23 November 2012

2012 Videogame Dynamic Awards

       Best Press Release:

Winner: EA 

Sims Are Kinky (Yes this was an actual press release)

Top Places to “WooHoo”
Whether in a mystery box, tree house or even a time machine, Sims sure know how to have a good time in a variety of locations.

We count down the best places to “WooHoo” in The Sims games to see where the horny little simulated beings are getting crazy and kinky lately. From hot tubs to haystacks, your Sim baby-making locations have only gotten more exciting. What locations are your favorites?

1.       Hot Tub Summer in the city has never been hotter than when Sims moved into the sprawling urban landscape of The Sims 3 Late Night. Hot tubs were a staple of The Sims 2 and returned to The Sims 3 by popular demand. With the addition of roof-top decks complete with steamy hot tubs, voyeurism reached new heights.
The Sims 3 Late Night
The Sims 2

2.       Haystacks Hay is not just for horses! The Sims 3 Pets gave players a new reason to raise a barn. Itch cream unfortunately not included.
The Sims 3 Pets

3.       Dog houses For the first time in The Sims, players saw through the eyes of their furry friends in The Sims 3 Pets. What better way to get in on the action than with some playful WooHooing? Remember, when the dog house is a-rockin, don’t come a knockin’….
The Sims 3 Pets

4.       Photo Booth A picture says a thousand words…. Do you dare WooHoo with the lights on? The Sims 3 Showtime brought this WooHoo spot back from The Sims 2 Nightlife, reminding us that there are few spaces too small to get it on.
The Sims 3 Showtime
The Sims 2 Nightlife

5.       Box of Mystery Magicians shouldn’t be the only ones allowed to unlock life’s mysteries. Asking for volunteers took on a whole new meaning in The Sims 3 Showtime.
The Sims 3 Showtime

6.       Tree house The Sims 3 Generations lets you live life to the fullest and maybe even create a new life or two. Get frisky in a backyard tree house, but cross your fingers that it was built with a sturdy foundation… and watch out for nosy neighbors!
The Sims 3 Generations

7.       Time Machine Who wants to time-travel without their boo? The time machine in The Sims 3 Ambitions allows love to cross the bounds of centuries while WooHooing through time.
The Sims 3 Ambitions

8.       Actor’s Trailer The Sims 3 Late Night brought back another fan favorite from The Sims Superstar with the actor’s trailer, bringing new meaning to the term “working lunch.”
The Sims 3 Late Night
The Sims Superstar

Best Score:

Winner: Mass Effect 3
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: BioWare
Composer: Sam Hullick, Christopher Lennertz and others
Platforms: PC (Origin), PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U (€30-40)

Though Mass Effect 3 did not have the services of series veteran composer Jack Wall Mass Effect 3 nevertheless had an astounding soundtrack with tracks such as A Future for the Krogan offering a more than satisfactory reflection of the game it was based around. 

Assassin's Creed 3 also provided an excellent soundtrack (arguably the best thing about that particular game. NB: I love the series consider the last two installments to have been disappointments). The game's main theme is a particular standout. 

Another notable mention is Halo 4 which, like all titles in the series, has a superb OST. Blue and Green as well as Awakening being just two of the tracks to stand out here.

Best New IP:

Winner: Dishonored
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda 
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC (€45-55)

In Dishonored Arkane produced a game with a world that made sense, stood out amid it's competitors and enticed you to experiment with different forms of gameplay. Corvo's quest for retribution or redemption proved to be one of the most original of the year with the diverse, often gloomy, setting of the game becoming the empress' bodyguard's playground.

Characters with ulterior motives and a story-line perhaps more closely resembling Game of Thrones than anything in the videogame world (including the actual Game of Thrones games) made the title stand out as few have in recent years.

Best Indie Game:

Winner: Papo & Yo
Developer: Minority
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation Network (PS3) (€15)

There aren't many games that can make you truly care but Papo & Yo does. Making this all the more remarkable was that there was barely any speech in the game and what little there was came in what the developers call "Latin gibberish", a language they invented to convey the Brazilian favela-esque game space.

I won't spoil it for you but if you're looking for a relatively short game that more than rewards your investment than Papo & Yo is it.

Best Graphics:

Winner: Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries, Certain Affinity
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (€50-60)

Halo: Combat Evolved set a visual threshold when it was released in 2001. Eleven years later Halo 4, 343's first entirely new entry in the series, has done it again.

Halo 4 is arguably the best looking game on the Xbox 360, a remarkable feat given the now nearly seven year old nature of the technology within the system. While Halo may not match the trumpeted 60 frames per second of Call of Duty it ultimately didn't matter. Halo 4 has set a benchmark in graphical integrity and is, in that regard, the Xbox 360's Uncharted.

Biggest Disappointment:

Winner (loser?): Assassin's Creed 3
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU

Assassin's Creed 3, set in the American War of Independence promised - if you'll the phrase - a revolution akin to the jump from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2. Instead it delivered a game which ranks with Revelations at the bottom of the pile.

I am an Assassin's Creed fan, massively so, yet the newest installment failed to deliver. It was not due to tiredness, as was the case with Revelations, but rather to a combination of ideas which simply didn't work.

The Assassin's Creed template was never designed for more modern styles of warfare, particularly the open battles that Connor was forced to run through. Similarly the loading and firing of muskets - whilst historically accurate - were to slow for any practical gameplay use.

Similarly the game suffered from a protracted tutorial and a core character who simply wasn't especially likable.

It had it's moments of course and the score was excellent but one indication of the game's problems is that Ubisoft have had to issue a patch to make some of the chases easier. That says a lot about how this game plays.

In addition to which a host of bugs spoiled many gamer's playthroughs and the engine, including the graphics, appeared to suffer on current gen systems.

I differ from most people on two points however, I have no love - at all - for the naval battles and I, for one, rather liked the ending.

There were far worse games this year and as much as I may complained about Mass Effect 3 I consider Assassin's Creed 3 to be the most disappointing game of 2012.

Biggest Entirely Avoidable Controversy: 

Winner: Borderland 2's 'Girlfriend Mode'

When Eurogamer posted a piece on Borderlands 2 they no doubt thought both parties would mutually benefit. Eurogamer because it would drive hits to the site and Gearbox would have the added publicity. In the end both of these happened though not for the reasons they anticipated.

Borderlands 2 Mechromancer mode, essentially an ultra-easy version of the game for newcomers, was referred to as a Girlfriend Mode - which suggested that women are poorer gamers than men. Certainly there are more male gamers (in the core market at least) than women gamers (as as aside most of my friends on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network are actually female) but that certainly doesn't make them better.

The problem may not have been so big, were it not for the fact that this was a one-off slip of the tongue. Apparently this was the in-studio phrase regularly used to describe the option. Studio president Randy Pitchford was forced into collateral damage mode on twitter.

The controversy was picked up widely and might marked one of the main points of the year in which sexism in the industry was thoroughly placed under the spotlight.

The Bad Year in the Game Industry Award:

Winner: BioWare (and, by extension, EA)

Much of what happened to BioWare in 2012 was arguably beyond their control. Having spent $150-200 on Star Wars: The Old Republic the game eventually became free-to-play until level 15 (the announcement coming at E3) only a few months later the studio announced the game would go free-to-play until level 50.

This wasn't totally a failure on BioWare's part EA sent Star Wars out with an outdated subscription model that, in theory, only World of Warcraft can continue to utilise (subscriptions for WoW actually increased according to Activision-Blizzard's latest quarterly earnings report). The studio possibly also over estimated the power of the Star Wars brand when developing the game. SWTOR is, according to reports, the most expensive game of all time, this should allay any fears that the next Mass Effect will be an MMO, EA are not going to stump up the credit for another BioWare title of that nature anytime soon.

But of course BioWare had more problems than SWTOR this year.

First came the novel Mass Effect Deception, penned by William C. Dietz. The previous books had been written by Mass Effect 1 & 2 lead writer Drew Karpyshyn. It was clear not far into the book that Dietz was not familiar with the material. A cacophony of errors plagued the text so much so that the resulting furor caused BioWare to announce the book would be rewritten.

In fact some fans were so annoyed they burnt their copies of Deception. The full list of errors can be found here.

Then came the eagerly anticipated Mass Effect 3. No doubt you're well aware of the uproar over the ending and subsequent Extended Cut BioWare released to 'fix' it.

And finally studio founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuck retired from the company.

Hopefully, with Dragon Age 3 coming from Edmonton and the next Mass Effect on the way from Montreal - both using DICE's frostbite engine - BioWare will have a better 2013 (and beyond) than 2012.

The Very Bad Year in the Game Industry Award:

Winner: Zynga and THQ (honorable mention: Sony)

There's simply no flattering way to describe Zynga's or THQ's year. Resignations racked both companies, as did lawsuits. Both fell have posted horrible financial results and it looks as if THQ may not survive (though their IPs will undoubtedly be snapped up by EA, Activision or possibly Ubisoft after the publisher's president expressed an interest).

Meanwhile Sony was also met with a very poor 2012. Poor financials ultimately causing credit rating agency Fitch to downgrade the firm to 'junk' status.

Sony's game division - one of the company's best performing divisions over recent years - also suffered as an effect of lagging retail sales and a lack of major AAA exclusives. The PlayStation Vita meanwhile suffered from poor hardware sales despite strong software.

Nevertheless Sony has made some acquisitions during the year acquiring online streaming service Gaikai for €294 million and buying a stake in troubled Japanese camera maker Olympus for €471 million.

Sony may yet have a chance to turn themselves around under Kazuo Hirai's leadership but for now at least they're not a good position.

THQ may yet be able to pull off a last minute credit deal to save themselves though the prospect is tenuous at best. Many of the firm's licenses will likely be snapped up by other publishers should the company collapse but there's no guarantee that THQ's studios will also be saved.

Zynga may yet save itself if it can diversify to other platforms and expand in the mobile space.

Game of the Year:

Winner: Halo 4
Developer: 343 Industries, Certain Affinity
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360 (€50-60)

It can, and has, been argued that 343's first entirely new entry in the Halo series is a love story of sorts wrapped around a first person shooter. And certainly it says something videogame relationships that the Chief connection to Cortana - a largely Aristotelian affair due to the fact that Cortana is, well, an AI - proves to be one of the most endearing in recent titles. This is not least because of Jennifer Taylor's superb voice acting (for which she has been nominated for a VGA).

But of course the focus of Halo is the combat, and the evolution (apologies), of the series under 343's stewardship.

Despite the initial reservations of many series fans Halo 4 is classic Halo, which is a very good thing indeed and probably the finest the FPS in quite some time. As I've already discussed the game benefits from excellent graphics and a near flawless soundtrack yet most importantly it looks and it feels like a Bungie game.

While new enemies, the Prometheans, offer the Chief access to new weapons, these tools can, in the right hands, prove just as deadly as the Covenant's or the UNSC's but feel far more alien, made all the more appropriate perhaps as a method of signifying the Prometheans origins - and their transformation.

Halo 4 isn't a perfect game, arguably the customisation options were better in Halo: Reach, and while the general pacing of the game is to be commended the ending can perhaps be considered a little awkward (at least I found it so) to play, yet it comes very close.

Perhaps most importantly what we can take away from this game is that the future of Microsoft's most important franchise is secure even if Bungie have moved on to new pastures.

The One to Watch: 

Winner: Beyond: Two Souls (honorable mentions: The Last of Us, Tomb Raider)
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment 
Platform: PlayStation 3 
Estimated launch: 2013

There are a lot of games coming out next year and with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox Next likely to be released during 2013 there are undoubtedly some we aren't aware of. There are of course the major releases such as Grand Theft Auto V and Modern Warfare IV (for which rumours have already surfaced) as well as The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite and Tomb Raider. There are also smaller titles like Tearaway and Puppeteer.

But the one I'm most interested in, for now at least, is Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls. The French studio's next titles was one of the biggest announcements of an otherwise staid E3 and though rumours emerged about the title in the hours before launch the stunning trailer - using entirely in-game footage - helped edge Sony past the competition (The Last of Us also contributed to what I believe was a third consecutive E3 'win' for Sony), at least among the big three - Ubisoft, most agree, had the best overall media briefing even if the host was rather annoying.

Quantic Dream illustrated their commitment to emotional storytelling in Heavy Rain which, whilst a flawed titled, was highly effective in what it set out to do. They demonstrated this capacity to affect players again with the tech demo Kara (which will sadly never be released as a full product). Yes the E3 trailer showed off explosions and car chases but much of it revolved around the characters within it and how they interacted.

Beyond concerns our understanding of death and promises to be an incredible journey. It may not be to everyone's taste when it launches but David Cage's next game builds on a strong tradition and if it can lift the level of videogame narratives than there's certainly no harm in that.

Best New Videogame Blog:

Winner: The Videogame Dynamic. ;)

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