Star Wars The Force Unleashed

StarWars - TFUThere are some great games on the horizon in 2008. There are two in particular that I am very interested in. The first being Electronic Arts Spore which will have it’s own post in the near future. It was recently announced that Spore will be released on September 7th.

The other title I am looking forward to playing in the summer of 2008 is the latest LucasArts title… Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Take a look at the trailer.

The story occurs between episodes III & IV and is being guided by George Lucas himself and will revolve around your Jedi being a “secret apprentice” to Darth Vader himself. Your mission is to hunt down Jedi that survived the initial purge.

Being an avid Star Wars fanboy I am very excited about what is possible on the 360 when it comes to putting your Jedi to the test. The game blends the Havoc Physics Engine With the Euphoria AI engine providing the basis for character/force interaction you can already get a feel from the trailer of what we can expect. Look at how the Storm Troopers flail about as they fly through the air and try to grab objects as well as how the environment can just crumble at the seams. Also, who doesn’t want to be able to bring down a TIE fighter with your Jedi powers. And was that a Rancor in the trailer??? It looked like you won’t need a giant door or bone this time around. If the gameplay is half as good as it appears in the trailer then this is a definite pickup.

From a marketing perspective this title is going to receive a very large marketing push including in true Lucas fashion a full line of toys as well as publishing by Dark Horse. So be expecting to see and hear a lot about this title in upcoming months.

GDC 2008

GDC2008I am in transit to San Francisco to attend the Game Developers Conference 2008.

I look forward to the numerous sessions and networking as well as all of the latest and greatest gaming demonstrations during the expo portion of the conference.

On Wednesday I will begin my blog coverage of GDC 2008 as that is when the Expo gets underway.

On deck is an interview with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb discussing his thoughts about the impact of Social Networking and gaming as well as insight into the keys to success of his blog.

Madden Bowl XIV

Madden Bowl - XIVTonight was the invite only Madden Bowl XIV put on by the Electronic Arts Tiburon team. It was a great event. A number of NFL stars squared off to see who would be the Madden Bowl XIV champ. Kellen Winslow Jr., Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch, Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson, Jason Whitten and others all virtually took the field to see who would win the coveted Madden Bowl trophy.

After a few rounds the finals came down to Willis McGahee and Marshawn Lynch. McGahee took home the coveted Madden Trophy 43-7.

The event was being blogged live by Will “Raczilla” Kinsler, Madden community manager.

Will Kinsler - 640

Also, It was great to hang out with Mike “MJ” Johnson (Below) and Reg Hamlett of EA Sports and all of their associates during the event.

Tom Edwards - MJ

Halo Expanded

halo-booksWhile flying to San Francisco today I will be reading The Flood book 2 of 3 in the initial Halo book series. Normally I read business related books discussing the latest on management, marketing, sales and leadership. On occassion however I like to read something…. fun.

Being the avid gamer that I am and growing up on a healthy dose of Star Wars and all things space related it is not a stretch that I like Sci-Fi fiction. When I was a pre-teen I read every Star Wars book I could get my hands on. I really liked the fact that the books expand on the core themes of the movies but took on a life of their own.

I really enjoyed the recent Halo 3 release and to this point had only played through the various titles not thinking about the how, when and why the story took place when it did and how the characters became who they are in the game. I had recently picked up a gaming industry magazine and it had excerpts from all 5 books and I was immediately hooked. I went out and picked up the initial 3 book set and tore through the first book within a couple days.

I won’t go into a lot of detail around the actual contents, but if you are a fan of the game and are looking for a fun read I would recommend picking it up. After the Halo series I will turn to the first Mass Effect prequel titled Revelation.

GDC 2008

GDC2008I confirmed today that I will be attending the 2008 Game Developer Conference February 18-22 in San Francisco.

I am very excited about attending as outside of the networking and expo portion the key areas that I am interested in are the business and management topics of “Make the Community Part of Halo” and advertising and games.

The “Make the Community Part of Halo” discussions are very key as it talks about the bungie.net experience and how they worked to make community an integral part of the game itself.

I have worked with Microsoft Game Studios, Ensemble Studios and of course Electronic Arts on the Skate and NFS ProStreet titles fall along the same lines. So if you are attending the event let me know and we will schedule some time to sync during the conference.

CES Day 3

Coming to you live from Las Vegas at CES 2008. Today was another good day. After some early meetings with the Microsoft Vista team and the High Tech team it was on to the convention floor for additional networking.

There were 35 football fields worth of booths and exhibits. There was a very large focus on Audio and Home Theater with some of the best booth experiences coming from Panasonic, Samsung, LG and Sharp. Others went for sheer size…. Sony, Microsoft, Intel and HP all had significant space dedicated to them. There were some truly amazing products and innovations. LG had the thinnest flat screen television that I have ever seen and the war between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD was being waged on the showroom floor. I will be posting a number of photos from the event in the photo gallery soon.

There was a lot to see as business was conducted on the show floor. I also had the opportunity to meet up with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb today as well as we discussed next steps regarding his blog. It is always great to talk to Larry. Be sure to check out his blog and podcast. He is the insider for all things Xbox.

Tomorrow will be my last day at the event and it will be the final push through the crowds of people and booths. It has been a great event so far and I look forward to talking to my targeted list of booths to close out the event.

Me with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb at CES 2008
Tom Edwards with MajorNelson

CES Day 1

Coming to you live from the Palazzo in Las Vegas… Day one is now in the books. Registration, networking and Rock Band were the orders of the day.

The focus of today was to meet with all of the Microsoft Sales reps that service the High Tech industry (~125 in attendance). After watching Bill Gates final keynote speech it was on to the Rock Band rock off. For those of you that don’t know Rock Band think Guitar Hero with drums and karaoke. We were to recruit members from the Microsoft to join our band and me and 3 Microsoftees made it to the finals. We put up the highest score of the night in the final during our set but ultimately lost the title (and the custom Zune prizes) to a team of seasoned Rock Band veterans. It was still a lot of fun though!

Tomorrow will be more networking with the Microsoft teams and then on to the CES expo hall as well as a meeting with Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb of the Xbox team.

So far the conference has gotten off to a good start. Below is a pic of our “band” that’s me with the glasses on lead guitar :P.

Tom Edwards - CES 2008 Rock Band Battle - 1

30,000 and the Future

aunlockedOne of the best features that the Xbox team introduced was tying in-game achievements to a publically viewable profile. What this allowed was for you as a gamer to start building gaming “equity” over time that could then be shared and compared with your friends and others in the gaming community. This small detail has caused me to forgo the PS3 and only play the Wii with my son as I have been focused on increasing my gamerscore and pushing myself as a game enthusiast.

With that said, yesterday marked the passing of the 30,0000 gamerscore plateau. It took 135 days to go from 20,000K to 30,000K with an average gain of 74 points per day. So I thought I would take a moment and archive some fun facts since I started gaming on the 360 oh so many moons ago.

1) Consecutive Days Played Streak – 72
2) Retail Titles Completed – 11
3) World Gamerscore Ranking – 3734
4) World Achievement Ranking – 3398
5) Largest single day achievement gain – 39
6) Most points in a day – 1200
7) Completion Percentage (0 score games removed) – 53%
8) Total Games Retail(61)/Arcade (27) Owned – 88

Here is a breakdown of the top five games played by days played:

1) NHL2k7 – 55
2) DW Gundam – 53
3) Halo3 – 48
4) Lego Star Wars II – 45
5) Gears of War – 22

Moving forward I am going to put an end to my gamerscore addiction and start playing the titles that I enjoy as I have a stack of games that are waiting to be played and enjoyed. Mass Effect, The Orange Box, Rainbow 6 Vegas, FEAR, and COD4 Multiplayer.

I have and will always be a gamer to some degree. My focus is just shifting a bit :)

Game Review – Lego Star Wars TCS

starwarscompleteMy 5 year old son and I have enjoyed the Lego Star Wars series. It started with Lego Stars I on the PS2 then on to Lego Star Wars II on both the PS2 and Xbox 360 (100% complete). I even chose a Lego II achievement as the basis for the Official Xbox Magazine call out a few months ago.

So it should come as no surprise that I bought into the marketing hype and picked up Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga on 360. There are a few new levels, 10 more bounty hunter missions, arcade mode, new Lego city, power-ups, and challenge stages not to mention that all 6 story arcs are now nicely packaged in one CD with Xbox Live support this time around.

If you have small children and grew up liking Star Wars and Lego’s then this is a lot of fun. The “drop out” feature makes it very easy to assist first time gamers through tough spots as they make their way around this brick based world. The cut scenes are comical and keep the story moving along and the ability to play a level in about 20 minutes makes it appealing as there is a definitive end to the gaming session.

My favorite feature in this edition has to be the save and exit feature from the pause menu. Now regardless of how far you have progressed in the level, or if you are searching for that last hidden item you can easily just save and exit and all of the money and any special items (mini kits, red power bricks, etc…) are now saved. Before you would have to play the entire level through to the end to get credit.

From an achievement stand point I have been impressed with how the achievements have been presented. Previously it was mainly based on completing a level, then completing the level without dying for a majority of achievements. This time it is based more on gameplay such as the destroy 300 droids, or let the wookie win (pop the arms off of 25 stormtroopers).

The downside is the repetition. After playing through both of the previous titles it can be a bit repetitious as you know what to expect for the most part. Some of the new levels are welcome additions like chasing Zam Wessel on Coruscant or the new Gunship Cavalry level and even Anakin’s mission in the bonus area are fun and something different but for a majority of the game you are playing the same game.

What I liked about the game:
– Star Wars and Lego together can’t go wrong
– Xbox Live Support
– New Achievement Structure
– Save and Exit (Full Credit Option)
– True Jedi Status on either story or freeplay (Before had to complete both)
– Best game series for young ones that I have seen

Could Improve
– Repetition
– Cannot skip cut scenes
– Money pick up is awkward and not as tight this time around
– Not the most challenging game
– No character import this time around

Rating
I am actually going to give this two ratings. The first is for if you have children who are interested in gaming. In that case I give it a perfect 10. There is not a better gaming experience (Yes better than Mario Kart) for small kids who want to play an action adventure type of game. The controls are simple, the world is just open enough without frustrating smaller ones and the visuals are very appealing.

For the older audience concerned about gameplay and the like I would lean towards a 7. But don’t let the rating fool you. This is a definite pick up for anyone who is/was a fan of Star Wars or Lego’s and is a must have in your collection.

Next up is the upcoming Indiana Jones lego release and picking up the Lego Star Wars TCS for the Wii. This series is a definite holiday pick up.

Why $60???

I still remember when I saw my first $60 price tag on a game. My jaw almost hit the floor. Now $59.99 is just what you pay for the latest title. Throw in the collector’s edition ($69.99) or the recent Halo 3 Legendary edition ($125) or the recent Rockbank release ($169) and you see the trend in gaming today.

So how did we get here? Where does the money go? Like any other product there is a breakdown of how the cash is spread around. Take for example a 360 title that sells around 500,000 units. $20 is to pay for the actual development cost of the game. This is everything from coding, level design, QA, etc…Then of course there is publisher overhead which warrants $9 of the $60. Next Microsoft licensing and manufacturing takes $12 for license (You know the Xbox 360 branding and Xbox Live stamps at the top of every 360 title). $7 is spent on advertising of the game. All of the POS materials, TV, magazine ads etc… the money has to come from somewhere right? The final take is the actual retailers cut of $12. This is your Gamestops, Best Buys, etc…

Now throw in strategy guides and downloadable content and the life of a game is now extended as is the profitability of the title. Take for example the latest EA title Need for Speed Pro-Street. It is the best example of a console game that leverages in game play with actual cash based (Microsoft Points) based extras. Don’t want to wait to get your dreamcar in the game? It can be yours for 200 Microsoft points. Not happy with your engine or injection system? No worries upgrade for 150 Microsoft points. It is a great move by EA to add this extra option. This also results in additional revenue for the title.

It will be interesting to see the continual evolution of gaming. I foresee a time when most of the content will be downloaded and the introduction of subscription models moving forward. We will have to wait and see.

Game Review – Assassin’s Creed

acOne word to describe this game… WOW!!! This is a great experience. Ubisoft Montreal (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Rainbow 6) is the team behind this outstanding title. The open level design is visually stunning and the puppet system for directing the main character Altair (Arabic for “the flying one”) is probably the best aspect of the game.

The subtle differences between how you interact with the environment is what I really enjoy. You can scale tall buildings, interact with various people in the crowd and you have the option to go “low profile” and eliminate targets without raising too much suspicion. Otherwise you can go “high profile” for all of the world to see your handiwork.

The story revolves around using stealth tactics to eliminate 9 “targets” across 3 major cities. The cityscapes are some of the most visually stunning you will see in a next-gen title and you can interact with all areas of the cities. Prior to getting clearance to take out your targets you perform intelligence tasks such as eavesdropping,  interrogation,  or pickpocketing information while saving citizens and scaling tall buildings to further synchronize your map.

As you progress through the game you gain or “regain” weapons and skills. This is where the control system comes back into play. The subtle ability to counter and attack during combat is one of the most rewarding aspects of the game. Time it just right and you unleash an animation sequence that is impressive and different a majority of times it is activated.

You have the ability to choose your objectives and the order you want to complete them. You have a vast kingdom to explore and many side quests are available if you have the time. The visuals and open world presentation are what truly sets this apart from other titles.

The main negative at this point is that some of the intelligence tasks can get a bit repetitive as you progress further through the game, but the fact that the AI increases in difficulty as you progress through the game makes it a challenge.

The Good:

  • Story
  • Controls
  • Visuals
  • High/Low Profile modes
  • Open Level Design
  • Crowd Interaction

Could be Better:

  • Repetitive Tasks
  • Pacing Issues
  • Cannot forgo conversations once initiated

Overall:

I give it a 9.0. It is definitely one of the better games I have played this year and ranks with Bioshock and Halo in terms of innovation and I highly recommend it!

Other games I am playing this week include: Mass Effect, NFS Prostreet and Spider-man Friend or Foe (w my 5 yr old).

Game Review – Call of Duty Modern Warfare

cod4logoMy pick for this week was Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare. I was very impressed by the campaign mode of this title except for the lack of co-op play. That would have made the experience that much better. Being able to hold down a position while your friend advances… but that is another story…

COD4 is a big step forward for the series as this is the first venture beyond WWII and the move is welcomed. The basic elements of COD are there… regenerative health, great weapons and frustrating points (you know what I mean…. the spots where you die around 20 times before passing through.) The graphics are first rate and the loading screens keep you interested.

I completed the campaign mode around 6 hours which is relatively short but the gameplay is impressive. You play between the British SAS and USMC and you travel to various hotspots between missions such as Russia and the Middle East. Infinity Ward did a great job (as they did with COD2) and this is a definite step up from COD3. The intensity of COD games of the past are there. The feeling of how am I going to survive this is there. The weapons are there and the story keeps you interested. Again the lack of co-op play downgrades the campaign, but it is fun nonetheless.

The replayability of this game is really tied to multiplayer. One side note for achievement fans, all achievements are tied to the campaign and not a single one is tied to multiplayer. Obviously with multiplayer you look at Halo3 as the standard from matchmaking to tracking your progress (service record) that keep you coming back for more. In my opinion this is where COD4 falls a little short of my expecations. The matchmaking at least for the free for all mode online is not ideal. You have newly minted privates getting owned by 4 star generals with upgraded weapons. I would have liked to have seen matching more on par with actual user levels.

The other issue with the multiplayer is the ease of kills without objectives. By ease of kills I mean you basically look at someone and they are pretty much dead or you will be. There are not a lot of opportunities to engage with someone for more than a second. That is one of the fun and challenging aspects of the Halo multiplayer, just because I see you doesn’t mean I am going to instantly take you down. Also the only options initially are team based or free for all slayer type engagements.

I do like the options to create a class to customize your weapons as well as the concept behind the weapons upgrades being tied to longer gameplay. The barracks section though is a little lacking. I look to the service record on Halo almost daily to see the breakdown of the days events, medals earned and review of maps to see where I can improve.

All in all I would rate COD4 a 9.0 and definitely worthy of your $59.99. Definitely give the campaign mode a go and be ready to have a high death rate on the multi-player, but it is still a good time.

Game Review – Guitar Hero III

Guitar-hero-iii-cover-imageThe game I am playing the most this week is Guitar Hero III. The first day I had it I played through 23 out of the 42 songs on career mode. I would not recommend doing that again as my hand is still numb.

I have to say that the Les Paul wireless guitar is a definite upgrade to the initial Xplorer version. WIth detachable faceplates you can change the look on the fly (Sold Separately). But the most impressive thing about the guitar is the feel. It is very natural with the button placement and just feels right. Being wireless is good as well as when you are thrashing about the living room you don’t pull your Xbox onto the floor.

There are some great songs including the Rolling Stones “Paint it Black” and one thing I was not sure about initially was the battle mode. As you progress through the career you encouter different “legends” such as Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine and Slash of GnR and Velvet Revolver fame. This is also the basis of some of the competition via Xbox Live. Although watch out for the sudden death showdowns if you tie during a battle. Miss a single note and you could be done.

All in all I would recommend GH 3. It is still a fun game with new tracks and a new guitar and having Live access for career co-op or battles is great as that was definitely missing from GH 2.

Other games I am into right now are still Halo 3 and The Orange Box.

One Console

While flying to San Francisco today I read an article that got me thinking… It discussed the fact that it is inevitable that a unified gaming platform is coming. It referenced past examples of commodification (when an item that previously was not a commodity becomes one). The primary example was the cell phone and how it started as a status symbol and they were expensive and all they allowed you do was make calls. Now they are small, play music, record video and for the most part are no longer status symbols… essentially a commodity. 

History shows that technology always becomes commodified and follows similar life cycle patterns. This is now happening with gaming consoles. Gaming consoles today do more than the market wants or needs. Now they serve as your media hub for movies, pictures, the web, etc… Once you reach the point in a products lifeccle where you are positioning more features than the market needs you begin to commoditize your offering. 

The current splits between systems also greatly impact publishers as they have to decide whether they are going to release a title across the major first party systems or go with a proprietary system and receive additional compensation. This model is counter productive in some ways as additional resources are utilized not in the creation or enhancement of the gaming experience but to ensure the game ports to the specific format. Also there is more content being released that is not necessarily competing directly with other titles on other systems. This in turn dilutes the publishers efforts as they are not receiving the type of market penetration that is conducive to larger profit margins.

In esssence these factors will lead to the inevitable which is a one-console future. The article stated that this would not occur because we want one but because the market cannot sustain itself. What would happen if this were the case? You would see a drop in hardware cost and an increase in manufacturers as this would de-emphasizes the importance of the hardware (Think TV’s in recent years) and allows game publishers with 100% market penetration which would lead to cheaper games as publishers would not have to split resources between two versions of the same game. This would also create more of a channel approach to distribution.

What are your thoughts? Is a unified console a reality? Can the market continue to sustain the current fragmentation? If it were based on the current generation consoles I would call it the WiS360… or the PSWii60.

Shutout

nhl_2k8This post is short and sweet. For the past few years Rob, myself, Scott Dockendorf, and Kevin Cunningham have played the various Xbox 360 NHL 2Kx titles. (6, 7 and now 8). During this time Rob and I have teamed up against the duo of Kevin and Scott “The Butcher” Dockendorf.

The series have gone back and forth with one team gaining a lead in the overall standings only to have the series even again. But never during the hundreds of games that we have played together has there ever been a shutout… Until today.

Final score Rob/Tom (Calgary) 8… Scott/Kevin (Calgary) 0

This post is not to boast, but to capture the event in all of it’s shocking glory as we chronicle the never ending series of games and to serve as a humble reminder of the fact that yes Scott and Kevin… You were shutout on this day :)

Game Review – Halo 3

Halo3finallogoIf there was any doubt as to what the game of the week is for me this week it is Halo 3.

Last night Rob Howard, Deryl Dorsett, Elijah Hardin and I all joined forces to blast our way through 2/3 of the campaign mode. The best part of it was that we did it with the phenominal 4 player campaign co-op option.

This is an unprecedented feat for a console based game as Gears of War and Crackdown before it offered some of the best co-op play that I have seen on a console. The 4 player Halo 3 co-op surpasses them both. With a seamless approach and the ability to easily invite your friends all 4 of you can blast the covenant and flood while easily maintaining where your teammates are. The best part for me was the ability to get very aggressive with my play style knowing that someone will survive while a few of us charge in and take out as many enemies as we can.

The Bungie team really did a great job with the game. From the graphics, weapons, and vehicles to the matchmaking system for the online multiplayer matches…the game definitely lived up to they hype. But to me the best feature of the game is the ability to seamlessly play with 3 of your friends through the campaign mode while occasionally causing an incident of “friendly fire“…. sorry Rob it was an accident… really :)

Other games I am playing this week. Skate, NHL 2K8 and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam with my 5 yr. old son.

Microsoft Dallas Halo 3 Pre Launch

Last night I was one of the lucky few to attend the Microsoft Dallas Halo 3 Pre-launch event. This was an invite only gathering to preview and play Halo 3 before the launch and to just have a good time fragging people left and right. The event started with the obligatory swag bag with Halo T-shirt and led to the waiting area prior to entering the gaming lounge.

Once inside the smoke machines were going, the Halo soundtrack was blaring and rows of chairs facing large screens with team slayer mode running for multiple 8 player per sessions. Tournaments, multi-player, and campaign were all options that you could participate in. There were also many door prizes from Microsoft Vista and Office Ultimate to Halo branded goodies. It was great to have early access to the Microsoft team as well as playing one of the most anticipated titles prior to its release.

The graphics were amazing, the new weapons were fun, the controls were sensitive and the ability to customize your Spartans was one of the features that I definitely enjoyed. One of the highlights of the night was going old school in the warthog as the gunner and fragging people left and right. The “beat down” melee attack is still one of my favorite ways to take down an opponent.

I was not one of the few waiting at midnight for the title. I had a good fill during the event to hold me over to the next day, but this morning I did pick up my reserved Legendary Edition of Halo 3 and look forward to once again taking the controls of Master Chief.

halo event - small

Me at the Microsoft Dallas – Halo 3 Pre Launch Event

Legendary-small

Legendary Edition Halo 3 Helmet on my office shelf

Target & Halo 3 Early?

While making a quick stop at a local Target to pick up an office copy of NHL2k8 something interesting caught my eye. I looked at the top shelf behind the plexiglas and to my surprise and bewilderment I saw what appeared to be actual copies of Halo 3 (This is a week prior to the official launch). They were pristine and neatly displayed, ready to be bought. I immediately asked the associate if I could see one of the copies to confirm that they were in fact the real deal… They were…

As he handed me one of the most highly anticipated releases in recent memory a voice went off in my head…. I HAVE to tell him the release date… So as I stood there with the game in hand and 20 feet from a register I say the following… “Isn’t the release date the 25th???” With that said a look of shock then horror came over the associate. Within a minute we were bombarded by a team of Target employees each one grabbing all the neatly stacked copies and taking them to an undisclosed location.

From what I understand the copies had just been placed into the case and no units had been sold. Also, the pre-sale of major releases can be met with fines, and possible firing from some organizations so I felt as though I had to clear my mind and reiterate the date. I was later told of a thread regarding Xbox Live and Halo that threatened to ban Live accounts that were not authorized to play the game prior to the release date which has subsenquently been refuted by Microsoft.

Regardless, the early Halo 3 titles are now safely locked away for another week without a single thank you from the team that almost made a monumental mistake.

Wii Have Lift-off

Being the avid Xbox gamer and achievement points connoisseur that I am it may come as a surprise that we recently acquired a Wii. Granted it is for my son and I will not be giving up my Xbox anytime soon, but the direction Nintendo is going with the product and the market they are serving does warrant attention.

The image of my 5 year old son coming down the stairs dripping from sweat after playing Wii boxing is one I will not forget anytime soon. I definitely approve of activities that require physical interaction over button mashing, at least for my son :). The kids also like the concept of the Mii. A Mii is essentially you represented in various Wii games. My 3 year old daughter laughs hysterically each time we pick up and shake a Mii around the screen.

The fact that you can play Nintendo Gamecube games is also a big plus. Titles like Mario Cart and other kid friendly titles give me as a parent a level of comfort around the titles that I expose my kids to. I would recommend the Wii for anyone who is a casual gamer or has young ones in the household. For your Bioshocks, Halo’s and Gears of War, I would stick with the Xbox as the console of choice.

wii

Game Review – Bioshock

Bioshock gets my “pick of the week” in terms of games I am currently playing. I am very impressed by the Unreal engine powering the game as the motion is smooth and the controls are tight for a console based FPS. I highly recommend picking it up.

The premise is you are a plane crash survivor who discovers a hidden underwater city called Rapture. Rapture represents an idealistic society that goes astray when the inhabitants become obsessed with genetic manipulation which turns them into something else entirely. The game is unique in that it is a mix between the RPG and FPS style of games. There are clear goals and objectives but you have the freedom to roam through to look for all of the extras or play straight through. The mini games compliment the story and you have an option to buyout or autohack an object if you are not interested in running through the process of hacking the device. It is more on the horror side and rated M so no playing with your small kiddos in the room.

The achievements associated with the game are feasible. There are a number of secret achievements but there is a good reason for the secrecy as they coincide with events in the game. One of the features I most enjoy is the save anywhere function. I like that I can be in the middle of an event in the game and save at that exact moment and pick it up again later without missing a beat. One note, be sure to concentrate on the gathering all of the elements for achievements on each stage as you will not have the option to go back to a previous level once you leave it. Also, when you complete the game that is it there is no going back. That would be my only negative associated with the title. So be dilligent in your searches and research!!!

Recent games worth mentioning are Overlord (love this game), NCAA08, Madden08 and the EA Skate Demo. Speaking of Skate, check out my latest vid capture from the demo.

Tom Edwards with Big Daddy from Bioshock - Blog

OXM… Really?

haloIt all began when I started receiving random friend requests via Xbox Live. I was suddenly hit with a flood of new requests from people I didn’t know. Then came the news that my gamertag TheBlackFin and blurb were included in the October #75 edition of the Official Xbox Magazine.

There is a section of the magazine called “Live Spaces” it is a page dedicated to highlighting a few of the Xbox Live community members (pg 95). You write in about the achievement you are the most proud of, games you are looking forward to playing and a little bit about yourself.

I am definitely the most proud of the 100% completion achievement (This is a single achievement in the game, not a 100% completion of all achievements) on Lego Star Wars II as it was me and my then 4 year old son Gavin playing co-op together almost every night. We searched every level as we built, smashed and jumped our way through the game. I really liked the fact that we can spend time together and have a lot of fun without worrying about the content of the game.

Xboxmag

The Halo 3 Marketing Machine

While flying to New York today I was reading an industry magazine and came across a Halo 3 cross-promotional ad that caught my attention. Outside of this ad featuring Halo 3 & 7-11, the teams at Bungie and Microsoft are collaborating with a number of brands and agencies, including the same team that brought you 7-11’s transformed into Kwik-E-Marts, to kick off a Halo 3 go-to-market campaign that will be assaulting mainstream audiences faster than Master Chief can blast a covenant elite with a dual-wielded mauler.

It looks as though Halo 3 inspired Mountain Dew will be flying into 7-11 sometime in August. This promotion will also see Halo 3 Slurpee cups and Master Chief emblazoned bags of Doritos. The Doritos campaign will be tied to a voice cameo contest for the upcoming Ensemble Studios Halo Wars title. I have been very impressed with 7-11’s strategy over the past year. You would not think that a convenience store would have this type of marketing prowess but the proof is in the tie-in’s… Spider Man, the Simpsons, and Halo. And this only accounts for campaigns launched in 2007.

Regarding Halo’s GTM strategy, other brands will also leverage Master Chief to help cross-promote their offerings. Pontiac, Burger King and even a Halo 3 sponsorship for an upcoming music tour featuring acts like Linkin Park are just a few of the publicly available elements of the upcoming campaign. All of this does not include the Microsoft centric items such as Halo 3 branded Xbox 360’s, controllers and Zunes.

What this tells me is that the point is no longer to just make a game that entertains. The main goal now is to develop something that can transcend a niche genre and break through to the mainstream. It happened with Pac Man in the 80’s, it has happened with the Electronic Arts Madden franchise which is the best selling franchise of all time and now Halo is primed to cross into the mainstream by following the road taken by many a Hollywood blockbuster… meaning directly into kids meals at Burger King and on the bag of chips you eat in your living room… while playing Halo 3. Who says marketing doesn’t work?

MasterChief

20,000 Points

It is finally official. I have reached the 20,000K gamerscore mark!!! I have expressed in the past that I am an avid gamer and I enjoy the work that we do with various gaming studios such as Electronic Arts.

One thing about me is that I am very competitive and focused on results. I like to set goals and subsequently achieve them. This coincides very well with the Xbox 360 achievement system as you get a very measurable ROI metric out of your gaming experience.

Gaming is a lot like marketing in that you select a specific vertical that you want to target. For example, I like to focus on sports and retro titles. Then I formulate a plan based on the market segment that I have selected. I review the achievements that are available with each game prior to playing to predetermine ratios around potential time spent on pursuit of the goal vs. actualization of the achievement and then move towards the execution phase of the plan. Once the plan is put into motion it is very easy to then determine success of the strategy. And it is just a lot of fun to have the achievement pop-up on my screen once I have earned the achievement.

So is a 20K gamerscore required to be a good marketer? Not at all… All it shows is that you spend a lot of time looking at a screen. Speaking of which I have to thank my wife and children for allowing me the “small” amounts of time that I spend on…. market research. I also would like to thank the guys at EA for giving me the hookup on the best EA titles.

Thanks again! On to 30K!!!

Microsoft + Electronic Arts = In-game Advertising?

Coming to you live from Oklahoma City. Wi-Fi in a hospital room, who would have thought it was possible? No I am not in the hospital just blogging from one. So Microsoft and Electronic Arts have partnered together to sign the largest in-game advertising deal to date. Initially the campaign will be rolled out to the Sports titles like Madden, Nascar, Tiger Woods and Skate.

The reason this is possible now is how connected most gamers are. Think about some of the current titles in your library. You can get up to the minute ESPN feeds and updates now when the game fires up in NBA Live 07 and other EA titles. These feeds are a precursor of what’s to come. In reviewing research for this post it turns out that there are 4.4 million connected gaming console households. With 46 million game consoles in homes and another 148 million people with access to gaming consoles these numbers will continue to increase. So needless to say it is very appealing to advertisers to want to reach this segment of the population as this is a key demographic for positioning products and services.

All of the major consoles now have an online presence with Xbox leading the way online and the Wii attracting scores of new gamers. The industry is definitely in for additional growth online. So this all leads to the million dollar question… er the $600 million dollar question (market projection in 3 years)… Do you want ads in your games? It is nice to see the Dodge ads on the billboards in Crackdown and it does add to the realism in games, but how would you respond to something that interupts game play?

Personally, I like the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) product placement approach in most films. It is about characters interacting with name brand products but not about the product itself. This to me has more impact and would make me more likely to remember the reference than stopping in the middle to see a pop-up or ticker during game play.

So whether you are a fan or not, In-game advertising is coming and in a big way. There are too many dollars and distractions these days to not take this medium seriously. What do you think? Are you for, opposed or just in-different to in-game advertising? In the end it will be your dollars that do the talking.

EA Skate Round 2

For most of this week I will be in Vancouver, British Columbia. Today I was on-site at Electronic Arts Blackbox location. This is the studio responsible for the upcoming Skate release. If you recall back in June I posted about my first experience with the alpha build of Skate. Today I played one of the latest builds and all I can say is WOW.

The realism of the game is incredible. The movements are based on physics vs. animation so it gives the skater a natural flow that is not common in most of the current titles. The “flickit” controls are clean and really allow the user to have complete control but also gives you almost an unlimited ability to pull and sequence tricks.

The most impressive aspect of the game though was the ability to capture and manipulate in-game video footage from within the game. The game will cache the last 20 or so seconds of your run. If you pull off a wicked combo you can simply go to the replay option and begin adjusting camera angles, speed of replay, and apply different effects to your clip. Then the clip will upload to the soon to be launched Skate video gallery that is powered by community server. You will be able to share your clips with friends or for all of the skate community to see. You can also view some of the top clips from within the game.

The beta should drop on August 21st via the Xbox Live Marketplace. Definitely give it a go. You will be able to save video from the demo and it will carry over to when the game releases in September.

The Next Gaming Platform & A Look Back

As most of you know by now I am an avid console gamer. I was hooked at an early age. First it was the Odyssey² in 1978. I loved that the Odyssey² cartridges looked like 8-tracks with handles… Then it was on to the Nintendo 8-bit explosion of the mid-80’s.

I was amazed by the graphics and as soon as I saw R.O.B. the Robot playing Gyromite I had to have it! Who says marketing doesn’t work. I remember many hours spent on Excitebike, Zelda and Metroid. You had to ensure you had a good supply of Q-tips and rubbing alcohol to make sure you could still fire up your favorite games. And how did we ever live with just two buttons to mash is beyond me.

Next for me came the 16-bit Sega Genesis, with its slick black design and innovative controller layout (3 buttons vs. 2!!!) and titles like Phantasy Star 2  I had to have it.  Plus my console came with a fun game that had a blue hedgehog that was lightning fast. On a side note, it amazes me that the same games I enjoyed are now available for my kids to play. My 5 year old son now loves all things Sonic the Hedgehog. He has the Sonic Mega Collection for his PS2 that allows him to play the original port of Sonic. And don’t forget all the retro arcade titles on Xbox Live Arcade…Like father, like son.

I had a bit of a gap between the genesis and my next console. I bypassed a lot of the other options of the day, don’t get me wrong, I still played them with friends, The Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 (Goldeneye is still a classic), Sega Saturn etc… It was not until the Sony Playstation came out that I got back into consoling gaming head first again.

Sony redefined mainstream gaming with its CD only media and a truly amazing controller. The basic design of the controller was so solid it is still in use through 3 versions of the product. The graphics were amazing and I remember friends demolishing their PS1’s as they tried to mod them. The library of games was also really impressive. I think that is one of the ways they gained market share as quickly as they did, that and it was a 32 bit console. (First console to reach the 100 million mark) and all of these factors turned me into a Sony fanboy. To this day the best games I have ever played are the 3 CD behemoth Final Fantasy VII & Xenogears on PS1. I absolutely love those games.

Of course I picked up a PS2, this sixth generation 128-bit console was impressive, I remember seeing the first videos of Madden and the realism of the players just blew me away. This is also when I became 100% addicted to the EA NCAA football franchise. I played it in 1999 and a few versions on the PS1, but nothing compared to taking over the University of Oklahoma and leading them to national championship domination year, after year, after year in dynasty mode. I have probably logged over 500+ games of NCAA football across platforms.

By this time I wanted to take my gaming with me, I was traveling a lot and decided to pick up a Gameboy Advanced SP (The PSP was still on the horizon but not yet available. I played everything from Dragonball Z and Megaman to SpyHunter but it was short lived. The PSP was finally released.

All I have to say about the PSP at the time was WOW. The size of the screen, the ability to hold my photos and music all in the same device was just too cool. I remember when it first came out hacking the browser in Wipeout and thought it was the greatest thing that I was online with my PSP.  Alas, my PSP was stolen in Seattle and my desire to continue with the PSP went with it.

Which brings me to the here and now. Me being the Sony fanboy that I was means that I did not own an original Xbox. I was a member of the Sony Gamer Advisory Panel, I beta tested upcoming Sony titles and I could not wait for the PS3. With a brilliant move by Microsoft, instead of trying to cram everything into their console, they went to market first with a next-gen console that was just what the market could handle. I held out for a long time as many of my friends picked up the Xbox 360. I would passively sit back and just wait for the PS3 thinking it would be worth it.

At the Telligent office we began playing NHL2K6 on the Xbox 360 and things started to get really competitive. I wanted to get a leg up so I jumped head first into the realm of 360 gaming with very low expectations, I mainly bought the console to play the game and this was filler until the PS3 shipped. My gamerscore was zero, I casually played Halo and other Xbox titles with friends on their consoles so I was a true Noob when it came to the Xbox.

Fast-forward 14,000+ gamer points later and 50+ games played and I still do not own a PS3, nor do I see myself going that direction anytime soon. The biggest selling point to me besides achievement points was the way you can easily collaborate with your friends over Xbox Live. Granted it is not perfect, but I really like being able to see what games my friends are playing and the game specific leaderboards, how far they have progressed, or if I want to challenge someone or just co-op on the latest game it is easy to do.

I look forward to the eighth-generation consoles like the Xbox 720, Playstation 4 and Wii2 or whatever the future may bring. With amazing strides being made with the game engines (Look at the upcoming Mass Effect and Unreal Tournament 3 titles) and consoles like the Wii changing the way people interact with games, it is going to be a fun ride.

 

 

San Francisco & EA’s Skate

For most of this week I will be in San Francisco, beautiful city btw. Today I am on-site at Electronic Arts in Redwood City. It is always good to see the EA team, the core group that we work with are a great bunch of guys. We are working on a community project tied to the upcoming Skate game that is very impressive. The marketing site done by Blast Radius is already up and running.

I played an alpha build of the game today and was very impressed. Not only is it a fun game, but it takes skateboarding to the edge in terms of the realism of the game compared to other titles that are out today (Tony Hawk series). The “Flickit” controls were very responsive (Think Fight Night 3’s analog controls), I was able to pull a number of tricks but the level of difficulty is there giving it a feeling of real skating and not an arcade simulation. It is not simply hit a button perform a trick. There is a flow to the moves and a seamless transition between tricks if done well. The graphics were impressive and it has a real sandbox feel in terms of roaming the different cityscapes in freeskate.

One of the great features of the upcoming Skate game will be the ability to record in-game footage and upload it to the upcoming community server based site. It will allow a level of Web/Game integration that we have yet to see in a next-gen title.

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1000 pts w00t!!!

Alright, I have finally broken the 1000 pt barrier on a game. Thanks to EA’s Fight Night 3 (Great game btw) and 5 nights of gaming and a very understanding wife (love you babe). In the latest news Rob Howard had a big collision during a pick up game of hockey yesterday… don’t worry Rob, scars are cool :). In other updates the never ending series with Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham took a turn for the worse after directly calling them out in a previous post, we dropped the best of three series 2-1. We will see who is feeling it today.

Being an avid gamer, I have a tendency to focus on vertical markets that I enjoy personally, so we have made significant traction in the gaming industry. From our relationship with the Xbox team, Community Server powers the Xbox forums, Major Nelson‘s blog, Gamerscoreblog, and the new Forza Community. We are doing some very cool work with Electronic Arts that will become public very soon, but one of the sites rhymes with “aladdin” hmmm. Also, we just rolled out a great new site for Ensemble Studios. The new Age of Empire III forums which are powered by Community Server. The real reason we do it is for the free games :P

Also, I have a few positions open in the Dallas area, I am looking for an account manager for CodeSmith Tools as well as a Partner Channel Manager for the Community Server sales team. 

Game On!

One of the great things about Telligent is that we work hard, but we also play hard. At any given time you will either see a heated game of ping pong, scooter races, WoW card games, (I call it adult pokemon others call it geek poker) numerous circular objects making there way towards someone’s head, nerf guns of various shapes and sizes or the all out competition of direct gaming, I am talking head to head, no holds barred Xbox 360 and PC gaming at it’s best. The game of choice for us Xbox guys is NHL 2K7, why? it is fast paced, takes about 15 mins for a game, and you can absolutely school your buddy when they go for the big hit. Scott D, you know who I am talking about :). At any given point in time you can catch me and Rob Howard taking on Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham in what seems to be a never ending series of games. There have been swings from one side to the other, but I do think that Rob and I hold the all time series lead in this one :). We will have to find out who has the hot hand tomorrow.

Outside of the office there are about 20 or so Telligenti, yes that is what we call ourselves, who are Xbox 360 gamers. We like to co-op or just try to see who can build up the most achievement points between us, FWIW, I am leading the way with 9000+ points. 

We also have what is affectionately known as frag night the first Tuesday of every month, it is our time to order pizza, and get our gaming on. We do need to look into getting an air hockey table or one of the old school hockey games with the guys that spin around. That would be a great addition!