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.

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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.

Star Trek Online: First Impressions – Beta (part 1)

Admitedly I got to the open beta a little late in the offering.  Beta closes on the 26th until the game releases on Feb 2nd, although I’ve read some rumors there may be a ‘early start’ date for pre-orders, but I haven’t seen any official email yet.

As of this writing I spent about 4 hours playing this past Friday night, another 4-5 hours on Saturday, and another 4-5 hours yesterday (Sunday) and have managed to level up my ‘Captain’ to lvl 5 and am pretty close to 6.  Keeping in mind this is beta and with that comes some unexpected world server crashes, frequent patching, and a few disconnects, I think I got in at least ten solid hours of Star Trek Online gaming.  So in no particular order, here is what I found so far:

  • Lack of a bonafide manual in the early stages made the ‘trial by fire’ learning curve on the UI a little less than stellar.  Only by ‘really’ fiddeling around with the UI buttons and options was I finally able to get my experience bar legible.  However, I still don’t get the various nuances of the character/ship/interface slottings.  This is a little confusing.
  • Space battles are pretty amazing on a artistic scope.  Ships, phasers, sound effects, lighting, and backgrounds are very, very pretty to look at.  That being said, issuing commands and steering your ship in three dimensions takes some getting used to.  You are using multple keys to control pitch and yaw as well as turning and speed controls.  Controls can sometimes get confusing especially with so much on the screen against a black space background.  I often found myself over-turning at times, trying to stop, or finding the pitch/yaw not always as responsive as they should be.
  • While I understand the idea behind ‘open instances’, they are both a blessing and a curse.  Sometimes random people who are very skilled prove to be very beneficial in their tactics on helping complete a space mission.  However, since the AI ‘threat level’ seems to scale up with more people, this can be a teams undoing if one or two people aren’t the best of ‘captains’.  An unskilled ship (player) can be dead weight very quickly, and since these are open instances, many people show up to the fight with or without your asking.  Generally a few people I teamed with were very nice and cooperative and we all seemed in synch.  However, there were a couple of skirmishes where the maturity level and blame-game sunk to new lows. 
  • Starbase defense is very fun, but Klingon spawn points and amount of contacts are ridiculous.  If you just happen to be in the wrong place and the wrong time, you just resign yourself to defeat.  Don’t run, don’t fight, you’ll just prolong the inevitable.  During one such defense, as soon as the in-game counter reset, before I even knew what was happening, multiple, over powered Klingon ships spawned all around me.  I was dead before I could even type help.
  • Chat, or what passes for the ‘chat channel’ is also way too crowded.  There is no way you can keep track of a conversation without creating a specific friend or team channel.  It was worse than the infamous Barrens chat that WoW players are familiar with.
  • 85% of my missions thus far have been space battles.  Hardly any ‘away team’ or surface missions so it’s kinda hard to judge this component of the game fairly.  If anyone has ever played City of Heros/Villains, away missions are very like office building missions.  You interact more or less the same way with ‘glowies’, and the map structures are very similiar.
  • Speaking of City of Heros/Villains, let’s talk about the 100 pound elephant in the room right now.  STO for all intents and purposes is perhaps a more sophisticated and graphically enhanced, reskinned version of CoH.  I mean it is made by NCSoft/Cryptic, but seriously…so many things are the same:  The interface with NPC’s, the way they act, the choices offered, even down to the font is more or less the same as CoH, just set in a Star Trek theme.  This isn’t meant to be a knock, and again, I realize this is a beta and many portions of the game have yet to be revealed and/or rolled out, but so far what I have seen, this reeks of CoH (and I played CoH for 5 years before I got bored and moved on).
  • Character creation and ship modification is very, very detailed out of the gate.  It is very impressive on how you can design both your ship and captain and also have the ability to write backstories for not only yourself but your crew as well.  Just as NCSoft made additions to this engine with CoH, I can only suspect the same will happen here and that’s a good thing.
  • You unlock the ability to play and start as a Klingon at lvl 5.  I unlocked it, but haven’t even attempted to create a charcter yet.  It may not even be allowed in beta yet.
  • The starting tutorial is adequate and gets you into the action very quickly, but could have been fleshed out and a bit more details on controls….Something I’m sure will be in the manual not yet available.
  • In game ‘help’ looks robust if you want to take the time and read while you’re playing.  I don’t, so I’m looking forward to digesting this in traditional book/manual format.
  • You can visit your bridge, but I have no clue what purpose that serves right now other than eye-candy.  It was cool to look at, and walk around, but as of right now, I see no ingame value.  It is more or less just a set piece.  Hopefully they will be able to find a use for it later.
  • In a very un-Star Trek/Rodennberry way, most missions I’ve played thus far are all about shooting and destroying first.  ST is supposed to be about unity, exploration, strange new worlds, etc.  So far, I’m killing Orions, Klingons, and the radom Borg every time I warp into space.  Guns first diplomacy seems to be at odds with the Prime Directive.
  • Overall galaxy map seems huge right off the bat and they tackle ‘fog of war’ in a unique way.  Hard to describe, but it’s there.
  • Scanning seems simplistic and repetitive right now.  You collect ‘loot’ in space, and has to be some sort of ‘crafting’ component ala Memroy Alpha, but I haven’t gotten into it yet.  Again, seems a little daunting and confusing without a better explanation.

Okay, so for this entry, I’ll stop it short right there.  I plan to play a bit more tonight and I’ll have more to say on part II.  I can honestly say I have mixed feelings so far.  If you never played CoH/CoV, then you will undoubetdly love this.  However, as someone who has played CoH/CoV for the aforementioned 5 years, I can say while there are graphical improvements and customization, this does feel like I’ve played this before, just in a super-hero skin.  That doesn’t make it a bad game by any means, it just isn’t innovative enough to really knock my socks off as I was hoping it would.  I guess I may play for a year, until SW:TOR comes out.  If I had to give this a rating right now, I’d give it a ‘B-‘.  But things can change in the future and hopefully things will be fleshed out with a future purpose, because if it’s just about shooting Klingons and Borg mission afer mission, rinse and repeat, then it’ll be just a casual game for me.

Star Trek Online (Beta) – First impressions (prologue)

After some initial wishy-washy, going back-and-forth within my own head thoughts, I plunked down a bit of cash to secure myself a copy of Star Trek Online when it releases in a few weeks, and thus also securing myself a spot in the current ‘open beta’ test the that currently going on for the next few days.

So why this MMO?  Well, Bioware’s “Star Wars” is at the very minimum a year away, and as these things go I won’t be surprised if it is delayed even beyond that.  Of course, with Bioware backing that one and it’s history of great RPG styles games going on for over a decade, everyone has their eyes salivating for this one.  Could SW:TOR be the first ‘real’ challenger to WoW?  We’ll see.  I’m pretty confident that it will be much better than SOE’s attempt at the Lucas’ universe that Star Wars Galaxy: An Empire Divided will ever be.  That has to be my own biggest personal let down in gaming.  I had such hopes for that one, and pretty much from day one it was plagued by bugs, major sweeping gameplay changes, and not delivering on promises it made, it left a sour taste in my mouth.  What’s left of that game today (SWG) looks nothing like how the game was introduced years ago, and I can’t help but think how much money I threw away on a subscription that just wasn’t fun to play anymore.

The last two MMO’s I’ve been playing is the aforementioned Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” which is fun, yet can be a grind most of the time (and to be honest, fantasy genre’s aren’t my favorite) and NCsoft’s (aka Cryptic) “City of Heros/Villains”.  When CoH first came out, practically 5 years ago, I loved it almost immediately.  I really took to my first created character and was proud to work on his backstory and build him up, level by level in Paragon City.  Then came the expansion CoV which was fun in it’s own right, although one could say it was very similiar in premise to CoH (I guess one could argue, “Why wouldn’t it be?”) with just some re-skinning of powers and costumes, but it gave players the ability to live out some sort of muted sadistic and anarchistic fantasies in classic comic book faction.

However, after a couple of years, it just seemed to lack any further innovation.  I give NCsoft/Cryptic a lot of props though: they actually opened up a new genre (superheroes) instead of the tired and overplayed orc, dwarf, goblin stuff that every other developer for a time thought players wanted.  Yeah, it just got a little stale after a few years, and while they added things like bases and lairs (which never worked out the way developers intended), a ‘crafting’ element, and new badges….the graphics and missions/quests began to seem dated, and the game resorted to the same ‘world eveents’ at regular intervals, and at least to me, began to feel like ‘been there, done that’ most of the time.  They did have some awesome instances and Task Force missions, although a bit long at times to have a whole team stay intact until the very end.

I won’t even get into WoW.  Most of you know what’s that’s like, and I still play it, but I’m currently on break from it right now until I get the urge to get back into it again.  That too can become a grindfest at times, and I’m pretty tired of some of the missions.  Although my main Paladin is only lvl 74 right now, even after owning Lich King for a year.

Anyway, I’m getting way off track here.  Back to Star Trek.

So after seeing some online movies of the game in which the space battles and ship models won me over, I began to read a few player takes on their beta experiences and I was intrigued.  The idea of a space based genre MMO in an established franchise by the developers who did CoH/CoV and Guild Wars pretty well mitigated the risks of it being really ‘sucky’.  Most, not all, but most games based on Star Trek tend to blow and I’m not sure why.  There is so much potential and lore and characters and created history, I can’t begin to understand how many developers in the past blew it…or just didn’t get Trekkers/Trekkies.   Dare I say that the Star Trek experience goes way beyond just big ships and Klingons?  It is about exploration, strange new worlds, new civilazations, etc., etc.

Now will STO capture this?  Hard to say right now only having played the beta a few hours (more on that later).  I can see the potential, but there are parts that already feel like re-skinned WoW or CoH missions.  But the space battles are HELLA cool and very pretty.

NCsoft/Cryptic/Atari also went full out on the pre-order exclusives.  There are a ‘TON’ of varying exclusives depending on where you made your pre-order.  Tribbles or Targs for pets….”KHANNNN” emotes….exclusive uniforms or ship equipment….Borg as a playable chracter…and of course if you got from GameStop/EB you get yoru grubby hands on the original Constellation class starship (of which Kirk’s Enterprise was).  Out of all these choices listed (and not listed), I went for the Constellation class starship and look forward to piloting a retro-enterprise in my adventures.

So I plunked my dollars down at GameStop and was granted a ‘beta’ key that I rushed right home to begin downloading….Mafia Wars and FarmVille be damned!!.

One thing right at the start, that was forgotten but quickly remembered, was how wonky the “signup/account creation/login” process still is with NCSoft.  After a few false starts and having to reset my password reset and resent to my mail account at least twice for who knows what reason I was able to enter my ‘key’ and begin the download process.

The download was over 7GB in size, and I’m sure so many people were hitting it up that evening along with my local ISP bandwidth issues after 6PM (as everyone is getting home to jump on their own PCs) it took right around 3 hours to download.  Thankfully the checksum was right on, as even though it was a lengthy download, I encountered zero problems so far.  The executable took another 10 minutes to unpack and install, and to my chagrin as soon as I got excited to begin my adventures and hit the ‘Play’ icon, of course another 800MB beta patch now needed to be downloaded and applied…..another few minutes.

Next: Initial impressions…..

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.

DJ Hero – First look

DJHeroAs someone who never really grew up on classic rock, heavy metal, punk, or alternative music during the 80’s (I enjoyed more pop and old skool rap), I was quite surprised that I learned to enjoy both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises.  As a matter of fact, I was a late adopter of music and rythym based games, and it was only when I tried Guitar Hero III at a friends house did I finally buy one for myself and began to jam.  Funny thing is, I’m still not crazy about quite a few of the songs.  My brain has somewhat managed to block out some songs as I am too busy concentrating on the notes tracks and hitting my hammer-on’s and off’s more so than I am listening to the lyrics.  However, I will say I have also learned to appreciate some songs that I never would have never even given a chance to outside the gaming experience.

With that in mind, I always wondered if they would make a game using a turntable and I always had visions in my head what a game may look like if I wanted to experience the music I tend to gravitate towards: Dance, House, Rap, Pop.  Imagine my joy when I first learned that Activision announced DJ Hero.  I began to salivate at the thought of doing my own record scratching and mixing break beats and using a crossfader.

Well finally some details on the the gameplay and peripheral have finally surfaced, and now I’m more excited than ever.  I just hope it translates very well, and not a hack job like Konami’s ill-thought-out ‘Rock Revolution’.  Anyway, here’s what we can look forward to:

  • Over 100 songs have been licensed, allowing DJs to create 70 playable tracks.
  • Songs are a mix of two existing tracks, or mash-ups.
  • The red middle button will add a sample to the mix.
  • Controller features an effects knob to inject additional sounds.
  • Hit the crossfade button at the right time to keep the mix correct while you beat match with the colored buttons.
  • Turntable spins all the way around.  At higher difficulties, scratch sections add to difficulty by requiring you to scratch in certain patterns.
  • “Rewind Meter”, when charged up, will allow a player to spin the record backward to relive and replay favorite sections.
  • “Jukebox mode” allows the game to play itself as background music for parties, where players can drop in randomly and leave as well.

Some of the artists confirmed will be: Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, David Bowie, KRS One, Soul Searchers, The Zombies, Rick James, Nirvana, Herbie Hancock (can you say “Rockit”?), Jurrasic 5, Beck, Blondie, and many more.

The game is schedule for a fall ’09 release.

Video Games: Guitar Hero Aerosmith

Admittedly I’ve never been a huge fan of most rock.  Bands like AC/DC, Ratt, Motley Crue, GNR, and so on do little for me, and the bands that are more thrash, hardcore, heavy metal do nothing for me at all.  There are a few memorable songs here and there that I don’t mind so much, let alone tolerate or hum on occasion, but I’ve never been known to be a ‘rocker’.

When I was in college I actually had some free time on my hands as a senior and had the luxury of taking a few fun or ‘fluff’ classes.  I wanted to learn how to play an instrument and seeing that I liked jazz music a lot, I was actually thinking about picking up the trumpet.  I even asked my roommates at the time, which they would prefer me to learn – the guitar, or trumpet?  They unanimously voted for the guitar, so I ended up taking a semester of beginning guitar.  And I was pretty good.  Far from being a prodigy by any means, but I did end up with an ‘A’ in the class.

That was 1993.

It wasn’t until earlier this year I went over to a neighbors house one evening and they had broken out Guitar Hero II for the Sony Playstation 2 that I had my first laid my hands on anything Guitar Hero.

It was the first few songs and holding that hunk of black plastic in my hand, desperately trying to match the scrolling notes on the track coming at me that I became enamored with the game and the whole concept.  It wouldn’t be long thereafter before I purchased GH III for my Xbox 360 and tried my hand at becoming a solo appreciated rock star within my own living room.

Another funny thing happened as I slowly worked my way from a GH III newbie who could barely hit a note early on in his ‘easy’ career to someone who just recently finished the games on medium and looking to now attempt ‘hard’ mode….I learned to appreciate and even like some of the songs.  So much so in fact, I began dropping my CC number on valued MS Points and began a library of DLC content.

In March, I obtained Rock Band.  Now I could beat the drums (albeit horrendously), sing off-key, jam a bass groove with my neighbors, and love every minute of it while throwing back a beer or two.  We began to play so much we even started our own living room band where we all get together every other week and take turns singing and playing instruments as we unlock new venues, arenas, and prizes…we recently just got the plane.  I’ve downloaded quite a few tracks over the months for both games, and eagerly await each Tuesday to see what DLC is being offered.

So imagine by heart fluttering just a tad when they announced GH III: Aerosmith.  I’ve been eagerly awaiting this new expnasion since it was first announced, and today, June 30, 2008 it has been released.  I was even thinking about scheduling my lunch in such a way as to be able to swing by Best Buy to pick up a copy and ruch home to drop it in and begin playing by this evening.  I couldn’t wait to be on stage with Run DMC and play songs like ‘Kings of Rock’ and ‘Walk this way’.

So why didn’t I rush out an hour ago and get it as I had been planning on it for months, counting down the days up until now?

Well I suppose it came as a combination of a few things, namely the early reviews I read.  I wasn’t expecting Neversoft/Activision to reinvent the wheel here, but early reviews more or less said it’s much of the same, and unless you’re a diehard Aerosmith fan, there’s nothing really here that justifies the $59.99 for a disc.

And I guess when I read that and let it sink in a bit, it started to make sense.  Why exactly should this be $59.99 and not considered a true expansion and maybe come in at $39.99?  I could easily justify $39.99, but $59.99 for a band that really doesn’t generate any actual buzz for me.  I mean I don’t dislike Aerosmith, but I’d never go out and buy a CD or MP3 of their songs either. 

As I write this entry, Eurogamer gave it 6 out 0f 10, and IGN gave it 7.5 out of 10 and even stated that many of the riffs are very repetitive, slightly easier to play, and no other innovations.  So why not spend the money of songs I do like for Rock Band or other GH III tracks?  Though I do want to play Run DMC….

It doesn’t help the cause either when I read that Guitar Hero World Tour will be out in mid October of this year, and now Harmonix has announced Rock Band 2 for September.  Both will bring out new features and many more songs than this outing does.  As a matter of fact rumors are floating that Rock Band 2 may ship with close to 200 songs, or at least have that many available as DLC by the end of the year!

I guess I may just wait now and hope that in a few months GH: Aerosmith will drop in price or become an Amazon.com Deal of the Day.

So let me hear what you think.  Did any of you buy GH: Aerosmith and are you happy with it?