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08/19/2007 - 08/25/2007

Four Must-Play Demos This Week [UPDATED!]

August 23, 2007


I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. Have you made plans for the weekend? Cancel them. This week we're seeing a huge blast of playable game demos, ready to download for your enjoyment and scrutiny.

Why is this week such a hot week for demos? It's the perfect storm. Over in Europe, the Leipzig Games Convention is roaring into full swing. Check out IGN's Leipzig Coverage or GameSpy's Coverage. Then, this weekend, the Penny-Arcade Expo lights up Seattle -- this home-grown show has boomed to the point of having tens of thousands of attendees, and it's now one of the major gaming shows of the convention year. So, it's about a month after E3, and about a month before the holiday crush, with a weekend of huge conventions going on ... yep, the perfect time to release a killer demo. Let's see what's out there!

Download the Settlers Demo
Settlers: Rise of an Empire [Actual In-Game Screenshot]

BioShock Demo: Earlier this week I already raved about the setting and storytelling, and as reviews find their way to the 'net, it becomes more and more obvious that BioShock is going to set the tone for the season. People are going to be talking about this one for years to come. Want a taste? Download the BioShock Demo for a meaty glimpse of the first half hour of gameplay. Then you'll probably want to Download the full BioShock Game from Direct2Drive.

Medal of Honor: Airborne Demo: I love the direction that EA is taking the franchise. You literally airdrop into each level, and you can land where you want and tackle the level however you want to -- it's way more compelling than the linear way you play most shooters nowadays. The demo is only single-player, but the multiplayer -- with players spawning in from the sky -- should be unreal. Download the MoH: Airborne Demo!

The Settlers: Rise of an Empire Demo: The screenshots of the latest in the Settlers franchise are pretty awe-inspiring -- your cities really come to life, teaming as they are with animated citizens going about their daily routines. Strategy buffs will find a lot to love: a detailed but transparent economic model, diplomacy, empire building, and outright warfare. As our friends said in the IGN UK Preview, "There's a certain Ying Yang element to The Settlers: Rise of an Empire, with its relaxation one minute and fighting tooth and claw the next." Download the Demo and see for yourself!

World in Conflict Demo: [NEW!] A little later this week war is about to come to U.S. soil. World in Conflict depicts a Soviet invasion of the United States heartland. Aside from the cool setting, there's a unique flavor to the gameplay -- especially in multiplayer -- that makes this one to watch. Players join in, each with a defined 'role' or 'class' that impacts the kind of battle they can fight. Multiplayer cooperation is a must. The World in Conflict Demo landed on our laps Friday morning, so the nation is yours to defend...

There you go -- two great shooters and two great strategy games with wildly different themes. It's a good time to be a gamer.

      -Fargo
Posted by at 10:29 AM PDT
Edited on: August 24, 2007 9:28 AM PDT
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BioShock: You Got Your Story in My GamePlay!

August 21, 2007


I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. Have you played the BioShock PC demo yet? Incredible stuff. Be sure to get the updated video drivers (NVIDIA or ATi) to really appreciate the moist splendor.

A while back I wrote at length about Storytelling in games. And at the risk of spoiling the demo (you haven't played it yet? Get Cracking!), I'd love to talk about it here. What's going on with BioShock? What storytelling techniques are being used?

One of the reasons the game is so compelling is because multiple storytelling tricks are being layered over one another. I counted a couple of brief cutscenes, both done in the first person (the opening sequence and the first time you inject a plasmid). At another point, there's a kind of interactive cut-scene, where you can watch a big daddy in action from behind a glass wall. But the majority of the storytelling is done while you're in-game, usually through radio contact or Half-Life-style mini-scenes or bits of dialogue happening around you. That's how your story is told. (This is technique 2 in my storytelling essay, if you're following along at home.)

Everybody's Doing It!
Let's create a society where Godless uber-men can
create fires with their minds. What could possibly go wrong?

But there's more going on, under the surface (pun intended). Obviously Andrew Ryan created what he thought would be an underwater paradise, but something went terribly terribly wrong. What happened to Rapture? You start to find the clues as you adventure through the game. That's technique 3 in my storytelling essay: discovering a buried story piece-by-piece.

But there's even another story hinted at in the demo, which remains a mystery until you play the full game. What's the story with your character's past? What's with the chain tattoos on your wrists? Where were you headed the night the plane crashed? (And I've been wondering ... what kind of person randomly injects himself with strange liquids he finds in ruined, blood-soaked nightmare cities? That's probably a personality flaw).

There's no doubt that BioShock has some solid gameplay, but the storytelling is the real kicker. It's what takes the title over-the-top, what makes you hunger to play the next chapter. Unlike movies or books, the story is experienced, not told -- dialogue is minimal. That's what makes games unique compared to other media.

Of course, we'll have to wait for the full game to discover how Ryan's utopia turned into an every-man-for-himself nightmare. The game is poised to explore a certain worldview (notice how the name "Andrew Ryan" is practically an anagram for "Ayn Rand?") and its potentially horrific consequences. Is Atlas the good guy he seems to be? Is Ryan really a megalomaniacal freak, or did he shut off surface access from Rapture to protect the rest of the world from his mistake? Only the full game has the answers. You can Order BioShock from Direct2Drive to be among the first to play the PC version...

      -Fargo
Posted by at 9:28 AM PDT
Permalink

Will We See a One-Console Future?

August 20, 2007


I had cheezeburger, and heartily recommend it. Do me a favor and take a glance at your DVD player. Who made it? I'm willing to bet that for every hundred readers I could probably get a dozen different answers. Now answer me this: Will your DVD player play a DVD? Putting aside for a second the issue of regional encoding, your DVD player will play any DVD. It doesn't matter who makes it. And if you look around your room, you'll probably discover that you have more than one ... Your PC plays DVDs, your PS2 plays DVDs, hell, you probably have a bunch of DVD players sitting around your house. They're cheap, they're reliable. DVD players are a Commodity.

So why should it be any different for your video games? It seems hard to imagine a world where you can pop a PS3 game into an Xbox 360, much less your PC, but we take that for granted that we can do that with DVDs. Has the videogame industry outgrown the multi-system model?

Denis Dyack, President of Silicon Knights (creator of Eternal Darkness and the upcoming Too Human), thinks so. He said as much During his keynote speech at the Leipzig Games Convention, which kicks off this week in Germany.

According to Dyack, every technology eventually goes through a process of commodification (which I was disappointed to discover has nothing to do with toilets). Instead of individual manufacturers dictating the technology and charging royalties, the technology spec is agreed on by all parties and everyone can get down to the nitty-gritty of actually making great content.

That's hard to imagine right now -- it's hard to see Sony and Nintendo and Microsoft getting together for some coffee, agreeing on a technology, and then sharing a hug. But there's actually a lot of pressure to make this happen whether or not the big players agree to it. Put yourself in the shoes of a big publisher like Electronic Arts: When you want to release, say, the new Harry Potter game, you've got to make something like eight different versions for eight different console and PC specs. This is a huge expense. And it doesn't really benefit you, the one shelling out the money for one particular version.

Dyack thinks we might see a single-platform gaming universe as early as the next console generation. I think it might take longer than that, but I think within the next decade or so we'll definitely see a "generic gaming spec" that becomes the de-facto platform of choice for both gamers and game publishers. PCs and Macs and Linux will rush in to support the spec, and multiple companies will start manufacturing the console box (or building it right into TVs). Whether big players like Sony are involved or left behind is up to them.

      -Fargo
Posted by at 9:23 AM PDT
Edited on: August 23, 2007 12:27 PM PDT
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