Madden 09 Cover Athlete

Favre-1I know this is slightly delayed. I was in San Francisco attending a session during the Web 2.0 conference as well as visiting our friends at the Electronic Arts Redwood City campus.

As you may or may not know the Madden 09 Cover athlete was announced on the David Letterman show. This edition of Madden represents 20 years of Madden and what better way to celebrate than to put one of the all time greats on the cover.

Brett Favre is your Madden 09 cover athlete. So I guess no Madden curse this year unless you count a year without Favre for the Packers… Right Scott D?

Look for Madden 09 in August.

Game Review – Gears of War 2

logo_300When the dust settled on the original Gears of War release over four million copies were sold and some of the highest critical praise of any title on the 360 to date. So it is easy to say that the expectations around Gears of War 2 are pretty high.

Epic Games is the studio behind Gears of War 2 and the powerful Unreal engine. This engine powers some of the best games out today (Rainbow Six 2, Unreal Tournment III, BioShock and Army of Two) So a lot is expected of an in-house title from Epic.

What I have been able to gather Gears of War 2 takes place 6 months after the deployment of the lightmass bomb at the end of part one. This was not without consequences. While a small victory was won with the explosion a side effect has developed. “Rust Lung” it seems humanity is on the brink from both the Locusts and this new disease. Add to that the Locusts have a new weapon that can shallow a city whole and you begin to get the picture that Gears 2 focuses on more than the exploits of Marcus and team.

This leads to Jacinto. Jacinto is a small fortified city and similar to Zion in the Matrix is the last human sanctuary. With the threat of the new weapon the COG has no choice but to take the fight to the Locusts. This is where the game starts as Marcus and team will take the fight underground.

There are also some new members to Delta squad. While Cole and Baird are still a major part of the story they are no longer with Delta Squad. One of the new additions is Tai Kaliso, a more spiritual warrior and adds a new mystical dynamic to the squad. Also one of the main driving side story’s is the search for Dom’s wife Maria Santiago.

In terms of gameplay improvements the Unreal engine 3 is showcasing new features. Unlike other engines, Unreal does not follow the same versioning pattern. Epic stated the Unreal Engine is designed for the entire console cycle. The engine will feature new lighting techniques similar to cinematic lighting. The engine can now also render large amounts of enemies that act independently. Similar to Halo there is a lot of emphasis on water and soft body physics. The last new feature has more to do with your environment, specifically cover. Now similar to Dark Sector your cover can be chipped away leaving you open for attacks.

Not much will change though in how you interact with the team. The core cover/shoot mechanics remain intact. Active reloads are pretty much intact. But in the Halo model it would not be a sequel without new weapons (Hammer Burst, Gorgon Burst Pistol, Poison Grenade). And as the trailer showed chainsaw duels are a new element to the fun.

Being a huge co-op fan I was really excited to hear about the addition of drop-in drop-out options. Mainly your buddy can arrive at anytime and leave at any time without disrupting the flow of the game. This is big as before you would lose your session if your buddy had to go. The other major addition is the addition of multiple save files. While this does not seem big initially the ability to track against different files is a welcome addition.

One of the other fun co-op additions is that you can play on different difficulty settings. This is possible as when you split down individual paths at certain points you get to experience the difficulty setting you selected.

The popular COG tags of the first game have been dropped in favor of a BioShock style of object interaction. Basically you can collect personal letters and medical records to new COG tags that can actually be examined to learn about their fallen owner.

As it stands now the co-op is still limited to 2 players. It would be a welcome change to allow for 4 player co-op similar to Halo 3. This is the ideal scenario with a squad based shooter.

One of my main concerns is that Gears 1 was like a summer blockbuster. More focus on action vs. story. With sequels we sometimes get the over-story where the studio tries to make up for the perceived lack of story in the first edition with too much in the second. My most recent case in point is Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. I am not a fan of the interactive movie model of gaming. Not to say Gears 2 will go this route, but I did see that there is definitely going to be more focus on story this time around.

From an achievement standpoint a welcome change has been made to the system. You can now track your progress in both single player and multiplayer. E.g. If you need to make 1,000 headshots you can do it in any game mode vs. the 10,000 you had to get in multiplayer only.

Gears of War 2 will be available on Xbox 360 in November of 2008. In the meantime check out the screenshots that are available now. I can’t wait!!!

Proximity Marketing

apple-iphoneI recently attended a customer brand loyalty summit and saw some interesting things & met some very interesting people. One of the topics discussed during a networking session was the next progression associated with marketing and mobile devices.

A lot of us are glued to our phones (Or iPhones) as I have talked about before. With more and more consolidation of devices it is not a leap that the next progression will extend from the device being the primary focus of reach to incorporate other services around the device.

Soon your mobile device will go from being your portable music player/phone/organizer to housing digital coupons, boarding passes for flights and credit cards (bye bye wallet). This is already prevalant in tech-centric societies such as Japan, but with the mobile adoption rates at the highest they have ever been here domestically combined with an increase in the level of sophistication and comfort from end-users, more and more emphasis will be put on mobile devices.

From a marketing perspective this can become very interesting. We have seen the shift from mass marketing to individual marketing where the user is now king (or queen) in controlling the messages that they want to see. The next step in proximity marketing is to have users opt in to their likes and allow for the location or an event to market to the user when they reach a certain proximity to a location.

For example. I drink a lot of Starbucks. I can opt in that I like Starbucks. The next time I am driving/walking close to a Starbucks I might receive a ringback reminding me that I am close to Starbucks and a Grande Green Tea Latte might be good at this point in time.

This will not work for all organizations but it is the next step in how marketers and brands will reach beyond traditional methods and delivery and further incorporate technology while respecting the end-users ability to choose the messages that allow in.

Community Server 2008

On April 15th Telligent released Community Server 2008. Community Server is the platform that powers communities for the likes of Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Dell and the MySpace.com forums and is the platform of choice for thousands of community implementations.

In addition to the new release a new site now accompanies the release. The base URL has shifted from communityserver.org now to communityserver.com.

Community Server 2008 features some significant additions to an already robust platform.

Some of the new features include:

  • Groups/Social circles (Think micro-communities)
  • Enterprise Reporting & Analytics with the new Harvest Reporting Server
  • SharePoint integration (This is big!!!)
  • A full Web Services stack
  • Social Streams (Activity Feeds)
  • Media Galleries that can easily share content published within the community or external sources
  • Enterprise File Storage
  • Widgets, widgets and more widgets
  • OpenID support
  • As well as enhancements to the blogs and forums applications as well as a revamp of the control panel

Community Server 2008 is the best integrated social networking/community platform available. Not only from a feature and technology standpoint, but also based on Telligent’s investment in reporting and analytics.

As I have mentioned before one of the biggest barriers to implementing a social networking solution is the lack of consistent metrics. With Harvest Reporting Server we have taken a major step in providing a model to assist in the calculation of ROI around community.

Definitely give it a go. You can download the free express edition here.

Game Review – Dark Sector

dark sectorWhen I first read about Dark Sector in OXM a few months back I really liked the concept of the game. I had heard about the drawn out development cycles and the focus on the Glaive. (Think Krull). So when it recently launched I had to pick it up and I was not disappointed.

Dark Sector takes some of the best elements from games before it (Splinter Cell, Bioshock, Gears of War, Resident Evil) and adds to it by introducing one of the more unique weapons you will pick up in recent memory.

Story: Dark Sector follows Hayden Tenno, an elite black-ops agent sent on a dangerous mission into a decaying Eastern European city that hides a deadly Cold War secret. He is attacked by an unknown enemy, he awakens to find part of his body altered by an infection that has given him inhuman abilities. As you progress through the game you “evolve” by developing additional skills around your infection. Out of your infection is how you deploy the Glaive which is the 3 sided
deathbringer that turns out to be the highlight of the game.

Gameplay: Dark Sector feels like a conglomeration of some of the best titles of all time. It borrows from the Elemental (Fire, Electricity, Ice) aspects of Bioshock as well as the shiny item pickups. It utilizes cover and regenerative health just like Gears down to the pulsing read screen and it provides Resident Evil type moments while blasting through mutated humans and evil AI while delivering a compelling Splinter Cell like experience with the focus on black and white stylization.

In terms of gameplay the controls for character movement are not innovative. They follow some of the standard shooter configurations, running, taking cover and progressing in a very Gears like fashion. Also the melee action is a bit off as it is a one button press to deliver a blow, this is a bit hit or miss at times although this is made up for by the ability to “finish” your opponent with number of finishing animation sequences.

For the objective minded gamer you have the ability to search for or “research” various weapons upgrades that are scattered throughout the game. This has a double benefit as it is your standard scavenger hunt tasks that pay off in upgrades to your weapons. Think Army of Two cases combined with BioShock Power to the People upgrade stations. This leads me to one of my bigger complaints of the game and that is the lack of control over inventory management and upgrades. I was disappointed in my ability to cycle owned weapons and the deployment of upgrades.

The boss battles were also a bit disappointing. Not in the terms of the graphics as the Colossus charging you and filling your screen is impressive, but the sequence of the boss battles is very predictable which does give you plenty of time to line up your Glaive…

The truly compelling aspects of the game play revolve around the Glaive. It was surprising to me how much can be done with weapon. As you progress through the game you gain additional abilities such as the ability to imbue the Glaive with elemental aspects, control the Glaive in mid-flight, create a shield and solve various in-game puzzles with Hayden’s weapon of choice.

One final word around gameplay, there are elements of the game that assume you have played many games in the past. Meaning there is no additional guidance for where to go or what to do to advance the story in some spots. It doesn’t help that I am now dependent on the GPS in Army of Two :). In essence you are expected to “Figure it out” which is refreshing especially for a title that drives you in a fairly linear fashion towards the end objectives.

Weapons: Of hundreds of games I have played the Glaive is one of the best weapons I have had the opportunity to play with. I want to give D3 a lot of credit on this facet of the game as it is what you will remember long after Dark Sector goes back on the shelf. While this is a shooter with the standard array of weapons the Glaive is by far the most fun element. I really enjoyed the “AfterTouch” ability which allows you to take control of the Glaive upon release and “guide” it towards your target. You are rewarded with numerous animation sequences when the Glaive makes contact. You also have the opportunity to quadruple the power of the throw and essentially cut your enemies in half or decapitate them outright. This has one of the best achievements tied to it “double decap latte 15 pts” it is exactly what it sounds like… decapitate two enemies with one throw. Fun stuff :)

Online: The online version features two modes of gameplay. Infection and Epidemic. With Epidemic each side has one Hayden Tenno and all other players are support players from the game. The objective is to kill the other teams Tenno. Think Slayer with a focus on keeping one team member alive while focusing on the other teams Tenno. The second option is Infection. Similar to Halo one person is “infected” and has to kill or be killed. I thought the online mode was okay, I won’t be spending endless hours on the multiplayer as it is not as strong as Gears, COD4, or Halo 3, but it is different enough to at least give it a go.

Achievements: I like titles that allow for unlocking of achievement through actual gameplay elements without taking it to the extreme. A number of the Glaive based achievements can be completed during the initial gameplay and you could end up around 500 gamerscore points with a single playthrough. Some of the fun achievements were the “Jack the Jackal” (35) “The Finisher” (10), “HardBall” (35), “Greed” (10) and of course my favorite the “Double Decap Latte” (15).

Rating & Comments: I am really enjoying this game. There are a few minor elements that keep it from being an all time great but the unique aspect of the Glaive control kept me hooked throughout. I definitely recommend this title and give it an 8.5.

Pros:

  • The Glaive (Best weapon I have seen in a LONG TIME)
  • Everything you can do with the Glaive, Imbue elementals, Aftertouch, Area Destruction, etc…
  • Did I mention the Glaive
  • Aftertouch (Controlling the Glaive in mid-air after the throw)
  • Level Design (Felt a lot like Gears, dirty, grimy)
  • Finishing Sequences
  • Crunch of the Glaive/Decapitation/Severing

Cons:

  • Weapon swapping and upgrade application are a bit off
  • Boss sequences predictable
  • Lack of direction in certain areas
  • Story starts strong then wanes