Warhammer 40k: Fire Warrior

[youtube id=”LfJ7HDJ6LWs” width=”633″ height=”356″]

The problems with Fire Warrior, you see, are firmly rooted in its dirty console past. The game sports an incredibly annoying auto-save/checkpoints feature that forces you to replay levels again and again (only to be killed seconds before beating them), has pretty clumsy controls, very poor AI, astonishingly few tweaking options and an obviously tacked-on online multi-player side. ~Konstantinos Dimopoulos

Warhammer 40k: Fire Warrior

Now, why would you dear readers care for a review of a spectacularly unremarkable 5 year old game, that was released to public apathy and less than stellar reviews? And why would I bother with a game that dared tempt the PC crowd without a proper save feature, while offering only lackluster multi-player options? Why should we even care about the existence of another generic FPS instead of, say, the joys of Blue Lacuna? Well, simple really. It’s all happening because I’m oddly enjoying playing through Fire Warrior, that’s why. Shockingly for the second time in my life too.

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

Better start at the beginning then. Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior is -as you might have already guessed- a pretty standard FPS set in Games Workshop’s dark and gritty sci-fi/Gothic world of Warhammer 40,000, where -as is customary with these things- there is only war and apparently many interesting stories to be told. You, the player, assume the role of a young warrior of the Tau Empire and set out to fight for the greater good in general and, in a more specific way, against the rather fascist Empire of Man. Actually, you get to live through the frenetic first 24 hours of your service while battling through 21 hour-long levels, essentially making this a properly real-time FPS in the strictest of senses. Interesting innit? Regardless. It still is longer than the average shooter and that sort of makes up for the fact that the game is definitely showing its age. It was after all a 2003 release.

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

Fire Warrior also was the first pure action game set in the Warhammer 40k universe and, frankly, this must have been why I actually decided to give it a chance in the first place. Let me explain my train of thought like this: Shooting Space Marines? Yes, please. Walking through Tau spaceships in glorious 3D? Definitely. Being a nameless grunt in a war-torn universe? Sure. Playing a lazy PS2port on the PC? Well, uhm, not that I’m thrilled with the prospect, but guess I could put up with it.

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

The problems with Fire Warrior, you see, are firmly rooted in its dirty console past. The game sports an incredibly annoying auto-save/checkpoints feature that forces you to replay levels again and again (only to be killed seconds before beating them), has pretty clumsy controls, very poor AI, astonishingly few tweaking options and an obviously tacked-on online multi-player side. Then, it doesn’t even try to add anything new to the genre and its sole innovation is a rather failed copy of HALO’s shield system. And don’t get me started on the extreme linearity of the thing or the truly archaic need to collect color-coded keys…

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

On the plus side -and besides the setting- Fire Warrior does manage to do some things rather well. Or at least, well enough to help you relax, turn your brain off and enjoy many hours of frenetic shooting a la Serious Sam. You get 15 different weapons to experiment with, an impressively balanced difficulty curve, a great (or at least engrossing for FPS standards) plot, a variety of well-presented locations, bits of horror, a couple of smart set-pieces, boss battles and tons of enemies. What’s more, there are more than a few fantastic cinematic sequences and I bloody love fantastic cinematic sequences. I am quite fond of them unlockable WH40K artwork goodies too.

So, and in order to reach some sort of a verdict, should you grab a copy? Well, if you don’t mind Fire Warrior’s flaws and lack of originality, care for a simple though highly atmospheric and extremely addictive FPS to last you for a week or so, then, by all means, I think you should. After all, Warhammer 40,000 Fire Warrior is indeed dead cheap. Oh, and Warhammer 40k maniacs that can forget their miniatures for a while will definitely appreciate it too. Mind you, Amazon has quite a few well priced copies lying around last time I checked.

Dark Arena

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Format- Gameboy Advanced

Genre- First Person Shooter

I’ve tried to revisit the 12 FPS games for the GBA in the order they were released, but have sadly messed it up a bit. Doom came after Ecks Vs Sever – a fact that i’m ashamed I overlooked.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

But i’m putting that right, and the next game on my revisit radar is Dark Arena. Perhaps the most forgotten of the whole flock of GBA FPS – apart from perhaps the too late for the party Ice Nine – this is was actually the first FPS announced for the handheld.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

It’s also the only GBA FPS that isn’t a port or continuation of an existing shooter series, or without any conceivable tie to a movie (Ice Nine was based on the film The Recruit but the licensing fell through).

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

This fact probably didn’t help Dark Arena reach a wider audience, but it’s hard to feel too sorry for it, due to the fact it’s a rather turgid effort all round.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Perhaps it was rushed to a release in an attempt to be the first GBA FPS, in which case it failed in a truly dismal fashion due to the fact three games beat it to the punch, but ia lack of attention to detail does show through in the final product.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

It’s opening is very effective though, in an adorably budget stricken kind of way. Green text is type out on a black screen, with a sinister soundtrack burbling away in the background.

It recites the plot of Doom pretty much ad verbatim – lone marine stranded in a infested space station, blah blah blah, escaping is a near impossible task, etcetera etcetera – only with a slightly more clunky syntax.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Only a rubbish looking pic of a red beast attacking a bald space marine sullies the dark-edged tone.

When you enter the first stage though, all the effort gone into this set-up evaporates very quickly indeed.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

This is not a scary game. Not by a long shot. There’s no music here, just the sounds of enemies and gunfire. On a system with more graphical oomph this could have worked – but here it mutes, quite literally, any potential atmosphere.

Controls are simple and work well however. Shooting enemies higher than your current level can be fired at by simply aiming in their vague direction, Doom style.

Dark Arena - Gameboy Advanced

Guns are plentiful, but most are ineffectual in terms of their power. You can be tooled up with a rocket launcher, sniper or laser gun, but there’s no real satisfying clunk-click- bam feel to the game – like, say, Doom (sorry for constantly making the comparison).

This is something most of the FPS’ on GBA suffered with actually, but was not a problem in Doom or Duken Nukem Advance – perhaps as much to the way your enemies die more than anything else.

In Dark Arena they simply slump straight to the ground once you’ve pumped enough bullets into them, like sad cardboard cut-outs.

There’s no real sense that you’ve conquered anything evil at all, and this doesn’t help to stimulate you to push on through the game’s fifteen levels.

Most of the alien beasties don’t even carry any tangible threat either. Most can be defeated without you you needing to exert any caution – just walk near them and fire away.

Only the robot mechs and larger aliens near the end of the game can do much damage to you in a straight up firefight. And the final boss of course, is a challenge, as you’d expect.

Dark Arena is miles ahead of, say, BackTrack – it’s got clearer graphics and a proper single player for one – but it does very little to set itself apart from the GBA FPS pack.

Although when I was younger I think I got scared a little for abut 30 seconds in one of Dark Arena’s stages, it was probably because I was at the end of the stage and had to beat several tough enemies – and had to go back to the start if I died, something I was very keen not to do.

Generally, attempting to mimic Doom is unwise at the best of times – but especially when Doom has already been released for the system you’re coming out on.

Wayne’s World

Wayne’s World

Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

waynes_world

Wayne’s World was a 1992 film based on a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch centered around the public-access television program hosted by Wayne Campbell, as played by Mike Myers, and Garth Algar, as performed by Dana Carvey. The two long-haired metalheads would provide humorous commentary on recent events, people they knew, bands, and chicks. The movie was popular enough to not only place new catch phrases into pop culture, but to spawn a video game, as released in 1993 on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. The game is a side-scrolling platformer developed by THQ.

Gameplay

Alternating between laser-gun-wielding Garth and kung-fu-kicking Wayne, this one-player game has the respective protagonists traversing bizarre side-scrolling environments in which they are attacked by such enemies as living musical instruments and nefarious human beings. The A button jumps and the B button attacks. The levels have multiple stages, requiring the player to go through one area to find a door to go through to the final portion, or perhaps defeat a mini-boss.

waynes_world

In typical THQ fashion, the level design is less than extraordinary. On the first level, for example, Garth literally just has to walk to the right while firing his gun in order to reach the finish, despite the fact that there is an upper level of bounceable drums to travel across if he wished to. Other stages feature precision-jumping parts, annoying fly-over type enemies who bomb the character, and occasional items dropped to replenish the health bar. This is a bare-bones, minimalist, very basic platformer effort, and tellingly behind the times for a 1993 release. There are also amusing screens between the levels where Wayne and Garth engage in witty banter.

Graphics

waynes_world

This is a THQ product, so the visuals are subpar. Vast expanses of background are cast in a single-color palette, and usually an unappealing one. The enemies flicker, the level elements look like they were drawn by a grade-schooler in Microsoft Paint, and the entire experience feels like a narcotics-induced hallucination. Perhaps that was the intention. The highlight may be the shadowy green hues in which Wayne and Garth are cast for their cutscenes; which are hardly so, even, as they consist of a single static image with on-screen text accompanying.

Sound

waynes_world

The sound effects are dull, one-note renditions of the simplest degree possible, outdone even by many Atari 2600 titles. The background music seems underdeveloped; not only is it not skillfully composed and repeats far too quickly, but of the few tracks available, they do not even seem to take advantage of the full array of sound channels available on the hardware, instead content to pump out just one or two synth instruments in plainly orchestrated barely-there background “music.”

Originality

waynes_world

Yes, this is a license game; that is, a video game based on a pre-existing pop-media license, simply designed to be published in an efficient manner in order to capitalize on the fleeting popularity of the franchise at hand. The NES was a console that was particularly notorious for these releases. Although some of them were actually fairly good (Konami’s Ninja Turtle games, Capcom’s Disney titles), many were base-level dross that sought the money of gullible suckers. To its credit, Wayne’s World does present a beginning-to-end challenge, and its faults with hit detection and frequent glitches could perhaps be seen as adding to the difficulty.

Nonetheless, the programming faults resulting in random damage taken and the general lengths required to dispatch of enemies is more annoying than refreshing, and the overall experience deserves absolutely no higher than one and a half stars out of five.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

In the 1970’s, the first of a series of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes flicks was released, providing a send-up of classic B-movie horror films. Years later, kids would enjoy an animated series. Then, in the 1990’s, the 8-bit Attack of the Killer Tomatoes video game was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System console. Published by somewhat notorious gaming company THQ in 1992, with development work by Imagineering Inc., this was a one-player platformer based on the cartoon.

Gameplay

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The player controls Chad Finletter, the only resident in the town of San Zucchini courageous enough to fight the killer tomatoes. This game features the classic platformer controls: A jumps, hold B to dash (on levels 3 and later, which is bizarre), the directional buttons move back and forth. The enemies, for the most part, consist of a variety of different sized tomatoes, along with creatures such as bats, spiders, worms, little pudgy-shaped things, etc. The only attack is to jump on enemies, but the jumps must be exactly on the head or midsection of a foe to defeat it, demanding precision-jumping not only to traverse levels but to beat the baddies.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

There are some mini-boss battles in which the player engages the larger, named tomatoes, such as Tomacho, Beefsteak, Fang, etc., along with unique stages such as the main mad scientist boss not being fightable but conjuring a wave of enemies instead, or the mysterious hooded figure who plays a sewer organ that Chad must destroy one pipe at a time with rocks (yeah, hooded figure playing a pipe organ in the sewers, right).

Otherwise, this is a fairly typical platformer ‘” much of it is very linear, moving left or right, avoiding or defeating enemies, interacting with certain background elements like switches and the cliche acid drop in the sewers, etc. This is an average title, made less-than-average by some odd design choices, such as levels three, five, and the “bonus” level post-credits being maze-like, making them painful and unenjoyable to navigate.

Graphics

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The visuals may actually be the high point of the game. The backgrounds are colorful, the animations are smooth, there are few clipping/slowdown issues, certain background elements are animated, the characters look distinctive, and many sprites are handled at once. A couple highlights are the lighting effects under the streetlights in the first level, and the tomato-throwing effects during the opening and the credits. However, there are a couple flaws, such as the infamous switch that must be activated in one level, which reverses the gravity; while the gravity-reversing feat is always great fun on the NES when it is found, the switch very much just looks like a background element and can be easily missed.

Sound

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes - NES - Gameplay Screenshot

The music is nicely layered, playing a few “instruments” at once, and at decent melodic complexity and pace. But after a while, it does grow stale. This would be forgivable, except for one insane soundtrack choice the developers made that really strikes this cartridge down for enjoyment factor: Moving makes noise. In other words: There is a sound effect for just moving the character across the ground; not only is this remarkably unnecessary, but can only be found as annoying.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhwPsgpkaEg[/youtube]

Originality

Overall, this is another one of those platformers in which more effort was put into its presentation of a license than actual gameplay, much like the Simpsons games (Bart Vs. The World, Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, etc.) or Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six. Actually, those are very apt comparisons with several similarities: Background music that can haunt your sleep if gameplay lasts too long, oddly unintuitive jumping mechanics, potential confusion in navigating certain levels, questionable hit detection, and other issues. Nonetheless, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a worthy challenge for retro NES fans, and is at least fairly short, being just a handful of stages. A word of warning: Look out for the floating robotic arm and spark thing. Otherwise, this squashes two stars out of five.

Home Alone

HomeAlone-game

My Home Alone knowledge goes as far as being forced to watch the first movie because of a girl…..it’s always a girl. I’ve been told (thanks @CrapDracula) that the Home Alone game has completely different game play depending on which console it was purchased, which I found odd. But thankfully, the Genesis version seemed to capture the fun parts of the first movie.

You play as Kevin, the Macauley Culkin character, and you have to protect the neighborhood from the Wet Bandits, played by the Wonder Years voice-guy and Leo Getz.

Home Alone - Sega Genesis

There’s some really unique game play here, which won me over right away: There’s an overview of the “neighborhood”, which consists of the 5 houses that Harry and Marv are trying to rob. The game gives you 20 minutes to slow down the Bandits before the cops arrive. You do this by staying ahead of them inside the houses. Moving around the neighborhood in a motorized sled, you enter each house to set up traps. Once you’ve entered, there’s a blueprint map where you do this; marbles, toys, oil…a number of things to slow them down, because they seem to be too stupid to look down at the floor, I suppose. Once they’re inside, you go into “attack” mode, using weapons against them. You’ll find items by running over snowmen outside or just grab something off the shelves in each house. There’s another map where you’ll put these items together, likeMacGyver. Because of the lead character being a little boy, I had plenty of enjoyment blasting these two idiots in the groin with a snowball cannon. If they catch you, you’re hung on the wall for a couple of seconds before you wiggle loose.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRLYOKxDgkw[/youtube]

The characters look like the actors…very well done. The wintery setting and the story taking place over Christmas vacation makes this a fun and memorable game for that time of year. Plus, I try to remember Macauley during his “good old days” before Michael Jackson got a hold of him….I think I meant that literally.

The Interview: Steve Gray

Steve Gray
Steve Gray

Steve Gray

When you have a gaming resume with names like Electronic Arts, Squaresoft and THQ there is little doubt that you know gaming. Obsolete Gamer was given the opportunity to talk with Steve Gray about his gaming career that started with EA Canada his time at Squaresoft and his work on Parasite eve. From there he created his own studio (Heavy Iron) which he sold to THQ in 1999. From there he returned to EA where he worked on many games including The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Third Age and Tactics. Currently Steve Gray is the executive in charge of production at Tencent who is China’s largest developer and publisher and operator of online games.

We wanted to get a behind the scenes look at his time in the gaming industry and his many accomplishments from his work in Video FX to building the first Motion Capture Lab at EA Canada.

EA Canada logo
EA Canada logo

Obsolete Gamer: When did you know you would want to work in the video game industry?

Steve Gray: I originally wanted to be a Rock Star (just like Tremmel) and I played the clubs a lot in LA and up and down the California coast.  At that time I also worked in the feature film special effects business.  Which I continued to do until the early 90’s when I was VP Technology at Digital Domain (that’s when we made True Lies, Interview with the Vampire, Apollo 13, …).  When the PS1 came out I decided I really wanted to get into video games instead.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your first exposure to games?

Steve Gray: Asteroids in the arcades.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that hooked you?

Steve Gray: Asteroids in the arcades!!

Obsolete Gamer: Now before beginning work in the gaming industry you had quite the career in Visual Effects and working in television and movies can you tell us about that time?

Steve Gray: I worked at Robert Abel & Associates when I first moved to LA (to be a Rock Star).  Entry Level Rock Star doesn’t pay very well, actually… not at all.  RA&A worked on Tron, Star Trek 1, and a ton of really cool CG TV commercials.  Also with Omnibus and Digital Pictures we were really the first big CG effects house.  It was a great place to work, everyone was really young and crazy… we worked super hard, partied super hard.  It was a good time… late 80’s in LA was a fun time and place.  Guns and Roses was playing the clubs, the Sunset Strip was rockin’.  Then I went on to work at Rhythm & Hues as head of the Software department.  We wrote all our own CG tools then, because there really weren’t any commercially available packages yet.  I mostly wrote partical systems and rendering code, along with managing the team.  After R&H I moved over to Digital Domain, which was a lot of crazy house.  But we worked on really great movies… and working with Stan Winston and Jim Cameron was pretty amazing.

Obsolete Gamer: So you began the video game part of your career at Electronic Arts Canada, how did that job come to be?

Steve Gray: Digital Domain wanted to get into the video games business… so me and Chris McKibbin (then CFO of DD – different Chris than Chris Tremmel) went around to all the big game companies in the US and Japan trying to get someone to do a project with us… no one really wanted to do that because they (rightly) said we had no idea what we were doing.  Don Mattrick offered me and McKibbin both jobs at EAC.  So we thought about that and both took his offer.

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like working at EA Canada?

Steve Gray: It was really interesting. I learned a lot there.  A lot of really talented guys.  But unfortunately I discovered that making sports games wasn’t really my thing.

Obsolete Gamer: What did you think of the changing in video game technology at the time with the PlayStation One and the use of full motion video in games?

Steve Gray: We all though FMVs in games were super cool.  And actually I eventually built a game at my own company Heavy Iron that used FMV backgrounds in a “Resident Evil” type of game… except our backgrounds were pre-rendered videos instead of pre-rendered stills.  But that was on PS2.  It was the first Evil Dead game that THQ released.  But fundamentally I now think that FMVs kind of suck.  Or at least over use of FMVs kind of suck.  I like what we did in “Lord of the Rings The Third Age” with the transitions from FMV to In-Game Cinematic to Game Play.  And I’m definitely more of a fan of in-game cinematics now, especially if the player can customize his or her avatar, and that customized avatar shows up in the In-Game Cinematic.  But in general, I’m not a huge fan of linear content in games anymore.  Of course, working at Square we made tons of FMVs… but Square’s console RPGs are almost more of a big movie with some game play bits squeezed in there.   Which I still like.

Obsolete Gamer: What were the day to day activities of running the software tools group at EA Canada?

Steve Gray: Not really that interesting.  Just managed the tools group, tried to make sure that we really built things that were useful for the projects right now… no “ivory tower research” allowed.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about building the first Motion Capture Lab at EAC?

Steve Gray: In the beginning the EAC guys didn’t believe in it so we had basically no budget and had to rent out the auto-repair stall to use as our capture studio.  The guys in the auto repair shops around us all through we must be shooting porno movies because we brought in all this high-end camera gear… they kept wanting to know when the girls were going to be there.  Unfortunately it was just a bunch of geeky game developers.  Later we got a bigger a much nicer warehouse to work in…

Squaresoft logo
Squaresoft logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did the transition from EAC to Squaresoft take place?

Steve Gray: I knew some Square guys from various places in the past, plus I’ve always been a fan of their games.  When Sakaguchi-san asked me to join the company I couldn’t say yes fast enough.   Some of the other guys at Square invited me to Tokyo to meet Sakaguchi and we were in a private booth overlooking the massive dance club called “Welfare”, he asked me to join square and put out his hand… I shook it and the other Japanese guys asked me “do you know you just signed the deal”, to which I answered “yes”!!

Obsolete Gamer: Do you have a story or memory you’d like to share about your time at EAC?

Steve Gray: I think the day we installed the flying-faders audio mixing board in the sound lab was the best day.  Back then those things were super crazy expensive, and as a musician I’d always wanted to have one to play with.

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like working at Squaresoft?

Steve Gray: Working at Square was the best of times and in some ways the worst of times.  Working with Sakaguchi-san was extremely challenging because his standards are insanely high.  Which is a good thing, but it can be tough.  Also the cultural and language differences between the Japanese and Western teams we not really understood or managed very well.  I’m sure we were one of the first projects to be developed by a “mixed” team.  Of course now this is happening more and more, and people have gotten much better at managing those situations, but we were really on the bleeding edge, so to speak.

Obsolete Gamer: What were some of the challenges in directing Parasite Eve?

Steve Gray: The biggest issues were really finding consensus and understanding between the Japanese crew, many of whom had been at Square for many years and were used to their style of working… which was actually very “agile” though they didn’t call it that.  The Western team was much more into what’s now referred to as Waterfall project management… which we didn’t call it that either.  We didn’t really think about this sort of thing, and didn’t understand the differences, and basically made a big mess.  But the game did quite well when it came out, so that’s great!

Obsolete Gamer: Now the game was a sequel to the book correct?

Steve Gray: The game wasn’t a sequel really, it was based on a Japanese novel.  There is also a Japanese movie based on the same book… with some cool VFX from Toyo Links (Japanese VFX company).

Obsolete Gamer: There are many fans who loved that game, but some felt it did not get the attention it deserved, do you feel that way as well?

Steve Gray: It sold over 2.5 million units world wide I think, and sold something like 1.6 million units in like a week in Japan or something crazy like that.  Not quite Final Fantasy numbers, but pretty good.  I’m happy with it.

Obsolete Gamer: What did you think of Parasite Eve 2?

Steve Gray: I think the graphics and FMVs are probably better… I haven’t really played it all the way through, so I don’t have a lot to say about the game.  I was a little bitter with the way things ended up at Square, so I cop’ed an attitude and only played it a bit.

Obsolete Gamer: There were rumors of making a Parasite Eve 3 but it did not happen would you want to see a part 3 made?

Steve Gray: Only if I make it!!!  I don’t know.  Don’t really care.  I don’t think the franchise really took off enough to warrent a whole long series of games.

Parasite Eve box
Parasite Eve box

Obsolete Gamer: You also contributed to Final Fantasy 7 while at Square, can you tell us about that?

Steve Gray: Mostly I just helped another team at Square LA work on some maps.   Square LA did a bunch of maps for FF VII.  I don’t remember how many or what percentage of the total maps were done there.

Obsolete Gamer: Do you have a story or memory you’d like to share about your time at Square?

Steve Gray: Ha.  The stories I have to share involve other Square employees, cute Japanese girls at various locations in Tokyo at night.  They are not fit for public consumption… so I’ll let you guys imagine some of the trouble we got into.

Obsolete Gamer: What made you want to open your own game development company?

Steve Gray: After we finished PE1 at Square, a core group of us thought we were super badass game developers and that publishing companies would fall over themselves to give us projects and money.  That was not entirely true.  We worked on a bunch of games that never saw the light of day, and then finally landed the gig with THQ building Evil Dead 1.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about Heavy Iron Studios?

Steve Gray: It was originally called Chemistry Entertainment.  For a while we partnered with the Canadian VFX Company called Rainmaker.  Heavy Iron didn’t really 100% work out as we hoped.  But a bunch of really great people worked there, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in the game industry… for example my partner Marcel Samek went on to be CTO at EALA for many years.  Shiraz Akmal ran the central outsourcing group at THQ… Matt Coohill continued to work at Heavy Iron for a long time, and is now up in Seattle at Microsoft working cool stuff there.  And many others…

Obsolete Gamer: How did it differ from running your own company than working at EAC and SS?

Steve Gray: We had no money.  I didn’t really like running my own company that much… I thought it would give me the freedom to work on the kinds of projects I really like.  But instead I got to be an administrator and was always managing cash flow and trying to make payroll.  Not cool.

Obsolete Gamer: When did you make the decision to sell to THQ?

Steve Gray: When we were starting on Evil Dead 1, it was going to be one of the biggest projects THQ had ever done… and they really wanted to have us be part of THQ so that they would be building equity in the team.  And honestly, Marcel and I were a bit tired of managing the company instead of making games, so we decided to join THQ.  Of course, we also got paid some money (stock).  When I left THQ, their stock was at an all-time high… this was a good thing.

Obsolete Gamer: Do you have a story or memory you’d like to share about your time with Heavy Iron Studios?

Steve Gray: When we were finalizing Evil Dead, I was basically living at the office.  We had a group of THQ QA guys in the first floor, and they would find bugs, we’d fix them… I’d burn new test disks… they bang away at them.  It was a crazy project.  But then many things I’ve worked on have been crazy and hard… but that’s what makes it fun.

Obsolete Gamer: Then it was a return to EA what was that like?

Steve Gray: I came back to EA to join my original Digital Domain friend, Chris McKibbin, to help run what was called the “Worlds Channel” in EA.com.  We were all the entertainment products, meaning all the MMOs.  I guess younger readers may not know about EA.com – EA.com was EA’s first big jump into online games, and think we were a bit ahead of the times… EA.com didn’t work out, and got closed down, and many of the people merged back into the other EA Studios.  That was pretty rough because many people were also laid off, and as one of the senior guys there it fell to me to do a lot of layoffs.  But it’s lame to feel bad for yourself in that situation because it’s 100x worse for the people getting laid off.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about the development process with creating the Lord of the Rings games?

Steve Gray: We kicked some serious ass on Lord of the Rings.  First out at Stormfront, then internally at EA Redwood Shores.  Those were great games, beautiful games, built on very tight schedules under difficult circumstances and they were really good.  I credit my time and Square and my experiences working with Sakaguchi for my ability to really focus on quality… and of course, Neil Young was a great EP on the first two, I learned a lot working with him as well.  I have very happy memories of that time… though I did get diss’ed pretty hard in the infamous “EA Wife” blog.  I think our FMV->game play transition stuff which I mentioned earlier was a first for the industry, and we really set the standard for quality in movie games… a standard that has rarely been met since, in my opinion.

Heavy Iron logo
Heavy Iron logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did your experience with EAC, Square and owning Heavy Iron Studios factor into your return to EA and working on those games?

Steve Gray: I really credit Sakaguchi-san for helping me understand how to build great games.  I have to say that at the time, when I was at Square, I didn’t really agree 100% with how he wanted to do things… but in the following years I came to really appreciate how his approach to game development is able to consistently create such high quality product.  Now I’ve rarely (never) had the freedom he has as a developer, but his ideas fit into development even if you have to pay more attention to the schedule.  Heavy Iron gave me a lot of respect for how hard it is to run a business… and at EA I learned a lot about why publishers work the way they do, and why publishers make what seem to the developers like evil and unwarranted decisions.  That changed my understanding of the game business a lot.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about your work on Neverwinter Nights 2?

Steve Gray: This is a mistake in some profiles on me… I never worked on Neverwinter Nights 2.

Obsolete Gamer: With all your time in the gaming industry which prior of your career did you enjoy the most?

Steve Gray: I really really enjoyed working on the Lord of the Rings games.  The team was so fantastic.  Everyone was great to work with and super talented.  We may have had our struggles and moments of anger with each other, but I wouldn’t trade that time with those people for anything.  I am also really enjoying working at Tencent…

Tencent logo
Tencent logo

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about what you are working on currently?

Steve Gray: I am currently Executive in Charge of Prodution at Tencent in China.  Tencent is China’s largest developer, publisher and operator of on-line games, we have a huge IM client (over 1 billion accounts), we run China’s largest portals, etc…  I work with all of our Studios, of which we have 9… with about 3500 employees across all of them.  But there are some projects I’m particularly focused on.

Unfortunately I can’t really tell you about them, because most are unannounced.  However one I can mention is NBA 2K Online, which is a co-development project with 2K Sports in the US.  It’s a bit weird because I didn’t really like working on Sports games at EAC… but this is really more of a Sports RPG or something like that.  It’s really cool… it’s going to be a monster hit here in China.  Working with Visual Concepts (the 2K Games Studio that builds NBA2K) is really great, working with 2K China is great… our team in Shanghai is great.

It’s really fun.  It’s amazing how Tencent builds online games and how big we are (we have 4 games that have more than 1 million people playing simultaneously every day).  We get to work so closely with our customers… in a way you can never do on a console game.  Also the scale we operate at is just stunning… QQ IM (our IM client) routinely has over 100,000,000 people logged into it every day.  Yes – that’s the right number of zeros… 100,000,000.

Obsolete Gamer: With all that you do you must have little free time, but when you do if you play any games what are they?

Steve Gray: I rarely play any games other than the games I’m working on, or directly competing product… which I can’t say what they are, because that would be a dead giveaway of what we’re building.  I don’t really play games for “fun” in my free time… well, what free time, for one thing.  But I have a lot of fun playing the games I’m building or those few other games I play to understand what the competition is up to.

POD: Homefront

Homefront logo

Today’s Picture of the Day comes from the THQ game Homefront. I first heard about Homefront shortly before I went to E3 and learned more about it once there. I like the story behind the game and it does look like it will be a load of fun.

Here’s the story:

The year is 2027. The world as we know it is unraveling after fifteen years of economic meltdown and widespread global conflict over dwindling natural resources.

A once proud America has fallen, her infrastructure shattered and military in disarray. Crippled by a devastating EMP strike, the USA is powerless to resist the ever expanding occupation of a savage, nuclear armed Greater Korean Republic.

Abandoned by her former allies, the United States is a bleak landscape of walled towns and abandoned suburbs. This is a police state where high school stadiums have become detention centers, and shopping malls shelter armored attack vehicles. A once-free people are now prisoners… or collaborators… or revolutionaries.

Join the Resistance, stand united and fight for freedom against an overwhelming military force in Homefront’s gripping single player campaign penned by John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn). Stand alongside a cast of memorable characters as an emotional plot unfolds in this terrifyingly plausible near-future world. Experience visceral, cinematic first-person shooter action as you fight your way across Occupied USA using guerrilla tactics, and commandeer military vehicles and advanced drone technology to defeat the enemy.

Multiplayer brings epic warfare to the online arena as infantry, tanks, attack helicopters and combat drones battle across huge, open battlefields. A rich feature set offering layers of tactical depth combined with a game-changing innovation in the multiplayer space will set a new benchmark in online warfare.

Check out this trailer about Homefront’s backstory.

Now on to the screenshots.

Warhammer 40K: Gamescom 2010 Trailer: The Imperium of Man

Warhammer 40k Dark Millennium Online logo
Warhammer 40k Dark Millennium Online logo

Even before Warhammer was released to MMO fans people everywhere were calling for a 40k game and soon it will be here. For now check out this awesome trailer that premiered at Gamescom 2010.

The THQ/Vigil Games trailer features one of the games playable races, the Imperium of Man. The humans of 40k are a galactic empire whose reach extends over a million planets. Stay tuned to the MMO department for more details.

Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising

Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising
Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising

Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising review & strategy guide by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:
“Chaos Rising adds much needed content to revitalize DoW2 with reintroducing Chaos and supplementing all existing game modes.”

Overall Score:
8 out of 10

This review I will do different than my other reviews because this is an expansion pack and not an entirely new game. To check out my overall initial review of Dawn of War 2 click here.

About the Campaign mode and Chaos:

The campaign mode for Chaos Rising leaves off where the campaign for the original game left off. You take up the role of the same characters in the previous game which were space marines. You can only play as these characters and you can’t play as Chaos. You will however be facing Chaos in the coming war and also this expansion pack has rpg elements from the pen-and-paper rpg game Rogue Trader in the sense that you can do evil deeds that give you Corruption or good deeds that give you Redemption.

The more corrupt you get, the more demonic your men turn. The more Redemption you have, the more normal they remain. Corruption modifies the characterics your characters have, making some stuff barely work anymore and some stuff become really expensive to you but make you deal out more damage and other secondary effects. Of all the characters, the only one that is uncorruptible is the Dreadnought, Davian Thule.

If you’re not familiar with the main storyline for Warhammer 40K I will let you know that basically Chaos are these Warp touched kind of Satanists that worship Chaos gods (really nasty beings) and are fallen humans that have become demons. Along with most stories for the imperium of man, Chaos has traditionally come from people who have sold their souls to these demons or have been tricked by them or what’s even more disturbing are normal space marines (and imperial guard troops) which have simply become Chaos by being in contact with them and elements of the Warp. Sometimes if you fail to meet objectives your men become more influenced by Chaos. This might be as a result of shame or guilt associated with the failure. For example, failing to defend some innocents in the conflict that fell to Chaos.

Myself, I wish would have liked them to include a campaign which lets you play solely as the demonic Chaos forces, sort of like how the Dark Crusade expansion did for Dawn of War 1 (along with other races, Tau, Eldar, Imperial Guard, Necron, etc). Just like the original DoW2, you can invite one of your friends to play the campaign with you, them controlling half your forces.

What’s really different in this campaign over the original DoW2 campaign is that now the supplies you pick up are not generic supplies which supplement all your troops. Now, they are specific supplies (explosives, medical supplies, and so on) which boost only those types of items. Another thing that’s very different is that you no longer have to go around per mission conquering and defending strategic assets (the factories, shrines, and communication arrays). To get more of the items that would let you deploy more of those items such as the artillery strike, ability to deploy tarantula turrets, you specifically have to pick up the strategic supply boxes.

The level cap for Chaos Rising has been raised to level 30 versus level 20 for DoW2. This makes your characters much more powerful but it can also be a hindrance especially when you reach the last mission, which is the 15th mission. Whereas in the original DoW2 you could just keep farming randomly generated missions to keep getting better war gear, since you no longer control strategic assets and because of how they made the storyline in this campaign, you no longer have to deal with these missions, which kind of screws you over when you get to the last mission because it’s LONG and HARD and (to me) ANNOYING.

I played the campaign game once so far, taking the path of keeping my space marines pure and still worshiping the Emperor rather than those Chaos freaks, and of course, playing it at the max difficulty (Primarch). When I finally beat the last mission, it was on my 2nd retry. Some of the war gear I picked up on my first attempt helped a bunch especially since it made my scout a little bit more resilient.

Strategy Guide for last level of Chaos Rising campaign:

This mission is really annoying. This guide was written under the max difficulty setting only. Some stuff might not apply under the easier modes.

The first part of the mission consists of taking an anti-vehicle tank and an anti-infantry tank (Predator tanks) and fighting your way to one of the Chaos summoning buildings and leveling it. If you go along the left path, it will be much harder. It’s easier to just fight to the right path/building instead as it has less resistance. No matter what, as soon as you kill that building, you will have limited control of the tanks for a while, and your 4 squads will deploy along with about 25-50 other space marines and dreadnoughts.

Now you’re supposed to escort them and fight your way to the other point, except now you have all these cannon fodder, WHOOPS, I mean Brothers in Battle to help you. The game says you’re not supposed to let them die but they die every time because the morons will keep patrolling and running into ENDLESS Chaos tanks, Dreadnoughts, troops, demons, etc. Basically, ignore them as soon as you blow up the last big building to the left side and fight your way back with the cannon fodder to the middle.

Once you’re at the middle, just go towards the blue circle and fight the Chaos mini-boss. The strategy here is just keep hitting him. Kill his pet summons once they arise and blow up all buildings he summons ASAP. The later buildings fire some homing bullshit Chaos plasma things that will rape you unless you take them out ASAP. Once those buildings are taken out, the mini-boss won’t have much health left and just wipe him out.

Once that’s gone go up right and blow away all the soldiers, 1-2 tanks, 1-2 dreadnoughts, and building there and cap the point which reinforces you. This point is sort of useful but not entirely.

The fat bastard boss is now at the topmost point of the map. He will randomly summon buddies to help him, in the form of rarely a tank, sometimes dreadnoughts, and usually some heavy infantry. His attacks are doing a Mortal Kombat Scorpion (sort of like the Licter Tyrannid in DoW2) get-over-here sometimes instakill attack or smashing stuff around him like a melee-build dreadnought or thowing up in a cone attack in a specific direction. He also sometimes picks up your guys or impales them with his sword and then either throws them in the direction he’s facing or half the time in a random direction.

It took me about 2 hours to beat the last level finally. What is really important to know is that he heals back over time. Try NOT to use the resurrection point unless you’re down to one man and everybody else is down and you don’t think you can res your healer in time. Not only does the fat bastard heal over time but he will heal much more and much faster if your men die around him. You basically have to spam the living hell out of healing (use the scout and hopefully you kept him pure so using the healing uses energy only, not supplies or you’re dead). The longer you take, more the bastard will heal. The less DPS you do, the longer it will take you to beat him too.

Initially, I went for my force commander and dreadnought combo attack but since the fat bastard does so much damage around him only the force commander has the resilience (and even then spam heal) to the near the bastard. I made all my other guys ranged combat (Avitus and Tarkus). Tarkus is particularly useful because he can interrupt (sometimes) the fat bastard’s specials with one of his abilities (hopefully you build him that way) by doing that power which stuns enemy troops with fear.

Since the fat bastard’s attacks can kill your guys and heal him, keep your guys at a relatively safe distance always drilling him, and if you put in the time, he will eventually drop, ending the campaign.

Back to the review… The Last Stand

For this game mode they added the Tyrannid Hive Tyrant and Chaos Sorceror.

The Tyrannid is basically like godzilla, with you being able to summon pets (if you make it have that build). He walks pretty slow and you can make him have either killer melee or ranged skills.

The Chaos Sorceror is basically a spell caster that shoots enemies and can replicate (and sacrifice) Chaos versions of almost any enemies you are fighting.

Both the new heroes are pretty fun, although you do have to level them up again to unlock all their items, much like the original game.

Multiplayer mode:

Chaos is now a playable race for the multiplayer mode. I’ve played around with it a bit, having fought Chaos as an enemy in this mode and I’ve seen one of the Chaos leaders cast like an enhanced fog of war on areas of the map capping my things behind my back and I have seen some enemies permanently have stealth on the map.

Value:

On Steam, they sell DoW2 Gold which has the original game and expansion for $40. The link to the Steam sale is the following. If you were like me and already owned DoW2 then for $30 Steam sells the expansion here.

If you never played DoW2, for $40 both the original and expansion for that price is an amazing value because that’s like a month or more worth of gaming right there, easily. $30 for just the expansion is a bit more steep but if you’re a fan of DoW2 and/or Warhammer40k then you will probably buy it anyways.

Music:

Much like the original game the music for Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising is very militant, dark, and inspiring war music. Great stuff!

If you enjoy the music from Dawn of War 2 then you can download the Dawn of War 2 OST from this link.

Conclusion:

I enjoy the carnage of the DoW games and the epic battle and violence they bring. I have enjoyed this expansion, just wished they could have included another campaign in it. Some parts were annoying like when my dreadnought gets stuck behind a tank or terrain or my terminator armor guys (this is still a problem that DoW2 had). Otherwise, the game is pretty enjoyable and challenging.

Steam Sale – THQ Complete Pack for $50

THQ Complete Pack
THQ Complete Pack

Steam Sale – THQ Complete Pack for $50

For $50, you get just about all the best games that are out currently from THQ. For that price, from Steam, you get: all of Company of Heroes, Frontlines: Fuel of War, all of Full Spectrum Warrior, Juiced 2, all of Red Faction, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Saints Row 2, all of Titan Quest, W40K: Dawn of War 2, and all of W40K: Dawn of War.

For the price, it’s worth getting for CoH, Red Faction 1, STALKER, Saints Row 2, and all of the DoW games.

The Company of Heroes games are basically some of the hardest World War 2 RTS games out there. Online play is pretty competitive.

Red Faction 1 was the first FPS game that allowed serious destruction of terrain. It’s an oldie but a goodie, these days.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is like Fallout (3) but MUCH harder and more realistic.

Saints Row 2 is like GTA 4 but funner and crazier.

Many people still like DoW 1 over DoW 2, and it’s worth getting all 4 games and playing them through if you are a fan of the RTS genre, especially since the Warhammer 40K universe is so sick, it’s a great experience sending your troops forth to die for you (In the Name of the Emperor!).

It’s a good time to pick up DoW 2 since the expansion is less than a month away! Our internal link to the promo on the expansion. Click here for our review of DoW 2.

The link to the Steam Sale for the THQ Complete Pack is the following: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/2539/

Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising promotion

Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising
DoW2 Chaos Rising promo

Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising – Steam promotion

The expansion to Dawn of War 2 “Chaos Rising” is now for sale for $30 on Steam. If you get it, they give you a free copy of the GTA clone Saints Row 2 (which to me is a superior game).

Chaos Rising will be available on March 11th, 2010. This expansion to DoW 2 adds the Chaos faction. More stuff is added to the campaign, the ability to warp (or keep them from it) team members, a higher level cap for heroes in the campaign, new gear and toys, 2 new “heroes” for the Last Stand (Chaos and Tyranid), more expansions for multiplayer modes, etc.

Saints Row 2 is basically a much more fun version of GTA 4, except with better comedy and non-stop action and less micro managing stuff that makes GTA annoying now.

The link to get the DoW 2 expansion and Saints Row 2 (bundled) is: http://store.steampowered.com/app/20570/

Games coming out February and March 2010

aliens vs predator new
aliens vs predator new

Games coming out February and March 2010

A lot of big games have been coming out this early 2010. More great games are coming out soon as well. The following are the ones that I like for the next 2 months:

Aliens vs Predator, February 16 for PC

Napoleon: Total War, February 23 for PC

Supreme Commander 2, March 2 for PC

Battlefield: Bad Company 2, March 2 for PC

Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising, March 11 for PC

Assassin’s Creed 2, March 16 for PC

Metro 2033, March 16 for PC

Let’s talk a little bit about them.

Aliens vs Predator
The original AVP is one of my favorite FPS games of all time. It’s actually quite scary and FAST as all hell. The new game is a remake of that game and looks to be done as its spiritual successor.

Napoleon: Total War
The Total War series is always great for (most) war gamers. I look forward to yet another title to this great series.

Supreme Commander 2
Supreme Commander 1 among my friends is known for how badly it killed their systems. I hope 2 is optimized for performance and continues the brilliant interface that part 1 had for handling your big armies. I hope they kept the awesome zoom GUI.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
I wonder how strong this game will be. Can it compete with everybody out there playing Modern Warfare 2?

Warhammer 40k Dawn of War 2 Chaos Rising
The Dawn of War series I always love. They are the RTS games I usually play the most. I’ve been looking forward to this expansion for a while. Now that more of my friends got DoW 2 I have more people to play with and the game needs more content/factions, so keep them coming Relic/THQ.

Assassin’s Creed 2
Finally! I keep hearing how good this is from my console gamers. (ahem) Well maybe it will be like with Mass Effect 1 where the PC version turns out to be superior later. Either way, I will still play the living hell out of this game, at least until I destroy it.

Metro 2033
This game reminds me of a mix of the game Stalker, the movie Fatherland, and the game Iron Storm. Looks nice!

Reprinted

Metroid-Prime-Trilogy-Pal-Cd-Cover

Gamers recently heard rumours that Nintendo’s Metroid Prime Trilogy for the Wii was being discontinued, in that no new copies would be printed. The rumour was soon strongly denied, but it did highlight a good issue – what happens to rare games that go out of print?

The Wii has, perhaps unfairly, gained a reputation for having a lot of low quality titles, so a high-profile and high quality release such as Metroid Prime Trilogy should get shelf space. The third game, Corruption, had already been a big seller, but united with the two earlier Gamecube games (with added Wii controls, similar to the Play Control range) in a single package was a clever move. Even in the short space of time between rumour and denial, prices on eBay started to rise and no doubt collectors/hoarders scanned the shelves of their local software seller.

By contrast, is anyone upset that Ratatouille and Deadly Creatures by THQ have gone out of print?  The former was a fairly standard film tie-in, done in typical platform style, but the latter at least had some original ideas that saw poisonous creatures battling in 3D environments (even if many found the Wii controls to be uncomfortable).

Just a couple of years ago, GameQuest Direct changed the game. Originally a retail chain, the business reorganised to concentrate on Internet/mail order and rarer games. As part of that strategy the company negotiated the rights to re-print old games – including the PS2 version of Rez. Many were concerned that this would dilute the market and reduce the value of some very rare titles. GameQuest Direct went on to buy up the inventory of Working Designs, giving it many copies of some rare localised Japanese games.

But it was not the only company to do so. In late 2009, readers of the gamesTM forum discovered that Konami in Europe had issued reprints of some of its rarer titles including Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner. The titles first showed up on Amazon and soon found their way into the hands of collectors.

So is it a good thing that more people get to play a good game, or a bad thing because it reduces the value of certain titles to a dedicated collector/importer? I can see both sides of the argument, and also an added benefit of digital distribution – all you need is somewhere to host the files and you can go on selling a game, without the cost of producing a retail product. I would prefer honesty from the reprinter/retailer to let me know that this is not the original issue of a game, but I can live with buying something I wanted to buy but missed out on. A good example would be the Platinum range for Playstation. As a collector I place little extra value on getting hold of an original over a Platinum copy… with a few exceptions. The really rare items in my collection are older and in no danger of being reprinted…

Titan Quest: Gold Edition sale on Steam only $4.99

Titan's Quest Expansion
Titan's Quest Expansion

The great Steam sale of 2010 continues with Titan Quest and Titan Quest – The Immortal Throne both for only $4.99.

Check out the review here.

From developer THQ and Age of Empires co-creator Brian Sullivan and Braveheart writer Randall Wallace comes an innovative, action role playing game set in ancient Greece, Egypt and Asia.

The Titans have escaped their eternal prison, wreaking havoc upon the earth. The gods seek a hero who can turn the tide in an epic struggle that will determine the fate of both men and gods

The link for to get the game through Steam for $5 is the following: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/402/

Steam Sale – Company of Heroes for $12.49

Company of Heroes header
Company of Heroes header

Steam Sale – Company of Heroes for $12.49

One of our favorite and hardest RTS games, Company of Heroes is on sale this weekend through Steam for only $12.49. The link to buy it is: http://store.steampowered.com/sub/1529/

You get the original game and both expansion packs included. They would all regularly sell for a combined price of $50.

Company of Heroes All Heroes Rise OST

Company of Heroes All Heroes Rise OST
Company of Heroes All Heroes Rise OST

Free Stuff – Company of Heroes All Heroes Rise OST

Here is more epic war music from one of THQ’s best war games, Company of Heroes! This music is so great you can even play it while playing other games as well because it’s so tense and powerful. You can download the entire soundtrack for the game here at this link: CoH All Heroes Rise OST

Company of Heroes Songs From The Front OST

Company of Heroes Songs From The Front OST
Company of Heroes Songs From The Front OST

Free Stuff – Company of Heroes Songs From The Front OST

If you love war music and music that is similar to Dawn of War music then you will love the music of CoH Songs From The Front. This sound track is pretty epic, as is the game! You can download this entire soundtrack for free from this link: CoH Songs From The Front