Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Release Date Announced

The ridiculously popular video game franchise Call of Duty has announced the release date of its third edition to the Modern Warfare series. Modern Warfare 3 will be released November 8, 2011, and on Tuesday, May 24 Activision also released the eagerly awaited, action-packed trailer.

News about Modern Warfare 3 began leaking out earlier this month. The gaming site Kotaku claimed that there was a leaked audio clip from the game that made a reference to SEAL Team Six. This team is the group of Navy commandoes who took out Osama bin Laden on May 2.

However, if this reference really is contained in the game, it was not a part of the official trailer that was released. The trailer instead focused on showing Call of Duty fans the incredible, first-person shooter scenes packed with non-stop action as soldiers engage in “the next global conflict.”

"It doesn't take the most powerful nations on Earth to create the next global conflict, just the will of a single man," states a brief narration in the trailer. Viewers are then shown the streets of New York, which are presumably ravaged by the Russian invasion that was imminent at the end of the second Modern Warfare.

The trailer then shows that the action continues in England, France and Germany. There are fantastically crafted clips of tank battles, air strikes, trains crashing, water battles and tons of action-packed street fights.

Although Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward’s Creative Strategist, didn’t give away many details about the game, he did say, “We definitely have some insane moments that we’re taking players to. I mean, what’s truly cool about Modern Warfare 3 is, we’re taking it out of the more ‘outskirts’ areas and bringing it in to these non-traditional conflict areas that you’re not used to seeing. Also, you’re seeing these awesome set-piece moments that you’ve never seen before in locations you’d never expect.”

This is the eighth installment in the Call of Duty series, and it reportedly takes players to more than a dozen different iconic locations all over the globe.

Infinity Ward was originally supposed to develop Modern Warfare 3, but there were some issues that led to a legal dispute between the company and Activision. These problems led to the addition of Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software to the development team.

The Call of Duty series is one of the best-selling video game franchises in gaming history, and I’m sure that Modern Warfare 3 will only be adding to that legacy. The game will be available on the Xbox 360, Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii consoles, as well as a PC game on Microsoft Windows.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Microsoft Replacing Older Xbox 360s with Disc Problem

On Thursday, May 19 Microsoft announced that it would be replacing a number of older Xbox 360 systems. The number of systems that will be replaced has not been disclosed, but according to a company spokeswoman, Microsoft will be replacing these select consoles due to a disc problem that is tied to the system’s ability to block counterfeit games.

Microsoft said that it will be replacing this small number of older Xbox 360 consoles with the newest edition of the console and a one-year subscription to Xbox Live.

Microsoft is definitely on top of things because users hadn’t even complained of a problem. Xbox 360 owner Avery Penn told the blog Kotaku that when he read the e-mail from Microsoft about replacing his gaming system, his “jaw hit the floor.” Microsoft was able to detect the issues with these select consoles before they had even occurred. They said that they were able figure out that there was an issue via its online service Xbox Live. The issues surrounding the whole event were later confirmed by Microsoft via Twitter.

At first, Kotaku was guessing that the issue was tied to an upcoming Xbox 360 update that reflashes the DVD drive to a new stock firmware and adds support to the DVD player for new XGD3 disk format; however, in an e-mail exchange between Microsoft and Kotaku, Microsoft denied the blog’s speculation.

"Following a recent update to our system software, we have become aware of an issue that is preventing a very small number of Xbox 360 owners from playing retail game discs," Microsoft said in an emailed statement Thursday. "This issue manifests itself as a unique 'disc unreadable' or 'disc unsupported' error on the screen and is unrelated to our recent public beta. We are also able to detect this issue over Xbox LIVE and are proactively reaching out to customers that may be impacted to replace their console. Any Xbox 360 owners receiving this error are encouraged to contact us at www.xbox.com/support/contact so we can verify if the console has been impacted.”

"This disc read error message is tied to a change in the disc reading algorithms in a recent software update and is not specific to older or newer versions of Xbox 360," Microsoft added.

The Microsoft representative was then asked for more details, but she said that she could not reveal anything else. "We are not disclosing the details of the issue as it impacts a sub-system intended to thwart the use of counterfeit games," she said in an emailed follow-up. "After we have verified if a customer's console is impacted, we are taking care of customers by replacing their consoles with a new Xbox 360 S 250GB, as well as giving them a one year subscription to Xbox Live for the inconvenience."

The older Xbox 360’s of those affected will be replaced with the Xbox 360 S. This is the newest version of the Xbox 360, the one that began shipping in March of last year. It will feature a 250 GB hard drive, integrated 802.11n, digital audio, and 5 USB ports.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

L.A. Noire

L.A. NoireL.A. Noire is Rockstar's next leap in the realm of open world gaming with help from Team Bondi. Rockstar is known in the gaming world for primarily one thing, incredible open world story-telling. The company's last two projects, Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, were massive breakthroughs in the genre that brought immense, open world environments together with gripping storylines and truly engaging and wonderful characters. However, despite all the similarities to these two games, L.A. Noire takes a slightly different approach. No longer are you a vigilante who is free to do pretty much whatever he wants. No, this time you are an L.A. police officer, hell bent on making the streets of the city safe.

L.A. Noire places you in the shoes of Cole Phelps, a WWII veteran and Rookie beat cop for the LAPD. The story takes place, if you didn't gather it from the title and everything said up until this point, in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Your job as Phelps is to investigate crimes and work your way from lowly beat cop to top notch detective. In order to do that, however, you will need to have all of your wits about you as you investigate crime scenes, look for clues, follow leads, interrogate suspects and ultimately make an arrest, you had just better hope that it's the right one.

The style of this game is unlike anything I have ever played before and that is all thanks to a little piece of technology called MotionScan. Every actor in the game was recorded using 32 surrounding cameras in order to capture every single facial expression from every angle. This is where L.A. Noire really shines. These are seriously the most realistic faces seen in a video game to date, but they are more than just something pretty to look at, they are also crucial to you in solving cases.

Cases in L.A. Noire are multi-level, in a manner of speaking. You start off by investigating the crime scene and looking for clues. Then you follow up on any leads you may have, look for more clues, interrogate suspects and ultimately make your decision of "Who dunnit?". These core gameplay mechanics are very smooth and intuitive and are also very easy to pick up.

L.A. Noire screenshot

Music, reminiscent of those old 40s and 50s beat street crime dramas, plays in the background when you enter the crime scene. You are then notified when you are near a clue in two ways: an audible chime happens in the game and the controller vibrates slightly. You pick up the interesting object and inspect it by rotating the left stick all around. If you find something interesting, then you can hit A to examine the object further. Use the left stick to move your hand from object to object and press A to pick it up and examine it. After you are done, anything of note is automatically updated to your notebook.

Your notebook has everything you need to make your way in L.A. Noire. It gives you all the clues you have found, all the people and places of interest, and all the questions you should ask each person. It is also a vital tool in interrogations as well. You select questions to ask suspects or witnesses from your notebook and then make an assumption based on the character's response. You can choose to believe what the character says, doubt it, or flat out call the person a liar, though you better have some hard evidence for the latter.

To determine which response to pick, you have to pay attention to inflections in the character's voice and changes in facial expressions. The changes are made extremely noticeable thanks to the MotionScan technology.

L.A. Noire screenshot

Each successful interrogation and closed case grants you experience. Experience allows you to unlock things like new suits and intuition points. Intuition points are like little "Help Me" tokens. You can use one to do a plethora of things to help you during a case. Having trouble finding all the clues? Just use an intuition point and all the clues will be highlighted on your radar. Can't determine if a suspect is lying or not? Use an intuition point to either remove an accusation (i.e. Truth, Doubt, Lie) or to poll the community on which answer they think is best. Think of it as a lifeline from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Removing an accusation is like using the 50-50 and Asking the Community is like Asking the Audience.

What would a cop drama be without combat? Nothing, I say! But, thankfully, L.A. Noire has that too. Combat in L.A. Noire is very satisfying. You will engage in everything from high speed pursuits on foot or in a car, dramatic shootouts with criminals and gangsters and hand-to-hand brawls with feisty suspects. Shooting is made easy thanks to an auto-lock feature and you don't have to stand there and get shot. Quickly duck into cover by running up to it and hitting LB. You can then move from cover to cover or pop up to take down the bad guys.

On foot pursuits are heart pounding and extremely satisfying. The music and quips from your character, mixed with the realistic interactions from the environment and your foe make for some truly pulse-pounding chases. The same goes for high speed pursuits. Take the wheel and try to tail-whip the criminal or get close enough for your partner to shoot out the tires. The one gripe I have about the combat is that the cover system can be a bit difficult at times, especially when your suspect takes off. Hopping in and out of cover could be smoother but it is an extremely minor flaw.

Graphically this game is stunning. The open world 1940s Los Angeles is a truly breathtaking environment and one heck of a game location. Lighting is very well done and the physics engine gives the game a very real feel. Rockstar isn't known for having the best graphics around so expect some pixelation here and there but nothing to get your knickers in a twist about.

L.A. Noire screenshot

What I like most is the presentation. When you transition from case to case, you are greeted with a cut scene that plays off of the old 40s and 50s cop drama, gum shoe films which gives L.A. Noire a very cinematic feel. Couple that with the incredible soundtrack, stellar voice acting and disturbingly realistic character models and you ave a recipe for awesome.

If you are not a patient person, then L.A. Noire probably isn't for you. However, if you love open world games, gripping storylines, intense characters and an all around incredible gaming experience, then this is one game you will not want to miss. L.A. Noire brings so many new things to the table that they will undoubtedly affect gaming in the future. L.A. Noire is definitely kicking off the summer gaming season with one helluva bang.

L.A. Noire is out now for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Updates on the PlayStation Network

It’s been twenty days now since PlayStation has been down, and according to a report from Bloomberg, Sony’s PlayStation Network, as well as their Qriocity online service, could be down for a little while longer. Users will be without these services until at least May 31, but it could be even longer.

In an interview that was conducted by Bloomberg, Sony spokesperson Shigenori Yoshida said that the company is currently working to install an improved security system and will have its services fully operational by May 31.

The Sony PlayStation Network has been down since April 20, and Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) went down on May 2. Sony hosted a press conference in Tokyo on April 30. There the company said that it planned to have everything running again within a week, but with the outages of its SOE services as well, they simply need more time.

"We won't restore the services until we can test the system's strength" when it comes to security of the network and the safety of users' data, Sony said in a blog post on Friday. "We were unaware of the extent of the attack on Sony Online Entertainment servers, and we are taking this opportunity to conduct further testing of the incredibly complex system."

The company also stated on Friday that they had found and removed a website that had posted more than 2,500 names and partial addresses of participants in one of their 2001 product sweepstakes. According to Sony, "the website was out-of-date and inactive when discovered as part of the continued attacks on Sony.” However, the only information listed on the website was names and bits and pieces of addresses. Sony says, “No one’s credit card, social security number, password or other personal information beyond name, partial mailing address and three unconfirmed e-mail addresses were on the list.

Last week, the chairman and chief executive at Sony Howard Stringer offered an apology to all users that were affected by the massive hack. "As a company we — and I — apologize for the inconvenience and concern caused by this attack," Stringer wrote in a blog post on Thursday night. "Under the leadership of Kazuo Hirai, we have teams working around the clock and around the world to restore your access to those services as quickly, and as safely, as possible."

He also offered all individuals involved a year of free credit monitoring and an ID theft policy. This is a precautionary measure, because it is possible that whoever hacked the network could have obtained credit card information from PlayStation Network users.

Analysts are saying that the hack that Sony has suffered could cost the company up to a $1 billion in damages.

Sony said in a letter that the company sent to Congress last week that they did not know who the hackers were yet; however, the letter went on to say that Sony had found some sort of evidence from the SOE server that the Web group Anonymous was involved in the hack. The group denies the accusations.

Who knows how long it will be before the PlayStation Network is back up. It definitely sounds like it won't be within the next week or so. I'm sure that Sony is doing everything that they can to get things up and running again, so hopefully gamers won't have to wait too much longer.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

No Timeline for PlayStation Network Restoration

PlayStation Network downSo, if you have had any part of your ear in the gaming industry news recently or if you are a PS3 owner and avid online gamer on it, then you have undoubtedly noticed that the PlayStation Network, or PSN, is down and you will have also heard that the reason for that is because the entire service got hacked by one very crafty hacker.

The attack has left the PlayStation Network offline since May 2nd and also leaked millions of users' personal data. Sony Online Entertainment, or SOE, has yet to provide a clear timeline for exactly when the PlayStation Network will be restored to full working order. The PlayStation Network is supposed to be up, partially, sometime this week, however, SOE has only stated that services would be back up "soon".

Sony is notifying customers who may have been affected by the hack via email sent by a third-party distributor. Sony has stated that emails from SOE will contain either "soe.innovyx.net" or "soe.sony.com" in the sender field.

To go into more detail about the attack Sony has stated that the SOE incident was not a new attack but rather another similar attack that was discovered in the course of investigation into the PSN breach. SOE originally reported that no customer data whatsoever had been extracted in the attack but then, however, changed their story in a statement released on May 2nd.

SOE has stated that the hackers used sophisticated techniques in order to cover their tracks. SOE also stated that this was the reason that Sony did not initially know that SOE data was also stolen.

Both the PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment have announced "make good" gestures for their customers in the form of a month of some services to all members as well as additional free days for subscribers to make up the days lost while the company investigates the incident.

Sony Online Entertainment has also outlined a plan to compensate players utilizing its DC Universe Online game. In addition to 30 days of subscription credit and compensation for days the network is down, players will also be able to receive a Batman-inspired mask when the game is up and running again.

The seriousness of this attack speaks for itself and I do not think that Sony is doing enough in terms of compensation. The free 30-day subscription for DC Universe Online players is nice.....for DC Universe Online players, however, they seem to be the only ones getting anything worthwhile out of the deal. The PS3's online services may be free but I, for one, am more than willing to pay the $60 a year for Xbox Live, so stuff like this DOESN'T happen to me.

Source: The Washington Post - Sony details PlayStation Network attack, but no timeline for service restoration

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