Microsoft to release Exercise Tracking and Heart-Rate Monitor for Kinect?

Remember the time when your parents would chastise  your gaming consoles for making you a fat, lazy tub-o-lard? Thanks to the Kinect, that time is gradually coming to a close. Well, perhaps not to a complete close, but it’s at least encouraging gamers to get up off the couch whilst playing.

According to sources of The Verge, Microsoft is preparing an Xbox 360 dashboard update that will include a “cross-application exercise tracking system.” This “Kinect Play Fit” as it’s so called, will allow users to track their exercise across multiple Kinect games as it provides tracking metrics in the system’s storage cloud. The source reports that Microsoft is also planning to release a hardware accessory, codenamed Joule, to accompany the Kinect Play Fit service. As the Verge reports, “The Joule heart-rate monitor will let Kinect owners track their heart rate wirelessly and ensure any exercise is within a target goal for weight loss, strength, or cross-fitness workouts.” Although the Joule monitor will be compatible with most Kinect games, it won’t be a necessary add-on for Kinect Play Fit’s exercise tracking feature.

The announcement of the new Kinect service is just speculation at this point, but chances are we’ll be getting full details as Microsoft preps to roll out all of its Kinect-related plans at E3 now less than a month away. It’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft focuses primarily on its Kinect peripheral the way it did last year, or takes a more radical approach and targets its hardcore fanbase. Though the Kinect has yet to penetrate the confines of the hardcore gamer, it’s services and applications like the Kinect Play Fit that will appeal to the ever-elusive “casual” gaming family who gladly shell out the dough for such things.

Source: The Verge

Cave Johnson wants you to create Portal 2 test chambers

If you’re an Aperture Science employee and didn’t receive the memo, you’ve probably been fired. Thankfully, the Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC that allows you to create and share your own created test chambers does not require you to enter in your employee credentials. All you need is a Steam account, and if you have one of those, you can get straight to the high flyin’, portal shootin’ mayhem as the DLC is now available for download.

According to Mr. Johnson’s company memorandum, “You are not mentally ill and you did read the memo just fine. It was real. You should be designing test chambers, right now and at all times, or by God I will fire you.” But if you’re like me and are creatively handicapped, any sort of level designer is an intimidating thing to delve into. Don’t worry, Cave understands our stupidity: “Some of you are incapable of designing a test chamber, whatever the motivation. You’re only getting marginally better results than a dog would. Worse, actually. A dog designing even a substandard test chamber’d be pretty damned impressive, let’s not kid ourselves.”

Good news though, if you suck at making your own test chamber, you can participate in the Perpetual Testing Initiative by testing the levels of other players. You can easily browse hundreds of user-generated chambers and test them out. A “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” method lets you sort out the ones that have essential design flaws or were difficult enough to piss you off to the point that you just want to thumb them down out of spite.

You can check out the video below that gives an in-depth look at the slick Portal 2 creation tools. The DLC allows players to easily manipulate the chamber’s environment and even decide the trajectory of the player when they skyrocket off of a launcher. Designing ways to reach that adorable little Companion Cube has never been so easy, or so fun.

BioWare says subscriber numbers for Star Wars: The Old Republic haven’t dropped

Star Wars: The Old Republic just celebrated its fourth birthday on store shelves. Though the game had over 1 million subscribers within three days of its launch (making it the world’s fastest-growing MMO in history, mind you), a number of players have expressed concern over what they see as servers seeming evidently “light” as of late. PC Gamer had the opportunity to talk to BioWare Writing Director Daniel Erickson, who dismissed rumors of a significant drop in subscription numbers for the heralded MMO.

BioWare stated that subscriber numbers haven’t dropped, but concurrent users at peak times are in fact struggling a bit. Erickson said the developer is doing “anything and everything” to keep that number of concurrent users steady:

“Nothing is off the table when it comes to making sure our communities are strong and active on each server.”

BioWare are in the unique position of overseeing an MMO which features full-fledged character voiceovers, so creating additional content for players to consume is a far different process than that of developers like Blizzard in adding content for WoW, for example. BioWare has to plan add-on content months in advance if they are to equip the necessary resources and actors to produce it. Erickson stated however that BioWare is getting better and more efficient at producing content quicker, and that caters to the wants of their audience:

“We’re getting spryer all the time. Usually it’s a question of priority and since we have separate teams working on different initiatives we can usually change priorities for a particular game update fairly easily.”

BioWare is in the process of finishing up an experiment in expanding the SWTOR universe without forcing players to pay/download content supplemental to the experience. Instead, BioWare recently introduced to the game the “Rakghoul plague outbreak” which turns unsuspecting characters into the most feared, and unquestionably most annoying monsters in the Star Wars universe. Infected characters quickly turn into the bulky mutants, giving you the opportunity to play the role of a**hole and infect your friends. The plague has in fact been a part of the SWTOR storyline already. The plot is intertwined with the Kaon Under Siege and The Lost Island “flashpoints” added after the game’s release as add-on content.

The event is a result of an integral concept that BioWare hopes will keep players engaged. Erickson stated that SWTOR seeks to be “not just a destination to see your friends but a place to log in just to see what’s new. Interesting replayable content is the top of the list of design prototypes going on over here.”

Erickson interestingly continued by saying he believes content such as the Rakghoul plague will add to a singular, coherent in-game history that players will be able to reflect upon later down the line.

 “Events are, by their very nature, transient things that build a sense of history within the game. Later you’ll pull out your red rakling pet and say, ‘remember when the Rakghoul plague hit.’”

Source: PC Gamer

Gamestop rolls out Max Payne 3 exclusives

Everyone’s favorite painkiller-addicted, vigilante noir detective heads back to the consoles of gamers everywhere in less than a month and should you choose to put some money down on the anxiously awaited Max Payne 3, Gamestop is giving players a few worthy incentives to do so in their yard.

Max Payne 3 will deliver a brand new multiplayer component, the first in the series, and a number of features aside from wielding Max’s infamous sawed-off should have players excited to venture into it. The game will let players form private crews with friends or join up with public crews, and completing tasks as a crew will gain XP points for the player.

Gamestop recently unveiled the Max Payne 3 exclusives that will be exclusive to their stores. The “Silent Killer Multiplayer Loadout Pack” adds three unique elements to customize your multiplayer games in Max Payne 3 and also comes equipped with early access to the Cemetery multiplayer map. The three unique items are listed below:

  • Light Anti-Tank Weapon – a bigger gun equals a bigger boom.

 

  • Slippery Character Burst – your easy escape from any firefight.

 

  • Listening Device – hear an enemy from far away.

So there you have it. Buying Max Payne 3 from Gamestop lets you easily hear and get away from the poor bastards who bought it from Best Buy. Your move, blue shirts.

Dead Space writer calls out Gears of War

 Time to get out the popcorn. If we know Cliffy B at all, the first shots of what is sure to be a heated battle of words between EA and Epic Games have recently been fired. Chuck Beaver, the Story Producer for the Dead Space series stated in an interview with EA’s official blog that he believes the Gears of War franchise features “literally the worst writing in games.”

In Beaver’s mind, the gameplay should be of the utmost importance to developers and publishers. The writing, he says, can be a fantastic edge over games that suffer from poor plot design, but that aspect alone is never enough to make up for gameplay that sucks. “Games are games first, and need to engage on that level,” said Beaver. “Story is a giant competitive edge to add to your offering, but pure story can’t rescue craptastic game design.  For instance, look at Tim Schafer’s career. He’s literally brilliant, but he needs a strong game designer backing him up.”

When commenting on whether or not a bad story can ruin a game, Beaver interestingly stated that such a question will always have a subjective answer depending on the gamer you’re asking. He did not hesitate however, to bluntly point toward Epic Games and the Gears of War franchise as the epitomizing example of what he feels is horrendous video game writing.

“Story can only ruin a game for those people who care about story, so it’s a conditional answer. For instance, Gears of War. It contains atrocious, offensive violations of story basics. Yet it doesn’t seem to ruin it for many, many people. It’s literally the worst writing in games, but seems to have no ill effects.”

Beaver went on to say that in terms of great writing in gaming, the Portal and Uncharted franchises top the list.

“On the other hand, you’ve got the Portal series, which, to me, succeeds at least as much on its writing as its masterful platformer level design.” He said further, “Uncharted, of course —2 more than 3. Everything else seems to struggle a bit. I guess I’m pretty picky.”

Beaver was also not timid in pointing out some self-criticism in regards to the Dead Space games, particularly noting that the first Dead Space contained “a wreck of unrelated events and broken structure.”

“We knew so little about story back then, and overruled our writers on a lot. Dead Space was just a simple haunted house story that we later pasted a personal aspect on top of – a lost girlfriend who is really dead. Dead Space 2 was a huge challenge. All these elements from the original game that were poorly thought through, like the Marker Lore, Necro ecology, etc., had to move coherently forward into the next narrative. The first story we had was a wreck of unrelated events and broken structure, so we cut our teeth getting that into shape, and didn’t fully make it. Plus, we got lost a bit in complicated lore and plot elements that didn’t come through. And don’t even get me started on the final boss sequence that they put in without me in the meeting! That was fun.”

Dead Space succeeds as a game because it is a truly visceral experience with an atmosphere that feels alive from start to finish. Although the story itself is relatively straightforward, the plot is not what keeps gamers on the edge of their seat, eyes darting and heart beating rapidly. What does however, is the fact that every dark hallway, every turn of a corner, every eerie sound you hear in the distance stays with you as a memorable moments of your gaming career. Certainly, Cliff Bleszinski would argue the same for Gears in the sense that the games contain unforgettable moments that are hardly diminished by a sometimes shallow plot. Either way, the chances of Cliffy B simply walking away from his games getting dissed are slim to none. Getcha’ popcorn ready!

Source: EA 

You can thank Microsoft for the Halo movie being scrapped

There was a time not too long ago that Hollywood was abuzz with Halo fever. The Halo film project was the talk of Tinsel Town and had set the Internet ablaze with rumors and speculated reports after it was rumored that Ridley Scott, famed director of Alien, would be venturing back into space to give the Halo franchise the movie it deserved. After later reports stated Guillermo del Toro was tied to the project, it was finally confirmed that Peter Jackson expressed heavy interest in making the dream a reality. Several years and Halo themed media endeavors later, fans have yet to see Master Chief up on the big screen. Why is that, you ask? According to writer Jamie Russell and his new book, Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood, Microsoft deserves the majority of the blame because they simply could not put their ego aside and put the fate of their exclusive masterpiece’s trip to Hollywood in the hands of another.

According to the excerpt from the book that is now up on Wired, Microsoft was unable to grasp how a major Hollywood production worked from project inception to day one of filming. Essentially, Microsoft was unwilling to cope with the fact that there is no room on a film set for two creative visions. Microsoft wanted to be the end-all-be-all when it came to creating a Halo movie, but Larry Shapiro, former creator and chief of the Games Division of Creative Artists Agency (CAA), understood that such a demand was unattainable.

“To sell a movie into a studio and actually get it made is a lot of work,” Shapiro said. “It takes a lot of conversations and a lot of pixie dust being thrown about while you’re getting the deals done. In the games industry, they’re technologists and they’re data driven. They’re looking at data points and saying: ‘We need the movie to be made, it’s got to be this, this and this. If you get A, B and C to be part of the movie, then great we’ll sell you the rights.’ You can’t do that.”

After Alex Garland (wrote the screenplay for 28 Days Later) had adapted a full screenplay for the Halo film, Microsoft along with their team of lawyers and the CAA began to put together a list of very lofty terms. Shapiro put it into other words:

“We were literally setting out to be the richest, most lucrative rights deal in history in Hollywood. You have to remember that no property, not even Harry Potter, was getting what we were asking for.”

According to Variety, Microsoft wanted $10 million against 15% of the box office gross, in addition to a $75 million “below-the-line” budget and fast-tracked production.

The article states that initially, the CAA’s deal-making got Microsoft what they wanted. The problem? Microsoft’s demands were far from finished. According to the New York Times, Microsoft wanted creative approval over director and cast, plus 60 first-class plane tickets for Microsoft personnel and their guests to attend the premiere. Microsoft stated it would not put any money into the production itself beyond the fee paid to Garland, nor was it willing to sign over the merchandising rights. The company also wanted the winning studio to pay to fly one of its representatives from Seattle to LA so he/she would be able to oversee every cut of the movie during post-production. Ridiculous is an understatement.

Fox and Universal emerged as the top two contenders to land the blockbuster. The article claims Microsoft hoped to use
both studio’s offers as leverage, but they seriously underestimated the nature of Hollywood business. Fox and Universal would ultimately collaborate on the deal, offering Microsoft a much less lucrative offer than they wanted which would heavily piss-off the corporation giant.

It became clear that Microsoft wanted a big-name director to head the project as well, as if the Halo brand alone would not rake in absurd amounts of cash. Peter Jackson eventually decided not to direct, but to sign on as a co-producer. As a result, the name Neill Blomkamp was tossed into the mix, a South African up-and-comer who shot a number of big-budget commercials for the likes of Nike and others. Blomkamp had the passion and enthusiasm for the source material, telling co-Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment Tom Rothman that he was “genetically created to direct Halo.”

Blomkamp quickly came to the unfortunate conclusion that Fox did not want “his gritty, post-cyberpunk aesthetic” to characterize Halo‘s first venture to the Silver Screen. In this project, a director’s creative vision would be non-existent. With corporations like Fox and Microsoft breathing down your neck at every move, it’s no wonder that Blomkamp expressed his resentment toward Fox, saying:

“Rothman hated me, I think he would have gotten rid of me if he could have. The suits weren’t happy with the direction I was going. Thing was, though, I’d played Halo and I play videogames. I’m that generation more than they are and I know that my version of Halo would have been insanely cool. It was more fresh and potentially could have made more money than just a generic, boring film — something like G.I. Joe or some crap like that, that Hollywood produces.”

The article delves into some truly fascinating concepts including the still ever-present gap that exists between Hollywood and the gaming industry and the way in which each conducts business so differently from one another. It appears that what it boils down to is that Microsoft simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that producing a film is a collaborative process which requires multiple parties giving input and taking feedback. Sure, egos and pride are two attributes that Hollywood will be forever intertwined with. But the way in which Microsoft came to town with guns blazing, completely unwilling to negotiate, seems ultimately how and why Halo has not come to a theater near you.

Yet it’s still hard to believe Microsoft has closed the book entirely on the concept of a Halo film. Halo is too gargantuan a franchise and it has a too loyal and massive fanbase to not allow it its due time on the big screen. It’s unquestionably the ideal summer blockbuster containing everything from the badness, faceless protagonist and deep sci-fi mythos to the Covenant – a race of sentient, hostile alien beings with little redemptive qualities. If Microsoft can set aside it’s ego, rook Garland into re-writing the script and reel in the right director, Halo still has the potential to give the gaming industry the film it has been waiting for.

Source: Wired

Author accuses Ubisoft of copyright infringement over Assassin’s Creed story

Ubisoft is currently being brought up on charges by John Beiswenger, an American author and product research engineer who writes from his experience and expertise. Beiswenger wrote and published a novel titled Link in 2002, and curiously enough, is just now choosing to claim that Ubisoft infringed on his work when creating the Assassin’s Creed stroyline.

The copyright infringement papers that Beiswenger filed earlier this week with the U.S. District Court for the middle district of Pennsylvania includes 11 counts of copyright infringement against Ubisoft. Beiswenger is apparently looking to halt any further infringement of his copyright and is demanding damages of up to $5.25 million.

This story principally takes place in the facilities of Search International, Inc., a product research firm that “accidentally” discovers a method of time travel. According to the author’s website, Link “lets the reader be present right alongside the scientists as they uncover some of the very secrets of Creation, and while test subjects are taken back in time to recall ancestral memories, a process key to proving the existence of the human soul. Intrigue enters the plot as competitors, a foreign government, and a special-interest group learn of Search International’s Discoveries.”

Beiswegner claims that because his novel features a device similar to “the Animus” in which users can access ancestral memories and relive specific moments in history, he has grounds for a lawsuit. The book also makes references to assassins and assassinations with regards to the device.

The author is also dragging GameTrailers into the accusations for the heinous criminal act of broadcasting videos and trailers relating to the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

Beiswegner has “over 40 years of Product Research, Design Engineering, Product Development, Manufacturing, Product Management, General Management, Marketing and Sales experience in high-volume consumer and commercial hard-goods.” He also holds over 20 patents for a variety of household appliances. In essence, he is an expert in creating and “inventing” products that already exist.

Thankfully, Beiswegner will have a tough time proving that Ubisoft had any intention whatsoever of ripping off an obscure book written by a guy that invents additions to alarm clocks. He will have to prove in court that the creators of the AC story arc actually read his book or knew of it prior to creating the game, and/or that the idea was an original one that he himself produced. Good luck proving that one Mr. Beiswegner. The concept of a device that allows you to go back in time is a wholly unique one and is not present in any form of cultural media.

Lesson of the day: Get as many patents as you can on items that encompass various facets of society, and when you see somebody making a sh*tload of money off of one of those items, sue the crap out of them!

9. Darth Malak – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Anyone who can pose a legitimate threat to the security of the galaxy without the use or application of a jaw is worthy of remembrance. Darth Malak, the unrelenting evil Jedi of BioWare’s RPG epic, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, did much more to earn his red lightsaber than kill a few good guys. No, Malak was the extremist type. To ensure his status among the villainous Star Wars elite, Malak destroyed the entire planet of Taris in his search for just one Jedi. What an a**hole.

The brutality of the Leviathon, a massive cruiser capable of wiping out planets within minutes, was under the command of Malak as was the Star Forge, a massive station capable of producing large quantities of fighters. Weapons like these should clearly be limited to those who still have the bottom half of their face.

During the final battle of Knights of the Old Republic, Malak showcases his truly wicked nature. His skills and powers prove to be a difficult challenge as is, but the fact that he can run mid-fight to captive Jedis and drain their life to recharge his health is not only frustrating, it’s imbalanced as hell. What could possibly add more fuel to your hatred of such a vile character? The only way to finish Malak off is to destroy the source of his regeneration – kill the other virtuous, helpless Jedi.

10. Nemesis – Resident Evil 3

If there was a list for the most intimidating, baddest-looking, and utterly most disturbing villains, Resident Evil 3‘s Nemesis would undoubtedly top it. A science experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong, Nemesis is the terrifying result of the Umbrella Corporation’s genetic alteration and search for the “perfect specimen.” But injecting  a dude with a super strand of a zombie virus and equipping him with a railgun and explosives never bodes well for the poor bastard (or bitch, in this case) who is tasked with taking him down.

Nemesis appears multiple times throughout Resident Evil 3, and every time he does, he becomes more seemingly invincible. Considering the fact that a shotgun shell to his face did little than tickle him, Nemesis contained a characteristic that is often underestimated and overlooked: the element of mind-coercion. If players were unconcerned about Nemesis’ hideously disfigured face, massive structure or the ability to mutate tentacles, they were terrified of his brute strength and perseverance. I bet money that by game’s end, you’ll have said, “That thing just doesn’t want to die” at least once throughout your campaign.

 

 

 

Counting down the Top 10 Video Game Villains

Even back when gamers were popping quarters into gaming cabinets,  the notion of the “video game villain” has always been at the very center of the industry’s culture and an indispensable mechanism that pushes each and every video game forward. Without the villain and the conflict they present, there is never any reason for a player to pick up a controller or wield a joystick. Villains are a driving force of the video games we know and love, and there is unquestionably a reason as to why some stick with us, making our skin crawl and teeth grind long after the game itself is turned off.

Gaming villains do much more than simply give us as players trials and obstacles to overcome. While some villains are present solely as an impediment, others take on a distinctive, definable persona that transcends the game entirely. Every once in a while, gamers come across a villain that is particularly intriguing, sometimes downright unforgettable. In such instances, the game will facilitate a relationship to develop between player and villain. It becomes an altogether matchless bond filled with frustration, triumph, unadulterated hatred, respect, and ultimately, one extremely treasured experience.

Characters that provide us with such experiences are an undeniably rare occurrence. That’s why XPgaming is counting down the top 10 that video games have produced over the years. It’s a set that includes diabolical humans, an evil Jedi bent on galactic domination, and one sarcastically malevolent android. These villains have not only stand the test of time as being worthy digital adversaries, they have helped to shape and influence the very culture of gaming just as much as our most highly regarded hero protagonists. So without further adieu, here it is: The top 10 video game villains.