Welcome to the hundred and nineteenth edition of RPGamer's Currents Column.
PAX is a wrap and next up is Tokyo Game Show. Unfortunately, I didn't get to attend PAX, and I definitely won't be heading out to TGS but that doesn't mean that things haven't been interesting for me lately. On Wednesday, aside from watching the Apple music event live, I got to attend the taping of God of War - Directors live. The event was a round table discussion with all 5 directors of the various God of War games. It was an interesting event, but it ran a bit long for my tastes. The video of the event will be released as part of a digital pre-order bonus package that you can receive when you pre-order God of War: Ghost of Sparta. I was sitting in the front row, so let me know if you spot me. Other than that, my week consisted of getting exited over new Apple products and games and hearing about how awesome PAX was and how much I was missing out on. Either way, I got some good news and thoughts for you all.
New iPods, Game Center, and Unreal Engine 3 It's getting easier and easier to take this platform seriously
In case you missed it, last Wednesday, Apple held its annual music event where it unveiled its latest iPods for the holiday season. It was an interesting event, but as far as gaming goes, there were three things of real note at the conference: the iPod Touch, iOS 4.1 with Game Center, and Project Sword and Unreal Engine 3.
4th Generation iPod Touch:
The new 4th Gen iPod Touch has taken on a lot of the characteristics of its older brother, the iPhone 4. That is to say, the new iPods get the powerful A4 chip, a retina display, a 3-axis gyroscope, a front and rear facing camera, better battery life, a built-in mic, and so on. Basically it's an iPhone 4 without the contract. It's also a great way to get access to the App Store without having to deal with AT&T.
If you have been on the fence about seeing what the App Store has to offer, there is no better time than now to jump in. The addition of a gyroscope and two cameras opens up the Touch to a wider variety of games and apps. The combination of the A4 chip and retina display can also create some rather impressive-looking games. You need look no further than Rage and Project Sword, but I'll get to the promising future of gaming on the platform a little later. First, I need to talk about Apple's answer to Xbox Live: Game Center. Also, if you are interested in these features and upgrades, and you don't have an iPhone 4, you'll be happy to know that the 4th Gen iPod Touch is now available.
iOS 4.1 and Game Center:
In general, there are a lot of tweaks and upgrades in iOS 4.1 that make using an iDevice a better experience, but the one that gamers should really care about is Game Center. Game Center is a set of APIs for developers that lets them easily implement matchmaking, leader boards, and achievements into their games. It is also an app that comes preloaded on your iDevices' home screen that allows you to see your friends list, your achievements, and what new games support Game Center.
This new Apple supported and unified service is something that the App Store has been in need of for a while. A lot of companies stepped in to try to provide these services, but it left the App Store fractured. Some games supported Open Feint, others Plus+, and so on, and so on. It was a real hassle trying to find your friends, sign up, and log in for each of these services. With the way Apple is pushing Game Center, it is sure to become the defacto standard for those game developers who haven't gone to the trouble of creating their own Xbox Live-like service.
Now, Game Center is one easy place to always stay connected with your friends, keep track of your in-game achievements, and see how well you are doing compared to your friends and the rest of the world. Now, the App Store feels a lot less like a grab bag of cellphone games and more like Xbox Live Arcade: a place where you and your friends congregate to play the latest big downloadable titles and go head-to-head against each other.
Of course, a valid criticism is "what's the point of match making and achievements in games like "Waste Bin Basketball" or "Zombie Tower Defense Game 21?" Well, with developers like Id and Epic Games throwing their hat into the ring, the iPhone platform will soon be putting many PSP games to shame in terms of graphics and tech. It should be noted that Game Center will only work on newer Apple hardware. Currently, the only devices supported are: iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPod Touch 2nd - 4th generation.
Epic Games, Chair, and Project Sword:
Going into the event, everyone already knew about Game Center, and we all had a feeling that the iPod Touch would inherit much of the iPhone 4's features. The one game-related thing that we didn't know about left just about everyone stunned. Apple usually invites a few app developers to its events to either show off a hot new game or a big name service like Netflix. This time I was surprised to see the President of Epic Games Mark Capps and the Chair Creative Director Donald Mustard take the stage. Mark Capps and Donald Mustard showed off a brand new action adventure RPG for iDevices running in Unreal Engine 3, codenamed Project Sword. This pleasant surprise was quickly followed up by a jaw dropping demo of the game, complete with Game Center functionality. It showed off just how capable UE3 is on iDevices. At this point we know little about the game itself other than the fact that its is set in a medieval world, it involves "epic sword battles" using either swiping gestures or by selection icons, and it features turn based online multiplayer sword battles. Given how good it looks and that Chair is the developer, I have few concerns about how the game will turn out.
I embedded a video of Game Center and the Project Sword presentation below so you can see for yourself just how impressive the game looks:
Gamasutra had an interesting interview with Eric Capps on the steps Epic is taking to turn Unreal Engine 3 to a valuable tool for all iPhone developers and what it takes to bring a little hardcore flavor to the iPhone. It's an interesting article, and I definitely recommend reading it. Here's a link to the Interview.
The most interesting thing to take away from this interview is that it won't be long before we see a slew of games designed for more serious gamers like us. Epic Games is making their dev kits widely available to all levels of App Store developers with very flexible licensing plans. Let's just hope that these developers don't try to force a console experience on the handheld without physical buttons. Ideally, we will see games designed from the ground up to utilize the strengths of the iPhone platform, as it would appear that Chair is doing with Project Sword. Still, I look forward to seeing what someone like EA can do with this tech. Soon, it won't be so far fetched to think that competent and original versions of Dead Space or Batman Arkham Asylum will show up in the App Store, if it really is as easy to import and scale assets to the iDevices as Capps says it is.
All in all, I have to say that I'm pretty excited about the prospect of UE3 on the iDevices and finally getting my hands on Project Sword. Chair Entertainment is a group of very capable developers, and a lot of people on staff here at RPGamer were big fans of what they did with Shadow Complex on Xbox Live Arcade. I can't wait to see what they can do with an RPG. I'm sure their game will turn out great.
If you want to get a feel for how impressive this tech is for yourself, Epic Games released a tech demo called Epic Citadel that shows off the castle area from the Project Sword stage demo. Epic Citadel is free and well worth the download since it is the best looking thing you will see on your iDevices, at least until Project Sword proper comes out later this year. The app works on iPad, iPhone, and the more recent iPod Touches. Here's a link to download Epic Citadel
In closing, the Apple event was rather modest in terms of new hardware, and as of now, it will take a little while before the games we care about are supported by Game Center. But, the biggest thing to take away from the event is that the future of the platform has never been better. We now have a unified and Apple-supported system for friends lists, match making, and achievements. Developers like Chair, Epic Games, Id, and Square Enix are taking the platform very seriously and are developing big budget, high-quality games for the platform. The best part is that these companies are actually creating these games from the ground up with touch controls in mind. Greater still, is the fact that the iPhone developer community now has access to Unreal Engine 3 and Game Center APIs. Now, anyone can create a visually impressive and easily connected game on the platform. About the only downside I can think of is that unlike Epic Games, I don't think John Carmack and Id will be sharing the impressive tech behind their Rage games. Overall, I'm just happy that a lot of my faith has been renewed in a platform that I recently have been quite down on. Game Center and iOS4.1 are available for download now and games.
Quick Hits: Some Small, But Inherently Cool News Stories Bite Sized Tidbits of Knowledge
Amazon Release-Date Delivery Only a Dollar
Here is a quick heads up, Amazon is now offering release date delivery for $0.99 when you pre-order certain games from its site. Release date delivery usually costs $5.99, and it's free for Amazon Prime members. To put that in perspective, Amazon Prime costs $80 a year. Coupled with the fact that Amazon offers $10 to $20 gift cards when you pre-order many of the big name titles, I see very little reason to order online from sites like Gamestop or Best Buy unless you're the type to go to a midnight launch and have the game the second it's available. Taking advantage of $0.99 delivery and big discounts Amazon means that I'm mainly going to buy my video games from Amazon.
Yes, it was another mobile gaming filled week, but I'm sure that will change soon enough as Tokyo Game Show rolls around. There is also Nintendo's big 3DS press conference to look forward to so expect me to discuss the 3DS at length very soon. Who knows, maybe TGS will have a few big hardware announcements too. In the meantime, I'll be here, waiting for my 4th Gen iPod Touch and Halo: Reach to arrive.