Minecraft Story Mode – Interview

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Last week, we got to play the Minecraft Story Mode with Laura Perusco, the Creative Communication Manager from Telltale Games. You can read our review of the game here shortly.

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Sean Cleaver – Minecraft story mode, it’s lots of fun. It’s been worked on for quite a while. When did you first get the project germinating, how did it come about?

Laura Perusco – It basically came from, you know how we’re doing Tales from the Borderlands? Well that came first and we were already working on a video game that’s set in the world of another video game. We started thinking about what else we can do this with. A whole bunch of people in the office play Minecraft or have kids that play Minecraft, and that’s something that doesn’t have a story. People were just creating their own stories in that world. So we had the idea of reaching out to Mojang and floating the idea of doing a game. This was way back before Microsoft brought them out so our contract is with Mojang.

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SC – Minecraft is a very precise visual style because of what it is. But you’ve also managed to find a cinematic style out of this. There’s a lot of YouTube videos that have done these small animations. You seem to have created almost a movie out of it.

LP –  That’s pretty much what we do. We do playable stories, so our games are often thought of as playable movies or playable TV shows. Just the aesthetic of the world of Minecraft is very unique in and of itself. So we actually built a lot of the environments in Minecraft first and exported them to our engine, so it would absolutely, unequivocally Minecraft. Then we added a little bit to make it look more cinematic like depth of focus and changes and stuff like that but it’s all Minecraft. Absolutely.

SC – You’ve got your main characters, a band of four if you will, it’s a very traditional…

LP – And the pig.

SC – And the pig. I’ll get on to the pig now. The pet pig, Reuben. This year seems to be the year of the Dog for video games, every game has a dog and everybody loves them. You’ve gone with the pig and he seems to be much more charming than any dog that I’ve seen this year so far in a game.

LP – Reuben is my favourite character I actually had new business cards with him on. I think something that’s really cool about Reuben is that no one ever thinks of eating dogs in video games and that’s a new dynamic that comes up because pigs in Minecraft are always thought of as food. So it has that interesting dynamic.

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SC – I don’t think I’ve ever though about having a pet pig in Minecraft. I don’t I ever use them for food either but there you go. I quite like the idea with the story building on, a bit like what Minecraft really is, the convention scene. Creating Minecraft fandom within Minecraft itself with Ender Con and the Order of the Stone. What drew you to create that story out of it? Was there a lot of going around, looking at Minecraft, looking at the world, looking at the real life interactions with Minecraft? And are there plans for any more?

LP – The community around Minecraft is so important. That’s the reason for its huge popularity. There are so many videos online and people creating their own stuff. That’s what Minecraft is, it’s about creating things and sharing them. So we knew that was a huge part of the licence.  I actually went to Minecon in London to show the trailer and that was fantastic.

There’s so much love around this game that we wanted to put something like that in there. You might have noticed but the people who come on stage to introduce Gabriel at Endercon are Lydia and Owen, their director of communications. They voiced the characters too. But the thing about the characters in this game is they don’t know they’re in Minecraft. They don’t have any meta awareness or some other real world. As for more? We hope people play it and people enjoy it but beyond that, anything can happen.

Minecraft: Story Mode by Telltale games is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PC and Mac.

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[author]

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My Love Affair with Bungie

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If you are reading this then it means you aren’t playing Destiny at this moment. Which is fine. Maybe you’re at work and haven’t received it yet. Or maybe Bungie’s new outing and its first in the next-generation sphere isn’t for you. Which is also fine. I however need to confess my love for Bungie.

Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly unbiased in my gaming critique. But Bungie have had me sold for a very long time. My experience started when I first got Halo. Back in those days I was a PC gamer, despite owning a PSX  for Smackdown games and a (new at the time) Playstation 2 for Grand Theft Auto 3. So my first Halo experience wasn’t with an Xbox… Actually I did play it on my friends Xbox so I guess it technically was, but I never actually owned an original Xbox. My first full on Halo experience was with the Gearbox ported PC edition. A game that still has people playing its multiplayer even now.

Halo as a PC experience was absolutely incredible. It wasn’t the most graphically superior game even then, but its atmospherics were the same as the Xbox version and were utterly enthralling. There were PC games even then that could trump Halo in many regards but something about it just stuck with me and many others I’m sure. It’s this dedication for scope and environment I think that make Bungie games great and, no offence to 343 Industries, makes the later Halo games/ports a little tepid. But I’ll come on to that.

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I have to admit that Halo 2 was a game, because of my lack of Xbox ownership, that took me 4 years to get around to playing. Several things get in the way of gaming when you’re just entering your 20s. You start social gaming a lot more and you don’t get as much time to play. So you sacrifice and dedicate yourself to one game. I had a good run playing the Grand Theft Auto games and the then excellent Pro Evolution Soccer series… The memories *sniff*. I was also dabbling in having meaningful relationships and doing all of that affection rubbish which meant my PC became my Laptop, became my girlfriends possession when visiting me and then became a Sims only zone. I enjoyed The Sims of course but Halo was still installed, hiding in programs menu waiting for us to sneak some playing time in together.

When I realised that the meaningful relationship endeavour was not only harder than gaming but that Microsoft’s offering had superior graphics to my Sims-top and the exclusive Halo 3, I pulled together some money and brought myself an Xbox 360. A full six months before Halo 3. Which meant that it was finally time to play Halo 2. It’s weird now, having seen and played the Halo 2 Anniversary edition, that I was incredibly impressed by how pretty the graphics were and how big the game was. Even for most PC games, and Half-Life 2 was out by this time, Halo 2 had so many different environments, two different story lines that came together, two different playable characters and a story that elevated the series far beyond its humble Science Fiction homage beginnings.

This is where I get to tip my hat to Bungie and explain why I have this love affair and why it was rekindled with Destiny, because they have directly decided which console I have brought for the last two generations. There is something about the feel of a Bungie game. It’s the perfectly designed and executed combination of easy to pick up controlling, ethereal music, absolutely beautiful concept art realised magnificently and imaginative storytelling not yet dictated by the Boxset/Netflix generation. Which is why the Anniversary editions of Halo feel so weird. They are great visually and are completely the same game as they were but the combination of them feels like Halo wearing a mask. It’s a bit like when your favourite footballer leaves your team for a rival and starts getting the goals. You like them still but it feels a bit sad.

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Which is why, when Halo 4 came out, I was sanguine. I had bid a fond and hard farewell to Halo with Halo Reach. I expected there to be more of course with the formation of 343 Industries but for my own personal journey with Bungie’s lovechild, it was over for me. And I was happy it was over. We left in a great place and we would always be friends. It was a time fondly remembered and will always bring me some glorious nostalgia when I reach into the shoebox of Halo memories. I wasn’t sure I was ready to let Halo back in to my life again. I enjoyed my brief flirtation with Halo 4. I gave it a lot of time and the same level of achievement hunting and completion I had given all of its elder siblings. But it wasn’t what it was. That spark that Bungie had lit for me wasn’t there and I knew it wouldn’t be. I wasn’t sad or disappointed. I’d enjoyed my time in the new Halo universe. But much like when your favourite bar changes ownership and gets renovated, I knew it wasn’t for me anymore.

So here I am with Destiny. I played the beta and it hit me. That feeling that I last got with Halo Reach was here with Destiny and I was excited. This was a new chapter, a new story but with the same love and affection that I had enjoyed before. That’s when I realised that my love affair wasn’t just with Halo. It was deeper and for the first time since being a PC and PS2 gamer, I fell in love with the way a studio designed a game rather than the game universe/franchise they create. I can describe the many different faucets that make this happen to me but the best way to describe it is simply thus: Fun.

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It’s fun to play! It really is as simple as that. Which is why my favourite Halo game isn’t anything directly related to Master Chief, it’s the excellent and vastly underrated Halo 3 ODST. Which is why when Halo Reach ended I was happy and I felt satisfied with the ending of this universe. Which is why when I think of multiplayer gaming I think of the private games I had with many friends of my own creation in the Forge, my version of Predator, and the good times we all had. Which is why my fondest memory of Halo is the 4 player co-op of the final level of Halo 3 where all of us kept crashing our Warthogs to annoy everyone else. And which is why, when I picked up the Destiny beta, I felt like I had picked up the fun where Reach had left it.

Destiny has just finished installing on my Playstation 4 now. I’ve been to friends houses to make sure they receive their deliveries of the game and console while they are at work. The extra content codes and season pass are all redeemed and I’ve made sure that I’ve had breakfast and coffee. Finally, I’ve come clean. I’ve opened my heart about my love for Bungie and now, for the first time in four years, I think I’m ready to fall in love all over again.

[author]

Xbox Report – GamesCom 2014

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It’s that time of year again where the post-E3 glow has faded and another mid-summer pep up is needed to remind you to spend your Autumn cash. However before we go in to anything, I feel that, given the fallout from earlier, a glossary is needed for your understanding. So here we go:

Exclusive: A game or DLC that is only available on one console.

Timed Exclusive: A game or DLC that is available on one console for a period of time before being released to other consoles/platforms.

First on Console: A game that may already be out on other platforms but will appear on this console first, before others, with a time not determined.


 

So here is the big news of the day:

Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the incredibly well received Tomb Raider reboot of 2012 and the definitive Next-Gen editions, will be an Xbox exclusive. You might well have already seen the meltdown that this has caused on social networks and a fairly glib press release from Crystal Dynamics as to their reasons why. The facts are this: Sony’s twenty year relationship with heroine Lara Croft is at an end. The numbers we are assured add up, despite 10 million PS4’s being sold and supposedly outselling the Xbox One 3:1 along with the previous game outselling on PS4 2:1. I’m sure more will come over the coming months to explain what is seen as a very corporate and business based move.

Xbox One - WhiteSecondly is the big news on console packages that are being released. FIFA 15 will come with a console package as will, curiously, Sunset Overdrive with an exclusive white console. These are the standard Xbox One’s compared to the package shipping with Call of Duty Advanced Warfare.

So far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new Call of Duty was an Xbox One exclusive. It’s not but the communications certainly feel that way both in magazines and in the press. The timed exclusivity of DLC for Xbox is the only thing about the game that is completely Xbox for the time being. However the new package of a custom skinned Xbox and a digital version of the Day Zero edition along with a custom pad and (this is the big unit shifter) a 1TB (read that TERRABYTE) hard drive. That is actually a pretty sweet package and the single player gameplay footage looked very good. You may have many comparisons already but none of your games have Jason Statham sound-a-likes saying “bastards” after the Golden Gate Bridge is reduced to rubble.

In fact that swear made me note how the trailer for Sunset Overdrive was censored for saying ass. The console package is a strange one for this exclusive as there is an uncertainty about the game, if it is as good as it promises to be and if Xbox are putting way too many eggs in their basket. It looks very colourful, crazy and anarchic. But so did Brink… Remember Brink?

Of course you want to know about Halo and what we learned. Well, not much that we didn’t already know. We got to see some excellent footage running at a slightly weird 60 fps (weird as I’m so used to not seeing that in a Halo game) and that the new Netflix-esque Halo Channel (a newer sibling of Halo Waypoint) will give us exclusive game reward based content, social experiences and a whole lot more, including of course Halo Guardians.

The best news though is that the silence has broken over Quantum Break. Ever the coolest dude on planet earth, Sam Lake graced the stage and presented a time-bending third person action adventure where you can manipulate your world to your advantage in an effort to fix time, which has been broken by a big mean corporate baddy. Think the bullet time mechanics of Max Payne, or the Lucasarts game Fracture or Sierra’s Timeshift, with a story kind of like The Philadelphia Experiement (younger readers may need to search that one) that meets Quantum Leap/Sliders. But it looks pretty cool, even if we aren’t entirely sure why.

Fable Legends gave us a peek into the eye of evil, allowing us to play as THE bad guy, as opposed to playing a guy making evil choices. Forza Horizon 2 looked and played like a glossy Need for Speed Rivals cum Burnout with a bigger car set. Infact they also released the first ever Rolls Royce for a racing game and the new Formula E Renault Spark car for Forza 5 for free download, the latter of which is actually sitting in front of me in reality.

The casual mentions of Grand Theft Auto 5 were there along with a load of exclusive footballers for FIFA 15’s legends in Ultimate Team. Presented by Peter Schmeichel who effortlessly picked himself and his countrymen, the Laudrup brothers. The new mode has the England legends of Sir Bobby Moore and Alan Shearer along with Irish man mountain Roy Keane and Jay-Jay Okocha… Yes, you read that right.

The big kudos has to go to ID@Xbox, the indie game division. Because the line up for that is outstanding. All of these will be first on console (see your glossary) and include such big hitters as Plague Inc. Goat Simulator, Smite, Speed Runners (that should be excellent on consoles) and the fantastic Space Engineers. All of which have lit up steam and YouTube for the past year. There’s also Fruit Ninja Kinect 2, Frontier’s exclusive SteamRide (a Rollercoaster Tycoon/PAIN hybrid) which is an interesting development given the big IP that Frontier currently have that has been touted to grace consoles in future, and the very very quaint and exciting prison RPG The Escapists from Team 17, who will also be giving their back catalogue to the Xbox. Another indie exclusive is the beautiful art platformer Ori and the Blind Forest for which will also come to PC with its Trine/Child of Light-esque visuals and reality warping puzzles. Very pretty.

Down on the floor I got to get a hands on with Call of Duty, Halo 2, Forza Horizon 2, Minecraft Xbox One edition and Dying light along with some lovely demonstration gameplay of everything else. Keep your eyes peeled to TheGameJar and our twitter feeds throughout the week.

We got to see some videos of other games which were certainly interesting but not exclusive. The big story here though is the massive coup, if you want to call it that of snagging Tomb Raider away from what’s seen as its rightful home, new consoles and a great batch of indie games. The console maybe be statistically falling in sales to the PS4 but don’t count out the Xbox One yet. There is life and that life does indeed look very exciting.

[author]

Missing the Obvious: Strategically Console

I can list the amount of strategy games that worked on a console this past generation on one hand. Shall I list them for you? OK, I will, and just so you know whilst this is also my opinion, it is complete irrefutable fact… Honest:

  • Halo Wars
  • Civilization Revolution
  • Tropico (Series)

Suffice to say that it has not been a popular genre. I am also aware that I’ve missed things that are classed as strategy games like R.U.S.E and XCOM. I’m on about the proper classic strategy games, those isometric games that rob you of several months and – if you’re lucky – several years of your life. Civilization, Black & White, Theme Park/Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, Command & Conquer, Caesar, Anno 1602, Heroes of Might and Magic… Just so it doesn’t look like a Molyneux rap sheet of course.

Civilization Revolution 1I mentioned on a recent review that console gamers, in the least insulting way possible, don’t particularly have an aptitude for strategy in gaming. Maybe patience should be a better word. But to be honest, this has been well known by gaming developers and publishers. Hence why we haven’t really had that many strategy games on console platforms. Even the most recent iteration of Command & Conquer, that 90s powerhouse of strategy gaming, was cancelled.

But it isn’t because the games aren’t popular anymore. Look at the success of Tropico, Civilization V, new indie game Banished and even SimCity. These games are not only successful but still raise the bar in what is considered to be good for the genre, especially in the PC market.

The problem is that developers have never found a way to engage with the console audience with strategy games. It sounds crazy that in this world when SimCity has been released and Transport Tycoon has been remade for iOS that the console market has no way to allow the strategy market to gain a foot hold in the living room/gaming den of your console owner.

That’s because publishers can be quite dumb. Yes, I said it. But they have had, at least for one console, a way to make intelligent forward thinking strategy game with a control method that will suit every Next Gen owner. One of the big problems with this of course is the control method for strategy games being rather elaborate compared to the capabilities of the control pad. Not graphics, audience, IP or anything else except that there isn’t a suitable control method that will allow a console gamer to play a game.

WRONG! There is one. There has been one for the past three and a half years and it has been improved greatly and re-released since. I am of course talking about Project Natal, or as you know it, Kinect.

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Kinect has been utilized in the poorest way possible in the development of games. Its use as a semi-alternative controller or voice command unit in some games is a start, but the controller has basically been used for fitness/dance/sport game tracking and occasional camera use. If we’re honest, that’s it, right?

WRONG! The Kinect has been used for one thing, specifically non-gaming, and the idea and ethos behind it would be perfect for strategy games. That particular thing is the Xbox dashboard. It’s simple. Hand controls on squares to move things select things and now intuitive voice commands that can tell the Xbox what to do.

Let me immediately evoke for you the picture of Tom Cruise from Minority Report. This is exactly how a strategy game could work. If you will, imagine the future world of Command & Conquer on your screen. This time with seven translucent boxes displayed, four each side of your screen except one side which would have three with a mini-map as well, and your isometric view of the world in the middle of your screen showing you the world.

Minority ReportSimple controls: everything you need building wise is in these boxes, you can use iOS style controls to zoom in and out of the world (parting your hands across or bringing them in), movement can be controlled by a hand in one direction and voice controls can tell your squads what to do. You can use your voice to “select all” or “attack” or even “special function”… Do you see where I’m coming from? It’s the most immersive thing to happen to this genre and exactly what it needs to “Kinect” with gamers… PR teams may steal that line if needed.

What I’m saying is that the platforms and tools are there for strategy games to work but they must be based around the controller rather than the controller be adapted to the game. Which is why Halo Wars and Civ Rev especially were so good at what they did. They developed a game around the controller. And with Kinect, people have the most intuitive and free-controlling system around.

Admittedly if you developed a game or pitched such a thing it would not be an easy sell. But as long as you made a good enough game and succeeded in making the controller a vitally useful part of the game, rather than the quirk that it has been marketed as since inception, then there is no holding back.

Not convinced? Imagine playing Black & White or such style of game using a Kinect controller. If you aren’t playing it out in your mind and getting excited by it, then visit your local GP.

[author]

World of Tanks Interview with Marvin Hall

World of Tanks 360 launched on Wednesday 12th February for the Xbox 360, funnily enough. The PC MMO war game comes to the console, keeping the free to play model so it doesn’t cost a thing.

We sent Sean Cleaver to check it out and speak with Marvin Hall, the EU Community Product Specialist for developers, Wargaming.

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World of Tanks for 360 game launched yesterday, how has it gone so far?

It’s gone really, really well. I can’t speak enough about our EU community right now – we hit a CCU of around 35,000 on our first day so it’s really, really good.

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world of tanks xbox 360 1Have you seen any dip in the PC because you’ve gone on to console or is it still very steady?

The PC is a completely different element. We’re not expecting people to drop their PC version of WoT and jump on Xbox. The whole point of this project is to catch people who we haven’t caught yet.

This is just on the Xbox 360 at the moment. Do you have any plans to go on to other consoles in the future?

Not for the moment.

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So what’s different between the 360 and the PC versions if anything?

The 360 version is a real console experience. It’s in your living room, you have your wireless control pad, if you have a big TV or a really good sound system it really immerses you in to the game more.

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I’ve already played a bit and its controls are really easy and intuitive, have you had to adapt the gameplay to make it more console friendly?

Yeah definitely, our development team went out of their way to really make it its own title. The game is inspired by WoT (PC) but it’s its own title. For the control scheme we use, we really went out of our way to make it console friendly. Everybody from experience console gamers to people that maybe play Call of Duty once or twice a week can get the controls and play it straight away.

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world of tanks xbox 360 2One of the biggest benefits of this is its free to play, like the PC version. How do you expect that to carry on? Obviously Xbox Live is charged and you can’t avoid that element, and there are extras inside the game too. How realistic do you think it is to keep it free on the Xbox Live Arcade?

It’s going to continue to be free, that’s our business model and we’re going to stick to it. The Xbox Live gold thing is a requirement that Microsoft has so we respect that. But for free users you can get a seven-day trial of the game. So if you want to upgrade after trying the game for seven days then you can.

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With this, you have the opportunity to expand the game as well. I know you have World of Warships and World of Warplanes planned to come out, is there plans for these to come on console as well?

There’s no plan, no. We went with World of Tanks, as is it our flagship title. Everything else is in the future.

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The biggest question is probably Next Gen. As you said there’s no other console plans at the moment, how are you looking to Next Gen with this kind of model?

It’s a very attractive prospect right now, but we’re very focused on the 360 and our current player base. One of the reasons we didn’t go over to next gen to begin with is because the 360 has a player base of over 48million Xbox live users and that’s why we went with the 360.

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It’s already been said that you’re looking to capture as many people with the target being 48 million. Do you think it’s a realistically achievable thing to get that many people involved in the game like this?

I think it’s realistic. If something is available and it is free then people will try it. With Microsoft backing us, with the correct promotions, why not!

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world of tanks xbox 360 3Playing it myself I found a lot of comparisons to Battlefield 1943. How do you feel you’re going to compare against very established online gaming with games like Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty? Do you think you’ll be able to take some of those players away from that and bring them in to your fold?

Possibly. I think players are always looking for something new and with this coming on to the Xbox I think it’s quite refreshing because it’s AAA and it’s free to play. So I think users will find that very attractive.

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What’s your favourite part of this game?

Probably just playing with medium tanks. It’s my favourite type of tank and you can get everything. You can shoot scouts you can kill enemies easily… It’s very versatile.

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Anything you want to add?

Just basically thank you to all of the community. We’re going to continue to push more in game content in the near future so eventually we’ll have all of the content that the PC version has so there’s a very long lifespan to this title.

[author]

Storytelling 117 – The Successful Narrative Evolution of Halo

It’s no coincidence that many of the writing team from Bungie for Halo have now written novels. Without trying to be condescending or arrogant, anyone can write a book. But to write a good book, imply relationships and create something spectacular requires understanding of storytelling. To suggest that this is any different in video games would be naive. The evolution from a love letter to the science fiction tropes and characters of the 80s, with nods to iconic literature, might have made survived the first game well. But as soon as Halo became more than just one game, the challenge was not to let the rich universe they had created down. Many different series in television for example have the problem of crumbling under their own weight. Without watching it myself, I am reliably informed that Lost is a good example of this.


With the limitations of the technology of the time, compared to now of course, this need to tell something entertaining is paramount to creating an enjoyable video game. It always has been and if we are honest with ourselves with any of the franchise lust/technologically blinkered vision, the problem with modern computer games. Which is sad because we all like games, we all appreciate the ridiculous sacrifice of man-hours to complete such a graphical opus and we certainly want to spend our money on them. But, and I’m going from the traditions of point and click LucasArts mastery all the way to Lego Harry Potter with this one, you need a good story if you want to make a good game. Otherwise the artists, and they are artists, will strive for hours to create a collection of pretty pixels that end up being YouTube clips. Even sports games, let’s take the FIFA series as an example, employ some form of narrative to keep the game entertaining. You have the personal narrative of besting your friends but there are Ultimate Team and Manager modes where you are basically writing your own fantasy football story with you as the great architect of it. In fact any career mode in any sports game is a narrative. Be under no illusions, this is a very interactive narrative device that the earliest of board games employed. Is the joy of winning at Monopoly simply winning? Or is it the recalling of how you carefully planned and plotted where to build your Hotels and how employed tactics to create your own empire?

Halo rose to the challenge of a potentially limited one off premise to create a ten game saga and an incredibly rich universe. Which is ultimately why I keep coming back to it. In fact I will go on record as saying I wasn’t really interested in Halo 4. I am now, having been brought it and completed it for all its worth. But I failed to see how a new trilogy for the Master Chief would benefit the story of the Halo Universe. I was happy to leave this spectre, this hero in the eyes of humanity, tragically floating endlessly in space waiting for a rescue that would never come. Because, by Halo 3, the joy for me wasn’t just playing a good game, it was seeing how it ended. I was happy because the Chief and Cortana were together and they were where they needed to be, as they were right at the beginning of Halo: Combat Evolved: On standby. I enjoyed that the games continued though as the obviously rich source of material the Halo Universe had coined was now ripe for the picking. Halo 3: ODST received a lot of criticism due to it being basically an add-on repackaged as a independent title. But I firmly believe it is the best Halo game. The narrative structure of flashbacks, snapshots and detective work was beautifully played against the artistic vision of the game itself. Dark, desolate, broody and above all, lost. Halo Reach answered some questions about why the Spartans were created and how this war started. It could have used the incredible story that Eric Nylund wrote about the Fall of Reach detailing the programme and the growing of John-117. But it didn’t. It used the universe to its advantage to create arguable a better story for video gaming. Everything that has been done throughout the Halo’s has been useful in sustaining and creating this great fiction. Which is why the series has spawned so many sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and live action features and adverts.


Take Grand Theft Auto 4 for example here of useful/non-useful in-game narrative. Girlfriends can be a useful element in its game play. They give you some bonuses when you need them. In the narrative however, they mostly benefit nothing to the overall story of the game. They allow you to play the game with a relaxation on difficulty but to this great American Dream that Niko Bellic is slowly discovering, they become an irritant to the player. It’s your judgement as to if they are worth the investment of time and stress in the game but the fact that they do isn’t because they make the game harder to complete or affect your playing ability. It’s that they take you out of the story and create another one that you feel you don’t need or takes things needlessly too far. Their inclusion is useful to the nuts and bolts of driving down the street being annoying tailed by a policeman but not to what you’re actually invested in, the story of Niko Bellic. Which is why the follow up Halo games are good. Because by the end of Halo 3, also in part thanks to a stellar cast who bring these roles to life and great musical direction, the narrative arc of the Master Chief is done, but you are invested in the Universe it’s created. You want to stretch your legs and know more. Reach out and become a part of it, more than just from behind the amber visor of the super solider. You feel like you’ve been assimilated into the ethos of Halo’s fictional future and that is very a powerful thing.

The successes for this are simple, well they sound simple. They are in fact incredibly difficult and taken utterly for granted. The first is the relationship, dialogue and evolution between the Chief and Cortana. Something that Halo 4 does very well is point out this weird duality between the two of them that one is a machine and one is human, yet the reversal of this is the basis of the relationship. They are in love, partners, paternal, and completely symbiotic. The exciting thing is that this dissolving of their dynamic in the future Halo games will change the Chiefs character exponentially and how 343i handle this. But there is something so natural and endearing between the two that has held the games together where they are involved. Secondly is Halo 2… Yes, Halo 2. This game expanded the universe successfully when, ultimately, it didn’t need to. But it did and we are thankful. The religious nature of the covenant, their society castes, the civil war, the flood, the destruction of humanity, the sheer cinematic quality and scope of the entire game really helped the series, and arguably video games (Half Life not withstanding), out of a hole to really remember how important story is to any entertainment experience. The switch from cheaper alternatives to give a game its full scope (actors, writing, development, concepts, even the inclusion of an orchestra over computer-synthesised music) lifted the console market into a new era and challenged a lot of conceptions on what actually makes a good game. Without Halo 2 being so well produced, in all regards, most of your blockbuster games wouldn’t be as good.


Of course, the universe is still key to Halo, or it is at least perceived to be. It’s not just a cult following of fans like television shows get. It’s an important part of people’s hobbies. For many years in the future, generations will recall how good they used to feel after playing a Halo game and how they don’t make them like they used to anymore. The universe is the most important part of that. Comics, movies, soundtracks, novels (although someone should really re-novelise The Flood. No offence to Mr Detiz but it was pretty rubbish) have all expanded the universe. I’m sure at some point in the future; someone will give a Peter Jackson that blank cheque to create a film trilogy. Because the source material is so rich, it would be very hard not to be able to create a decent script. I could do it and I would do it. I could even see how Halo could become a couple of television mini-series. Halo in the past 11 years has evolved in every sense, not just in narrative. Now it is taking a fresh evolutionary turn with the new trilogy. Everyone is aware that 343i can create a very good playable game. But what we really need is a great story. Halo 4 had some hints of one, but ultimately was quite forced and felt slightly stagnant in how it handled progressing the story compared to the previous games. We have another 2 games, and presumably a new console to launch, with these titles. We only hope, as fans and I as a critic, that 343i will be up to the task of carrying out the audacious narrative arc they are embarking on.

Cheerleaders, Tebowing and Superbowls – It’s nearly Madden Time. (Madden 13 Preview)

In the next few weeks, Madden 13 will grace our lives. When I say “our” lives, I of course mean the fans of American Football. The rest of you will obviously be waiting for FIFA and drooling over how well Rooney’s plugs are rendered.

Now every year, unlike it’s rounded balled cousin, Madden curses whoever they choose to be on the cover with a terrible season/injury/crime. This year, the honour befalls one of the standout players of the past year. The man known only as ”Megatron.” Ok his real name is Calvin Johnson, but Megatron is his utterly deserved nickname.

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What’s with the death stare on the left?

The Detroit Lions wide receiver had a career best season last year with 96 receptions for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. But before you Lions fans get the hump with EA for hexing your star boy, the fans in a round robin based system voted for this. So basically, Detroit, no one wants you to be happy. Sorry.

One thing Madden does very well (although NBA 2K12 has risen its game mightily) is emulating the presentation of the game on TV. For years we’ve enjoyed the dulcet tones of John Madden’s replacement, Cris Collingsworth, calling the action. NO MORE! Now the job falls to the CBS pairing of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (hopefully without his trademark magic pen).

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Did you hear that? He just farted!

The new kits by Nike are fully represented also and the QB’s have recorded audio to give the game a completely authentic feel when at the line of scrimmage. This also goes along with the standard promised visual improvements (new engine, sun shading, motion blur). It also promises to be as interactive as ever with a new “Connected Careers” mode which lets you share your coaching/playing triumphs, failures, creations and plays via twitter to the real world, NFL insiders, etc.

Where Madden could strike big is by following in the success of the Ultimate Team game mode. This has been in Madden for a while, even before FIFA had it. But it is FIFA’s success that could really make it grow. Already you can take your team out with you on mobile and there is a lot of emphasis on this, especially seeming as 96% of fans (completely made up statistic) are obsessed with fantasy games.

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Already the curse of Madden strikes as “Megatron” is now a reserve.

But this could make the difference of when you get bored after 7 seasons as your created character or running a franchise. The online play in Madden has always been extremely fun (much more fun that FIFA and less annoying). So hopefully the MUT as it’s known will add that great dimension to it.

Hopefully, when I get my hand on a copy, I’ll let you know how well it plays and how bad the Dolphins suck. In the meantime, dust off last year’s copy to trade it in, and download a few podcasts to get you ready. Or if you fancy a read, have some suggestions below for both:

Americarnage – www.americarnage.co.uk (iTunes)

NFL Inside The Huddle – www.nfluk.com (iTunes)

Tailgate to Heaven – www.tailgatetoheaven.com (Amazon)

ESPN’s Mike & Mike – http://espn.go.com/espnradio/show?showId=mikeandmike (iTunes)

NFL Rants & Raves – www.nflrandr.com (iTunes)