Posts in category entertainment - page 4

LEGO Star Wars 2 on the Xbox 360

I enjoyed the original LEGO Star Wars back on the PlayStation 2 some time ago. The co-operative play element, the LEGO world combined with the Star Wars world (obviously) and a healthy dose of comedy slapstick that surprised me giving LucasArt’s strict control of the Star Wars universe. But then they let Spaced burn a pile of Star Wars merchandise to official music so maybe they’re not all humorless droids.

LEGO Star Wars 2 on the Xbox 360 (resized)

The original game covered Episodes I-III and so when Steve reminded me LEGO Star Wars II was coming out and would be covering Episodes IV-VI (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) I knew I had to have it. The only question was which format and in the end I bit the bullet and went with the 360 version at £29.99 – a whopping 50% more than the PC version. Thanks Microsoft.

I’ve only played through A New Hope so far but all your favorite moments are there albeit with LEGO’s new take on everything such as the Storm Trooper helmet machines and picking up Death Star crew with a crane and dropping them in a hole for bonuses.

There are some additions over the original too. As well as blowing almost everything in sight up you can now find piles of blocks to assemble into bridges, parts of robots etc. as well as creatures, Luke’s speeder and AT-ST’s to ride around. There are also new dark-force glowing objects to interact with reminding you to come back and play the levels again to unlock all the mini-kit pieces you need to build your own virtual garage of craft from the universe.

If I have one complaint it’s pretty much the one I have in all 3D games… the camera angle.

Often it goes off all over the place and some parts such as controlling the AT-ST is pure infuriating in two player as the camera attempts to follow one of you and slides the other person/their ride around uncontrollably before trapping them in a corner. I’d much rather have seen a split-screen mode or a camera that wasn’t afraid to zoom out more.

Perhaps on LEGO Star Wars III… oh, there’s no more Star Wars left to cast into plastic!

I guess the their trilogy stops here.


Commoditizing game production

Building realistic worlds

As the power of next generation systems increases so does the complexity and realism they can portray.

For some time now consumers have been unhappy with the rising prices of computer games whilst publishers are citing spiraling production costs as the excuse for sticking with “tried and tested” formulas and franchises.

Nintendo has been able to ride the wave somewhat by being more experimental on game play and cutting costs on realism.

Middle ware already exists for graphics, networking, sound, physics, AI and scripting – indeed engines such as Unreal and Steam bundle all these things you need into one of you own but you’re still left to deliver the content itself single-handedly.

Every object – be it building, car, character even lamp-post and trash can – needs a 3D model, appropriate textures, sounds for impact and detailed lists of how it should move and behave with regards to the physics.

Commoditizing elements of digital content

What must arise is an industry providing elements of digital content.

For real-life license objects such as cars it may well be the manufacturer providing high poly 3D models of the cars from their own CAD systems, audio samples from the engine and perhaps shaders from the companies supplying their paints.

Actors agents might commission and license approved 3D body and face models with textures. Specific motion captured movements and audio dialog sold separately*

Other content might be provided by their real-world counterparts too. Houses provided by real-world architects and populated with furniture from designer brands.

These real-world objects can provide a whole new level of realism to the games they occupy whilst at the same time providing a more subtle form of advertising – the product placement.

Add an inquire” option that lets you point at the nice bookcase you blew to pieces and get some product details up from the manufacturer. Maybe it’s in your price range, maybe not… or maybe it’s a design being considered with a note thanking you for your interest…

Once the cost of building digital worlds has dropped then production houses can be more experimental. If not, the door is open for the indie developer to compete on the same playing field.

If these savings can also be passed onto the consumer maybe they can afford more than one game and will be happy to try new genre’s too…


Exploring the Nintendo DS Lite

I was very fortunate to receive a Nintendo DS Lite for my birthday and a voucher for a couple of games – I’d wanted one for a while but put it off being that I already a couple of hand-held gaming systems.

The DS Lite is tricky to compare to the PSP being that they take such different approaches. Sony has tried to make the PSP a portable multimedia station supporting UMD movies, video and music on memory sticks and it’s reasonably large wide-screen display as well as playing games.

As the saying goes “jack of all trades, master of none” sums up the PSP quite well. The UMD movies have been a bit of a flop – who wants to pay another £15 for a movie they already own to watch it on a smaller screen? Anyone wanting movies on the go would be better off with a portable DVD player or laptop.

Likewise it’s too big to be used as a portable MP3 player and the interface is years behind the likes of the iPod not to mention the fact there is no on-line music store to grab the tracks from anyway.

The PSP has impressive specifications for the games but basically it’s a PS2 in portable format with WiFi ability. Sure this is all well and good but with costs of games spiraling out of control the development houses want to stick to the same-old-formula of franchise titles and dull tie-ins something needs to be done. Sony cutting off PSP home-brew exploits with every release isn’t helping.

Which is what Nintendo are doing with the DS Lite. I brought a handful of the games which come on tiny cards resembling SD memory cards and while some of them are rather formulaic of the past – Sonic Rush for one – others take some innovative approaches.

Another Code is one such title and although the well-written story is a little too short and linear it features lovely artwork and includes those innovative controls methods I mentioned. Dragging, tapping, twisting and stroking the pen across the screen are the normal course while blowing into the microphone and shutting the lid all form part of the interface. It seems unfortunate that it only has two save game slots – I thought three was the course.

Brain Age is a far less ambitious title when it comes to control but one that is fun nevertheless and the way it continues to update and unlock elements each day as you progress through the tests and assessments keeps you coming back for more. The Soduku puzzles are also fun and can further unlock training and testing elements as well as hints and tips. The graphics and sound could have done with a bit more work however the ability to have four profiles and compare results between yourself and your friends/family keeps the competitive edge going.

Nintendogs…. well everyone raved over it but personally I really can’t get into it. There are dogs. You can teach them tricks… they remember their name. Okay, it has pretty graphics and cutesy appeal but it’s really not for me.

WarioWare: Touched! was one of the titles I got to try out when Steve brought his DS round a couple of months ago and the brief tapping fury needed a revisit. It’s good fun for a pick up and go but the lack of multiple profiles means the whole challenge element is a big missed opportunity. I guess you need two of them for that…

Animal Crossing is currently at the top of the various game charts. I’ve spent an hour or so with it and again haven’t found myself particularly gripped – much like Nintendogs.

Sonic Rush I brought of curiosity and while the graphics and sound are up to their part it doesn’t really seem much different from the Sonic games I played on my sisters GameGear so many many years ago apart from the face it spans two screens and the batteries last longer than an hour.

The hardware itself seems well built, solid and glossy reminding me of the iPod and the screens are bright and solid to the touch (well, the lower one is). Apparently the DS Lite supports some kind of WiFi network although I’ve not been able to get that to do anything just yet. Perhaps it’s because the WiFi here is encrypted – I guess I should RTFM…


Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion on the Xbox 360 – first impressions

Last night I went home with Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the Xbox 360, wired up to the projector producing 720p high definition imagery that dominates the darkened room.

You start off with an incredibly comprehensive character generation where you can choose race, sex, hair color, eye color, age… and a bewildering number of options to customs your face. So many options in fact it’s quite difficult to come up with something you like. Hitting the random option until you see a good starting point is probably the easiest way to progress.

The narrative starts and you find yourself in a prison cell at the royal palace. If there was a reason for my being here it must have been in the as-yet-unread manual.

The plot initiates with Patrick Stewart voicing the emperor of the Imperials and we descend into the sewers and tunnels beneath the city. For the next twenty minutes you scramble around in the dark with the occasional pointer on getting to grips with the control and game-play mechanisms. During this process you must choose your star sign which gives you an extra ability/bonus and a class to determine your core abilities and role.

I thought I’d have a bit of fun and choose thief for a change. Lots of creeping round, lock-picking the many chests and doors and generally just, well, thieving. For the record I normally play some form of ranger or melee class.

Having acquired a minimal set of adventuring kit from the residents I met along the way, now deceased, I step outside…

The sun is setting and it’s vibrant hues of purple and red are reflected upon the rippling lake in front of me.

The wind is stirring up and the branches of the trees bob back and forth casting shadows upon the ground.

A started deer looks up and jolts away from you through the thick grass and disappears behind a boulder reflecting the suns last rays.

The adventure begins.