IGN Reveals First Dark Souls II Footage

Today, IGN posted twelve minutes of a knight getting bollocked repeatedly in a sit-down video talk with the director and global producer of Dark Souls II. Along with a look at several of the monsters and locales the player will be encountering in the sequel to one of the most intentionally difficult games ever made, the director spends a full two minutes of the video discussing how players will be able to die and experience death in the sequel.

Dying is a big part of these games. You’re supposed to die. It’s why I never got into the series and found myself frustrated each time I tried. Having recently discovered the joy of failure with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, however, I can see the appeal now. Maybe it’s time to give Dark Souls another shot? The new game certainly improves on the visuals to a point where I could see myself getting properly immersed.

Maybe that’s a bad thing, considering how often I’m likely to find myself on the business end of a spear.

 

Peter Hines of Bethesda Says Consumers Don’t Understand Day-One DLC

This is a tricky topic that always tends to ignite a few fires: what is considered acceptable when it comes to downloadable content released alongside a full retail game? Shouldn’t that content have been included in the game to begin with?

Unfortunately, it’s not an easy question to answer, as Peter Hines from Bethesda illustrates in a talk with OXM:

“I mean, certainly the reaction to it is pretty apparent,” Hines began. “I’m not sure if I have an exact opinion, because we’re not doing it. I try not to get into judging what other folks do, I certainly don’t appreciate them chiming in on what we should or shouldn’t be doing, particularly because, how would they know. I understand where it’s coming from.

“I think there is, at least among a certain segment of the gaming audience,” he went on. “I don’t think they quite understand the development process and the point at which you have to stop making the game and you have to finish the game. So, the content people stop making new content a fair amount of time before it ships; it’s not like in the old days when it was like the day before or a week before.”

Having lurked on NeoGAF for years (link withheld in the interest of good taste) I can definitely tell you that yes, most gamers have no idea what goes into game production. It’s true that some publishers intentionally hold back content to use as pre-order incentives, but in most cases, it’s just content that wasn’t suitable or able to be fit into the main game. Sometimes, it’s only developed near the end of the cycle, as Hines says, and serves as a good way to keep extra staff members employed and producing after their content is complete. There are a myriad different reasons why content is left out of games, and without being on that dev team, it’s hard to know for sure what the exact reasoning is.

It’s still a hard pill to swallow, knowing that your boxed copy of a game is “incomplete” as it’s “missing” some content. The game industry is still an industry, so expecting all DLC content for free with purchase isn’t entirely reasonable. There has to be a middle ground somewhere that keeps everybody happy, and I’m confident we’ll find it in time.

 

Batman: Arkham Origins Coming October 25th

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d0geMX4nWA]When you consider how much Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City have influenced how we perceive and accept comic-book games, it would be foolish to not expect another Arkham sequel at some point. As it turns out, fans won’t be waiting much longer for their next dose of the bat, as Game Informer has outed Batman: Arkham Origins as part of their exclusive May 2013 cover story.

Developed by Warner Bros. Games Montreal instead of Rocksteady, Arkham Origins tells the story of a younger Batman as he’s targeted on Christmas Eve by eight of the world’s deadliest assassins. Deathstroke is set to appear in the game, which will be set in Gotham City proper for the first time in the series.

Arkham Origins is coming to Wii U, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC on October 25th, 2013. A portable companion game, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, will also be released on October 25th for the 3DS and Vita. This spinoff will take place after the end of the game, and will be delivered as a 2.5D Metroid-style experience.

Personally, I’m more excited about the idea of Blackgate, as I’ll take any Metroid I can get in my gaming. As for the console release, this is Warner Bros. Games Montreal’s first game, but with the leadership of Eric Holmes (formerly of Radical), there’s little cause for worry. While technically a little unpolished, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate and Destruction and Prototype showed a lot of promise. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do with the beloved Batman franchise

 

Tekken Card Tournament: Simple, Engaging, Expensive

Tekken Card Tournament

I feel that a game should always be suited to the platform. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be there without being entirely reworked as a totally new game. It’s a bit of design theory that Capcom ignored with Street Fighter IV Volt for iOS, a total mess of a fighter with poor touch controls that did nothing to take advantage of the mobile platform.

Thankfully, Namco Bandai seems to understand mobile games a bit better, having re-imagined their hit Tekken fighting series as Tekken Card Tournament rather than simply port over a dumbed-down version of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to cash in on name recognition.

Tekken Card Tournament is a “freemium” card battle game available for iOS, Android, and online via web browser. Players are given an initial deck of cards, with the option to purchase random booster packs either with premium currency, or by grinding out free gold and credits through playing the game. It’s a little insidious in that a basic pack of 3 cards costs a couple of bucks and doesn’t guarantee cards for your chosen character, only cards from a selection of characters. I haven’t paid money for any of my cards yet, but after using in-game currency to purchase several packs, I’ve only earned maybe four cards for Kazuya, my fighter of choice. Apparently if I ever choose to play Nina, I’m all set, as I’ve been gaining her cards left and right.

These might all sound like deal breakers, but the game itself is so fun and streamlined that I find it hard to stop playing during my commute. Each turn, players select from three actions: Focus, Strike, and Block. Focus draws a card, up to a max of five in your hand, but if you’re hit while using Focus, one of your cards is discarded and redrawn. Strike launches a Tekken-style combo string with whatever cards you have in your hand, all at once. The visuals for these strings will be familiar to Tekken fans, with classic combos and juggles based on the alternating punch/kick cards in your hand. Finally, Block causes the first two cards of your opponent’s Strike to do zero damage; everything after those two cards hits you as normal.

It’s simple, it’s quick, and it brilliantly mimics the ebb and flow of a tournament fighter. Do you throw out quick one-card pokes to catch your opponent in a Focus? Do you build for a long combo after blocking your opponent’s attack? Different cards have different effects other than damage, such as buffing similar-type cards or healing damage after a successful assault, or in response to an opponent’s action, so knowing your opponent’s style of play is also key. It all adds up to a fairly deep, visually-appealing experience that you can play easily with just a few taps.

While I’m reluctant to spend money on it solely because it’s so easy to actually waste money on boosters for characters I don’t play, Tekken Card Tournament is still a brilliant rework of the basic mechanics of Tekken. I’ll probably be grinding out new card packs on my own for the next few weeks, at least. Coming from someone who never gets hooked on freemium games, that’s fairly high praise.

Peter Moore of EA: “We Can Do Better”

I’ve always liked Peter Moore. He has this certain charisma about him, even when he’s showing off tattooed logos of games he’s working on, that makes you want to sit down and have a beer with him. So when the man himself decides to address Electronic Arts’ place in the vox populi, it’s generally worth listening to him.

And listen I did, as he rattled off a list of perceived issues with EA’s position as “Worst Company in America”  last week on EA’s official site. Here’s a snip:

Are we really the “Worst Company in America?”  I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve made plenty of mistakes. These include server shut downs too early, games that didn’t meet expectations, missteps on new pricing models and most recently, severely fumbling the launch of SimCity.  We owe gamers better performance than this.

Some of these complaints are 100 percent legitimate – like all large companies we are not perfect. But others just don’t hold water:

  • Many continue to claim the Always-On function in SimCity is a DRM scheme.  It’s not.  People still want to argue about it.  We can’t be any clearer – it’s not. Period.
  • Some claim there’s no room for Origin as a competitor to Steam.  45 million registered users are proving that wrong.
  • Some people think that free-to-play games and micro-transactions are a pox on gaming.  Tens of millions more are playing and loving those games.
  • We’ve seen mailing lists that direct people to vote for EA because they disagree with the choice of the cover athlete on Madden NFL. Yes, really…
  • In the past year, we have received thousands of emails and postcards protesting against EA for allowing players to create LGBT characters in our games.  This week, we’re seeing posts on conservative web sites urging people to protest our LGBT policy by voting EA the Worst Company in America.

That last one is particularly telling.  If that’s what makes us the worst company, bring it on.  Because we’re not caving on that.

It’s true that a lot of the complaints against EA are valid, but there are equally as many outrageous quibbles that the public has with EA that just aren’t valid. “The tallest tree catches the most wind” may sound like a brag, but the man has a point. I do take issue with putting a spotlight on the outrageous demands people have to take heat off of the real complaints, but admitting that you’ve done wrong by your customers is still a big step forward.

Having worked for EA myself, I can tell you that there are a great many things wrong with the company. However, not everyone who works for EA is some sort of evil space villain, and you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water every time. The company has the potential to do some good, especially with an upcoming change in leadership. Let’s wait and see what the tallest tree does after a bit of trimming and pruning.

 

Peer Review: Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek Takes On Monster Hunter

I’ve been trying to sum up my feelings about Capcom’s Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate since it launched about two weeks ago. As a newcomer who really, really wanted to love the series many times in the past, I had a hard time cracking the nut and finding the meat of the experience. This time, I decided to give it the old college try, and armed myself with as much information I could. About 50 hours later, I’m still hooked.

As I was browsing the net while idling piecing together what I would say about the Monster Hunter phenomenon, I came across Patrick Klepek’s Giant Bomb article detailing his new interest in Monster Hunter, and realized that he had said pretty much what I had set out to.

While Klepek isn’t extremely far into the game, his narrative description of a fight with the Qurupeco is indicative of what’s so special about the series. It’s the thrill of taking on giant monsters, hunting them for an hour, and then dropping them in the nick of time that gives these games their unique edge. The first time you sever a monster’s tail — not through a scripted event, but because you targeted the damned thing manually and hacked at it until it fell off — it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I can guarantee you won’t forget felling your first real dragon, either. Maybe the eighth or ninth time you farm it for materials to build armor out of its scaly hide may slip into faded memory, but not the first.

If you’re going to attempt to get into the series — and since there’s a demo on the 3DS, you really should — follow Klepek’s advice and spring for the Monster Hunter Beginner’s Guide. As an e-book, it does a great job of telling new players exactly what they need to know to start sinking their teeth into a meaty experience covered in so much impenetrable bone that it’s hard to believe sometimes that there’s any nutritional value hidden away. I picked it up on sale last month, and it’s been invaluable in teaching me how to get started with my hunting career.

While it has some infuriating underwater sequences, doesn’t look amazing on the WiiU, and pretty much requires a Circle Pad Pro attachment to play properly on the 3DS, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is the most accessible game in the series to date, and the perfect place for newcomers to jump in.

Disney Shuts Down LucasArts

This is that time of year where, after revisiting their first quarter reports, many companies decide to “restructure” their makeup, much in the same way a victim of a zombie bite tries to “restructure” by severing the afflicted limb outright.

To that end, Disney has shut down LucasArts, the publishing house responsible for Star Wars game production, as well as seminal classics like Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle. From Game Informer:

After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.

Sad news, as always, but there’s a silver lining for gamers. Now that other studios are free to create Star Wars games and have them licensed by Disney, we may see a marked jump in quality in future Star Wars games. A Japanese-developed Star Wars title? It could happen. Heck, we could see Capcom take on Indiana Jones, for all we know.

Endless possibilities in the light of some tragic layoff news. That’s pretty much the game industry in the nuttiest of shells.

Activision Lays Off Deadpool Team

Post-launch support is critical in the game industry, simply due to how the industry now perceives its products. Where the impetus in the past was to create as polished a product as possible, the ease of digital updates has led to a bit of a lax attitude when it comes to how “finished” a product needs to be. Having worked in QA myself, I can tell you that it’s very common to “fix it with a patch” when crunch time hits and ugly issues pop up.

One has to wonder, then, how the upcoming Deadpool game from Activition will fare after its release, as Activision just laid off the 40 members of developer High Moon Studios who were working on the game.

From an Activision rep, via Kotaku:

Activision Publishing consistently works to align its costs with its revenues – this is an ongoing process. With the completion of development on Deadpool, we are taking a reduction in staff at High Moon Studios to better align our development talent against our slate. Approximately, 40 full-time employees will be impacted globally. We are offering those employees who are impacted outplacement counseling services.

In this case, “working to align costs with revenues” means getting rid of 40 trained employees who could have rolled onto the myriad of other projects that Activison no doubt has going on at the moment. Seems like a waste.

Borderlands 2 Ultimate Vault Hunter Pack Now Available, Adds 11 New Character Levels

Today, loot-hungry Vault Hunters will have the chance to get even more out of their Borderlands 2 experience with a new Ultimate Vault Hunter Pack that lets players reach level 61 and loot new “Pearlescent” grade weapons. The pack, which costs 400 MSP on the Xbox 360 and $4.99 on the PS3 and PC platforms, unlocks a new, rebalanced Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode at level 50. This new playthrough is designed to be much harder than the previous two difficulty levels, with players able to gain access to new top-tier weapons and additional skill points. If you purchased the Season Pass, the pack is downloadable for free.

Here are the details of exactly what the pack includes, via CVG.com and the official Gearbox Software website:

New content in UVHM

  • Adds new items to the Black Market:
  • One additional ammo upgrade for each ammo type, at 50 Eridium each.
  • Two more backpack storage space upgrades, at 50 and 100 Eridium respectively.
  • Two more bank storage space upgrades, at 50 and 100 Eridium respectively.
  • Increases the maximum amount of Eridium players can hold from 99 to 500.
  • Adds a new playthrough balanced for top-tier play: Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode.
  • Various bug fixes
  • Raises level cap to 61, allowing characters to gain 11 additional levels.
  • Characters gain a skill point with every level from 51 to 61, for a total of 11 more skill points.
  • Powerful new “Ancient” E-Tech relics and rare Pearlescent-grade weapons can be picked up in Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode.

Gameplay changes in UVHM

  • Enemy health generally increased 4x.
  • Enemies now have a moderate amount of health regeneration.
  • Increased duration of slag damage multiplier effect.
  • Upped the damage that slagged enemies take from 2x to 3x.
  • Weapon swap speed increased to better facilitate slag use.
  • Enemies now more likely to drop ammo.
  • Loot Midgets are now “Legendary Loot Midgets” that can drop Legendary and other top-tier gear.

 

Thankfully, this piece of content is not the final Season Pass offering, with the fourth DLC campaign to be available sometime in June. Still, one has to wonder why Gearbox feels the need to charge for this content at all. Adding new levels lets players become more powerful, but the enemies are gaining strength at a higher rate, making the increase in levels somewhat pointless in the longterm. You can purchase and loot some new equipment, true, but how substantial are these new upgrades? While the hardcore crowd may jump at the chance to squeeze another play out of what was my personal favorite game of 2012, it’s a hard sell for everyone else.

It should be noted that the last time Gearbox charged for a level cap increases in the first Borderlands, the jump was packed in with The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, arguably the best DLC campaign released for the original game. Being asked to pay half the price for none of the story and mission content that its predecessor offered is a little disappointing.

 

Crytek To Bid On Darksiders IP During May THQ Auction

While most of THQ’s intellectual properties have been sold off in light of its demise, there are a few left up for grabs in the upcoming May property auction. One of the choice IP’s remaining is Vigil’s Darksiders, which Far Cry and Crysis developer Crytek is interested in giving it a new home, according to Gamasutra.

The confirmation comes from tweets from Crytek USA’s CEO David Adams, as well as a quote from Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli confirming that Crytek will be bidding on the franchise.

Darksiders II, first released last August, only sold 1.5 million units, and did not meet sales expectations for THQ despite being received well by critics. Personally, I found the game a little dull, and actually fell asleep while playing it. There was something about it that just didn’t capture the Zelda-like feeling of the original, and the focus on picking up tons of loot that was only marginally different from previous loot just didn’t grab me.

It’s hard to say what a Crytek-produced Darksiders sequel would play like, but at least it’ll be pretty. Aside from some console ports that didn’t quite match their PC counterparts, Crytek games almost always look bleeding-edge due to the company’s preference for developing new engines that make PC’s cry and die.