The Last of Us Sequel Confirmed?

Poster for The Last of Us
Nolan North, the actor whose voice seems to be in just about every video game made over the last 10 years, and who also worked on the Naughty Dog game The Last of Us, has apparently confirmed a sequel. North, best known perhaps for his work in the Uncharted franchise, another Naughty Dog game series, which (on a side note) will be back in Uncharted 4 with, Troy Baker (from The Last of Us) and Emily Rose is back as Elena Fisher, as well as Assassin’s Creed, from Ubisoft, as Desmond Miles.

In The Last of Us Troy Baker worked as Joel, along with the wonderful Ashley Johnson (aka @TheVulcanSalute) as Ellie and Nolan voiced crazy bad guy David who sounds completely unlike anyone else North has voiced. So it is a nice touch to see Baker “cross-over” as it were to Uncharted territory.

All fanboy gushing aside, North was at MetroCon where he was “caught” talking about The Last of Us 2. A question was posed about whether Nolan had any further Naughty Dog work lined up and he says, “I know they’ve got The Last of Us 2…” If following the link, and the reader does not want to watch the entire video, Nolan says this around 1:06, feel free to jump forward.

This is pretty exciting but also a bit concerning. In terms of games and almost perfect endings, Joel and Ellie’s journey stops where it should. There was no real place to spot an opportunity for sequel city to come in. For anyone who played the game it goes without saying that their world was not going to be a great place to be in by the end.

Still, the voice work of Johnson and Baker gave this “out-of-the-box” gaming experience a reality and empathy that propelled the gameplay into a different experience from most games on offer. The news that Naughty Dog want to return is a mixed blessing for fans of both the company and their games. With Nolan’s “slip” all that remains is for Neil Druckmann and company to provide a little more information for fans.

Until any official word is released, have a look at the remastering trailer for The Last of Us for the PS4:

Assassin’s Creed Movie Filming in September With Two Cast Members?

Poster for Assassin's Creed I
I have deliberately avoided reading anything about the upcoming film version of Assassin’s Creed game from Ubisoft. One reason has to do with Nolan North, it is his voice I hear when Miles speaks in my mind, just as it is his verbal utterances I hear when thinking of Nathan Drake, another has to do with the watering down of the game in the franchise. The news that filming is due to commence in September this year, with an apparent cast of two, is surprising to say the least.

Michael Fassbender, whom I’ve been a fan of since the Brit horror film Eden Lake, where he played a chap who did everything wrong early in the film and the equally English TV show Hex, may make a great Desmond Miles, although not as great as Nolan, in my humble opinion. The actor will also, again in my own humble opinion, never top his android David from Prometheus.

As for Marion Cotillard being the female scientist/assistant who aids Desmond? I am not really sure that she is who I envisioned as Lucy in the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cotillard, so much in fact that I actually sat down and watched another French film; last year’s Two Days, One Night.

Michael Fassbender via @Pinterist
Michael Fassbender as Desmond Miles?

Another reason I’ve not read paid much attention to the big screen version of the game also has to do with the video game itself.

When Assassin’s Creed first came out, my daughter bought the game from Game in Ipswich. Her Christmas present had been a PlayStation 3, something I knew that I’d get plenty of use from, Dad’s no fool, and when we first plugged the game in, and waited ages for it to upload, we were not too overly impressed with the graphics.

Then my youngster got a better TV, an HD one. When we watched the scenes of Assassin’s Creed unfold on the screen of this new telly, our eyes did not seem big enough to take everything in. The graphics were incredible and so real. The story had already become a favorite, Altair’s fall from grace, his having to start over and the slow realization that not all is as it seems trumped what many called the repetitive game play.

The game spawned a glut of sequels, including the annoying Ezio Auditore who took over as the franchise hero. Even though my love for the game declined with each new version, I miss it. When I moved from England I sold my (sob) UK PS3, and my Xbox. I still have some favorite games, Uncharted, all of them, Assassin’s Creed, et al, all lovingly stored in a box…in the shed…sniffle. I have yet to get a replacement for either of these long lost consoles and it kills me.

For that reason alone, I’ve avoided any talk of games to movies, but also because of Naughty Dog and their Uncharted franchise’s move to film their game’s story. When they initially decided to have the game adapted to the big screen, the company opted to relinquish creative control. While fans of the game expected either Nolan North to play Nathan Drake, or at least Nathan Fillion, the filmmakers had decided to cast Mark Wahlberg as Nate.

IGN mockup of Nathan Fillion as Nathan Drake
Fillion and Drake, 2010 dream casting idea.

After a few choice expletives and OMGs, the news then came that Bradley Cooper was the main choice, Fillion was considered “too old.” On top of all that, it seemed that the film version would also not have Emily Rose as Elena and Sully was to be scrapped in favor of characters who did not exist.

The last word on Uncharted the film, has Seth Gordon down to direct, according to Wikia and while IMDb has the film opening in 2016, there are no cast members listed. Thankfully, Wahlberg’s name is absent.

It will be interesting to see just what the film version of Desmond Miles and his adventures with the Animus will be. Since filming has not started yet, it will also be interesting to see who will wind up in the final cast list. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for incredibly cheap PS3 and or Xbox replacements, cheap as in free…if you get my drift.

2 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Video Game Trends; it’s Short but Look it has Multi-player

I was semi-participating in a “round table” (although in reality it is more of a rectangular shape) between Meg and Max and their dissection of what is wrong in the video game industry at the moment.

There were some great insights brought up this morning, mainly because Max has been introduced into the mix. Meg and I tend to re-hash the same ideas, just with a slightly different angle of presentation. The addition of another “player” has allowed us to represent old ideas and discuss new ones.

The main consensus was that most games coming out right now (and last year) are all much shorter in duration than previous games and they seem to be relying upon the addition of multi-player to justify their curtailing of the main game.

A good example of this is the last iteration of Hitman. Fans of the Hitman franchise have been eagerly awaiting the emergence of a PS3 HD version of their favourite assassin for years. The development of the latest chapter in the Hitman verse was given a lot of publicity and updates of the “proposed” game play was on YouTube.

I could not wait to play it. I even paid full price for the collector’s edition (mainly for the Hitman statue) just because I could not wait for the cost to go down. I popped the disc into the PS3, waited for the latest update to load and started playing.

Eight hours later, I was finished. I sat looking at the end credits (which lasted almost as long as the game) feeling disappointed, let down, and yes, cheated. I know that a lot of hype was given to the fact that you could play the game on-line and “take contracts out on your friends and family.”

Yawn.

I do like on-line multi-player games, I play CoD a lot (I’ve clocked a lot of hours on Black Ops II) but some games just don’t “fit” the on-line arena. It just seems that games companies automatically assume that if their game is a “shooter” (either first or third person) it’s suited for a multi-player aspect.

*Of course it’s not just “shooters,” Assassin’s Creed started participating in the on-line experience with Assassin’s Creed II and the protagonist’s generally use sharp implements and only rarely shoots anyone.*

I am sure that a lot of gamers like the interactive concept of competing against their friends and neighbours. Competitive gaming is good, if you like that type of competition. But again, only some games really fit that sort of game play; war games especially fit the multi-player scenario. You’ve probably noticed that I have not mentioned WoW or any of its first or second cousins. That is because that type of game has never interested me and it never will; despite the fact that Felicia Day is a player.

Competitive game playing is fun, but there are different levels of competition. Most games involve competition of some kind even if it is just competing against the actual game and not another person. Of course there are exceptions; Flower, for instance, has no competition at all.

The only problem with on-line gaming is the emergence of players who “cheat” or hack the system. Anyone who has joined a game only to die repeatedly while their weapons don’t even scratch the opposing team members knows the frustration of playing in a match where the odds have been skewed to the other teams favour.

I don’t want to get on a multi-player rant here, so I’ll get back to my original point: actual game play being shortened. I loved the PS2 generation of games that took over 20 to 40 hours to complete and they did not rely on multi-player access to extend the “life” of the game.

The never-ending game…

Admittedly there are some games out there that do have a lot of game play hours. Skyrim, for instance, brags that you could conceivably never finish their open world game. But again, that is not my type of game. I personally do not find games that rely on swordplay and ye olde English dialogue mesmerising.

We all agreed that the new shorter game times were the companies attempt to appease the non-gamer market. The major complaint from this new market demographic is that existing games are too long. “I don’t have time to play a game that is over 20 hours long. I have to: work, clean, cook, iron, take little Timmy to school and pick him up; the excuses list for not having time to play is just about endless.

So the gams companies are, once again, catering to the non-hardcore gamer instead of  developing games that appeal to all gamers equally. Their answer is to tag a multi-player aspect onto every new game in the hopes of getting the real gamers to log on and shoot out. That way they can cut the main game’s running time down enough for the new or casual gamer.

These “new” gamers are an anomaly. Most of them are playing “because everyone is doing it” not unlike the race to lose your virginity when you were in high school (although arguably it appears to be happening much earlier these days) because of peer pressure. Since game companies have shifted their focus onto the “family” gaming market they’ve changed the face of gaming.

Not only have games become shorter, but they’ve become easier. It is a lot harder to get killed or die now-a-days. In fact you kind of have to work at it. In keeping with their new demographic of consumer, game companies don’t want to make the actual game play too difficult, they might lose money.

They will still put out the odd difficult game like Dark Souls where the game play actually seems to be hard just for the sake of it instead of there being a reason for the level of difficulty. They are also changing existing games in the area of genre just to increase their marketability.

Dead Space 3 for example now appears to be more of an action/adventure shooter, losing a lot of its appeal as a horror related shooter. Presumably this shift of focus will allow the more casual gamer to be interested. It is the only explanation for the change of genre that makes any sense.

Gee, all that’s missing is grandma and grandpa…

The introduction of the Xbox Kinect, the Sony Move and all of the Nintendo Wii shows that the game business is all about “family” entertainment now. Presumably every family will participate in fun short games play where everyone from great grandma to little two year old Timmy can spend a limited amount of time playing “group” games. Games that are really last generation arcade type games that used to be playable in the local arcade, bowling alley, or outside Wal-Mart.

I am all right with that whole concept.

But…

Let’s not forget the core of the gaming market. The real gamers who love a long properly challenging game; a lot of these guys are in their 30’s and 40’s (and older) now and unlike the new gamer will make the time to play a longer game. Even if it means only getting to spend a half an hour at a time playing it; because real gamers will not begrudge spending three to four weeks (or longer) getting to the end of their game.

Because real gamers are going to be around a long time yet, long after these new casual gamers have moved on to the next peer pressure driven past time; one that has dictated that family gaming is dead. Hopefully that will mean that game companies will go back to their roots and develop longer games with a bit less emphasis on the multi-player experience.

In the mean time the new casual gamer has all those flash games and Facebook games to keep them busy while we wait for some good “old-fashioned”games with length and difficulty.

Look out for the chainsaw guy and hours of game play…

Ah Agent 47, How I’ve Missed Thee…


The feeling of nostalgia was overwhelming as I popped the disc into the PS3 and waited for the latest update to load and install on Hitman Absolution. I loved the old Hitman with his bald pate complete with bar code and his cold blooded bad-ass killing instinct not to mention his sense of humour.

Who else would think of dressing up like a clown to infiltrate a party to get closer to his next victim (Blood Money), or dressing up as a Priest to take out the baddies in a Catholic Orphanage (Absolution).

Agent 47, that’s who.

Although in our minds (and actions) it is we who are really Agent 47; looking sharp and cool in the black suit with white shirt and red tie combo that makes up his professional attire complete with black leather “shooting gloves” and patent leather shoes. Forget Altair and Ezio and the other “new boys” on the block. Agent 47 was the original assassin and still is.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved the Assassin’s Creed verse from its maiden voyage with the egotistical Altair who gets busted down to the assassin’s equivalent of a buck private. His journey back up and slow realization that someone wasn’t telling the truth still interests me and is the best of the franchise, in my opinion.

But Agent 47 with his “genetically manufactured” assassination skill which goes to prove that great contract killers are not just born, they are also made, has never bored me. Frustrated yes, but never bored. The times that I got frustrated with him was when I had repeatedly failed to stealthily kill the target and I was either killed or had to run for my life and try all over again. Of course when that happened, the thought of stealth went right out the window and I generally would “go Genghis Kahn” on everyone in sight and initiate a blood bath that old Genghis would have envied.

Frustrations aside, with my own limitations never that of Agent 47’s, the games are addictive and challenging in a way that other game’s just can’t replicate.

Looking at the Hitman franchise I chuckle when I remember how angry I would get at having to completely redo a mission because I’d been spotted or killed an innocent bystander. Absolution does not have that problem as you can save at “set” points in the game. So, yes, you still have to re-do some of the mission but not all of it; unless, of course, you want to.

The only problem I’ve had so far is that when I crouch, I can’t “un-crouch.” So you wind up crouch walking through crowds of people who do notice. I had an npc say, “Look at the hunchback.” Another told me to stand up and “stop acting like a child.” So far so irritating, but I cannot find a reference anyplace else where this problem is mentioned. So until I find a solution I’ll continue to have 47 hunched over after that first crouch.

*And before you say anything, yes I have pressed the O again and it changes nothing. He still crouches and looks bloody ridiculous. It must be some sort of glitch.*

I do have to say about the graphics at this point. As quickly as I could “get into” the old PS2 verse of Hitman, it did have a few issues with graphics. A lot of the PS2 games did. But you could ignore that because of the ease of immersing yourself into the role of 47. But the “last gen” graphics could give you a jolt now and again.


Not so Absolution. The colours and graphics are stunning. The textures are great and the overall appearance of the game’s set pieces look impressive. There have been no moments where I’ve been thrown out of the game because of a graphics let down. The game play itself is not difficult although, as I’ve said before, I am not the world’s expert at stealth. In fact despite the crouching problem, I’m doing pretty well. I still have moments where I get just that little bit too annoyed and rather than do a Genghis Kahn, I’ll do a Clyde Barrow and just start shooting.

When the opening cut scenes finished on the new game, slipping back into the world of Agent 47 felt as easy as slipping into an old pair of comfy sneakers (or patent leather shoes). I immediately found myself looking at the verse through familiar eyes. The world of stealth has not changed. You have a new “instinct” gauge that can be used to tell you where the enemies are and what path you should be taking. A little like Assassin Creed‘s eagle vision except that this gauge can run out of instinct and leave you blind.

I won’t talk about any of the games particulars, i.e. plot. But I will say it’s a good one, folks, it’s a good one. I will also say that 47 has learned a few new tricks, like how to kill with a screw driver, throwing a knife and an almost balletic way of using a fire axe to dispose of enemies. Just to list a few of these new kill skills. I’m sure he’s picked up a few other new ones since the last time we met but I haven’t encountered them yet.

The voice acting is top-notch. They’ve taken a page out of Naughty Dog‘s book and let the actors actually act with each other. No separate sound booths here with an actor reading his lines into dead air. They interact and even get to wear the motion capture suits a la Naughty Dog. It helps. There are some pretty big names attached to the project. Powers Boothe, Vivica A. FoxKeith Carradine, Traci Lords (ex porn star) and of course David Bateson is back providing the voice for Agent 47.

So apart from the continuing problem of crouching (or conversely not being able to stand up straight) I am loving this blast from the past with all its new trappings. It even looks as though the young girl that Agent 47 is trying to protect might be a new improved female version of him. It does sort of make me wonder is there will soon be a “Hitgirl” (and not Chloe Moritz from Kick Ass either). I am not that far into the game yet, I’m now competing with a pig-tailed brown haired version of Daisy Duke on a shooting range and not doing fantastically well. Of course, my aim is always a little off when I’m target shooting at two in the morning.

I did not realize how much I missed old baldy until I started playing Absolution. I suppose I could have gone back at anytime and played the old favourites, Blood Money or Contracts, but there never seemed to be the time. What with new games coming out and my tendency to replay all of the three Naughty Dog Drake games, I just couldn’t take the time.

But playing the long awaited “sequel” to Hitman, I’m sorry I wasn’t more faithful. Still, it has not taken me any time at all to get back into the swing of the Hitman verse and to fight off all the bad guys and terminate the targets. I’ve had to fight the compulsion to wear adult diapers and have my food given to me via a drip so I can play uninterrupted.

I also have to fight the urge to react badly to people who interrupt my game play for whatever the reason.


Assassin’s Creed III – Meh With a Capital M

I must be one of the only people in the world who is not excited about the upcoming release of Assassin’s Creed III. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I’ve just gotten bored with it.

When Assassin’s Creed first came out in 2006 I was swept away by the stunning graphics and the wonderful story line. The main character, or hero of the game if you prefer, was Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad. Set during the third Crusades, the game’s tapestry was rich with history, both real and imagined.

Of course we only see  Altaïr once Desmond Miles, bartender extraordinaire, has been plugged up to the Animus. A machine that allows modern day folk to ‘live’ their ancestor’s memories.

Most people I know, didn’t like the first one. Stating that it was repetitive, boring and too long. Of course the biggest complaint was that you could not really assassinate anyone. Which is true, the moment you killed your target, no matter how discrete you were, you had to fight for your life.

So okay a little annoying but not enough to put me off the entire game. Just the graphics alone made my eyes feel like they were stretching out of their sockets trying to take in all that breathtaking, colourful and real looking verse.

What a wonderful blending of science fiction and historical drama. The Animus, which tied all the memories together was exciting and scary.

Still definitely my personal favourite out of all of them.

Which leads me into my first complaint. The next Assassin’s Creed had a new protagonist Ezio Auditore da Firenze. Desmond is rescued from the evil Knight’s  Templar aka Abstergo by the modern day Assassins. When he enters their Animus he re-lives the life of Ezio.

Now Ezio was okay, but, he isn’t Altaïr and his story arc is nowhere near as interesting. *Please remember that this is just my opinion.* But obviously, Ezio is the masses favourite. Because he  has come back no less than four times. I quickly got over any excitement I initially felt when I heard that a new Assassin’s Creed was being released.

But my lacklustre reception of all things Ezio, was not just down to his character. My dissatisfaction grew because of the change in the graphics and the storyline.

Gone were the breathtaking graphics that ‘one’ brought to the party. Gone were the brilliant mixing of history and science. Instead we were given graphics that were…okay. We were given a larger history lesson via on-screen data messages, a lot. And the interaction between Desmond and his ‘saviour’ Lucy Stillman, suddenly changed.

By the time that Brotherhood was released, the Uncharted series was huge. As Nolan North voiced both Desmond and Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series, and Nolan’s speciality is ad-libbing and engaging in banter with the other actors, Ubisoft decided to have Desmond and Lucy interact with each other differently.

What??

Where did this come from? When did Desmond and Lucy turn into Nate and Elena? Why try to make them into characters from another verse?

All this just proves to me that Ubisoft has lost their way with the franchise.

Assassin’s Creed II and beyond I could just about deal with. I was still able to suspend my disbelief enough to go along with Ezio dealing with Leonardo DaVinci, and the Borgias.  But it did get increasingly difficult to enjoy the games themselves. I still haven’t finished Revelations. And before I move on, I do have to say, I like the fact that Ezio is older. I mean seriously the guy had to age sometime.

Now III has an assassin interacting and presumably influencing the American War of Independence. *cue mouth dropping open* Huh? I’ve seen the trailers and the new assassin’s ‘costume’ (yes, that’s right, I said costume) is so out of place compared to what everyone else is wearing, I’m surprised that he isn’t shot on sight.

There is also the little detail of the ‘assassin’s tomahawk’ it looks far too modern and again out-of-place. The whole thing has completely broken down my ability to suspend my disbelief.

I really do think it is time for Ubisoft to move on.