PC | The Sims Medieval Impressions – First Details

Hear ye! The next Sims game for the PC will not be The Sims 4. Nay, good lords and ladies. Twill be a tale of nobles and peasants. Who talk funny. Attain the first details here!

While EA’s The Sims series has seen amazing success on the PC as a continuously successful series that, every few years, gives rise to a sequel and then a bunch of expansion packs, EA’s Play division, which is responsible for the Sims games, is going in a brand-new direction. Specifically, it’s going backward in time to the days of old when knights were bold and modern medical technology amounted to a jar full of leeches (and really cutting-edge medical technology was a second jar of leeches). Yes, rather than purchasing a house in the suburbs outside of SimCity, in The Sims Medieval, you’ll have all your little computer people living in and around a castle. And rather than play as your little virtual family members throughout the course of their entire lives until they have children of their own who eventually grow into a new generation of parents (and so on and so forth), in Medieval, you’ll instead play through a single story arc with your characters and be assigned an overall score once you’ve completed enough of their quests, bringing your game session to an end.

[ Watch Video ]

Executive producer Rachel Bernstein explains how this very different chapter in the Sims series will work.

Sound different from what you’re used to with The Sims? It is. While there’s a lot of The Sims 3’s technology under the hood powering Medieval, this is a fundamentally different game that’s focused less on open-ended designing and building and more on story-driven, quest-driven experiences. The game even looks different. Rather than going with the usual bright, sunny, colorful look of The Sims, Medieval has a subdued color palette and an aesthetic that the team describes as “painterly” and “illustrative,” which recalls the classic artwork of Renaissance-era Europe. We watched a brief, hands-off demonstration of the game and didn’t even see a single mention of any llamas anywhere (but then again, this was an early, work-in-progress version of the game, so everything in this report is subject to change).

Our demonstration started with a flythrough of a medieval city built around a majestic castle, flanked by cathedrals, gallows, and guildhouses. When starting a new game session of Medieval, you’ll choose a large-scale kingdom ambition (which effectively replaces the life ambitions of The Sims 3) that applies to your entire kingdom. And you’ll use the strengths of various hero characters to complete quests that earn points toward this goal, including venturing forth to slay dragons or marrying off a princess to strengthen ties with a neighboring country. However, there will be other, subtler social dynamics at work in the world of Medieval, such as class strife between lowly peasants and haughty nobles, as well as conflict between two competing religious orders. One of these conflicts attempts to gently appeal to the hearts and minds of the local citizenry; the other attempts to gain influence through fear and intimidation. (And the god that each religious order worships is none other than’wait for it’wait for ityou!).

In Medieval, you don’t necessarily switch control from one character to another and then another; instead, you will control a primary character by accepting an outstanding quest for that character (and if you wish to keep playing that character, then you can simply keep accepting quests for that character). One of the many heroes you can choose to follow as your active character is the realm’s king or queen, who resides in the castle, which itself can be edited and designed’somewhat. To keep the game’s look and feel consistent, your view of the castle in build mode won’t cut away all the walls; instead, it will give you cross-sectional views that encompass the entire room at a glance.

Also, while you will be able to purchase and place period-piece furniture in different castle rooms; make additions to certain parts of the castle’s layout, such as secret chambers beneath the castle to house spies; and even do some limited color editing, there won’t be any neon-colored, leopard-print patterns for you to make a glam-rock version of Camelot. Besides, the castle will be a busy place because it will not only be the site of important matters of state (such as royal decrees and dramatic, Macbeth-esque duels), but also the living quarters of king and court. Back in the days of yore, courtiers didn’t see to their affairs and then call a taxi to drive them across town back to their split-level apartments afterward. Instead, they held court with the king and then retired to their chambers upstairs. Living and working in Medieval will be a much more intimate experience, at least for the royal family and its associated nobles.

In the demonstration we watched, the king character was already holding court with two of his best knights, discussing an upcoming tournament before dismissing one of his subjects. The remaining knight challenged the king to a duel, and after each man dramatically threatened the other in scary-sounding simlish (yes, in Medieval, all characters still speak in gibberish), they drew their weapons and sparred. Each man gradually made progress along his respective swordfighting skill bar, which hovered above each character’s head. Alack, the king was struck down in this skirmish and afflicted henceforth with an illness that would require a quest to cure, though both characters gained experience points, which go toward gaining full-on experience levels that make characters more competent at their professions (such as swordfighting, in the case of a knight hero, or bloodletting, in the case of a medieval physician hero).

While we’ll get to medieval medicine in a bit (and there will be wacky torture-rack-looking equipment along with a cavalcade of leeches), at this point in our demonstration, we briefly jumped away from the king’s quest to Medieval’s create-a-sim, which will be subtly different from that of The Sims 3. The most obvious change will be your character’s clothing choices, which will include an array of winsome dresses and modest frocks for female sims and various tunics and breeches for male sims (knights and rulers may be of either gender, so both female and male sims may wear armor and a sword or a crown and robes).

However, this time around, the faces in create-a-sim will be less quirky than the big-eyed, button-nosed visages of The Sims 3 and slightly more realistic. In addition, The Sims 3’s trait system has been revised for Medieval to instead include two positive traits and a negative fatal flaw, though we’re told that if you so choose, you’ll be able to go on a challenging quest of self-improvement to change the fatal flaw into a powerfully positive epic trait. And once you’ve created your sim or sims, you can then generate your new kingdom, which will have overarching statistics of health (the overall health of the inhabitants), security (military strength), faith (the influence of the church), and knowledge (from magical research). You’ll increase your kingdom’s statistics as you work your way to the kingdom ambition you then choose, which can include attaining supreme military might, having the world’s best wizardry, or curing your entire populace of all sickness.

To cure the sickness of the king as a quest, our demonstration switched control to the town’s physician, who was currently busy running her practice of seeing patients (waiting quietly in the antechamber of the physician’s hovel), each of which she treated by way of leech bloodletting (which works with a two-sided onscreen meter that tells you whether you have not yet drained enough blood, have drained the right amount of blood, or have drained too much blood from your patients). She also used a zany chiropractic contraption made of giant wooden gears and iron bolts that bore a hilarious (and suspicious) resemblance to the torture device known as the rack. While our patients typically seemed a bit worse for wear after being stretched and drained (and staggering out of the office), the physician, like all town residents, has her role to play and must treat a certain minimum number of patients each day before facing an escalating series of punishments. The punishment for your citizens not doing their jobs starts with minor fines and goes all the way up to being imprisoned in the town square’s stocks (the wooden slats that bind a prisoner’s neck and wrists and force the prisoner to lean forward), which is humiliating and leaves your character vulnerable to heckling and tomato throwing from passersby.

Our physician character took a break from her busy practice to embark on the quest of curing the king. Hungry for glory (and experience points), she made use of all options available to her by not only seeking out rare herbs on her own, but also by appointing the local priest as her quest assistant. As we mentioned earlier, while performing quests in Medieval, you must choose a primary character to control, but you’ll also be able to enlist an assistant character to help you achieve your goals, with whom you can communicate via carrier pigeon. In this case, our healer gathered herbs to make a potion and then called for the priest to issue a blessing on the concoction in the name of The Watcher (again, that’s you, the player). As a result of this teamwork, the potion, when humbly proffered to the king, did indeed cure him of his ailment and earned the physician and the priest a nice chunk of experience points.

We haven’t seen all that much of the game yet, and several of our questions remain unanswered. How will dragon slaying work? How will magic work? Still, one thing’s clear. The Sims Medieval will take a bold new step in an entirely new direction for the series. The game is scheduled for release early next year.

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PC | The Sims Medieval Impressions – First Details” was posted by Andrew Park on Tue, 17 Aug 2010 08:00:45 -0700

Wii | uDraw GameTablet First Impressions

We inspect THQ’s newly unveiled graphics tablet Wii peripheral.

THQ is prepping its uDraw GameTablet, a graphics tablet Wii peripheral, for a “holiday 2010” release in North America and an early 2011 launch elsewhere. We were shown a near-final prototype of the device: a white, 9-by-7 inch pad that is an inch and a half deep into which the Wii controller (minus MotionPlus add-on) slots in on the left side. On the right is the blue-bordered drawing area, rather smaller than the full area of the tablet (6-by-4 inches) but allowing one-to-one correlation, we’re told, between the movement of the stylus and what appears onscreen. The stylus handles well, though this isn’t the pinpoint accuracy of a professional graphics tablet–it’s got a chunkier, toylike feel and gives results accordingly.

The tablet is wireless, drawing power from the Wii Remote’s batteries. THQ says this reduces the life of the batteries in a controller from about 17 to about 15 hours. The chunky white stylus, tethered to the tablet, has two buttons and a pressure-sensitive nib that enables the thickness of a pen stroke to be varied, for instance, though the stylus can also be operated by holding it close to, rather than directly on, the surface of the drawing area. The Wii Remote’s buttons are accessible in front and behind the tablet, leaving them free for use in games compatible with the device.

The uDraw GameTablet will come bundled with uDraw Studio, a feature-rich painting package. It has options to choose colour, brush (or charcoal, chalk, and so on), medium (canvas, paper, and the like), and environment, such as studio or sidewalk, along with opacity and type of brush fadeout effect. There are filtering effects such as blur and solarize, as well as a drawing rewind/replay mode. The environment of choice determines the music you’ll draw along to, and zooming out reveals your canvas stood against, say, a backdrop of an artist’s studio. Images created with the uDraw tablet can be exported onto an SD card for sharing elsewhere.

The games available at launch for the uDraw tablet will be Mattel-licensed Pictionary, playable in a classic or board game-like challenge mode, as well as Pictionary Mania. Dood’s Big Adventure, a side-scrolling 2.5D platformer whose titular hero’s skin can be customised via drawing on the tablet, will also be available. Background items and decals can be similarly customised. The action itself makes various uses of the tablet as a controller. Trampolines can be drawn beneath the player character to bounce him higher, and the tablet can be tilted to roll him around in a bubble, reminiscent of the iPhone/iPad’s Super Monkey Ball. THQ intends to roll out further uDraw-compatible packages and games every three months or so.

There’s no word on the all-important pricing yet, but the basic bundle of the GameTablet and Studio paint package will be out before Christmas in North America, along with the Pictionary and Dood’s Big Adventure launch titles.

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Wii | uDraw GameTablet First Impressions” was posted by Jane Douglas on Tue, 17 Aug 2010 05:24:54 -0700

PC | Fable III Hands-On

The Road to Rule is paved with important choices, streamlined gameplay, and refined visuals.

Whatever soul-searching design rethinks Fable III has in store, another Fable means another Hero’s journey. Once again, you are a youth of heroic descent called on to fulfil your potential and save the historical-fantasy land of Albion. This time, though, you’re no tragic pauper orphan but a dashing royal orphan, sibling to the ruthless King Logan. This makes your first choice one between being a dapper prince and frilly princess, their character models the first promising sign of the visual refinement that’s taken place between Fables II and III. The decision is your first of many in the early hours of a game keen on binary choices–some crucial, some instructive, and some symbolic.

[ Watch Video ]

Lead designer Josh Atkins on what to expect in Fable III.

Your second choice, having been awoken by your John Cleese-voiced butler, Jasper, is between an ornate outfit and a practical one. Then, after a stroll with your border collie through the palace gardens–greeted on all sides by guards and well-wishers–the breadcrumb trail brings you to your winsome royal consort. Your third choice has you decide whether to hug or kiss. Is anything more ominous than an idyllic prologue?

King Logan is in a bad mood. Out in the city, a factory worker has been executed.
Everyone in the castle is upset with the king; his lowly subjects are no happier. The disgruntled kitchen staff members need to be reassured or told off, as you see fit. One of the many civilians waiting to plead his case with Logan must be supported or mocked. Sir Walter, once the loyal friend of your father and now your combat trainer, knows which way the wind is blowing. When everything inevitably goes south, and you’re branded a traitor by your paranoid brother, it’s Sir Walter that flees the palace with you, along with Jasper and the dog.

In the palace and beyond, in the bat-infested caves that enabled our escape, and in snowy Mistpeak, our hero’s first destination, the realm of Albion has been beautified–or visually refined, at least. Though the characters and the environments are still stylised rather than photo-realistic, the artistic style leans more toward realism than the faintly cartoony, caricatured look of the previous game–although Fable’s gently quirky humour is still firmly in place. The character designs are more appealing for it, as mentioned; Peter Molyneux would say the princess looks like less of a “Russian shot-putter.”

The world, says Sir Walter, has been too long without a Hero, and it will take a Hero to lead a revolution against Logan. The Hero’s journey is suddenly clear: unite the disparate peoples of Albion against the king. That journey is not just clear, but it’s also neatly symbolised in the Road to Rule: a long, misty path blocked by gateways and leading back to the castle. The road, visited in visions and presided over by Theresa, the blind seer, serves as a progress indicator and talent tree in one. The gates–metaphors for levels–are unlocked by gaining powerful allies. Along the path, between gates, are treasure chests containing upgrades including ranged, melee, and magical power boosts. There are also new spells and new noncombat ability bundles, such as the landlord pack and marriage pack. These are unlocked with Guild seals–points earned in battle and by successfully interacting with the populace on your travels. The Road to Rule is one means by which Fable III strips out immersion-sapping stats and talent trees. Another is the barely-there heads-up display, which is little more than your tally of Guild seals popping up from time to time. And another is the Sanctuary, a gameworld metaphor in the same manner as the Road, but this time standing in for your inventory menus and world map.

A cobwebby, circular chamber with a tabletop model of the kingdom at its centre, the magical Sanctuary is part of your heroic heritage. The start button lets you instantly flip between the game’s “real” world and the Sanctuary, where Jasper waits patiently alongside your world map, your armoury, your walk-in wardrobe, and your collection of trophies. The map enables fast travel around Albion (and presumably beyond, later in the game), while the armoury and wardrobe enable changes of gear. The armoury contains magical living weapons, which change to reflect how they are used, among them a sword that can get longer and sharper with use and a hammer that can grow heavier. You can give a name to your visibly evolving weapon, if you like; in the course of the demo, our Mr. Stabby appeared to develop a discreet runic design along its blade.

Another room in the Sanctuary provides access to two-person cooperative play, though this wasn’t available for our preview. According to lead designer Josh Atkins, that co-op mode allows two players all but free roam of one of their gameworlds, each as his or her own Hero. The two heroes won’t be tethered, restricted to the same screen, but both will have to stay in the same wider region to maintain co-op mode. The second player also gets paid, making co-op “one of the most lucrative jobs you can have” and a “pretty great way to make money and level up.” And, if you’re playing together for less mercenary reasons (or you fancy the 10G achievement), you can marry a co-op partner over Xbox Live as you would a non-player character. For the wedding enthusiast, Fable III even lets you pick a venue and a budget for the big day.

As with marriage, interactions with your co-op partner and with the citizens of Albion have much in common. You can extend most of the same gestures to each with Fable III’s much-touted, touch-based system of expressions. A pull of the left trigger has you hold hands with them, or you can tap the A button to enter a kind of interaction mode, offering the relevant choices. You can shake hands, for instance, dance together, or give money. As in Fable II, expressions can be extended–successfully pulling off a basic handshake turns it into a knuckle bump. A similar mechanic allows interaction with your dog, offering options to pet it, play fetch, or tell it off.

As in the previous Fable, your dog can sniff out treasure chests and dig spots, as well as attack enemies once you’ve downed them. This and much else of Fable III’s combat system feel familiar. The biggest change–and a welcome one–is the absence of coloured experience orbs left behind by your victims. Spells still come in area-of-effect and directed forms; melee attacking still offers a charged flourish blow, with some nice animations. In the few hours we had to play, enemy variety wasn’t vast. We battled wolves, bats, mercenaries, and skeletal hollow men, with a cigar-chomping mercenary leader as the most plot-significant fight. Here, dodging attacks and mixing up long-range and up-close combat was as effective as in the previous game.

There was a wider variety of environments than enemies, including the impoverished mountain settlement in snowy Mistpeak Valley, scored with plaintive violin music; Bowerstone’s fetid sewers; cavernous underground ruins; and cheery, rustic Brightwall village. In the latter, we encountered Fable III’s professions for the first time, among them lute hero (a rhythm minigame, what else) and pie maker. These work along the same lines as Fable II’s professions: chain together successful attempts to grow your money-making multiplier.

Peter Molyneux isn’t without his critics, but he might be one of the harshest and has been keen to expound the shortcomings of Fable III’s predecessor. Changes have been made accordingly–tweaks in some cases, overhauls in others–and the results, from the first few hours of play, are promising. In late October, we’ll see whether Fable III is, this time, the game he meant to make.

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PC | Fable III Hands-On” was posted by Jane Douglas on Tue, 17 Aug 2010 03:37:04 -0700

PlayStation 3 | Final Fantasy XIV Online Updated Hands-On – New Areas and High-Level Play

Coif that fabulous hair. And perk up those cat ears. It’s time to head back to Final Fantasy XIV with more hands-on coverage of new areas and high-level gameplay.

You say you’ve never ventured into a colorful, persistent online world to hunt monsters and gather treasure with other like-minded adventurers? You’ve never ridden in a carriage drawn by giant Chocobo birds or met the mystical flying Moogles? Never watched a spectacular in-game cinematic cutscene that culminates in a conversation with a prancing, cat-eared girl who happens to be wearing frilly lace panties (and not much else)? Then it’s safe to say that you’ve probably never played Final Fantasy XIV Online. Then again, since the game hasn’t even launched yet, it’s safe to say that most people have never played Final Fantasy XIV Online. Only a handful of lucky writers have played it, including GameSpot staff members, who were recently summoned to a press event to try it out. FFXIV is intended to take everything that was good about Square Enix’s PC and PlayStation 2 online game Final Fantasy XI and modernize it for the PlayStation 3 and modern PCs, and from what we’ve seen, the new game seems to stay true to its predecessor while looking a lot more like a modern game for modern platforms. [Editor’s Note: We played only the PC version in our hands-on time with the game, but presumably, most of the content in our report, aside from the PC interface, applies to the PS3 version as well.]

At the outset, we had the opportunity to create two new characters from scratch to explore two never-before-seen starting areas: the forest encampment of Gridania and the desert metropolis of Ul’dah. This gave us the chance to play with the game’s character creation system, which currently lets you create a new character from one of five new races: the Hyur (who resemble the human-like Humes of FFXI); the Elezen (who resemble the elf-like Elvaan of FFXI); the diminutive Lalafell (who resemble the tarutaru of FFXI minus the black noses); the lithe Miqo’te (who resemble the Mithra catgirl race of FFXI); and the Roegadyn (who resemble the bulky Galka of FFXI). And each of the game’s races has two separate subraces; Hyur can be highlanders or midlanders; Elezen can be golden-haired Wildwood or pale, dark-haired Dusknight; Lalafell can be Plainsfolk or Dunesfolk; Miqo’te can be Seekers of the Sun or Keepers of the Moon; and Roegadyn can be Seawolf or Hellsguard.

Final Fantasy XIV features four base character categories: disciple of war (which includes weapon combat classes); disciple of magic (which includes magic spell-using classes); and the disciples of the land and the disciples of the hand (which both include numerous crafting classes). For the purpose of our play session, we were encouraged to create characters belonging either to the disciple of war or disciple of magic group, so we created one of each, a burly and brand-new Roegadyn Hellsguard of the lancer subclass (a warrior profession that specializes in using polearms and hurled javelins) and an Elezen Wildwood of the conjurer subclass (a wizard profession that uses canes and wands to summon powerful magic). We then later had a chance to try a pre-created character at level 40, a Miquo’te lancer, in a high-level hunting ground. We’ll start with the earlier experiences first.

The current version of FFXIV Online’s character creation is a simple, streamlined process that lets you jump from race to appearance to profession in a few easy steps. After choosing your character’s race, and, where appropriate, gender (all races have both genders available, except for the Miqo’te, who are only female, and the Roegadyn, who are only male), you then choose your profession and can customize your character’s appearance by selecting different preset values for several customization points. Among other things, you can choose your character’s height, skin tone, hairstyle, facial features, voice, and facial “characteristics,” which include facial scarring and cosmetics. You then choose your profession and your character’s “nameday” and “guardian,” the former being your character’s birthday; the latter being the deity your character worships. While the role of birthday and religion haven’t been completely finalized yet, it’s likely that your choice of guardian will grant your character certain specific powers at some point. Interestingly, Final Fantasy XIV will let you save the appearance of any character you create as a template, so that if, at a later date, you wish to create an identical character, you can simply reload the template of your last character.

After creating our first character, the bulky Roegadyn lancer, we were ready to start a new life in the Gridania playfield. Our session began with a lengthy cinematic sequence with a flythrough of the surrounding forest, followed by footage of our character tentatively exploring the forest path before hearing a mysterious voice cryptically whispered to us. Suddenly, there was a fire in the sky–what appeared to be an aircraft of some sort was flaming out and dropped something that exploded to the ground. Our character rushed through the forest, passing by an ominous wolflike shadow before arriving at a clearing where two characters, the Hyur pugilist (Final Fantasy XIV’s version of the bare-fisted fighting monk) Yda and the Lalafell conjurer Papalyma, had apparently taken a nasty fall. The two characters lay flat on their backs, and we interacted with them by targeting them, then pressing the enter key on our PC keyboards a few times to wake them. It seems the two were passengers on an airship that had been about to crash, but they had bailed out at the last second. Further introductions were scuttled once the three of us were attacked by a pack of black wolves, which gave us a chance to get acquainted with the game’s combat system.

FFXIV’s battle system isn’t all that different from that of FFXI. In the new game, like in the previous one, you must first target your enemy and ensure your character is within combat range and directly facing your foe before engaging. However, unlike FFXI, which buries all its combat actions into a set of nested menus, FFXIV has a more traditional, Western-style hotkey bank that, at least in the PC version of the game, assigns various attacks to the number keys on your keyboard. Because our lancer character was only level 1, he had only one weapon ability, a light thrust attack with his spear, which didn’t do all that much damage.

We engaged in battle with the wolves one by one as part of FFXIV’s pseudo turn-based system, which uses a constantly charging stamina meter–a system that doesn’t seem dissimilar to that of earlier Square role-playing games such as Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger. Different combat actions require different amounts of stamina to perform; as soon as your meter fills to a sufficient amount to pull off that ability, you can hammer on the appropriate hotkey to expend that amount of stamina to perform the ability. Light thrust is a relatively cheap ability to use in terms of stamina, so our early-game combat was just a matter of mashing the 1 key to repeatedly use that attack, though we also observed that you can deal bonus damage when you attack your foes from behind with a melee weapon and will, on occasion, randomly perform a critical hit that deals extra damage and shows your character performing extra attack animations.

As it turns out, each swing of your melee weapon earns you skill points with that weapon, and those skill points contribute to your character’s weapon rank–an advancement system that is kept separate from your character’s overall experience level. Higher weapon ranks unlock new weapon skills with that particular weapon that you can then hotkey to your various keyboard number keys. Later on in your character’s life, you’ll actually attain so many weapon abilities that you won’t have enough number keys to house them all, so like in other Western games, you’ll be best served mapping those to additional pages of hotkeys that you can swap to on the fly.

After we killed off a few of the wolves, the game switched to another cutscene that showed a tree tearing itself out of the ground, stretching out its branches like arms and forming an angry face along its trunk. The tree then snatched up the remaining wolves in its branches and crammed the critters down its gullet. Our companions looked on in awe until the tree uprooted itself and began lurching toward us, at which point all three of us started running for our lives. It seemed like we were about to become plant food when time stopped and our paralyzed character looked around him in wonder as magical Moogles floated past us, leaving behind sparkly trails. As it happens, the Moogles were accompanying the Wood Wailers, a small band of forest warriors led by a child savant attuned to the magic of the forest. The magical influence of the forest warriors was able to calm the homicidal tree, after which they explained that the sudden arrival of our companions had somehow pierced the Hedge, a network of arboreal ley lines that protects the forest. As a result, we were marked with greenwrath–an indicator to the denizens of the woods that we were the newest item on the forest’s snack menu.

Fortunately, the kindly woodland warriors offered to escort us to Gridania’s adventurer’s guild, and when we accepted, we were automatically transported outside of it. On entering, we watched another cutscene that showed our character strolling past friendly, smiling faces of adventurers sitting by the fire and generally enjoying each other’s company before we met the innkeeper, the Elezen female Mother Miounne. She informed us that Yda and Papalyma had been magically summoned by the woods to seek their help and that their flying machine was in pieces on the ground. Presumably, we’d be called upon later to help them recover what was left of their ship, but for the time being, Miounne gave us a linkpearl item, which let her telepathically communicate with us–essentially giving us a built-in hint system for the early part of the game. The kindly innkeeper then directed us to Camp Benchbright, another encampment deep in the forest, to be stripped of our curse.

While our destination was a ways off by foot, FFXIV has a handy overlay map that covers the entire screen, but is partially translucent, so it lets you see your character in motion underneath. We hustled our way to the location, running past minor enemies like marmots and swarms of honeybees until we found a giant, floating aetheryte crystal (not unlike those in FFXI’s most recent updates). It offered us the chance to explore some of the game’s lore or take on a “levequest” of varying levels. These quests can be taken at any time and different crystals will have different varieties of quests. Ours required us to kill three walking fungi in a nearby clearing, and after doing so, we increased our polearm rank to two, at which point, we learned the skewer skill, our first to require tactical points (TP). Yes, they’re back from FFXI, and just like in that game, they slowly build in battle as you perform normal attacks and let you perform more damaging ones.

We then switched over to our second character, the Elezen conjurer, who started her life in the desert city of Ul’dah on the same day as the settlement’s most decadent carnival. In the opening cinematic sequence, our character arrived in town lounging on a carriage drawn by two of Final Fantasy’s iconic yellow chocobo birds. Our character also overheard from excited townspeople that we had arrived on the very last caravan into town and that transport back out would be impossible because the streets were being closed for a massive parade. And soon enough, the parade was underway, with the main attraction in the parade being a gigantic Goobbue monster–a towering blue blob with spindly arms and legs, beady yellow eyes, and a circular mouth full of row after row of teeth. Shockingly, this was about the time when something went horribly wrong and the monster managed to get loose, sending the parade attendees running in fear. With the help of a dashing young man from the crowd (who, in a potential first for a hero in a Square Enix game, was sharply dressed and had a slender build and spiky hair), we took on the monster in battle using our conjurer’s suite of first-level abilities.

Using the crooked wooden cane she was equipped with, our conjurer had access to three different magic spells hotkeyed to our keyboard’s 1, 2, and 3 keys: spirit dart, a single-target attack that dealt minor damage; and fire and blizzard, which dealt fire and cold damage, respectively. Fire and blizzard were also labeled as area effect spells, though because we were fighting only a single enemy, we didn’t get a chance to test how wide the range would be. After putting down the monster in a relatively easy fight, we were shocked (again, shocked we say) to see it get back up and go after even more townsfolk but foil itself by lunging at a cornered child who was heroically rescued at the last moment, leaving the charging monster with nothing but a face full of wall. Soon after, we found ourselves making our way to the local adventurer’s guild, where the spunky Lalafell innkeeper Momodi also gave us a linkpearl and saucily bade us to share any juicy stories we might later have of relations with handsome menfolk (wink, wink). As it turns out, in the English version of the game, pretty much all audio voice acting is provided with actors affecting a British accent and all written dialogue is written to sound like Old English–so Square Enix appears to be pushing the “Fantasy” part of Final Fantasy XIV.

Unfortunately, the streets of Ul’Dah were so vast that we weren’t able to do much more hunting with our character, though we did run past several townsfolk who had pre-scripted responses to say. We also ran past a few item shops that sold items far too expensive for our humble first-level character, such as new types of armor and rideable chocobos for rental. Our time with this character drew to a close, and we switched over to our 40-th level character.

Unfortunately, our high-level character session didn’t run as smoothly as our previous time with the game due to some network stability problems that seemed to come out of nowhere. The game isn’t done yet, so it’s natural to expect a few technical issues at this stage in the game. Regardless, we did the best we could with our level-40 Miqo’te lancer at Camp Broken Water, a desert mesa region reminiscent of Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

We tried several times to form a cohesive hunting party with other writers invited to the event so that we could run through some higher level levequests offered by the camp’s aetheryte crystal, but the network problems prevented us from getting very far (in the current version of the game, disconnecting causes you to automatically leave your hunting party). Eventually, we ended up splitting off into smaller groups and simply focused on hunting nearby monsters, like giant mountain goats and cockatrices (which looked like a cross between a penguin and a giant, puffed-up turkey). High-level lancers seem like fairly flexible characters that can play a few different roles in a group. For starters, they have a throw ability that lets them toss a javelin at a foe from a short distance away, meaning that the character can pull individual monsters to come running to your group to fight. In addition, the class has a few different TP abilities that can alter an enemy’s state, such as a pierce attack that temporarily pins an enemy to the spot so that it can still attack but can’t move; a leg sweep attack, which temporarily incapacitates a foe; and a trammel attack that produces a cripple effect on a foe that greatly weakens it.

In addition, the lancer has a handful of self-buff abilities that enhances the character’s own speed or steals health away from enemies, as well as abilities that temporarily enhance the character’s own accuracy or land a guaranteed hit when triggered after a missed attack. The lancer also has an ability that switches an angry monster’s attention to another member of the party and a handful of abilities that affect more than one foe. This includes a skewering attack that pierces all enemies directly in front of the character, as well as a sweeping attack that hits all enemies in a certain radius. The lancer even has an ability that generates bonus TP for all members of the party. Even though the class tends to favor light armor and seems to play more of a damage-dealer (or damage-per-second, or DPS in online game parlance) role, this well-rounded character can also apparently work crowd control with its incapacitating abilities on enemies and seems to have the ability to manage the wrath of charging monsters (or aggro in online game jargon).

Unfortunately, our play session was cut short after a few hunting expeditions, but we got a fairly good sense of much of what FFXIV will attempt to offer. The new game brings everything you love about Final Fantasy, and FFXI, into modern times with detailed, colorful graphics and a much better interface. The PC version of the game will launch in September while the PS3 version is scheduled to launch next year.

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PlayStation 3 | Final Fantasy XIV Online Updated Hands-On – New Areas and High-Level Play” was posted by Andrew Park on Mon, 16 Aug 2010 20:00:03 -0700

Wii | Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon First Impression

Team up with a buddy in the first Ghost Recon game built specifically for the Nintendo Wii.

The Nintendo Wii may have intuitive and accessible point-and-click controls, making it fairly straightforward when it comes to shooting things onscreen, but there just haven’t been that many hardcore shooters for the system. Next Level Games hopes to bridge the gap between more casual players on the system and shooter fans by bringing Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon to the Wii. We met with game director Mike Inglehart, who talked to us about the game and how the focus was to keep it as intense as any other shooter out there but with accessible controls and cooperative play, so that a wider range of players can get into it without the added hand-eye coordination to tackle the same challenges together.

The actual shooting isn’t necessarily the hardest part of a shooter so much as being able to handle your character’s movement and the camera at the same time. Ghost Recon solves this by letting you point and click to where you want to go next. You can choose to run and slide for cover or walk and fire at the same time, leaving you vulnerable to enemy fire. It functions almost like a rail shooter, but instead of just firing and letting the computer handle the rest, you need make some strategic choices to survive. Inglehart said that the dexterity involved in controlling a camera is steep, so this is a way to keep the difficulty level at a more appropriate level while retaining the same intensity of a shooter.

Even if you don’t have a friend to play with you on the couch, you’ll be accompanied by an AI player (there’s no online play). But to fully experience cooperative play, it’s better to have someone who can coordinate with you and he or she can always drop in or out at any time. Inglehart talked about how players would be facing the same challenges, and that working together, you might be able to spot something the other person may miss. You’ll also play differently based on your weapon type, so your roles may change before every mission. If you decide to take on a more tactical role as a sniper, you’ll want to have your buddy provide you with cover so you’re not left vulnerable.

The campaign story mode is broken down into 12 levels with more than 30 missions that will last roughly eight hours. The story is unique to the Wii game and is written by the same writer as Ghost Recon: Future Soldier for the other platforms. It’s parallel to the story in Future Soldier, but here, you play as two soldiers who get drafted into the ghost and must go through Moscow to face an ultranationalist regime. We didn’t get anymore details beyond that, but it was enough to get us started and into the campaign.

An Arcade mode is also included if you want to take on specific levels and shoot enemies for points. It’s for those with a competitive drive because you’ll be able to upload your score to the Wi-Fi leaderboards. There are three difficulty settings for Ghost Recon, which will affect your amount of health. A feature called “focus moments” let you slow down the action for a bit, but your reticle can continue to move at normal speed. You can’t use this all the time, but it does provide a bit of relief if you’re swarmed.

This was a hands-off demo, but the controls seemed simple enough. Icons onscreen will indicate where you can run to, and you point and fire with the B button to take out opponents. Some motion control is involved, mainly to run and ride, as well as reload, but you can also point offscreen to reload. We were told that there were 11 enemy classes that you’ll eventually come across, like engineers that spawn small drones to come after you.

The areas we were shown were fairly nondescript, consisting of large gray buildings and trucks to find cover behind. It feels like a Ghost Recon game, though, with enemies swarming in from up ahead and choppers in the sky, but it is a lot more forgiving in terms of your health because there will be med packs strewn about to give you a boost. We’ll have more details on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon as soon as it becomes available. The game is currently set to ship in November of this year.

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Wii | Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon First Impression” was posted by Sophia Tong on Mon, 16 Aug 2010 10:49:56 -0700

PC | The Sims 3 Late Night Expansion Pack Impressions

We get out of the suburbs and live the glamorous city life in EA’s third expansion pack for The Sims 3.

If you’re tired of having your sims live the quiet life in suburbia surrounded by a white picket fence and nosy neighbors, then pack your bags and head to the bustling city of Bridgeport, the city that sleeps only in the wee hours of the morning. In The Sims 3’s latest expansion pack, Late Night, your sim can stay up all night long and party until the sun rises. New locations, furniture, objects, and wishes are just some of the things that have been added, and we got our first look when we went down to EA in Redwood Shores.

In Late Night, a new grouping mechanic has been added, which makes it easier to go out for a night on the town with your sim friends. Wherever you go, they’ll go too, that is, unless you’re in a group of three, and two of your sims start to get cozy, and then the third wheel will eventually leave in a huff. Vampires have been on the scene since Sims 2: Nightlife, but now they’ve gotten a bit of a Twilight makeover. These bloodsucking (or in this case, plasma-fruit-sucking) demons are now sexier and are part of the most elite group in town, so you’ll be compelled to be in their bloodthirsty presence. To get into one of the most exclusive clubs in town, the Plasma 501–a vampire haunt–you must befriend a fellow vamp or you’ll be left waiting outside. These intoxicatingly good-looking vampires can read minds along with being able to dash from one end of the neighborhood to the other with little effort. The downside is that they don’t like the daylight (obviously) and will start to smoke a bit and complain about the heat. If you find yourself drawn to these creatures of the night, know that by befriending a vampire you can eventually ask him or her to turn you, or if you happen to mate, there’s a chance that you may end up with a vampire baby. Consider yourself warned: There’s no going back.

Other places to visit include dive bars, which we got a chance to hang out in to see what it was like to moonlight as a bartender–and order wings and nachos during happy hour! Your skills as a mixologist (a new gig that has been added) go up over time, but in the beginning you’ll fumble around with the drinks and break a few glasses. We were told that eventually you can even come up with your own concoctions by doing a supermarket run. Another way to make some cash is to start a band. You’ll start off with playing gigs during the day, but once your band gets better, you’ll be invited to play at better venues. Instruments such as a bass, a drum set, and a keyboard have been added so you can jam in a subway if you want to–although you do have to worry about getting mugged.

If you prefer to take a more traditional job approach and start from the bottom, there’s a film career to pursue that allows you to branch off on different paths as an actor or a director. You’ll earn different rewards at the end, such as a director’s chair or your very own trailer where you can throw star tantrums.

Late Night is primarily about living that VIP lifestyle by boosting your celebrity status and getting to know the bouncers so they’ll let you in on sight. A new lifetime wish could be to own a penthouse, which you can then deck out with a hot tub on the balcony and tons of swanky furniture. A couple of character traits have been added as well: your sim can be shy or have star quality, which makes your sim more likely to gain fame and hog all the attention. However, during our demo we noticed that your sim doesn’t need to have that quality to get up and dance on a bar (apparently that particular sim had the insane trait).

Other objects that are worth mentioning include a bubble bar, which is similar to an oxygen bar, where your sim can sit and blow different-colored bubbles. An effects machine can be added to spruce up the atmosphere with snow, lasers, or confetti. For a more low-key type of setting, there are shuffleboards, arcades, and dart boards to keep your sims busy. Everything we saw at the bars can be used in your own home, so you can have your own cocktail bar in that penthouse suite you’ve been eyeing. The city of Bridgeport is quite big, with landmark buildings and plenty of towering high-rises. A red dot on the map will indicate which club is particularly happening that evening, so it’s worth checking out what’s hot that night to make the most of your evening. Another way to find out where the party is at is to gossip with your fellow sims or read the newspaper.

It looks like Late Night lets you experience what a Hollywood starlet likes to do in the evenings. Not only do you get to mingle with other socialites and wannabe aspiring actors, but to blend in better, you can add muscle definition to your sim as well as augment your sim’s assets. Live the life of a celebrity when The Sims 3 Late Night arrives on October 26.

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PC | The Sims 3 Late Night Expansion Pack Impressions” was posted by Sophia Tong on Mon, 16 Aug 2010 09:06:18 -0700

Wii | MySims Skyheroes Impressions

These adorable blocky-headed characters take to the skies in the latest entry in the MySims series.

MySims has made quite an impression on the Nintendo Wii and has now made the leap forward to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. This series has taken what people love most about sims (customization) and placed the wide-eyed, goofy characters into a setting that is suitable for a younger audience. Previous games have focused on exploration and gathering clues and items, and MySims Skyheroes continues that trend, but what has changed is that it is now a full-fledged action game. You’ll be responsible for piloting your own customizable plane, doing barrel rolls, and firing at other MySims in the skies. We went to visit EA in Redwood Shores to see how this new entry into the series is shaping up.

The MySims games have always looked good on the Wii, but now on the Xbox 360, the game is much more vibrant. With all the action happening onscreen, it is also much more hectic than what you may have been used to. In the single-player campaign, you play as a pilot who has crash-landed on an island and lost his memory. Luckily, you’re picked up by fellow pilots, and you learn that these people are part of a rebel group that is waging a war against the evil Morcubus (the nefarious villain in all MySims games). Morcubus is trying to take over the skies to prevent anyone else from flying, so you and your band of merry men are trying to recruit others to join your cause and fight back. Through 42 missions in 12 different environments, you’ll soar through the areas collecting power-ups and trying to complete the mission with the best score possible. The game is also set up so that you can’t really fail, but you will be rewarded for better performance. There are plenty of things to unlock, such as upgradable parts for your plane. Depending on your playing style, you can add parts that extend the range of picking up power-ups, upgrade your machine gun, or boost those power-ups. Part of the fun is experimenting, and there looks to be plenty of pieces and paint to make sure that your plane is the most unique one out there.

Familiar MySims characters will also return, like DJ Candy and Buddy, but EA has also thrown in some special guests, like Isaac Clark from Dead Space, Morrigan from Dragon Age, Tyson Rios and Elliot Salem from Army of 2, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, and many others that you’ll encounter through the game. Since your MySim will be sitting in a plane for the majority of the game, you are limited to customizing the head gear and facial features. Don’t worry, though–there’s a wide assortment of fun hats to choose from, so there’s plenty of room to experiment.

In Quick Play mode, there are two styles of play: dogfighting and racing. There is split-screen multiplayer so you can play with a friend on the same console and face up to eight other AI opponents on the Xbox 360 and PS3. On the Wii, the maximum number of players is six. If you’re on your own, you can go online and play cooperatively or against other players. EA wanted the game to be cross-generational, so parents can team up with their kids to play cooperatively. For those looking for a challenge, there are three difficulty settings to choose from. In these dogfighting or racing arenas, you’ll have plenty of power-ups to pick up to try to wreak as much havoc as possible. Portable boost pads, radar jammers, and giant laser attachments are just some of the things you can pick up and use temporarily.

MySims Skyheroes looks to bridge that gap between kid-friendly games and action games that require a bit more coordination. Skyheroes is very forgiving, since it comes with autolocking and there’s no damage taken when you plow straight into a volcano. It does give younger players a chance to do fancy maneuvers and shoot down other planes in a fun environment. Look for MySims Skyheroes when it is released on September 28.

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Wii | MySims Skyheroes Impressions” was posted by Sophia Tong on Fri, 13 Aug 2010 16:53:00 -0700