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ZombiU Survivor Stories #3–The Safehouse Massacre

Oh, the humanity.

It all started out so well–After waking up in the safehouse, I got Eli to market and we managed to get our gear back from Toby’s corpse and escape the market (I made sure to figure out where I needed to go beforehand).

As soon as we got back to the safehouse, however, Prepper’s voice came over the intercom stating there was a horde of undead on their way, and we needed to defend the area.

My first thought was just to hole up in the main room of the safehouse, hoping there was some sort of “no man’s land” where the zombies wouldn’t come into so that I could pick them off. No such luck, as I had to venture out into the main hallway to trigger the horde, and then chaos ensued.

Poor Eli got stuck in hallway and couldn’t even make it back into the main safehouse room. Very disappointing.

My next survivor, Mason, got stuck inside the small area between the main hallway and the safehouse door (I was trying to create a choke point so that I only had to watch one direction). There were too many zombies, and I couldn’t swing the cricket bat fast enough.

The same thing happened to Sebastian, as I thought maybe the first time was just poor execution. His death told me I needed to run out of the doorway and find somewhere else to fend off the horse.

Up next was Ethan. We got swarmed in a room with three doors as I tried to barricade one of them with wooden planks. No time for that, I found out.

Poor Rose made it to a good kill spot but got surprised. We found a small area behind one of the rooms in the subway, and there was only two ways in. One was a crawlspace that allowed us to hit zombies as they tried to crawl through, and the other was the broken window they had to climb through to get us. Turns out, some zombies can crawl pretty quietly, as we got surprised from behind when we were focused on a crawling zombie.

Amelia got turned around in the hallways and couldn’t make it back to the safe room. Well, actually, I got turned around trying to find the spot that Rose had made her stand in, but I took a wrong turn–a dead wrong turn (yeah, I know).

Finally, Emma Phillips, a 33 year old bobby, took control of the situation. We lured the remaining zombies into the main safehouse room, using the main door to keep at least one out at a time as we battled the ones that got through. Every time they kicked the door open, we slam it shut, and take care of the one or two that got through. Rinse and repeat a few times, and we finished off the horde.

I’ll recount Emma’s fate next time.

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ZombiU Survivor Stories #2–Toby

As I wrote about in my last post, my previous character Sarah met an untimely end as we tried to get into the supermarket, but were trapped in a small space with a couple of zombies. Toby, my new survivor, woke up in the safehouse, and our first mission together was to recover our gear from Sarah’s corpse, as the bag she was carrying was full of flares, planks for fortifying the safehouse, and precious bullets.

We made our way back to the market square, and much to my chagrin, the zombies I had alerted when we tried to get into the supermarket were now roaming the square. There were five in all, and I knew that Toby wouldn’t stand a chance if we didn’t take them on one at a time. After climbing up some scaffolding to get a better view, I used a flare to lure a couple of zombies over to an exploding barrel, which I set off with a shot from our pistol. Two down, four to go

The remaining three zombies were stuck behind a fence and some debris, and I was able to find an opening to whack them with the cricket bat without having to fully engage them. I cleared them out, and then hopped over the debris to make my way back to the supermarket.

As I neared the door, I saw Sarah, and I couldn’t help but be a little sad, as I was responsible for her current zombified condition. She wildly attacked Toby as soon as we got close, and we have to cave in her skull (again, sad). Searching through her bag, we got our flares, bullets and planks back, and headed inside the supermarket, where our goal was to get the closed-circuit camera systems up and running again.

Man, the supermarket was creepy. There weren’t a ton of zombies lurking about, but the ambient noises made for a very slow trek through the building, especially when I had to head into the basement. After getting the cameras turned back on, we headed back upstairs, only to be surprised by a zombie as we were coming up. Luckily, the cricket bat did not fail Toby and I, and we made our way to the exit.

Which is where things went bad.

After a loading screen, we were back out in the market square, and face to face with at least four zombies, one of which was crackling with electrical current. I panicked (surprise), and immediately went back into the supermarket. After a few deeps breaths, we went back out again, but the zombies were still right there waiting for us. Knowing there was no way we could take this group of zombies, we sprinted around the corner–and right over the fence/debris pile that you can’t get back over. So, I had to go through the back door of the supermarket again, which, surprisingly, set off the alarm again. Which alerted the horde. As I tired to get poor Toby into the supermarket, he suffered a fate almost exactly like Sarah had before him–swarmed in the small doorway area at the back of the supermarket. I had failed Toby the same way I had failed Sarah.

A loading screen later, Eli woke up in the safehouse, and it was his turn to visit the supermarket.

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ZombiU Survivor Stories #1–John and Sarah

If I had to describe my first couple hours with ZombiU in one word, that word would be “intense.” My first character (John) died within two minutes of beginning the game, as you open ZombiU by running for your life through a London subway station to get to the safehouse that serves as the main hub. I wasn’t quick enough, as I was fumbling with the controls (“Which one is the climb button–AAGHHH!”), and a mob of zombies pulled me down from a ladder as I was trying to scramble into an air vent.

Not since Demon’s Souls has an opening gut-punched me like that. ZombiU puts you on notice immediately about several things:

1. You will die in this game, but you will learn something from each death;
2. Pay attention to everything around you;
3. Every single enemy is deadly (one bite kills you);
4. Only run when you have to–otherwise, take it very slow;
5. Use every tool at your disposal.

The comparisons to the Souls series are apt, as ZombiU is a challenging game whose systems you must master to be successful. And like the Souls series, the game is very atmospheric, and you are in a constant state of near-panic, wondering what is around every corner. There is also a messaging system that is not unlike what you’d find in a Souls game, and retrieving items from your corpse works in a similar way (except that your corpse becomes a zombie in ZombiU). But while the Souls series revolves around combat, ZombiU revolves around survival, which means avoiding combat in many cases, since one bite equals death.

Despite the game making a great first impression however, it wasn’t until my second character died that ZombiU really got its hooks into me. Maybe it was the way that character died, or the fact that I had spent some time with her inching my way through the first hour of the game, but Sarah’s death (that was her name) was the one that got me. We (Sarah and I) had made our way to the marketplace, carefully engaging the few zombies we had to, avoiding the ones we didn’t and scouring the area for supplies. I made it to the back door of the supermarket, and the door was alarmed. As soon as I opened it, a zombie lurched out at me, and a few others came shambling from the parking lot. Panic took over as I tried to fight up the steps toward the door, knowing death was all around me. I was so tantalizingly close to surviving, as I managed to get the door closed behind me, but I trapped two zombies in the small room with me, and I wasn’t quick enough with my cricket bat to take them both down. I felt like I failed Sarah–I could have taken out one more zombie outside, and probably secured the door, if I just hadn’t panicked. But that’s what ZombiU is really good at–making you panic.

My next survivor Toby woke up in the safehouse, and my first priority was to track down Sarah’s zombified corpse and get my gear back.

Tune in next time for Toby’s tale of survival (or horrible death).

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The Wii U Makes a Fun First Impression

So, I bought a WiiU this past weekend. I held out for awhile, but my desire to play ZombiU, as well as the idea of playing Nintendo Land with my kids proved to be too much to resist. And while I haven’t spent a ton of time with the system yet, it’s made a very good first impression on me. Much like the original Wii, Nintendo once again made a console the whole family can enjoy, where fun and accessibility are what drive the design of everything.

This past Sunday morning, I fired up the WiiU and sat down to play Nintendo Land with my six-year old son. I had downloaded all the updates the night before (and they are some PS3-style mammoth updates), so we first jumped into the Mii Maker app. I had my son go get his his 3DS, and we imported his Mii from the handheld onto the new WiiU. The process was simple, and my son loved watching the his Mii jump out of the screen on his 3DS and land in our TV on the WiiU. That’s a great example of Nintendo’s approach–even something little thing like importing your Mii needs to be cute and fun.

The it was on to Nintendo Land  There is definitely a Wii Sports vibe to the collection of minigames, as they serve the purpose of familiarizing you with the console’s features while creating a group gaming experience that’s easy to pick up and play. Nintendo Land is more than what Wii Sports was, though. The games are more substantial, the nostalgia of Nintendo franchises is woven throughout the game, and the WiiU GamePad creates a whole different dynamic, as the player with it often has a completely different role than the Wiimote-using players.

The tour guide of Nintendo Land is a robotic monitor named Monita, who explains the basics of the game. By playing the Nintendo franchise-themed games, you earn play coins that are used to unlock items that you can decorate your Nintendo Land theme park with. Of the multiplayer minigames we played (there are single player ones as well), Takamaru’s Ninja Castle was my son’s favorite. In the game, you swipe the GamePad touch screen to throw ninja stars at waves of ninjas as you try to save a princess version of Monita, who’s been kidnapped.

My favorite was Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. The game makes great use of the GamePad, as the player using it is the ghost, who chases the Wiimote-using players around different floors of the mansion. The ghost is invisible, only appearing on the TV when a player shines their flashlight on it. But the GamePad user who is controlling the ghost can see his character as well as all the players on the GamePad screen. Each round is a maximum of five minutes long, and up to five people can play together. It’s a blast.

My first couple of hours with the WiiU have been great, and served as a reminder that I don’t want the WiiU to be like the Xbox 720 or the PlayStation 4. Nintendo has always been comfortable creating their own space in the gaming hobby, and they seem to be the only one of the big three really interested in being accessible to younger and casual gamers. Those of us with kids appreciate that, and for the gaming experiences that the WiiU can’t provide, there are other options out there.

P.S. I’ll talk about ZombiU after I spend some more time with it, but I will say that the similarities to Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls jumped right out at me, as my first character did not even survive the game’s introduction.

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Nintendo is a Heck of a Lot Smarter Than ‘Hardcore’ Gamers Would Like to Believe

How often do you read a post on Twitter, a gaming forum or in the comments of an article about Nintendo, where “hardcore” gamers deride Nintendo for making underpowered hardware that is more concerned with being accessible to a wide audience than pushing the technological envelope?

Here’s three I found in short order as I sat down to write this post:

“Nintendo jumped the gun with this console (WiiU)–the Wii was a success purely because it primarily catered to the casual gaming crowd.”

“The Wii was short-term miracle that won’t be repeated in the future. Nintendo doesn’t seem to have a long term strategy and is dangerously out of touch with gaming in general IMHO.”

“$299+ for a console with specs basically the same as (or worse than) cheaper competing models that are being replaced by something much better in a year? Seems like poor planning on Nintendo’s part.”

Does this sentiment sound familiar? It should, because we’ve been hearing it since shortly after the launch of the first Wii. Which, by the way, went on to sell 100 million units. We also heard it after the bumpy start of the 3DS, which has since gone on to sell 22 million units worldwide (in less than two years).

A lot of “hardcore” gamers seem to want the WiiU to fail, and many of those same gamers are the ones who scoff at the idea of mobile gaming, despite the enormous growth of games for iOS and Android devices over the past few years.

But ironically, it’s the “hardcore” gamers that are the short-sighted ones here. Because the fact of the matter is that the AAA, big-budget technological marvels that defined this gaming generation are going to be a smaller part of the next one. What “hardcore” gamers see as “casual” gaming will become the norm, and what they consider to be the mainstream now will become a niche market in the next generation.

And that’s why they’re all angry at Nintendo–because Nintendo isn’t railing against the move toward more accessible gaming experiences, they are embracing it. Nintendo gets it–more than Microsoft, and certainly more than Sony. And Nintendo has once again positioned themselves to be successful in the next console cycle. They have an HD-capable machine that can provide a spectrum of gaming experiences, from “casual” to “hardcore.” They have a stable of first-party franchises and characters that adult gamers grew up with and kids are immediately drawn to. And when it comes to their user interface and aesthetics, they would rather be charming than edgy, which results in a wider appeal.

Neilsen just did a survey in which they asked kids ages 6 to 12 what electronics and gaming devices were on their holiday wish lists this year. Of the top five, four of them belonged to Apple. The iPad topped the list at 48%. Number two? The WiiU.

This week, word came out that Microsoft was planning on releasing two versions of its next console. One version would be geared toward higher end, more technologically intensive gaming experiences, while the other version would be more of an entertainment hub, with the ability to download and play XBox Live Arcade titles and smaller games. Sounds like Microsoft is starting to get it, but I’m not sure that creating two versions of the next XBox is the right way to go. In any case, they’ve seen the writing on the wall that the “hardcore” market is shrinking, and they are beginning to adjust.

It was also revealed this week that while Nintendo is selling the WiiU at a small loss, as soon as a consumer buys one game for the console, it becomes profitable for Nintendo. Odds are that will not be the case with the next XBox (the high end version) or PlayStation.

So as “casual” games continue to become more popular, and console develoeprs continue to leave to develop for mobile platforms instead, “hardcore” gamers continue to yell that Nintendo doesn’t get it. In reality, Nintendo began to adjust their long-term strategy with the Wii, and that has continued with the 3DS and now the WiiU. Of the big three console manufacturers, Nintendo is poised to be the most successful in the future. If I was Sony and Microsoft right now, I’d be terrified, as they are developing new hardware for an audience that is getting smaller, and with publishers and developers who are afraid to take risks with big budget games.

The next year sure is going to be very interesting.

**If you’re wondering why I put the terms “casual” and “hardcore” in quotes for the entire post, it’s because they are nonsensical terms that are usually used by avid gamers to separate themselves from less avid gamers. 

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Finally! A New Co-Op Critics Podcast!

After much too long of an absence, Co-Op Critics has returned!

In this episode, our good friend Max Saltonstall stopped by to talk AnonyCon and a bunch of games both he and I have been playing. We also have two interviews–the first with Fernando Bustamante of D3 about the new Adventure Time game, and the second with our good friend Antony Johnston, writer of the upcoming WiiU launch title ZombiU. Here’s the show notes for the episode:

Games Rundown with Brian and Max

AnonyCon (www.anonycon.com)
Niantic Project (www.nianticproject.com)
Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Knights of Pen & Paper
Team Fortress 2 / Left 4 Dead 2
Angry Birds Star Wars

Interview: Fernando Bustamante–D3 Publisher
Brian spoke with the Senior Marketing Manager of D3 about the upcoming 3DS game Adventure Time: Hey Ice King, Why’d You Steal Our Garbage? The game arrives on November 20, 2012, and you can find out more about it at www.d3p.us.

Interview: Antony Johnston (www.antonyjohnston.com)
Brian spoke with the writer of ZombiU at NYCC 2012. ZombiU will launch alongside the new WiiU on November 18, 2012. You can find out more about the game at zombiu.ubi.com.

You can find the episode here, or just click on the player for the episode on the right sidebar of the page.

Enjoy!

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NYCC 2012–Quick Impressions From the Nintendo Booth

There was a significant gaming presence at this year’s New York Comic Con, and no booth was as packed as the Nintendo booth during all four days of the show. Even with a press pass, I was only able to get hands on with two games, but both were great. Here’s a quick rundown:

WiiU–Nintendoland (Luigi’s Ghost Mansion)
In the Luigi’s Ghost Mansion game, there were five of us playing together. Four were using Wii controllers, turned sideways like the old NES controllers. The fifth person was using the WiiU GamePad. The four of us on Wii controllers were Miis dressed as characters from the Mario universe (Mario, Luigi, Wario and Waluigi). The person on the GamePad was a ghost, whose objective was to incapacitate the four of us. The ghost can see the entire level and all the other characters on the GamePad’s touch screen, while the other four players can’t see the ghost on the main screen. Players are armed with a flashlight that has a limited battery, and they can only see the ghost when they catch it in the flashlight’s beam. Catching the ghost in your beam for a certain period will destroy it, until it respawns. If a player is incapacitated, they can be revived by another player. The goal is to outlast the ghost for five minutes.

I had a blast with this game, and so did the rest of the people playing–it was couch co-op at its best. The mechanics are very simple, but the tension of not being able to see the ghost makes for a panic-filled moment to moment experience. This is a fun one for kids and adults alike.

3DS–Epic Mickey 2: Power of Illusion
If you have fond memories of the Sega Genesis-era Illusion games, be prepared to love this game. A side-scrolling platformer, Power of Illusion also uses the touch screen to affect environments by tracing, painting and erasing objects that Mickey runs into. I played this one for a solid twenty minutes, and loved everything about it. The mechanics are great, and the use of the touch screen fits perfectly into the flow of the game. In addition to the standard jump and shoot mechanics (mickey use the paintbrush like a gun, shooting blotches at enemies), there is another level of depth to the mechanics, ranging from spin attacks to bounce attacks and more. All of the mechanics are introduced and explained well, and the game is just a joy to play overall.

It seems like the WiiU version of Epic Mickey 2 will be more co-op based, so if you’re looking for a pure platformer that captures the feel of the old Disney games, the 3DS version is the one to go with. It’s a definite buy for me.

Sadly, I did not get to play ZombiU, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Despite there being more than one kiosk set up for the game, there was a sea of people packed around each one all weekend. In a surreal moment, I was interviewing the game’s writer Antony Johnston, while right over his shoulder there were scores of people clamoring for a chance to play the game. From everything I saw and spoke with Antony about, this game is the real deal–survival horror that does not cater to the casual game or the faint of heart. ZombiU is shaping up to be the killer app for the WiiU launch.

Don’t sleep on Nintendoland, though. That game looks much deeper than people are giving it credit for, and I think that old school Nintendo fans will be surprised how much love and detail went into bringing beloved franchises together into one big package. Nintendoland is no mere tech demo, and it’s much bigger than Wii Sports.

Stay tuned to Secret Identity in the coming weeks for my interview with Antony Johnston about ZombiU. For 3DS fans, I will also have an interview with D3 about the Adventure Time game coming soon as well.

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ZombiU Might Make Me Buy a WiiU

If there is one game that has me contemplating an investment in Nintendo’s new console, it’s ZombiU. From the setting, to the plot, to the story, to some of the promising gameplay features, I think this game could prove to be the launch title everyone will be talking about.

The game takes place in London, and the idea of battling zombies throughout Buckingham Palace and along the banks of the River Thames already makes it more exciting than most run of the mill zombie games. London is a character in and of itself, and the story of ZombiU involves one of the more colorful characters in British history, John Dee. Dee was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, an astrologer, and a spy who is one of the main inspirations for James Bond, as he used to sign his letters to the Queen with the numbers “007.”

In ZombiU, John Dee is associated with two apocalyptic predictions, the Great Plague of 1665, and a second plague that is supposed to hit London in 2012. Hence the zombie outbreak. Here’s a great dev diary about the game’s story, featuring our buddy Antony Johnston, who is the co-writer on the game:

As far as the gameplay, I like what I’ve seen so far in terms of the GamePad implementation. Using the GamePad as a scanner, sniper scope and inventory management tool all seem logical to me, and seem to compliment the core gameplay rather than get in the way of it. The thing I’m most excited about however, is the note system, which feels very much like the system in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. You can leave messages in the world for other players to find when they scan areas with the GamePad. It may not sound like much, but if you’ve played any of the Souls games, you know how much atmosphere that adds to the experience.

The more I hear and see about ZombiU, the more I’m considering picking up a WiiU. Stay tuned in the coming weeks, as I’ll be speaking with Antony Johnston at New York Comic Con about the game, in an interview that will air on Secret Identity.