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

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

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”…. ;)

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

 

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 – 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