06/25/2009

Hey, That’s John Waters!

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

First off, on Tuesday, I totally saw John Waters on the streets of NYC! Yes, THAT John Waters, director of Pink Flamingos and other such classics. I know spotting celebs in the city is no big deal, you see them almost everyday, but… this is John Waters we’re talking about. So while I never do this, I simply had to stop and shake his hand and tell him what a major fan I was. And the dude was super nice! And super dapper, of course. Kept it short and sweet, since I didn’t want to attract any further attention (he was standing in front of a restaurant, waiting for someone it looked like) or come off as a creep. Besides, I was also running late for…

There was a big press tour that afternoon that Microsoft threw for us east coast journalists that couldn’t make it out to E3 or any of the other west coast only tech shows. The feature attraction was Windows 7, along with Windows Mobile 6.5 and a bunch of other pieces of hardware & software, but because I really can’t talk about those due to embargoes… plus, much of it might not be relevant to the interests of those who frequent this site… I’ll simply move onto the Xbox 360 stuff.

Unfortunately, there wasn?t much. Because of the nature of the event, which was more or less speed dating for reporters and PR people, I was shuttled off to see something new literally every 15 minutes, so didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the gaming portion of things. Plus it was the same exact presentation and information that was available at E3; we all know that Facebook, Twitter, and Last.fm is coming to the platform, how Netflix is getting some enhancements, and how you’ll be able to stream HD movies instantaneously via the re-branded Zune marketplace, plus yada, yada, yada. Only one thing was playable, The Beatles: Rock Band, but since it’s the game I’m the most excited about this year, was more than satisfied. I’ll get into my impressions in just a moment, btw. Though unfortunately, no Project Natal, which I had my fingers crossed for.

Afterward I met up with Dave Mauro and we both checked out the opening reception for X-Initiative‘s NO SOUL FOR SALE show, this absolutely gigantic gathering of artists, art related collectives and institutions, nonprofit entities, and like minded individuals from across the globe that completely filled the gigantic 4 story X Initiative space in Chelsea. There was much stuff to take in, almost too much, though Dave and I were only interested in one thing, that being an arcade set-up by Lightning Industry, which was practically hidden in a corner of the upper most floor.

Because the space was dark, please excuse the worse than usual pics. The centerpiece of the installation was Mark Essen’s The Thrill of Combat, projected nice and big; it was a two player set up, with one person controlling the helicopter with a steering wheel controller, and the second using a flight stick to aim at all the little shooting people…

… Once people, or donors as they?re referred to in the game, are knocked down, you have to deploy your gunner to the ground so he/she can extract organs, hence the split screen above. Novel concept, plus the visuals were nice, and the chiptune-y soundtrack was hawt, but it was really difficult to control, at least piloting the copter. But I guess that was the whole point, at least for the installation. Though I have to wonder how the game works as a one-person experience (it’s available for download, but only for PCs, and I just trashed the XP partition on my iMac).

Also on-hand was Star Wars Episode VII from Jazzuo…

Sexy Hiking, also from Jazzuo…

Documentation that explains the ins and outs of Kriegspiel, a digital “reinterpretation” of a strategy board game that’s based upon the philosophy of Guy Debord…

Mondo Agency from Cactus…

And the one game that Dave and I were looking forward to the most, the new 3D game from Cactus that I had first caught a glimpse of on Offworld

… The player basically has to guide a ball-type-thing across various environments to a hole and onto the next challenge. Each has it’s own set of rules and behaviors. The first two were very reminiscent of Braid, in how the terrain shifts as you go left and right…

… My fave level was one where the entire level kept rotating as you moved, but the directional inputs remained constant, so at one point you’re now moving right, even though you’re still holding down left (and letting go then pressing again doesn’t change anything)…

… Here’s the level that everyone kept getting stuck at. No one could figure out what the hell to do. At the very least it was pretty…

… And here’s the controller….

… Note: all of the buttons were jump. Not sure if this was a joke or something.

Next was a return trip to where the MS event was. It was evening-time now, which meant a cocktail party and a chance to finally dig into all their other game related offerings. Naturally, at the top of both Dave and I’s list was Halo 3: ODST…

… Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let either of us (or anyone else for that matter) touch the controller, but at least Dave was able to pick the Bungie rep’s brains for a bit and come away with the following….

I?m of the opinion that a great story is mostly a vehicle for great characters. The Halo franchise won me over with its two main characters: Master Chief, the archetypal tireless warrior; and Cortana, the more nuanced and human (oddly enough) ?sidekick?. So with the announcement of Halo 3: Gaiden, errr? sorry ODST, I was a little disappointed to see that the game wouldn?t be following the two central players. While one of Microsoft?s reps was demoing the game for me he was explaining how great it would be to see the Halo story from other points of views besides Master Chief?s. That would be great except that I don?t care about the story, I care about the characters. Luckily for me, Halo also happens to a great game, so even if I?m no longer in control the last bad ass in the universe, I know I?m going to be able to have fun with ODST.
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So since we?re playing an ODST, things are going to need to be significantly different right? Well? not really. It?s clear that Bungie just wanted to keep the winning formula, so what you really have is Halo 1 (health packs and the pistol are back, no dual wielding) set in the New Mombasa seen in the E3 2003 Halo 2 demo using the Halo 3 engine (the Halo 3 engine has been tweaked of course, but is still running at the same sub-HD resolution that Halo 3 used). The helpful AI this time around is the city?s AI, the Superintendant. I don?t know what kind of AI it is, but I was told that he will be prevalent throughout the game?s story. The Superintendent helps guide you around the New Mombasa hub world as you find new flashback style missions, which will comprise the bulk of the game. So while the mechanics are very similar to previous games, they clearly want to try something new with the storytelling.
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Of course Halo 3: ODST will have the traditional multiplayer (it comes with all of the Halo 3 DLC maps as well), but they?ve also added a new ?firefight? mode, which is the endless grinder style co-op game you can play locally (two-players on one xbox, or system link) or play with friends online. The maps you play in firefight are areas that you will play through in the campaign mode, and unfortunately, this is how you will unlock them. Yup, you have to unlock the firefight maps. I thought Bungie was above this kind of thing, so much so that I?m tempted to not believe the Microsoft rep, but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.
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I tried to get some answers about Halo: Reach as well, but my rep had to stay tight-lipped about that. He just assured me that some time after Halo 3: ODST?s September 22 launch date, the ?extras? feature on the main menu would go live and it would allow you access to the Halo: Reach Beta.

… Meanwhile, I gave The Beatles another spin…

… The game, quite simply, is magnificent. Only a few of the tracks were available, but as previously indicated, each song’s accompanying video draws from that song’s particular history, and often features whatever band member who was primarily responsible for its creation, like George for Here Comes The Sun, or Ringo for Octopus’s Garden. The video themselves are quite mesmerizing, especially for the later songs, when the band experimented with various hallucinogenic drugs while producing material (especially for I Am The Walrus).

But that doesn’t mean the non-druggie songs are boring in comparison, far from it; my favorite visuals would had to have been for I Want To Hold You Hand, since it offered the best straightforward look at the amazing job Harmonix did in terms of making virtual versions of the Fab Four. Aside from the stunning, completely on the spot animations, they just looked incredible; so close to the real thing that it’s jaw dropping, yet sufficiently stylized so no one comes across as creepy. Basically, as far away from Guitar Hero 4′s ultra uncomfortable rendering of Billy Corgan as you can get… thank God.

It’s also worth noting how exited everyone was for the chance to play the game; Guitar Hero and Rock Band has always been the olive branch for casuals to touch a video game, but when you add the Beatles into the mix, that formula becomes a hundred times more potent. Even the old timey tech reporters wanted to give it a shot; don’t ask me why certain publications have 50 plus year old dudes reviewing stuff like laptops and flat screen television, especially since most of them have total deer caught in headlights looks when they encounter such stuff… which I suppose doesn’t translate in their write-ups… so needless to say that video games especially scares the piss out of them. Though I guess the new guitars, which are finely detailed after the Beatles’ actual instruments of choice, makes it all the more inviting, which I foolishly forgot to take pictures of, but they’re all easily Google-able. I know Katie is not gonna like hearing/reading this, especially since I just got rid of my two GH2 PS2 controllers, but I’m definitely gonna have to get all three of the new guitars, plus the addition mic and mic stands (though I understand the Lips wireless mics are finally supported in RB2, yet as pretty as they are, syncing them up to the system is a real headache).

Moving on, there was this gigantic Forza 3 set-up that Dave got all hot and bothered for…

… He did quite well, all things considering. Meaning the steering was damn near impossible to deal with. Not because it was super-realistic or anything, but there was something wrong with the wheel’s calibration or whatnot. Anyhow, it was around this point that both myself and Dave were starting to get a bit sloshed. We next tried to give Lips 2 (or whatever the heck the sequel is being called) a try, but despite being a fans of the song, neither of us could get through Karma Chameleon without the audio. We then realized that it had been turned off our set, but after cranking it back up, I then realized the reason for the muting in the first place, which was a nasty case of feedback that was making my ears bleed and that Dave was completely oblivious to.

We next wandered to the Windows 7 area where they had Resident Evil 5 playing with a bunch of 3D stereoscopic glasses. Dave immediately became excited, till he tried playing the game, which sorta killed his high spirits (again, would be game of the year if not the ass backwards controls). He’s still interested in the tech, but only if Doom 3 is compatible. The demo person noted that over 500 games are compatible, but was unable to answer Dave’s multiple enquires as to if Doom 3 was on that list. Anyhow, the glasses work fine, but because of technical reasons, you have to be super close and dead center to the screen, otherwise you get this strobing effect which immediately gave each of us headaches. Also, it’s $400, which is no buys in my book. Still, they sorta look neat…

Next was a bunch of a laptops running the PC version of Street Fighter 4. Should have taken a picture since they were running with one of the new graphics filters that ups the painterly effect. But since there was no head to head, we immediately went back to Beatles Rock Band. The evening ended with Dave and I wanting to do a duet in Back in the U.S.S.R. Dave once again cranked up the audio for the mics, and one of the demo dudes gave an annoying “But that’s going to give out feedback!” with Dave basically shrugging his shoulders in reaction. And yeah, that’s true and all, but who could possibly notice with all the people and background noise. After the song, same dude gave us an ultra annoyed and sarcastic “I thought you guys knew the song? And the lyrics were right in front of you!” Whatever. But with that, it was clearly our time to leave, and so we did…

… To Taco Bell, which is the best drunk fast food option out there, aside from White Castle. I later impressed Dave with my freestyle rapping skills, which I’m not going to bother getting into, since you simply had to be there.

Then yesterday was a Namco Bandai event that was held specifically for bloggers. For starters, got some playtime with Katamari Tribute, aka Katamari Forever as it’ll be known here in America…

… Was pretty bummed that the audio was turned off, due it being in a room where a million other things were going on. Regarding the visuals, the pencil drawing filter was on in full effect. Apparently, that’s what the game will look like at default? Everything else, including the “normal” look can be activated once certain criteria are met. Unfortunately, the build I was playing didn’t have any of those available. At least the colored pencil effect was quite pleasant to the eye. Also worth noting is how many of the levels start out in black and white, which you then add color to as you play. May as well touch upon the story right now, which virtually no one else has bothered to address since day one of coverage, at least as far as I can tell (most people seem only concerned with the soundtrack, and for good reason, but there is other stuff to the game)…

This time around, the King of Cosmos get bonked on the head. I forget the exact reason why… not sure if it has anything to do with his nasty drinking habit. Anyhow, he’s in a coma, so the Prince and all his Cousins build a robot replacement. But that goes haywire and blows up I think? Levels takes place in either the King’s mind, where the kids all go inside to help wake him up, to jog his memories by replaying old levels. Does he have amnesia too? But that’s why things are all black and white at first, and then as you highlight past events, literally, you help to wake dad up. Then you have another set of levels, all connected to the Robo King, which are completely new. Once such level has you controlling a Katamari that’s basically a sponge or sprinkler, and as you go around a desert landscape, fauna pops up from where you were rolling.

Something else that I’ve yet to hear anyone talk about is the Prince’s ability to jump, either by giving the Sixxaxis/Dual Shock 3 a shake, or by simply hitting the R2 button. Then there’s the power-ups; one turns the Katamari into a magnet, which sucks everything nearby in an instant, everything that is stickable at least. But there’s another that allows you to grab stuff that you normally wouldn’t be able to due to size at the time. Needless to say, a lot of this changes things considerably. Since I really didn’t have a chance to full play around with most of these elements, I can’t really pass judgment. Though my gut instinct tells me that… I dunno man. I just don’t know.

The new Soul Calibur for the PSP was also present. Only a few characters were playable, and not including the new Billy Mitchell-lookalike, which was another disappointment. Otherwise… it’s essentially Soul Calibur 4 on the PSP. Pretty God damn nuts; they were more or less the same exact character models. Character animation was also indistinguishable, and the backgrounds look pretty spot on as well. Not sure how the hell Namco pulled such a feat off. Then you had Tekken 6…

… I was really hoping for the Xbox 360 build, but only the PS3 version was present. Tried out a bit of the new Tekken Force mode (not sure what its being called this time around), and that was neat. I know most folks have not given a rat’s ass for the Streets of Rage mode in the past, but add in online co-op, and I’m pretty sure quite a few will all of a sudden start caring. But because that giant robot boss whose pic I’ve posted before was nowhere to be found, I immediately started up a traditional arcade session. And I know all the diehard fighting game purists out there totally hate it, but I absolutely LOVE the new blur effect. Sorry for all of you other there who can actually discern each of the 60 frames per seconds in a traditional 3D fighting game. I also have to wonder if the new system will actually help ease the burden of online play on the part of the consoles. Anyhow, what else needs to be said? it’s Tekken, pure and simple. Didn’t get a chance to for long, since some kid wanted to play something, and Tekken was a bit too on the mature side for him, which necessitated the need to switch back to Katamari (oh yeah, a bunch of folks also brought their kids to check out stuff that’s suited for them, and that was… amusing to say the least).

Before heading off, caught a demo of the new Dead To Rights title coming soon. It’s way early into development, but did get to watch a level where the player controls the dog, and one if it’s attacks is to bite off the genitalia of bad guys. There was even a name for the special move, something to do with testicles… the testimony? Anyway, it was then time to meet Katie for yet another New York Asian Film Fest flick, and I guess that’s it for me right now. Gotta run off too… yup, another screening, this time with Hilary. Though before that, heading over to some big Nokia N97 event. Yes, I’m still way into cell phones, not just the iPhone, and I haven?t even touched upon the new firmware and the 3G S yet have I? Next time!

  • http://spikepit.wordpress.com/ spikepit

    Ahh crap, and I was looking forward to the new Katamari game! Spill the beans!

  • http://www.fort90.com Matt

    I thought I already did! What else do you want to know?

  • katie

    That pic of you and Dave is great!

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