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E3 2011: Day 2 Impressions

As soon as I awoke this Wednesday to an uncharacteristically cloudy LA day, I had but one priority: to get my hands on the still very oddly named Wii U, as well as the portable powerhouse that is the Playstation Vita. So that’s exactly what I did once the show floor opened to a now very purposeful, hot and busy press.

Read the full article I wrote for Zath.co.uk

June 9th, 2011
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A Prospective Glance At Portal 2

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Portal. Portal. Portal. It’s been three excruciatingly long years since Aperture Science put us through our paces for the sake of science, but in true Valve signature style, the sequel has been snatched from our anxious grasp thanks to a delay pushing any test chamber frolics we have in store forward into 2011. But like a cute yet marvelously ingenious, game-award-touting puppy we can’t stay mad at them, but we can frivolously speculate! Now that Gabe Newell has somewhat nervously announced that Portal 2 is headed to the PS3, there’s no excuse for missing this assuredly brilliant title and with the entire Orange Box package available for £20 on Steam, you should tuck your tail between your legs and be thoroughly ashamed of yourself if you haven’t played the critically acclaimed original!

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So what do we know about Portal 2 so far? Well we know for sure that our main characters, Chell and the irreverent GLaDoS will make a triumphant return. It’s supposed to be set hundreds of years after the original, when a detached and now independent personality core called Wheatley re-awakens Chell from stasis in the hope she will help him out of the now overgrown and neglected enrichment center. Chell must travel through the facility into different sections under control of various personality cores, as GLaDoS begins to rebuild the center and further test her counterpart. So Valve has advanced the narrative considerably, while maintaining the dynamic between the main characters that made it so successful in the first place.

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True to their subject matter, Valve began the Portal 2 campaign with nuggets of esoteric messages embedded in updates to the original game and more recently, have released full gameplay demonstrations, detailing a number of new features, but Eric Johnsons’ description of the approach to the sequel leads to me to believe we haven’t heard the half of it. Johnson was adamant that Portal 2 would once again set out to achieve what he understood to be the original’s greatest strength: surprise. And hell, Portal was a surprise, for everyone, Valve bundled it with the Orange Box as a safety net, and no one saw the ending coming or expected the unique interplay between GLaDoS and the player. Needless to say, the creators want this sequel to have the same impact, perhaps an even greater one, now that they’ve got the capacity of a full retail title to play with.

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What can we conjecture in terms of the story? Because aside from a brief introduction, it’s understandably been kept under-wraps, as we were whisked away to see gameplay features. One may theorize the latter sections of the game will introduce the player to the outside world or at least more of the research center that’s off limits to test subjects. One of the almost eerie, aspects of the original was the complete lack of any other human presence, something we’re not used to in first person shooters. This device may be turned on its head, to toy with us. Will we find other test subjects or someone searching the ruins of the Aperture Science? Who ruddy knows? Anyone invested in the Half-Life saga will be intrigued to see if there are any links with episode two or three, pertaining to the Borealis. We could see both franchises interlace more tightly providing deeper back stories for each other if not advancing the main narrative threads.

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We also know next to nothing about our protagonist, Chell, leaving yet another wide gap in Portal’s lore to be explored. GLaDoS tells us “You are not a good person. You know that, right? Good people don’t end up here.” in the original as justification for a fiery death, as opposed to a gleeful celebration, so it’s plausible that we might see Chell discover more about her background, perhaps hack into the Enrichment Center’s records. Now that Valve have a full game length to flesh out, we’re likely to see a lot more depth in the narrative to pace the gameplay, as the flinging of yourself through numerous portals will need to be appropriately broken up. Portal 2’s story could stray in so many directions that speculating is enjoyable but ultimately futile. However, with such an expanse of lore to fill out, from origins to context within the Half-Life universe, you can bet that it will be unpredictable in its culmination and progression.

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And cake? Nope. Nine. Nil. Erik Wolpaw, co-writer on Portal 2 told Gama we will not see the return of the notorious meme concerning the veracity of the promise of a certain sponge-formed dessert. “If you thought you were sick of the memes, I was sick of it way ahead of you.” The man has a point, it’s old and every kid and his mum are rolling off cake jokes nowadays; and no doubt Wolpaw and his team will once again bring their outstandingly quirky writing to the table, and continue to pull out pearls of hilarity in keeping with the idiosyncratic humour they’ve carved out for themselves.

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Now that we’ve established what we don’t know about the main narrative, there’s plenty of gameplay we know equally little about. But thanks to the E3 videos, we’ve got a pretty clear idea the direction Portal 2’s headed: more of the same little test chambers with added layers of complexity to keep things fresh, all which utilize the portal gun in some fashion. The Thermal Discouragement Beam will require the manipulation of a hazardous light beam to solve conundrums as well as act as a makeshift weapon and the aptly named Aerial Faith Plates help to negate any dissatisfactory inertia along with repulsion gel and propulsion gel, which can be thrown through portals as large globules, to help you jump farther and move faster, respectively.

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These are just a few awesome additions and the videos (below) show the full array of comically labeled testing pieces, all of which show a marked effort from Valve to capitalize on the fantastic physics of the Source engine within the Portal series. It’s also going to be really interesting seeing Chell interact with the decaying Enrichment Center, no doubt meaning certain test chambers won’t be as simple or safe (as safe as machine-gun-laiden robots can be) as originally intended, and will require some lateral thinking. I only feel sorry for those who have to playtest the full-length game, as it seems Valve employ a rigorous testing method, akin to Aperture Science’s, ensuring the answers to puzzles are neither overt nor too baffling.

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But it isn’t all just about refining and expanding on the established Enrichment Center escapades; Portal 2 has a completely new supplementary experience to debut, something that was widely requested by the community and that’s Co-op. Thinking with portals is purportedly going to a lot tougher with a companion, as you’d imagine. The characters designed for co-op are a modified sentry bot and personality core, complete with portal gun-yielding appendages. The reason behind this casting is apparently that having considered that this would be the first time you could see the horrific deaths of companions upon failure, by crushing or some equally gruesome end, the team figured they’d spare test subjects such sights in favour of the more comic demises of loveable robots. It’s unconfirmed how these two chaps will fit into the story but I’d be very surprised if they didn’t pop up in the singleplayer at some point, if only as a brief cameo. The potential for co-op is even more incomprehendable and put together with the cavalcade of new features and you’ve got a sure winner.

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Thankfully, we are safe in the knowledge that Portal 2 is in the steady and talented hands of Eric Johnson. And although Valve have a tentative relationship with release dates, they have never squandered a good IP. Aperture Science’ test chambers will open once again sometime in early 2011 filled with brand new chances to hurl yourself off of ledges, but until then I’ll keep you up to date on any related news and you’ve always got the sweet but short original. The Enrichment Center reminds you that your copy of Portal will never threaten to stab you and, in fact, cannot speak.

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Portal 2 Indepth

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Propulsion Gel

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Repulsion Gel

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Meet Wheatley!

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Excursion Funnel

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Aerial Faith Platform

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Thermal Discouragement Beams

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Pneumatic Diversity Vent

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E3 Gameplay Trailer

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July 14th, 2010
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E3 2010: Day 1 Games News & Press Events Review

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So here it is, the gaming judgement day of the year, E3, where every company, big or small, casual or hardcore struts their stuff for buyers, and primarily, the insatiably hungry media. I arrived in LA on Monday and thanks to an uncharacteristically cool summer day, I’ve managed to squeeze in plenty of previews, for which I will share my impressions with you now. I shall be writing each day up in the evening, and then putting together a reflective summary afterwards, along with a few interviews with developers. So here goes…

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Microsoft

After an elaborate, and ultimately insane fanfare for Kinect (the artist formerly known as Project Natal) which utilised the unwitting media, clothing them in white and blue ponchos and shoulder pads, Microsoft showed their hand on Monday morning, and as expected Kinect featured very heavily. However, they were also eager to parade some of their high-profile games and deals such as the first dibs on Call of Duty: Black Ops DLC, Metal Gear: Rising (multiplatform), the very pinnacle of incisional euphoria, allowing you slice and dice enemies at will and the star-studded Fable 3, boasting performances for Sir Ben Kingsley, John Cleese, Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry, penned for an October 26th release.

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Also very much noteworthy for many Halo fans was the reveal, via a new trailer, that Reach will have space combat and firefight mode. So after some more trivial Xbox Live announcements, Microsoft pulled out the big guns announcing the Kinect motion controller to release November 4th in America, along with 15 launch titles, and the new slim-line Xbox 360 console model, complete with built-in Wifi, 250gb HDD headed for Europe July 16th. Microsoft’s press conference was solid, with the new slim Xbox 360 console stealing the show.

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Nintendo

High expectations were circling Nintendo’s presser, what with a new Zelda rumoured and the Nintendo 3DS handheld, and boy did they deliver in their signature style. Miyamoto demonstrated The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword live on stage, which employs the Wii controller and nunchuk to act as sword and shield, along with a number of new gadgets and in one word it looked superb. In terms of Wii titles, they also had a wealth of classic franchises to grace your consoles including Epic Mickey, where you literally paint town red, and every other colour forming the world around you, in classic Disney locations. Bursting out from rumour to reality, Nintendo revealed a GoldenEye remake, surely irresistible to any gamer with memories of the definitive original.

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And as if these weren’t they went ahead and announced the continuation of two classic Nintendo series with Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. By this time heads were already spinning, but Miyamoto and his chums couldn’t stop themselves there and thus debuted the Nintendo 3DS along with a slew of high profile games in development for it. Among this fountain of fantasies were a 3DS remake of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Kid Icarus, Resident Evil, Kingdom Hearts and Golden Sun. Mind blown yet? It will also play full Hollywood movies and can take 3D photographs. Enough said; here’s the full thing.

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Sony

Finally Sony did their thing, and much like Microsoft, their motion control took centre stage. But regarding the actual titles, Sony were all about their exclusives, citing exclusive content for Mafia II, Medal of Honor and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood multiplayer. And indeed they were also able to announce some strong titles such as a brand new Twisted Metal, Gran Turismo 5 and Killzone 3. Nevertheless, very few expected their biggest gift to Playstation hardcore gamers: Portal 2 on PS3 and Steamworks in 2011, though Valve aren’t top performers on keeping to schedule.

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Splitting the 50 million strong userbase, PSN Plus was announced by Jack Tretton costing €14.99 per 3 months, granting access to PS3 and PSN downloadable games, early access to betas etc, DLC avatars and other frills. However, Kevin Butler, who was incidentally hilarious, and the rest were eager to give Playstation Move a look in. Sony’s answer to motion control, which I would be forgiven for saying has certain air of familiarity (Wii Motion Plus?), will be hitting Europe September 15th, at $100 (around £70) for the big bundle of the Move controller, the extra navigation controller and Playstation Eye. Expect a number of launch titles along with support for 20 existing ones counting Heavy Rain and Resident Evil 5. Get the whole shebang here.

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Publisher Conferences

Among other things, at it’s presser, Electronic Arts broke out its Crysis 2, looking thoroughly heart-racing, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, EA Sports MMA, Bulletstorm for February 2011 and the obligatory motion control game EA Sports Active 2. You can watched the whole Electronic Arts press conference at G4.

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Ubisoft presented an equally varied list of upcomings, the most significant being a pretty looking 2D Rayman, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood for a US release of November 16th and profit reports demanding Just Dance 2. Add to this a brand new Ghost Recon subtitled Future Soldier that allows you to sneak up on foes under a stealth cloak and blow his head off point blank, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, a seemingly much slicker answer to video game fitness, exclusive to Xbox 360 (for Kinect) and we’ve got a fairly decent collection of titles, even if it is sprinkled with the trappings of an industry desperate to cater to the casual demographic. Again you can watch Ubisoft’s press conference in full over at G4.

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Without a doubt Nintendo take top podium, offering a brilliant and comprehensive line-up filled with classic franchises and a reportedly spectacular new platform (impressions of the Nintendo 3DS to come in the next couple of days) with yet more mind-imploding titles to back it up. Most would agree that the philosophy behind Nintendo’s conference was admirable: Great gameplay experiences to utilise the technology and not just cold hardware. In comparison titles like Microsoft’s Kinect Sports looked horribly counterfeit in comparison. Unfortunately, even though some exciting titles were announced along with a brand new console version, in my opinion, Microsoft takes last place. The Kinect is an impressive technology, it goes without saying, but they just didn’t deliver anything remarkable enough to capitalize on it.

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Vanquish

Sega’s new 3rd person shooter follows the exploits of Sam Gideon, one part of an elite military unit, tasked with recapturing an energy harnessing space station. If were to just list of some it’s most basic features: high tech spacey type suit, gears of war cover system, big guns and an AI controlled squad, you’d be staving off your yawns pretty quickly, but Shinji Mikami’s take on the western shooter is much more; a lot more.

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Gears of War-esque does a good job at describing this maelstrom of bullets explosions and robots if you add the description on steroids and a whole lot of Ritalin. Motion blur check, Slow motion check. Picture yourself sliding on your knees spraying bullets everywhere only to flip over a giant robot and dodge its rockets in mid air and you’ve got a pretty good picture of Vanquish. Some fairly standard controls and a smooth, bright graphical style and we’ve got the makings of one hectic, but stonking new shooter.

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Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

Surprisingly, Assassin’s Creed’s multiplayer elements have been a work in progress ever since the release of the original, and it looks as though it may be worth the wait. I was shown the ropes in Assassination mode where you are given another player target to assassinate, having chosen my character abilities including disguise, speed boost and smoke bombs, I headed into the match, where my onscreen radar prompts me off the general direction my mark is in.

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But here’s the awesome bit: you yourself are being hunted by another player too, meaning you must blend in to the crowd much like your target is attempting. This dynamic creates a really tense experience, where watching both your movements and the subtleties of the crowds is paramount. The only slightly disappointing aspect was an over-abundance of HUD somewhat breaking immersion, but this is a work in progress, so we may see some improvements upon final release. So coupled with a visually stunning trailer and a great gameplay demo in Ubisoft’s presser and I’m thoroughly psyched for this one.

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The Shoot for Playstation Move

Wondering around the Sony booth I thought I’d take a shot at Sony’s Move with The Shoot, a basic rail shooter and one of the launch titles. The Shoot is essentially Time Crisis in the wild west, if it were a shooting range with fake wooden cowboys. Doesn’t sound great? It isn’t really; it’s fine for ten minutes or so and probably targeted at younger demographic, but the basics work well at least, swiping to dodge incoming knives and axes.

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Given a reasonable price, way down from typical PS3 titles and it may be worth the purchase if the Move happens to be your cup of tea. That just leaves the Move itself. Put simply it works as you’d expect, accurate enough to hit your targets, but still feels a little fidgety, and not something I’d be inclined to sit down with for any prolonged period of time. But then again, it wasn’t designed to be used for long gaming nights. So as you may have realised, this peripheral is on my periphery, but I will persevere tomorrow with some more complex titles.

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Little Big Planet 2

Having navigated E3’s corridors, tightly packed with, admittedly awesome, but manly shooters and high octane adventure games, I couldn’t help but whisk myself off to the nearest LBP2 exhibit in the afternoon to checkout the sequel to one of Sony’s most loveable gems. You’ll read it everywhere but the comparison of the original to Little Big Planet 2 boils down to this: In LBP 1 you created levels, unique, crazy and adorable levels, but in LBP 2 you’re creating games. The limit really is your imagination (providing you can make it work in 2D or 3-plane 3D).

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Media Molecule can be forgiven for saying there will be no need for a sequel because the few, seemingly insignificant new features open a veritable world of possibilities. The driver’s seat object allows you to take control of absolutely anything you choose making it possible to create an almost such as a RTS emulator or a racing game. I want this now; you don’t even need to mention the improved graphics, generally smoother gameplay, dramatically increased customisation and a whole host of new creation tools. I don’t even need to qualify my excitement with given expectations – this title needs no caveats from me.

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Summary

It’s been a good, if not hectic day, and it’s great to get it all underway. The sights and sounds of E3 are quite unlike anything else I’ve experienced: the 100 strong fake Korean army marching the hallways, the life-sized and living space marine and the untutored yet brilliantly easy-on-the-eye booth girls attest to that. Expect some interviews, daily write-ups and more updates via Zath’s Twitter feed and on Zath.co.uk over the next couple days. See you tomorrow!

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June 16th, 2010
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E3 2010 Day -1: Highlights

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I’ll be doing full day summaries once the event commences tomorrow both here and on Zath.co.uk, but until then, here are some of the most exciting things from today’s keynotes. As we feared, Microsoft, Ubisoft and EA were all too excited to instruct us how to stand up in our living rooms and look like prats, with the horde of new games built for the newly named Kinect, but there was thankfully, some proper E3 goodness. So take heart in these highlights:

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  • First and foremost was a first look at the insanely cool Metal Gear: Rising. Remember how badass Raiden’s entry scene was in MGS4? Imagine yourself doing it for real, slicing limb from limb in cyborg madness. Slicey!

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  • Microsoft’s answer to the PS3 slim: Sleek new design, built in Wifi, 250gb hard drive and quieter running noise, because of course, silence is golden or shiny back. Whatever.
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier complete with large explosions and stealth camouflage in order that you might experience the joy of shooting unwitting terrorists point blank in the back of the head.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops still looking awesome.
  • Medal of Honor passing off as Battlefield: Bad Company 2 crossed with the best parts of Modern Warfare 2, with a BETA on the way

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Other noteworthy stuff:

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Catch you tomorrow when the fun begins.

June 14th, 2010
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