Friday, December 31, 2010

New Domain

I figured I might as well be semi-professional and grab my own domain name for this blog.

You can now update your bookmarks and point them to http://www.gaffonline.com to get here.  It's a little more snappy than the Blogspot subdomain, although that will continue to work.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More Big Ones

Dragon Age 2

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 8th March 2011 (NA), 11th March 2011 (EU)

The sequel to 2009's Dragon Age: Origins which I have to admit to still not finishing yet (soon!).

The first was well-received in that it was your typical fantasy affair coupled with BioWare's always-strong storytelling and after a straight-up expansion - Awakening - was released in March 2010, a true sequel was nigh-inevitable.

While the first game allowed you to customise your race and class (hence the Origins) the sequel allows only one playable character, known as Hawke.  You can still change the sex (I assume "as much as possible" will be a choice, if it's anything like the first game) and the class, but your humanity is compulsory.


As with the Mass Effect series you will be able to import your world from DA:O into DA2.  Obviously your character cannot carry over, but the state of the game world can, including "dozens" of decisions you made in the original game, according to BioWare.

BioWare look to be trying to deliver a bit more of a focused gaming experience with the sequel, at the cost of losing some of the open-world allure from the first game.  The second seems like it will be a much more narrative-driven game than the first.  Whether this is exactly what people want I'm not sure, as one of the hallmarks of a BioWare game is usually a vast open world / universe that you can explore as much or as little as you want.

Either way, there isn't a very long wait to find out whether or not this was a good design choice.  Usually everything BioWare touches turns to gold but for some reason I'm on the fence with regards to DA2.  Maybe it's just sequelitus setting in as I see all of these 2s and 3s floating around at the end of game titles.

Dead Space 2

Developer: Visceral Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 25h January 2011

A straight sequel to 2008's survival-horror-sci-fi third-person shooter Dead Space, Isaac Clarke is back to beat the shit out of more Necromorphs.

The first game received solid reviews, perhaps partially because at this point zombies had been done to death in games too numerous to count and this seemed to be a fresh take on the survival-horror genre, as well as a change of scenery to move it into outer space from plain old Earth.


One of the most-voiced criticisms of the first game was that some of the gameplay and the monsters got somewhat repetitive and so hopefully these issues will be addressed in the sequel.  This did not detract from the atmosphere, pace and quality of the first game.  With luck, Dead Space 2 will be one of those types of sequels that improves upon the original game whilst maintaining what made the original game fun in the first place.

Brink

Developer: Splash Damage
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Expected: Spring 2011

Yes, you knew it was coming.  Originally in part 2 of last year's list but pushed back by Splash Damage shortly before the proposed release date of the arse-end of last year, Brink should now be appearing around the Spring of 2011.

Essentially everything I said about the game last year is still true now.  Brink is trying to combine online and offline play is a way that has not been done before, or at least not with any great success.  You have Security on one side and the Resistance on the other, and while parts of the story are revealed playing one side, you will need to play both in order to get the most out of both the game and the story.


Unfortunately it is looking right now that 8v8 is going to be the largest denomination of gameplay available.  I would prefer to see it higher (16v16 in TF2 Dustbowl is where it's at) but it's possible that the game would not scale well higher than 8v8, or that 8v8 might be player-moddable once the game is actually released.

Brink remains one of those truly innovative games that are trying to not only appeal to traditional shooter fans (and let's face it, there are a lot of them) but is really trying to push the genre as a whole forward with some very different ideas.  How many times have we seen a game be a critical success but a commercial flop?  Too many to count.  I really hope Brink is not one of those games.

Rage

Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Expected: 13th September 2011 (NA), 15th September 2011 (EU), 16th September 2011 (AUS)

The other game from last year's list that received a subsequent delay, Rage is now on-track for an Autumn release.

id and Bethesda are still keeping much of the details regarding Rage firmly locked down, and there isn't a whole heck of a lot that we know now that we didn't know when I was writing the last Rage post a year ago.


One new thing known is that the multiplayer component of Rage will not be using dedicated servers, as many PC fans were hoping.  Instead there will be console-style matchmaking, with all of the negative connotations that that implies.  It's disappointing coming from id, who are such a PC-centric developer, but is perhaps a sign of the times that the PC is not the domineering force in gaming that it once was (although it's far from being terrible, either).

This issue won't affect the singleplayer campaign (obviously) which for all we know will be the strongest facet of the game anyway.

Still, it's a long wait to next September.  With luck we'll see more information coming out of id as we get closer to the game's release.

Diablo III

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Expected: Q4 2011

Saving the best till last?  Possibly, as D3 is one of those games that will get any Blizzard fanboi salivating into their boots at the mere mention of its name.

In development for approximately five hundred years, we will hopefully get our sweaty hands on it next Holiday season if the Blizzard leaked roadmap is even remotely accurate.

I can't say as I played the first game, or even the second.  That entire fad seemed to pass me by.  Speaking as a disinterested observer though, I'm as much of a fan of the hack-and-slash genre that I can recognise when it's done well, and Diablo III looks like it's doing a lot right.


All five character classes are now known: the Monk, Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter and the Barbarian.  Each will have approximately twenty skills available but you'll only be able to have seven equipped at any one time, so you will need to pick and choose which skills you want to have on hand.  Runes can also be used to augment certain skills, so you could make your Whirlwind cost less mana to cast, or have your Disintegrate spell do more damage, for example.  Lower runes will be findable in the world, higher-level runes will require you to craft them, no doubt from difficult-to-obtain materials.

Blizzard don't exactly seem to be reinventing the wheel here but are instead playing to their strengths.  There seems to be enough sprinkling of new, coupled with what everyone is used to and familiar with from the original games (particularly Diablo II) for D3 to be a success.  The only question is, will Blizzard actually stick to their own schedule of trying to release it in 2011 or will it instead slip to 2012?

Well I hope you enjoyed my wrap-up of what looks good for 2011.  No doubt most of them will announce delays very shortly after I publish this post.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Big Ones Of 2011

By popular demand (ok, one person asked about it) I thought we'd take a look at next year's proposed heavy hitters.  Some of these you might recognize from last year's list (part 1part 2) but hey, blame the developers who need more time to "polish their game" and "remove the bugs" and "invent flying cars".  Ok I might have lied about the bugs, but the other two are definitely true.

Starting us off, and in no particular order, it's...


Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: December 2011

The direct sequel to Mass Effect 2, many people's Game of the Year for 2010 (including myself) and the final game in the Mass Effect trilogy, Commander Shepard has to finally finish off those pesky Reapers, the scourge of the galaxy, once and for all.

I've already spoken elsewhere about how good a game I think ME2 was.  I think in ME3 we will mostly be seeing more of the same, together with the likely addition of some kind of multiplayer, as BioWare have been hinting for a while now.  Exactly how this will be implemented remains to be seen as BioWare are not talking details at all just yet, but I think in the New Year we will start to get more information revealed, as was done very well with the class videos that were released for Mass Effect 2.

I would expect to see ME3 be one of the cornerstones of EA's lineup for E3, and rightly so.  ME2 improved on the original ME in almost every single way (with the possible slight criticism that perhaps they dumbed-down the inventory system a little too much, but that's close to just nitpicking for nitpicking's sake).

The synopsis for Mass Effect 3 was briefly posted to the EA Store by mistake, and thanks to the miracle of the Internets we know that it stated the following:

"Earth is burning. Striking from beyond known space, a race of terrifying machines have begun their destruction of the human race. As Commander Shepard, an Alliance Marine, your only hope for saving mankind is to rally the civilizations of the galaxy and launch one final mission to take back the Earth."

The only caveat here is that I think December 2011 is being somewhat ambitious, since that would be only a year and 11 months since the release of Mass Effect 2.  I wouldn't be surprised to see ME3 get pushed back to sometime in early 2012, but who knows.  Either way, I think ME3 is going to be a worthy sequel to the first two games, and will be more of the BioWare RPG goodness that we have come to know and love.



Developer: People Can Fly / Epic Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 22nd February 2011

An over-the-top FPS from Epic Games-owned Polish developer People Can Fly (of Painkiller fame), Bulletstorm looks set to be an M-rated gorefest complete with massive weapons, skillshots and more explosions than a redneck's Saturday night.

The following video narrated by Epic's Cliff Bleszinski will show you why this is a game you should be interested in:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcIesjXSqAc&hd=1 (embedding messes up the HD, just click the link instead)

PCF and Epic really seem to have just straight up got the idea of a sci-fi action shooter without many other frills, and seem to want you to have as much fun blowing things up as is legally possible, at least in the lower 48.


 
The developers have only just gotten around to talking about Bulletstorm's multiplayer component, and confirmed that while there will be online co-op (a la Borderlands) there will not be team vs. team online play available, at least not in the beginning.  It's possible this might be added in down the line if fans clamour for it, but right now multiplayer seems to be concentrating on co-op team play and nothing else.  Whilst my first impression was that this was a ball dropped by Epic and PCF, I can sort of see where they are coming from.  Borderlands really did a great job at online co-op in a sci-fi setting and Bulletstorm seems to promise more of that, just ramped up to the nth degree.

Expect Bulletstorm to do very well come its release in February, as it seems to push all the right buttons for most gamers.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: Q2/3 2011

I've already written extensively about ToR in the past, so won't rehash what I've said there (warning: BioWare changed some of their site around so the linked article may have some missing screenshots, you can click through them to see them though).

Simply put, The Old Republic is BioWare's take on the WoW-killer.  If it can't put a dent in WoW then I'm really not sure anything can.

ToR promises to be the first fully-voiced MMO in existence.  While this will certainly help to maintain the immersion (and let's face it, most people just skip reading the damn quest text in the first place), it does represent an enormous amount of work that has to be done, and is something that every MMO to date has chosen not to do, probably for quite a good reason (i.e. the time and cost).


The idea of a more story-driven rather than action-driven MMO is one that has been doing the rounds for a while (Guild Wars 2 is also talking much the same thing) but ToR seems to be the first MMO to put its money where its mouth is and try it out.  Based on BioWare's experience creating deep story-driven universes for Mass EffectDragon Age and even Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic then if anyone can pull it off it would be them.

Let's hope that the leaks coming from a purported insider at EA stating that ToR will flop turn out to be false, because if it does fail then good luck finding someone else to drop over $300million into trying to push the boundaries of what an MMO is expected to be.  Instead, the WoW clones you see today will double and treble in number until they are the only thing you see in the market next to WoW itself, and nobody wants to see that, right?

Portal 2

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Expected: 21st April 2011 (NA/AUS), 22nd April 2011 (EU)


A standalone sequel to Portal, the unexpected breakout hit from 2007's The Orange BoxPortal 2 was originally slated for December 2010 before being pushed back to February 2011 and then pushed back again to its present date of April 2011.

You reprise your role as Chell from the first game, an unwitting participant / hostage (the game never reveals which) forced to complete a series of bizarre experiments at the Aperture Science enrichment centre.  While the success of the first game caught Valve (and many others) unawares, this time around they are putting more resources into Portal 2 as well as adding online co-up (likely its only form of multiplayer).


It's known that the second game is set "several hundred years" after the first, so presumably Chell has been preserved in some way at the Aperture Science facility, which is now overgrown and quite dilapidated with neglect.  GLaDOS also survived (somehow) and is made aware of your presence early on in the game.  In addition you have at least some help from a robotic AI known as Wheatley who will help to guide you through the 
abandoned labs of Aperture Science.

You can see an introduction to Wheatley, as well as GLaDOS' reconstruction by hitting this video:


One of the things that makes Valve stand out as a developer is the personality and emotion they put into their games.  From Gordon Freeman to Alyx Vance to GLaDOS to the Heavy in TF2, you almost believe that these are real people.  Wheatley (voiced by British comedian and writer Stephen Merchant) seems set to add to that list, bringing a much-needed human element to an environment so inherently mechanical.

I expect nothing less than for Portal 2 to become one of the smash hits of 2011.


Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Expected: March 2011 (maybe?)

I've written previously about how PlanetSide in its prime was the most fun you could have with your clothes on, gaming or not (here and here).  As a franchise though, the game seemed dead in the water until an email survey sent to current and past subscribers of the original PlanetSide started doing the rounds at the tail-end of 2009.  This email stated that Sony wanted to expand the PlanetSide universe but requested feedback from players of the original game as to how to proceed.  Should there still be three factions, should it be pay-to-pay, what setting should a sequel be placed in, etc.  From that point onwards there was nothing...until about two weeks ago.

On the 8th December The Escapist put up an interview with John Smedley (President of Sony Online Entertainment) which essentially confirmed that PlanetSide Next (its working title) was coming, and it was coming soon, possibly as early as March 2011.

This is great news for several reasons.  One, getting this game out so quickly likely means that the core gameplay mechanics (vehicles, factions, weapons, etc.) have been carried over largely unchanged.  This is a good thing, as they were the strength of the original game and not the reason for its failure (Sony's mismanagement was all that was required there).

Two, it will give them a heads-up on Blizzard's rumoured MMOFPS currently known as Titan.  I've already mentioned Titan here, although there is not a great deal of information available regarding it as Blizzard are keeping their cards very close to their chest on this one.

Three, sooner is always better.

In recent days Smedley has posted on his blog that a beta for Next will debut early next year, and that current PlanetSide subscribers would be at the top of the list for spots in that beta.  I would say that actually, current PlanetSide subscribers are probably the worst people that Sony could choose to have test the game for them.  How about throwing out some love for the old subscribers, Sony?  Heck, I was the beta for the original PlanetSide and I've been beating the drum for a long time, telling people how great a game the first was at its height, even before there was any talk of a sequel.  You see that email address at the top-right corner?  Toss me a beta invite (or preferably a few, for me and some friends) and we'll say no more about it.

Look out the second half of my 2011 preview, coming soon to a series of tubes near you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Well That Was Quick

Less than 24 hours after I make a post about Titan and PlanetSide comes news today from The Escapist that PlanetSide Next may be released as early as March 2011.

I'll be honest, while I predicted a fast turnaround for PN I didn't think that we would be seeing it quite this early.

Apparently John Smedley really meant it when he said "it's coming soon."

Next year's Game Developers Conference takes places 28th February - 4th March 2011 and is the first major gaming event of the year, so this could well be the forum that SOE have chosen to reveal PlanetSide Next at.

Either way, something major is coming in March.

Clash of the Titans (Again!)

You may have read previous posts where I waxed lyrical about PlanetSide and stated that it was truly ahead of its time, and also that Sony are apparently hard at work on a sequel, tentatively codenamed PlanetSide Next.


Something that is also semi-common knowledge, at least in MMO circles, is that Blizzard, creators of the monolith that is World of Warcraft are also working on an as-yet untitled and unannounced MMO which they have already confirmed is based in an entirely new universe and is a completely new IP (so no World of Starcraft I'm afraid, at least for now; given how long it took Blizzard to get Starcraft II out the door you can probably consider this a good thing).

One of the persistent rumours that I have been hearing on and off for over a year now is that Blizzard's new MMO is actually an MMOFPS and is apparently known internally at Blizzard as Titan.  Recently, a supposed "leak" of Blizzard's upcoming games and their timelines did the rounds on the web:


There is no guarantee that this is legitimate or even accurate, but I am going to proceed under the assumption that it is because, frankly, it gives me something to write about, and for other reasons that I will get into down the line.

As you can see from the chart, some interesting highlights are the Zerg-centric Starcraft II expansion pack Heart of the Swarm tentatively slated for Q4 2011 (no idea what "SC2 Phoenix" is) with the same Q4 2011 set for Diablo III; the next World of Warcraft expansion in Q2 2012 and the expansion after that one in Q4 2013.  After that check out the entry right at the bottom: Titan, also scheduled for Q4 2013.  Given that Blizzard have apparently been working on Titan for 2-3 years already, setting that game up for release essentially three years from now would give it a 5-6 year development cycle, broadly similar to World of Warcraft when it first launched in 2004.

I find this interesting for several reasons.  Firstly, the name Titan.  I thought the name rang a bell, and after some searching found out why.  Ensemble Studios, a now-defunct developer famous for the Age of Empires series, was also working on an MMO before being closed by its parent company, Microsoft.  The codename of that MMO project?  Also Titan.  It was going to be an MMOFPS set in the Halo universe and was apparently worked on quite extensively by Ensemble before Microsoft pulled the plug on both the game and the studio.

Like House, I do not believe in coincidences.  What I do believe in are higher-order designs masquerading as coincidences that we simply do not understand right now because we do not have all the pieces assembled in front of us.  Completing one piece of this particular puzzle, an employee of Ensemble, Greg Street, now works for Blizzard (you may know him better as Ghostcrawler, if you have ever plumbed the depths that comprise the official WoW forums) and was rumoured to have been working on Ensemble's Titan before that project ended.  Coincidence?  Like I said, they don't exist.


Secondly, if true this would put Blizzard and Sony on opposing sides in a large-scale battle for supremacy over another portion of the MMO market, again.  Earlier this decade it was World of Warcraft versus EverQuest II, a fight that WoW decisively won.  Now, history could be repeating itself by setting up the next clash between Sony and Blizzard, this time between PlanetSide Next and Titan.  Sony must be shitting themselves.  One minute they have the corner on the MMOFPS market with a new PlanetSide to reinvigorate the series and get people back into thinking of large-scale epic combat, then they hear that those upstarts over at Blizzard are now making their own MMOFPS, and on a similar timeline to PlanetSide Next as well.


Ironically, this could turn out to be a blessing for you and I, the humble gamer.  We can basically sit on the sidelines, try both, and reward the better game with our time and (most importantly) money.  Of course there is always the possibility that both are great games and are successful in their own right, but history teaches us that this is usually the exception, not the rule.  But hey, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are still going so they must both be doing something right, yes?

So there it is.  With no official information about either PlanetSide Next or Titan it's hard to go into it much further.  There has essentially been nothing new regarding PlanetSide Next for a couple of years now, to the point where I recently sent the President of Sony Online Entertainment, John Smedley, an impassioned email asking about the status of the game.  Expecting no response (as I'm sure he is a busy guy) I actually got a three-word reply no more than an hour later, simply "It's coming soon."  When I asked for clarification about whether that meant the game or just information about the game, this time I got two words back: "the game."  So whilst I didn't exactly get a scoop resembling the Pentagon Papers, it would seem to confirm that the game is still under active development.  Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine.  I hope to hear something about it at E3 2011, but who knows.

As for Titan, maybe an announcement at next year's BlizzCon?  Blizzard tend not to attend E3, at least not the main show, so BlizzCon would likely be their vehicle of choice to stage a game reveal at.  For now, we just have to wait.

As Zilean would say, "all in good time."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

You Know What Really Grinds My Gears




I'm glad that on occasion I get visitors from big-name developers and publishers to my humble blog, but it would be nice to get some feedback from your end, even if it's just one of you saying "hey, your blog sucks worse than Alpha Protocol's sales figures."

Yeah, I'm talking to you, people from Sony Online Entertainment, EA, DICE, Valve, id, Ubisoft and Gearbox; I know you've all been here at one point or another because I stalk you via my visitor logs.

Actually if you turn around right now you will see me, I'm that shadow in the corner.

No, not that corner, the other corner.