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.

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G4 to cut back on AOTS and X-Play

Ex-Play?

Ex-Play?

It’s yet another sad bit of news for techies, gamers, and closet geeks like myself alike.

It has been confirmed by the parent company who produces the gamer and techie centric shows over at the G4 network, that both Attack of the Show (AOTS) and X-Play will be restructered yet again, and not for the better.

It wasn’t too long ago it was announced that X-Play was going to double show length, and now it appears the exact opposite will be happening.  X-Play hosting and production staff has been cut, and new weekly episodes will be reduced from five to three.

It isn’t much better over at AOTS either.  Beginning March 2nd, original episodes will also be reduced from five to just four a week.

And since fewer shows will be shot on a weekly basis, G4 did indeed confirm a decrease in staff, but also says that savings resulting from these changes will go directly towards more original programming in 2009.  While G4 claims this is not a budget cut and they remain loyal and dedicated to these core franchises, I beg to differ.

I have personally noticed that X-Play repeats have already been scaled back on a daily basis only to be replaced with other non-gaming and non-tech shows.  If I ever missed an episode of X-Play at 8pm, I could always catch the repeat later in the evening or TiVo it in the wee hours of the morning to enjoy the next day.

All I see now is yet more episodes of Cheaters, Cops, and infomercials….like we need any more of these because they play on about 10 other channels throughout the week or Gremlins hasn’t already been shown 10 times this week.

Remind me again G4 how ‘Cheaters’ fits into Tech/Gaming TV?

It’s really a sad commentary when the only bastion of technically inclined television (and gaming for that matter( can’t even support it’s core demographic any longer, to where there pretty much is no other options left any more.

Games: Too Human Demo

Baldur Dash?

Baldur Dash?

I’ve been waiting for this game for quite some time, ever since I saw early snippets revealed on X-Play.  Those folks over at G4 seem to be quite riled up about it as well, either that or they’re taking some kinda of kickback or bribe from those over at Silicon Knights for how much coverage this game has gotten prior too its release.

Leasing upto last weeks E3, there even seemed to be more than average coverage of Too Human, and during E3 itself, Silicon Knights revealed a demo would be available for download on XBox Live on July 14.

I waited until yesterday to download it, all 1GB+ of it.  Prior to that I had read on multiple forums that people were finding the control schema a bit awkward and counter-intuitive, but before I make any judgements myself, I had to give it a shot myself.

What I found was a beautifully rendered game with cutscenes and all.  Despite only being able to play one class of character, the Champion, out of the five that will be in the final release, it gave me a good taste on what to expect.

While realizing it was only a demo, there wasn’t too much explanation on the very detailed equipment controls and offerings.  Apparently there will be quite a bit of customization with salvage, loot, and blueprint options.  There’s also a skill tree that was a little vague on understanding until you start adding point and begin to level up.  Once you play for a bit, it begins to make sense.

Unfortunately, while there is a pause option there is no save option in the demo.  So I tried my best to play what I could in the 75 minutes allotted to me as ‘free’ time.  I was able to take my Champion from lvl 1 to lvl 5, and only began to slightly overwhelmed once I hit this point in the demo.

The cutscenes are indeed beautiful and have a great spin on the techno-Norse mythology alluded to in interviews and previews.  They can be a little awkwardly placed at times dividing the present action into a sudden past-tense reveal then back into the action.  The first time this happened, I was wondering what the heck happened.  Was the level over?  Was the demo over?  Did I do something?  No to all of the above as once the scene was over, I was back in action where I had left off.  Slightly odd.

The animations are smooth, fluid, and very pretty.  The detail in lighting really sets the mood in the level I played and the environment lent to the idea that the place was big.  Really big.

Okay, so about the controls:  I can sort of understand the complaints that I’ve read on various boards, and even I’m surprised that Silicon Knights went with this control layout.  For people that have played plenty of FPS games (Halo, CoD4, etc.), the controls are gonna take time to get used to.  I think it will just take time to re-adjust, but certain actions just don’t seem intuitive to the way our hands and fingers have been trained.  Granted, I only just played once, but even after 75 minutes, I still found myself fumbling on what was the melee action versus which was the projectile action.  But again, that’s just being re-trained.  The most difficult and awkward mechanic was the camera controls and how you move.  The camera seems to be independent at times on where you are facing.  This can be easily corrected by hitting the left bumper button, but in the heat of battle where enemies are swarming from all directions the re centering of the camera to get your bearings can be a buzz-kill.  So can the auto-lock feature as well.  There were times I was locked onto a missile firing foe, just so my Champion then locked onto the projectile instead of my initial target thus throwing off my strategy.

Will I get this game?  Probably.  Hopefully Silicon Knights have heard some of the complaints and choose to address them (though this late in the mix, they probably won’t).  It has a lot of potential from a beautifully rendered game and excellent story telling so far to RPG and Hack/Slash fast action elements.  Not sure if it’s the next GoW though, and if the controls are still funny, I may feel more comfortable if it was at a $49.99 price point.

E3 2008 – Microsoft press conference – Day 1

E3 2008 - Los Angeles

E3 2008 - Los Angeles

I sorta geeked out with the anticipation of rushing home from work on Monday so I could watch the G4 TV 2.5 hour live press conference (I taped it) that Microsoft was presenting for Xbox 360 owners. 

The show was a break from the regular X-Play episode as both hosts Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb were onhand to give the at home audience a sneak peak at things that will be coming to the XBox 360 owners over the next year.

So without further ado, here were some of the highlights (in no particular order):

  • Live Interface upgrade: The 360 GUI interface will be getting a complete overhaul sometime this fall.  Microsoft explained that while the current interface works well, they wanted to make it even more user friendly and accessible to all and to showcase many new features including ‘avatars’ and live interactive content.  Personally, while some of the features look pretty cool, I’m not sure I’ve been sold on it.  The thing is, it doesn’t look as if Live users will have a choice but to have this automatically installed one day when they turn on their systems this fall.  It’d be nice if they gave us a choice, but I can understand why they don’t want two interfaces to supports and are going to move forward with this.  The most blatant change is the inclusion of personal ‘avatars’, or 3D customizable animated representations of an online gamer.  Think of it as a ‘souped’ up Wii Mii.  I imagine this is a direct response to Sony’s reported upcoming interface, ‘Home’ and Nintendo’s Mii’s.  The big question I have is what do we do with our gamer pics and themes we’ve become accustomed to the last few years.  Will MS credit back Live Users for their previous theme and gamer picture purchases?  For all intents and purposes it looks like gamer pictures and themes will disappear altogether which would suck if you invested a lot of MSP’s into the last few years.  Another interesting aspect in the new emphasis on ‘parties’ and interactive game-shows.  While I personally have no need or real desire to share my pictures and other live content in a ‘party’, I do look forward to being part of a interactive game show like the demoed “1 vs. 100” they showed.  That looks pretty cool.
  • Netflix:I am pretty stoked about this feature as I already have a Netflix subscription.  This feature also debuting later this year will allow Netflix subscribers to instantly download/buffer movies on demand from the ever expanding Netflix library.  This may just push my need to get a Blu-Ray player back even further as I have no need to rush out and buy one to watch movies in HD.  I believe I will indeed be taking advantage of this quite liberally when it is available.
  • Gears of War 2: They demoed a quite lengthy run within the game and it look just awesome.  As a relatively new GoW player myself (I just recently picked it up when the price dropped to $39.99) and only done with chapter 2, the sequel just looks incredible!  Besides the improved graphics, there appears to be many more moves and weapons available and very, very creative levels with adrenaline pounding action, atmosphere, and sound design.  Yay!
  • Fable II: I completed Fable I years ago on my original Xbox and loved it, so this was already an automatic buy for me when it was announced sometime back.  They showed some co-op play and it looked pretty darn good as well.  I’m excited they included a dog as a pet for the player, and the pet AI and mannerisms look pretty neat.  The one quirky thing I’m not sure what I think about yet is ‘player orbs’ for multi-player.  supposedly, you can see your friends online within the game when they are on as they are represented by orbs.  You walk up to an orb, press a button, and ‘whammo’, your friend is now in your game.  What if you don’t have many friends who own the game?  What if you invite a friend and they screw with your unique world?  I’ll still get, but I figure I’ll be playing a lot of solo.
  • Fallout 3: Another ‘must buy’ for me.  Atmosphere and sound that Bethesda put into this game looks phenomenal.  They claim the world is an open world, much like Oblivion was and it did look pretty vast from what they showed.  The combat VAT engine looks very easy and intuitive, and the weapons showcased were awe inspiring.  Bethesda claims that when the game ships it will have 100+ hours of content with even more available as the develop DLC for it.
  • Guitar Hero III & World Tour:  Said a Metalica album will be be available for both later this year, but they really focused on World Tour.  Drum kit is wireless and will ship with around 85 new songs.  They mentioned the ability to create your own songs, but did not show examples.  There will also be some exclusive tracks from Led Zepplin and Guns ‘N Roses.
  • Lips: I don’t know what to think of this either.  This looks like a total social party game geared for young adults or kids.  They had UK pop star Duffy sing her hit Mercy.  I could have done without that.  Anyway, Lips is a karaoke game with light-up microphones (WTF?), and supposedly you can play music from your Zune or iPod, but they didn’t say if these supplied words or not.  I can’t figure out if the ‘word’ versions of songs are DLC or not.  Wish they would have talked more about this.
  • Rock Band 2:The only significant thing they said here was that all RB 1 songs are forward compatible with RB 2 as well as the instruments.  They announced 84 master tracks on CD will ship with the game as well as at least 20 free DLC songs by launch, and by the end of the year RB 2 will support a library of about 500 songs.  That’s impressive.  You can find the track listings elsewhere so I won’t repeat it here, but I am happy to see some more alternative bands like Talking Heads and Blondie to be appearing.  Exclusive tracks will include Bob Dylan and AC/DC as well, but since I don’t care for either of those, I probably won’t get those.
  • Resident Evil 5: Long way to go on this one as I think they said it will be available in March of 2009.  Showed off some co-op which looked pretty cool with head-shots and obstacle puzzle solving, but the zombies looked so slow.  While they showed a decent length demo and it was interesting, I’ll wait and see what develops because in 8 months, a lot can change….and the zombies just looked slow.
  • Square Enixannounced progress on already three announced games and showed a trailer for the next Star Ocean series.  The trailer looked absolutely beautiful and sounded great, but that’s all it was… a trailer showing in-game cut-scenes.  No actual game footage, and no description on what it was or what the story is or the goal.  It was pretty commercial that told me nothing about the game at all so that was a disappointment.  The biggest news out of Square Enix is they announced Final Fantasy XIII for the 360, a big blow to Sony where it was an exclusive franchise for them up to now.
  • Banjo Kazooie & Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise.  More kid friendly games, however, Banjo looks pretty interesting as a casual platform/puzzle solver and is worth a closer look.  VP uses the camera and cards to place rare pinatas and other effects in game like weather and items.
  • Social games & Arcade: They showed a few various games like Geometry Wars 2 and Galaga 2 as upcoming live arcade titles.  Social games eere a mixed bag of cool looking thing like the previously aforementioned 1 vs 100 and Scene It, but a real crap-fest in “You’re in the Movies”…I honestly can’t see this one making it big and even the demo they showed was clearly out of synch and looked low-tiered.  It was funny watching the MS reps really trying to sell this one and of all the game presented up to this point, this looked the most amateurish.
  • Not shown: Halo Wars, Too Human, Force Unleashed, CoD 5.

Now that Microsoft opened with some pretty big guns and some big news with Final Fantasy XIII and a system interface overhaul along with Netflix, it should be very interesting to see what both Nintendo and Sony have to offer.