More MS Natal photos (beta)

I have to give Engadget all the credit for these snapshots, but these two photos may show a pretty close to final, or Alpha, represenation of Natal.

These photo’s show a ‘developer’ only model as indicated by the stickers, and may look a tad bland all in white, but you should get the gist of what Natal will finally look like sitting ontop of your Xbox 360.  I hope that if it is indeed a stand alone, that they will offer a variety of colors, as the stark white version shown here isn’t gonna look too good with my Halo green console.  It may be better suited sitting next to my Wii.

The pictures come from the D8 conference held earlier this week, and I’m sure we’ll get even a better look at E3 this year.  Rumors abound that Microsoft will be picthing the Natal very aggressively at E3, showing it off both Monday night and again during it’s stage show I beleive which is on Tuesday.  Hopefully we’ll all learn the street price, maybe see some finished color options, and most importantly some ‘real’ interactive games as opposed to Lionhead’s “Milo” (as impressive as it was last year) and the oft seen dodgeball/breakout demo that’s been making the rounds. 

If that is all there is, then I may indeed pass.  I need to see something deep and impressive besides a racing game if MS wants me to drop the rumored $150 bucks on this thing.

More RB3 news + Natal

I’ll get to the Natal news first.   As you can imagine, it most likely will not be called Natal and I suppose we’ll here the official name announced at E3 next month.  The disapointing news, however, is that the price point may indeed be higher than expected….much higher.

Early rumors had hinted Natal maybe as low as $60, although I for one never believed that.  I thought a street price of $79-89 was more realistic (as a stand alone without and AAA titles), but recent speculation coming out of a mole at MS indicates that Natal may be at a price point of $149!  Hopefully this does include a title with games ala Wii Sports.  This may put a damper on my early adoption, definetly having me sit back and see the games announced and actual performance after initial release. 

Since it may drop in October/Novemeber, here’s to hoping that MS has some real hands on demo’s at E3.

Now Rock Band 3.

My earlier post this week indicated that we’d be seeing the inclusion of a keyboard of some type.  Well, it appears my guessing was a bit closer to the truth afterall.  It sounds like a ‘keytar’ will be the instrument debuting meaning a concentration on 80’s pop, funk, and new wave music.  I think many acts back in the 80’s including Devo, Thomas Dolby, Thompson Twins, Morris Day and the Time, and many more used the Keytar (think keyboard on a strap much like a guitar) in their songs.

Peripheral manufacturer MadCatz is teaming up with Activision to concentrate on the various intrument offerings where as the game developer itself says it will focus on the actual software.

The game will also offer a new ‘Pro’ mode, and while the actual facts are somewhat vague it seems there will be an emphasis on technique more than button mashing.  And three microphones for harmony are pretty much a lock at this time.

Keyboards for Rock Band 3?

Harmonix released a teaser picture for it’s upcoming Rock Band 3.  Notice the new icon including a keyboard?  Hmmm….sounds interesting and makes perfect sense.  I figured it was only a matter of time before this happened, but I wonder how many instruments can actually be plugged in at any given time?  With my current RB 1 & 2 on my 360 the USB peripheral allows for upto 4 devices, but then again, the 360 has anotehr USB port on ther front as well, so maybe 5 devices isn’t a stretch afterall.

But also notice the microphone icon….it has multiple mics….Is it possible we’ll be singing harmony ala Beatles?  I guess we’ll find out more details come mid June when E3 2010 drops.

I’m looking forward to RB3, although my friends and I have’t finished RB1 or 2 yet.  Not sure why as we always have a blast playing.  It’s just been getting harder and harder to round us all up.

In other music gaming news, I’ve almost completed DJ Hero on medium.  I have no fricken idea how people are scoring 5 stars on Hard or Expert modes.  Now that I’m ending my tour on medium, I just think how hard my hand/eye cooridination was on a few beats/sonsg in the Vinyl Cuts section, especially with the cross fader.   Here’s hoping that Activision throws a few more songs our way before DJ Hero 2 drops as well.  I understand the game didn’t deliver the sales numbers they were hoping for this past holiday season, but come on…the game did retail for over $120 on debut during a recession and just after The Beatles and sucky Tony Hawk’s Ride dropped.  Tough market to compete in, and thus they didn’t follow up with DLC support for months.  It was months before a second set of DLC was released after the initial offerings.  That’s just not cool when RB & Harmonix are pumping out tracks on a weekly basis.

Games I’m currently working on: Dragon Age Origins, Assassins Creed II, Modern Warfare 2, and beleive it or not, I still have an un-opened copy of Mass Effect 2.  Haven’t even had time to play Tiger Woods 2010, let alone think about Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake, Splinter Cell: Conviction, and Borderlands.  By the time I get to those, hopefully the price will drop on all of these to $29.99-$39.99

And Natal?  I can’t even think about that right now.  Though I am curious to any news of upcoming games for it.  I think it has a ton of potential, but I’m just really scared that there may be a lot of shovelware crap like the Wii.

E3 2009: Microsoft Impressions

Since I own a 360 myself (and still waiting for Sony to drop their price), I was really looking forward to what on tap from Microsoft.  In today’s climate of financial skepticism, shovelware (Wii), and over-hype with little delivery, one has to be very careful in picking and choosing were one is going to drop their $60 for a title.  And as a side note…why again are next gen console games anywhere from $10-15 more than their PC counterparts?  I think that if Microsoft really wants a leg up on Sony, since Sony doesn’t look like their going to reduce the cost of a new Playstation, that Microsoft should drop the price of new games by $5-$10 to a price point model closer to Nintendo.  I myself have a psychological aversion to spending $59 on a new game, and would feel much more willing to gamble one a title if it was $49, but that’s just me.

Anyway, onto the Microsoft press conference:

  • LAST.FM: Later this year, we can expect to stream music from the online service at no extra cost.  Seems like a pretty nice bonus for those that don’t already having digitable cable or sattelite radio in their homes.  I for one will be checking this out for dance channels and a little something else.
  • Twitter: Well there’s a new interface to use here, but with lack of a full keyboard, I’m not going to be sitting there using my controller to hunt and peck out messages.  I understand why Microsoft is doing this, but since I have an aversion to Twitter, I don’t see myself using this, nor most of my friends.  If we already have live chat, cell phones, email, FB and more, do I really need yet another way to read micro blog posts?
  • Facebook: Not sure exactly what to think about this move.  It uses the new NBE layout to navigate, and it looks good for viewing pictures and ties in smoothly to your Xbox friends profiles…but again, I just can’t see myself using it to type updates or all the other apps, when I have a PC that is so much easier to use for this type of thing.  Again, I understand why Microsoft is leveraging the popularity of Facebook, but the too early to tell how easy it will be to use or what people will use it for.  This one could go either way.
  • Avatars:  Microsoft said that you can expect unlockable items, (finally), in titles that will be appearing starting this fall to further customize your avatars.
  • 1 vs 100: The beta finally hit, and after we saw a glimpse of it when it was announced last year…and then delayed for whatever reason…I guess we can finally expect to see some live gameshow style events later this year.  I’m actually looking forward to this, and still wonder why it will take almost 1.5 years from it’s initial announcement to launch (pratically a year late from it’s intial planned debut).
  • Microsoft Points: May be going the way of the Do-do bird…meaning it’s rumored that MS points will lose their ‘point’ status and revert to ‘real money’….thank God.  I always hated tring to figure out the conversion that something cost , 160, 800, 1200, 1600 pts.  Just tell me how much already, I don’t want to think about it.
  • Zune: Looks like the next version of Zune hardware/software will integrate even more by the end of this year and loads of new content will be available through Xbox marketplace making Zune more of an extension of the Xbox similar to what the iTouch is for Apple and PSP Go is for Sony.  Video services will be relaunched at this time as well, and expect more HD content than ever.
  • Netflix: Update to make queing movies directly from Xbox instead of a PC.  Easier navigation as well.
  • Xbox originals: This service will be discontinued soon, or at least no new titles from first gen Xbox will be appearing.
  • Crackdown 2 (Ruffian Games): I’m jazzed about this as the first game was so much fun.  It didn’t get the recognition it should have as it was over-shadowed by Halo 3 at launch, but it has quite a cult following and is a blast!.  Anyway, expect better graphics (of course), 4 player co-op!, and 16 player versus modes.  Not too much details were given yet, just a teaser.
  • Halo Reach (Bungie): Just announced for a 2010 release and open beta for those that pre-purchase Halo ODST.  No details…just a tease.
  • Halo ODST (Bungie): Show some gameplay, of course looks great.  The setting is 3 weeks before the events in Halo 3, and you play a new character (not Master Chief).  Expect new weapons come Septermber 22nd, 2009.
  • Left 4 Dead 2:  Wow, I’m surprised how fast this sequel was announced and it’s progression in development.  Makes me wonder if some of the ideas/content was originally slated for the first, but didn’t make the deadline.  Or they new the 1st was going to be a hit, they had already started working on the sequel before the 1st was released.  Expect new weapons including chainsaw, melee weapons, characters, etc.
  • Metal Gear Rising: Announced for Xbox, but no details.  Just a big fat tease that have MG & Xbox fanboys screaming.
  • Rock Band Beatles (Harmonix): Opening trailer looks really neat and stylized to compliment the look of old school Beatles graphics.  Yoko One and Harrison’s widow comes out on stage…they wave…and walk back.  WTH?  How much did they pay them just to wave.  Could care less about them, and they didn’t sell me the game….waste of money and PR in my opinion.  Wait….Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney walk out as well…Why the hell is Paul chewing gum…I don’t care if he’s an icon or not…looks silly chewing gum.  He and Ringo say something unintelligible and then leave just as fast.  Wow…I would have hated to write them a check for that worthless appearance. “All You Need is Love” will be an exclusive Xbox track.
  • Joy Ride: XBLA arcade style kart game.  It’s free and utilizes your avatars, but lokks ‘okay’.  Good thing it’s free.
  • Shadow Complex: XBLA exclusive.  Pretty side scroller which will debut this summer.
  • Forza Motorsport 3: Shipping this fall.  I don’t know what to say about these racing games.  To me, they all look amazing whether it Project Gotham or GT or whatever.
  • Alan Wake: Gameplay footage is shown from this game that seems to have been in development forever.  They say Spring 2010, but we’ll see.  Not holding my breath, but looks pretty awesome nonetheless.  Look like a cross between Silent Hill and other freaky, tense, horror stealth titles.  Good solo game for playing at night near halloween.  Yeah, that type of scary and tense game.
  • Knights of the Old Republic (Bioware): Oh, nerdgasm.  Showed an epic trainler set in the SW universe.  Jaw dropping and Xbox exclusive.  I am really looking forward to this one.
  • Mass Effect 2 (Bioware): 2010 release.
  • Project Natal (MS): Working title and most likely change.  Looks like MS is entering the motion control arena
    Natal

    Natal

    with there own sensor bar that you don’t need any controller at all….just your body.  They demonstrate some prototype games including racing sans steering wheel, a version of the classic ‘breakout’ called ‘Ricochet’, skateboarding, etc….Looks slick, but no launch date or price is mentioned or games for that matter.  Does voice and face recognition and can automatically sign you into XBLA when you walk into a room.

While I was indeed happy with what I saw (and I’m not metioning many of the cross-platform titles, ala Modern Warfare 2, DJ Hero, Assassins Creed 2, Bioshock, etc.), Microsoft seems to be focusing a lot on social networking this time around.  While I am happy with some of the AAA titles and some of the exclusives mentioned, I have a feeling that Sony may have a bit more up their sleeve this year than they did last year and may up the ante on Microsofts offerings.  Nintendo also better deliver this year as 2008 was disapointing and underwhelming.  They may have a lock on console sales, but the games are mostly crap right now with only a few bright spots in their IP offerings.

E3 2009: Ubisoft Impressions

I’m a little late in making any E3 posts as I have to tape the live shows and watch them later in evening when I get home from my regular day, so while today is Wednesday, the Ubisoft press conference took place on Monday this week.

Instead of tackling games per platform, I’ll just offer up some highlights and general notes on games and developments (in no particular order) showed during Ubisoft’s presentation:

  • Commented that ‘tween’ demographic is one of the largest growing segments in gaming right now, mostly appealing to young girls and that many companies follow their lead.  They place a heavy emphasis on their ‘imagine’ line of games for DSi, Wii, and PC.  Of course you can expect to see more ‘Petz’ titles this year as well as some new fashion orientated games that allow players to mock up pictures they may take with their DSi camera’s.  Players can also trade pets and/or data using the DSi’s built in WiFi.  Ubisoft calls this ‘inter-connectivity’, and finally metioned the ability to create items such as jewelry, and then pruchase your creation online, and then have an actual physcial item shipped to your.  The example they used was a necklace in which a young girl designed it via her stylus and DSi, and then finished product was shipped to her home.
  • U-Play: Ubisoft seems to want to make a more interactive web/forum experience for those that purcahse their products.  U-Play looks somewhat similar to the new X-Box experience, by having 4 ‘blades’, each having a specific purpose such as  walkthrough/hints, store, etc.
  • Assassins Creed 2: I never played the first one, but I understand it was one of the best new and fasted selling IP’s of 2007.  Expect them to expand on all the previous features including swimming, new stealth based kills, larger areas, and new characters.  They seem to be taking this one pretty seriously, and the trailer they showed was stunning.  Now that the original has dropped in price as a platimun hit at $19.99, I may go back and pick it up in preparation for the sequel.  Ubisoft claimed thay have over 400 people working on this title!
  • Raving Rabbid’s Go Home (Wii): Looks like this franchise is departing from it ‘party-game’ format into something a bit more structured and customizable.  There is now a plot in which the rabbid’s want to get off the earth and make their new home on the moon….but how do they get there?  Well, they feel the need to take ‘stuff’ and build a tower of random junk that will lead to the moon.  There are some open sand-box play fields and some mini-games as well.  You can also customize the individual looks of your rabbids and unlock additional items as you progress.  Of course a lot of silly humor goes into this over the top cartoon stylized game and it appear there may even be some co-op gameplay.  This is worth a closer look as more details will come and looks like a cute, smash, fun time-sink game.  Probably good for kids and non hard-core gamers.  Because of the open play field, story-mode, and campaign, this may breathe new life into this IP.
  • RUSE: They showed a pretty intense trailer that led one to believe it would be a real time and epic military strategy game that looks akin to something in the Tom Clancy universe, but instead of controlling individual people, it looked more like broad units, platoons, brigades, etc.  Kind of like a very detailed game of Risk they uses ground, air, & sea elements.  Not much was said, just the trailer.
  • No More Heroes 2Desperate Struggle (Wii): Long awaited sequel in the works from the surprise adult-orientated wacky Wii title.  Will help fill the serious gaping gap that hardcore Wii users are so frustrated about.
  • RedSteel2_BoxartRed Steel 2 (Wii): Utilizes Nintendo’s new Motion Plus controller and another adult themed title that again addresses Wii’s lack of hardcore software for the more serious player.  The showed what looked liek a very nice opening cinematic trailer and then about 10 minutes or so of actual gameplay.  Looks very nice, both in graphic style and art direction.  I was amazed how well the sword handled with the Motion Plus and nun-chuck controller tethered on.  While the first Red Steel never lived up to its once-hyped potential, I have a feeling this one will deliver.  RS2 and NMH 2 may give me a compelling reason to but a Motion Plus accessory.  Will be out in December of this year and no multiplayer mode.
  • Splinter Cell – Conviction:  Oh my!  Looks just as awesome as some of the others AAA titles coming out and a welcome return for Sam Fisher.  Ubisoft looks to be on a roll this year at E3 and Conviction should be out Q4.  The gameplay demo’d look fantastic.  The art direction and lighting has come so far in this franchise.  The devs emphasized that while stealth is still very important to Sam Fisher, this will be slightly faster paced, and Sam will be relying much more on both the actual environment and low-tech objects he finds.  The devs also are introducing some great story-telling methods in the game with the use of real-time flashbacks….hard to explain, but you have to see it in action and it will maek sense.  Objectives also are displayed during game within the game in a new twist, ala, Fringe (FOX TV series).  Lastly, Sam uses a new combat mechanic that allows him to ‘mark’ shots in a queuing sequence before he takes action.  Again, you have to see it to undertsand, but it’s really slick, looks easy to use, and really pumps up the adrenaline factor in this stealth based game.  Most likely a ‘must-buy’ for me.

DJ Hero gameplay, first impressions from E3

Djhero-peripheral

Turntable with crossfader

X-Play correspondent (G4), Blair H, was able to get a sit down hands on look at Activision’s new rhythm game DJ Hero earlier this week at E3, and from what I saw, I’m totally jazzed.

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of the turntable controller, and now that I’ve seen an actual demo played live I’m happy to see there is an additional peripheral as well on top of the turntable….that is the cross fader.  No price has been announced and no actual release date, but Activision led viewers to believe it would be ready this fall just in time for the holiday season.  At launch DLC content will also be made available on top of tracks released with the game on disc.

In the demo I saw the graphics are somewhat similar to the cartoony look of the Guitar Hero, but with a slightly more urban slant.  I was also happy to here that some songs will also allow players to use their GH: World Tour microphones and maybe even a guitar for bass inspired riffs for multiplay action!  That’s pretty cool…even this white-boy will get a chance to rap.

Djhero1

Beta screenshot

The song they demo’d was a Gwen Stefani and Rick James mix of his classic,  ‘Give it to me baby’, and it sounded great! Game controls use both hands….one of the cross fade and sampling buttons, the other on the turn-table with three button note controllers.   The game track looked nice, and instead of GH’s ‘star power’, DJ Hero uses ‘euphoria’, and when built up, will allow for bonus points and other effects.

E3 2008: Sony press conference – Day 2

PS3

PS3

I’m a little late on this because I am a pretty detailed person with a lot to say and with writing the Nintendo report, I needed a small break to collect my thoughts and also give time to the other things I do as well. 

Even though I don’t own a Playstation, (I do however own a PSP) I was still looking forward to what Sony had to offer and possibly counter with Microsoft’s day 1 press conference.  I also needed something to be excited about after Nintendo’s weak offerings.  And dare I say, there were moments I was excited enough that even I wanted to go out and buy a PS3 just so I could play a few exclusive titles.

So Sony’s events was held at the Shrine auditorium, and clearly since they had this by themselves (Nintendo and MS were at the Kodak theater) they were able to build quite an electronically impressive stage and light show.  They had at least 6 very large screens (possibly more) surrounded by numerous (30+) monitors.  It looked very promising to say the least.

Unlike MS and Nintendo, Sony’s host didn’t seem as scripted (even though he was) and more human and thus more believable….and funny.  Funny in the way his jokes and comments felt genuine, unlike the force fed lame lines that Nintendo’s Cammy and Alex for driveling off.

Throughout the event, they had there requisite slides and graphs and charts that are always questionable to me since every company claims the exact same industry leadership, growth, sales numbers, blah, blah, blah.  But Sony did something innovative here….they used the creative aspects of Little Big Planet to build a presentation and it looked so awesome.  A great way to show off the game and keep people interested in sales number and projections.  Kudos to the person who cam up with that idea.

Okay, onto the meat of Sony’s offerings:

  • Movie Rental and Download service: Actually went live the day of the announcement itself, I suppose is Sony’s answer to MS/Netflix partnership.  Sony will offer both SD and HD versions of many movies and shows with direct partnering with the major studios.  SD rates will be $2.99-$3.99 where HD will be $5.99.  You can also opt to purchase a movie outright for even higher, but I don’t understand this feature for any console (360 included).  What happens if you someday upgrade to PS4?  If you download to the internal harddrive, do you always have to keep the console forever to watch them?  There isn’t an option to burn to a DVD that I’m aware of (is there?).  You don’t get all the cool extras that you would get with a DVD purchase (out-takes, gag reels, making of, etc.)  What if I want to take it over to a friends house some day?  Does that mean I need to lug my PS3 over there?  Seems lame.  One neat aspect I do like though, is that if you own a PSP (firmware 4.05+) you can transfer content via a USB cable and watch on the go.  Same if you have a PC.  That’s cool.
  • Hardware:Sony will not be dropping the price on either PSP or PS3, but instead on the PSP will offer some upcoming specialized bundles for $199, and the PS3 will have an upgraded 80GB hard drive (up from 40) on all new consoles for the same $499.  No other peripherals were shown.
  • Sony Home: Ah, the often talked about and just as often delayed Home was shown yet again.  Did mention it was being tested in Beta, but no street date given (surprise, surprise).  What they did show looked graphically impressive and a cool concept, and not to be critical, but I don’t get it.  I buy a console to play a game or watch DLC, not to walk around a virtual house I can decorate and talk with friends in one large virtual IM chat room.  I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t never use it, but just seems like an unnecessary distraction from hard core gamers, which clearly PS3 is targeted at.
  • PSP:No new models or design changes anytime soon.  I was a bit surprised they didn’t have more apps mentioned like Nintendo did for the DS, especially the rumored Skype or phone capabilities.  Two new bundles by the holidays including a Madden ’09 and Ratchet & Clank versions.
  • Resistance 2: Lengthy hands on demo that was visually stunning and impressive.  It felt as the yang to MS’s ying with GoW2.  One of the games I wish I actually owned a PS3 for.  There will be a Resistance version for the PSP which I’ll probably end up getting.  I recommend seeing the trailer or demo…I can’t really describe how impressive it actually looked and jealous I am.
  • Patapon 2 & Loco Roco 2: 2 PSP offerings where shown in a video montage that should have these niche fans happy.  Though Patapon 2 looked a lot like the original, I’ll probably still get it as I enjoy the first one still and a lot.
  • PS2: They’re still making this platform and if they’re accurate with their numbers, Sony is pretty impressive that this thing is still going strong at $199.  So strong in fact they said there are at least 130 games in the pipeline for PS2….they didn’t mention how many were only to be release in Japan though.
  • Little Big Planet: This exclusive for PS3 just looks incredible.  Here is the second game in which I am jealous that it will not be on the 360 and is tempting me to buy one.  There cannot be enough said on how visually stunning and creative the world of Sack Boy will be.  There will be so much player created content, it will be crazy.
  • DC Universe Online: Wildstorm and comic book artist legend, Jim Lee, was on-hand to show us a sneak peak of DC on-line.  This will be an MMO that crosses over to a PC as well that will allow players to be either established super heroes or villains, or create there own and live out there fanboy fantasies.  I kept thinking it looked like a prettier version of City of Heroes, and some of the moves and powers looked exactly the dame, just re-skinned.  Not to many details on how the game works though and how hero/villain creation will be worked out and if (and how) you level up.  I hope to see more details in the future.
  • Greatest Hits: Similar to Microsofts greatest hits, Sony will be taking many of the older titles and repackaging at a $29.99 price point.  Expect a lot of classics here.
  • Motorstorm 2: Announced and a brief trailer.  Looked cool, but nothing innovative I saw.
  • God of War 3: Probably the big announcement was the trailer for the return of Kratos.  Out next year.  No gameplay footage, just a teaser trailer.
  • Gran Turismo 5 Prologue race channel: There will be a unique PPV channel embedded with GT 5 that players can watch both live and taped events and shows related to various car racing gigs within a separate function of the game.  I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s exclusive here.  I’m not a huge race fan, but it seems strange to me to pay additional money to watch a real taped race or car show within a game itself.
  • Buzz series: Various incarnations of the Buzz game show will be made available on PS3 and PSP with future DLC available.
  • Various montages throughout the event showed regulars like Madden ’09, NBA Live, Tiger Woods ’09, Soul Caliber IV, Force Unleashed, GH World Tour, Rock Band, Sing It series, etc.

To sum it all up, Sony had a pretty strong showing that made up for the Nintendo sleep fest.  They showed or at least announced some pretty good heavy hitters coming up, but clearly focusing on more hardcore gaming as opposed to Nintendos casual style and Microsofts hybrid of both hardcore and casual.  ‘Home’ is still in beta and may debut by the holidays, and Sony has a counter albeit not as expansive video service at the MS/Netflix partnership.  I expect to see more PSP titles in the upcoming year too.  Microsoft and Sony clearly taking this seriously, although Nintendo has the Wii jugernaut behind them (despite crapware right now).