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The final day of this year’s E3 was reserved for the smaller publishers, at least for the most part. You could tell that they were the smaller publishers because they were all sequestered in a previously unused portion of the convention center, nestled conveniently between the two main exhibit halls. The room was arranged in rows of high-walled cubicles; an overhead map of the area made it look like a gigantic ice tray. But it was here where I had some of the most productive conversations of the entire show.
I started at the GamersFirst booth to check out APB: Reloaded. This is something of a return to the scene of the crime. Last year, developer Realtime Worlds showed APB: All Points Bulletin, which promptly crashed and burned a few months after release because of rampant lack of gamer interest. GamersFirst, a company dedicated to the free-to-play business model, rescued the game late last year and has been making significant changes to help pique user curiosity. The most significant of these changes is the switch to FTP, with a $10-per-month premium service that gives you more XP, more in-game currency rewards and a more robust character creator. The focus of the game has been changed from team-based RPG to an FPS feel. Weapons and the driving mechanic has been improved, quests are made available according to your character’s experience level, you don’t have to empty a clip of ammo into an NPC to kill them (some can now die in one shot), and vehicles have been toughened up. Also added is a PvP arena known as the Asylum, where you can engage in 4×4 and 8×8 battles, as well as a deathmatch mode. The interest seems to be there amongst the current beta participants; GamersFirst reports that more than 600,000 registered users are playing an average of four to eight hours per session. APB: Reloaded hits the streets sometime by the end of 2011.
After standing in endless lines at the EA booth earlier in the week, I finally managed to get hands-on time with one of their big new releases: Star Wars: The Old Republic. After a 10-minute tutorial video, the BioWare employees on hand set us loose in the new game, and it was indeed impressive. The conversation sequences have the BioWare trademark dialogue trees, and the graphics during these scenes have a hand-painted look as compared to the action sequences, which are sharp and clear and smooth, not unexpected considering the beefy PCs on which it was running. MMO fans will immediately understand the controls; a minimap in the corner of the screen points you in the direction of your quest destination, and the combat system is deep and easy to use. We were only given 20 minutes to explore, but I saw enough to know that this is the game Star Wars geeks have been seeking. BioWare is still being cagey about release dates and subscription plans, but it will certainly be worth the wait.
The Witcher 2 was released on the PC a few weeks ago, but developer CD Projekt RED was in attendance at the show to tout their upcoming Xbox 360 version of the game, which they described as more of an adaptation than a port. Some changes have been made to bring it to the console: there are some quick-time events included in combat, and the inventory interface has been altered, but it looks great, and you don’t have to have played the PC-only original to get into the sequel; cutscenes bring you up to speed on the story so far. Look for the Xbox 360 version near the end of 2011; a possible PS3 version could be in the cards for the future.
One of the nice things about the smaller development houses is that their representatives are more willing to spend quality time with folks like me than their counterparts do in the exhibit hall-sized booths upstairs. Such was the case with my visit to the Topware Interactive cubicle. I had a one-on-one session with Topware PR director Vince Harding, who spent almost an hour walking me through their new products. First was Raven’s Cry, an RPG in which you play a young man who wants to become a pirate to gain revenge on the men who killed his parents when he was a child. For this game, Topware has joined forces with Nitro Games, a developer known for their naval-based epics (East India Company). Raven’s Cry is played on both land and sea, including ship-to-ship cannon exchanges and boarding parties, in seven environments, such as the legendary pirate outpost, Port Royal. Single-player and two-player co-op will be available when the game casts off on the PC, PS3 and the Xbox 360 in the spring of 2012.
Next on Topware’s list is Check vs. Mate, which is the North American version of Battle vs. Chess, which the company showed last year. It’s basically a vastly improved version of the classic PC chess simulator Battle Chess, in which chess pieces fight each other when you attempt to remove one from the board. You can select one of six backgrounds for the action, and there are enough difficulty levels that you won’t have to play the virtual equivalent of Garry Kasparov; in fact, Check vs. Mate is an excellent tutor, so if you’ve found chess to be somewhat daunting, this could be a good entrance into the game. It will be available in September 2011 for the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, PSP and Nintendo DS.
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