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Thursday
Aug272009

Dragon Age: Origins Hands-On Preview

            Few video game developers have a track record like Bioware. The Canadian development house has quite a string of RPG masterpieces under its belt. Now their next original entry into the dungeon crawling, spell casting, sword swinging, stat tabulating genre is nearing completion. Dragon Age: Origins is set to continue the high production values and deep game play Bioware is famous for. I had a chance to play the XBOX360 and PC versions of the game at this year's Gencon in Indianapolis. I have to say that I'm so far impressed with the game.

            You play as a grey warden, the last of your kind. It is up to you and your comrades to bring balance back to the world of Ferelden and fight off the demonic armies who have returned to destroy the world. At the start you choose an Origin story. This is based around a certain character and class and has its own unique perspective of the events in the game. You’re every action and choice has far reaching consequences for the game world and each Origin you play will have a different feel and perspective within the story. This gives the nearly 60 hour game tons of replay value.

            On the 360 version I played with a party comprised of a human noble, his mother and a faithful, bloodthirsty hound. This being a pickup game starting in the middle of the action there was little context as to what exactly was going on other than a bunch of fools invading your castle, but the game play was my focus at the time. The controls are intuitive enough, select a target and select an action mapped to a button. Your primary attack if selected is executed over and over again until you tell your character otherwise, but you also have some more powerful skills to unleash. These actions have cool down rates like you would see in a MMO, but do more damage or even stun the enemy so you can get a couple of quick stabs in. You can take control of any character at anytime with the push of a trigger button, or pause the game entirely and select actions and targets for the whole party ala Baulder’s Gate 2. I have to say that the hectic action is impressive and engaging without the player feeling that things are out of control.

            This is a bloody game. More bloody than any other Bioware game. Graphically the game has its moments. Characters are highly detailed with blood splattered armor, unique faces and expressions and the environments are large and detailed. Granted it’s hard to judge graphics on an HD monitor when your face is eight inches away since any video image will break down at that close distance, but I think the console edition has some good graphical charm.

            I only spent a few minutes with the PC version, but I feel it may be the way to go for most gamers who enjoy this kind of game. Point and click targeting with a mouse is as intuitive as it gets. This version also features more quick slots for powers and spells that you can select with a keystroke. Graphically, the PC really shows off the game world and its characters. From mountain crags to the alternate reality of The Fade (with really cool light smearing effects) the PC version really takes advantage of added anti-aliasing and higher resolution textures. Don’t get me wrong though; being able to sit on the couch with a console controller in one hand and a bag of cheesy poofs in the other is not a bad way to spend the evening in RPG heaven.

            This is only a small preview and will be followed by a more comprehensive review after the game releases, but one thing that tells me this RPG has the deepness those fans of the genre clamor for is the menus. Tab after tab of stats, items, weapons, spell books and the like fill the screen in a way that most recent rpgs (or those games pretending to be rpgs) don’t offer. The console version doesn’t suffer from the “dumbed-downededness” since all versions have been developed together from the start. With very few offerings this year in the genre Bioware should really make fans of rpgs really giddy this holiday season. Look for this one November 3rd for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Wednesday
Aug262009

2K Sports NBA 2K10:Draft Combine Released on Xbox Live

This just in from 2K sports: NBA 2K10: Draft combine is now available for download on Xbox Live. This is a download only title apparently meant to ramp up interest in the upcoming release of the full NBA 2K10. We've seen a number of these auxiliary releases recently, including a very successful March Madness spin-off from EA last year. The list of features (see f below) is actually impressive, and for 400 Microsoft points ($5.00), it will likely be worth a go. Included in this announcement is news that the Playstation Network version will be released September 3rd for the same price.  

Note that the game does include achievements and trophies (woo hoo!)

 

Here is a cut and paste of the features from the press release:

  • Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose as spokesman.
  • Building custom players and increasing their NBA stock through a variety of challenging basketball drills and 5-on-5 games.
  • Over 300 different signature customizations, including player-specific shooting animations, and dunk and dribble packages to give each created player his own unique personal style.
  • Ability to strengthen all parts of the created player's game through a variety of drills, such as shooting, post offense and defense, attacking the basket, dribbling, challenging shots, and boxing out for rebounds to progress through the NBA Draft Combine.
  • Organized games that allow players to gain valuable skill points by offering a variety of specific in-game objectives to be accomplished. A full analysis will be available for gamers to review their player's performance and strategize further improvement.
  • All players created inNBA 2K10: Draft Combinewill wear a special patch on their uniform throughout the rest of that player's career to denote that they have completed the NBA Draft Combine.
  • Online leaderboards to track the highest ranking custom built players, so fans can gauge how their player stacks up against the competition.
  • Opportunity to unlock special achievements on Xbox 360 and trophies for PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system.
  • Fans can take their custom built players fromNBA 2K10: Draft Combineand use them in the all-new My Player career mode inNBA 2K10launching this fall.


 

Tuesday
Aug252009

Old News But Good News: John Carter of Mars Movie in Pre-Production

It might be old news to some, but at least its good news: John Carter of Mars is going to the big screen. I should qualify that. It’s potentially good news. If anybody could mess up a straightforward-science-fiction-pulp-classic-adventure yarn, it’s Hollywood.

But let’s not be too pessimistic. I try to be thankful for all the good that comes my way: potential or otherwise.

So, what’s good? Well, after years of false starts, decades really, we have the film in firm pre-production. According to IMDb, the release date is 2012. (Of course, this in and of itself could be a Hollywood ploy to get our hopes up and already spending on pre-release stuff before the Mayan prophecy proves true, destroying the world, and saving producers from having to face the fact they screwed up something as beautiful and simple as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved classic. But again, let’s not be too pessimistic.)

What else is good? Andrew Stanton, the man behind Wall-E. Yeah, Wall-E was cute and adorable and a heart-tugger, but it was one of the smartest science fiction films to come along in a while. It was story driven, unlike say, most everything that has come out in forever, not to mention it wasn’t a remake or a part two of something. Stanton, too, is a confessed lover of Burroughs. That’s always a good thing: to have someone who knows and appreciates the source material. Let’s face it, The Lord of the Rings worked because Peter Jackson knew and loved The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, my first concern here was that we were going to have an animated Carter and Dejah. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, animated films tend to automatically be labeled family films. In many cases they are family films. If you’ve read any of the Barsoom books (for the uninitiated, that’s Burroughs’ name for Mars), Carter can be pretty gritty on occasion, and no, animated or not, Pixar or not, I would not even hope for Dejah Thoris to be gracing the big screen displaying her glorious natural assets for the whole universe to see as she does throughout the book. From what I understand anyway, it’s going to be released as a Disney film. That info comes from johncartermovie.com, which, by the way, is an excellent unofficial site. I’ve been checking it out for some time now.

So that brings us to Disney. Can go either way here. They’ve made some classic family films, which may or may not resemble the source material. 20,000 Leagues is my personal favorite. But they have gone grittier in recent years with the whole Pirate franchise. But herein resides the problem. I read somewhere, forgive me for not recalling the exact place, that Disney was hoping for another franchise success like Pirates. Well, all you have to do is remember what went on in Pirates 2 and 3 and you know why my heart cringes at the thought. What few producers realize is that nothing works, absolutely nothing, when the goal is simply to make money.

Nothing.

On the bright side, Michael Chabon is reworking the script as you read this (if you’re reading it in 2009, that is). Chabon is, for lack of a better word, brilliant. Check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Not only did it win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001, it was awesome. Then there’s The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Gentlemen of the Road. He acknowledges genre fiction, he appreciates genre fiction, he writes genre fiction. To me, this is one of the strongest arguments for doing this film right now. Disney could mess this up, however. Chabon could write something too good. (Good, for some reason, is not appreciated by most money-grubbing producers. They could just as easily order a rewrite. But let’s not be too pessimistic.)

What else is good? Well, they’ve got the primary characters cast. Taylor Kitsch will be playing Carter. Kitsch played in Friday Night Lights and more recently in Wolverine as Gambit. (Is it me, or does he look a little young for a civil war officer?) Lynn Collins will be Dejah Thoris. She, too, was recently seen in Wolverine, playing Silverfox. Well . . . I mean . . . what can you say? Just look at the picture!

Veteran actor Willem Dafoe will be portraying everyone’s favorite four-armed green Martian, Tars Tarkus. Dafoe is a pretty spectacular actor, but I suspect some serious CGI getting ready to happen here. Still, no complaints. Remember how great he was under all the make-up in Shadow of the Vampire? Heck, his voice is a better actor than a lot that I’ve had to watch.

Interestingly enough, as I write this (August 24, 2009), three more cast members have been confirmed. NewsOk.com reports that Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (“In America” and “Sweet and Lowdown”), Dominic West (“The Wire” and “300″) and Polly Walker (HBO’s “Rome”) have joined the cast.

All we can do for now is sit back and bask in the glow of expectations and potentialities. This is a movie with everything going for it. What could go wrong?

(Now, now, let’s not be too pessimistic.)

Friday
Aug212009

Seven more cast for The Game of Thrones

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news last night, and George R.R. Martin has confirmed (with some commentary) the casting of seven more major characters for The Game of Thrones. The actors and actresses range from unknown to slightly famous and all look like pretty good candidates for the roles. Everything seems to be shaping up nicely for a great roll out. Let's just hope that there is enough of an audience for gritty fantasy out among the masses to keep the series on the air.

 

Here are the new actors:

 

 

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as bad boy Jaime Lannister. I loved Coster-Waldau in New Amsterdam, a very underrated sci-fi series that didn't even manage one full season. He is definitely not who I mind-casted in the role while reading the novels, but he is an enormous talent. Much like Nathan Fillion though, he seems to bring the curse of cancellation with him wherever he goes. Hopefully, Martin can get some of New Orleans buddies to work their magic and remove the bad mojo before filming starts.

 

 

Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys, the fire from the Song of Ice and Fire. Merchant played one of King Henry the VIII's eventually beheaded wives in The Tudors (hope she doesn't get typecast as the woman who stars in projects that involve beheadings). I haven't seen her scenes in the Tudors, but Martin seems impressed, saying her sex scenes were “as hot as anything I've ever seen on T.V.” I'm not sure at what age saying something like that gets a bit creepy, but I'm pretty sure Martin is past that age. Regardless, male fans of the series apparently have a hot Dothraki deflowering to look forward to.

 

 

Alfie Allen (Lily Allen's little brother!) as Theon Greyjoy. Allen moved into the role of Alan Strang in Equus when Daniel Radcliffe tired of flashing around his wand, so he should have no trouble playing the series' biggest wang, Neddard Stark's young ward (and, well, you know--hostage) who repays his honorable treatment by the Stark family with blood. Allen has a kind of smarmy douchebag look that should work well for Theon.

 

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. This is a pivotal role for my enjoyment of the series and Maisie is, appropriately, a complete unknown. It is really in the second book that she starts to distinguish herself, so Williams should have time to grow into the role. For the Game of Thrones, she just needs to be boyish and bratty—actor or not, most kids could pull that off.

 

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark. Another important role, another near unknown. I really think this is the way to go for the series and I have faith that a team as experienced as the one working on Game of Thrones will do a good job. The quality of these two roles should give these young ladies a chance to go from unknown to famous in no time.

 

 

Richard Madden as Robb Stark. Madden is a British stage actor who recently played Romeo in a London production of Romeo and Juliet.   He certainly has the look for Robb. As Martin mentions, Robb's story arc will take the ladies for a quite the emotional ride if the series manages to make it through a few seasons.

 

Iain Glenn as Jorah Mormont. Glenn gets the plum role as creepy, older dude lusting after thirteen-year-old Daenerys. Of course, in order to pull off the sex scenes with Kal Drago, Daenerys will be older here than in the books, so he Mormont probably come off as an honorable knight who, after being crushed by his first love, bravely dares to love again...while spying on her for the king.

 

That's the new cast. Most of the roles are now filled and, despite the bit of snark above, I'm pretty excited by the mix. Can't wait to start seeing publicity shots of these guys in full costume. We will keep you guys informed as news rolls in.

Tuesday
Aug182009

PS3 getting the "slim" treatment.

 

PS3 is finally getting the "slim" treatment, which should help with the cost of production. It is said that Sony has lost millions on this system so far because of the cost it takes to make them. With the slimmer version, available on SEPT 1st, the price also drops 100 dollars. It will be available with a new matte charcoal finish. Also getting a upgrade is the storage capacity, which will now be 120 gig standard.