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

GDC 2008 – Expo Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!!!

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.

 

 

10,000 points and the NFL draft

It took 7 months but I finally broke through the 10,000 point barrier (Xbox 360 achievement points). Let the celebration begin, okay on to 20,000! In another update to the never ending hockey series, Rob and I once again dropped 2 to the Scott Dockendorf and Kevin Cunningham combo (yesterday). Back to the drawing board.

I am really looking forward to the NFL draft tomorrow! For those of you that don’t know I am a big OU Sooner fan. I can’t wait to see where Adrian Peterson ends up, I just hope that the Bills don’t trade up (Eric Smith’s team). As that would mean I would have to root for Eric’s team and that just can’t happen.

Also, Telligent will play a part in the NFL draft tomorrow. When EA announces the cover athlete to Madden08, the blog portion of the Madden08 site will be powered by Community Server via an iframe!!! Great stuff!!!

 

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! 

Why The Black Fin

Hello and Welcome to the Black Fin Blog. I am Tom Edwards, VP, Sales & Marketing at Telligent Systems. The purpose of this blog is to provide additional insight into Telligent and Community Server as well as provide my perspective on sales & marketing. So why the Black Fin? It is a newly acquired nickname given to me by one my co-workers. He thought it would be funny to name my hair, so it stuck. Yes I choose to go with a more aerodynamic approach, but hey it can cut through water like nothing else. Anyway, I will try to keep it light and interesting moving forward.

I am an avid gamer (Xbox 360 is my platform of choice) gamertag – TheBlackFin. Look me up on either the http://www.360voice.com/ or anytime you are on Xbox live. I am always up to co-op on the latest game.

Take care,

Tom