In The News: Mixer, Ninja & Brands

I recently provided commentary to AdAge tied to Mixer’s recent exclusive deal with eSports celebrity Ninja. Below is my full commentary tied to how Mixer differs from Twitch, how Mixer is positioning itself with brands, why Mixer is investing in Ninja,

Here is my full commentary RE: Mixer & Ninja’s Move.

ADAGE – WHAT DOES MIXER DO BETTER THAN TWITCH?

TOM: I have personally been streaming via Mixer (TheBlackFin) much longer than Twitch. I actually preferred Mixer over Twitch as I was primarily an Xbox console gamer and the close integration with the Xbox interface was a great way to quickly and easily stream. You also get USB camera support with Mixer vs Twitch on Xbox. 

One of my personal favorite features that Twitch actually just recently rolled out only to Twitch partners is co-streaming. This allows up to four players to stream to a single location. So if you are running a full squad in a first-person shooter you can let your viewers see each player’s POV.

The other feature that I really like is Mixer focuses on time and interactivity vs. just currency to support streamers. Interactivity between streamer and audience is key, allowing your viewers to help direct key decisions.

Mixer’s recent platform update introduced a number of key elements to support time on platform that converts to support for streamers vs. using direct cash so the motivation to naturally engage longer on the platform is a key point of difference. Basically, the cost to the user is less about spending dollars but dedicating your time to show support.

With Mixer, they allow streamers to offer special controls to their viewers, like use X weapon against the boss and allow them to vote. This has been one of Mixer’s biggest points of difference from day one. 

RE: Money, Twitch has badges, emotes, and you can have ad-free streams by subscribing to a streamer as well as subscriber-only mode but all of this is directly tied to cash. You are essentially buying accessibility. With Mixer its more about time. The platform rewards viewers for spending time on the platform. Viewers earn all types of virtual rewards just for watching including the key currency Sparks, which allows you to have interactivity with streams. 

Mixer does now have a premium currency similar to Twitch that allows users to support streamers called Embers, but it’s not required for interactivity whereas with Twitch its pay to play. 

ADAGE – HOW IS MIXER POSITIONING ITSELF WITH BRANDS?

TOM: Mixer brings in around 20 million visitors every month and these are key demographics that brands want to connect with but the ability for a brand to partner directly with Mixer to drive a connection, create a co-branded experience and advertise directly through Mixer is not a viable option at the moment. It looks like Mixer is taking steps to drive more active engagement through the platform and as the audience continues to grow and engage it will eventually open up more direct opportunities for brands directly.

Without an advertising model across Mixer it’s more about the individual relationships with streamers and brands directly, similar to Ninja’s Red Bull sponsorship and product placement in his streams.

Mixer is not directly positioning with brands yet. They are solely focused on growing the community and providing authentic invaluable content for consumers. Ad revenue and the structure around it is future state.

ADAGE – WHAT IS THE AD BUYING PROCESS LIKE? 

TOM: No ad buying process on Mixer, brands have to take an “influencer” style approach to reaching audiences on Mixer, that’s through the individual streamers vs. through the platform.

ADAGE – EARLY DAYS, WHAT ARE YOU SEEING/HEARING IN TERMS OF PRICE VS. PERFORMANCE WHEN BUYING ON MIXER?  

TOM: No price vs. performance as of yet, but moving forward I would keep a close eye on how Mixer evolves the platform as the shifts and changes they are making are setting up for engagement as a core KPI. Also, all of the positioning and having Mixer in the center of how gaming will evolve with cloud-based services, xCloud, Scarlett (Next Box) and cloud services, Mixer might be an upstart compared to Twitch and YouTube, but they are sitting in a great position on the coming horizon and bringing Ninja over is a good commitment to kick-starting their move towards taking share.

ADAGE: WHY IS MIXER INVESTING IN NINJA?

TOM: Ninja made a lot of sense, not because he is the “best” gamer today as he is not at the top of current players, but his name recognition, ESPN cover athlete and recognition is key to drive buzz around the exclusivity and impact of the deal. Ninja has primarily been a PC player, so for Ninja this makes sense as it pulls in a different audience segment as Mixer has primarily been a Microsoft/Xbox streaming service so it drives more direct connection with console gamers.

Also, Microsoft is focused on blurring the lines of gaming moving forwards between PC and Console players. With xCloud, Xbox Game Pass that opens up cloud-based libraries of games for both PC & Console, it makes a lot of sense to begin to build towards positioning with exclusivity with Ninja.

ADAGE – IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?

TOM: All of the positioning and having Mixer in the center of how gaming will evolve with cloud-based services, xCloud, Scarlett (Next XBox) and cloud services, Mixer might be an upstart compared to Twitch and YouTube, but they are sitting in a great position on the coming horizon and bringing Ninja over is a good commitment to kick-starting their move towards taking share.

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In the News: AdAge Fortnite & Gen Z

I was recently asked by Advertising Age why/if Fortnite is a social network for Gen Z. The behaviors tied to gaming cannot be ignored and the brands that can seamlessly capitalize on creating value, providing exclusive content and enhance creativity will reap the rewards.

Here is my full commentary:

AdAge : Are you buying or selling the notion that Fortnite is a social platform? 

Tom: Fortnite and gaming, in general, is DEFINITELY a social platform, especially for GENZ. It’s not just about the core gameplay. I see groups getting together to create within the game, to conduct private matches with friends and of course for squad play but it also extends to watching streamers via Twitch & YouTube and sharing content.

There is a seamless flow between in-game and associating with game content on the go. Plus with cross-platform play, it doesn’t matter whether you are on Mobile, Nintendo Switch, PC or Xbox you are always able to connect. I see it in my own home as Fortnite has become the starting point for my youngest (11) and his friends to gather, compare in-game skins and then figure out whether they want to create, set up a private match or just play battle royale. 

AdAge: Why or why not? Some brands have gotten into Fortnite (Samsung, Nike, NFL, John Wick, Avengers). 

TOM:
That said, what should brands be thinking about if entering this universe? Brands should definitely consider how they are aligning with titles like Fortnite as well as eSports (competitive gaming). It’s incredibly important to understand the game properly, the fan base and focus on adding value. It’s less about a passive sponsorship and more about creating value or desire through either free downloadable content or virtual items like Skins in Fortnite. 

AdAge: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

TOM: Gen Z spends 2.5 hours a day with on-demand content and 1.5 hours a day gaming. It’s less about content marketing and more about empowering their creativity. Gaming is a social currency for GenZ. Things like virtual skins are the new Jordans (Although virtual Jordan’s were recently introduced via Fortnite). Gaming culture is now mainstream and how advertisers should think about gaming and the power of integrating with various properties should be at the top of the list for brands that covet cultural relevance. 

Here is a link to full article.

AdAge Tom Edwards Commentary

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Apple Live Event Recap & Reaction

Today’s event was all about Apple’s focus on new services. Normally these events discuss Hardware & Software, but today was all about new forms of subscriptions that allow consumers more control while showcasing Apple’s strategy to not only provide access /navigation/curation of entertainment but also serve as an end destination with new original content for gaming & entertainment.

Apple also provided a shock to the financial services system with the launch of Apple Card. With an interface and features yet to be seen by traditional banks, Apple is making a bold move towards controlling multiple facets of the consumer journey, all without advertising and an emphasis on privacy.

Here is the full recap:

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Celebrating 500 BlackFin Posts

This post is number 500 for the BlackFin360.com/blog. Starting this blog was one of the best decisions I have made professionally. It provided me with a platform to share original thoughts, cover industry trends and serve as a repository for speaking and media coverage.

It has evolved significantly from the early beginnings in 2007. The blog was originally under the domain TheBlackFin.com. Now that domain is simply a redirect to BlackFin360.com. “BlackFin” was a nickname given to me by a co-worker at the time and the blog name came directly from my Xbox Gamertag “TheBlackFin“.

Here is a screenshot of the original look for the blog from 2007-2009. Why green for a blog named the “black” fin is something I still wonder about to this day.

Over the years the look and feel of the blog has changed but the core content focus on marketing, emerging technology, and gaming has remained to this day.

I officially moved the blog from theblackfin.com to blackfin360.com in 2009. By 2011 at least there were black/techie elements in the look and feel.

Now in 2018, the blog continues to serve as the primary entry point for speaking engagements, advisor opportunities, university lecturing, media coverage and over the past year it has shifted to more of a Vlog.

The look of the site will continue to evolve in 2018 and beyond.

Whether this is your first time here or you have been a subscriber since the beginning, I sincerely want to thank anyone who has stopped by and spent time with my content. I am incredibly grateful for this platform and I would highly recommend to anyone to find their industry voice and build their personal brand in addition to their professional.

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Webinar: Using AI to Conquest New Markets

Looking forward to taking part in the upcoming webinar: Using AI to conquest new markets on February 28, 2018, at 12pm CST. Be sure to register today!

Today’s marketers have access to an incredible volume of consumer information, but most are simply not equipped to make sense of it all. With artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, we can quickly sift through all this varied, scattered input and identify invaluable, consistent consumer trends and actionable insights, something that would nearly impossible to accomplish manually.

Savvy marketers can use these insights to conquest new markets by understanding the audience affinities for various segments within their new market. Join the CEO of AI software company Oculus360, John Dubois, and Tom Edwards, Chief Digital & Innovation Officer of Epsilon’s agency business, in a dynamic discussion about how brands are using innovative machine learning technology to identify, target, and succeed in new markets. Ian Beacraft, Vice President, Digital Strategy at Epsilon will host and moderate the discussion about:

  • How to use AI/machine learning to identify opportunities for brand extension and expansion
  • How audience affinity models can be applied to identify the products and brands most closely aligned with different customer segments
  • A real-world example of these strategies in action

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Xbox One X Project Scorpio Early Unboxing

I received a nice surprise as there was a special package waiting for me in my office. It was an early release version of the Xbox One X Project Scorpio edition.

The Xbox One X officially launches on the 7th of November. I captured the full unboxing, setup, and discuss what’s included and the features of the console including a look at the system after start-up.

A special thank you to Brent at Xbox and Chris from TripleClix for the great surprise.

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Epsilon Agency & TripleClix eSports eBook

Tom Edwards, Ad Age Marketing Technology Trailblazer and Chief Digital Officer, Agency @ Epsilon previews an eSports eBook collaboration between Epsilon Agency & TripleClix.

eSports is “athletics of the mind” and it’s popularity is skyrocketing past traditional sports leagues. It’s a way for younger millennials & gen Z to compete and to create and share experiences and it’s shifting entertainment and lifestyle behaviors dramatically.

This eBook provides insight into 5 use cases for brand marketers to build an eSports strategy beyond simple sponsorship. We also highlight Epsilon Agency’s proprietary data assets that map psychographic insights through machine learning tied to various segments of gamers to uncover key personality markers.

We  preview how this information can highlight lifestyle and affinity connections with gaming audiences for brand marketers through an eSports brand index that allows for seamless connections between brands and gamers with eSports playing a key role in binding the two.

Download the eBook here.

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Trends To Watch in 2017

Technology is now essential to our daily lives. Accessibility and empowerment has transformed how we connect and communicate. This has led to new forms of user interaction that will usher in the business models of the future.

2017 will be comprised of new types of conversational experiences to connect with consumers. It will see the continued evolution of artificial intelligence and connected systems as well as the rapid rise of third-party ecosystems supporting virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

The following trend deck outlines the evolution of marketing in 2017 through the consumer centric filters of connection, cognition and immersion and is now available for download.

Screenshot 2016-12-02 15.00.44.png

  • CONNECTION – Trends that reimagine how we connect, enable and empower consumers.
    • Examples include: Simplified Conversational Experiences, Pervasive Voice-Based Interfaces, Search and Retrieval to 1:1 Prediction, Affective Datasets and eSports

screenshot-2016-12-02-14-47-49

  • COGNITION – Trends where machine based intelligence will disrupt and redefine data assets and how we work.
    • Examples include: Machine Learning as a Service, Centaur Intelligence, Blockchain & AI

Screenshot 2016-12-02 14.52.09.png

  • IMMERSION – Trends that align technology and presence to evoke emotion, entertain and power commerce.
    • Examples include: Democratization of VR, VR Commerce, Social VR, (Re)Mixed Reality

Screenshot 2016-12-02 14.57.24.png

  • ZONE OF CONVERGENCE – Trends that align elements of connection, cognition and immersion that will redefine consumer engagement.
    • Examples include: Cars as the next Mobile Platform, Holographic Computing, Ambient Computing.

screenshot-2016-12-02-14-55-53

How we consume and interact via digital channels is about to be absorbed and redefined. We believe that 2017 will begin the convergence of connection, cognition and immersion toward an ambient computing future built on new data types that will simplify complex tasks and predict need states vs reacting.

Download the 2017 Trend Predictions Today!

epsilon-top-trends-for-2017

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Pokemon Go: 15 Vital Marketing Insights

Pokemon Go mania has hit the US. The near perfect storm of timing, relevance, and word-of-mouth has momentarily captured the media spotlight and Pokemon fans new and old.

I recently provided iMedia with 15 Vital Marketing Insights that marketers should consider when building high engagement digital to physical programs.

Home 2016-07-17 21-45-02

Community, Common Cause, Competition, Gamification, Word of Mouth, Game Mechanics, Scarcity, Nostalgia and Mixing Reality are all elements that contributed to the run away success of Pokemon Go.

Photo Jul 15, 12 59 06 PM

There are many lessons to be learned by marketers. By aligning existing strengths of the brand with the passion of community and a compelling experience, it is possible to create a highly engaging consumer experience with similar attributes that make Pokemon Go a success.

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Connecting Gaming & Brands through Advergaming & Edutainment

Two of my passions are gaming and marketing. Whenever I have the opportunity for the two to intersect I am overjoyed. Previously, I have written on the topic of advergaming (imedia) and brand integrations (IEG). This article will highlight case studies of advergaming as well as introduce edutainment case studies.

Gaming is big business. According to Gartner, the projected worldwide video game market size in 2014 will surpass $100 billion dollars. In 2014, 58% of Americans have played a video game and 68% of gamers are 18 or older. With the fragmentation and shifts in media consumption, gaming provides significant dwell times with a hyper connected audience. Brands that create authentic and relevant value that empowers gamers will “unlock” value beyond impressions.

Let’s start with a terminology refresher. An Advergame is an electronic game – often low-cost or free – designed to promote a brand or product.

advergaming

ADVERGAMING – Advergaming is closely associated with above the line, through the line and below the line integration where the advertisements or brand integrations are either explicit and may be an integral part of the game or products are embedded seamlessly into the existing gameplay.

ABOVE THE LINE EXAMPLES

Burger King – Xbox 360 Licensed Games

Advergame - Burger King

Coca-Cola –  Mini Me

Coca-Cola Mini Me

Taco Bell – The Waiting Game

Taco Bell - The Waiting Game

Kellogg’s – Coco Pops

Advergame - Kelloggs

Skittles – Darkened Skye

Advergame - Skittles

Key points to consider are ATL executions are normally executed with the brand primarily in creative control of the project. As a start up or independent developer, this is where there is an opportunity to license your product to be distributed through the brands channels. This type of execution would take a brand partner willing to make a significant investment to cover development, distribution, promotional and non-development fees.

THROUGH THE LINE – Through the line examples are more commonly tied to alternate realty games (ARGs). This is when consumers interact with links, websites and promotional material outside the game. I have written about ARG integrations such as the Hanso Foundation ARG tied to the LOST television show. Other examples are:

The Dark Knight ARG

HALO – ilovebees

BELOW THE LINE – Authenticity and relevance are the keys to successfully executing below the line integrations. For additional insight and behind the scenes access to how partnerships are actually executed I turned to the reigning king of below the line integrations, Chris Erb. Formerly of Electronic Arts, Legendary Pictures and co-founder of the gaming agency TripleClix. Chris and I have served on boards together and have spent time over the years discussing this topic.

Chris is the architect of some of the most successful and authentic below the line integrations over the past few years. His partnerships with Coca-cola and Frito-Lay redefined how brand integrations can not only provide access to new audiences, but also drive business results such as aligning traditional CPG products into new areas within the retail setting.

According to Chris, “A number of prominent brands have or want to get into the gaming space. The issue is that publishers and brands don’t always speak the same language. It is less about selling ads in games and more about seamlessly connecting the brand and the game in an authentic way.”

Chris’ statement also align with existing consumer behavior. When I recently conducted primary research on motivations tied to consumer pre-order behavior, two key elements were consistent. Gamers want exclusive content or early access. Everything else was of secondary consideration. The goal of a brand integration should be to empower the gamers.

EA – Coca Cola = FIFA

Advergaming - Coca-Cola FIFA

EA – Doritos = 3D

Advergame - Doritos - Madden 3D

Rolls Royce – Forza

Advergame - Forza - Rolls Royce

By empowering gamers and creating opportunities for brands to seamlessly integrate into the gaming experience, brands that choose to implement below the line programs in an authentic way have the opportunity to increase brand perception as well as reach a highly coveted audience.

EDUTAINMENT – Edutainment is any content that is designed to educate as well as entertain. This is an example of consumers playing an ordinary game and product promotions are embedded into the game. There has been a rise of educational content that is also meant to entertain. There is also an opportunity for brands looking to extend the reach of an altruistic cause through education and awareness through the lens of branded entertainment.

Here are examples of edutainment:

Telefonica – Sponsored initiative to boost youth literacy in Brazil

Advergame - Telefonica

Limbs Alive – 3D game designed to aid recovering stroke victims

Advergame - Limbs Alive

SMARTeacher – One of my favorite examples, this is an educational game that uses biofeedback to enhance the experience

Edutainment - Prodigy

Here is a short video outlining the Prodigy Experience

Consumers will continue to seek gaming experiences across devices. There is a significant opportunity to break through to a highly engaged audience. This goes beyond simply running display ads in games. The key is to enhance the experience of the consumers in a very authentic and contextual way. It is also important that the essence of the brand aligns with the potential gaming properties. The brands that can leverage publisher partnerships to truly collaborate on enhancing the experience will reap the rewards of empowering gamers.

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Hero 5 Final

$500 Million and Destiny

Since the day Destiny hints were first discovered in HALO 3: ODST years ago, then sprinkled throughout numerous Bungie presentations, to the first public leaks in late 2012 I was hooked. The concept of a persistent open-world shooter by the makers of Halo was a dream come true. Having played both the Alpha & Beta versions and on the eve of the official release I wanted to take a look at the marketing efforts leading up to the worldwide release.

Destiny easter egg hidden in Halo 3: ODST highlighting the “traveler”

Destiny + ODST

Certain outlets are claiming there will be up to 10 million players day one and I will definitely be one. Every gamer I have talked to recently knows of the impending release. Over 4.5 million of us played the beta and there have been discussions about which of the 3 character classes they will align with, who has the best pre-order incents (Hint: It’s GameStop) and which gamemodes are going to occupy our time.

Screenshot 2014-09-08 15.05.43

One of the key areas of growth in gamer numbers is the fact that Destiny is rated T for Teen vs. M for Mature. This opens up the market and for parents like myself who are hesitant to let their kids play M rated titles, Activision will get double the revenue from my household this time around.

When I fire up my Xbox One I will think back to my beta experience and prepare for what lies ahead across uncharted planets. This is an exciting moment in next gen gaming as not since TitanFall launched in March of this year has there been a true AAA shooter release that was developed specifically to push the next gen hardware.

Ready to take the experience from beta to full release

Photo Jul 27, 5 18 29 PM

One of the key elements beyond word of mouth and the reputation of bungie has been the persistent presence of Destiny through the whopping $500 million in marketing spend that Activision had earmarked for the promotion of the game. This rivals the biggest of Hollywood blockbusters as game launches have taken on AAA treatment.

From the “Sharing” spot that launched around the time of the Titanfall launch


To the most recent live-action commercial shot by TRON: Legacy & Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski which has already garnered almost 6 million views at the time of this post.


The game is receiving a boost to attract mainstream and hard core fans alike with traditional and socially centric activations including a first of it’s kind collaboration with Google which allowed for Google Street view maps of the worlds in Destiny.


Destiny has also received a special collectors edition of Newsweek to celebrate the launch

Newsweek Destiny

Destiny is already trending on Twitter and tomorrow the hype will turn into action and I am predicting Destiny will break the previous sales records for a new franchise launch. And if any team can pull it off it’s Activision & their partner Step 3 PR.

Screenshot 2014-09-08 15.23.27

The last Call of Duty Black hit $1 billion in one day sales and at the time was the largest entertainment launch in history. I fully expect Destiny to break new franchise records ($500 Million) and foresee a healthy return for Activision on their 10 year relationship with Bungie.

Tomorrow it will be time to #Becomelegend. You will find me roaming the Xbox One galaxy as TheBlackFin.

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Next Gen & Twitch.TV

With last weeks launch of the PS4 selling more than a million in the first 24 hours as well as the launch of the Xbox One this week we are being ushered into the next generation of consoles with a bang! Having pre-ordered an Xbox One months ago I am ready to make the transition.

xbox one

Ready to carry over my gamerscore to the new platform!

Tom TheBlackFin Edwards 111813

One consistent element across both consoles is the integration of Twitch.TV into the experience. For the PS4 it is directly tied to the share button on the controller. What is Twitch.TV? Why does the average user spend 90 minutes on the site daily? And why as a brand would I care about extending my reach to this audience?

PS4

I was recently briefed by the Twitch.TV team and here is a brief overview before getting into how to leverage their community. Twitch.TV is a live video platform and community for gamers with more than 44 million unique viewers per month. Twitch.TV connects gamers globally by allowing them to broadcast, watch, and chat from everywhere they play.

home

In addition to 44 million unique viewers per month, the Twitch.TV community is highly engaged with the average user watching an hour and a half of live stream content per day. Twitch is available as a mobile app that supports both iOS & Android and as I mentioned above will be integrated into both of the next generation consoles.

Twitch-Mobile

For brands interested in publishing, Twitch has a partner program with over 4,000 members and is build on an ad revenue share model with top content producers such as Machinima, Electronic Arts, Mojang, Major League Gaming.

For brands interested in reaching this audience there are three primary ways to engage & activate the Twitch.TV community.

1) Publishing – The Twitch.TV platform is predicated on live streaming content and the option exists to create a branded Twitch channel. This option represents the largest barrier of entry as the best practices for a channel call for unique & relevant content in addition to a broadcast programming guide and would require resources and time to build an audience, create compelling content & invest in media to further drive discovery of the content. Note that this is a Live Streaming platform so content curation is not an option.

Machinima

2) Advertising – Twitch offers multiple advertising opportunities in the form of traditional video (pre-roll) and display, event based advertising. custom event programming. This is the more traditional method of reaching the Twitch.TV community. When I spoke recently with the Twitch team there is a strong desire to create unique & compelling programs that can drive value for for brands beyond simply advertising.

Advertise on Twitch — Twitch Media Group - Ad Types

3) Custom Programs – The Twitch.TV team is very motivated to partner with brands to create unique and compelling programs. This can come in the form of “never been done” types of executions that incorporate both online & offline elements.

Twitch Media Group

With 44 million uniques and a 90 minute dwell time there is definite value to Twitch.TV as a media platform and the ability to create custom programs in partnership with Twitch.TV opens up unique possibilities to connect beyond traditional ad types. Be sure to keep an eye on the monthly uniques as I am projecting growth with the direct integration with the next gen consoles.

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Mobile Gamings Potential For Brand Engagement via P4RC

Reaching mobile consumers is on the thoughts and minds of brand managers heading into 2012 and beyond. The challenge is to drive meaningful engagement across a highly fragmented landscape while providing a positive & relevant experience to the consumer.

Mobile gaming appears to be an ideal target for brand engagement as 70-80% of all mobile downloads are games with the average iPhone user spending 14.7 hours a month playing those games. Currently, 64.5 million people in the US played mobile casual games at least once a month. This will rise to 94.9 million in the US by 2014. Translation people are gaming via mobile.

Has anyone not played Angry Birds?

The issue at this point in time is that the current landscape is highly scattered with over 72,000 games in the Apple App store from thousands of developers and in-app advertising leaving many brands frustrated with their mobile engagement rates.

One newly launched service is looking to change the game by promising higher user engagement rates combined with positive brand associations. P4RC, Inc. is a new service that connects consumer brands to mobile users with a platform that converts user engagement in their favorite gaming apps into P4RC points, which can be redeemed for real-world rewards.

The basic premise is that players play games they are already playing and earn gift cards from top retailers just for playing.

The key for P4RC brand programs is the ability for brands to reach across multiple games and reward behaviors that users are already engaged in.

P4RC’s brand programs include sponsoring their “Race to Win” segments, which call for users to play and earn P4RC points within a period of time to redeem brand rewards as well as offers directly from brands.

Example of Race to Win

Example of Brand Offer

By sponsoring our Race 2 Win competitions, brands can be inserted into the mobile gaming experience in a manner that is actually relevant to that experience.  This makes the brand part of the fun rather than an unwanted intrusion, which is often the case with other forms of mobile advertising” said Jason Seldon, Founder & CEO of P4RC.

By integrating the achievement network completely within the game, the barrier of leaving the app for a mobile web experience is removed. The user is free to review current Race’s 2 win, redeem rewards and view their account all within the current app they are playing.

In the first week of launch, players have already redeemed their P4RC points for over $1,000 in rewards from brands such as Starbucks & Best Buy.

At launch, P4RC’s achievement network is currently tied to “Stop Those Fish“, which is currently featured by Apple as a New & Noteworthy app in the Apple App Store and announced a partnership with Eye Interactive to include the new P4RC rewards network in all Eye Interactive games.

P4RC is also forming key partnerships with mobile developers. “By adding the P4RC rewards network to their games, game developers benefit from a powerful marketing & customer retention engine that drives user engagement, resulting in an increase in game downloads and longer duration of game play.”

Services such as P4RC provide compelling incentives for brands and users alike by rewarding existing behaviors, socially enabling the experience and lowering the barrier of entry to participate across apps.

An Android friendly version of P4RC will be launching this Summer.

Thanks to Jason Seldon, Founder & CEO of P4RC for data included in this post.

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15 Examples of Gamification & Brands

Outside of the recent flurry associated with Google+, the one term that has been top of mind throughout the digital space recently is gamification. Gamification is a term used to describe organizations using game mechanics to drive engagement in traditionally non-gaming products. There are examples of gamification everywhere in our daily lives and many brands are integrating game mechanics in unique and compelling ways all with the purpose of driving user engagement.

Below are 15 examples of Gamification and how brands are capitalizing on the trend.

Xbox Live | Achievements, Leaderboards | Microsoft struck a chord with traditional gamers when they first rolled out achievement points. Users can earn a certain amount of gamerscore by completing specific tasks or actions in game.  This simple addition had a profound impact on the space as nothing to date had motivated behavior to play titles beyond ones taste for specific genres while also creating an aggregate & visible record of your gaming prowess. Brands took note of the trend and the loyalty that users developed in their pursuit of gamerscore & bragging rights. I attribute the current craze of achievement based gamification to the success of Xbox Live & achievement points.

E.g. Gamertag

Foursquare | Rewards, Badges | Location based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla & Facebook Places have redefined game mechanics in non-gaming products. Users and brands alike have taken notice and Foursquare stands out with 10 million users on a platform that was built around solid game mechanics. Users can claim mayorships, unlock badges, receive special offers & rewards such as discounts to specific retailers while also tracking against friends via a leaderboard.

Examples of Foursquare Badges

Example of Foursquare/NFL Super Bowl Rewards

Example of Foursquare/Pepsi Reward from SXSW 2011

Foursquare leaderboard sponsored by Pepsi

Gowalla | Virtual Goods, Badges, Rewards | Like Foursquare, Gowalla has had an impact on brands by incenting location based check-ins while incorporating virtual item reward programs that then translate into physical goods.

Example of Gowalla badges/pins

Example of Virtual Goods/Physical Goods

GetGlue | Badging, Rewards | The gamification of entertainment has been growing significantly over the past year. Similar to how individuals check into physical locations with services such as Foursquare & Gowalla, now it is possible to check into entertainment destinations such as your favorite TV Show, Movie, Music, Video Games, etc… With players such as GetGlue, Miso, Philo and Tunerfish all vying for your entertainment check-in, each platform offers different mechanics but each is built on the foundation of game mechanics such as badging & rewards through various brand partners.

Example of GetGlue Sticker tied to TRON

Example of a GetGlue Reward that offered 40% off of Mad Men on Blu-Ray or DVD

Linkedin |Progress Bar | Linkedin offers a small example of gamification by incenting users towards 100% profile completeness with a progress bar that is visible while on the edit profile page. By providing a visual representation of your profile completeness Linkedin hopes to trigger behavior that drives us towards completeness.

Example of Profile completeness

SalesForce | Leaderboard, Achievements, Leveling | Salesforce has taken gamification to another level with this addition to the popular CRM platform. With Engage, Salesforce users activities within the system are tied to various game mechanics and offers direct competition with other users within their organization. By incorporating this level of competitive visibility organizations can capitalize on surfacing different behaviors and hopefully drive additional engagement with their systems.

Example of SalesForce’s New Gamification Dashboard

Mint | Achievements, Progress Bar | As discussed on Mashable, Mint is offering a Financial Fitness Score that is based on core game mechanics associated with task completion, progression & achievements. By taking an ordinary exercise and creating a casual gaming experience, mint is creating an opportunity to drive new user acquisition in a creative way.

Example of Mint Gamification

Example of Mint Point Acquisition

CheckPoints | Virtual Currency, Rewards | CheckPoints incents users to engage in retail settings via compelling game mechanics. Users are incented to scan specific products in exchange for CheckPoints which can then be exchanged as a virtual currency for rewards such as gift cards. Brands can create compelling programs with CheckPoints to drive retail activation and product engagement all based on gamification of the shopping experience.

Example of CheckPoints Scan for Tyson Chicken

Example of CheckPoints Rewards

Shopkick | Virtual Currency, Rewards, Contests | Similar to CheckPoints, ShopKick also offers incentives and game mechanics for users to engage with specific products. By incenting users with specific offers prior to entering a retail location, ShopKick users can then interact with those products in store and earn points which translate to virtual currency. ShopKick also incorporates a hyper geo-targeted approach to driving engagement as shown below. By rewarding behavior by simply entering a participating retailer, ShopKick can influence behavior via a game mechanic.

Example Geo-Targeted Gamification associated with Target

Example of ShopKick Rewards

Hallmark | Facebook Credits, Virtual Goods, Gifting, Sharing | Facebook credits have become the default currency tied to Facebook’s ever popular social games. Beyond the social game mechanics brands are leveraging Facebook credits to incent users to interact with specific content. Hallmark incorporates many game mechanics into it’s Facebook application the Hallmark Social Calendar.

Example Hallmark Social Calendar and Facebook Credits

Example of Hallmark Social Calendar Gifting

Example of Incenting engagement via Points

Starbucks | Leveling, Rewards | Starbucks has incorporated game mechanics into it’s popular loyalty program. By incorporating multiple levels and associated rewards & perks per level with a progression tracker, users are incented to continually engage with the brand.

Example of MyStarbucks Rewards

Nike | Achievements, Badges, Challenges, Rewards | Nike has redefined running with Nike Plus. The ability to track, share, challenge and interact with like minded friends & runners across the world has been wildly successful. By incorporating game mechanics throughout the program Nike is able to create an engaging experience that transcends the real world activity.

Example of Nike Plus Goals & Challenges

Example of Nike Plus Progress bar & Leveling

Buffalo Wild Wings | Trivia, Challenges | Buffalo Wild Wings has been adept at carving out their place in the social ecosystem. By leveraging powerful platforms like Vitrue and partnering with Scvngr, they have created an engaging social persona that has served them well with over 5 million fans on Facebook. In terms of gamification they incorporate trivia regularly into their wall posts as well as incorporating online challenges tied to rewards.

Example of a Buffalo Wild Wings program that incorporates Scvngr

Microsoft | Achievements, Contests | Ribbon Hero is a creative game mechanic driven tutorial now in Microsoft Office. By completing specfic tasks and challenges you can then integrate Ribbon Hero with your Facebook account to compare how adept you are vs. your friends.

Example Ribbon Hero

Image via Geek.com

American Airlines | Progression Bar | A simple game mechanic is used by American Airlines to visually represent your current elite status qualification.

Example of American Airlines mobile app

As you can see many brands are capitalizing on the trend of integrating game mechanics into their non-gaming product offerings to drive engagement. What are some other examples of gamification by other brands?

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

Largest Social Network on TV

I write a lot about social media, digital strategy & emerging technology. One of my favorite past times is console gaming via my Xbox 360.

With the recent release of Halo Reach and personally surpassing 100,000 gamerscore on Xbox Live, I wanted to write about how digital marketers can leverage the largest social network on TV to further enhance digital engagement.

TheBlackFin

With over 23 million users and an average of 4 million engaged daily Xbox Live is an incredible platform to execute digital strategies and tactics.

From branded avatar collections, product tie-in’s, promotions and sponsorships there are many opportunities for brands to leverage the sticky experience that Xbox Live provides.

This also goes beyond typical in-game advertising.  Having a truly engaged, socially connected fanbase that also associates closely with brands is a key factor when evaluating the platform.

This is one of the only times I apply my personal insight into a platform. When I am on Xbox Live I pay attention to brand promotions here moreso than any other medium. The reason being is that upon start up of the console I am presented with compelling content blocks that I choose how I interact.

I have found that I enter most if not all of the branded sweepstakes and I pay attention to when new branded avatar items are presented. And with more traffic than ESPN.com this is an ideal way to drive brand engagement.

Being a fan of the platform and a daily user, You don’t get to 100,000 gamerscore by not engaging almost daily, I have experienced the benefits and opportunities first hand.

So the next time you are looking for an ideal channel beyond traditional media and digital outlets don’t forget about the largest social network on TV.

If you are a brand manager interested in leveraging Xbox Live please contact me as I have a long standing relationship with various Xbox Live teams.
From branded avatar collections, promotions, advertising etc…

Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360

BlackFin360

EA Skate 2 & Skate Reel

Of all of the projects I have been involved with over the past 3 years Electronic Arts O.G. Skate Reel initiative was by far one of my favorites. It was our first really large initiative with EA and it was very ambitious.

From the start there were a number of different variables that came into play. In-game video then sprayed to the web that enabled community members to rate each others creations across gaming platforms.

With a lot of teamwork between EA (Strategy & Content), our team and Blast Radius (Creative & UI) Skate Reel hit the web prior to the release of Skate.

As with all great things you knew a sequel was coming. Skate 2 hit stores on the 21st (Be sure to pick up your copy!!!!) but the new & improved Skate Reel for Skate 2 was pushed out early this morning.

This time around the UI has been tweaked, the transitions even smoother and I am once again blown away by the work of our team.

Here is the Skate 2 Team… Left to Right (w/ gamertags except for John Balod & MJ) … Deryl “Moonboy Dallas” DorsettJohn “I need a 360” Balod, Jon “BROOMdoom” Broom, Elijah “Prairie Racer” Hardin and me Tom “TheBlackFin” Edwards. Not pictured are Rich “RichMercer” Mercer and Mike “MJ” Johnson.

Skate2---Telligent-Blog

As for Skate Reel…. The site speaks for itself.

skate2-web

Major Nelson ROI

I have known Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb for a few years now. Larry is the Director of Programming for Xbox Live. He has become the Face of the Xbox 360 and his blog is the first stop for avid gamers looking for the latest info on upcoming titles, Xbox Live updates and of course Larry’s blog cast’s. Larry has held this position since 2004 and the growth that both the Xbox Live network and Larry’s blog has seen over the past few years is impressive to say the least.

When Larry was evaluating platforms he was looking for a scalable blogging platform that would provide him with a direct line of communication with the consumer and put a face to the Xbox brand.  The explosive growth with Xbox Live has coincided with the traffic loads tied to Larry’s blog. He is now the de-facto reference for gamers looking for the latest information and the amount of traffic and comments that Larry receives is staggering for a single blog. No other gaming publisher or hardware manufacturer has the visibility or reach via a single employee that Microsoft and the Xbox Live Brand has with Larry.

One of the key ROI takeaways from Larry’s blog is that it is a powerful tool for optimizing SEO of user-generated content. According to eMarketer, annual spending on search advertising in the US is expected to decrease YOY until 2012 (when compared to 2007). The built-in SEO functionality of Larry’s platform helped grow visitors and members (17 million as of last week) by both direct and referred search. The other takeaway is the cost savings that are available to an organization or a brand by significantly decreasing the amount of spend on search advertising.

Gears of War 2 Today

I cannot tell you how excited I am that today is the day for Gears of War 2. I will be taking a break from my Fallout 3 side quests to get in some social gaming. I have my Special Edition copy in hand and will be firing it up later this evening. The enhancements to the Unreal Engine look outstanding. Be sure to pick up your copy today.

On a side note… one recent observation is the sheer size of some of the latest strategy guides tied to the new releases. The Fallout 3 special edition strat guide was 350+ pages and the GOW2 guide is 303 pages. Seriously I am all for occassionally referencing a secret location but let’s get these into wiki’s or some format that allows for quick searching of relevant items. E.g. I want to know the location of COG tag “X”… quick search through a strat wiki would net me what I need. Yes you can spend a lot of time searching online, etc… but I want info from the source in a similar format to the guide. Just a thought.

For more info on Gears of War 2 here is an early review I wrote a few months back.

See you online!!!

IMG_0214

New Xbox Experience Preview

Today the New Xbox Experience Preview (The Xbox Live Fall Update) was released to a small group of users to provide feedback on the upcoming NXE release on the 19th of November.

Thanks again to Major Nelson for adding me to the queue to review the NXE.

The Update prompts like any other and your system will cycle. Then it took another 12 minutes to download and for the update to process.

Process just ended…. now greeted with a “Welcome to the New Xbox Experience” message. The Xbox logo fades and an animated sequence executes. Then I am prompted to login with my user profile.

Now it is on to avatar creation. The system gives you a base set of options to customize your likeness. It is a fairly simple system and it looks like it will be built around micro-transactions moving forward. My Avatar is now complete with fin… (See Below)

NXE - Avatar

The rest of the experience is a nice addition to Live. The UI is slick and very easy to navigate. The Marketplace has been overhauled with some nice additions such as box shots for arcade titles and a more appealing flow than the previous lists upon lists of text.

My previous themes are still applicable and the gamerpic is still relevant as you have the option to use your avatar to post as your gamerpic.

The Video marketplace is where a big improvement was made. One of the big recent announcements is the support for NetFlix and HD movie content through Live. This will be a nice addition and allow for instant streaming of the latest HD movies.

The Friends area also received a nice treatment. You can view your friends avatars an get a nice boxshot of the games they are currently playing. You can also invite friends into an 8 person “party” session.

So far I do like the change. I was not sure how I would feel going to an avatar based system. But after giving it a go I have to say I am pleasantly surprised!

This is definitely a change for the better!

Pic of the NXE

NXE - Home

Game Review – Dead Space

Dead_Space-ishimuraOverview: When we first started talking to Electronic Arts (EA) about our platform powering the Dead Space pre-launch site I was hooked on the concept. Born from a rouge EA team, DeadSpace is a bold step forward for EA. It is a brand new IP and it is a true survival/horror title which has an M rating. When gameplay videos and art work were posted I knew this would be a game worth the price of admission.

Set in the distant future, Dead Space revolves around Isaac Clarke, a space engineer who works for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (C.E.C.), a company that operates giant mining ships throughout the galaxy. When the C.E.C. receives a distress call from the USG Ishimura (a “Planet Cracker”-class ship that destroys planets in order to extract valuable ore), Isaac and four other C.E.C. employees set out on the USG Kellion to rendezvous with the Ishimura in orbit above Aegis 7. Their assumption is that a mechanical failure is the only problem. At the beginning of the game, Isaac is seen repeatedly watching a video sent to him by his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, who is currently onboard the Ishimura.

Shortly after crash landing on the Ishimura flight deck, the crew of USG Kellion is attacked by hostile creatures called Necromorphs. These creatures reproduce by infecting deceased human bodies, violently mutating them into one of their own. Isaac escapes down an elevator and kills a Necromorph by trapping it in the elevator doors, but is separated from the rest of the team. At this point, Isaac, Kendra Daniels, and Zach Hammond are the only surviving members.

I really enjoy titles that I can become immersed in the back-story. DeadSpace offers those that want to go beyond the game to understand what led to the events on the Ishimura and the planet they were sent to crack. There is a DVD, Graphic Novel and the http://Noknownsurvivors.com micro site that will allow you to take your experience beyond your console.

Gameplay: The real hook for this title is around how you engage the necromorphs. The traditional “fill’em full of led” mindset just does not work and there is not enough ammo to go around so you have to strategically target the various, and I do mean various, limbs of the necromorphs. This is where the interface again is extremely efficient. You have laser guided targeting (Think Predator) that combined with Stasis can lead to quickly dispatching your would be attackers. And yes there is an achievement for using stasis 50 times on an enemy.

With this being a 3rd person shooter (Think Gears of War & Resident Evil) I cannot reiterate how smooth the interface is. The in-game assets (video, text, and audio logs) are managed through a holographic interface that moves with you so you are not slowed down. There is essentially not an onscreen HUD. Your health and stasis are built into the back of the main character’s RIG. This is one of the best titles I have played in recent memory. The graphics (Both PS3 & Xbox version) are simply amazing.

The environment also plays a significant role in the gameplay. As you creep down a dark corridor, lights flickering, sounds and moans emanating from the background, you can hardly see in front of you and then….. is just the norm in this title. It is an eerie sight to see a slow moving necromorph wandering in the distance then before you know it they are on you. There were a few times where I literally lost my head while walking into an area without being overly cautious. I recommend saving often (especially on the harder game modes). Similar to a vitachamber from BioShock, when you do happen to get decapitated, over-run, roasted, or lost in space due to a bad jump you will start from a pre-determined checkpoint close to a save point.

The gameplay is smooth, the game itself is all about objectives. From starting a Tram system to fixing communication relays, Isaac is an engineer after all be prepared for a large number of scavenger hunts. luckily one of the best features in the game is an objective marker. Simply hit R3, and you will often, and you will be on your way to your next objective.

There are many points in the game where you will encounter Zero Gravity and be forced to complete objectives while being attacked and trying to maintain some semblance of orientation. This leads to a very interesting element of gameplay as it becomes a 360 degree event. You will also reach decompressed areas of the ship which trigger your backup O2. I recommend upgrading your air capacity with your RIG as this is just as important as health in some areas.

The Boss Battles are not epic, although one is in Zero-G which makes it quite interesting but otherwise they are nothing out of the ordinary. What is frustrating are the times you will assume the ships cannons to stop asteroids and aliens. The controls are sluggish and the cannon tends to overheat quickly. Good luck pursuing the 50% hull integrity achievements x2.

Online: There is not an online mode available

Weapons: For mining tools they sure come in handy for taking out necromorphs. There are seven weapons in the game: Plasma Cutter, Pulse Rifle, Flamethrower, Line Gun, Ripper, Force Gun and the Contact Beam. Each is ideal for different scenarios. Use the flamethrower on small, fast enemies. For the big guys the line or force guns are good to have. The Ripper is my favorite weapon in the game by far… It launches a saw blade that you control to make quick work of your alien attackers. The Plasma Cutter is definitely a weapon that you can use in almost every situation. It has range, but is very efficient in close quarters. When it comes to upgrading your arsenal start with the plasma cutter. You will not be disappointed. In fact there is an achievement for completing the game with only the Plasma Cutter (40 points).

Similar to BioShock you do have some telekinetic abilities. Stasis allows you to freeze or slow down fast moving objects and enemies and you have Kinesis to grab and move objects. As the game progresses this is a core element to complete some of the puzzle elements of the game.

You have the ability to upgrade your RIG, weapons and kinesis throughout the game. This is done through Power Nodes which are found throughout the game or purchased through the store. The upgrades follow a Too Human approach of various node paths that you select to optimize your weapon to your liking. I always focused on Damage and Capacity while trying to max out one weapon at a time.

During gameplay you will more than likely locate a number of different schematics. They allow for increased armor, ammunition and health to be purchased through the various stores. Some of the schematics associated with your armor allow you to increase health and inventory slots which is very helpful. So far I have upgraded through to a level 6 military suit that looks like the captain from the Valor. This was awarded for completing the game and cost $99,000 in the store but it was well worth the price. (See images below)

Achievements: From an achievement standpoint you can collect anywhere from 500-700 points on your first play through. My first play through took 9 hours 38 minutes. I cleared 37 of 48 Xbox 360 achievements for 665 points and 22 trophies on PS3. The achievements follow a finish the chapter get points and kill x number of enemies with all weapons, etc…. It took roughly 5 days (9 hours to finish). There are also a number of secret achievements tied to boss battles and other interesting ways to engage with the environment and enemies.

Downloadable Content: I enjoy DLC that allows me to change the skin of my player. Especially with 3rd person based games. The DLC for Dead Space offers 2 new level 5 suits. The first was an exclusive Xbox Elite suit which offered a lighter gray & green visor combo. The second was the Scorpion Suit (one of my favorites outside of the military skin). This level 5 suit cost 200 Microsoft points and is red of course with a scorpion insignia on the back of Isaacs helmet.

Pros:

  • One of the best HUD experiences I have ever experienced
  • Stunning Visuals
  • Great environment (sound, lighting, ambiance) this a great game to play late at night with the lights off
  • Visually one of the best 360/PS3 titles to date
  • Objective Marker – As in Army of Two it is very helpful to know where you need to go
  • Zero Gravity – The zero gravity elements are executed to perfection
  • In-Game Assets – Takes the BioShock asset management and interface to another level with movable holograms
  • The Ripper… I love this weapon
  • One Button Health – Instead of pulling up the inventory, press X or Square (PS3) to use your lowest available health module
  • Strategic Striking – Instead of emptying your magazine into an enemy it is faster to dismember them
  • DLC – New Isaac Skins (Elite,  Scorpion)

Cons:

  • Errand Boy – It is a constant get this, go here, blow this up, hit this switch type of experience but that still does not detract from how well executed this game is
  • Melee Attacks are lacking.. by lacking I mean slow
  • Boss battles are average (Minus a certain battle in Zero-G)
  • Asteroids – This can be one of the most frustrating elements of the game. You will know it when you get there
  • Monologues – Certain characters like to “monologue” at certain points of the game. I would like to option to fast forward to the action

Rating:

Xbox 360 – 9
PS3 – 9.5

This is one of the best games that I have played on the PS3 to date. For the 360 this is one of my top 10 Xbox 360 titles. It is challenging (Especially on Impossible Mode), visually stunning and at some points will seriously surprise you. I would highly recommend it. You don’t need to be a fan of the horror genre to appreciate this title. Biowhat???

Level 6 Suit – Front

DeadSpace_Level6

Level 6 Suit – Back

DeadSpace_Level6back

Dead Space Pre-Release Copy Part 2

I have now finished the first 5 missions of the much anticipated EA survival/horror title and all I can say is WOW.

I cannot reiterate how smooth the interface is. From the video, text, and audio logs similar to Bioshock, to the zero-G sections. There is essentially not an onscreen HUD. Your health and stasis are built into the back of the main character’s RIG. This is one of the best titles I have played in recent memory. The graphics (PS3 version) are simply amazing.

I have upgraded my suit to level 3 (Pictured below) out of I belive 4 and I have collected all of the available weapons. One thing that is not completely apparent is that anything with a white/green light on it you can open in some form or fashion. Also, inventory management and power node hunting are things to keep in mind. What I have found is that any opportunity to use a power node to open a door is well worth the cost as you can purchase additional nodes for 10,000 credits.

Also, engaging an enemy is different each time. Different weapons work for different scenarios. Use the flamethrower on small, fast enemies. For the big guys the line or force guns are good to have. The Ripper is my favorite weapon in the game by far… It launches a sawblade that you control to make quick work of your alien attackers…

I cannot wait to get through the final 7 levels. It takes about an hour to an hour and half if you are covering every area to clear a level. I cannot wait to get through the final 7 levels. One thing is for certain. I would be completely lost without the R3 button on this title. Similar to Army of Two, it is tied to the current objective and if you get turned around you will be able to find your way.

I highly, highly recommend picking up this title when it releases!!!

Dead Space – Pre-Release Copy

Today I received a copy of Dead Space from our friends at EA Redwood Shores (Thanks MJ & JA). And all I can say is WOW it was worth the wait!!! Oh and did I mention that it was a PS3 copy and not a 360 copy? Shocking I know!?!

I have been eagerly anticipating this title since we first became involved with it. It is definitely worth the wait. Dead Space is different than any other EA title I have ever played. I am also a fan of any series that expands beyond the default medium. With Dead Space if you really want to immerse yourself in the story an animated DVD will launch on the same date the game releases and there is already a series of comics dedicated to the pre-story of Dead Space.

Regarding the actual game… the graphics are outstanding! It took a minute to adjust to the camera controls but it becomes very natural after a few minutes. The interface is extremely clean with the health meter built into the main character Isaac’s suit. The inventory system, mission objectives, and targeting systems are all very clean and flow very well together.

I played through the first of twelve missions and I cannot express how impressed I was. Think Bioshock fear factor multiplied by 100. This is the type of game that definitely gets your attention and fast. If you close your eyes and just listen to the background noise while progressing through the level and you will think you stepped into your worst nightmare as you hear chains rattling, and odd rustling coming from all directions.

The in-game assets, credits, audio logs, and  other collectibles are easy to identify as everything pops up as a hologram. The Plasma Cutter is a fun weapon as it is well known that the main premise of the game is dismembering your alien attackers and the PC delivers. Also, you have a stasis component to your weapon that allows you to significantly slow down a fast moving enemy which is very helpful.

I look forward to playing through the rest of the game but this is a definite pickup as the official street release date is October 14th on both Xbox 360 and the PS3.

On the home-front, we are officially a three (next-gen) console household. We have a few Xbox 360’s, a Playstation 3 and a Wii. After I hit my point goal of 50,000K on the 360 I feel comfortable playing the occasional PS3 title without fear of losing achievement points. I am really looking forward to Little Big Planet and Metal Gear Solid 4. No worries though… while I am impressed with the PS3 from a hardware perspective (Integrated wireless, browser capabilities, etc..) the only issue I have is that the Xbox 360 HDMI cable would not work with the PS3. Regardless of this fact I will always be an Xbox 360 guy for this generation of consoles.

dead_space

50,000 Gamerscore

aunlockedSince April 23rd, 2007 I have been on a collision course with this goal. I wanted to pass the 50,000 gamerscore plateau. I don’t know why this became a goal but it did. It took a year and 5 months but I finally completed my quest. It took 135 days to go from 40,000K to 50,000K with an average gain of 74 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts from the beginning and this latest and final points quest. I look forward to finally playing only games I am interested in playing and spending more time on other hobbies (Running, etc….).

1) Longest Consecutive Days Played Streak – 72
2) Retail Titles Completed – 14
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 2501 (As of September 30th – 360voice.com)
4) Achievements Gained since the beginning – 1879 (Avg. 27 points per achievement)
5) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 48%
8) Total Games Retail (118)/Arcade (44) Owned – 162

Here is a breakdown of the games played between 40,000 & 50,000 and the gamerscore earned within this span of time.

Madden 09 1000
Bionicle Heroes 960
LEGO Indiana Jones 960
Ninja Gaiden 840
Too Human 790
NCAA 09 Football 775
Surfs Up 750
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 540
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith 535
NBA 2K8 505
Soul Calibur IV 445
CSI-Hard Evidence 400
DBZ: Burst Limit 345
LEGO Batman 275
NHL 2K8 225
Wall-E 195
Castle Crashers 170
NHL 2K9 135
Kung Fu Panda 130
Rock Band 110
1942: Joint Strike 108
Rainbow Six Vegas 2 80
NHL08 75
WOTB: Commando 3 72
Gun 60
Call of Duty 2 50
Devil May Cry 4 20
Unreal Tournament 3 20
The Orange Box 15

I will still play the titles that interest me but I am no longer just playing for score.

Hockey Anyone?

NHL2K9This is in some ways the best time of the year. Football is back (Go Sooners!!!), fall is in the air, the latest iteration of the NHL 2K hockey franchise (NHL2K9) is now available.

We have been playing the NHL 2K hockey franchise since 2006. We have gone through 2006, 2007 and 2008. For the record the team of Rob Howard and myself hold the lifetime edge on the team of Dockendorf & Cunningham.

So the initial foray into NHL 2K9 began today. And it began as the 2K8 season ended… With Team Howard/Edwards soundly defeating team Dockendorf/Cunningham.

Oh and by the way…. game one a 5-0 shutout. Welcome to 2K9 gentlemen.

 

Episodes of a Dad – Part 3 – Pikachu

pikachu-imageI knew it was a matter of time until this day would come. I just did not think it would come this soon.

I consider myself a decent gamer, 45,000+ gamerscore, but on this day my 6 year old son absolutely obliterated me on Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii.

It is not just today either. The domination started a few days ago and the competition has been building.

He has mastered the little yellow powerhouse known as Pikachu. Who would have known that a 1’4″, 13 pound furry fantasy animal would cause me such grief.

You may or may not know about Pikachu. It is a character from the insanely popular Pokemon series. Yes they are still around and we buy the cards regularly. They are for my son, really.

His record is now 12-2 against me with the little yellow fuzz ball. I am frustrated but very proud at the same time.

I will hear pika-pika-pikachu in my sleep. The baton has officially been passed.

RROD Update

I posted earlier about the Red Ring of Death. Less than 24 hours after the issues started I have a brand new Xbox Elite back up and running.

I had purchased the additional 2 year warranty from Best Buy when I originally bought the console. This has turned out to be a very good investment.

I went to Best Buy today and took just the power brick and the console sans hard drive. I was very happy with the results as I wanted to keep my current hard drive and not bother with the possible data transfer. Also my HDMI cable was installed behind the wall due to my wall-mounted TV so I did not want to bother with the rest.

Best Buy was very accommodating with the exchange thanks to the extended warranty. The rep said a few times that the people that did not purchase the warranty are out of luck if they want to exchange for a new system. I basically picked up a new console and power brick and was on my way again (3 kiddos in tow).

So I am happy to say I will not suffer any prolonged downtime. If you are in the market for a 360 I would highly recommend purchasing from Best Buy or any store that offers an extended warranty. Yes Microsoft will repair the unit as well but you will more than likely get a refurbished unit and have to wait 2-4 weeks. Whereas with the extended warranty I was in and out of the store in under 30 minutes and the home setup was less than 5 minutes.

The assault for 50,000 gamerpoints continues…

RROD

Well once again I am a victim of the dreaded Red Ring of Death. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it basically means that my Xbox 360 has fried…. again.

This time my beloved Elite system froze in the middle of a Soul Calibur 4 session. Yoda was dominating for what it’s worth… Then I restarted with the same result. After a few more cycles I cleared the cache and by the 4th title it would freeze upon initial boot. Then I started to hear the familiar pre-RROD grinding sound start to occur. Then a few minutes later… The Red Ring of Death.

This may sound odd, but I am very in tune with the console when it comes to understanding optimal performance vs. potential issues. Similar to how you know when your car may not be handling quite right. I have felt for a week or so that this could be a possibility as some of the inner sounds began to slowly raise a red flag.

So when this happened I immediately go into troubleshooting mode, unplug everything wait 5 minutes, that allowed for the reboot to occur properly but this is just masking a larger issue.

So now it is off to Best Buy for my 3rd Xbox in the past 2 years. I did get the extended 2 year warranty and that has basically paid for itself a few times over. Granted I do put a lot of “miles” on my consoles. If it were a car it would probably be equivalent to 250,000 miles a year. So this is not a total surprise.

This in no way hinders my loyalty to the Xbox 360 console. It is a minor setback. With the amount I have invested in the 360 in terms of time and money it would not make sense to transition to the PS3 for my full time gaming.

I do have to give Microsoft alot of credit. They are standing behind their systems as the repair process is very streamlined as I sent one of my previous systems through the standard process.

While imperfect the Xbox 360 is still the ideal overall gaming experience on the market today if you consider online experience, library and adoption.

RROD

Xbox Live Fall Update – E3 2008

Today at E3 Microsoft previewed the upcoming fall Xbox Live update. And what changes there will be.

The interface is obviously moving towards more of a Mac/Vista look and feel. Gamercards are still around as will your gamerscore, but my first question is what will happen to all of those 1000’s of Microsoft points I spent on Themes and Gamerpics??? Well Microsoft has guaranteed that themes are compatible with the new look, but no word yet on gamerpics.

Next they are going the Wii route by introducing avatars that can potentially be included in upcoming game titles as well as more community feel by viewing your friends avatars vs. a list and the ability to collaborate with up to 8 friends in a community space that allows for full collaboration.

I am not sure how I feel about the avatar introduction. I was really onboard with the concept of gamerscore, but I DO NOT want my Xbox experience to be like the Mii experience on the Wii. I am about the games and not about building an avatar or having that avatar appear in my games (Not a casual gaming fan). Yes let’s have Halo with Avatars… Please no. If I wanted that I would join Habbo or any of the other Avatar based reality systems.

More news to come, but again I am concerned about how the money I have spent to date migrates to the new plaform. I guess we will wait and see.

 Screen capture of the new Xbox Live interface for the Fall of 08

Xbox

270

nhl_2k8Why 270? What does it mean? Why is it the title of this post?

This number is very meaningful to me. Well at least today it is. You see 270 represents the number of days between the last shutout in our office hockey competitions. The last time it happened, October 19th, 2007 it was a very shocking event as I would put the % of games that end in a shutout at less than 1%.

Now today it has happened again. Rob Howard and I beat the team of Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham 3-0 to record the second such Telligenti shutout in the past 2 years.

It was a valiant effort but on this day…. again…. the unthinkable has happened.

Oh and for Scott… It’s called a “deke”…. ;)

Spore Creature Creator

SporeI recently took a trip to London for business to discuss social media strategy with members of the Eidos Interactive team as well as our friends at Electronic Arts (Europe) at their new offices in Guildford. Aside from getting a sneak peek at some of the great upcoming titles one in particular was very interesting!

I have mentioned Spore before but as the launch of the game gets closer more is revealed. To recap the games premise, you nurture and guide your creature through five stages of evolution: Cell, Creature, Tribe, Civilization, and Space. One of the most amazing elements of the game is the creature creator which allows for endless customization options that can then be uploaded into the game.

While onsite at EA this was the tool that we were able to spend some time with. You have 228 drag-and-drop components to choose from that allow for a variety of unique creations. You have the ability to customize their look and feel from skeletal structure through eyes, legs, tails, colors etc… Then you can take them to the edit area to control the background, add babies, rotate them 360 degrees, preview animations and movements and take pictures of your creations.You manage a majority of your creations through the Sporepedia and have the option to upload your characters for others to see (My Spore User Name is TheBlackFin).

Now the creature creator has been released I highly recommend either playing with the trial or purchasing the creature creator to get a feel for the game. Also your creations can then be uploaded into the game upon release. From everything that I have seen so far this looks like it is going to be a great game. I am not a big PC gamer but Spore will definitely be on my list to pick up when it is released later this year.

Here is one of my original creations from our visit:

TheBlackFin - Creature onsite copy

Here is one of my first creature creations from the trial:

TheBlackFin_Spore Creatures

Game Review – Ninja Gaiden 2

ninja-gaiden-2-smallOne of my all time favorite games was the original Ninja Gaiden on the NES. I still remember the opening cut scenes… that was all about the story that you needed to know… you knew it was time to start slashing away. I felt the same about Ninja Gaiden II & III on the NES as well.

When I first heard the news about Ninja Gaiden II I was immediately hooked. This is the true sequal to Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox. When the trailers and screenshots and Youtube videos around the gameplay were released my excitement grew. Even my Halo 3 character has the Hyabusa armor. So when the title finally released and I picked up my copy I was ready to be visually stunned and purposefully frustrated at the same time.

What I mean is that this franchise more than any other that I have played has an extremely high difficulty level. To date it has been designed for the hardcore gamers. Case in point Ninja Gaiden/Ninja Gaiden Black on the original Xbox. Enough said. Seriously though with the Xbox 360 exclusive of Ninja Gaiden II there are now 4 difficulty levels to choose from. So those new to the series will get hooked on acolyte and then get frustrated.

Overview: You are still Ryu Hayabusa, the worlds deadliest ninja and you are on a quest to stop the evil spider clan from unleashing otherworldly terror upon the earth. You are armed to the teeth with some of the deadliest weapons this side of the Dark Sector Glaive. While the story is nice the real focus is on the twitch style of gaming.

Twitch gaming is basically a style of gaming that relies on your ability to read and react. Half a second can mean the difference between life and the painfully annoying, blood splattered “Game Over” screen that you will undoubtedly see many times over on your journey. This game easily has the best visuals that I have seen on a 360 title to date and the sheer fluidity of the movement is breathtaking.

Gameplay: This is not your standard hack & slash type of gameplay. On the Acolyte setting you can more than likely lumber through the game mashing buttons galore but as you progress through the other difficulties the game punishes you if are not concise about what you want to do when you want to do it. There are 14 levels in all each with it’s own unique location and enemies. The further you progress the more difficult your opponents become. My first recommendation is to set your saves to manual vs. auto as this will come in very handy if you get to a boss fight and find yourself lacking in health supplies.

The game incorporates a number of different types of techniques to navigate the environment such as the reverse wind, shadowless footsteps and the flying swallow techniques. Each provides their own unique offering that assist you in crossing distant chasms, dodging enemies or reaching an area in search of items or crystal skulls. Yes insert Indiana Jones reference here…

The ability to execute Obliteration and Ultimate techniques is one of my favorite aspects of the game. You can quickly dismember, disembowel, or dispatch an opponent if you can time the moves correctly and charge your Ultimate technique. This leads to a stunning animation of you utterly demolishing your opponent. NOTE: This game does feature a lot of blood and gore as you are wielding blade weapons and it becomes very evident by the amount of body parts that are left at a battle site. This serves two purposes as this can actually assist you in keeping your bearings as you already know where you have been.

The only slight complaints involve the camera and the boss battles. The camera has changed this time around. You are now in full control of the camera. The only issue is you are fighting enemies in a full 360 degree style of combat and the camera can quickly get out of place. The RT becomes quite handy as that is what allows you to recenter the camera.

Regarding the boss battles I feel that some of their attacks are “cheap” meaning you can be doing everything in your power and they can take all of your health in one attack. This to me goes beyond a difficult battle to one that cheapens the experience just a bit. If I am doing everything in my power to better my opponent I expect the Boss Battle to be reflective of this. This is one of the areas that I give the edge to Devil May Cry 4 which is the one game on 360 that will draw the most comparisons to Ninja Gaiden II. On the battle with Alexei I had to continue 20+ times before I took him down on the Warrior setting.

Weapons: The game incorporates a number of different types of weapons along with spells called Ninpo that you will leverage to dispatch hordes of enemies. From a melee standpoint you have the ever present Dragon Sword while introducing some new weapons to the arsenal. Weapons include the Lunar Staff, Falcon’s Talons, Dual Katana, Kusari-Gama, Tonfa, Vigoorian Flail and my personal favorite the Eclipse Scythe. With each weapon you have the ability to level-up which allows you to perform even longer combos. Ancillary weapons include shurikens, incendiary shurikens, bow and arrow and an underwater spear gun.

Selecting the right weapon is definitely the key to success. As each weapon is ideal for different situations. I recommend leveling up at least the dragon sword to level 3 on your first playthrough and then level-up the Eclipse Scythe which you receive after the battle with the second arch fiend Volf.

I also recommend trying to save your health herbs for the boss battles as the worst feeling is finally making it to a boss battle and then realizing that you have no backup plan on how to proceed. Also, try not to use all of your health items on the middle boss fight. Try to set up a save location and get through the battle as quickly as you can.

Online: There is not an online mode available but you can view Leaderboards of friends progress which is always fun. There is also the Ninja Cinema option that allows you to capture footage from your slashing adventures to share with all of your friends.

Achievements: From an achievement standpoint you can collect anywhere from 400-700 points on your first play through which will take roughly 15 hours of gameplay. I netted out at 560 bypassing the tests of valor on Warrior (Currently at 840 of 1250… 53 out of 70 achievements). You will get 100 points just by learning the various game techniques then as you progress through the game you will receive achievements for completing certain levels, finding crystal skulls, defeating certain enemies and for clearing the “test of valor” areas that are available and ultimately 4 difficulty levels.

Based on my second playthrough for the Tests of Valor I recommend building up your health supplies, using them all in the test of valor (This suggestion is for if you are playing on harder difficulty levels) and not save once you complete it if you had to consume a high number of items to get through. Get the achievement and save your health supplies for the next test of valor.

One of my favorite achievements so far has been the indomitable spirit achievement which is given when you continue 100 times. Other achievements are tied to in-game side quests like finding crystal skulls. I have to say though winning achievements in this game are more meaningful to me than other games. The Vanquished Alexei achievement for 15 points meant more to me than finishing (1000 points) other retail titles.

Downloadable Content: So far I have been impressed with the DLC for Ninja Gaiden 2. The first release gave us 3 new skins for Ryu. The Biometal, Shadow Walker and Fiend skins can all be worn by Ryu and there are 5 different color variants available per skin. Also the Mission Modes were recently released which added an additional 250 achievement points to the count. There are 12 missions that take elements of the game such as the boss battles and raise the stakes significantly as you progress through the missions. I cleared the first 8 with ease but the remaining missions have been very difficult. There are also 8 survival missions where you essentially have one life bar and must vanquish as many fiends as you can. In order to medal you need to kill at least 50 with the predefined weapon. I highly recommend picking up the Mission Mode DLC.

Pros:

  • Stunning Gameplay
  • Visually the best 360 game to date
  • The fluid combat sequences
  • Outstanding frame rates and animation sequences
  • The weapon assortment and ability to change in mid attack
  • Reaching a save point pushes you to the furthest of your abilities at times
  • Talisman of Rebirth is literally a lifesaver
  • Option to manually save multiple save files
  • Obliteration and Ultimate Techniques
  • Regeneration of portion of health after battle
  • The Chiburi Move – Ryu shakes the blood off of his weapon after a battle
  • True Dragon sword/Genshin swordcombo
  • Type 20 Camo skin for beating the game on Warrior (New skins for Ryu after beating the game)
  • Giant Crystal Skull (Get a gamerpic as well)
  • DLC – New Ryu Skins (Biometal, Shadow Walker, Fiend) 5 variants per
  • DLC – 20 new mission modes with 250 additional achievement points

Cons:

  • “Cheap” Boss Battles
  • Camera Issues at times

Rating:

This is one of the best games that I have played on the 360 to date. It is challenging, visually stunning and a lot of fun. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to take on a challenge of playing it on the higher difficulty setting. I give it a 10 out of 10 as it is that good.

40,000 Gamerscore

aunlockedYesterday marked the passing of the 40,000 gamerscore plateau. It took 151 days to go from 30,000K to 40,000K with an average gain of 66 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts from this latest points quest.

1) Consecutive Days Played Streak – 23
2) Retail Titles Completed – 13
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 2958
4) Achievements Gained since the beginning – 1394 (Avg. 28 points per achievement)
5) Largest single day achievement gain this cycle – 25
6) Most points in a day in this cycle – 1000
7) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 51%
8) Total Games Retail (83)/Arcade (42) Owned – 125

Here is a breakdown of the games played between 30,000 & 40,000:

1) Bionicle Heroes
2) Surf’s Up
3) Jumper: Griffin’s Story
4) Rainbow Six Vegas 2
5) Feeding Frenzy
6) Rocky & Bullwinkle
7) College Hoops 2K8
8) Iron Man
9) Ikaruga
10) Kameo
11) Burnout Paradise
12) NCAA March Madness 08
13) MLB 2K7
14) Undertow
15) Brain Challenge
16) Dark Sector
17) College Hoops 2K7
18) Avatar: TLE: TBE
19) Army of Two
20) Mass Effect
21) Lost Via Domus
22) Scene It? LCA
23) TheSimpsons
24) Medal of Honor Airborne
25) Halo 3
26) Fuzion Frenzy 2
27) Marvel Ultimate Alliance
28) Guitar Hero 3
29) NCAA Football 08
30) All Pro-Football 2K8

 

Skate 2 & Skate It

skateIt is now official to discuss that Electronic Arts Skate franchise will release 2 new titles.

Skate It for the Wii leveraging the Wii fitboard will arrive late in 2008 and the highly anticipated Skate 2 for the 360 will hit stores in 2009.

In mid April I was in Vancouver meeting with various EA teams at their Blackbox Studio including members of the Skate team. I had the opportunity to play an early build of Skate 2 on the 360 and it was phenomenal. More details to come once made public by EA.

Otherwise, Vancouver was great. In fact some of the best coffee that I have had in a long time was at Caffe Artigiano.

Xbox 360 TheBlackFin Retail Game Library

aunlockedOne of my good friends recently posted his game library as part of his blog. So following that lead here is my collection of Xbox 360 and PS3 Retail titles. I also have 40+ Arcade titles that may be listed later. I have recently acquired a PS3 as well and those titles are also outlined below.

185 Xbox 360 Retail Titles Owned (Game Reviews I have written are highlighted below). I own 8 PS3 titles and 22 Wii titles

Xbox 360 Library

  • Afro Samurai
  • All Pro Football 2K8
  • Armored Core 4
  • Armored Core For Answer
  • Army of Two
  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Assassin’s Creed 2
  • BattleField: Bad Company
  • Batman Arkham Asylum (Collectors)
  • Battlestations Midway
  • Bionicle Heroes
  • BioShock
  • Bladestorm: The Hundred Year’s War
  • Blazing Angels
  • Blazing Angels 2
  • Blue Dragon
  • Burnout Paradise
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Call of Duty 3
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Call of Duty World At War
  • Cars
  • College Hoops 2K6
  • College Hoops 2K7
  • College Hoops 2K8
  • Command & Conquer 3
  • Conan
  • Crackdown
  • CSI: Hard Evidence
  • Dark Sector
  • Dead Rising
  • Dead Space
  • Devil May Cry 4
  • Dragon Ball Z Burstlimit
  • Dynasty Warriors: Gundam
  • Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2
  • EA Sports Fight Night 3
  • Earth Defense Force 2017
  • Eragon
  • Fable II
  • Facebreaker
  • Fallout3
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  • Farcry
  • F.E.A.R.
  • F.E.A.R. 2
  • FIFA 06 RTFWC
  • FIFA 07
  • FIFA 09
  • FIFA Street 3
  • Forza 2 Motorsport
  • Fuzion Frenzy 2
  • Gears of War (Collectors Edition)
  • Gears of War 2 (Special Edition)
  • Ghostbusters
  • Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
  • GI Joe Rise of Cobra
  • GRID
  • Guitar Hero Aerosmith
  • Guitar Hero Metallica
  • Guitar Hero Worldtour
  • Guitar Hero II
  • Guitar Hero III
  • Gun
  • Halo 3
  • Halo 3 ODST
  • Halo Wars
  • Hawx
  • Head Coach 2009
  • Hellboy The Science of Evil
  • Hot Wheels: Beat This
  • Iron Man
  • Jumper: Griffins Story
  • Kameo
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • LEGO Batman
  • LEGO Indiana Jones
  • LEGO Indiana Jones 2
  • LEGO Star Wars II
  • LEGO Star Wars: TCS
  • Lord of the Rings Conquest
  • Lost Odyssey
  • LOST PLANET
  • Lost Via Domus
  • Madden NFL 06
  • Madden NFL 07
  • Madden NFL 08
  • Madden NFL 09 (Collectors Edition)
  • Madden NFL 10
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance
  • Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
  • Mass Effect
  • MLB 2K7
  • Medal of Honor Airborne
  • Mercenaries 2 World in Flames
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • Monopoly
  • Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
  • Naruto: Rise of the Ninja
  • NBA 2K6
  • NBA 2K7
  • NBA 2K8
  • NBA Live 06
  • NBA Live 07
  • NBA Live 08
  • NBA Live 09
  • NBA Street Homecourt
  • NCAA Basketball 09
  • NCAA Football 07
  • NCAA Football 08
  • NCAA Football 09
  • NCAA Football 10
  • NCAA March Madness 07
  • NCAA March Madness 08
  • Need for Speed Carbon
  • Need for Speed Most Wanted
  • Need for Speed Pro Street
  • Need for Speed Undercover
  • Need for Speed Shift
  • Ninja Blade
  • Ninja Gaiden II
  • NHL 07
  • NHL 08
  • NHL 09
  • NHL 2K6
  • NHL 2K7
  • NHL 2K8
  • NHL 2K9
  • Oblivion: Game of the Year Edition
  • Open Season
  • Overlord
  • Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End
  • Prey
  • Prince of Persia
  • Prototype
  • Quake 4
  • Rainbow Six Vegas
  • Rainbow Six Vegas 2
  • Resident Evil 5
  • Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy
  • Rock Band
  • Rock Band 2
  • Scene It? LCA
  • Section 8
  • skate
  • skate 2
  • Soldier of Fortune Payback
  • Sonic Superstar Tennis
  • Sonic The Hedgehog
  • Sonics Ultimate Genesis Collection
  • Soul Calibur IV
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Spider-Man: Friend or Foe
  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars Republic Heroes
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
  • Street Fighter IV
  • Surf’s Up
  • Tenchu Z
  • Terminator Salvation
  • Tetris Evolution
  • TimeShift
  • The Chronicles of Riddick Assault on Dark Athena
  • The Darkness
  • The Godfather
  • The Orange Box
  • The Simpsons Game
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09
  • Tom Clancy’s ENDWAR
  • Too Human
  • Transformers The Game
  • Unreal Tournament III
  • Viking: Battle for Asgard
  • Viva Pinata
  • Wanted: Weapons of Fate
  • Wartech: Senko No Ronde
  • Wolfenstein
  • X-men
  • X-men Origins: Wolverine

PlayStation 3

  •  Dead Space
  •  Gundam Cross Fire
  •  Little Big Planet
  •  Ninja Gaiden: Sigma
  •  Resistance: Fall of Man
  •  Resistance 2
  •  Metal Gear Solid 4
  •  Haze

Upcoming Titles that I am going to pick up upon release:

  • Splinter Cell: Conviction
  • Bioshock 2
  • Mass Effect 2
  • Dragon Ball Raging Blast
  • LEGO: Rock Band
  • Army of Two: The 40th Day
  • Singularity

 

 

Game Review – Iron Man

coverI have been a fan of Iron Man since I was a kid. Granted he is not on the top of the super hero food chain but I did pick up the occasional issue of the Invincible Iron Man.

You may or may not have heard that a summer blockbuster was just released starring Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. On a side note I have to say I REALLY enjoyed the film. They could not have cast a better actor to play Tony Stark (Iron Man). Definitely check it out you will not be disappointed. Also be sure to stay after the credits for a nice preview into what is to come with the Avengers.

I know what you are thinking. Not another movie/game release. The last decent license title was the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butchers Bay and that was in 2004. The last title on the 360 that even came close to a decent metacritic score was King Kong (80) and let’s just say that is a bit of a stretch! Nevertheless with the release of a major summer movie based on a Marvel character you knew that a licensed game title would be released as well.

Enter Iron Man by SEGA of America. I played the pre-release demo on Xbox Live and I was captivated by the open/non-linear battlefield and the mechanics of controlling Iron Man. Plus being the fanboy that I am it was a natural choice that I would pick it up on the same date of the release.

Overview:  Let me see, um you are Iron Man; you pretty much fly around and blow stuff up. Rinse and repeat. Seriously though this is not a Spider Man Friend or Foe experience. The open battle fields, flight ability and the armor upgrades keep the levels fresh and you can replay levels with new and upgraded armor as well.

There are only two play options since Xbox Live is not supported. You have the movie based campaign as well as the One Man Army mini missions (You basically take out a certain number of enemies in a given timeframe) as the primary avenues to Iron Man based destruction. But this comes with a price as Iron Man will not be making your most days played list by any stretch as replayability is really diminished without Xbox Live Support.

The campaign mode follows some of the major events of the film with a few additions. As with a lot of movie driven titles you start with a cinematic cut scene and this plays true throughout each mission break of the game. There are thirteen missions in all. The first two missions focus on acclimating you to the Iron Man controls. Mission one with mainly primary weapons and melee and mission 2 based on mastering the flight controls. By mission three you are fully engaged as Iron Man via the MARK III suit (Red & Gold) in all of his ion beam shooting glory. From there you will participate in a number of missions expanding on the movie and leading up to the final confrontation with Iron Monger.

You will be thrown into combat against scores of tanks, SAM’s, attack helicopters, and aircraft as well as some new and familiar faces such as Titanium Man, The Melter, and of course Iron Monger are some of the primary baddies in the game, only Iron Monger appears in the film.

Gameplay: The game boasts a fairly flexible battlefield where you are ultimately in control of how you want to attack your objectives. You have specific objectives and certain elements are timed but you are ultimately in control of where the action takes place. While on the battle field you also have the option to reallocate power in your suit to either support additional power to life support, melee, weapons or your thrusters. This combined with the ability to customize your power distribution between levels allows for a decent level of customization and control.

The element I enjoyed the most was the ability to be fully involved in ground combat and a second later engaging with jets in full flight. The flight mechanics are good and don’t feel forced but they do take some getting used to as this is not Ace Combat by any stretch.

One of my favorite elements of the game is the ability to catch projectiles and redirect them. I can catch a missile in mid-flight and redirect it back to the sender for a nice surprise. You also have the option to grapple a SAM or howitzer and basically use them like big shotguns. You also have the ability to grapple with certain objects such as tanks, armored personnel carriers, jets and helicopters all can be destroyed by flying close, grappling and then rapidly hitting “B” to get a rewarding cut scene. There are also achievements tied to grappling and throwing certain items like planes.

Weapons: In this game you pretty much are the weapon. You have the standard ION beam and repulsor attack options as well as a variety of auxillary weapons from energy shields to guided missiles. As you progress through the game you will be able to upgrade your armor from the Mark 1 through Mark 3 suits (Classic Red and Gold) while gaining the ability to upgrade specific systems for better performance. You have the ability to unlock a number of different armor variants including: MARK I, MARK II, MARK III, Classic, MARK I Classic, Extremis, Hulkbuster, and the Xbox exclusive Silver Centurion models.

Online: There is no Xbox Live Support for this game.

Achievements: The achievements are not the standard complete the level get the achievement. They are tied to specific objectives in the mission such as ensuring no civilian casualties, or destroying certain objectives. It appears through the first run that most of the achievements are well achievable without a very large investment in time. Through my first play through I have been able to pull down 37 of the 39 achievements (850 points) in roughly 7 hours of gameplay. Granted I play for score so if you want to replicate this amount be sure to review the list prior to entering the mission as they are not mission completion based. Here is the full list of achievements available in Iron Man.

Ratings & Comments: If you are going to play Iron Man just know that this is not Halo, Bioshock, or COD4. It is what it is supposed to be a tie in to a summer blockbuster that is supposed to give you a weekend of enjoyment. Do I recommend buying a copy? Only if you are a fan. Otherwise update your gamefly list or go to your local Blockbuster and give it a go. I rate it a 7.5 out of 10.

Pros:

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!!!

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

 

Big Xbox Announcement

Microsoft has announced the following 4 new offerings….I am really excited by what’s to come!!! Announced today are the following:

– Xbox 360 Wireless Helmet
– Xbox LIVE the Board Game
– Xbox 360 Vintage Edition
– Xbox 360 Recon Edition

Wirelessboard game
vintageRecon

April Fools :)

Microsoft Outing Cheaters on Xbox Live

Major Nelson announced today that Microsoft has instituted new policies to further crack down on cheaters on Xbox Live. Major stated that they have already taken action to punish “accounts we have identified as the most serious offenders who have violated the Xbox Live Terms of Use by tampering with their Gamerscore and Achievements.”

This is a great move by Microsoft. It is frustrating as a gamer who takes my score seriously and all achievements were earned the old fashioned way. It is great to see that Microsoft cares about maintaining honesty within the community.

Microsoft is going to reset the offenders Gamerscore to zero and labeling the account as a cheater for the community to see. Moving forward these users can gain new achievements the old fashioned way but cannot regain their old achievements.

It is great to see that Microsoft takes this issue seriously.

Game Review – Army of Two

ArmyofTwo360packshotTo preface this review I want to state for the record that I really enjoy co-op shooters. So this review has a positive slant from the word go because I am a fanboy of any game that allows you to blow stuff up with your buddies in real time. Electronic Arts did a great job with Army of Two as it is just a fun game. If you want to have a good time blowing things up with your friends definitely give this title a go.

Story: You represent two Ex-Army Rangers who are now working as private contractors for a corporation called SSC. Through 6 campaign missions you will step jump, co-op riot shield, go back-to-back and co-op snipe your way through a legion of enemy AI, Heavies (Heavily armored AI) and quasi boss battles in addition to a number of extra objectives that will earn you cash. But enough about the story let’s talk about the gameplay.

Gameplay: Army of Two leverages some of the better elements of co-op game play. Similar to Crackdown, Gears of War and Halo 3 while building on what has been done in the past. You can interact with your partner in a number of ways.

The best tactic in tight situations is for one of you to power up your Aggro meter. Once full one of you will start pulsing read while the other becomes transparent. This basically translates to one of you will draw the enemies fire while the other can stealthfully take out the opposition. You can also enter the Overkill mode which slows everything down or speeds things up depending on if you were the initiator.

Some of the other fun partner based elements are the ability to swap weapons so you can focus on support and aggressive roles, as well as the ability to partner in a few other game modes including the co-op riot shield where one of you wields a shield while the other shoots, step jumps, back-to-back when overwhelmed by enemies and co-op sniping.

One of the more interesting elements is the drag and heal function. Like Halo and Gears your health will recharge while in cover, but adding to the revive option in Gears you can actually drag your fallen friend to cover while they can lay down suppressive fire while being dragged to a safe location for healing. This can also be an area for bragging rights or degrading your partner. E.g. let’s just say my friend Elijah earned the field medic achievement fairly quickly while playing with me :) call it aggressive game play or just the overall inability to evade bullets we will never know.

One of the best elements of the game is actually the enemy AI. Depending on the difficulty setting they will change positions when fired upon, flank your position and basically try to destroy you in a multitude of ways. I was impressed.

One of my only gameplay complaints is when I am standing next to an enemy (Similar to the issue in Crackdown) it is very difficult to get a lock on an enemy which ends up in spinning and shooting which is not the ideal experience (especially when you are going for achievements and already have the melee achievement).

Weapons: The weapons selection ranges from Primary, Secondary and Special weapons. Your primary is chock full of assault rifles and heavy machine guns while your secondary set includes pistols and SMG’s with your specials focusing on sniper rifles and RPGs. You have the ability to upgrade some of the weapons with additional elements not to the level of COD4 but can you “pimp” your assault rifle with gold in COD4? I don’t think so.

Online: One of my biggest complaints of the game is with session timeout on the versus multiplayer. Out of 8 online sessions I only made it to the end of one session before running into server issues. I have confirmed other players have experienced similar time outs.

The main element of versus is to complete various objectives and earn more money than the opposing team of two. I felt as though there was more that could have been done here. One suggestion would be to allow for teams of Contractors to battle different enemy insurgents or Heavy’s or even sub bosses in a more team based approach like a traditional slayer match similar to GOW, Halo, and COD4. This would allow for more replayability as I am more likely to continually play a team based shooter than an objective based one.  To be honest this is one of the weaker elements of the game.

Achievements:  Your first play through of the campaign will most likely net you roughly 300-350 achievement points depending on if you are focusing on changing weapons once you receive the equivalent achievement. Note that even if you die and have to restart from a checkpoint your kills are registered so you do not have to start over. A number of achievements are based on achieving a number of kills with a specific type of weapon. Others are mission specific and there are a few that are tied to the online versus mode. I have been able to clear 700 points in about 12 hours of gameplay.

Pros:

  • You and a friend blowing stuff up
  • Aggro System
  • Enemy AI is impressive
  • Game Play Based Achievements
  • Ability to “Pimp” your weapons
  • Partner Elements (Back to Back, Co-op Riot Shield, Weapon Swap etc.)
  • Ability to “mess” with your partner (High Fives, Trip Them, Etc..)
  • GPS System
  • All weapons in a category will unlock once you clear certain difficulties

Cons:

  •  Online mode and lack of team slayer type options
  •  Weapon lock-on in close combat
  •  Vehicle Controls are lacking and feel forced
  •  Expected more interation with the environment (crumbling walls)
  •  Session timeouts in online versus modes
  •  Not enough money offered for objectives (If I were risking my life to disable multiple aircraft on a carrier while enemy fire surrounds me I would expect more than $6,000)
  •  Lack of a language filter (I am just saying…)

Rating: I give this a solid 8 out of 10 and a definite pick-up if you well have a friend that wants to play with you

Game Review – LOST Via Domus

LOSTI normally do not watch a lot of TV (Outside of The University of Oklahoma during football season) but my one obsession over the past few years has definitely been LOST. I have really enjoy the show and look forward to each new episode. The concepts and characters draw you in and I like that fact that at the end of each show I have more questions than answers and I am left to think about how it will all come together.

Being a fan of the show and an avid gamer it was pretty much a given that I would pick up the first LOST game title for the 360. LOST Via Domus is more of an adventure game with elements of strategy all tying into the LOST formula of flashbacks and intrigue.

I would definitely recommend watching at least the first three seasons before you play this title as there are a number of references that really would not make sense or at the very least be as interesting unless you have watched the show regularly.

You are in control of a new character to the LOST universe. He is a photo journalist who has lost his memory due to the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. You have to depend on a few familiar faces (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Charley, etc…) while you begin to piece together your lost memories to uncover your background by triggering flashbacks during character interactions. Of course it would not be a LOST game if you did not have confrontations with the elusive but deadly Smoke monster and a few run ins with the “Others”. The pacing of the game feels very true to the show.

Ubisoft Montreal did a good job with the level design as the jungle backgrounds look amazing. But for a game based on an island that requires trekking to various points the game is very linear with a limited area to explore. It was also a lot of fun to “enter the numbers”, explore the various Dharma stations and interact with the rest of the LOST environment in a more interactive manner.

Looking at the actual gameplay there are a few areas worth discussion. After just completing another playthrough of Mass Effect interacting with the LOST conversation controls seem very basic and almost lacking. It was fun interacting with familiar characters and the Ubisoft team did a good job of channeling the personalities of the characters. The inventory system seemed like an afterthought and the real purpose is to house items to trade for better equipment. And the entire game experience lasted maybe 7 hours with very little replayability.

The flashback sequences were done well but the only point of contention is that in order to trigger the full memory you must replicate a picture with your camera and this can be frustrating at times. Speaking of frustrating there are a number of mini games in LOST Via Domus. In true Bioshock fashion one of the main mini-games introduces the “Fuse” game. Similar to the hacking done in Bioshock you plug various fuses into the correct socket to allow the right amount of electrical current through.

Another mini-game is again similar to Bioshock in that you can take pictures of certain items to unlock achievements. Speaking of Achievements you can unlock all 1000 points fairly easily with limited replay required. Achievements are tied to level completion and other tasks during memory flashbacks and exploration.

Pros:

  • It’s LOST!!!!
  • Interacting with the LOST Universe
  • Level backgrounds are very well done (Especially the nursery in the Medical Station)
  • The game stays very true to the LOST mythology
  • The Smoke Monster
  • Easy Achievements
  • Mini-games

Cons:

  •  Really light adventure game
  •  Lackluster Conversation engine
  •  Inventory system subpar
  •  No more lighters or torches – seriously
  •  Checkpoint reloads force you to resort your inventory
  •  Actual action segments are very lackluster
  •  Extremely Short – 7 hours to get through the game

This game is definitely for the LOST fan. It misses the mark in terms of a good adventure title and the mini-games become a bit repetitive. But let’s be honest you will pick up this game if you cannot get enough of the LOST universe. For those that enjoy the show and like to game then I recommend picking up this title. Otherwise it would make a great weekend rental. I give the game 7 out of 10 and the show a 10 out of 10.

Dead Space

One of the other game titles that I am very excited about in 2008 is the new EA title Dead Space. It was recently announced that the game will launch on October 28th of this year and the games site DeadSpaceGame.com just launched.

Dead Space is a new IP launch for EA and is the first Sci-Fi Horror game that the company has ever launched. It follows Isaac Clarke and is a survival horror epic. Isaac, a space engineer who works for the Concordance Extraction Corporation (C.E.C), a company that repairs “giant mining ships”. His company receives a distress call from the USG Ishimura, a “Planet Cracker” class ship that takes dead planets, and destroys them to extract valuable ore for the company.

In the assumption that the ship has had a mechanical failure, Isaac soon realizes that this is no ordinary distress call. He soon finds that the ship has been overrun by a mysterious alien race. This routine check becomes a race for his life….

The game features some familiar aspects such as we learn the story of what happened through in-game assets similar to Bioshock, and the main character Isaac is not a soldier. He is a common man and his tools are his weapons which leads to simple, brutal and effective combat. He is no super soldier which gives his character a sense of vulnerability which adds to the games believability (If you call deep space mining and alien infested ships believable). This title is definitely not a shooter. You will be outnumbered and low on ammo so the main point is to survive.

Regarding gameplay, that is where this title will really excel. Since this is not a fragfest you might ask how will you “survive”. Simple… dismember anything that moves with your plasma cutter. Yes, you will sever arms, legs, heads and just about anything that protrudes from the alien “Necromorphs”. This as you can imagine is a very complex system as there are multiple animation sequences that have to be considered meaning that you can dispatch an enemy in a number of ways. So this is the element of the game that will receive the most attention from the EA team.

Definitely check out the site to view, rate, share and comment on a large collection of Dead Space media including screenshots, concept art and trailers. The site features a daily blog from the Dead Space development team as well as video diaries showcasing the games origin.

dead_space

Interview with Major Nelson

During GDC 2008 I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox Live team. Larry is the Director of Xbox Live Programming and is the author of one of the most popular gaming blogs on the web. Between posts, blogcasts and twitter Major keeps everyone up to date on the latest information on all things Xbox.

The focus of the interview was to get Larry’s thoughts on the keys to his success as well as his thoughts around social media and the future.

TheBlackFin: You have one of the highest trafficked blogs on the web today. What has been the key to your success?

Major Nelson: Since the beginning this has been about being a part of the conversation. With any blogging the ability to connect with the audience with relevant content is the key to success.

TheBlackFin: Describe some of the interesting trends that you have seen with your blog from the time you originally published it through today.

Major Nelson: The integration of the gamertag has been key since the beginning . The ability for gamers to publish their gamertag and tie in to the Xbox achievement system and publically display their gamerscore has been one of the most important elements to building community around Xbox gaming.

TheBlackFin: How do you think your blog has enhanced the Xbox Live brand?

Major Nelson: The blog has allowed us to have a conversation.  As one of the highest trafficked gaming blogs doing podcasts and blogging it has enabled real time communication. As you know this audience is rabid about information and they want to consume it in almost real time.

TheBlackFin: In your opinion… What impact has social networking and community in general had on the gaming industry?

Major Nelson: Social Networking has had a phenomenal impact on the industry. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Xbox Live is a premier social network. Everyday hundreds of thousands of users log on to play with their friends, compare gamer scores and connect with other gamers. With the integration between the consoles and Xbox.com it extends the experience beyond the console.  Also a lot of external applications are now picking up gaming data… you see different applications on MySpace and Facebook.

TheBlackFin: What publisher and game title has been successful in deploying a good social networking gaming experience?

Major Nelson: Without a doubt it would be Bungie and Halo. Online and offline what bungie has done to include the community has just been amazing.

TheBlackFin: What are your predictions around social networking trends and gaming in the next few years?

Major Nelson: I think we are going to see more of the game/web interaction like Bungie has done with Halo and Electronic Arts with Skate. Look at how they take in game data and spray it back to the web and allow users to collaborate with it. What Bungie has done is the tip of the iceberg. More and more publishers are recognizing the value of having a seamless experience between the game and the web.

Me with “the Major” @ GDC 2008
Tom Edwards with Major Nelson

GDC 2008 – Expo Day 1

GDC2008The 2008 Game Developer Conference has been a great conference so far. Most of the major industry players are here. Microsoft, Sony, Electronic Arts, Disney, Ubisoft, Activison and a host others. After the first few days of the conference focused on a number of sessions and events today marked the beginning of the Expo portion of the conference.

The technology that was on display was cutting edge and amazing. From motion capture demonstrations to the latest in animation technology including demonstrations by Natural Motion of their Dynamic Motion Synthesis Euphoria product which will be big role in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Grand Theft Auto IV. To a host of demonstrations from organizations that are looking to take gaming to the next level. From brain wave centric gaming to you as the controller the evolution of gaming is close at hand.

G4 and the X-Play team are here broadcasting as well as Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb. This has been a very informative event thus far and I look forward to tomorrows sessions, hitting the expo floor again and meeting with the EA team.

There will be more photos posted in the photo gallery soon.

Me with a Big Daddy from Bioshock
Tom Edwards with Big Daddy from Bioshock - Blog