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  Bungie Forges User-Created Content Path For ‘Halo 3’  
Posted 2007-09-22 by Tony Walsh
Bungie's upcoming Halo 3 multi-player shooter will not only support real-time collaborative level-building, but facilitate sharing of said levels amongst the game's players. Bungie's "Forge" object layout editor, provides eerily-similar functionality to "Garry's Mod" for Half-Life 2. With Forge, players modify Halo levels (solo or with friends) using interaction methods learned through game play, manipulating existing objects, creating new ones, and deleting what doesn't amuse. Forge-spawned maps can be played as Custom Games, or shared along with saved game-films, game variants, and screenshots.

Hey, it's no LittleBigPlanet, but Forge is bound to provide innumerable opportunities for emergent game play and potentially innovations in level-design. Not to mention extending Halo 3's shelf-life all the way to Halo 4. Just make sure you obey Microsoft's rules governing user-created content.

Incidentally, Bungie's first "Forge" map editor was created for its seminal Marathon series, which has a number of thematic and specific similarities to Halo.
  Where ‘BioShock’ Lost Me  
Posted 2007-08-30 by Tony Walsh
Cold flecks of brine grinding against my lungs, I swim for dear life from the burning wreckage of the plane crash, flames painting deadly daubs of orange on the slick, black waves. I spy something massive, solid, unmoving despite the seas, and crawl desperately toward the oppressive structure for safety. But there would be no safety in the belly of this man-made whale, I was soon to discover.

The Bioshock game demo had me at "hello," but it lost me almost as quickly. On the one hand, I'm immersed in a gorgeously-rendered, wonderfully-crafted storyworld. On the other, any mysteries concerning the nature of my enemies are dashed: when spotted, their names are superimposed on my screen, like exotic zoo animals subtitled in an educational video. Gone is any illusion that this undersea city is teeming with individual, unpredictable threats. My assailants are like an army of robots, each having a specific name, function, and set of characteristics. Which makes no sense given BioShock's biotechnology-gone-horribly-awry storyline. Each enemy in this story should be unique. And if not unique, then God forbid a precise taxonomy can describe their limited variations. My immersion destroyed, the game becomes just another shooter.

Continue reading: Where ‘BioShock’ Lost Me
  Microsoft Kills Fan-Fiction Based on Xbox 360 Games  
Posted 2007-08-15 by Tony Walsh
The good news is that Microsoft has spelled out how gamers are permitted and prohibited from using Xbox 360 games in machinima and other derivative works. The bad news is that "You can't add to the game universe or expand on the story told in the game with 'lost chapters' or back story or anything like that."

Historically, universe-expanding fan fiction related to TV shows and movies has in some cases extended fan interest in a given property, or has even been incorporated into the property's official canon. Killing fan-fiction (which almost always adds to a property's universe or storyline) pretty much invalidates any of the activities Microsoft has permitted, in my view.
  Flat Is Where It’s At  
Posted 2007-08-06 by Tony Walsh
Development team Metanet discusses level-building issues for N+, an upgrade of its original Flash-based platform game N, revealing that over 1,000 N+ levels have been designed for the Xbox Live / Nintendo DS / Sony PSP versions. The team says:
"’s amazing how much room for creativity and invention there is in the level design for a simple tile-based 2D game. After 4 years we’re still finding new tricks and concepts to play with. Crazy! Why anyone would jump to 3D when there’s still so much to figure out in 2D is beyond us ;)"
Even though this last sentiment wasn't entirely serious, the Metanet team is barking up the right tree, in my opinion. Platform games (such as Lode Runner or Super Mario World) are particularly suited to 2D, and not necessarily improved by adding another D.

I suppose I have to mention some exceptions to my own little rule here, such as 2.5D (which can offer improved platform-game play), and specific platform-style games that break the dimensional mold, such as the optically-insane Echochrome and 2D/3D hybrid Super Paper Mario. Feel free to add your own exceptions in the comments section.
  links for 2007-07-13  
Posted 2007-07-13 by Tony Walsh
  First Impressions: ‘Shadowrun’ (Xbox 360)  
Posted 2007-07-05 by Tony Walsh
Sadly, I'm old enough to remember when the original Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game was first published back in 1989. I had no interest in a Tolkien/Gibson mashup then, and wouldn't have given the Xbox 360 version a chance if Xbox Canada's PR company hadn't sent me a review copy. So, lucky reader, you get my first impressions of the game based on about 4 hours of intensive play.

I was expecting a story-based single-player shooter with token multi-player modes available, but Shadowrun is simply a multi-player shooter wrapped in the same goofy premise as the original RPG. The game borrows a bit from some of the best shooters in history (think Counter-Strike, Tribes, and Unreal Tournament) as well as throws in interesting game play options with its unique technology- and magic-based character abilities.

Continue reading: First Impressions: ‘Shadowrun’ (Xbox 360)
  ‘Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge’ Announced  
Posted 2007-06-11 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft announced today that it has partnered with the Games for Change organization in establishing a worldwide "Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge." Launching in August, the competition is intended to increase awareness of socially-conscious games (and the Xbox 360 brand, of course).

College students from more than 100 countries will be eligible to submit their ideas for a game based on the theme of global warming, with three cash prizes available for the best team or individual entries (no word yet on the value of the prizes). The top three entrants will have a chance to present to the Xbox games management team--winning games could be added as a download to the Xbox Live Arcade network. Development of the games will use the XNA Game Studio Express software, which allows entry-level creators to try out Xbox Live development.

How about this for addressing global warming: Instead of holding a competition for themed games, why not reduce the number of Xbox 360 consoles produced, increase backwards compatibility between Xbox and Xbox 360 hardware (reduces material waste), increase the power efficiency of the Xbox 360, reduce packaging used for games, and have the top 3 entrants in the Xbox 360 Games for Change Challenge present via videoconferencing rather than fly them in?
  ‘Talisman’ Board Game Gets Digital Edition  
Posted 2007-04-16 by Tony Walsh
Capcom has announced that it will be bringing the vintage fantasy board game Talisman to the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and PC platforms this winter. Originally published by Games Workshop in 1983, "the magical quest game" was a tabletop staple in the nerd-packs I used to run in. Although I recall the game fondly, it's one of those board games--like Monopoly--that the leading player has no obligation to complete, thereby dragging out play as long as the rest of the players can stomach it. Now in its fourth edition under the imprint of Black Industries, I'm hoping Talisman's been revised for the best.

The video game version promises a fully 3D environment (naturally), 1-4 player support, dynamic camera angles (a no-brainer), up to 25 characters from the Talisman universe (each with unique features), voice chat, and... downloadable game expansions and microcontent. The original game seemed to spawn an inordinate number of expansion packs, and I see the digital version isn't much different--except in this case, I'm sure you'll pay more for less.
  Xbox 360: ‘Elite’?  
Posted 2007-03-30 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft announced a newer version of its Xbox 360 console a few days ago: Back in black, the so-called "Elite" hardware doesn't just regurgitate the color-scheme of the original Xbox system, but includes a few upgrades that probably should have been included in the first place. Specifically, the Elite's got a reasonably-sized hard drive (120GB, but still not big enough for decent collection of hi-def videos, for example) and an included HDMI cable (among less significant features). Available at the end of April in America, it'll retail for $479.99 USD, which places it nearer to the PS3 in pricing.

I'm a bit sorry to say I might actually consider trading in my first-edition 360 for the Elite based on the separate price of the HDMI cable alone. The way I see it, the original console is better-suited to standard-definition environments, whereas the Elite is actually high-end from the get-go. It's the console Microsoft should have made in the first place.
  Xbox Live:  6 Million Strong  
Posted 2007-03-06 by Tony Walsh
Microsoft is giddy as a sugar-high schoolgirl over its latest Xbox Live stats: Over 6 million gamers are members of the service, spending a cumulative 2.3 billion hours online since the network's launch back in 2002. Microsoft says the 18-34 male audience on Live "is comparable in size to the same audience tuning in to see the most popular network TV shows like CSI or The Office," an appropriate comment give the service's foray into on-demand TV content. With this many eyeballs at stake, can interstitial ads be far behind?

Xbox Live hit 4 million members last October, 2 million members in July, 2005, and 1 million members in July, 2004.
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