batman

Insightful Gaming – How Xbox Wins NextGen

I’m pretty stoked about next gen. 60fps? True 4K? SSD? Unreal 5? Ray Tracing? Sign me up. I have a feeling RPGs, stealth games and platforming are going to be huge. We also might see some incredible PC style strategy games finally hit consoles. And maybe, just maybe, a good Superman game. We have three systems: Xbox Series X, PS5, and Switch Pro (come on, it’s a given). In this quickie post, how can Xbox win next gen?

This is nothing more than a wishlist. I am not using any “insider info.” Nope. Just thirty years of gaming, my skills as an analyst, and my thoughts on where the industry is and where it can go. With that mumbo, jumbo out of the way, let’s get down to business.

June Event:

All about the hardware. Xbox Series X. Maybe the cheaper version, Xbox Series S. Elite Controller 2.0. Talk about Game Pass and X-Cloud. Demonstrate how Xbox Live is bigger and better. Then do a full power presentation.

If I were in charge of marketing, I’d press the following: Most Powerful System. Best Online Experience. Best Controller. Full Backwards Compatible. No censorship. Then emphasize Smart Delivery. I’d also ensure the event was only a day or two after Sony’s June event.

Lastly, I’d show-off some 3rd party titles. New Batman from Montreal? Superman from Rocksteady? Cyberpunk 2077? Harry Potter RPG? New Splinter Cell? Talk about how Xbox is the premiere choice for all third party titles. Then announce a bunch of timed exclusives. Hardcore gamers hate them, but it makes a significant impact on the market in general. Also, make the Flight Simulator the showpiece. End the presentation blasting the theme song from the 1990s X-Men animated series – yeah, Sony has Spiderman. We have the X-Men.

July Event

This first one is a long shot, but it makes sense. EA makes most of their money from live services. Live services work well with sport titles and Dice war games. They do not like single player experiences. Xbox wanted BioWare before. Plus, Respawn and Visceral Games would be perfect fits. Lastly, EA has never been a big fan of the Star Wars license. So they can unload it.

So the conference opens up with the announcement BioWare is now an Xbox studio. The Original Mass Effect trilogy, the Dragon Age trilogy, KOTOR I & II and Jade Empire are all being remastered alongside Saber Interactive. 4K resolution. 60fps. New content. Better gameplay mechanics. They show teasers for a new Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Anthem 2.0, and Jade Empire 2. But no rush. They then announce they are making KOTOR III alongside Obsidian.

Obsidian shows off dlc for The Outer Worlds, Grounded, and Pillars of Eternity 3. They also tease The Outer Worlds 2 and Alpha Protocol 2. Sega makes a statement that all of their new games are coming to Xbox: Persona, Yakuza, Sonic, Virtual Fighter, Phantasy Star, Atlas, and Total War. Then Total War announces they are working on a Halo RTS. This is followed by a string of 3rd party exclusives: Alan Wake 2 (Remedy), Marvel vs DC (Capcom), Dying Light 2 (Techland), Scalebound (Platinum), and Elden Ring (FromSoftware). This leads then to showing off a host of JRPGs that are finally coming to Xbox.

The Coalition show dlc for Gears Tactics, and then tease Mech Assault, Gears 6, and Jedi Academy. Ninja Theory show updates for Bleeding Edge, and then show Hellblade 2. They finish with teases for Project Mara and Odyssey 2. Trailers for Age of Empire 4 (Relic), Forza Motorsport 8 (with teaser for a new Forza New Horizons), Killer Instinct (no longer made by Rare), and then a bombshell: Bungie is once again an Xbox Studio. They drop trailers for Destiny 3 and a new IP and they tease they will be tackling Battlefront.

Rare shows off Sea of Thieves 2.0 with NPC crews and a host of improvements and additions. They show trailers for Everwild and Banjo and hint that they are not finished with Conker or the Battletoads.

The Initiative blasts onto the stage with a futuristic spy thriller reboot of Perfect Dark. They also tease they are working on X-Men and Deadspace. Then the trailer for Fable 4 is dropped by Playground Games. This segment is finished off by ReSpawn showing off Titan Fall 3, Apex Legends 2.0, and Jedi Fallen Order 2.

People Can Fly announces they are now an Xbox Studio. They show off a new IP and then tease they are tackling a reboot of TimeSplitters. Cause why not? Xbox then drops teasers for what multiple in-house studios are working on. A nice ten minute showcase of multiple games spread across multiple genres.

We then get teasers for Starfield, a new Witcher game, and that all dlc for LA Noire 2 is time exclusive for Xbox. Larian Studios comes out to say they are now an Xbox studio and Baulders Gate 3 and Divinity 3 are coming to Xbox. And then a partnership is announced: Xbox will be working with Bandai to create a Full Metal Alchemist game. They show off improvements to MineCraft and Fortnite before ending on a full reveal of Halo Infinite.

New weapons, new vehicles, improved melee, dual wielding, more assassinations, bigger environments, better stealth mechanics, and your armor takes on battle damage. You can also smash throw walls and drop a building on enemies – options are almost limitless to how you want to tackle missions. Hundreds of npcs make for huge set pieces. More WOW moments. The banished, the flood, new alien species, massive boss battles, space combat, and awesome Halo music. They reveal the biggest campaign ever with improved multiplayer and even a battle royal mode. 343 Studios then ends with a teaser for ODST 2.

August Event:

Obviously, this is where they should announce the price – $400 for Xbox Series X and $300 for Xbox Series S. They then announce a September release for Series X and a November release for Series S. They wrap it up with a showcase of the return of Summer Indies. A host of indie games will release every summer, starting with a ton of exclusives in August. Lastly, they mention that Game Pass, at least a limited version, will be coming to the Nintendo Switch in addition to Xbox Live for Switch. It’s a rad partnership and gives Xbox some serious momentum.

Summary:

Ok, so 90% of this is fantasy for sure. There could be curveballs, like ZeniMax or CD Projeket Red becoming an Xbox studio. Or maybe nothing happens and we get all hyped for nothing. But this is my wishlist, and I’m sticking to it until my dreams are dashed to pieces.

DC Injustice: Wish List

So we know the full roster of DC Injustice: Gods Among Us. The 24 characters are: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Raven, Flash, Shazam, Aqua Man, Deathstroke, Joker, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Black Adam, Doomsday, Hawkgirl, Ares, Killer Frost, Green Lantern, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, Nightwing, Lex Luthor, Cyborg, and Bane. We can safely say that it has been confirmed there will be only 24 characters at the launch of the game (Click here and scroll to the 12:50-13:10). We also know there will be at least 4 DLC characters and that one of them is 99% likely to be Martian Manhunter (based on the silhouette that can be found here and compared here). Devs have noted that there will likely be far more DLC characters than the 4 they have said will be coming. I figured it would be fun to think on some great characters that I would love to see join the roster at some point:

Martian Manhunter

Martian Manhunter

Yea, I know. He is likely already DLC. But he is such a missing piece of the Justice League in this game that he deserves being mentioned again.

Lobo

Lobo

Ed Boon hinted about him on his twitter account. I would LOVE to see it happen. The sheer craziness and comedy of his character are golden.

Huntress

Huntress

She’s my favorite female superhero character. The fighting skills of Batman mixed with the ruthlessness of Punisher, and staff skills that make Nightwing jealous.

Black Canary

Black Canary

Incredible martial skills. Super banshee like screech. Plus, she’s a Justice League staple.

Powergirl/Supergirl

Powergirl Supergirl

Story wise, it makes no sense to not have these characters in the game. They are essentially family to Superman. Yes, their abilities would be similar, but so what? They need to be in the lineup.

Clayface

clayface

Just thinking of his abilities…man…this would be so much fun!

Black Lighting

Black Lightning

His abilities with electricity are even more spectacular than the magical lightning of Black Adam and Shazam. Yea, I could see Livewire or Static Shock in this slot as well, but, I think Black Lightning is more iconic.

Star Sapphire/Atrocitus/Larfleeze

lanterns

One of the cool powers of the lantern rings is that it reacts to the emotions of each user differently. Kyle was more of an artist. John was more military. Hal is an Airforce pilot hotshot. More love for the lanterns would be welcome.  Atrocitus is blood thirsty and Larfleeze is crippled by greed. Star Sapphire is just an awesome character.

Beast Boy

Beast Boy

His ability to transform into different animals would be so cool. Again, more love for the Teen Titans needs to be shown.

Starfire/Blackfire

Starfire_vs_Blackfire

More female characters are sorely needed and she presents one with some unique abilities. Her greatest foe, Black Fire, would also be a good addition.

Circe

Circe

One of Wonder Woman’s greatest enemies and an all around awesome character!

Mongul

Mongul

I can picture fighting him in an alien Colosseum. The crowd is chanting for your death. And Mongul is giving you a serious beat down. That stage could have some killer and imaginative interaction. A must-have villain.

Brainiac

Brainiac

One of Superman’s greatest foes. One of DC’s best villains. And the stage could be on his killer ship!

Maxima

Maxima

Story wise, makes a ton of sense. She has a serious thing for Superman and would love to exact some revenge on him for rejection.

Darkseid

Darkseid

Perhaps DC’s greatest villain. He is pure evil. His stage could be on Apokolips. It could involve the New Gods, Granny Goodness’ gang, and a whole lot of awesome. Yea, he makes a cameo in the game as of now but he needs to be playable.

Red Robin/Robin

robins

I’m one of those Batman fans who can never get enough. So what if their skills are similar to Nightwing? It would rock and you know it.

Hawkman

hawkman

Because you can’t have Hawkgirl without Hawkman. Plus, their fighting abilities are actually different. Hawkgirl loves to just beat people down with her club. Hawkman loves to use gadgets…that have the power of hitting you with the impact of an entire planet! And the stage could be on his home world!

General Zod

Zod

It ties in with the Man of Steel movie. Zod coming with an army of Kryptonians to bring the world under his own command.  Yea, his powers would be similar to Superman…but even more violent.

Mary Marvel

Mary Marvel

Yea, her powers are essentially the same as Shazam. But, story wise, it makes sense. She would be there to support her brother. Plus, she is an old school, iconic DC character. And the game lacks female characters.

Poison Ivy

poison ivy

One of Batman’s best villains who would not only give the game another female character, but also one with some truly unique abilities including MIND CONTROL!

Zatanna

Zatanna

Last, but not least, a master of magic. Zatanna is a Justice League staple. She is to DC what Dr. Strange is to Marvel. Yea, Dr. Fate might be that in reality, but Zatanna is far more well known.

Pushing Limits

Part 2 of 2

Immersion and Structure…

 

Immersion is crucial and so few game titles get this right.  The moment my companions in Modern Warfare 3 were oblivious to the hundreds of slain innocent people that littered the streets we walked on; immersion was broken.  I cannot connect with characters that are void of human traits.  That connection to characters is vital.  It’s why the Harry Potter series sold 440 million plus copies.  Give me characters I can relate to and make a connection with and I will go with them wherever you want to go.  Break that connection and I won’t care what happens to them.

Interactive storytellers must come to the realization that the setting of a game is on the same level as any other character.  Just as much time and effort needs to go into creating its personality as any other person I might meet.  Bioshock did a fantastic job of nailing down this concept.  I am immersed within the rich story in Bioshock partly because of the world that the underwater city ofRapture gives me to explore.

Cut-scenes and quick-time events can easily break immersion.  As can any scripted event.  Every story needs structure.  And the structure for an interactive story is far different than the story written for a novel.  However, the trick is to make staying within that frame as seamless as possible.  Herein is the first of the three major balances in interactive storytelling: immersion versus structure.

Story and Gameplay…

 

Story should never be an after thought.  Nor should gameplay be forgotten.  Graphic novels are a marriage between artwork and writing.  When the marriage works, you get something that is beautiful, pure, and wonderful.  Get it wrong and it ends up rather ugly.  The same can be true in games if the balances of story and gameplay are not adjusted properly.

Games can consist of voice acting, musical scores, sound effects, gorgeous visuals, and present ample opportunity for incredible tales to be weaved.  But games are also games.  They are not read like novels nor watched like movies.  People play them.  Broken gameplay can sink a fantastic story.  A terrible story can mar outstanding gameplay.

Player Choice and Theme…    

 

Games are interactive because they allow the player to make choices that can affect the story and game world.  Giving the player choices without any real consequences is akin to treating your audience as if they are stupid.  Player choice creates a tremendous challenge to the writers and this is understandable.  The key is to allow for player choice but ensure the theme of your tale is left intact.

Theme is the real takeaway value of the game.  If a game has no real takeaway value, then it cannot be considered art.  Nor can it really be considered a story.  The quality of any story is judged by the impact it has on its audience.  This doesn’t mean every story needs to be teaching a lesson.  This does mean that every story should leave me touched in some way.

Business and Creativity…

 

In order for interactive storytelling to get through its growing pangs it must learn to properly balance these three measures.  The final balancing act is one that is seldom discussed but is perhaps most paramount.  Of course, that is the business versus creativity.  In the end, gaming is a business.  Publishers and developers need to make money to stay afloat.  The trick is to not let that need to survive drain you dry of your creative juices.

The novelist writes that book because the story is begging to be written.  To deny that creative drive would lead to insanity.  Light that kind of fire into the hearts and imaginations of interactive storytellers, and the industry will be well on its way to pushing past the limits of infancy.

 

 by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com

 

Welcome to Arkham City

His face is bloodied and bruised.  Deep gashes cover his chest, bits of shrapnel are embedded into his thigh, and his cape is torn to shreds.  He sucks in a deep breath.  A light snow is falling as a winter storm approaches.  To his back lies theGothamCityskyline complete with towering giants, bright spotlights, and draped in yellow hues.  Police sirens shriek in the distance, but they will be of no help where he is at.

He is alone; waging an all-out war against a never ending tide of murderers, psychotics, and lunatics.  There is no law here.  It’s everybody for themselves; anarchy at its finest.  A maniacal laugh causes his head to flinch.  The time for rest is over.  Batman and the player controlling him take to the skies once more knowing that even a moment’s hesitation can mean the difference between life and death.

Welcome to ArkhamCity.  A walled-off section of Gotham transformed into a massive prison.  It is within these walls that one of the greatest Batman stories ever told transpires and is executed to near perfection.

It manages to integrate polished gameplay with a blockbuster script and the results are staggering.  From the moody atmosphere littered with detail, to the adrenaline laced combat, colorful characters, and an engrossing narrative that will stick with you long after the credits roll; Arkham City stands as a staple of how richly awarding interactive storytelling can be when you get it right.

This is not just the best licensed game ever crafted.  ArkhamCity is an instant classic; a new benchmark by which other games must now ascribe to achieve.

Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker), along with a stellar cast of voice actors, deliver powerful performances.  The musical score is solid throughout and never feels out of place.  One thing that really hit me was hearing a person crying out for help.  You race atop rooftops as the screams grow louder, pinpoint the mugging taking place in a nearby alley, and swoop down upon the unsuspecting foe, rendering him unconscious with a well-placed elbow to his face.

You are Batman.  They have managed to capture the essence of the character so well that it is mind blowing.  It is more than just beating down gangs and rescuing innocent bystanders from would-be assailants.  ArkhamCity digs deep into the psychology of what makes the man tick.  It succeeds making that connection between game and player that every novel attempts to spark between reader and characters.

There are the rare hiccups in framerate and the occasional camera glitch.  However, these annoyances are few and far between.  With a main story that’ll last you between 10-15 hours, dozens of engaging side missions, hundreds of collectables, incredible replay value, and challenge maps nailed down to an art-form; Arkham City manages to surpass its predecessor (Arkham Asylum; itself a critical darling) in every conceivable way.

Rating:  100%

Title: BatmanArkhamCity

Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive

Developer: Rocksteady Studios

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Style: 1 Player, 3rd Person Action

ESRB: T (mild language, violence)

by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com