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Carving out a niche

The big project on everyone’s mind during this year’s GDC was, of course, Sony’s Project Morpheus. Because of this, another work-in-progress at the show might have flown under a lot of people’s radar, but I went hands-on with it before the week was through—and it’s finally ready to be revealed.

Project Totem is the latest Microsoft exclusive from developer Press Play, the folks behind Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. It’s a puzzle-platformer that, like many games in the genre, has a simple premise. You play as a pair of blocks that normally would sit in a totem pole. Each block is sent down a path that often has a similar, yet not exactly identical, layout to their counterpart.  Your objective? Get both blocks to the end of the course in order to unlock larger and more intricate carvings for the ultimate totem pole.

Where puzzle-platformers shine isn’t why you’re running these courses, but in how you traverse them. Gameplay is the driving force in this genre, and fortunately, even in the six pre-alpha-build single-player stages I was able to test, there seems to be enough easy-to-learn-yet-difficult-to-master mechanics to give Project Totem the addictiveness to compete against similar games.

The first, most critical element that I needed to learn was that the totem pieces are always linked. When one jumps, so does the other. When the other runs right, so does the other. Run left, and…hopefully you get the picture. The puzzle aspects quickly become evident from this mechanic when the courses stop being as identical as the totem pieces. Some pathways can only open when one of the totems steps on a particular switch. Other pathways can only be walked through by pieces of a certain color. And sometimes the lower totem block will have to serve as a stepping-stone for the upper one to reach the next platform.

As the courses become more intricate, the totem blocks also begin to acquire special powers. The first of these makes it so the two blocks can flip-flop positions at any time, even in mid-air, to move through color-coded barriers. Meanwhile, certain powers allow you to change the gravity of a single piece so one can be walking on the ceiling while another is on the floor.

Just as I began to get comfortable with these abilities, though, I had to start using them in unison. For example, in one instance I had to swap totems while simultaneously having one of them use its gravity powers. As more powers become unlocked, it was easy to imagine how crazy it might be to use three or four powers quickly in succession or different powers for each individual piece.

Besides this single-player mode, there’s also a time-trial mode to see how fast a player can beat each stage. The game also offers local co-op, which has completely different stages from single-player. Also, instead of each player controlling an individual totem (that would probably be a bit too easy), they control two totems for a total of four totems onscreen at once. When obstacles start becoming three and four blocks high, the emphasis on teamwork quickly becomes clear.

Even though Project Totem is still in its pre-alpha phase, Press Play is confident they can have the game available for download on Xbox 360 and Xbox One sometime in Q3 2014. And from what I was able to play of it at GDC, I’m fairly confident they can hit that mark, since the seven total stages each had a layer of polish you don’t normally see from games still labeled as pre-alpha. The controls were tight, the obstacles were creative, and there was a nice feeling of accomplishment every time I overcame a new challenge. If that’s any sign of what’s to come, puzzle-platformer fans should definitely keep an eye out for this one.

It’s rare to get a collection of some of the best and brightest names in gaming under one roof, but that’s exactly what happened at the 2014 D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas. One of this year’s themes was how many game developers feel we’re in a Golden Age of Gaming. So, taking advantage of this rare opportunity, we decided to ask these great minds just what we might expect over the next 5 to 10 years from this perceived Golden Age.

Freddie Wong
Co-Founder, RocketJump
More indie games. They’re the only games I have the patience for now. I don’t finish a lot of triple-A titles anymore. I’d rather just sit down and do two hours of something, and I’m more willing to pay that price.

Felicia Day
Co-Founder, Geek & Sundry
Really good hair. There’s nothing grosser than when you create an RPG character, and it just looks like they’ve never washed their hair. It’s all spiky and disgusting. It looks like dyed straw, and I hate it.

Victor Kislyi
CEO, Wargaming.net
I think no matter what happens with technology, that we, as game developers and publishers, will keep concentrating on the game experience, and that will be the key to our success in the future. We have to provide to the users the best possible experiences in regards to gameplay and service, and that will keep the future bright.

Richard Hilleman
Chief Creative Director, Electronic Arts
I think it’s going to be an interesting next 10 years as the rest of the world decides they get to have some influence on what the gaming business is, too. And it’ll introduce us to a whole new collection of gaming styles, to different business models, to new characters—and, most importantly, to new developers who will make really exciting stuff.

Ted Price
President, Insomniac Games
I think you’re going to see a large number of new IPs that are really pushing the boundaries in terms of what players expect. I think, after seeing—and we’re certainly guilty of this as well— a lot of shooters on the last-gen platforms, a lot of stuff felt like we’d seen it before. There’s a big push from both large and small companies to change the rules for players. What does that mean? Well, just look at 2014. It means a lot of brand-new and surprising IPs.

Matias Myllyrinne
CEO, Remedy Entertainment
I think we’re at an interesting junction point. There have been a lot of trends and courses laid creating a perfect storm in many ways. We have massive ecosystems with digital distribution coming in, and then we’re having increasingly powerful machines and new business models and games as a service. I think we’re going to have this massive connected living room, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, even in just two or three years, we start interacting with fiction in a different form.

Eugene Jarvis
President, Raw Thrills
It’s a rough world out there. One percent of the apps take 90 percent of the revenue, and 99 percent of the guys are getting run over by the Google bus. So, there’s this huge emphasis on monetization, how to make your game make money, and I think the industry is almost going off a cliff where the monetization is driving the creativity so much that we all end up making the same game. Just trying to trap the player, hold him upside down, and shake the money out of his pockets. I think, in the future, this is going to just collapse, and we’re going to start thinking about making games to be fun again and not be so obsessed with this monetization thing.

Neil Druckmann
Creative Director, Naughty Dog
We’re all going to be in the Matrix, but we won’t know that we’re in the Matrix, and then [Naughty Dog Game Director] Bruce [Straley] is going to be the one who fights for us all to get out.

Randy Pitchford
President and CEO, Gearbox Software
It’s really exciting right now, because we’re crossing the threshold where everyone is a gamer. If you rewind to the beginning of the last generation, more than half the population didn’t play games. Our grandparents had no idea what was going on. But the Wii got grandma bowling. Smartphones have brought all kinds of new games to all kinds of people. Everyone now is a gamer. That’s really exciting. Now, it’s going to be about that we can try anything, and we’ll find an audience. When you combine the spectrum of platforms with the width of the audience, we can try anything. As long as we’re smart about how many people might be interested in what we’re doing, I think you’re going to see a lot of risky and exciting games. A lot of things we’ve never seen before.

Palmer Luckey
Founder, Oculus VR
I don’t know what the future will look like. I think virtual reality will play an important part in it. I think indie games are going to be more and more polished. I think the creation tools that allow people to make games are going to be easier to use and allow for better and better games with less and less effort. It was really hard to make good-looking games a couple of years ago, but I think tools like Unity have made that whole process so much easier, so I think you’ll start having more amazing games from smaller teams.

Patrick Hudson
President, Robot Entertainment
What I think is fascinating is a developer anywhere in the world can now reach consumers anywhere in the world. Everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. The access to high-speed bandwidth is pervasive globally. So, I think you’ll see gaming grow more globally, reaching markets that were never reachable before so you might see gaming become just as important in Zimbabwe as it is in North America in the next decade.

Jean Guesdon
Creative Director, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
I’d be rich if I knew what was coming. [Laughs] But I think it’ll be interesting to see what emerges from the mix of these highly capable consoles and all these social and mobile mechanics, and whatever comes from that will be something to keep an eye on.

Lucas Pope
Developer, Papers, Please
VR. I think VR is the future. Once it becomes accessible with the Oculus Rift, I think everything’s going to change in how games are made and sold.

Tameem Antoniades
Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director, Ninja Theory
What I think is you’ll see is a shift away from games being designed by publishers for gamers and instead see gamers designing games for themselves. I think there’ll be much more of a homebrew scene, where technology will be awesome and game engines will be so powerful that small bands of people will be able to come together and make incredible games. I think the future will be less corporate-driven and more gamer-driven.

Troy Baker
Voice Actor, The Last of Us
I think that what we’re doing right now is that we’re not only redefining what games look like, but we’re also redefining how players play them. I think, to some extent, gamers have gotten a little spoiled. Now we’re shaking things up, and gamers are able to participate in the infrastructure of how their games are presented to them. I think that’s an exciting opportunity for publishers to listen to their audience and collaborate with them in not only creating the content but also in how the content gets to them, so I’m excited to see how that relationship grows over the course of the next generation.

Rex Crowle
Creative Lead, Media Molecule
I think we’ll just see more and more games seeping out of our screens and interacting with our reality, from new display methods to all kinds of crazy science-fiction stuff.

Steve Gaynor
Co-Founder, The Fullbright Company
I think we’re going to see another big, must-have item that people will move to, like mobile was for the last generation. I can’t pretend to tell you what it may be, though.

Be sure to check out EGM Issue #263, available now on newsstands everywhere, to hear these and other gaming personalities share their thoughts on the flip side of this topic: what they thought was the most important aspect of the last generation of hardware.

In today’s Super Smash Bros. oriented Nintendo Direct, game director Masahiro Sakurai announced two separate release windows for the 3DS and Wii U versions of Nintendo’s flagship fighter.

The 3DS version of Smash Bros. will see a summer 2014 release, but in a shocking turn, the Wii U version won’t hit store shelves until Winter 2014.

While this could potentially promote consumers to buy both versions of the game and help keep Nintendo from directly competing with itself, it also looks bad for the Wii U, which desperately needs a potential system selling game like this to hit sooner rather later.

Aside from the release dates, specific game modes and new characters were also detailed during the 39-minute video presentation.

Industry veteran and current Microsoft Studios creative director Ken Lobb explained that Black Tusk’s take on Gears of War would be “innovative” and run on Unreal 4 in a recent interview with Edge.

“I think the reality is what we have is innovative Gears Of War. That’s what I believe they’re going to make,” said Lobb. “They’re an internal studio, but the reality is it’s cool to have [an IP] that can be a grand slam right out of the gate. The concepts they’ve been toying with are awesome. You take what they were thinking about and their expertise on Unreal Engine 4, because that’s what they’ve been playing with since their founding, and really go with the IP.”

Ken Lobb has worked in the games industry for over 20 years, helping craft such memorable classics as G.I. Joe for the NES and Goldeneye 007 for the N64 (he’s who the infamous Klobb was named after). He even took part in the discussions that led to Metroid Prime before joining Microsoft in 2001.

Black Tusk is a relatively new first-party studio, founded in 2012 under the Microsoft banner, and was supposedly working on an original IP before being charged with Gears of War. To help get the feel of the franchise, long-time Gears of War producer Rod Fergusson was also brought on as studio manager when Black Tusk took on the project.

No other details about this new Gears of War project have come out yet, as Black Tusk only began work on the project a few months ago.

The Pokémon Company has announced that Pokémon X/Y have together sold 12 million units worldwide, making them the best-selling 3DS game currently available.

It was revealed at the beginning of 2014 that the game had cracked the 11.6 million mark, so it seems to still be selling decently well considering it’s been on store shelves for six months now.

Pokémon X/Y also set the bar for the fastest selling 3DS game back when it was released in October. It sold four million copies in its first two days available, although this might be attributed partially to it being the first simultaneous global release for the franchise.

It should be noted that while these are impressive numbers, X/Y still only cracks the top five of all-time best-selling Pokémon games as Diamond/Pearl’s 17.63 million units, Ruby/Sapphire’s 16.22 million units, Black/White’s 15.42 million units, and HeartGold/SoulSilver’s 12.67 million units still sit ahead of it.

With these updated numbers, the Pokémon series has sold more than 245 million units worldwide.

To see what I thought of Pokémon X/Y when it came out, check out my review.

The Dark Knight returns

Everyone who knows me understands that I am one of the biggest Batman fans around. I spit out comic book storyline recaps like they were scripture and swear by all things The Dark Knight. So, when Warner Bros. announced Batman: Arkham Knight—and the return of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City developer Rocksteady to the franchise—my elation could hardly be contained.  My feelings of ecstasy only intensified, however, when I was finally allowed to see a half-hour of the game at GDC last week.

With bated bat-breath I watched as Rocksteady devs showed us what they’d been working on as their first project for the new generation of consoles (and PC). The Scarecrow threatens Gotham with a WMD that would flood the streets with a new, highly potent brand of his trademark fear toxin. After evacuating millions of people out of Gotham, all that remains is a skeleton police force, the criminals who want to take advantage of the mayhem, and the Batman.  But Batman isn’t alone in the shadows. In addition to Rogues Gallery mainstays like Two-Face, Penguin, and Riddler, a new villain, the Arkham Knight, emerges.

Although Rocksteady isn’t divulging too much info about the Arkham Knight himself just yet, we do know a couple of facts. First, he’s a brand new character, and he’s making his DC Universe debut in the game. We can see from pictures that he brandishes a large pistol and has taken on a motif similar to Batman’s (pointy ears, chest plate). His “anti-Batman” description also gives him an air that reminds me of the comic book villains Wrath and Prometheus. Whoever he is under that mask, we saw him get the drop on Batman during the demo, so I’m sure he’ll be quite the adversary over the course of the game.

After running through the basic plot points, we finally got to see Batman in action once again. New-gen tech has allowed for a bevy of upgrades and we got to see many of them in action. The biggest change is how Batman gets around. We finally get to drive the Batmobile. A major gameplay pillar this go around, the Batmobile is essential in helping Batman navigate a world that is 20 times larger than Arkham Asylum. But, as brand marketing producer Dax Ginn told us, the Batmobile isn’t the whole game.

“We wanted to be very confident and sure that we didn’t add the Batmobile and it suddenly just felt like a driving game or a driving bolt-on. That was something that was really, really important to us,” Ginn explains. “So, we’ve integrated Batman’s abilities and the Batmobile’s abilities, so that it very much feels like it’s a man and his machine, the integration between the two. You can eject out of the Batmobile to gain insane height, and that sort of augmentation of Batman’s gliding ability is the perfect example of how the Batmobile complements Batman’s features. There’s a lot more the Batmobile can do, but the way Batman gets into the Batmobile, gets out of the Batmobile—those things have really been designed to feel very natural and very organic.”

And from what he showed us, the Batmobile did seem to be more of a complement than the entire experience. In one segment, it launched the Caped Crusader into the night sky allowing Batman to effortlessly glide onto the roof of the building he needed to infiltrate. When Batman was ready to move onto his next objective across town, with a single button press, the Batmobile came roaring around a corner and Batman dropped into the driver’s seat, seamlessly, as Batman then raced off to his next destination. The player was in control the entire time. But between these segments there was still plenty of gliding, fighting, and case solving for the Dark Knight to do.

Also, it should be noted the Batmobile could be used for more than just catapults and driving around town. There are car-chase sequences where Batman can fire debilitating missiles to stop runaway criminals and even Riddler rooms dedicated solely to pushing the Batmobile—and your reflexes—to the limit.

“The role [Riddler] had in Arkham City, he’s more of an engineer. Very physical, constantly covered in a layer of grime, and so we wanted to think about what he would do next, where would he take the motivations he had in the previous game,” Dax says. “Integrating that with the Batmobile was an interesting design choice because he can achieve so much, even just as one guy, but it really comes down to the focus we put on the Batmobile. Driving through Gotham feels incredible, but there’s so much that it can do that the Riddler caves give us an opportunity to design puzzles that are specifically there to push the Batmobile to it’s limits, so we can really give gamers the opportunity to experience the Batmobile in all of its insane facets, not just driving incredibly quickly on the flat. You can drive up walls, drive on the ceilings, but that’s not so easy to do in the open world of the city. But the Riddler circuits can be anything, so that’s where it really starts to get fun and interesting.”

So, yes, the Batmobile can drive up walls. It is confirmed. I saw it do so, and it was amazing. But Batman’s car isn’t the only thing that’s tricked out in Arkham Knight. Gotham’s Guardian has a few new tools as well. In combat, Batman can now utilize the environment, like smashing a thug’s head through a car window, to get instant knockouts.  He can also finally use his gadgets while gliding to get even more of a drop on unsuspecting ne’er-do-wells. And speaking of gliding, the precision while doing so has been increased so Batman can even do 180-degree turns midflight.

Batman: Arkham Knight is looking great—but with only a small taste of the full game so far, I’m eager to see if Rocksteady’s plans indeed pan out. Still, if there’s anyone I trust to make a Batman game, it’s them, so I have faith they’ll be able to deliver on their promises of the best Arkham game yet. Knowing the care and detail that came off in this demo, it’s hard not to believe they’ll come through for Bat-fans everywhere in the end.

Shifting Gears

Racing games have been around for a long time, and several top-quality franchises immediately spring to mind for anyone with an affinity for tearing up the asphalt. But when you narrow it down to free-to-play racing games for the PC, that list shrinks significantly. So, Slightly Mad Studios—best known for the pair of Need for Speed: Shift games they’ve worked on—decided to act a bit like their namesake in order to try to mix things up. Not only do they hope to succeed in an environment that hasn’t been great for racing games, but they also want to provide something different than what’s offered by the few competitors already in the space.

Enter World of Speed, a racing MMO that hopes to deliver the look and feel of a triple-A racer while simultaneously connecting players via a social experience they usually don’t get from other games of this ilk. Sure, the game has brilliant HD graphics like Forza and all the tracks and real-world locales you’d expect from Gran Turismo, but the hook here lies in trying to win races and contests in teams and as part of larger clubs. Not to mention that, of course, since the game is free-to-play and on PC, new tracks and cars can be added at any time.

Team-based racing in and of itself isn’t necessarily a new thing, though—and this is where Slightly Mad mixes things up. Besides trying to win the race, each team member is also attempting to complete objectives to earn points. Whether it’s drafting a certain number of feet beyond an opponent, drifting through specific turns, or trading paint with so many cars, the objective points are worth more than your placement points. So, a squad that finishes third and fourth, could still beat a team that places first and second across the finish line. This adds an interesting bit of strategy to each race, since you’ll sometimes have to “throw” the actual crossing-the-finish-line part in order to hit your objectives. Yes, this actually happened during one of my races while playing the game.

I was in second place steadily for much of the race and was desperately trying to catch my opponent to hit the drafting objective. When I realized I had no chance of catching him, though, with about a half a lap to go, I slammed on the brakes and let his teammate, who was in third, pass me. I then earned the drafting points on him. In the end, my team still lost, because the partner I was randomly paired with seemed to not know what the gas pedal was, but I closed the points gap significantly with that move, even if I finished one place lower than I would’ve originally.

All this flies in the face of the basic instincts of a racing game, but the nuances added by the objectives are a fun touch and help the game straddle a line between pure simulation and arcade racer. Another element that straddles that border? The handling of the cars. The way vehicles take turns or accelerate makes them feel heavy, like there’s weight to them—just like in a simulation experience. But to make the game a little more fun, and to expand the possible objectives list, you don’t lose speed when drifting through turns, similar to an arcade-style experience like Ridge Racer. This strikes a balance you don’t often see in racing games, since they usually go one way or the other. I admit that, much like the objectives, it took some getting used to, but it only made the game feel that much more refreshing as I tried to master a new control scheme.

World of Speed left me wanting more. It fine-tunes a classic formula and makes it feel fresh again, and I was impressed even after just a couple of races with how everything handled—and how badly I wanted to form a team with some close friends. Some big questions still surround the game, such as release date and monetization, but as of right now, World of Speed seems to be set on a path straight for the winner’s circle.

Tanks, but no tanks

When I heard that the RPG specialists at Obsidian Entertainment were making another game, I already had images of mana pools and character-progression pages forming in my mind. I couldn’t have been further from the truth, however, as Obsidian wants to show everyone that even a decade-old studio can learn a new trick with Armored Warfare.

I admit that, going into my hands-on session, I didn’t know much about the project, since it had only been announced the day prior. With a name like Armored Warfare, though, I figured I could safely rule out ponies and princesses from the range of possibilities. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the World of Tanks clone Obsidian had produced. The only discernible difference? Armored Warfare uses modern tanks—instead of those used during the mid-20th century—and a better graphics engine with CryEngine 3.

This isn’t to say Armored Warfare is a bad copy of Wargaming.net’s F2P sensation—but Obsidian scores no points for originality here. Armored Warfare’s PvP modes, multiple tiers of unlockable tanks, customization/upgrade systems, and even their F2P model are already seen in World of Tanks and feature no noticeable distinctions. What’s more, the PvE mode and destructibility in Armored Warfare will be seen in World of Tanks’ upcoming spring update, which will be well before Armored Warfare plans on hitting the market sometime in late 2014.

The PvP side of things includes the options you’d expect from a tank battler like this, highlighted by team deathmatch. There’s also a mode called Territory Wars, which encourages players to join clans. Their performance in battles while representing their respective clan then influences a metagame map as their group tries to conquer entire regions, which ups the stakes of your standard PvP fare in a similar fashion to Call of Duty: Ghosts’ Clan Wars mode.

Some originality does bleed through in PvE, at least, since there’s a loose story based around the idea of players taking on the role of a tank pilot for a massive private military contractor. With new conflicts popping up all over the world, business is good. So good, in fact, that your company has a fleet of war machines always ready for you to ride into battle to help keep your pockets lined with cash. As you earn money, both here and in PvP, you can unlock bigger and better tanks from the fleet and customize them as you see fit. And, although details are currently sparse, you’ll also be able to develop a relationship with your tank crewmembers, giving the tiniest glimpse back to Obsidian’s RPG bread-and-butter.

I tried one of the PvE missions during my hands-on time and confess to being pleasantly surprised by the gameplay. There’s an unexpected amount of balance for a game that hasn’t reached its closed beta yet. The controls felt smooth as I slid from a third-person view to a first-person angle to take careful aim down the sights of my cannon and blow up enemy AI. My tank handled well and felt very responsive as I rolled across various kinds of terrain (as responsive as a lumbering mass of steel and rubber can feel, anyway). The power of CryEngine 3 also really came through: The tiniest details were crystal clear on my PC monitor, and the destructible environments really helped convey the power of my tank as I bulldozed my way through brick buildings in a Western European countryside.

Despite the fact that the demo played really well, though, I don’t know if there’s enough in Armored Warfare, from what I’ve seen so far, to make players jump ship from Wargaming’s offering. If your biggest complaints about World of Tanks is its look and having to use heavy armor from 70 years ago, then Armored Warfare can help with their modern, CryEngine 3–built tanks. Aside from that, I’m at a bit of a loss. No matter what side of the fence you’re on, however, the fact remains that Armored Warfare is going to have a steep hill to climb as Obsidian continues to target a 2014 release for the suddenly crowded action-MMO, tank-battler genre.

I can see for miles and miles and miles…

While plenty of news came out of GDC this year, the topic on everyone’s mind was virtual reality. With both Oculus and Sony making VR-headset announcements within a 12-hour span, the race is on to see which one can first transport players to another world. Luckily, I was able to wrap both peripherals around my head this week, and I’m ready to decide who has the early lead.

 

Round 1Demos

The Oculus DevKit 2 showed off the Epic-developed “Couch Knights.” To start out, you plant your butt in a chair in both real life and the virtual world (such a stretch of my imagination). You then control a medieval-garbed, toddler-sized avatar and hop around a virtual living room, trying to kill a similar-looking puppet controlled by a second player.

Sony gave us a pair of demos. The first was Sony London’s “The Deep,” an underwater-diving simulator with minimal controls that goes horribly wrong when a great white shark mistakes your cage for dinner. The second, “The Castle,” sees players use the PS Move to wield medieval swords and a crossbow against some targets and practice dummies…and then eventually being swallowed whole by a dragon.

 

WinnerMorpheus

While I’ve seen some really impressive demos from Oculus in the past, I was a little shocked that they didn’t bring out some bigger guns to show off the new specs for DevKit 2. Sony, meanwhile, tried their best with their demos to highlight everything we’d need to know about their headset and give us a range of experiences.

Round 2Controls

As with most of their demos in the past, Oculus continued to use a wired Xbox 360 controller with the DevKit 2. Sony, on the other hand, used a PS4 controller for “The Deep” and a PS Move for “The Castle.”

 

WinnerOculus

“The Deep” and “The Castle” had significant syncing issues with their respective controllers that resulted in some haphazard playtime, which Sony blamed on Bluetooth interference around the Moscone Center. When the controls worked, it felt great. When they didn’t—about half the time—it left me frustrated and eager to take the headset off as quickly as possible. My least-favorite instance? The crossbow arrows in “The Castle” would sail off into the sky at cartoonishly ridiculous angles, even when I was aiming straight down the sights. It seems that Sony has too many moving parts right now with all those light sensors, so until they work out the bugs, Oculus wins by default with the old reliable wired controller, which worked perfectly.

Round 3Graphics/Image Quality

Both DevKit 2 and Morpheus display in 1080p and have a 90-to-100-degree vision range (depending on whether you wear glasses or not). High framerate and low latency are critical in getting the best picture across, and Sony and Oculus’ numbers mirror each other there as well.

 

WinnerMorpheus

On paper, the headsets should be producing similar visuals. Due to Sony’s years of experience with displays, however, everything on Morpheus was just a little clearer and crisper—and it was noticeable enough to edge out the DevKit 2.

Round 4Atmosphere/Immersions

This is a big one. Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida spent several minutes preaching about the importance of immersion during Tuesday’s Project Morpheus reveal, and it’s been one of Oculus’ defining pillars from the start.

 

WinnerBoth

A bit of a cop-out, I know. Each had issues that put them on the same level to me, even if they were different problems. Oculus’ older demos, and its new one, “Couch Knights,” never made me feel like I was in a different world. I always felt like I was just playing another game. DevKit 2 produced an extremely realistic illusion, however, and the headset fully pick up all my motions thanks to its new camera and sensors as I turned my head to peek behind a couch or end table.

Sony made me forget about being in a game—but only for a little while. Holding the PS4 controller with both hands helped “The Deep” pick up my full range of body motions. Due to the nature of the experience, however, I was holding the controller with two hands and moving around, but the game would only move one hand, instantly bringing me back to the real world.

“The Castle”, meanwhile, ran into problems with space. The demo made it so I had to step backward or forward a lot for the sensors to pick me up (before they completely lost sync). I stepped too far back once, though, and ran right into a wall (nothing like bruising your back to break the immersion). So, one demo started immersive but then lost it due to its controls and limitations, and the other never really tried. It’s a tie right now for negative reasons, but I’m fairly confident than with more time, both can nail this element properly.

Round 5Comfort

Oculus has added a plastic layer over its main components to protect your hands from the sensors, and it only has one cable before it splits into HDMI and USB plugs. The same cloth and adjustable straps from previous models remain when adjusting it to your head. Project Morpheus features a rubber seal that cushions the headset against your orbital bones, and it also has an adjustable front piece and straps as you place it over your head.

 

WinnerOculus

While I liked the way Sony’s rubber cushion felt against my face, and the adjustable visor was great for getting my sight lines right where I needed them to be, it also feels much heavier than the Oculus and has so many cables coming from it that you’ll be hard pressed not to trip over the rat’s nest sprouting from your head. The DevKit 2 is lighter and easier to put on as long as you remember to put your eyes in the lenses first and then pull the straps over year head, like a pair of swimming goggles. And you won’t be worried about tripping over a bunch of wires, either.

Round 6Side Effects

Reports of nausea after using the DevKit 1 were somewhat common among first-time users, but with the lack of motion blur in DevKit 2 thanks to HD graphics, higher resolution, and lower latency, Oculus hopes to lessen or even eliminate this effect. Sony had warnings plastered all over their demo booth explaining that their headset could induce similar nausea-like symptoms to those seen in DevKit 1.

 

WinnerBoth

This was a much easier tie to call, since neither headset left me with any feelings of nausea, dizziness, or anything else we’d been warned about. I was one of the people first affected by DevKit 1, and after my longest VR session yet with DevKit 2, I can report both no motion blur and no feelings of sickness. Sony’s headset also left me feeling completely fine.

Overall WinnerTie

I know. In a world where we’re constantly looking for definitives, a tie is a hard pill to swallow. The fact of the matter is, though, that after trying both headsets, I see them being in a virtual dead heat. If Shuhei Yoshida is to be believed, Sony’s been working on something like this just as long as Oculus, but they’ve just waited longer to show it, so it makes some sense that the two are so close in many ways. You could argue that Oculus is ahead, because even after they’ve poached talent from studios like id and Valve, they still don’t have nearly as many resources as Sony. On the other hand, Sony hasn’t had the community feedback like Oculus to help with their iterations.

If what I’ve found at GDC 2014 holds true and continues throughout the development of these devices, the decision will have to come down to much simpler things: retail price, accessibility, uses besides games, and whether you’re a PC person or a PS4 one. So, as much as I hate to say it, we still need to take a “wait and see” approach to this VR thing.

Ray needs remake…badly

While it hasn’t had nearly as many remakes as some of its arcade brethren over the years, Gauntlet still holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. EGM even listed the beloved “needs food…badly” quip as the No. 3 greatest videogame line of all time back in 2002. Now, Warner Bros. has secured the rights from Midway after the latter went bankrupt (and after Midway acquired the rights from Atari in the same manner), and they’ve tapped Swedish developer Arrowhead Game Studios—best known for 2011’s Magicka—to bring the series back for a modern audience.

Obviously, tailoring Gauntlet for younger gamers means some changes. I’m going to brace myself, because this is where the old-school trolls start licking their chops. But there’s actually not that much of a difference here from what arcade junkies know and love. The most immediate change you’ll notice is that you don’t continuously lose health anymore. This forced “time limit” was originally designed as another way to suck down your stack of quarters, and it would probably just piss a lot of people off nowadays. This new Gauntlet isn’t a cakewalk by any means, though. While before you’d pump in more quarters in order to revive yourself, now you need to spend the gold you find in levels.

This works because a lot of modern games have put less of an emphasis on score. It also means this remake has its own skill-based life limit in line with the spirit of the original game. An extra nuance is that when playing cooperatively, all the gold is communal, so if you have a friend who really sucks, all that extra gold you risked your life for may not be there when it’s your turn to finally kick the bucket.

Another interesting thing about gold is that it’s not used to buy weapons like in later Gauntlet ports. Instead, you get new weapons and items by finding “relics” in levels, which then give you special powers like an ice blast or better speed. As you find more and more relics, you need to make some tough choices. You’ll keep them forever, but you can only carry two at a time into a level and can’t spam them because of a recharge meter.

Beyond this, the 4-player hack-n-slash co-op action you know and love still feels a lot like it did back in the day. The four classes—Warrior, Elf, Valkyrie, and Wizard—return, but you can only have one on each team (no clones). You can choose to turn friendly fire on in order to add some extra griefing potential, but because of the communal gold, the game feels less like a competition and more like a true co-op experience, kind of like the Gauntlet Legends spin-off for the N64.

The game also features some classic dungeon designs. I played a level with an Egyptian-tomb motif that was filled with hundreds of undead mummies, and at the end, I faced off against a boss that looked a lot like Death. The classic top-down view is still present, and everything just looks like it’s received a modern coat of paint. I can’t deny that it was tons of fun to swing my Warrior’s axe while surrounded by dozens of foes.

My only real disappointment is the fact that this is currently a PC/Steam exclusive. I miss games where you could sit around a couch and play with a bunch of friends—and I don’t think of that when I hear “PC.” This feels like it’d be perfect for the Xbox One and PS4 with four controllers, but we’ll have to wait and see if Warner Bros. reconsiders after seeing how well Gauntlet does when it hits this summer.

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