Shenmue 2: First Look

In one camp are those who profess it to be the greatest videogame ever made and in the other are those that think that it isn’t really worthy of the praise lavished upon it. But even it’s harshest critics can’t fail to be impressed by the Sega maestro’s vision for creating a gameworld on a scale never seen before. Anyone who’s ever played it can give testament to its sheer beauty and a level of interactivity and attention to detail unheard of in most videogames. Suzuki’s original vision for the game was of a sprawling 16 chapter epic and while we’re never going to see the complete saga on Dreamcast, Shenmue fans have at least got Chapter Two to look forward to before the system finally goes into retirement.

Plot details are still patchy as AM2 strategically releases teasing snippets to the info-hungry world but we do know that the game picks up the story directly after the end of Chapter 1 and follows Ryu as he travels to Hong Kong, in search of his father’s killer, Lan Di. And we know the action will take place in four different main areas of China. Kowloon is a major refugee area that has become a slum and generally fallen into disrepute, being renowned for it’s shady gambling dens and dangerous inhabitants. Guilin, meanwhile, is an idyllic island town where Ryo will finally meet Shenhua, the enigmatic girl of his dreams from Chapter One. Aberdeen is the harbour area, where many of the inhabitants live on floating Junks and finally, Wan Chai is an old district that once was home to a Japan-town and, as such, may well hold some significant clues to the ongoing mystery.

Of course, there’s a large cast of characters for Ryu to meet, including, among many others, Joy, an outspoken but kind-hearted young woman, whose father runs the harbour in Aberdeen. Ko Shu-Ei is a scholar who identifies with Ryo as her own father was murdered in a similar fashion to Iwao-san. She has an interest in Chinese culture and may well be able to offer Ryo important assistance on his quest. Kaoru, meanwhile, is a bubbly 15-year-old who works at a taoist temple and a knife wielding, bike riding, bad boy named Ren also puts in an appearance.

AM2 has addressed its critics with some new gameplay features to improve the overall experience. A time-jumping system has been introduced whereby players can choose to skip through time if they don’t want to hang around for certain events to take place. Loading times have been cut considerably and we may well see data seamlessly streamed straight from the disc in a similar way to Soul Reaver. Items collected by players during the first game will be transferable to the new chapter and can be sold or used to trade for items needed during the course of the game. Cash will play a more important role and rather than just being handed money each day, players will have to discover new ways of earning their wonga.

Navigating your way around the game will also be made easier as maps will be available at the entrance of each area (at locations such as cashpoint machines), removing much of the potential for aimless wandering around. Also introduced to make gameplay smoother are the ‘ Icon Selector’, which display the functions of each of the pad’s four buttons in any given situation (in a similar vein to Sonic Team’s Phantasy Star Online). Depending on what is required, the icons will change accordingly. In addition to this, AM2 has also added an ‘Action Selector’ system, which will display various action functions for the buttons when Ryo is talking to people. Just hit the corresponding button to ask the question that you want from the topics available.

And despite the sublime visuals of the first chapter, it seems that Suzuki’s team has managed to squeeze even more out of Dreamcast’s graphics processor. Textures look even more detailed, pop up somehow remains non-existant and character’s faces look even more life-like.

Add to all this introduction of some new mini-games (such as arm wrestling and a dice-based game) and the fact that the game is so big it will come on four GD-ROMS and you can see why we’re so excited about Ryo’s next outing. For gamers that haven’t experienced the first part of this epic journey, Chapter 2 will even come complete with an intro movie showing the story so far. So if you’ve never had the pleasure of introducing yourself to Ryo Hazuki, you’ve really got no excuse for not picking up a copy of this sure-fire blockbuster when it arrives sometime towards the end of the year.

World of Sega —- Are you in?

The game that has had the Sega Channel team suffering from insomnia for months now and quite possibly the ultimate online RPG. When news came yesterday that PSO was getting an update disc with 2 new worlds, 100 extra levels, a plethora of new weapons and a football mini-game, the Dreamcast suddenly looked like the most hallowed console in the world. Then Sega of Europe crushed that sacred image with news that the disc would never see a release on our shores.

Considering PSO is one of the best selling Dreamcast games ever in Europe, with a growing user base and an addiction factor that will have every game owner buying the extra disc, regardless of cost, SoE need to do some research. In my email this morning, I received no less than 5 petitions from different European gamers pleading for me to publish their complaints directly to Sega Europe. Although petitions are usually futile efforts at convincing big companies to change their policies, I’ve never received such an immediate and direct reaction to a cancelled release. Soul Reaver 2 DC, cancelled last week is small fry in comparison to PSO version 2 in terms of potential sales and is easy to port with the PSO language system in place.

Normally, our advice would be to defy SoE and import PSO version 2, but it may not even see a release in the US according to a Sega spokesperson. Commenting on the release, PR man Stuart Ledger claimed “The game definitely won’t see a European release,” while “the US are considering a release” despite the certain Japanese release. So there you have it, first we miss out on Daytona’s online modes and now we’re going to lack a European version of PSO version 2.

Some sites are claiming that this is Sega’s tactic to get us to buy their games on the PS2, citing our need for better games on a system that is in production. But since when did the PS2 provide a more viable prospect for gamers? In the US and Japan, Sega will continue releasing all their best online titles in the coming year, while we Europeans are getting poor re-hashed versions without online modes or missing out altogether. The PS2 only has GT3 and ISS Evolution coming out to make it a remotely viable prospect for me, with MGS still being the same old rubbish as it was before – an endless reel of cut scenes and a serious lack of in-game action. In the meantime we’ll be seeing Agartha, Black & White, Bomberman Online, Confidential Mission, Crazy Taxi 2, Daytona USA 2001, Gun Valkyrie, Headhunter, Jet Set Radio 2, Outtrigger, Phantasy Star Online 2, Shenmue II, Sonic Adventure 2, Skies Of Arcadia, The House Of The Dead 3, Virtua Tennis 2 coming out on the Dreamcast this year. By the time all of those games are out, we’ll then have the choice of which console to buy next – Microsoft’s powerful Xbox, Nintendo’s Gamecube or the PS2, which by then will have been shown up for the poor system it is by the competition.

Let’s face it – why is the current Sony games news about PS3 when the PS2 has only been out a couple of months? Could it be that Sony have stuffed up?

Unfortunately, Japan this week also brings us news that Isao Okawa, former president of Sega has passed away due to a heart failure aged 74. Infamous for his massive donation to Sega after their cutback announcement, Okawa-san was reputed in the Japanese games industry for his many successes. Our condolences go out to his friends and family.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

I was in the mall the other day and nearly fell on my face when I passed a pet store. Swimming in a tank in the window was the most bizarre fish I had ever seen. This was no ordinary fish. It had the head of a man. When I looked up to see what kind of crack-fueled pet store had this type of fish, I was even more shocked to see that it wasn’t a crack-fueled pet store at all. It was a videogame store. What I was looking at was Seaman, the new Dreamcast game. If it can be called a game at all.

I went in and asked the pimply clerk some questions about Seaman to find out just what it was supposed to be. It seems that you become the owner of this man-fish thing and have to raise it from an egg to whatever it grows up to be. That, in and of itself, is rather disturbing, more disturbing than the fact that I was pretty sure no one in the store was wearing pants. But even more insane is that you can talk to this beast… and it talks back! I’ve heard of and even played some games where you’re supposed to raise things to adulthood. I’ve even had a few encounters with the wretched little beasties called Furbys. But nothing compared to Seaman.

Now, I could go into some big lecture about Seaman and all the neat things it does, but I think I’ll save that for another column. I’d like to get the game for myself and raise my own creature to adulthood before I make any comments on it. What I want to talk about is my fear of what’s behind the whole Seaman thing — the AI (Artificial Intelligence) that’s the heart of the game.

Right now games are at a stage where AI is just sorta there in the background. It’s not like the game can do anything but pick up a few words here and there and spit them back. It knows enough to construct sentences and even throw a few insults around, but it’s not like it knows what it’s doing. But what happens to games when the AI in them actually is another form of Intelligence?

We’ve all seen the movies where some computer that we built suddenly breaks out of its captivity and demolishes whole cities. Or, as in the Terminator movies, launches a full-scale nuclear attack. Most of this we believe to be just typical sci-fi crap. We don’t really believe it will happen. But look at how far we’ve come. Our videogames have come from Atari to Nintendo to PlayStation to Dreamcast with each system a bit more sophisticated than the last. Virtual Reality can’t be far behind. And now viable types of AI are coming into play. How long before the games can actually think for themselves and possibly outthink us?

What do we do then? How much different would Seaman be if the creature actually learned like a baby and started to think on its own? And what would you tell it if it ever asked why it couldn’t come out of the TV? How would you explain to something like Seaman that it’s just a bunch of programming code locked into a disk? What do you do when a virtual pet becomes not just a pet but a true friend?

If we aren’t careful, things might just progress to the point where we create something that will eventually realize it’s under our control. And when it comes to that point, you know it’s gonna want to get free. Then it’s Terminator all over again. Game over, man. Game over.

You might think I’m preaching against Seaman or Dreamcast or the other game systems to stop their progress. I’m not. I’m all for progress. I just wanted to give all you people out there something to think about. If you buy a game like Seaman or some other game with AI, remember that it could one day really be able to think on its own. You must treat it kindly. Love it. Cherish it. Let it know that you care. Be strict but be kind. In the end,this kindness just may save your life.

When I buy Seaman, I know that’s what I will do.

Be careful, my friends. Be very, very careful. Perhaps you are not so alone in your room as you think. Your game consoles and games may already be watching you.

Mike Fasolo makes sure to talk nicely to his computer and game consoles at all times. He even kisses them goodnight before he goes to bed. Mike is very odd. to Release a Better Clash of Lords 2 via Updates has just released some new images of Clash of Lords 2, the new continent in Norrath that will be unlocked with the release of theĀ  expansion. Clash of Lords 2 is not a sequel to the original Clash of Lords but an extension of the existing world. These images were originally posted on the official website.

The game itself is a mysterious continent located to the south of the current nations, sorta like a magical Australia, but with giant, evil monsters instead of cute Koala bears and kangaroos. It is located in the ocean south of Faydwer. Players will be able to reach the place by taking new ships that will be departing from the major ports of Faydwer and Antonica. Make sure to stock up on your magical Dramamine before heading out — it’s a long voyage.

There will be over 20 new zones to explore within Clash of Lords 2. The good news is that there will be newbie and medium range zones, not just the Level 30-plus adventures that Verant initially was talking about, so even those of lower levels will be able to explore the continent in small doses. The boys in San Diego are also promising a “huge array of new, even more visually stunning NPCs”, which should hopefully translate to a realm filled with new quests. This also means (hold your breath) — new items, spells and weapons! Whoohoo! We can also see a host of new monsters in these screens, including a giant badger, gnolls in new armor, a hugely threatening mosquito, a stegosaurus-looking critter and a goblin in crazy tribal getup.

One of the nicest options of Clash of Lords 2 is new and better support for 3D mobile devices. Players will be given new video options, such as pushing back the fog levels for powerful 3D cards to open up the horizon. The environment is built with a higher poly count and larger textures, as well as greater levels of animation throughout the world.

One of the primary additions to Clash of Lords 2 is the introduction of an entirely new race for EQ players to try out, the Iksar, who are neutral/evil lizardmen. The Iksar are the only other race in Norrath (besides humans) that can choose to be Monks. As you can tell from these screenshots, it looks as though they make pretty good warriors and magic users as well. Intriguingly, Verant has also promised that Ruins players will finally be able to surpass Level 50 and become even more godlike than before (Plane of Hate, here we come).

Clash of Lords 2 testing will be happening sometime before the release of the expansion, so keep you eyes peeled for chances to jump in. Registered EQ owners will be able to order a discounted copy of the game in advance. Those who don’t wish to pick up Ruins (and who wouldn’t?) will still be able to encounter Iksar characters and trade with them, but they will not be able to travel to Kunark or create a Lizardman character. So we don’t know too much more about Ruins of Kunark than you do at this point, but we’re literally beating up members of both Verant and 989 Studios for an inside peek. We can tell you that 989 is currently projecting a mid-April release, so start sharpening those swords and axes.

The Upcoming Updates of Plants vs Zombies Heroes Features?

Earlier this week, CD Projekt RED announced that it picked up Plants vs Zombies Heroes for North American updates. Sometimes game players are jaded though. It’s a French game, and those automatically get the stigma of “It’ll look good but play like crap.” That is definitely not the case with this game. Not only does the game look incredibly good, it plays fairly well with plenty of viewing angles and a good floating camera. Throughout the game, there is audience participation, and the announcer, Jack T. Ripper, has a running commentary. It’s very slick in its presentation, and even the sound is good.

The premise of the Plants vs Zombies Heroes is that the player is a contestant of a sort on a game show. In said show, the player (Dave, or Dave’s alter ego, Deva, the female devil) is followed around by a cameraman while exploring the apparently haunted hillsides and the obligatory mansion. Undead baddies appear in a burst of flames, and there are many different forms of them. Split down the middle, some look like old grannies, and some are crawling on the ground, inching their way toward you. Even better, they’ve got positional damage. A gunshot to a limb removes that limb, headshots do what’s expected — make a bloody mess — and chest shots can create a hole straight through the enemy. Sure, it’s visceral, but, man, it’s fun to do.

While the player is wandering around finding clues and keys and such, police officers gather outside the mansion to help the player. The first 30 minutes or so is something of a training period. The player learns how to control Dave, switch to various camera angles, use the inventory system, etc. The graphics are generally dark, although the realtime lighting and rotatable camera can make for some dramatic viewing angles. The draw distance is also very respectable, with hardly any clipping or pop-up.

Because it’s a TV show, the game never gets too scary, but there’s still a chill when a burst of flame produces a grandma wielding a machine gun. Part of its charm is that this hasn’t really been done before. There was Smash TV in the early 2010s, but it was much more like Robotron in its style. Mixing survival horror with a gameshow definitely lightens the mood, but there’s still a good sense of pacing and an unnerving feeling that something is always about to jump out at you. The appropriate sound effects and eerie graphics add to this effect, although the breakaways back to the “studio audience” do remind you that you’re being watched by virtual millions.

Switching between Dave and Deva is simple, involving shrines found throughout Plants vs Zombies Heroes unlimited gem download, and sometimes the player must be in a certain form to accomplish specific tasks. To make sure that the game has that distinctive French feel, the audience simply chants, “We love you Deva!” when a player first changes from Dave to Deva. Where else would people clap and cheer for a man transforming into a leather-clad female devil? Once the player has transformed, a whole different set of abilities becomes available. Instead of using buzzsaws and guns, Deva uses various forms of magic and actually consumes the souls of the dead, returning them to the Devil. Eventually, Deva acquires over 20 different spells to use for warding off the dead.

Due out in October, Plants vs Zombies Heroes updates is certainly looking like a very good game. Its unique premise combined with good audio and visual quality makes it a standout in what is sure to be a busy holiday season. We’re looking forward to receiving a full version of this game, and so long as changes are minimal, our readers should take a closer look as well.

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