E3 2012 thoughts

I spent a week in Los Angeles for E3. This was the first E3 where I didnt have an absolutely insane schedule and worked as a fulltime journalist. I did bit of work for my ex-magazine Pelaaja, but mostly networked and met Umbra-related clients and contacts just to make sure things are going the right direction.

I said earlier in the year that E3 2012 should be great,  but I was wrong. It will be E3 2013 that potentially will be great, if companies will dare to hold back some news and show off new hardware without talking about it to everyone before hand.

Microsoft didn’t surprise me, but then again I know a whole lot more about their future than most and I cant say anything more than that. They were all about the services and if you are an US-based Xbox 360 owner, all the ESPN/NBA etc apps I’m sure will make you happy. We get none of those in Europe.

I think Microsoft had sort of the same problem as Nintendo in terms of core gamers – you only have to show us one or two new games at the end of the press event to convince us and keep us happy. Both failed to do that. That’s not to say Microsoft didnt have a good line-up, they do, at least 3rd party-wise, but in terms of internal development, outside of Halo 4 and yet another Forza (which actually is not being developed by Turn-10), it’s all about working on future games.

I’ve been worried about Sony for a while. I cant believe they said that Sony’s PR has said that the Sony press conference is too long or that’s the view of the visiting crowd. It’s not been too long if the game’s and news presented have been interesting. I sat through PlayStation press conferences in the late 1990’s where they showed fucking Powerpoint sales charts. At least we got rid of those! Now those were long and boring.

So now, Sony basically left out the Vita and while we did get Beyond, The Last of Us and God of War: Ascension and some PlayStation Network goodness, we all tend to concentrate on the negatives: way too long Book of Spells demo that didnt even work right, which just showcases how the PlayStation Move and Eye dont work 100% accurately most of the time. I think Sony London has lacked innovation for years after killing it with SingStar and Buzz etc. Now, they sort of hang on to that and think they are doing great things, but everything looks too safe, too researched and just…not enough conviction. Book of Spells is interesting and something sort of new, I dig that for sure, but this was the wrong place to spend so much time to demoing something the majority of the audience do not want.

Still, Sony does have a good lineup both for the PlayStation 3 and the Vita, but really, the only two games that sort of brought that triple-A, gotta get a PlayStation 3 -vibe where Beyond and The Last of Us.  God of War: Ascension as well, but that’s a franchise that’s huge in the US and far less successful in Europe.

A simple problem Sony has, is that it almost has too many internal studios, but only one or two deliver real, true triple-A quality that defines the PlayStation platforms. The real issue is that the marketing money is spread to too thin – excellent games like Starhawk get very little support, but I dont think Uncharted 3 or that whole franchise has gotten the kind of marketing and PR it should have gotten.

Look at what Microsoft does with Halo and Gears of War – those games are everywhere, they are powerfully and smartly marketed at huge expense. Both franchises sell like gangbusters. Uncharted does not do those kind of numbers nor have that kind of impact and it really should. Uncharted should be marketed in the same fashion as Rockstar markets it’s games, but of course R* releases one game a year, and Sony releases dozens. They are spread too thin.

What else? Ah, it seems the new trend is third person action games instead of FPS. You had The Last of Us, Star Wars, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Tomb Raider. Watchdogs. Star Wars felt really like Uncharted. Tomb Raider looks awesome, but what the fuck is Lara doing shooting folks in the face with a shotgun and we get to see that in closeups?!? Sure, in the actual game, they spend time setting up the fact that Lara feels horrible about shooting people when it all begins, but still….why did Crystal Dynamics have to have such graphic “finishing” kills. Completely unecessary.

All this complaining, but we gotta keep it real and realize there’s so many awesome games coming. Assassins Creed III looks really good, clearly technically better than the previous games and the setting looks great. Not sure about the lead character yet, but I like that he’s a risky move just as Ezio was. One of the coolest things that happened to me during my time in LA was that I met one of the lead writers of the entire Assassins Creed franchise, Corey May, at the Harmonix party!

PlanetSide 2 & Mass Effect 3 Wii U

Special shoutout to these games as they both use Umbra technology. PlanetSide 2 was pretty damn epic in scale and shows what you can do with a relatively strong PC these days. Really massive enviroments with thousands of players. Definitely a lot more impressive than the sort of similair Dust 514.

Also, Mass Effect 3 for the Wii U was unveiled and as BioWare has used Umbra’s tech in Mass Effect 2-3, it shall also use it in Mass Effect 3’s Wii U version. Great for us!

Come E3 2013, fingers crossed, you are gonna see a handful of games you dont know even exist yet that are powered by Umbra’s technology…just wait!

Downtown LA

I’ve been there when the LA Lakers have lost and won and it’s been pretty crazy. Now LA Kings were playing the final and there were tons of Kings fans in downtown.

My E3 schedule

So I got in on Friday June 1st really late and I was sick. I spent Saturday recuperating and we went to Santa Monica, then to see Prometheus, but I had booked tickes for the 9th of June and not the 2nd…..which I only found out as we went to the theatre. Epic fail. So we saw Men in Black 3 instead which sucked.

We ate at STK on La Cienega. I’ve been lucky enough to eat at many great restaraunts, but STK serves up the best steak, no question. Morton’s Steakhouse, Envy in Las Vegas etc have got nothing on STK. On Sunday, we ate with a client at the classic Tower Bar on Sunset Strip at the Sunset Tower hotel, which is a real old school place. The restaurant has that classic 50’s (I guess) Hollywood vibe and I saw Chris Hemsworth there with his family I guess. The food was really, really good and the service was impeccable. The view overlooks Los Angeles and is very beautiful. I really recommend this place if you have the chance of going.

No E3 or LA visit is complete without a weekend in…

Thing that annoys me in the videogames business 1: Delays

Delayed games annoy the fuck out of me.

Now sticking to schedules and putting in the work and a bit of crunch to get things done is only right. In other words enduring some pain to get things done, is necessary. How often do major movies or albums get delayed by a year or or just months before their release? Hardly ever.

I know better than most how making videogames is a very different thing and that software development has a lot of unpredictable factors.

Just recently 2K announced the not at all surprising delay of Bioshock Infinite. Did this surprise anybody? Why did they even bother announcing a release date early on? The game is so crazy ambitious that the release date seemed near impossible in the first place and so it has proven to be. 2K Boston or Irrational now again, are very experienced bunch of developers, but even in their case, the game’s going to be delayed over six months.

The problem is that we think this is normal, we are not even surprised that another triple-A game is being delayed.

I’m not saying that unfinished games should ship. Not at all, I’d rather have quality.

One of the best publisher turnarounds besides Ubisoft in the last 10 years has been 2K Games. Both used to be mediocre publishers, but especially 2K has really been all about quality in the last five-seven years. That is great. Does 2K make money and more importantly profit? I think not. That’s something to think about too. However, they let their developers take their time (Yager has taken five years with Spec Ops: The Line) and that has greatly improved the games quality, but of course, 2K has also been more choosy about it’s projects and rightly so.

I question the wisdom of announcing release dates a year or even six months in advance. Uncharted 3’s release date was announced about a year prior to it’s release. To their credit Naughty Dog released a great game, but the crunch on Uncharted 3 was horrible and it was bad on Uncharted 2 as well. It kinda irks me that Rockstar’s development problems get some headlines but studios with better profiles suffer from the same problems too. It’s not like they dont try to learn, but still.

Making games is tough as Phil Harrison told me a long time ago. It really is. Developing software and developing features is an arduous task, but surely we could be better about our release dates. We have to as an industry, be much more professional and sticking to release dates is an important aspect of that. It is also a very tough juggling act: Ubisoft will always ship a new Assassins Creed on time because of the money involved. Same with Activision and Call of Duty, but those games have certain formula that makes predicting the development period a lot better than with, say Max Payne 3. 2K takes huge financial hits and risks by delaying it’s games and actually probably loses money on it’s games because of this. I have a really hard time seeing Spec Ops turning a profit after five years of development, but I really hope it does since Yager are a good bunch of people and 2K took their time.

I understand the sort of, let’s set our tent pole mentality and by giving a date, there’s something to aim for, something to wait for and of course, to send a message to other publishers/franchises, that hey, here we are! But, still, look at Nintendo; they give out release dates pretty much months before they ship and before that it’s very vague Fall/Christmas period. That’s still better than giving an exact date and then delaying the product. Sure, with Zelda they really keep fucking things up, but they are also quite vague when they talk about the release periods when it comes to that franchise.

From a PR standpoint, I do get it why dates need to be set, but I really think publishers and especially developers should be more responsible: we need to be more professional and learn to set realistic release dates and that probably means not giving out release dates so damn early. Though, that ties into the whole pre-order stuff that’s going on, but I’ll blog about that soon.

 

 

 

Max Payne 3 impressions upon completing the game and some history and speculation on the development process

Some disclaimers.

These are my personal opinions, not of my current employer or the previous.

Also, I’m a huge fan of Rockstar Games, but I keep it real.

This is not a review.This is a collection of thoughts on the game, stream of consciousness if you will.

Also, useless bit of trivia: Remedy used my PlayStation 2 debug to play the release candidate version of  Max Payne 2 (PS2) and okay it for manufacturing.

Screens taken from from Rockstar’s Max Payne 3 website.

Also, read the legendary UK-journo Keith Stuart’s review of the game at the Guardian here if you want quality writing.

This is a game that has had a very long gestation period, which is becoming the norm for Rockstar who takes their time to make games that really stand out. However, very few put the kind of love and effort into their games as Rockstar does. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money.

The very first iteration of Max Payne 3 was developed by Rockstar Vienna many years ago and at least some parts of the game were apparently set in Moscow. At least this is what I’ve read online. Nothing ever came of that game as Rockstar Vienna was shutdown and the game put on the back burner until Rockstar Vancouver started working on it after completing the most excellent Bully in 2006. Of course, six years later, the Max Payne 3 we have, has been built by Rockstars: Toronto, Vancouver, New England, San Diego and London. Even the original creators of Max Payne, Remedy here in Finland, have been involved in the later stages of development by giving feedback to Rockstar. One could say that this was good PR move from Rockstar, as they made Remedy’s involvement public, a good way to get the fans and doubters on your side. However, Rockstar has always been cool with Remedy and their contribution is definitely a lot more than just lip service. The fact that Sam Lake and Dan Houser wrote a whole prequel comic for the new game, is a pretty good indication of that. It’s nice to know that Rockstar has involved Remedy in Max Payne 3 much more than it really would have had to. It’s a sign of respect and I have to say I never expected less, so fuck all the haters who thought Rockstar would somehow ruin this franchise.

The writers

The original Max Payne got a lot of plaudits for it’s tech and mood, but the quirky writing surely was one of the building blocks as well. It definitely is in the third game.

One of the reasons Rockstar’s games take a long time is that the games really are what the Houser brothers, the founders of Rockstar, want them to be. There’s only so many games they can work on at the same time.

I would speculate that the key reason why it takes a long time for a Rockstar game to get done and why there’s sometimes issues in the development process (there always is, at every studio, you just dont know about it), when the Houser’s are concentrating on game X, game Z is development based on some loose ideas and concepts. Then game X ships and suddenly the spotlight is on game Z and re-writes and new direction is in order after years of working under a preliminary premise.

Rockstar tends to credit three writers in all it’s recent games: Dan Houser, Michael Unsworth and Rupert Humphries. Now think how much dialogue there usually is in a Rockstar game. These three are credited as the sole writers in Grand Theft Auto IV, Read Dead Redemption (with the lad Christian Cantamessa), GTA: IV Lost and Damned and Ballad of Gay Tony. Then you have Max Payne 3 and of course, Grand Theft Auto V has been in the works for years while the aforementioned games were being done. That is an simply insane amount of story, characters, setting and dialogue to work out and write. I dont know how they do it. Let’s not forget Lazlow too!

By the way, wouldn’t it be awesome to read an interview with messrs Humphries and Unsworth one of these days? Who are they? Where did they come from? What kind of working hours and methods do they have? How do they come up with all this stuff? Houser too, but they hate talking to the media.

Max Payne 3 was influenced by the movie City of God, so I think the style and tone were set quite many years ago, but it’s taken a long time to nail down the story of the third game.

Graphics

The level of visual detail in every enviroment in the game is incredible. It’s on the level of what we expect from the Uncharted franchise. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s all probably been researched to death by Rockstar as usual. Everything from the graffiti in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, to the music, to the dialects, architecture, clothing, everything…it’s been well researched. There’s just so much detail in every scene, every area is so richly modelled that this alone has taken years and years. In most cases, you just run past these area’s never to return, which is kind of a problem in videogames. Things like props in the boats and interiors you visit, creating all that is slow work.  There’s so much detail per square meter, it’s crazy. If you have a wall, it doesn’t simply have a single graffiti and some grey rock texture;  it has cracks in the plaster, graffiti, paint peeling off, broken bricks , signs of wear and tear etc.

It’s important to note how the level design supports the gameplay. Combined with pretty good and aggressive AI, it feels like there’s quite a few ways you can tackle most of the combat scenarios. Sure, there’s scene’s where it seems they play the same almost every time, but you also have lot of opportunity to do combat in differing ways and there’s quite a few weapons to use.

Another awesome feature is how seamless the game is, as there are no load screens per say, loading happens during cutscenes. The way a cutscene segues into gameplay, you can always sort of see Max getting into “game mode” by his changing stance and the camera’s positioning: you k now the action is about to kick off. This is really well done and you almost dont notice it at first because things happen so seamlessly. The problem I had with this is in the beginning of the game where there’s a lot of cutscenes that break up the action. The balance is great after the first two chapters, but it’s stop and go in the beginning.

I dig the whole splitting the screen in 24/comic book style to emphasize certain story beats, but I really did not  like the scanline type of visual element that appears a lot of the time because it reminds of my migraines.

Some of the scripted scene’s (a rooftop sequence comes to mind…) feature superbly animated explosions and just mayhem. Again, a lot of polish and care has been taken.

Animation

I’d say Max Payne 3 has the best animation in an action game on par with Uncharted, probably better. Most people wont even realize this. Look at how Max carries the rifle in one hand when using a pistol in the other. The weapons dont magically warp onto your back – if you use dual-wielding, you are going to have to drop your two handed weapon. Did you know I was in the army, so I’m handy with the steel naamean? When you run against a wall, Max puts his hands/guns up and when you push against a door he tries to barge through it. When you are on your back, you have different weapon loading animations for all weapons of course, when you jump over objects, guns dont disappear. All this takes a lot of work. Just think in how many games does the character actually pick up weapons instead of having it warp into your hands.

Many worried that the heavy and clunky feel of GTAIV and Red Read Redemption due to the Euphoria engine would be problematic in Max Payne 3, but  the controls are superbl, so no worries there.

Polish

In some ways, I think, gamers who played the previous games, will realize just how much Max Payne 3 is the same, yet modern. I think think is a perfect update of the formula.

To me, how Max Payne 3 keeps it real to it’s PC roots is in features like Free Aim and some really tough difficulty levels where using Free Aim is a must as is the very well planned use of Bullet Time. You are not going to survive otherwise. I felt the game was quite tough on Normal in some spots, frustratingly so. So for those who don’t like dumbed down action games, Max Payne 3 seems to offer all the hardcore’dness you’d want – you can really change around the controls, their responsiveness etc to your liking. I played with Soft Lock, which means the targeting reticule tends to lock onto enemies which is what I like. I dont really like free aim, that’s too hard to use. I know how some of you hate that I even said that! Go back to your mouse and keyboard then.

Also, the framerate is rock solid even with a lot of destructable props and and a good amount of characters on screen at the same time.

Overall

I gotta admit that I never got super-into the Max Payne games mostly due to the fact that you had to have a great PC to play them on back in the day when I still was young and believed in the world. The console versions were understandably subpar since the hardware performance gap between the PC and consoles back then was significant. I also never mastered the bullet time –  I’d jump in the air and usually hit some wall or land before I managed to get off accurate shots. That’s more lack of skill on my part than anything else. I never really knew if I was supposed to play really using the bullet time or more like a regular shooter. I sort of have the same issue with Max Payne 3. I played it more like a cover-based shooter, but towards the very end I really made an effort to use bullet time and it did result in some pretty damn cool sequences.

The narrative flows well – Rockstar did a great job on the writing of Max’s inner monologue which often is funny and so very, very dry. The voice acting is absolutely superb throughout the game – James McCaffrey does some superb work here bringing the dialogue to life and the rest of the actor’s are good too.

Collectibles have been integrated into the story that if you want to find them, they give you bits of background information on the characters and proceedings. Still, the plot falters towards the end. I think it would have helped if the game was a bit shorter and introduced a few less characters.

I remember the original games being pretty grimy and the further you get into Max Payne 3, the more grimy and really, despicable it gets. Most of the people you meet are scum of the earth and the visuals just get more and more dilapitated and despairing. I think these are important elements of Max Payne. Of course, so is the New York setting and the few levels set in the Big Apple are pretty damn awesome, especially a scene set in a graveyard.

The difficulty spikes are compouned by some haphazard checkpoint placement. I can hear Rockstar thinking how “we are pushing the envelope in games in so many ways, so you shouldn’t care about that” , but in a videogame things like that do matter. I did scream a few times, but as my co-workers can attest, I tend to suddenly scream in the office for no reason sometimes. It aint too bad, like so often in Rockstar’s games, the few problems really dont bother the overall picture. I did get a bit annoyed how at times I had full health, would stand out of cover to take a shot, then die when the first bullet his me. I just used my health pills to get 100%  health, yet a single shot kills me?

Still, this is an incredibly accomplished action game with the kind of superb production values and attention to detail that Rockstar is known for. You get your money’s worth several times over and really, if you have it this good, you cant accept any less from other action games.

Also, this game has the best “funky chicken” animations ever!

I’ve played very little of the multiplayer, so I’ll get back to you on that.

Thanks for your time and I apologize for the rushed writing – feel free to comment, I’d appreciate that.


Homeland – Claire Danes is awesome

I recently watched, pretty much non-stop once I got going, a new TV series called Homeland. As you could tell by my book “reviews” I’m intrigued by the shenanigans in Middle East and I’ve read a lot on the subject in the last few years.

Homeland is loosely based on an Israeli series and the premise is pretty awesome. A US soldier thought to be dead in Irak is found by US soldiers after 8 years in captivity. Now, CIA’s analyst Carrie Mathison played superbly (she shows what acting is all about) by Claire Danes thinks the soldier in question Nicholas Brody (equally well acted by Damian Lewis) has been turned and is not who we think he is. The entire season (12 episodes) is about this premise – has Brody been turned into an spy for terrorist Abu Nazir? Can we trust him? The twist is that Carrie was operating in Irak years ago and had to watch one of her informants die due to her actions. This person told Carrier that an US soldier has been turned. Is it Brody? Is it somebody else? Did the informant lie? What is going on?

Claire Danes. I’d probably marry her, if that would be a possibility

It’s amazing how well the tension is kept throughout the entire 12 episodes and the ending doesn’t shy away from making some drastic developments. Danes is truly incredible – she has this nice girl vibe about her, but she’s a powerhouse actress and she’s, I really think so, absolutely brilliant as Carrie – the flawed but passionate and whip-smart analyst. The other cast such as Mandy Patinkin as the CIA’s middle-eastern division boss is also superb and just what I thought of a person would be in that position based on all that I’ve read. Brody is also well-played by Damian Lewis and his long-suffering wife is played by the ethereally beautiful and incredibly sexy Morena Baccarin. She played Anna in the new, crap, Visitors tv-series.

The stunning Morena Baccarin. Ahem. Yes, I could marry her too.

The showrunners are veterans of the tv-field: Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who worked on X-Files and also 24. The high production values are familiar, but I’m glad they have managed to turn down the (often awesome) insanity of 24 and the Reagan/Bush-like republican politics evident in that show. Homeland is serious and manages to be relatively “grey” in portraying both sides. Indeed, the whole vibe in the show is remarkably realistic, for a tv-show that is, which I can appreciate.

My only problem with this show is that it is continuing – there is going to be an second season. Surely the premise cannot live on much longer. The tension is so palpable in the first season, but I’m having a hard time seeing it being kept up for another season.

We shall see starting late September when Homeland’s secon season starts.

 

 

Books I’ve read: The Triple Agent, El Narco, Jacked and I am Zlatan

Been reading a lot on planes, while also playing videogames on flights. So here’s some books I’ve read during April.

El Narco (by Ioan Grillo)

Writing in a bit too British tabloidy way, Ioan Grillo’s book is still an superb insight into the whole narco-culture in Mexico and just how the state is really failing. The drug business is so deeply embedded into some parts of Mexico that songs are made of drug runner heroes and really, killings are part of everyday life, which is pretty sick. Sure, it isn’t everywhere in Mexico, but its’ part of the country’s culture and politics which makes very scary – the the police, military and justice system definitely is. Drug lords kill at will – families, enemies/friendlies doesnt really matter, politicians, military, police…it’s crazy what is going on there. The book gives a good insight into why this is happening and where it’s all going. Definitely an interesting read. I’ve read a few books on the topic and I’d still rank Grillo’s book right up there.

The Triple Agent

I’ve been reading a lot about US operations in Afghanistan and that whole area in general. The Triple Agent tells the real story of an Al-qaeda mole Humam Khalil al-Balawi who CIA thought had turned to work for them. Of course it was too good to be true and it was: the person in question blew himself up at an US base in Khost killing several CIA and military people with him. It’s an really interesting read, well-researched and gives an idea just how…much of this is a game to Americans and how badly they want to beat the “bad guys”, while they simply are doing more and more damage while doing it.

I’d really recommend reading Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Dana Priest, William Arkin), which details the incredible amount of money US is pouring into spying and just how many goverment contractors are getting ultrarich by spying on their own. It really makes for staggering reading when you consider just how little money is going into really important things like: US school system, infrastructure and healthcare.

I do believe in the goverment’s power to protect it’s people and not needing to tell everything, I absolutely do, but certainly now that in the last 20 years everything has become so deregulated in the US, t’s a very scary police-state type of future with little common sense prevailing.

Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto

I’ve been planning to write a book about Rockstar for a few years now, but David Kushner beat me to it. It’s a must read for fans of Rockstar Games like me, but as Rockstar did not co-operate in the creation of this book, there’s no official interviews from the Houser brothers, nor Terry Donovan who were the nucleus of Rockstar. Still, there’s comments from these guys from other interviews over theyears and Kushner is able to give some insight into the secretive company. I was disappointed how much time Kushner spends on Hot Coffee, but the epic arrogance and and sort of “Fuck’em, they dont understand us” (which I do  like) mentality of Rockstar really came to haunt them. Many within in the company disagreed how things were handled and they were right.

I am Zlatan

The English-language version has a lot of spelling mistakes, but it’s a good read. Zlatan’s very arrogant, make’s no bones about it, but that’s what makes this football book so much more interesting than the boring ass drivel of the likes of Gerrard, Carragher etc books.

Black Ops 2

Activision and Treyarch revealed Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on May 1st. Not that this was a big secret, but at least most of the details of the sequel were managed to be kept hidden very well. I was over at Treyarch earlier in the year on Umbra business, but obviously I’m under such strict NDA’s that I’d probably die in 3 seconds if I’d say something I was not supposed to. I really didnt see any of the game so really, no worries.

I  loved Black Ops. Having played 160 hours of Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer and the campaign thoroughly, it’s amazing how well Infinity Ward, Neversoft and Sledgehammer were able to produce a great sequel with Infinity Ward imploding early on in development, but overall, I dont feel the game is as good as Black Ops was.

Treyarch managed to create a really good story in Black Op’s and an immersive experience that really started from the main menu, where you could release Mason from the shackles and do some hacking on the computer. The hacking really expanded the single player story with some story tidbits and more information on the key characters – there were great elements that really showed how much Treyarch focused on the story. I wish they didnt feel the need to do such gratuitous violence though. It seems that in order for videogames to be viewed as “real entertainment” for adults, they have to show ultra-violence. The knife in the eye in Black Ops and glass in the mouth was just a bit too much in Black Ops. You dont need such violence to create impact – take a risk, trust your dialogue, digital actors, animators, pacing and the effect that a combination of these things can achieve.

So, story-telling proved to be Treyarch’s strength in Black Ops and I’m sure it’s going to be that in Black Ops 2. I’m really happy they have some gameplay set in 1980’s, Afghanistan of course, probably Nicaragua, where a lot of late cold war stuff went down. I love the 80’s. Hopefully there’s some sequence à la Black Op’s boat ride in the jungle, where some classic songs play…maybe A’ha’s “Take on Me” as you blast enemies in Afghanistan in a final stand off, true blaze of glory? (Just like Rambo and Trautmann in Rambo III when the entire Russian army was about to attack them!)

Just read this wiki-entry on Black Ops lead character Alex Mason  as to how much background info there was on him at the end…considering this is a “hollywood action game”, where background details dont matter, Treyarch was able to create a lot of depth for the lead character: it was all there if you looked. I loved how Black Ops mixed real historical events with fiction. Surely Ronald Reagan, Oliver North and co will be involved in Black Ops 2?

Now, on one hand, I completely applaud Treyarch for taking the franchise forward (literally), but I loved the 1970’s setting of Black Ops, but the story advanced so many years in that game, that they really didn’t leave much to explore in a sequel, so understandably, most of Black Ops 2 is set in the near-future, with some 80’s thrown in for good measure. I always felt Black Ops almost did too much story-wise, they easily could have left out some things and kept Blacks Op 2 in the seventies. Then again, the 80’s offers a lot of interesting cold war happenings that the game can take advantage of.

Now, I’m not super keen on the 2025 setting, though really, it’s only 10 years from now, so there’s no lasers or anything like that, but fighting robots sounds less fun than fighting regular troops, but change is good, I have to admit.

The multiplayer is entirely set in 2025. That was the first thing I asked when I talked to folks who had seen the game: is it both 80’s and 2025 in MP? So it’s 2025 and in my opinion, Black Ops multiplayer was so perfect, there’s really nothing more Treyarch could do in that timeperiod. Then again, despite the time periods in Call of Duty, you always pretty much have the same weaponry and perks. I just want my napalm and my attack dogs in a Call of Duty. Surely Treyarch can put some half-animal, half-robot dogs to attack players in Black Ops 2 MP? Please keep in napalm as well, that was an awesome attack and tool in the multiplayer as you could limit enemy movement with it. Also, took me about three prestige levels to realize you could turn the napalm attack to start whichever way you wanted…

The reason I want those is, that dogs(and maybe zombies) are fun. I think to me, Treyarch sort of puts the players needs and wants first, whereas Infinity Ward is more about “here’s what we think you should like”. Now I think creators need to do their thing and we will either like it or not; I dont want compromise and half the time the rhetoric from developers about “listening to the community” is bullshit anyway…the community is half-insane most of the time.

Still, my point is that I feel that Treyarch is, in a good way, a bit less serious than Infinity Ward, so they are more about…bit more fun in multiplayer with funkier weapons like the RC-XD vehicle. That’s totally fine by me.

The MP map design  was pretty damn awesome in Black Ops especially now in the light of Modern Warfare 3 (the latest two MW3 maps: Foundation and Sanctuare are awesome and feature spawns very much like in Black Ops), which has had maps from I think from Neversoft, Sledgehammer and IW. The MP map designs in Black Ops were very consistent and there were some absolutely classics like Summit and Nuketown, but the rest were really good too. I hope the spawn system stays the same in Black Ops 2, so basically teams spawning at either end of the map depending which area you control. Spawn trapping/camping is fine by me if it’s limited.

At the end of the day as long as the fucking scoreboard lists mode-specific stats, so in Domination, Captures besides K/D, I’m happy. That’s a small, yet asbsoutely huge, crucial feature that was in Black Ops and is missing in Modern Warfare 3. Some of us, actually many of us, do not play TDM or free for all, we play objective-based modes where you should score more for doing the actual objectives instead of kills. So, surely those stats should also be listed!

Elite 2.0?

CoD elite needs a lot of work. I’ve talked to some of the core team folks working on Elite and I can sympathize how tough it is to  launch such a service, but the service needs a lot of…work.

First of all…integration. Modern Warfare 3 and Elite are not integrated at all. You have to launch a separate fucking app to access Elite outside of the game. The app is slow and  I cannot do anything Elite-wise while actually in game?! Get the fuck out of here. I want to be able to message all my clan members at the same time that we got something coming up, because nobody remembers to go and read the clan’s Elite wall anyway. We still have to have a separate Facebook page for our clan to organize Modern Warfare 3 matches..surely Elite should have been the answer to that. Why isn’t there an in-game calendar/wall that you notifies you? Make life easier for me dammit!

Basically I hope the Combat/Player card from Black Ops, which was awesome and not in MW3, is probably Elite in Black Ops 2 multiplayer. The integration surely cannot be worse than it is in Modern Warfare 3.

I join a Solo or Clan Op and do I get notified in-game about that? No I do not. That’s incredibly poor design, though I’m sure working over PSN and Xbox Live can be a nightmare and Beach Head is aware of the problems. Like they say, online services change so much, so I’m sure Elite 2.0 will be a lot better. I sure hope so since I’m paying for it and while the DLC is nice, would be awesome if the actual service would be awesome as well.

Also, give me some actual in-game rewards for Elite achievements. Yes, I could unlock a few graphical backgrounds for my player card in MW3, but that was it. I want some real, game-changer, Project X type of shit in there.

Also, since I’ve put in 401 hours into Black Ops multiplayer, it would be awesome if my Blops achievements would somehow be visible to other MP players. Bungie had this in Halo games where in the lobbies under your name you could have certain type of visuals if you had reached certain milestones in previous games; that’s hugely important to us nerds. To be able to show off with our gaming provess since we have no hot women to show off or money.

The Darkness 2

I like Digital Extremes up in Canada. I visited them sometime in early 2000 for Unreal Championship on the Xbox. They are located in a small sleepy town called London, which I had a great time in.

Their latest game is The Darkness 2 published by 2K. Now, DE has superb technology. Their early PS3/Xbox 360 game Dark Sector was amazingly smooth and technically great, but had zero personality. So, with a license that becomes easier. Darkness 2 definitely has personality backed up by superb tech and I’m actually surprised how good the production values are considering DE is a relatively small team. The gunplay is pretty good, the cell-shaded visuals are distinct and often strikingly beautiful. While they’ve dropped the semi-open world of the first game, rightly so really, there’s a good bit of plot-development happening during when there’s no action.

Between levels you hang out at Jackie’s mansion and get to talk to all your mafioso buddies. Now if you are like me and love Goodfellas and all that Mafia-goodness, these part of the game is great. You get to banter with lads named Jimmy the Grape, Jimmy and other cliche mafioso’s. The dialogue is sharp and the athmospere is really great.

I’m kinda playing this because I know there’s no real multiplayer and I know I can get through the game and have a good experience with it. Kinda why I also played through Resident Evil Revelations on the 3DS. I didnt like that game btw, very disappointing.

However, now that I’m about 70% into The Darkness 2, the amount of times the difficulty level spikes is getting really annoying. The game would work better if it would be easier and just let you get on with it and enjoy the story more. While the eemy knows the light is Jackie’s and the Darkness enemy, I feel too impotent late in the game with my powers – they just flash me with some massive spotligt/floodlight and I’m almost dead.

Still, an entertaining game definitely worth playing. Bodes well for Digital Extreme’s Star Trek, which I saw a while back in Las Vegas at a Namco Bandai event I was able to attend as a freelaner on top my regular work. I wrote preview of the game in finnish that you can read here.

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