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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Assassin's Creed, Lego Lord of the Rings highlight Sony's holiday preview show

Well, Jedi Aragorn is finally settled into his new digs in The Hammer, better known as Hamilton, Ontario, and the hut is coming along slowly but surely.
Working for a new newspaper company has meant some major changes and the past 8 weeks have been, well, bat-shit crazy.
That said, I’m back and expect to see gaming features, reviews and opinions, as well as some DVD work when I can since most of the companies have axed me until I get a more ‘impressive’ gig (meaning a newspaper column again … heathens don’t understand the importance of an audience and a multi-media guy like me, with the podcast, website, etc. … but that’s another bitch for another day). So, I’m looking forward to getting back into writing and sharing some looks at some cool games out there or ones that are forthcoming.
I just got back from the Palais Royale in Toronto, where Sony held its annual holiday preview show. And while there were some impressive fall and spring titles available for hands-on demos, there were four that really caught my eye and I thought I’d share.
Ol’ Jedi Aragorn took the hood down off his robe long enough to have a great chat with Jeyson Acevedo, the public relations manager for Ubisoft Montreal, about the studio’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed III game, which is slated for an Oct. 30 release on Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Ubisoft Montreal has been a pioneer in the Canadian gaming development scene and one of its brightest stars over the years, launching such major franchises as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell, as well as Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia and Far Cry.
And with more than 2,000 employees, the studio doesn’t look to be slowing down despite the financial instability that has shaken the global economy the past few years. The company recently launched a studio in Toronto, which is now handling the Splinter Cell franchise.
“The more creative minds we can get to the studio, the better the quality games we’ll be able to (deliver),” Acevedo said. “The studio is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Looking back at all the franchises that have come out of Montreal, it’s quite an accomplishment and we’re looking forward to 15 more.
Asked what people can expect from AC3, Acevedo said the key word is novelty. That’s in large part due to a new graphics engine called Anvil Next, which makes its debut in AC3. That system will play a key role in the large-scale naval battles that unfold on the open sea, as well as the detailed landscapes and buildings that fans have come to expect since the franchise first bowed on the PS3 and 360 in 2007.
“We have set it during the American Revolution,” Acevedo said. “Our main character is an assassin named Connor. He’s a new protagonist in the Assassin’s Creed universe. He’s part-British and part-Native American.
“He’s battling for his people, obviously, but he’s also fighting Templars, who can either be a Red Coat, a Blue Coat or a Native American.  It’s a very polarizing story and very interesting, as well.
“We have a brand new battle system for hand-to-hand combat. He has tomahawks and a bow and arrow for hunting.”
Desmond Miles, the ‘present day’ character whose DNA holds the history of the assassins that preceded him and is the entry into the different eras the franchise explores, also returns.
But most of the game centres on playing during the revolution and like the other AC titles, there are some familiar names that come to the fore.
“We’re introducing new historical figures, like George Washington … major players in the American Revolution,” Acevedo said, without divulging just how these NPCs will play into the story, except to say that it’s “historically accurate.”
The game will also feature multiplayer modes, an economic system similar to that in Assassin’s Creed 2, as well as the aforementioned naval battles, which were on display during a hands-on demo at the Sony holiday preview bash.
The sequence sees you playing on a British warship trying to catch American ships and blast them out of the water. You can also get close enough to attempt to board them.
“The American Revolution was also fought on the sea, as well, so there’s another side of the American Revolution that you’re off to play,” he said.
Overall, Acevedo said the game is a “humongous project – the biggest Ubisoft Montreal has ever produced and one of the biggest ever done at Ubisoft itself.”
“It’s an open world, so you have main missions, but also lots of side missions,” he said. “It’s a hefty single-player campaign. We’re talking a minimum of 40 to 50 hours. Our testers have also been going in to see how far they can go into the game without even finishing it. It’s a massive game, that’s what gamers are looking for and that’s what the team has been striving for for the past two and a half years.”
As with the previous AC games, which have walked a pretty fine line in terms of potentially alienating certain ethnic and religious groups – remember that there was a screen that appeared during the first AC title that proclaimed the game, which featured battles among Christians, Muslims and Jews in and around the Holy Land, had been crafted by people of all faiths.
And goodness knows American politics, especially with the rise of the Tea Party and people who want the United States to more reflect the policies enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that arose out of the revolution could certainly be divisive if not handled with a deft touch.
Of course, working in a market such as Montreal, Quebec, where the two solitudes of anglos and francophones find a peaceful way to co-exist, certainly helps the developers and writers understand the importance of cultural sensitivity.
“We’ve always worked close to historical fact and bring in historians and consultants. In the case of Assassin’s Creed III, we have historians and Native American consultants, as well. Everything that has been created in the game is real. It happened. One of the reasons the Assassin’s Creed franchise has been such as success is because we are an authentic experience.
“There are always touchy subjects … but as long as we work with consultants and get their facts, both positive and negative, and portray them in the games, gamers appreciate that.”
He added that the historical elements attract some non-traditional gamers because the titles can be educational.
“It’s about showing the facts,” Acevedo said. “It’s easier to incorporate a fictional story around historical fact.
“But, you know, haters gonna hate, but we’re looking forward and always want to be as real and accurate as we can.”
As for AC3, it’s nearly ready for retail shipment.
“The game went gold two weeks ago, so it’s into mass production and we’re looking forward to putting it in people’s hands on Oct. 30.”
And there are many gamers, this Jedi included, who can’t wait to get his hands on the full version after the smooth-playing demo on display today.
The were three other titles that caught my eye, the first of which was Warner Bros. Interactive’s Lego Lord of the Rings game, which featured a hands-on demo of the battle at Helm’s Deep, featured in the second Peter Jackson film, The Two Towers.
What’s cool about this game, besides the epic battles and the enormous scale is that it features the actual dialogue spoken by the cinematic actors. So expect to hear Viggo Mortensen delivering Aragorn’s lines, as well as Sir Ian MacKellan shouting “You shall not pass” to the flaming Balrog.
This being a Lego game, though, the sense of humour that has defined the franchises previous titles – including jaunts into the world of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter – is also present. After Gandalf yells at the Balrog, the fiery beast belches in his face, causing the wizard to take a flustered step back.
The game is slated to ship on all platforms and consoles later this month.
God of War: Ascension was also on display and it looked buttery smooth. The gameplay looks fantastic and includes a new twist in which protagonist Kratos can stop, rewind and fast-forward time, so that he can rebuild items destroyed in battle.
There are still many quick-time events in major battles, but the game plays faster and smoother and looks more gorgeous than any of the previous GoW games. This one is a Sony exclusive for the PS3.
And finally, for younger fans, watch for a Sony exclusive called Wonderbook: Book of Spells, from a London-based studio. The game uses the Eye camera peripheral, as well as the Move wand motion controller.
You sit in front of the camera with the Playbook open before you on the floor. The camera will show you on your TV, but rather than a flat piece of tech lying before you, on the screen you will see a living book come to life.
This particular game focuses on the world of Harry Potter. You will learn and practise casting spells and then after you’ve mastered the basics of each lesson, you will find yourself sent into a story-based scenario in which you call upon your spells to defeat dark wizards and such.
And when you defeat these scenarios, you’ll be treated to poems penned by Potter author J.K. Rowling.
The beauty is that the controller transforms into a wand on the screen, which is sure to please young Potter fans.
According to Sony Computer Entertainment America rep David Alonzo, the Playbook will also feature in future releases. He said there’s a project in development with the BBC tied to its Walking with Dinosaurs franchise that will allow people to raise baby dinosaurs from eggs and interact with them.
Sounds cool.
And with that, Jedi Aragorn must head back to the hut to get some work done. I hope you enjoyed this look at a couple titles coming soon for consoles and handhelds.

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