Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – Animation feature

May 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

This article originally appeared as part of our Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 preview – read the entire article here.

At our studio tour of Treyarch for the exclusive reveal of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Adam Rosas, Animation Lead, took us under his wing to give us a demo of how the studio improved upon its character animations for Black Ops 2. The team employed what’s known as a ‘full performance capture’, in which actors are fitted with special suits and up to 84 light-sensitive spheres are fixed onto their limbs and facial features to capture precise movements and expressions. In order to see just how far they could go with the characters, the team decided to first use a female actor to capture their first few shots.

Rosas explained that women tend to emote differently than men, so it was much more challenging trying to map the female actor’s expressions with the character model. But after a little bit of tweaking and the addition of just four minor bones, the animated character was able to produce a near-exact lip sync with the actor’s voice, and her facial expressions and body language was fluid and right on cue. This was then used as a starting point for the other characters in the game, so the animations that we saw in the game were some of the best yet in the franchise.

Since the trailer’s debut, one thing that has got people talking is the quick scene involving horses jumping over a wall. Rosas chuckles and said that even the horse was motion captured to give it the most authentic look, and to make sure that its movements in the game were as natural as possible. He did recount some rather hair-raising episodes involving the horse during motion capture, but the horse was never uncomfortable or injured during the process, and the end result can be plainly seen in the trailer.

Stay tuned for more coverage on Black Ops 2 as we get it!

New Family Guy videogame coming soon

May 7, 2012 by  
Filed under News

What the deuce?

It seems like the crazy minds behind Family just aren’t content with taking over our TVs. Activision and 20th Century Fox today announced that a new Family Guy videogame would be released later this year.

“Fans of Family Guy will love that we’ve taken some of the series’ most iconic and memorable moments and built them into an impressive and uncensored video game,” said David Oxford, Executive Vice President, Activision. “Anyone who watches the show will appreciate how much we have adhered to its rich and twisted universe and characters.”

The TV show reaches around 33.5 million viewers in the US alone, and has enjoyed considerable success with DVD sales and movie spin-offs. Picking on everything from politics to social stigmas, Family Guy knows no limits in its often dark humor, and no topic is off limits.

This isn’t the first time that the franchise has dabbled in videogames – back in 2006 the Family Guy videogame debuted on the PS2, Xbox, and PSP platforms to lukewarm reviews, and the show has also seen trivia games released for the iOS platform. Still with Activision at the helm there’s hope yet that the game will be able to encompass the true Family Guy spirit.

And if not we can send Stewie back in time to stop it all from happening.

Prototype 2 Review

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under PC, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

When I first played the original Prototype game back in 2009, I thought that developer Radical Entertainment had gone insane. Here was a game where I had to run around a city and basically amputate or destroy everything in sight. And while the game did have a few bugs and quips of its own, I did have a ridiculously good time playing it. Fast forward a few years and we’re here again with Prototype 2, which aims to once again lure players into a delicious mix of gore and violence. Oh and throw in a few flying tanks for good measure.

If you weren’t lucky enough to play the original game, there is a ‘Prototype Recap’ option available which talks you through the events that unfolded in the first game. You originally played as Alex Mercer, who was infected with the Blacklight Virus and set out to get to the bottom of things. In Prototype 2,you play as Sergeant James Heller, who lost his wife and daughter to what became known as the ‘Mercer virus’. His emotions in turmoil, he is discharged from duty but quickly reinstated and sent to the Red Zone, one of the most infected areas of New York City. It is there he meets Alex Mercer, and tries his best to enact his revenge for the loss of his family. But you soon learn that Mercer isn’t the real enemy, and thanks to a little slip of the virus from Mercer, things soon start to get interesting.

While the general population has been cornered off into sections for their own supposed safety, they are in reality just being used a test subjects for Blackwatch’s various biological experiments. Heller then sets out on a rampage to get into Blackwatch and find those responsible for the chaos ruling the city.

From that point onwards, you’re eased into Heller’s new abilities, such as increased attack speed and strength, and of course the ability to mutate your hands into claws to shred your enemies into pieces. As you progress through the game you can of course unlock various new abilities in a number of ways. Completing main story missions will unlock new DNA for you to evolve further, while attacking and absorbing certain experiments or key targets upgrade current combat skills or provide new offensive tactics. You can also locate lost Blackwatch agents in the city who carry vital tidbits of information – find enough of these and you’re granted an upgrade.

Once you’ve settled into the story and met a few key characters, the gameplay juggles around a bit to try and keep things interesting. Your missions start off being simple ones where you hunt down a particular target and absorb them for snippets of information (which then lead you to further targets) or sneaking into enemy bases undetected. One of Heller’s abilities is that he can absorb any person in the game and then immediately take on their disguise – this is essential if you want to sneak into enemy bases undetected or use terminals to obtain classified information, which you have to do quite frequently.

The story does try to pace itself as best as possible, but in some areas the cutscenes and dialogue are just so drawn out that you’re almost itching to get back to the gory action. Heller’s swearing also tends to get a bit irritating after a while, but thankfully the brute doesn’t talk for very long before you can get back to mauling tanks and terrifying civilians. Speaking of tanks, as with the first game you have the option to hijack military vehicles for your own amusement or to use in various missions. You can quickly rip off weapons or destroy the vehicle entirely, but there are several instances where hiding in a tank when under assault is a good idea. For the most part the game doesn’t try to pigeonhole you into just following the main story – there are enough side missions and extra things to discover to keep you occupied for a good portion of time.

The graphics on the game look fairly decent, with cutscenes animating well and character models looking somewhat realistic at times. The live-action flashback sequences are a nice touch and help distract you from the game’s occasional texture clipping that always seems to happen when you’re jumping from a building onto the streets below. The background score isn’t obtrusive and for the most part goes unnoticed until you are spotted by enemies and the music changes to a fast-paced score to compliment the frantic escape.

Prototype 2 is a fair follow-up to the original and fixes some of the combat and targeting issues that plagued the first game. While a lot of fun can be had rampaging around the city, you ultimately have to decide if you really care enough about Heller to pursue his former captors and seek revenge or just roam around the city causing mayhem. Thankfully with a vast city to explore, that choice is up to you.

Razer announces Razer Naga Hex gaming mouse

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under News

We love us some gaming mice, and once again Razer has us drooling over their latest creation. The Razer Naga Hex Red edition gaming mouse combines Razer’s love for high-fidelity design and ridiculously accurate mouse mechanics. Their latest offering is perfect for click-happy gamers with the mouse being able to support a staggering 250 clicks per minute.

Press Release:
Razer, the world leader in high performance gaming hardware, is excited to launch the Razer Naga Hex Wraith Red edition gaming mouse. The best weapon to cut down hordes of monsters crawling out from the depths of evil is now available to gamers in an all-new blood red color.

Made especially for hack n’ slash, MOBA and Action RPG games, the Razer Naga Hex Wraith Red edition sports the same devastating 6 mechanical side buttons as the original Razer Naga Hex. Bind a hotbar of skills or inventory items to rapidly unleash hell on boss runs and maintain effective crowd control as enemies attack from all sides. Having the 6 crucial commands so close to your thumb allows for rapid actuations and enemies dead faster than they can react.

The Razer Naga Hex’s mechanical buttons are also highly durable and responsive, capable of registering up to a staggering 250 clicks per minute – perfect for the frantic hyper-clicking of hack ‘n’ slash RPGs.

The Razer Naga Hex Wraith Red edition is available alongside the original Green edition and either will be your perfect companion for hack n’ slash victory.

The Razer Naga Hex is perfectly suited for pro-gamers and fans of the MOBA/action-RPG game genres. It is primed with six mechanical thumb buttons for the exact number of controls necessary to suit the user interfaces of those games. Bind your skill-bar or inventory grid to the six buttons for faster, more comfortably efficient access to your full range of powers as you take the competition down.

Product features:
- 6 MOBA/action-RPG optimized mechanical thumb buttons
- 11 total programmable buttons
- Special switches in buttons for up to 250 clicks per minute
- 10 million click life cycle
- Ergonomic curved design
- Razer Synapse 2.0
- 5600dpi Razer Precision 3.5G Laser Sensor

Price: US$79.99

EXCLUSIVE: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Preview

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under Features, PC, Playstation 3, Spotlight, Xbox 360

I settle into my leather La-Z Boy with a drink in hand, feet propped up, and staring at a 103-inch plasma screen. No, I’m not at a private cinema screening although it feels very much like that. I’ve been gracefully invited for a press event at Treyarch Studios in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and we’re all eager to see what this award-winning studio has in store this afternoon.

After a brief introduction from the lovely PR folks (i.e ‘film anything and you’re flying home’), Mark Lamia, Studio Head at Treyarch, strides into the room. “Welcome”, he begins “to the Internet’s worst-kept secret.”

Lamia is of course referring to the recent Internet leaks that have pointed to Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and today we get to be the first ones in the world to officially see what the studio has been up to. Treyarch has enjoyed plenty of success with the Call of Duty franchise – the studio reception area holds a large screen that displays in real time the hundreds of thousands of gamers logging in to score some headshots. Lamia credits the studio with pushing the boundaries of the franchise, and promises that they will always deliver a ‘complete package’ to fans. Without getting into too much detail, he said that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will receive a massive technological push to take advantage of DirectX 11 and deliver a COD experience like never before. The original Call of Duty: Black Ops opened to phenomenal success, selling an estimated 4.2 million copies in the U.S alone within 24 hours of going on sale.

A COD story like never before
The story for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 initially sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Lamia assures us that as with previous titles, the game is based on hard facts. While the present day sees the battle for oil being a key political driver, in a number of years attention will be shifted to something called “rare earth elements”- seventeen chemical elements that fuel most of today’s consumer devices. From screens to smartphones, every modern device has some degree of rare earth elements in it. And it turns out that China currently has the largest deposits of rare earth elements in the world, making it a hot topic of discussion.

Lamia’s short geography lesson is intertwined with press clippings and even a statement from President Obama in March 2012 stating that the United States is planning to look into China’s iron grasp on its export of rare earth elements. It’s also revealed that rare earth elements play a big factor in military technologies, especially heavy weapons and unmanned military drones. Which leads us to the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ moment about the storyline in Black Ops 2.

The game starts off in the ‘80s, where you play as David Mason, son of Alex Mason, the main protagonist in the original Call of Duty: Black Ops. Rather than just introduce a roster of familiar characters in Black Ops 2, Lamia explained that the team had to sit down and think about ‘why does  so-and-so character need to come back to COD?’ I’m not saying that every single character you meet will be someone from the original game, but (HUGE SPOILER ALERT AHEAD) as a tip, fans will be happy to know that Woods does return to the franchise and that most of the game is told through him. Having said that, each and every character you meet will be vital to your character and story progression.

For the first time in the series’ history, Black Ops 2 will shift the time-frame halfway through the game, fast-forwarding the action to the year 2025. Now of course Treyarch could have gone all Terminator and flooded the world with killer robots and deadly lasers, but they’re far too sensible to do that. They instead employed the thinking of a man called Peter W Singer, author of the book “Wired For War”, which essentially details how warfare is going to completely change in coming years. Singer’s job is essentially to advise world leaders on any growing concerns in the coming decades. His first divination is what Lamia talked about at the start of the presentation – who is going to control the rare earth elements in the years to come? The second statement was more of a play on what is already happening on the battlefield today; the use of robotics in warfare. Drones, automated turrets, and bomb-diffusing robots are just some of the things that troops use every day in battle.

So naturally Treyarch thought they would play on this ‘automation invasion’ and see if they could work this into the game. And they did it beautifully – in 2025 huge waves of American drones and equipment have gone on the fritz and are now bombing and attacking various cities. It turns out the machines aren’t out of control at all, but are being manipulated by the game’s villain, who Lamia describes as “the most comprehensive three-dimensional character we’ve ever created”. That’s saying quite a lot, but the beauty of that statement is that you get to see for yourself if it’s true – when the game is set in the 80s you get to learn of this villain’s character, and you gradually see events unfold that created the monster you confront in 2025. To him everyone else are merely pawns in his twisted game; whether he wants to achieve world domination or unadulterated chaos is for you to discover. The story unfolds in spectacular fashion, thanks to the writing skills of David Goyer, who consulted on the storyline for the original Black Ops. Here’s a short video from Dave Anthony, Game Director, on how the story is setup in Black Ops 2:

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 screenshots showcase a bleak future

May 2, 2012 by  
Filed under News, PC, Playstation 3, Screenshots, Xbox 360

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Official Trailer

Diablo III Beta Key Giveaway – Final Week

April 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Competitions, Spotlight

We’re just over a month away from the release of Diablo III, and we hope that you have been enjoying our Beta Key giveaways. But all good things must come to an end, so this will be our last week of Beta invites. We’ll also be posting keys randomly to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, so make sure you stay tuned!

Kinect Star Wars launched in UAE

April 3, 2012 by  
Filed under News, Spotlight

Today Microsoft kicked off with much fanfare the long awaited release of Kinect Star Wars for the Xbox 360. The game was first debuted at E3 and also saw a demo at last years GAMES 11 show, but it is now finally available at all retail outlets across the UAE.

Kinect Star Wars combines the controller-free gaming of the Kinect with the excitement of the Star Wars universe. Players assume the role of a young Jedi who must master the use of the force against the evil Sith empire. The game has a variety of challenges and tests to put even the strongest Jedi to the test, and recognizable characters from Star Wars make their appearances in the game to help guide the player on their journey. The game features traditional battles with lightsabers as well as modes such as Podracing, Rancor Rampage, and even includes a special dance challenge where you have to strut your dance moves for Jabba the Hutt.

Also formally announced today was the Xbox 360 Limited Edition Kinect Star Wars console bundle. This console has been styled with the unique features of the iconic and much loved Star Wars droids C-3PO and R2-D2. The console is finished in white with R2′s markings and sound effects, while the controller has been given a golden overhaul to pay homage to C-3PO. The console even makes the familiar droid sounds when it is switched on and in use.

To celebrate the launch of the game and the console bundle, Microsoft invited Darth Vader himself to this evening’s launch, who proceeded to unveil several photos shot around Dubai. These photos will be used in a caption contest on the Xbox 360 Gulf Facebook page and would certainly make for some truly awesome posters.

The Xbox 360 Limited Edition Kinect Star Wars console bundle retails in the UAE for AED 1,849 and is available at all major retailers. Check out photos of the launch at our Facebook page by clicking here and enter the caption contest by clicking here.

Epic Mickey 2 Hands-On Preview

April 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Features, Playstation 3, Spotlight, Wii, Xbox 360

I’m in London this week to check out Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, and after our press reveal a short hour ago, I’m standing in front of an Xbox 360 build of the game to see just what the world’s most love mouse is up to in his latest adventure.

While Epic Mickey 2 is a continuation of the Wii original, this version will now be expanded to include the Xbox360 and PS3, along with souped-up graphics for each console. I hit the start button and gawk at the introduction cinematic – it’s a colorful and Disney-approved hit number, complete with singing. Yes, singing cinematics – this is a Disney game after all. After the great introduction I find myself in Yen Sid’s workshop, the ‘tutorial’ level of the game which shows me the basic controls and allows me to experiment with such magnificent feats such as double-jumping. I’m then re-united with the magical paintbrush from the first game, which can shoot out streams of paint or thinner to dynamically change the game’s environments.

A hop through a portal and I’m in another demo level, but I’m paired up with the adorable Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald makes more of a statement in this game rather than being a mindless companion. In fact, Disney thought it best to give the little guy a remote control so he can harness the power of electricity in the game. Surely no harm can come from giving a slightly deranged rabbit that kind of power?

The duo works well, as crazy as it may sound. Mickey and Oswald work as a team whether controlled by players or the AI. The advantage of having two players controlling the two is that you’re able to toss the other player to higher areas to reveal hidden bonuses, something which you can’t do when you’re playing with the AI. Combining Mickey’s paint brush abilities with Oswald’s maniacal love for kilowatts provides some worthwhile entertainment, not to mention some nifty abilities.

But is this just another run of the mill platformer with the occasional puzzle that barely scratches the surface of your imagination? Thankfully, it’s not. The game has a few aces of its own that guarantees a fun experience for any age group. For one thing, the puzzles here aren’t as simple as they make out to be. In one demo level where I had to find and recharge three generators, I had to ask one of the Disney guys to come over and help me out as I just couldn’t seem to find the damn things. In the end I had to ‘paint’ one of the buildings to restore it and then jump onto a newly created platform to drag the generator down. It may sound like a simple puzzle, but the crafty way in which most of the puzzles have been setup will post at least some kind of a challenge to gamers.

The other thing that the game is proudly stating is its use of ‘persistence’ – often at times in the game you will need to make choices, and these choices stick with you for a good part of the game and often change the course of future events. Yes, it’s a mechanic as old as Walt Disney himself, but it’s something that Warren Spector is passionate about. He wants gamers to feel the consequences of their actions – not necessarily in a morbid way, but at least in a way that they feel that what they’re doing in the game has a lasting effect on how things play out in the end.

While the game doesn’t have any online playability (Warren elaborates on this in our interview with him), the local co-op does really shine through the game. You’re often tempted to bring out your competitive streak and zap at your friend of just go the opposite way to frustrate the crap out of them. Of course it’s all part of the Disney magic, which is given a huge boost this time around with the introduction of a full voice cast. Characters sound exactly like they’re supposed to, and the talented Frank Welker provides a stellar voice for Oswald.

If this early tech demo is any reflection of what’s in store, then gamers are certainly in for a great time with Epic Mickey 2. It’s clear that the studio is taking no chances this time around and has paid a lot of attention to community feedback based on the first game. We’ll keep our ears posted for future updates on Epic Mickey 2, but in the meantime stay tuned for our interview with Warren Spector, who dishes a bit more about Epic Mickey 2.

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