The Apple Watch is coming. Are you ready?
Today, one day before pre-orders go live on Friday, April 10, Apple outed a press release detailing how the big launch is going to work. If you want a Watch anytime soon, be ready to preorder online tonight at midnight–specifically, Friday morning at 12:01am PDT. All three styles including the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition are bound to sell out faster than you can say Steve Jobs, so you’ll want your finger on the checkout button precisely at that time. After securing a preorder, customers can expect product delivery beginning Friday, April 24.
Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail and Online Stores, also mentions in the press release that the company “will be taking orders for Apple Watch exclusively online during the initial launch period.” I added the emphasis there because it’s important to note. At least at launch, you will not be able to walk into a store to buy the Watch; Apple is making it available for purchase solely at its online store for now.
However, that does not mean Apple Stores and select boutiques around the world won’t be showing off the newly minted timepieces. Visit a brick-and-mortar Apple Store “for a personalized session with a Specialist to try on, fit and size their band, and explore the amazing features of Apple Watch.” Though you won’t be walking out of the store with it, such a session will surely help you decide on which style and size are best, and then you make an informed buy online. Happy shopping, and may the odds be ever in your favor!
Need something to do while you’re waiting for pre-ordering to go live tonight? Hop after the break to watch four recently uploaded official Guided Tours to learn your way around the Watch and its snazzy UI. A general overview, as well as focused looks at Messages, watch faces, and Digital Touch, will get you acclimated with Apple’s “most personal device.”
Is that not enough? There’s more. It’s not Watch-related, but it’s still something you should know. HBO NOW, the premium cable network’s standalone streaming service, has gone live across Apple devices including Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Get the app and get started with a free 30-day trial. Ready to dive in? Sign up for the $14.99 monthly subscription and you’re good to go. HBO releases its new streaming service just in time for the season premieres of Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, and Veep.
Microsoft has been pretty coy about showing off Xbox One’s user interface…until now, that is. Xbox’s Yusuf Mehdi and Marc Whitten demonstrate the One’s UI and its speedy multitasking prowess in the 12-minute video embedded above.
They mostly demonstrate features we’re already aware of, but seeing truly is believing in this case. Sit down in front of your Xbox One-equipped TV and Kinect will sense your presence, recognize you, and automatically sign you into your Xbox Live account. If your buddy’s with you too, no problem; Xbox will sign both of you in and you can switch between your personalize dashboard and your friend’s simply by saying “Xbox, show my stuff.”
The One’s home screen is pretty straightforward. The middle, main section is called Home and there is the space that shows you your most recent live session, whether that may be a game or an app. To the left of Home is Pins; this is a customizable space where you can pin and save your favorite and most frequently used apps and content for easy access. And to the right of Home is Store; this space is divided into various storefronts such as Games, Movies & TV, Music, and Apps.
Multitasking on Xbox One, or jumping in and out of games and apps, is truly a breeze. In this demo, Yusuf and Marc are playing Forza Motorsport 5. Say “Xbox, go to Netflix” and the system will automatically pause the game and jump into the Netflix app. Say “Xbox, return to Forza Motorsport 5” and you’ll jump back into the game exactly where you had left off. It’s just as easy to switch to Internet Explorer, Hulu Plus, and any other app you might have installed on your console.
Also discussed are the advantages of having your games system tied to your cable box. With the One’s HDMI IN port you can hook your TV feed into the Xbox and browse and watch live TV through the system. So, when you’re watching TV now you receive Xbox notifications and jump directly into a game when an invite is presented. You may also receive a Skype call when you’re watching TV and you just as easily pause your programming to initiate a video chat. Skype on Xbox One boasts a 1080p HD widescreen picture and Kinect will smartly track your movements as you move around your living space during a conversation.
Lastly, two new features of Xbox Live are demonstrated here. With Game DVR, gamers can record their gameplay, edit it and share it with friends via the Upload Studio app. You can even select picture-in-picture mode which will record your gameplay as well as instruct Kinect to record you and your narration as you play. With One Guide, you can browse your TV channel lineup by saying things like “Xbox, what’s on HBO” or “Xbox, what’s on ESPN.” You can also create customized favorites lists within One Guide with your apps; for example you can make it easy to browse Hulu Plus’ latest offerings right inside One Guide without having to jump into the app itself.
Side note: Speaking of digital entertainment apps, Microsoft has announced the full list of said apps that will be available on Xbox One at launch and you’ll find the full list after the break.
But words can only say so much. Hit play and discover just how fast and intuitive the new Xbox really is. Xbox One hits the market in just 12 days on November 22.
Update: Yusuf is back to demo another Xbox One feature not covered in the extensive video above. It’s called Snap and it allows you to “snap” or pin an app to your screen while you’re doing something else. For example, while you’re playing Forza you can say “Xbox, snap Internet Explorer” to pull up the browser and view a website while you’re playing the game. You can even say “Xbox, snap TV” and you can watch live TV while you’re racing. It’s multitasking for the hyper-active generation. Watch it in action after the break. (Click here for more…)
Sony’s next-gen handheld known as the NGP is going to be the talk of the town at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). During their press conference Sony will likely give the NGP an official name, price, and release date. To ramp up anticipation for the announcement, they’ve posted five “NGP Previews” at the PlayStation.Blog website. They introduce gamers to a handful of the system’s launch titles and they include Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout, Sound Shapes, Hustle Kings, and Super Stardust Delta. The former three previews were paired with video demonstrations, and they’re embedded here for your viewing pleasure (one above, two after the break).
In this simple game named “Glowball” chip manufacturer NVIDIA demonstrates the bright future of mobile gaming by highlighting the world’s first mobile quad-core processor codenamed “Kal-El.” It’s a quad-core processor with a 12-core NVIDIA GPU that supports 3D stereo and allows for true dynamic lighting rendered in real time and brings more interactivity to a 3D environment. Watch the stimulating demo above to get a sense for the breathtaking games that will one day make it to our iPads and other mobile devices.
In this unorthodox demonstration video Chrome UX designer Glen Murphy destroys a Cr-48 Chrome OS notebook. Since Chrome OS relies on the cloud to store data, it doesn’t matter what happens to your computer. Get it?
They hinted at it, and now they’re delivering the goods. SlingPlayer is coming to the iPad in all its video slinging glory. According to Sling “the video quality is better than any mobile app we’ve ever done”, so that’s something to be excited about. You can channel surf by flicking up and down on the iPad’s large display. But I won’t give away all the sleek, cool features. Hit play and watch the nearly five minute demonstration above. Expect the app to release soon for $29.99.
Check out this brief video demonstration of SlingPlayer running on Windows Phone 7. Full access to your set-top box content and controls is coming to Microsoft’s spankin’ new OS “soon.”
At this year’s QuakeCon in Dallas, Texas id Software co-founder John Carmack revealed that he’s bringing Rage (a first-person shooter that wowed critics at E3) to the iPhone. With the announcement came a very brief tech demo for those in attendence. Get this: the game will run at 60 frames-per-second! All of the lighting, texture, and detail look phenomenal. This game is basically gonna blow away the App Store games competition. What started as an experiment on the Nintendo Wii quickly became an app for the iOS platform, according to Carmack. About two years ago Carmack stated that the iPhone is “more powerful than a Nintendo DS and PSP combined” and today he is backing that up with this impressive tech demo (it’s embedded above). He says that the demo was running off an iPhone 4 and that the game will run fine on the iPhone 3G and feel best on the iPad (thanks to the larger display). He promises that Rage for iOS will be released this year, before the game drops on major consoles sometime in 2011. It’s about time these games-on-the-go got beefier, more graphically intense, and exciting, wouldn’t you say?
OnLive is a gaming on-demand cloud-based service that’s able to stream video game titles from massive servers around the U.S. straight into your home. Man is that a packed sentence. Let me break it down for you. OnLive has three data centers in the country (east coast, central, and west coast) that house large servers; these servers act as hosts to a bunch of video games. If you sign up for the OnLive service and become a member of the community, the servers will pump video game content from the data center nearest you to your Internet-enabled PC or Mac. Again, it’s essentially gaming on-demand. After installing a plugin in your browser, you can launch OnLive and gain access to a growing library of video game titles. It’s that simple, really.
The OnLive interface is neat. There’s a game marketplace that allows you to choose from a wide selection of games. With a single click you can play a game; or you can find out more about the game before you dive in by watching game previews & trailers. You can even watch other OnLive members play the selected game in real time. The interface drags you into the action of other players, and this is a great way to get a glimpse of a game’s visuals and game style. Besides strictly being there for on-demand gaming, the service hopes to form a community of gamers with features like profiles, friends lists, and brag clips (you can record gameplay and share these moments with other OnLive members).
What’s most exciting about the OnLive service is that it does away with the need for over-the-top and expensive hardware requirements for games. Crysis, a game that is known to be hardware intensive, will play smoothly and look great playing off an old Macbook or PC laptop. The secret formula is OnLive’s proprietary video compression chips that pump out the games from the servers over the Internet and to your computer. As long as you have a 4-5 Mbps Internet connection you will have no problem playing what used to be hardware intensive games in HD (a 1.5 Mbps connection is recommended for SD quality). I really want to hit this point home as well: Since this is gaming on-demand, the service brings together games from all major game consoles (Xbox, PlayStation, PC) and enables you to play them right on your PC or Mac. No need for proprietary hardware and cables. All you need is an Internet connection, a computer, and a keyboard and/or Xbox-type USB controller.
There’s gotta be some lag, you’re thinking to yourself. I was skeptical at first, too. But I gotta say, after playing Just Cause 2 off an old Macbook over the OnLive service, I did not notice the slightest bit of latency between my controller button-mashing and the on-screen action. It truly felt as if I was playing the game locally off a computer or video games console. And what’s fascinating is that Just Cause 2 was running off a server more than 500 miles away in Santa Clara! Though there likely is some latency if you want to get all technical, I honestly did not pick up on it during my brief session of gameplay. I was told that as long as you are within a 1000 mile radius of an OnLive data center you should not experience noticeable latency.
Now let’s talk pricing and availability. OnLive is available to use today (in fact it was turned on a day after my interview took place). You sign up for the service at their website. The “OnLive Founding Members Program” is backed by AT&T and it offers the first year of use for free (!), followed by a $4.95/month fee for the second year. There’s no contract requirement which means if there’s a month you don’t feel like using the service just don’t for it that month. Right now it looks like the company is slowly opening the gates to the OnLive community; if you want to sign up to play you have to sit on a waiting list. Bummer, I know, but the service is still in its infancy and I’m sure the company does not want to overload its servers this early in the game.
And what about software partners? You will not be disappointed on this front. Just announced was partnerships with Sega, Capcom, Konami, and Square Enix. Popular publishers like EA, Ubisoft, THQ, Warner Bros. Interactive, and Disney Interactive are also bringing their titles to the service as well. I’m told new publishers are jumping on the OnLive bandwagon all the time, and this is great news for gamers.
Beside the addition of developer support, OnLive will be adding their MicroConsole to the mix later this year. Basically it’s a small (and I’m told inexpensive) piece of hardware that will allow members to play the streaming games on their HDTVs. It will support up to four wireless controllers, multiple Bluetooth headsets, and it packs two USB ports for wired controllers and keyboards.
Is OnLive the future of gaming? Though it’s too early to tell, you can definitely see the potential it brings to the table. With OnLive there’s no need for high-end graphics cards and to run to a store to purchase a game disc. No longer do you have to worry about upgrading hardware to play the latest and greatest games. If you’ve got the proper Internet connection and live within range of a data center, you are golden. I’ve experience it with my own two eyes and thumbs–the latency was non-existent on the show floor. Though my skepticism has been lowered down a notch, I’m still going to wait for a final verdict after I give the service a try on my own computer at home. Even if OnLive doesn’t catch on and become widely popular, replace game consoles and eliminate the graphics cards arms race, you can bet everyone from industry leaders to gamers will turn to this service as an example of how the next phase of video game distribution was imagined and first put into place.
Game: Tron: Evolution
Developer: Propaganda Games
Release date: Holiday 2010
Tron is back, people. Coming soon to a theatre and video game console near you are all new experiences from the famed Tron universe. Tron: Evolution bridges the gap between the original Tron movie (1982) and the upcoming Tron: Legacy flick set to hit theatres later this year on December 17. In the game you play as a system monitor who investigates “mysterious goings-on” that’s happening in the digital Tron universe. The controls are best described by comparing them to Mirror’s Edge gameplay. You are a parkour champion and you move through the levels by completing wall jumps, among other high-flying, fast and fluid techniques. These are known as “mobility moves”. In combination with “combat moves” you will successfully defeat incoming enemies and move on through the game. Combat moves include typical melee fight style with punching and kicking, but you can also climb a wall and pounce your enemies from above. You wield a disc that can be thrown at top speeds towards enemies to knock them out. And if you have a few seconds to spare you can charge up your attacks and this results in a more powerful and effective combat move. In the demo above you can see all the different types of combo moves you can perform (there’s disc-disc-melee, jump-jump-disc, disc-jump-melee, and so on). Another neat gameplay features involves how you pick up health. Through the various environments there are glowing white lines that run along the walls. You can jump and vault along these lines to increase your health and energy meters. This encourages you to use mobility moves and always be aware of your surroundings.
And this wouldn’t be a Tron game without the use of Light Cycles. In the demo I hopped onto a Light Cycle and was being hunted down by enemies on their respective Cycles. These Cycles beat out the ones played in the original Tron arcade game; thanks to a full physics model the vehicles don’t just turn at 90 degree angles. Controls to accelerate and brake are simple. You can also throw your discs to hit enemies off their rides as you speed past them. This part of them demo was quite fun. As you’re trying to escape from your enemies the world is falling apart and collapsing around you. It’s you vs. the enemies vs. the environment. The only fault I have with the Cycles is that they’re not fast enough. If the devs bump up the speed this part of the game will be a whole lot more exhilarating.
A couple other odds and ends: Whatever you earn in the game can be used when you switch over to multiplayer, and vise-versa. When I asked about PlayStation Move support I was told “there’s still some issues to be resolved in that department.” We all know the movie will release in 3D, but what about that game? The dev I spoke to said “it would be fantastic if we could get the game in 3D” and he seemed a whole more positive about 3D support than Move capability. So we shall wait and see…
Overall Tron: Evolution is panning out to be one of the better game to movie to game adaptations I’ve seen in some time. The visuals are slick, the gameplay is fluid, and story should excite Tron fans to no end. Look for its release to coincide with the movie later this year.
Game: Epic Mickey
Developer: Junction Point Studios
Release date: Holiday 2010
A while back I reported on a new Wii title called Epic Mickey. After playing the expansive demo at E3 I am so happy to report back that Epic Mickey is everything I hoped it would be. In fact, it was my favorite game of the show! The visuals, the controls, the characters, and the environments all blend together to make an exciting Disney experience with our good pal Mickey Mouse at the helm.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what type of game Epic Mickey really is. It takes cues from platformers, role-playing games, and third-person shooters, even. It meshes 2D and 3D gaming to produce stunning color and black/white visuals that stem from classic Disney history. The first part of the demo took us to Wasteland, a place where old, washed up, and forgotten Disney characters hang out. Characters like the pirates Smee from Peter Pan and Scurvy Pat are there to give you tasks to perform. In a beautiful cut scene that features 2D paper animation, Smee is crying because all of the pirates are being turned into robot monsters. It is up to Mickey to save the pirates from their demise. At the Wasteland I was instructed by Tiki Sam (he looks sort of like Goofy) to find three masks that are hidden throughout the area. There is a lot of trading and bartering that goes on between all these different characters; one decision leads to another and this all eventually lands Mickey in the appropriate situation to help stop the machine from destroying the pirates. Your decisions to either help or ignore the characters around you will affect the outcome of the game.
The game is split into three different areas: quests, transitions, and actions. Wasteland is a quest area; it’s a place where interact with other characters to complete certain tasks. Transition areas take place in-between quest and action areas and they usually contain special items and collectibles that will help Mickey elsewhere in the game. The transition area I jumped into was a movie reel and it transported me to a 2.5D sidescroller based on Mickey’s first appearance in 1928’s Steamboat Willy black-and-white cartoon. There are about 40 of these sidescrolling adventures in the game; they are all based on classic Disney cartoons. Playing through Steamboat Willy was a ton of fun. I am really looking forward to discovering all the other transition areas in the game. There’s nothing like classic Disney lore.
At the end of the Steamboat Willy level I jumped into another movie reel that brought me to a new area in the game called Skull Island. This is an action area where Mickey will run into enemies to defeat and conquer and it’s the place where I’ll find a way to stop the machine from turning the pirates into robots. My first mission is to find three anchors to save Smee’s ship from sinking into the ocean. There’s no better time to talk about controls then right now. In the game Mickey wields a magic paintbrush. Paint is used to create objects in the environment. If you stumble upon an area and you’re stuck, more than likely a spray of paint will reveal a bridge that connects the gap to crossover. Paint thinner is used to destroy objects around you. It can also be a helpful tool to find hidden objects that reside inside rocks or trees. Throughout the game there are clues guised under dark silhouette shapes; if you keep your eyes open for these subtle hints you can use your brush to uncover what’s there. When it comes to enemy interaction you have one of two options. You can use paint thinner to erase them or paint to strategically turn them into friendlies who will fight for you. Mickey can also collect objects called “sketches”. In the demo I picked up a TV sketch; at one point during the Skull Island sequence the TV sketch was used to distract an enemy. Mickey literally places a TV in front of an enemy and while he was distracted by a scene from the original Steamboat Willy cartoon I picked up a missing anchor piece. Humorous, fun, and effective.
At its core, Epic Mickey is a true-to-form roleplaying game where your decisions will effect the way other in-game characters perceive you. If you use paint thinner to erase elements from the environment around you more than you use paint to create, characters will take notice. In this case, they will be less friendly and willing to help you solve missions. In fact, a little green sprite named Terp follows you around and lets you know what type of “play style” you’re currently engaged in (too much thinner or paint or a mix of both). And since your decisions alter the game, you can literally play through it numerous way and every time will play out differently. With intuitive controls, an engaging story with fun and challenging missions, and spectacular visuals, expect Epic Mickey to take over your living room when it release this holiday season exclusivel for Wii. The game truly is a sight to behold. And and if you’re a fan of Walt Disney creations you will certainly not be disappointed.
Game: Super Scribblenauts
Developer: 5th Cell
Release date: October 2010
The concept of the original Scribblenauts that debuted at E3 2009 really blew my mind. It was a game that allowed you to type whatever you wanted and poof! the object would appear on-screen ready to be interacted with. Due to a number of control issues the game did not successfully execute where it should have. Super Scribblenauts leaps ahead of its predecessor with improved controls, adjectives support, and better levels. The most exciting controls update allows you to manipulate Maxwell’s position (including walking and jumping) on-screen with the D-pad and action buttons; you are no longer forced to use the stylus and touchscreen to make him move. The addition of adjectives greatly increases the number of objects that can be spawned into the world. In the first game you could easily produce a “pogo stick”. In the sequel you now spawn an “angry armed metal pogo stick.” (That’s right–you can assign more than one adjective to an object.) As you can see in the demo above, the angry pogo stick will annoy and bump into you. By adding a “protective metal box” to the environment, it will protect you from the pogo stick. So in other words, objects can enhanced with artificial intelligence by adding an adjective before its name. With the addition of thousands of adjectives, the game now supports over a whopping trillion different objects you can spawn. The only restrictions you have in spawning an object are inappropriate words and the 100 character limit.
With over 120 new puzzle-oriented levels to play through, tighter controls, and the ability to make all kinds of objects with adjectives, Super Scribblenauts will likely fulfill that promise of bringing unique gameplay on a portable platform when it releases later this fall for Nintendo DS.
Games: Kinect Adventures! & Kinect Sports
Developers: Microsoft & Rare
Release date: Fall 2010
Let’s start with Kinect Adventures!, shall we? This Kinect game includes a bunch of mini-games, and I got to step into two of them. “River Rush” puts you and a second player inside a raft that you must navigate through heavy rapids. Controls are simple: lean left and right to guide the raft and watch out for obstacles like big rocks; lean forward to make the raft go faster; leap into the air with your partner to make the raft jump off ramps to collect tokens for extra points. During the demonstration, the Microsoft rep instructed us to side-step left and right to steer the raft; I’m told it can be navigated either way. The second “adventure” I played was a mine cart obstacle course. While you’re traveling at a steady speed atop a mine cart you must jump (for speed), duck, and side-step to watch out for obstacles like metal padded bars. Collect tokens along the way by configuring your body into various positions.
Kinect Adventures! also includes a “camera moments” that pop up a number of times during the mini-games. A small camera icon alerts you when the game is ready to snap a photo of you in action. At the end of each game you are shown a quick montage of your jumping and spinning motions during peak moments of gameplay. They come complete with captions that relate to the action; if it catches a big jump it might say “impressive air”. Think of it like the pictures that are taken at theme parks during big drops on a coaster. Once the photos are saved, you have the option to share them with friends via email or Facebook. That’s right–now you can embarrass yourself in new ways!
Next up is Kinect Sports. This game is a Wii Sports knockoff for sure, but is it a worthy contender? It packs six sports in total–bowling, ping pong, volleyball, boxing, soccer, and track & field. Within the track & field section I did some running-and-hurdling. Ready for the controls? Run in place to make your avatar go and jump to avoid the obstacle beams. The fast your run in place, the faster your avatar will run on-screen. It’s like using the NES Power Pad but without the pad! This mini-game was a lot of fun, though it was frustrating at times. I had some trouble leaping over the obstacles; it’s all about the timing and I just didn’t catch on. My partner, on the other hand, managed to make almost every jump. Guess I need some practice. Besides that minor issue, I was whole-heartedly satisfied with my experience because it resulted in a great workout! By the end of the race my partner and I were almost out of breath and on the verge of sweating (it was hot in the Microsoft cube!). The results screen shows you a sped up video replay of your running and jumping action and then shows your avatars too with some Chariots of Fire playing in the background. Since I only got to the play a track-and-field game it would not be appropriate to say Kinect Sports is better or worse than Wii Sports. The verdict will have to wait until we all get our hands on the game this fall.
Game: Joy Ride
Release date: Fall 2010
Joy Ride is a simplistic racing game made specifically for Kinect. Setup is easy: Stand up and hold your arms out like your holding a steering wheel. That’s it. You don’t ever have to worry about gas and breaking, the game controls that for you. To steer your car left and right, simply use your hands to steer an invisible wheel in front of you. This might sound kinda lame to you Gran Turismo and Need for Speed hardcore games, but it’s actually a decent amount of fun. Obviously Microsoft is going after the casual set of gamers and late adopters to the modern video game craze with Joy Ride, but with motion maneuvering via Kinect this game will likely get all types of gamers off the couch at least a couple times. Virtual steering works surprisingly well. Beyond just steering around a racetrack, Joy Ride comes complete with speed boosts and in-air tricks. For an extra boost, bring your arms to your chest (still in steering wheel configuration) and quickly thrust them back out to standard position. To perform a stunt, move and turn your body in different ways after you fly your car into the air off a ramp. The car will mimic your body movements; for example, if you lean forward the car will do a front flip and if you spin around the car will spin. You can combine all these different moves to gain bonus points. The game has two modes that both support up to two players: racing and Stunt Mode. In the latter mode, you and another player steer your cars on a half-pipe to pull off as many tricks as possible to collect points. Again, this game is tailor-made for people who rarely play traditional video games, but casual and even hardcore gamers will want to get in on the fun at some point, trust me.
Developer: Frontier Developments
Release date: Fall 2010
Oh this might just the cutest game I have ever put my hands on. And thanks to the Kinect for Xbox 360 requirement, you can take that statement quite literally. Once the game boots up you are prompted to select from over 40 different virtual animals to interact with. I selected a cheetah pre-named Skittles. I’m told that players will have the option to personalize their pets with a name by speaking into Kinect’s built-in mic. After selecting the cheetah I called out “Skittles!” to bring it on-screen. By tapping my knees and calling out its name, Skittles recognized my presence, ran up to me, and left breath marks on the screen. I was able to use simple hand motions to wipe the foggy spots off the screen. If you hold your hands out towards the screen your pet comes closer to you for a scratching session. This part was particularly stimulating; it actually feels like you’re reaching out and petting an animal. Virtual hands appear on-screen to show the motions in real-time.
By holding your hand out for a prolonged period of time in the bottom right-hand side of the screen you can call up a menu. Scroll through the menu Minority Report-style with swipe gestures. Select an activity by holding your hand on an icon for about three seconds. Next up I entered tricks mode where you can make your pet mimic your every move and perform dozens of tricks. When I jumped three times in a row, Skittles jumped higher and higher; the third jump resulted in a Matrix slo-mo perspective sequence. When I held my arms up and stood on one leg, Skittles copied my exact positioning. Then when I fell to the ground Skittles played dead. Very neat!
The last activity in the demo was an obstacle course that involved jumping, running, ducking, and balancing movements to get Skittles from one end to the other. This section of the game plays out more like a workout if you ask me. And of course, to get Skittles to run the course faster continually scream his name.
All in all, Kinectimals is the perfect game for little girls who always wanted a pet but could never have one for some reason or another. With Kinect support, players will have a blast raising their own virtual pet by speaking its name and interacting with it by means of simplistic hand and body gestures. Oh, and there’s this: At the Project Natal Experience, Microsoft reps gave out tiny stuffed animals with scannable codes attached. Instructions reveal that players will be able to hold up their stuffed animals to the Kinect camera and transfer their tangible pet inside the game to play with it. Again, little girls will go crazy over this game. Look for Kinectimals to release alongside the Kinect this fall.
Game: Fable III
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release date: October 26, 2010
Familiar, yet different. That’s the best way to describe the next game in the Fable series. Fable III take place 50 years after the events in the previous game. In the single player campaign you play as either the son or daughter of the Fable II hero. Your brother is the King of Albion and he is an evil tyrant who supports slave labor and as a result the people of the land are oppressed. As the game starts you are finally at the ripe age to do something about this; the throne must be reclaimed. In order to do this you must become a rebel and gain followers to your cause to take down your evil brother. Eventually at some point you will defeat your brother and become the next king (or queen) of Albion. And in Fable RPG style, it is up to you to decide (by your actions) if you want to rule the land as a terrible dictator like your brother or change things for the better by acting benevolent and kind.
The demo I played had two parts. In the first, I was plopped into a foreign land called Aurora where I was teamed with my mentor Walter Beck. Your mission is to gain followers to the cause. This demonstration showed off some combat moves; you can wield a sword, gun, or use some magic spells to fend off enemies. Discovering and controlling spells is a lot easier this time around thanks to a “spell gauntlet” that gives magic a physical representation. Other new features: your sword can be customized based on your decisions in the game and you can complete finishing moves to defeat enemies.
In the second part of the demo I was introduced to the new villager interaction experience. Now you can walk up to villagers and interact with them by shaking their hand, grabbing their hand and take them for a run, and even farting in their faces! Yeah, that’s a bit much but it’s quite humorous.
So, although the game looks and feels very much like the past Fable games, this one is definitely enhanced and differentiates itself thanks to a tighter story and refined gameplay. For the first time in a Fable game, characters are now more emotionally connected to the player thanks to voice acting. Also, the main menu has done away with the mess of the past and gives players a 3D portal to access various game options. There to greet you is a butler named Jasper voiced by none-other-than John Cleese. Co-op play is coming, too; the second player can also play as a hero and you have the option to marry each other, have children, share funds, and complete the game together. Have you been yearning for a more robust version of Fable? Well your wish will certainly be granted come October the 26th.
Game: Halo: Reach
Release date: September 22, 2010
OK, so if you’re reading this I’m sure you know all about the next game in the coveted Halo franchise. Halo: Reach is a prequel that tells the story of the fall of planet Reach and it takes place before Halo: Combat Evolved and before the life and times of Master Chief. You play as Noble Team and your enemy, as usual, is the devout alien tribe known as The Covenant. Reach was not available to play at the Microsoft booth, however there were private screenings of live demonstrations of the single and multiplayer gameplay. Not only did I attend one of these live demonstrations, I managed to record the entire live demo!
In Part 1 (see above), a Reach producer plays through a mission called “The Long Night of Solace” and it takes place about half-way through the game. Watch as Noble Team kicks some Covenant ass. Part 2 (look after the break) takes you deep into space for some combat in the sky, spaceship-style. Part 3 (also after the break) features Firefight mode gameplay. Three people in the crowd were asked to join the Bungie reps to help show how this multiplayer mode works in Reach. Firefight mode is simple co-op fun; it’s just you and up to three other players joining forces to fight off Covenant attack. And now this mode supports match-making; so if your friends are not available to play with you the game will find others with similar skill level to help you beat up some Covenant, no problem. You will also be able to highly customize the gameplay in this mode. For example, you can control the number of rounds, where enemies show up, how they are killed (head-shots only, for example), and what happens when they killed (they can explode into confetti!). You can even save and upload your customized game rules to the Bungie servers so other Reach players can jump into your creation. Lastly, another addition to Reach multiplayer is the ability to rack up credits and use them to purchase upgrades in the armory; these are used to customize your own Spartan avatar.
So what are you waiting for? Watch the splitscreen mayhem unfold in the video embedded after the break!
Game: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Release date: 2011
In terms of control, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a stellar improvement over the last Zelda game for Wii that was ported from GameCube, Twilight Princess. The game requires the Wii MotionPlus add-on and true 1:1 motion is the result. Though the short demo at E3 did not share details about the plot of the game it did help introduce how you will control Link for the better part of the game. The Wii-mote is your sword and the nunchuck acts as the shield. At all time you’re constantly whipping out your sword and shield to fight off enemies. To bring them to the forefront it’s as simple as a quick forward moving shake of the controllers. Most of the enemies came in the form of plants and the game makes it super easy to figure out how to kill them. Plants open their mouths horizontally and vertically; so if a plant opens its mouth vertically you take out your sword and slice vertically to kill it. Slice and dice is the name of the game here. After learning how to kill the plants with your handy-dandy sword you quickly learn that you have a bunch more weapons at your disposal. Hit a button on the Wii-mote and a menu pops up enabling you to select from weapons like a slingshot, bow-and-arrow, and a whip. Many of the weapons, namely the sword and bow-and-arrow, work exactly like they do in Wii Sports Resort. It’s pretty clear that Nintendo ported these 1:1 actions from that game to this one. But that’s not an issue, really; I always enjoyed Swordsplay anyway. Link can also throw bombs into the middle of growing baddies and boom they go. With the aid of a map I was able to find my way through the plants and to a door with a wandering eye. I was instructed to spin the Wii-mote (my sword) in a clockwise circular motion to confuse the eye to enter the door. The demo concluded with an oversized scorpion boss. To kill it the game hinted at slicing your sword at its pinchers. I had very low health and ran out of potions so I died before I could kill the big baddie.
All in all Skyward Sword is definitely turning out to be a solid Wii title. Before this year’s Nintendo press conference all we had was a teaser poster and now there’s a trailer and playable demo. As a long-time Zelda fan there’s not much I can complain about. The precise motion controls are a welcome addition to the franchise and a more cartoonish-looking Link and environment make the game feel less like Twilight Princess and more like uber-successful titles Ocarina of Time (my personal favorite) and Wind Waker. There’s no cell shading here, but the graphics feel more friendly and colorful when compared to Link’s last outing.
Microsoft Research is back with a new way to interact with their Surface multitouch table.
Manual Deskterity is a prototype digital drafting table that supports both pen and touch input. We explore a division of labor between pen and touch that flows from natural human skill and differentiation of roles of the hands. We also explore the simultaneous use of pen and touch to support novel compound gestures.
The combination of pen and touch input makes for a wide range of gestures like holding, tapping, dragging, and crossing that can be used in ways you likely have never seen before. Check it out in the video demonstation above. I smell a hint of Courier here.
Microsoft’s Surface table is fairly large and very expensive. And those are two factors that don’t mesh well with the general consuming public. Microsoft gets that, so they’ve gone ahead and created a prototype version of their multitouch table called Mobile Surface. Like its older brethren, Mobile Surface uses a projector/camera combo that allows you to interact with on-screen images. Difference here is that the image projection can be displayed on any surface (making it portable) and it allows for in-air manipulation. For example, as seen in the video above, you can play the drums without physically touching the tabletop. Mobile Surface links up to a secondary device, like a cell phone or laptop, to indicate what you’re interacting with. Pretty neat if you ask me. Currently Mobile Surface is a Microsoft Research project and Microsoft did not comment on a potential mainstream release.