xbox 360 Archive

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Happy Rock Band 3 Day!

Shame on you if you aren’t already click-clacking your way to plastic musical instrument heaven today. Harmonix’s Rock Band 3 releases today on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS and many reviews are already calling it the “best rhythm game ever.”

If you’re the poor soul that hosts your circle of friends’ Rock Band get togethers, there’s at least a $129.99 investment you have to make today to buy the game and new keyboard peripheral. On the bright side, it’s an actual MIDI keyboard so you can justify it by saying you got a “real” musical instrument, but we all know you’re just going to use it to hit five colored notes while getting drunk with your friends.

It’s alright. No one’s judging you. Except maybe your mom.

To celebrate a return to the best home karaoke platform ever, I’ve put together a Grooveshark playlist of 82 of the 83 songs in Rock Band 3. (The only song not on here is John Lennon’s Imagine, which i “imagine” is not on Grooveshark because of licensing reasons.) Enjoy getting to know these songs! It’ll be especially fun if you don’t know Spanish and get roped to sing the Juanes song. My heart goes out to you.

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Microsoft Brings Big Name Japanese Developers To Kinect

Tokyo Game Show is this week and that invariably means tons of wacky game announcements from creative Japanese game developers. Microsoft’s keynote at the event yesterday was comprised almost solely of Kinect titles and I have to say, they’ve trotted out some talented developers.

Here’s a short list of exclusive titles announced at TGS via Major Nelson’s blog:

codename D (Grasshopper Manufacture, Microsoft Game Studios). From the famed markers of “killer7” and the “NO MORE HEROES” series comes “codename D” from SUDA 51 for Microsoft Game Studios. You must fight for your life to survive an evil amusement park filled with twisted and eerie creatures. With “codename D” for Kinect for Xbox 360, you are the controller as you unleash devastating effects to destroy enemies and objects.

Project Draco (Grounding, Microsoft Game Studios). The director of the cult hits “Phantom Dust” and “Panzer Dragoon,” game director Yukio Futatsugi, brings you an epic 3-D flying shooter. With the magic of Kinect for Xbox 360, you will be able to nurture and learn to communicate with your dragon as you develop its skills and train it as a partner in combat. Then join friends on Xbox LIVE to feel the rush of flight as you take to the skies together and experience breathtaking vistas and engage in thrilling battles.

Haunt (NanaOn-Sha, Microsoft Game Studios). Gather friends and family to delve deep into a haunted house dripping with mystery — you’ll need every ounce of your wit and cunning if you hope to unravel the veil of rumors that hide its darkest secret. Dodge traps and outwit ghosts, ghouls and frights that lurk with glee around each and every corner. Take a deep breath and immerse yourself in “Haunt,” spooky fun for Kinect for Xbox 360. (FYI: NanaOn-Sha was the creator of Parappa The Rapper)

Steel Battalion Heavy Armor (Capcom, From Software). This all-new game revives the fan-favorite “Steel Battalion” series. With the support of Microsoft, Capcom and From Software join forces to bring this groundbreaking collaborative project to Xbox 360. Manhattan, 2082: In a world where computers and almost all modern technology have been lost, the greatest nations of the world continue to battle for supremacy. The American army lands in New York to begin its first big offensive of a long ground war. Soldiers fire from the trenches as scorched bunkers belch black smoke. As comrades continually fall to the unrelenting crossfire of bullets, the Vertical Tanks make their relentless advance. Experience the battlefield as never before with Kinect for Xbox 360.

Rise of Nightmares (SEGA). “Rise of Nightmares” offers a spine-tingling horror experience that uses the innovative new controls of Kinect for Xbox 360 to give players the ultimate fright. Using their whole body, players will experience fear and tension as never before in this exclusive Kinect horror adventure.

While these were all just announcements (They’re all supposed to come out in 2011), I have to admit that every single one of these games at least sounds intriguing. Plus, with the track record these developers have, gaming connoisseurs can’t dismiss these titles (and by extension, the Kinect) outright. Combined with Mizuguchi’s upcoming Child of Eden, I’d say there’s a bunch of reasons to give a long hard look at motion gaming.

I’ll reserve judgment until I’m actually playing some awesome games with the Kinect, but Microsoft has made a big step forward in showing that the Kinect is not just a useless $149 addon to play Wii Sports knockoffs.

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Monday Night Combat Looks Kind Of Fun

I’ve really come around on the developer walkthrough video as my pre-game release promotional content consumption of choice.

It offers these two simple, yet crucial, elements:

1) Real gameplay footage without bullshots/cutscene smoke and mirrors.

2) Informative narration straight from the game creators on how the game plays.

Unfortunately, dev walkthrough videos tend to run on the long side, so you have to have a little interest in the title before you commit the time to view them.

Let’s take care of that little detail for Uber Entertainment’s first title, Monday Night Combat.

It’s a class-based third person shooter. Focus is obviously on the 6v6 multiplayer and creating a “Monday Night Football” feel to each match. There’s a rewards and upgrade system where you can level up certain skills in the middle of the match and also on a meta-level between games too. From the looks of things it could be to the Xbox 360 what Team Fortress 2 is to the PC/Mac, especially at the $15 price point.

Sound interesting? Check out the two developer walkthrough videos below:

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Microsoft Confirms Kinect Pricing At $150 – Internet Goes Into Conniptions

This morning, we finally got confirmation on pricing for Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral for Xbox 360. Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to people who noticed that Gamestop had posted the $149.99 price on their website right around E3 time last month. However, Microsoft had been strangely quiet on confirming this price point until today.

Here are the two ways you can obtain Kinect this fall:

  • For anyone currently owning an Xbox 360: Kinect peripheral w/ Kinect Adventures game, $149.99
  • For anyone without an Xbox 360: New Xbox 360 w/ 4GB memory storage and matte finish + Kinect peripheral w/ Kinect Adventures game, $299.99

Basically, if you are a new Xbox 360 owner, you can grab both for a $50 discount off MSRP. Microsoft also announced that all first-party Kinect launch titles would be retailing for $49.95.

Now, after reading gaming community reactions to this, one would think that Microsoft had done the video game equivalent of leaving Cleveland to join the Miami Heat. The vast majority of commenters and posters on notable video games communities voiced their extreme displeasure at the price point for Kinect. Many labeled Kinect as a “rip-off” and made comparisons to Sega’s ill-fated 32X peripheral addon for the Genesis. One poster on the neoGAF called it “A disaster of Kin proportions.” Even Microsoft’s own community site, Major Nelson, wasn’t immune to the backlash.

What went wrong? Just one year ago, Kinect (then called Project Natal) was the darling of both core gamers and the mainstream media. People were drinking the Kool-Aid of limitless possibilities in hands-free gaming combined with a futuristic “Minority Report’-esque interface for viewing media content.

Two factors led us to this point.

First of all, the launch software simply is not compelling, at least to core game players. The best game Kinect has going for it is a dance game which admittedly is quite good, but may not have quite the same appeal to Johnny McCallofDuty. The other software is widely viewed as non-gamer content (fitness titles and kids software) or glorified Wii mini-game collection knock offs.

Secondly, Microsoft bumbled the pricing information of the product. When first announced, many people were estimating that Kinect would cost at least $199.99. Pricing seemed to be secondary to the wonder and amazement that such a product existed and could be obtainable by the consumer.

In October of 2009, Wedbrush Morgan analyst, Robert Pachter, guessed the price of Kinect (then Project Natal) at $49.99 (!) with a worst cast scenario of $99.99. Gamers were thrilled. Not only was this device imminent, it would be affordable too!

Flash forward to June of 2010 where online retailers such as Gamestop and Amazon put up the Kinect for pre-order at a $149.99 price point. Grumblings were heard throughout the gaming community, but most were holding out for hope that Microsoft would change the pricing back to at least $99.99  when it gave an official announcement. They did not.

Clearly, Microsoft needed to sell the device at the $149.99, but knew that community backlash was already brewing. They tried to compromise by bundling in Kinect Adventures in with the peripheral. (If we assume Kinect Adventures would have cost $49.99 separately, one could derive a $99.99 price for the device and add the $49.99 for the game to get to the $149.99 price point) However, this seems to have gone largely dismissed by the community because it’s a title that no one desired nor was it perceived as being worth the full retail price tag of $49.99.

If it’s one thing people don’t like, it’s the feeling of being bait and switched on pricing, even if said pricing was never confirmed by the manufacturer. Contrast this with the public response to iPad pricing prior to launch.

Popular opinion before Apple launched the iPad was that it would be priced around the $800-$1000 mark. The Wall Street Journal published speculation in early January of 2010 that the device would cost upwards of $1000. When Apple finally announced the product with a starting price point of $499, it was lauded as being “affordable” and public perception was very positive.

Some conspiracy theorists out there feel that Apple “leaked” this misinformation to the WSJ to manufacture this positive perception. Whether or not this was engineered by Apple or predicted organically, the fact remains that it worked. iPad pricing is a virtual non-issue in terms of internet debate fodder. Microsoft would have done well to haved learned from this.

My Take:

Would I have liked the Kinect to be priced at $99.99? Sure, I mean, paying less is always good. Does $149.99 turn me off from purchasing it? At the end of the day, I don’t think it does. I’m still in love with Dance Central and even at the $200 price it’ll take to play it, it’s no worse than shelling out $200 for a plastic instrument Rock Band bundle to me.

The main concern prospective buyers should be having is with the apparent dearth of quality software titles, at least for solo players. If you’re a core gamer who has no interest in dancing, you suddenly have no reason to buy the Kinect at launch, unless you want a slightly clumsy, yet cool feeling way to navigate your media on your Xbox.

If you’re a casual social gamer or want something kid-friendly, then you have a more compelling decision to make this fall. I firmly believe that total hands free gaming is a lot more intuitive and exciting than having to deal with an a peripheral, at least in a social gaming setting. It’s a much more fluid experience to just move people to and from the front of the TV, rather than having to deal with calibrating and passing along multiple controllers. It’s also a better experience for non-gamers to skip having learn how to use any controller in the first place, no matter how simple it is.

Either way, I still believe Microsoft has a promising product here with the Kinect. The idea of hands free interfaces is a mighty compelling one to me and I’ll most likely be in on the ground floor if only to support the initiative. And because I’m a shameless early adopting gadget freak.

Most people, I’d imagine though, would be best served with the “wait and see” approach with Kinect.

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E3 2010 Preview: Castlevania: Lord of Shadows

The most common question I heard at Konami’s booth while playing Castlevania: Lord of Shadows was “Hey, is that a new Castlevania? I used to love that game back in the day.”

Clearly Konami was prepared for this question because the friendly representative demonstrating the game for me wasted no time in responding to these inquiries with a confirmation and sales pitch that Lord of Shadows is a return to the golden days of Castlevania games. I hope the full game ends up fulfilling those promises, because the demo levels I played barely reminded me of the 2D adventures of Simon Belmont.

Castlevania: LoS looks plays very similarly to God of War. In fact, if it weren’t for the signs above the station, I might have thought Konami scored itself the God of War franchise. Gameplay in the demo was very combat oriented, including the obligatory action combo and grab system. The grab system was actually kind of novel. It plays similarly to a rhythm game (Bemani influence anyone?) where you have to tap the grab button right as 2 concentric circles overlapped each other.

You play as Gabriel Belmont with a weapon called the “Combat Cross” which reminded me of Kratos’ “Blades of Chaos” in that they acted as both short and long range weapons depending on the situation. Gabriel’s Combat Cross will morph between Castlevania’s signature whip and other weapons such as a sword. Other than the aesthetics, the weaponry system works out very similarly to God of War‘s, complete with psuedo-RPG elements such as the ability to upgrade weapons several levels and assorted magic attacks.

Long time series fans will remember the secondary weapons and a couple of these remain unchanged, such as the silver dagger or holy water. Konami wouldn’t disclose the other items Gabriel could pick up though.

The demo ended with a very brief horseback riding combat scene. Again, this played out very similarly to mounted combat in God of War.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved God of War, but I think I was expecting a little something more distinguishing from a new Castlevania game. The Konami rep assured me that there would be familiar “metroidvania” gameplay elements such as level backtracking in the complete game. With Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid) acting as an advisor for this game, I still hold out hope that the final product could end up being something special.

As it is though, the E3 demo left me with the sense I was playing a well executed God of War clone. This could be a good or bad portent depending on what you were expecting from a new Castlevania game.

Castlevania: Lord of Shadows releases this fall on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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E3 2010 Preview: Dance Central

I’m just gonna go ahead and say it:

Dance Central is the killer app for Microsoft’s Kinect.

Now, I know what you might be thinking.”Dance games are for kids and girls! They’re silly and lame!” Hear me out here. You know those choreographed dances in a Lady GaGa or Justin Timberlake music video? Say what you want about the music itself, but you gotta at least admit that the moves are kinda cool to watch, especially when a bunch of people are doing them in unison. What if I told you that there’s a game that would not only teach you and your friends how to dance like that, but would do so even if you had ZERO dancing ability to begin with. Isn’t that something that at least piques your interest?

Harmonix’s Dance Central is that game.

Think of it kinda like Rock Band, only your body is the instrument. (Well, if you want to get technical, the Kinect is actually the plastic instrument you have to buy.)

Dance games have been attempted before, but they were generally confined to sequences of steps on a mat (Dance Dance Revolution) or waving around an input controller (Just Dance). As many people would attest to, this is “dancing” as much as Guitar Hero is “playing the guitar.” Let’s face it, if you walk in on a room of people are playing DDR, they’re going to look pretty silly. However, if you walked into a room of people playing Dance Central, you might think they’re actually training as a real dance crew.

Using the full body tracking abilities of Microsoft’s Kinect, Dance Central lets you do a full range of motions with your body and hands free while scoring you on how accurately you perform the routine presented to you during each song. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about my score. It was just so much fun performing the moves that I found myself ignoring the score tally and just losing myself in the music and figuring out the moves. If the game didn’t even have a scoring system, I doubt a lot of casual players would notice. Nevertheless, I imagine once the novelty wears off, scoring highly will be a strong motivator to perform better as a dancer. As a gaming connoisseur, this excites me because it’s a game genre that has heretofore been impossible to fully replicate in a home environment. As a human being, this will excite you because its so intuitive and easy to get into.

All the songs in the game are original, licensed music. I had a hands on demonstration with Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance and Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown.” Other tracks I saw on the menu screen included Beastie Boys’ “Body Movin’,” No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” Harmonix promises a song selection that spans a diverse set of genres from hip-hop, to funk, reggae, pop, and more. The Harmonix producer I spoke with also touted the fact that many of the dance routines include the same moves from songs’ original music videos.

Now, I couldn’t dance my way out of a box, but after my hands on with Dance Central at the Harmonix booth, I felt I had a decent shot within seconds after starting up “Just Dance.” The dance moves are intuitive and generally easy to understand. Granted, I was on “easy” difficulty, but I’ve also never danced a step in my life that didn’t involve the number “two.” Gameplay involves a sequence of dance moves that scroll on the right side, kind of like the wheel on The Price Is Right. Your goal is to duplicate the highlighted move in the center, while preparing for upcoming moves by looking further down the wheel. The game will give you feedback in the form of red highlights on your on screen avatar’s body depending on where you’re messing up. Perform moves accurately and your score will go up along with Harmonix’s standard 5-star rating system. Many songs also incorporate a “freestyle” section as well, where everyone dancing just kinda does their own thing, as a psychedelic background plays on screen. The Kinect camera records all the action and shows you on screen. It felt a little gimmicky, but was still a neat feature.

I ran into a couple of instances where I couldn’t really tell what a particular dance move entailed. While a friendly Harmonix dancer was there at E3 to coach me on what to do, there clearly won’t be a bundled dancer when the game ships this holiday. Fortunately there’s a practice mode called “Break It Down” where you can practice each individual dance move more slowly and in detail. These instances are few and far between, especially in easier difficulty settings, so I wouldn’t worry too much about difficulty putting a crimp in your dance party gatherings. Most of the moves are very intuitive and easy to perform.

My only other concern was with the menu system, namely the fact that it took multiple confirmations and long, methodical hand swipes to pick a song and difficulty. This may be more of an issue with the Kinect in general as I noticed similar issues with other titles as well. It’s not a dealbreaker; it’s just kind of annoying because using a controller to pick options would just be plain faster. Hopefully this is something Microsoft and Harmonix work on before the Kinect launch.

While many people were on stage dancing at the same time, the E3 demo of Dance Central only tracked one player for the game. It was able to track a person behind in silhouette form as well, but only the first player was scored. Harmonix mentioned that there would be “multiplayer dance battles,” but it sounded as if this would be limited to two scored players. It’s kind of a bummer, but not as much of a deal breaker as you would think. You can still have a group of friends do a routine with you in front of the camera, they just won’t be scored. Think of them as your backup dancer crew. It’ll probably be a good thing at parties, too, as it’ll be more welcoming for some of the more shy people to get involved.

Add all of it up and you have a strongly compelling game experience if you have any interest in music or dancing. The only thing that might keep you away is the $150 Kinect device buy-in price or if you really have no desire to move your body under any circumstance. If you’re at all intrigued by Kinect, though, you owe it to yourself to take a good long look at Harmonix’s Dance Central.

[cincopa 10655732]

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Hulu Plus A Timed Playstation 3 Exclusive?

This morning, Hulu announced plans for a paid version of their popular video streaming service entitled, “Hulu Plus.” Among the added features is the ability to access Hulu through different mobile and home theater devices.

Now, the first thing I noticed on the devices page was this large discrepancy in time between the service’s availability on the Xbox 360 and other set-top devices:

If I were a betting man, I’d certainly put some money down that Sony ponied up something fierce to have Hulu available on their game console first. It’s a big deal. Consumers have been pining for Hulu on consoles for a long time now. Sony should be coming out the huge winner in this. If I was in a monogamous relationship with the Xbox 360, I’d be pissed and wanting a PS3.

Not so if I had only read this statement from Microsoft community evangelist Major Nelson:

We are happy to announce that Hulu will be coming to Xbox LIVE as part of their Hulu Plus experience. In the announcement today, Hulu announced a preview of their Plus service, along with a series of partners of which Xbox LIVE is one of them. We’re working hard on creating customized experience for Xbox LIVE members, which means that Hulu Plus will be coming to Xbox 360 in early 2011. We are taking the time to ensure that the Hulu Plus experience for Xbox 360 is the best on TV and like our other entertainment experiences it will not be a port, but rather a custom experience that leverages the Xbox LIVE community features.

I’d be thinking, “HOLY SHIT!! Hulu coming on my Xbox 360?! And they’re making it special just for me!”

This isn’t an AAA exclusive game, folks. Since when have 3rd party services on a game console been anything but a port? It certainly won’t take over a year of additional development time to get Hulu streaming on an Xbox 360. All signs point to a timed exclusivity deal between Sony and Hulu here.

It’s amazing how effective marketing spin can be in coloring how we react to news.

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Insomniac Games Goes Multiplatform, Signs With EA Partners

Wow.

This news pretty much blindsided me this morning.  I (like many others) assumed that Insomniac (Ratchet and Clank, Resistance, inFamous) was wholly owned by Sony.  The deal is only for one game, but I’m pretty sure when it succeeds, they’ll continue making more of them for everyone.

Could the platform exclusive title be an endangered species?  Bungie’s (Halo) liberation to Activision and the land of multi-platform releases last month certainly raises some eyebrows.  Developers want to own their IPs now and who blames them?  Wouldn’t you want to get in on movie-licensing and branded Mountain Dew flavor money?  Like in the music industry, once you establish yourself as a bonafied rock star, your dependence on the record labels shrinks to just product manufacturing/distribution.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with not being able to play a title due to the consoles I’ve owned since I own them all.  However, I imagine most people have picked only one of the 360 or PS3.  There’s a lot of quality titles that you’re missing out on if this is the case.  Having our rockstar titles available on both platforms serves to only benefit the end user.  After all, nothing kills a recent video game conversation more than “Have you played God of War 3 yet?” “No, I only have a 360. ” =(

Joystiq’s got an interview with Insomniac’s CEO, Ted Price, if you want to read more.

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Bulletstorm? More Like Popuptextstorm Amirite?

Contrary to what the snarky post headline may imply, this trailer for Epic Games/People Can Fly’s (Painkiller) upcoming first-person shooter, Bulletstorm, actually looks pretty damn fantastic.

Let’s be honest here, pop-up text makes you feel awesome.  Don’t pretend that getting a little floating “+10″ every time you kill someone in Call of Duty doesn’t make your insides want to do a high five with itself.  Throw some Duke Nukem Big Foot and a laser whip to grab your enemies and this writer is sold.

(Extra props for using the best Nine Inch Nails song to get the blood flowing.)

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EA Brings Fantasy Football To The Xbox 360 / Playstation 3

ea fantasy football title logo

EA’s looking to get into the fantasy sports market with the upcoming NFL season.  The company’s advantage in the crowded fantasy sports marketplace is their ability to integrate functionality with game consoles.

And integrate they shall!

Although pricing has been unannounced, EA will be selling software on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network for users to follow their fantasy football teams. (the web-based game will be free)

The main three advantages for the game console applications are:

  • Life drafting on the big screen if you have a local draft party – the game will upload the results to the web
  • Easy import of your fantasy team into Madden 09
  • Live scoring/team tracking

None of these features are revolutionary, but if the price is right it could be worth it if you have everyone over for a draft party.  Importing your team into Madden should be possible to do manually and the live scoring is nice, but having to constantly flip from your console input to the TV input is going to be slightly annoying – I’d rather just have a laptop or iPhone nearby.

EA’s biggest hurdle is going to be convincing existing players/leagues to relocate from ESPN/Yahoo/Sportsline/etc. to the EA servers.  With the main draw of the product essentially being a TV-output of the draft, I’m not so sure people make the leap.

View some more screenshots [easports.com]