its hardware scales whatever it is displaying to match the resolution your display is set to. I leave my Xbox 360 on 720p and occasionally switch it to 1080p for my limited library of HD-DVDs. A nice thing about the HD65/640 is that it’s tiny. Weighing in at only 4lbs (less than half the weight of the Panasonic) you can ceiling mount it without having to reinforce your ceiling with 2x4s or plywood. I just use drywall anchors that came with my ceiling mount.

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Part 2 of James' article can be read here.


Apr 14, 2009

inFamous Launch Date Confirmed

inFamousThere are many of you out there, much like myself, who are patiently awaiting the launch of the upcoming PlayStation exclusive inFamous. Well the old adage of patience is a virtue has paid dividends in the form of an official launch date. Yesterday, the PlayStation blog announced that inFamous will have an U.S. launch date of May 26th. That said, I would say it's safe for those of us up here in Canada to assume a similar launch date as well. This is actually ahead of the originally projected date of June 2009.

In addition to the official launch date confirmation, there is some good news for those who choose to pre-order the game. This goodness comes in the form an opportunity to receive game extras including:

Gigawatt Blades Power!
- The exclusive Gigawatt Blades' Super Power. This provides Cole the ability to supercharge his arms and use them as an extremely powerful melee weapon that can cause enormous damage. As with any weapon as powerful as this, comes the trade-off of a loss in power and as such you will need to be strategic in its use.

REAPER costume for Home Avatar
- A limited edition REAPER gang member costume to dress up your Home Avatar.

- Access to the official game demo (ahead of the general public) on May 7th.

The rest of the general population in North America will be able to download the game demo on May 21st. Looking forward to it.

Apr 13, 2009

ELAN Awards Will Rock Out With Splitting Adam

Vancouver based alt rockers Splitting Adam, who were featured in EA’s Need For Speed: Undercover, have announced they will be coming to this year's ELAN Awards on April 25th.

Splitting Adam has made waves in the gaming music industry lately with the inclusion of their song "On My Own" in NFS: Undercover last fall. The band was also recently hand-picked to join the 2009 Video Games Live tour, and they performed along side the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at The Orpheum Theater for the Vancouver date.

Along with this announcement, the ELAN Awards have another surprise in store for this year's event.

For the first time ever, tickets for The ELANS will be made available for the public. According to Holly Carinci, Founder & Producer of the ELAN Awards, this decision was made to help morph the award show from an industry-oriented one to a publicly recognized and followed awards show. The goal, says Holly, is to build the public profile of The ELANS to match that of the annual Oscar awards.

Interested gamers looking snag some of these "very limited" public tickets should call 778.960.4402 or go to www.theelans.com.

For those of you unfamiliar with Splitting Adam, I found a clip of them performing at the VGL show in Seattle, WA. Check it out:

Apr 12, 2009

Master Chief Invades Calgary Entertainment Expo

See that grinning moustached guy over there? That's Steve Downes, the actor who does the voice-over work for Master Chief in the Halo series.

Now before you get all huffy puffy on me, yes I'm aware that sometimes it can be a little weird seeing people behind the iconic voices in gaming. But look on the bright side - the next you hear Master Chief telling you he's going to finish the fight you know whose gum flappers those words came out of.

If you want a chance to meet the man behind the Master, he'll be at the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo on April 25-26.

On top of the Chief (not literally), the Expo will also be featuring a number of video game artists, writers, and celebrities. The current line-up also includes:

Josh Ortega, Writer for Gears of War 2 as well scripting the Gears of War comic books

Pure Pwnage members Jeremy, FPS Doug, Kyle & teh_Masterer

Wade Schin, Artist at Valve (Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2: Episode 2, The Orange Box)

THWOMP!, Music band devoted to playing classic 16-bit songs

Overall, it's a decent line-up. And hey, if those people are not enough to entice you, there is always the whimsical (or scary) expo cosplayers.

Apr 11, 2009

Catching Up

NGP readers, a small apology is needed. Far too much time has passed since our last little chat, and I knew that empty spot in my blogging heart could only be filled by logging on to talk about all the exciting things happening in the world of gaming right now. Let's tuck in, shall we?

1. I cannot believe that I don't have Empire: Total War yet. As a huge fan of the Total War series, a mistake this grave can only be made right by seppuku. Sadly, I'm not into Twilight and therefore have very little interest in cutting myself. How about we just leave it at promising to pick the game up soon, or maybe wishing the Sega Santa will leave us a gift under our tree? Expect a full review when I get my paws on it.

2. Finally finished Resident Evil 5. Slacking, I know. Had to play through with the special lady though, and that meant a slightly slower pace punctuated with lots of deaths and sighing. Still, a fantastic game that I can't wait to get back into so I can unlock some stuff.

3. I have hit that special point in WoW when I realize it has become a tiny bit more than just a casual interest and is now classified as something in-between obsession and part-time job. This is usually followed by a denouement in playing time, which might not be a bad thing given the imminent warmer weather everyone keeps swearing will show up any day now.

4. I bought Call of Duty 4 on Steam this week. What a jump in opponent skill between 360 CoD players and PC. I've gone from a consistent top 3 in matches to middle of the pack at best. CoD4 is definitely my desert island game. You can keep your Killzones and your Halos, I've got weapons to unlock, perks to try and prestige modes to gripe about not being in the PC version. I have no idea how Infinity Ward is going to top it this November.

5. For some reason I thought The Sims 3 was out this month. It's actually not out until June 2nd, assuming no further delays. This makes me sad, although perhaps that's something I should be keeping to myself.

That's all I can think of for now! Hope you were not too bored with my random thoughts, next time things will be "srs bizness" as the idiots in WoW trade chat like to say. Until then, happy gaming!

Apr 9, 2009

New Gaming Deals From EB Games Canada

EB Games Game DaysIn these tough economic times, good gaming deals are becoming much more frequent and appealing in terms of the deal being offered. In the past few months EB Games Canada has had some great deals and for the month of April they are advertising another series of very good promotions which they are calling their Game Days. Majority of these promotions are valid from April 5th to May 2nd.

Some of the highlights are:

PS3 Deals:

Socom Confrontation (w/Headset) - $39.99 ($20 off)
End War - $19.99 ($40 off)
Metal Gear Solid 4 - $29.99 ($20 off)
Rockband Special Edition Bundle - $99.99 ($40 off)

Xbox 360 Deals:

Prince of Persia - $39.99 ($25 off)
Condemned 2 - $19.99 ($20 off)
Mass Effect - $9.89 ($20 off)
Rockband Special Edition Bundle - $99.99 ($40 off)

Other Deals:

2 for $8.00 - Buy any 2 used games, price range from $4.99 - $7.99, for $8.00.

2 for $5.00 DVD movies- Buy any 2 used DVD movies for $5.00

Get 3 used XBOX (version 1) games for only $25.00 with the purchase of a used XBOX (version 1 only). Each used XBOX game must be $14.99 or less.

2 for $20 - Buy any 2 used games, price range from $9.99 - $14.99, for $20.00

2 for $30 - Buy any 2 used games, price range from $15.00 - $19.99 for $30.00

2 for $40 - Buy any 2 used games, price range from $20.00 - $24.99 for $40.00

$5.00 of Selected Used Best Sellers
Selection will change weekly. See store associate for details.

Save 25% off of Used Accessories

Save 25% off of used Guitar Hero Software and a Guitar Hero Guitar when a purchased together.

Get 5 used PS2 games for only $50.00 with the purchases any new or used PS2 console. Each used PS2 game must be $19.99 or less.

For more detail, check out the EB Games website.

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

Most Wanted Wii and DS Games for April 2009
April is already upon us. So with the new month in hand, NextGen Player is here to update our readers with the Most Wanted Games for both the Wii and DS in Canada. Here are the Most Wanted Games for the Wii and DS for April 09 as reported to us by Nintendo Canada.

Wii

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

NINTENDO DS

1. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
2. Personal Trainer: Cooking
3. Personal Trainer: Math
4. Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia
5. Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir
6. Kirby Super Star Ultra
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!

Apr 8, 2009

Montreal Game Summit Reveals 2009 Dates


The Montreal International Game Summit have announced the dates of this year's event will be November 16th and 17th, 2009 in a new location: the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel in Montreal. This is the sixth year the Alliance Numerique have hosted this event for game industry professionals.

The Advisory Board overseeing the summit is currently seeking submissions from senior level gaming professionals interested in speaking at the event. Applications are open April 24, 2009. For more information on the summit, check out the official website here.

I had the opportunity to attend last year's summit and had a blast. Especially at the Ubisoft / Microsoft party at Le Rouge bar in downtown Montreal. Hopefully the french wine is flowing again this year!

Apr 7, 2009

Come See Some DSi Launch Party Photos at Future Shop

April 5 was a biggg day for Nintendo in North America. No, it's not because the Rhythm Heaven campaign, starring Beyonce of all people, clap clap clapped into high gear. Nor was it because the new Warioware title Snapped! kind of ..umm crapped on Metacritic. It was a biggg day for Nintendo because the company finally launched the DSi, the spiritual successor to their highly popular DS handheld.

So what better way to launch a new system than our beloved gaming ritual of a midnight madness party? Thankfully, Future Shop ran a very successful event in Toronto to give Canadian gamers a chance to congregate and mingle over their love of all things DS.

While I wasn't able to attend this launch party, I was treated to some photos that were taken on Saturday night courtesy of the folks at Future Shop.

Here are few sample pics, for the full album check out this Flickr page.



Apr 6, 2009

Miyamoto to be Inducted Into Video Game Hall of Fame

Often considered the "father of modern video games", Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto is widely credited with spurring the dramatic growth of video games in the mid 80's after the launch of the NES. The creator of such historic franchises as Mario, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda, Shigeru's impact on gaming is immeasurable to say the least.

To honour his lifetime work, The ELAN Awards will be inducting Mr. Miyamoto into the Video Game Hall of Fame on April 25, 2009. The selection of Shigeru was done by a panel of industry professionals, including three members of NextGen Player. The team here is very elated to see Shigeru receive this prestigious honour.

Stay tuned for more ELAN Awards news and announcements as we approach the Vancouver gaming award show in a mere two and a half weeks.

Assassin's Creed 2 Website And Teaser Trailer

Assassin's Creed 2 Website
The Ubisoft PR team sent NextGen Player a notice today about the new Assassin's Creed 2 website containing a teaser trailer for the game that is set to release at some point this year.

The trailer is a Flash animation with very stylized sketches of the human anatomy similar to those done by Leonardo Da Vinci - in fact the trailer ends with a modified version of Da Vinci's famous Vitruvian Man sketch in which the lower of the two left arms is modified to include Altair's concealed knife weapon.

At the end of the trailer, you are presented with a logo and above it are the words "Game Informer 04.16.09" written in a reversed mirror image. I'm assuming this means that the April 16th edition of Game Informer will have important details about Assassin's Creed 2.

Assassin's Creed 2
If you tinker around on the website, there is an interactive task you can partake in that is rather interesting and down right cool to experience. We won't reveal any more on this and let you check it out for yourself.

To check out the Assassin's Creed 2 website and teaser trailer click here.

Apr 5, 2009

Gears of War 2 Snowblind Map Pack Impressions

Fans of the multiplayer experience for Gears of War 2 can now enhance their gameplay with the recent release of the Snowblind Map Pack. Available for download on Xbox LIVE for 800 MS Points, the Snowblind Map Pack contains 4 winter themed maps - 3 of which are new and a rehash of a Gear of War multiplayer map.

Snowblind Map Pack - Courtyard
Coutyard: This map is broken up into two main areas - an expansive and open courtyard with various waist height structures scattered throughout and an elevated platform accessible by steps up the middle and either sides. Directly below the platform is a nook with direct entrance gained on either side of the middle steps. This is a great area for coverage and to lure your enemies into for concentrated and close range fire fights.

Snowblind Map Pack - Grindyard
Grindyard: Here you are presented with elevated and enclosed room-like structures on either sides of the map as well as an elevated office in the middle. All these areas are accessible via ramps and stairs. There are abandoned cars and metal cargo boxes scattered around for good coverage - especially from fire coming from any of the elevated areas. This is a good compact map that elicits a lot of close range combat. In fact the way this map is laid out, it's reminiscent of an indoor paintball arena. Action is fast and swift. Solo heroics is not recommended.

Snowblind Map Pack - Under Hill
Under Hill: This is the most unique layout of all the maps. The main battleground consists of a small open middle area with a few abandoned cars for coverage. There's a large building that is broken up into five areas that are all interconnected. The building's central area can be entered through a motorized garage door that can be activated from outside and inside. The areas on either side of the middle can be accessed from open entrances at the front of the building. In addition, directly opposite the building is a road that is spit in the middle by a median and leads to an elevated area. First person to reach this elevated area will find a very useful and effective mortar. This is a fast paced map with many opportunities to sneak up on your enemies for an unsuspecting takedown.

Snowblind Map Pack - Fuel Depot
Fuel Depot: This is the popular map from the original Gears of War...now with a wintery treatment. Large open map with a hanger/storage building in the middle that is good for some coverage and close combat. Many opportunities to take advantage of the ability to use grenades as proximity mines. A great map and addition to the Gears of War 2 list of maps for online play.

All in all, the Snowblind Map Pack is a solid collection of maps that will provide new flavour and added replay value to your Gears of War 2 online gameplay. All the maps are extremely fun to play and calls for fast and intense action. Well worth the 800 MS Points.

Apr 1, 2009

PS3 Firmware 2.70 Update Now Available

Today Sony announced the new features of the 2.70 firmware update for the PS3. The main feature is Text Chat that allows users to chat online with up to 15 friends via Wireless Keypad, on-screen keyboard or a compatible keyboard device. The Text Chat feature is also accessible while playing games. No doubt many PS3 owners will find this a welcome feature in that it provides a more flexible and varied way to communicate with friends online.

Other features include:

Friends list on the XMB (Xross Media Bar) where friends can be sorted via their online status. There is also an increase to acceptable attachment sizes (from 1MB to 3MB) that can be sent to friends.

Video delivery service on the PlayStation Store now allows purchased video files to be backed up to an external storage device. They can also be transferred back to the PS3's internal hard drive. Videos purchased for your PSP can also be transferred to the PS3 for viewing.

Here's a video from the PlayStation Blog that runs through the Text Chat feature.