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Prince of Persia is very, very pretty…

In fact, it may be the prettiest game I have ever played. This game is flat-out gorgeous. It’s lived up to every inch, every single centimeter of promise that was on display in the first screenshots that appeared on the internet.

This is so far beyond cel shading I don’t think the term can even apply. Sure, there are outlines on characters and objects in the world but there are incredibly detailed textures on everything. This game is a moving illustration. It’s a watercolor come to life. And these pretty words aren’t hyperbole, I mean it all quite literally.

The environments are not only intricately detailed, they are vast. I’m talking Shadow of the Colossus vast. Huge vistas, grand tracts of land to explore and views that are just incredible. The amount of effort that went into the visual design for this game is just extraordinary. The people who made this game have a deep love for art and it shows in everything they have done.

And it doesn’t just look great in still shots… the animation is spectacular. Everything moves smoothly. Every slight movement of the Prince and of Elika is done so well that even the most ridiculous acrobatics (running across a ceiling from pillar to ring to pillar) look almost possible. When you master the timing for a given platform sequence, what plays out looks like a stupendously choreographed display of acrobatics from a martial arts film.

Oh, and the game itself?

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Uncharted 2: droolpassoutseizurejoygasm

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is one of my very favorite games so far this generation. It wasn’t a huge hit but it has sold over 2 million copies at this point and a sequel from Naughty Dog has always been something of a foregone conclusion… but that doesn’t mean I can’t go nuts when it’s confirmed with a teaser trailer.

Click ze picture for the HD video at GameTrailers:

Not a whole lot is known at this time, though the title will get a 10-page unwrapping in the next issue of Game Informer, which should show up within a week or so. Drake will be chasing down the legacy of Marco Polo this time around.

The addition of stealth elements may trigger alarm bells for some but I trust this team to do it right. I think the ability to creep around could really serve to break up the action as the original title had a few too many sequences where you faced wave after wave of enemies after clearing out an area.

While it’s only had a passing mention so far, the huge new feature that jumps out at me is that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves will have some sort of free climbing mechanic, a la Assassin’s Creed. This, combined with the stealth elements (will they be stealth sequences or will stealth just be a tool that you have at your disposal?) really open up what’s possible in this game. I’m looking forward to seeing the new level design philosophy they’ll have to pull off to make this work, though Naughty Dog certainly accomplished much the same with the Jak and Daxter franchise when they moved from a linear first title to an almost open-world sequel.

There is, of course, no release date yet, though I think it’s safe to assume that Uncharted 2 will show up mid fall 2009 to take full advantage of the holiday rush.

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Going dark for a bit

Need to make some changes to my, ahem, service provider, and by service I mean fucking pain in the ass provider…

so if you come here in the next little while and see nothing/error 404 – pardon my dust, I’ll be back soon.

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Our Big Trip To A Furniture Store Rented Out By Sony

(This is a writeup of my impressions of the fall Sony event; for a more complete look at everything, make sure you click over to the BBPS to get Jim’s take as well.)

Thanks to Jim’s meticulously groomed connections, he was able to score me a press pass to this event yesterday in Toronto. Which was indeed in a furniture store. Why? I have no idea. It served as a decent enough venue – you wouldn’t guess that this joint was originally full of patio sets. Sony had converted the space into a sort of Preview Xanadu: a half-dozen couches with big screens, probably two dozen standing kiosk-style setups, an open bar, ludicrous amounts of finger food, and PlayStation hardware all over the place. For a dork like me, this was a version of the sweet hereafter, missing only a bevy of hot chicks offering to hand-feed me olives while I played.

Here’s what I sampled: Dead Space, Resistance 2, Killzone 2, Fallout 3, Mirror’s Edge, and Prince of Persia. Impressions after the jump.

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New BitCast(s)!

I’m slacking in my notifications duties. A new BBPS BitCast went up yesterday, #56. We talk about the truck-sized holes in our collective game experiences, meander off into MMO territory too many times, and cap it off with the new Game Over Rant – because you know, we felt that we don’t complain quite enough, and that more bitching is entirely called for and justified.

Also, in case you are interested in even more podcast mayhem, before #56 we recorded a special “Jeopardy” edition, and Jim came up with some great questions. I won’t tell you who won, but I will say that since recording this episode, I have rectified my utter lack of knowledge about Gunpei Yokoi. (i.e. I now realize that he was a man, and not a shmup.)

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I regret nothing at 1000 KPH

Some of you might be wondering, why the hell hasn’t Nerf posted lately?

And if you really know me, then you already know the answer.

I tend to prefer the Piranha. Even though she is a fickle bitch and hard to control, she goes like hell. Also, I’ve been using the motion controls since game 1 and I haven’t looked back; it’s not for everybody, but it’s definitely for me.

Also - new bitcast being recorded tonight, so look for that soonish.

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Wipeout HD impressions

Initial impressions, as expected, can be described thusly:

The hype is true, the screens weren’t lies. It is a stupidly, almost disgustingly well-presented game. I now See The Light on this 1080p/60FPS mantra. I don’t think it’s necessary for every game (or even close) but for racing games like this… it just presents a level of perceptual solidity that is unmatched. I find myself having difficulty conjuring meaningfully demonstrative words to convey the cortex-fluffing hyperprettiness of this title, and I keep coughing up mutant non-words mashed together in German fashion: fuckawesom, or holyshitacular.

It’s definitely a close hybrid of Pulse and Pure. I’d say they took most of Pulse’s tracks (with attendant grid system), and Pure’s physics and handling. A nice combo, as you would really drag on the wall if you tapped it in Pulse, not so much in HD. The weirdo side-shift move from Pulse is in there as well, which I still view distrustfully, and keep my distance from. Yes, the in-race GUI is a bit out of sync aesthetically with the rest of the presentation, although it does a functional enough job and doesn’t distract unnecessarily. Having said that I will definitely be trying out the other UI schemas once I unlock them. I always thought of XL’s as the best.

Online play is also freakishly smooth, and what a truly sublime experience it is to play Wipeout on a home console again, with live opponents. And voice. And rankings. The PSP games – they are awesome, but the shortcomings there are entirely to do with the fact that this is a high-intensity game on a handheld. It’s practically impossible to maintain any semblance of control on even a moderately rocking train in Wipeout Pure/Pulse. So while I hail their efforts in this area… the home console and big screen are where Wipeout really belongs.

I’ve been playing exclusively with motion controls. My first impression of the sixaxis tilt sensor, my very first thought, was “that’s for Wipeout”. And it is. Acclimatizing feels weird as you have to find a natural decision point in a turn where you stop moving your arms and squeeze the airbrakes. I recommend a lot of tweaking with the sensitivity setting. Also, I found it easy to forget that I was not just steering but pitching with the controller as well. I think it does that auto-leveling thing that GTA4 did (i.e. it looks at what profile you are holding the controller in at game start and uses that as “zero”). I don’t see myself going back to the sticks.

What else. Chenghou Project still kicks my ass in unnatural ways.

Oh – I did find a couple of pretty major bugs, although luckily not showstoppers, and fixable. First bug was a bit of weird off-screen text that seemed to say PRESS SELECT; this would bring up what looks an awful lot like a debug menu that I ought not be able to bring up, with some XML garbage in it. Selecting any of the fields caused a hard freeze. Others had reported outright random freezing on matches, menu screens, etc, although none of that happened to me. The issue seems to be closely linked to having 50 or more friends on your Friends List in the XMB. If you have less friends than that, the Select button thing doesn’t happen, and no freezes. So I assume they’ll patch that shit, but it’s kind of surprising that such a prominent bug was there at all, considering all the extra time they took.

(Also check your MP3s if you are using custom soundtracks, some malformed songs can really play hell with a game.)

And to this end I must make a confession. When I read about the 50-friend thing online, I went and looked and I had something like 67 people in my list. And I thought, well I don’t really want to delete a bunch of people for the sake of Wipeout’s online stability, do I? So I switched to a different user account and tried out a single online match to see what I might be missing.

And then I logged straight back into my original account with scythe in hand. I felt bad, not Old Yeller bad, for purging pseudonicknames of people I’ve barely acquaintanced myself with, but still, sort of bad. However, let’s be honest: this is Wipeout. Online. There was never really a choice here. These anonymous people’s friend linkages died for a good cause. If I bumped you… I’m sorry. Kinda.

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Neutering the Xbox 360

Microsoft’s Xbox underlings have been scurrying around the internet lately, drumming up support for the forthcoming Dashboard overhaul and the new low price point for the Arcade unit. It’s all a part of their huge fall push. They’ve also now launched a massive ad campaign; MS is going to spend more money over the next few months promoting the 360 than they did at launch.

I cannot help but see all this as an attempt to re-brand the 360 and… how can I put this delicately? Remove it’s balls with a pair of pliers. Render them as like unto angelic eunuchs with moonbeams and ponytails.

MS is doing this because they feel that they have come close to saturating their base with the “hardcore” players that have traditionally been the biggest 360 proponents, and that the best way to compete with both Sony and Nintendo is to move the 360 downstream to the “casuals”.

Ergo, we have the New Xbox Experience – NXE. Yeah, they call it that. (Please note that this term is vile; if you have been using it in any non-ironic way lately, I would suggest that you need to have your Corporate Cynicism Module re-aligned.)

When the Wii was launched, a lot of the existing hardcore audience decried this new casual-friendly direction for vidogames as they thought the rabid success of it would somehow hurt development of the sort of games they liked. Which I thought was sort of absurd, at the time. I don’t talk much about the Wii on this blog because it’s simply not for me: I’m one of those goons who likes Gears of War. I like my complicated, multi-goal, skill-based, high-budget games. But I never really begrudged the Wii’s existence. To me, it is akin to when Disney cracked open the home video market. There are gobs of cash to be made, and it was an area (casual, broadly-targeted videogames) that was underserved. These people, if they played games at all originally, were probably doing it for free on Pogo or Kongregate.

This is also why I never delve too deeply into the question of NPD sales and the like. It’s fine for academic discussion, but that is business dorkery. I’m much more interested in game dorkery. So when someone reminds me of the way the Wii is selling, I say great, but I’m utterly unphased by it. To use the Disney analogy again: it’s like someone telling me that Pooh is huge. Pooh is huge. Do you have any idea how much money Disney makes on Winnie the Pooh? No. I suppose it’s lots. So?

Well, don’t you think you should buy some Pooh for your DVD collection? Don’t you think Pooh is winning?

Um, no.

Which brings us back around to the Great Rebranding.

This is the kind of thing that your 360 is going to be showing you in the near future (although not so near as some of us thought, it looks like a November launch now). This is the face of the new Xbox 360. A shiny, plastic, superdeformed smirking RARE-ified face. It’s about as saccharine as you can get.

The problem I have with this implementation is that it applies a very specific aesthetic to what should technically be a much more nebulous, non-specific framework. What I mean by that is, no matter what you do with your all-singing, all-dancing 360 machine, you are going to start with shiny and cute. Even if you try to add some testosterone to the new look, it still seems totally disjointed:

This is a goofy, plastic, McDonalds’-toy frame on an interactive painting of limitless possibilities.

It really does seem like Microsoft took a look at the avatars that Nintendo has already launched, and Sony is working on, and made an unholy blend of the two. (If you don’t believe me: here is a Mii, and here is a Home avatar, for reference.) These things are exactly the sort of watered-down design that a focus group tends to shit out.

They will greet you when you turn on the machine. They will become the faces of all your XBL friends. And then you will go and play a game that looks like this. Do you see a disconnect here? It’s too specific. You gotta walk through the Happy Meal entrance to get to all the rides in the park, including Dismemberment Jam 4 and Zombie Marathon. That just doesn’t seem right. And even if you do opt for using your “old” gamerpic, I think you’ll be fenced in on all sides by these casting rejects from Vesperia, no matter where you go in the new “experience”.*

Even the Wii didn’t fall into this trap; The Cute is certainly there to be had in the interface if you dig for it, but a stark white grid that you are presented with when you power the machine on is fairly neutral.

MS wants those casual players to find this charming, but they might be forgetting (or forgetting to care) about the players that put them where they are in the first place.

Also, this new ad campaign. I don’t know who is doing their marketing these days but this one is not far from the infamous Seinfeld “WTF?” ads:

Live Your Moment

A nice bit of motion-tracking, for sure. But the imagery is a little bit… terrifying. You know, people with prominent bits missing from parts of their skull? That tends to set one’s teeth on edge. Spielberg used this effect to disturbing success in A.I. I don’t think the casual audience is going to be so enamoured with this idea. They like the charming Japanese guys who show up in the smartcar. Frankly this is much more of a Sony ad, which tend to have the same theme: “We’re fucking freaky, man. Really freaky, I’m talking David Lynch freaky. For realz. PlayStation 3.”

So in the end I just wonder what it’s going to do to the 360 player base; if it’ll end up bifurcating the audience. It’s practically a different console depending on whether or not you have the harddrive attachment; maybe that’s the idea. Casuals play Arcade units and download Hexic; hardcore players pay out the nose for Elites and Live and continue as they were. If things shake out that way then the fears of the hardcore will have turned out to be right, because I’m pretty damn sure that the original 360 fans could not give a flying fuck about being In The Movies, or multiplayer party trivia, or bobblehead avatars, and yet that is where most of Microsoft’s efforts are going these days (even as they close or “release” more internal studios every month). And in the meantime, we’re all stuck with the minifig invasion. And I do make a distinction between the Japanese implementations and Microsoft’s, as well: both Mii’s and Home are totally optional, existing within separate applications. The 360 avatars are front-and-centre, replacing the old gamercard construct, from everything I’ve seen so far.

The casual frames are fine on their own – I guess – but they should not foist them on their player base. Especially when that base has been pretty happy thus far keeping company with robots, monsters and the undead. The occasional Pinata notwithstanding.

* This isn’t even touching on the problems I have with the actual menu system, which looks like a bastardized Media Centre spinoff. Suffice it to say, I don’t like that you can’t see anything to the left of your focused “panel”, and the growing/shrinking main menu items are distracting and purposeless. That’s a whole other rant.

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Landed

I’m all set up in my new digs now so pseudo-regular posting shall resume shortly. That image above is my new Blade Runner view from my balcony. (The pan stitching made the buildings look totally wonkified. I like it.)

I just put up a post over at the BBPS about the new Life with PlayStation (née [email protected]) app.

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Wipeout HD desktops / XMB backgrounds

I found this utterly gorgeous image over at ThreeSpeech, which I assume was of the “program guide” from the Wipeout event in San Francisco, available at huge resolution. Sadly, the proprietors of that blog felt the need to stamp their big stupid watermark right smack in the middle of the thing, so I consequently felt the need to remove it. (Hooray for the clone stamp.) (Update: ThreeSpeech has reposted the image without the watermark. I guess they saw me bitching in the comments section. Nice of them to do that. Unsullied image available here.) I also re-tooled the imagery a bit to fit today’s modern widescreen desktops, as the aspect ratio was all wrong in the original. I did all this just to fulfil my own slavering Wipeout fanboyism but I though some of you fine folks might enjoy it as well.

Note that these are big suckers, as I have saved them at maximum quality.

Wipeout HD Nerfgun desktop remix (1920×1200, 880k)

Wipeout HD Nerfgun desktop remix (1680×1050, 698k)

Also, as per Deviation’s request, I made some quick + dirty PS3 XMB backgrounds @ 1080p rez.

Wipeout HD XMB - Auricom version (1080p, 930k)

Wipeout HD XMB - Piranha version (1080p, 452k)

We also know now that the price for WHD will be a ridiculously cheap £11.99 – which I imagine will translate into roughly $25 in the US and Canada. I was expecting higher.

And now I must say farewell for a short time, as I need to put my computer into a box and move 400km away to Toronto. See you next week.

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