D3 Publisher Preview
Being a professional game journalist it's my sworn duty to maintain an entirely hectic schedule of press junkets and exclusive PR events, and it's not uncommon for such things to slip through the cracks. This is why I find myself tearing ass up the L.A. highway so the boys at D3 can show me their latest wares, more than an hour past my initial appointment. Even despite rescheduling I still arrive ten minutes late, awkwardly bumbling my way into the room and stealing some pieces of loose-leaf notebook paper and a pen from the very nice PR rep there. I am offered pizza, though I somehow manage to resist the immediate urge to jam a triangle of congealed cheese into my mouth so that I can focus on the demonstration at hand.
As the man in the front of the room begins the presentation, I take note of my fellow journalists. The two red-blooded American males sprawled out on the tiny couch are instantly recognizable as games press like myself, none of us particularly well dressed, nor able to keep our eyes from drifting over to where the grease-stained boxes of free pizza await. However the older man in the button-down shirt and his cheery female companion are a strange sight. Eventually it comes out that they the pair is here on behalf of Tiger Beat, the pop-centric media rag meant for teenage girls and pedophiles. Why they're here, I can't tell, but I'm pretty sure that the tween market isn't interested in White Knight Chronicles or Bangai-O.
A man whose name I do not know is showing off the first of three games, a Mario Kart clone which features the cast of the children's cartoon Ben 10. Though I firmly believe such animated programming is largely responsible for the sexual perversion of our children, I honestly think Ben 10 is a pretty decent show despite whatever disturbing fetish pornography it inspires on DeviantArt. It's got the kind of wholesome feel you'd expect from Johnny Quest, only the kid can turn into aliens with his magic watch and the Race Bannon character suffers from morbid obesity. There's also no brown people so... sorry Hadji.
I always find it hard to justify previewing or reviewing kids games, since you kind of have to dial back your brain a bit and think "If I was at the age where wearing Ben 10 under-roos was acceptable, how much fun would I have with this one?" To be honest though, Ben 10 Galactic Racing looks halfway decent. The graphics are definitely ahead of some of the licensed garbage I see churned out for the 'E for Everyone' crowd, and if I had a son or a younger nephew who had a copy of this game sitting in his 360 disc tray, I could see myself being mildly entertained for a good few hours along with him. Additionally, there's a couple decent multiplayer modes, including vehicular combat, and if this game gets little Jimmy ready for his first bout with Twisted Metal I'm all for it. Especially entertaining is watching the nervous Asian woman from Tiger Beat take unsteady hold of an Xbox 360 controller, with the gamers in the room helping to define what a "trigger" button is. She finishes the course in last place, shaking her head the whole time. Despite the poor showing, I have to applaud her tenacity.
The PR rep then brings in the next developer, here to show us, something called 'Victorious.' For some reason, I keep seeing Nexon's 'Vindictus' in my head, my and I again wonder why Tiger Beat is interested in a bloody hack and slash MMO. I quickly learn that "VicTORIus" is some Nickelodeon rip-off of Glee, a show about kids who sing and dance and have sadly never seen a single episode of 'The Adventures of Pete & Pete.' I weep for the children of America. The game is in super alpha and there wasn't a whole lot to show, but it's basically a Kinect exclusive where kids get to sing along to songs from the show while waving their hands around in the air like maniacs. The concept was explained to me as making one's own music video, and I honestly kept having to hold back my laughter as I resisted the urge to make some awful "Kriss Kross: Make My Video" crack. This game requires an even greater stretch of the imagination, forcing me to imagine how entertaining this pared-down rhythm game would be if my walls were covered in Justin Bieber posters. Since I only have a small assortment of professionally-framed Justin Bieber portraits, I can only guess at how the training bra crowd will receive this one. The Tiger Beat people seemed to smile politely as the PR rep struggled with the motion recognition software, so we'll assume it's a winner.
Finally we arrive at the game we care about. White Knight Chronicles II, the follow-up to the PS3 Semi-MMORPG which had some rather mixed reviews last time around. I personally missed out on the game entirely, and can't vouch for its quality one way or the other, so I was actually pretty happy to find that the first game's complete scenario comes free with the sequel, updated with the brand new gameplay enhancements. Whenever a rep tells me the combat is "faster" I usually want to invite them out for a good stiff drink, because plodding RPG combat is something I think we're all sick of. Though the game retains the kind of ATB bar you'd expect from the old school Final Fantasy titles (AKA, the good ones), the action bar now starts at full, meaning each battle begins with you wailing on your opponents instead of watching a meter slowly fill. The game also introduces some elements which will make combat a lot more involved. Range has been factored for attacks, meaning getting up close to enemies, though risky, increases attack damage and accuracy. There's also a new weight system for the armor classes, so guys decked out in full-mail have the benefit of resisting knock-down attacks and pulling off special attacks un-interrupted, while the fleet-footed anorexic ninjas among us can rush in and interrupt enemy spellcasters or pull off blinding-fast combo attacks. The online elements have also been enhanced, with six players now able to level up on the interwebs (up from four in the previous title). There's also been consideration made for the fact that people want to kick ass as the giant knight avatars while online. Previously only storyline characters could do this, who aren't allowed online, but now avatar characters have their own knight-like forms, letting people bang out quests in these crazy giant-mech looking things.
After the demos were over I got the chance to screw up taping an interview (always remember to load a blank tape kids), as well as talk to the D3 crew away from the nervous smiles of the PR overlords. I love PR guys, but a lot of the time they aren't really gamers. When I talk about how awesomely heavy the combat in Treasure's Bangai-O HD feels (a D3 release you should go download on XBLA right now), the PR people kind of nod their heads awkwardly and agree that robots are cool. We accept this, this is our industry, and the PR people are very well-meaning individuals who will hopefully not oppose to me being unable to muster any enthusiasm for 'VicTORIus.' Our readers weren't going to buy it anyway! Nothing of value has been lost or gained!
The point is, I talked to those D3 guys for awhile about Street Fighter, discussing how much we'd all struggled with Third Strike, the Ben 10 dev going on in length about figuring out how to parry, and the revelation that it was. I get D3, I really do. These are some cool guys who want to release some cool games, stuff like Bangai-O and White Knight Chronicles and other imports. To fund this labor of love, they've gotta churn out the kindergarten fodder now and again, and at least they seem to be doing it with a bit of class (again, if I had a kid and I let him watch cartoons, I would buy him that damn Ben 10 racing thing). In a perfect world, D3 eventually gets enough money to screw up their own RPG or fighting game or shooter or whatever. Until then, I'll be rooting for them.