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Jack Gardner
On Monday, Maxis and EA announced that The Sims Studio, the dedicated Sims development team, was currently working on The Sims 4 for both PC and Mac. The next official entry in The Sims franchise is scheduled for a release sometime in 2014.
 
Only a few scant details are known about the upcoming title. Gameplay will resemble previous Sims games, while adding the ability to share player creations with other Sims 4 gamers.  For those of you worrying about another always online debacle like Maxis’ SimCity, never fear. The Sims 4 is promised to focus on the single player experience and will have no always online requirement. 
 
If you are a Sims super fan and want the latest updates on The Sims 4, you can head over to the official site and sign up for their newsletter. Or you can keep reading Extra Life. You know which one you’d prefer (the second one, obviously).

Jack Gardner
The Walt Disney Company, the owner of all things Star Wars, announced today that they had chosen to contract EA to create new Star Wars video games for the foreseeable future. EA announced this with pride over on their official blog, adding that the future of Star Wars includes tablets, mobile, and other devices as well as the traditional console and PC entries.
 
While I am sure that many gamers out there are curious as to what this means for old Lucas Arts Star Wars games like First Assault and 1313, EA has declined to mention details on any specific titles. However, they stated that they had top studios such as Battlefield developer DICE, Visceral, which created the acclaimed Dead Space franchise, and BioWare, who previously created one of the greatest games of all time with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, working on Star Wars related projects. All games coming out of these studios will be powered by the Frostbite 3 engine.

While EA promised that all of the content coming out of these and other EA affiliated studios would be original, I wouldn’t mind if they dipped into the deep and relatively untouched well of past Star Wars series to give them a new life. A DICE developed Star Wars Battlefront or Rogue Squadron would be incredible. If Visceral took up the reins of 1313 or created another Star Wars Republic Commando I would be ecstatic. And if BioWare is working on a single player Knights of the Old Republic III, I would definitely disappear for a week when that releases.
 
Any one of those hypothetical games would win me over to this new deal between Disney and EA, but for now we have to sit tight and wait for more news.
 
What Star Wars titles do you want to see coming out of EA?

Jack Gardner
Minority Media, the Canadian developer behind the critically praised indie title Papo & Yo, is gearing up for its next game titled Silent Enemy. Like Papo & Yo which tackled issues surrounding domestic abuse and alcoholism, Silent Enemy will also deal difficult subject matter: Bullying.
 
The teaser reveals a few tantalizing details about the game. Silent Enemy is set in the Great North of Quebec. It tasks players with finding springtime, while crows try to impede player progress. The teaser places a heavy emphasis on character design for the crows (which you can see above), the representations of bullies within the game. A few seconds of gameplay footage imply that action will take place from a top-down perspective. The protagonist of Silent Enemy will be the team’s first Aboriginal main character, though they promise it will not be their last. While no official platforms have been announced, there is a shot in the teaser of an Xbox 360 controller, leading to a certain degree of speculation that the title will be coming to Xbox Live.
 
 
Given that Papo & Yo was originally a PSN exclusive, it is highly likely that Silent Enemy will also be released on the PlayStation Network. The teaser makes it abundantly clear that Silent Enemy comes out of a deeply personal place and carries importance to everyone involved with its production.

Jack Gardner
If you played Capcom’s open world, monster-slaying adventure and are planning to revisit the world of Gransys by playing through the New Game Plus mode or via the recently released Dark Arisen expansion, you may want to back up your save data. A recent game patch had the unintentional side-effect of rendering some player’s save data unloadable or unable to be saved from the last point the game was saved.
 
Capcom suggests a temporary solution for those who have yet to update their game:
 
“To prevent the possibility of permanent loss of your data, please copy your existing save data (whether it be Dragon’s Dogma or Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen) to an external storage device or cloud whenever possible--especially if you are picking up the game for the first time in awhile or switching over to Dark Arisen for the first time.”
 
They go on to apologize to affected players for the inconvenience and state that they are furiously working on a solution to remove the glitch from the patch and to restore any lost save data that may have resulted from the patch.
 


Jack Gardner
Footage from the upcoming PS3 title from Quantic Dream, the creators of Heavy Rain surfaced on YouTube yesterday. The game aims to offer a serious dramatic narrative and was showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival. The plot revolves around Jodie Holmes, a young woman who was born with an inexplicable link to a powerful spiritual entity named Aiden. The game will take place over a span of 15 years with players witnessing Jodie's growth from youth to adulthood. Ellen Page provided voice work and motion capture for Jodie and she is supported by Willem DaFoe, who plays a government scientist named Nathan Dawkins.
 
 
In the large slice of gameplay, you can watch a digitized Ellen Page cry, play guitar, beat up street punks, help deliver a baby and rescue people from a fire.
 
 

Jack Gardner
Next month on the 21st, Microsoft will be holding a special press conference in Redmond, Washington to reveal their long awaited follow-up to the Xbox 360. The unveiling will begin at 10 AM PT/1 PM ET. If you aren’t lucky enough to be invited to the event, you’re in luck! Microsoft will be livestreaming the conference to Xbox.com and Xbox Live, while also broadcasting on Spike TV in the US and Canada.

According to Major Nelson, the event will focus almost exclusively on the new hardware and Microsoft’s plans for the future. The new system’s launch line-up will be discussed 19 days after the console reveal during Microsoft’s presentation at E3.
 
What features/games/services do you hope to see Microsoft announce? Do you think that Microsoft may have made a mistake planning a console reveal so close to E3, the largest industry event of the year?

Jack Gardner
There are fans, and then there are FANS. Scattered throughout the rich world of BioShock Infinite, there are audio recordings contained within devices called voxophones. After playing through Irrational's fantastic follow up to the original BioShock three times, one intrepid and creative fan decided to make a voxophone of his own. You can see two videos showing off his creation below in different stages of completion. Each one includes music and songs found in the game.
 
 
 
 
The device isn't entirely working on the same principle as its in-game counterpart. The spinning disk makes use of a computer fan motor, creating too many rpms to accurately be read by a gramophone needle. This means that the home-made voxophone makes use of an internal MP3 player to store music. Still, the effect remains undeniably cool. Perhaps we will see more refinements on the design going forward.

Jack Gardner
Whenever people complain about the abundance of overly dark, washed-out post-apocalyptic settings and the lack of strong storytelling in video games, one game has always stood out as incredibly overlooked and underappreciated by the gaming community: Enslaved. In an age where brown, gritty visuals have become the norm and players are craving strong characters with compelling story lines, there exists a small group of gamers who have played Ninja Theory’s colorful reimagining of the 16th century Chinese novel by Wu Cheng’en, Journey to the West. Like any game, Enslaved has its flaws, the combat can be bland and the story treads some familiar ground, but what it does right, it REALLY does right. If someone is looking for textbook examples of solid art direction, riveting storytelling, engaging character development, or perfect pacing, Enslaved is their game.

One of the hugely refreshing aspects of Enslaved is the vibrant and imaginative world it envisions. Many people have expressed frustration over this console generation’s obsession with realism and how that usually seems to translate into grey-brown shooters with explosions and feelings of despair. Enslaved eschews all of that (okay, it does have explosions), in favor of a colorized apocalypse. Though the game takes place 150 years in the future, the world has been destroyed for generations when the narrative begins. The time that has passed since the end of the world is beautifully reflected in the environments. The scenery embraces spectacle with truly magnificent vistas full of green foliage, crumbling structures, eccentric robots, and fantastical machinery around every corner. The depiction of a world in which nature reclaims mankind’s cities and dangerous future technology lies rusting and weathered is inviting simply through the originality of the visual design. This approach to visual aesthetic engages the player with the novelty of the experience. Not knowing what new fantastical sight could lie around the next twist in the path can be a huge motivator.
 


Enslaved opens with a daring prison escape from an airship as it crashes from the sky into the remains of New York City (Edit: If that previous sentence doesn’t catch your attention and immediately get you interested in this game, I don’t know what will). During the harrowing escape, protagonist Monkey meets a young woman named Trip and the two nearly kill each other attempting to leave the rapidly descending vessel. Monkey, knocked unconscious while clinging to the outside of an escape pod, awakes to find that he has been enslaved by a headband Trip put on him while he was unconscious. If he disobeys one of her orders, if he wanders too far away from her, or if she dies, the headband will kill him. Trip agrees to remove the headband once Monkey returns her home. The arrangement clear, the two set off on a pilgrimage across the ruins of America in search of Trip’s village. As is to be expected from a story that was novelized in the 16th century, but existed in legends long before that, the story can seem a bit formulaic at times. However, there are enough twists, especially one toward the end, that keep the game compelling for its relatively short duration. 
 
Strong writing and performances elevate the story into something unique. Over the course of their adventure, Monkey and Trip gradually learn about each other and develop a strong, yet platonic, attachment to one another. Part of what makes their relationship relatively unique in the video game industry is that their interaction stays firmly rooted in friendship. Trip might be the only female character in the game, but she is never relegated to being the tired and overused role of damsel in distress/love interest. Too often video game characters are written to fulfill some stereotypical role that remains static for the remainder of the game. Monkey shows his rage at being forced into slavery, while Trip visibly shows her remorse at having used the headband in the first place, yet maintains that it was necessary to survive. These feelings change over the course of their time together in what feels like a natural progression.
 
Writing and performances that make the characters believable as human beings set Enslaved apart. The authenticity the two characters display is largely due to the solid vocal and motion capture work from leading man Andy Serkis (best known as the actor who for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films) and leading lady Lindsay Shaw (who might be recognizable from her role as Paige McCullers in the television show Pretty Little Liars). Both actors really steal the show and create the emotional bond that seems so absent in many games with larger budgets.
 


Ninja Theory was careful to avoid falling into stereotypes and lazy writing with Enslaved. It was somewhat shocking that the team didn’t make Trip an obligatory love interest. Most games would have written her as a piece of eye candy who Monkey eventually has to save from some generic villain because he “loves” this person who he met a day or two ago. Instead, Ninja Theory took the time and effort to give each of the characters motivations and personalities and then threw them into strange scenarios. Ninja Theory even avoids cheapening the thematic elements of Enslaved like friendship, free will, and memory. Players are shown how Monkey deals with his enforced servitude through his interactions with Trip throughout the game. The result is a stronger, more effective narrative that allows players to connect with the characters and care about what happens to them. It would have been so easy for the writers and designers or the marketing department to tweak the originality out of Enslaved, but somehow Ninja Theory got the game through development while keeping what made it great intact.
 
Enslaved represents almost perfect execution when it comes to pacing. Both the story and gameplay are perfectly timed so that you are never really doing the same thing the same way more than a few times. For example, there is a recurring boss robot that first appears early in the game. Each time players encounter this boss they must use a different tactic in order to proceed. Sometime you have to run, other times you have to fight or solve puzzles while avoiding its powerful attacks. When one enemy can recur and each time it feels new because different skills are in play; that's good game design. As previously stated, the combat in Enslaved isn't the deepest or most interesting, but Ninja Theory designed and paced Enslaved in such a way that players don’t lose interest in fighting the various enemy types. Well-timed set piece moments and the introduction of new abilities like projectile stuns and plasma blasts break up what could have easily been a lackluster experience and create something great. The story moves along at a good pace where nothing feels rushed and you aren’t left to grow bored with what is happening.
 


Here is the TL:DR version – Enslaved: Odyssey to the West does so much right, that it is a crime that not many people bought it when it released or have played it since. The visuals are unique and interesting. An extremely competent narrative provides a few great water cooler moments. The character development between Monkey and Trip should be the standard for non-romantic video game relationships. The pacing is so well done you could probably power through the entire game in one sitting and feel like you never repeated a scenario more than once or twice. I’d strongly encourage anyone who is interested in game design or development to pick up a copy of this game.

Jack Gardner
EA Sports launched their second annual Cover Vote initiative for their flagship hockey series yesterday. After last year’s staggering 25 million votes cast, EA has brought back the hugely successful contest. Fans can vote as many times as they’d like for their favorite players to be featured on the cover of NHL 14. As an added bonus, up to 10 entries per day count toward the Cover Vote Sweepstakes. Winners of the sweepstakes will receive a trip to a 2013 Stanley Cup Final game.

There is no current release date for NHL 14, though it will likely come out toward the end of the year. View the trailer for the perennial hockey title below.
 
 
There will be several rounds of voting to narrow down the field of candidates from 60 to determine a single face for the annual game franchise. Below you will find the schedule for each of the voting rounds:
 
Round of 60 – April 22-28: Teammate vs. teammate. One representative from each team plus two wild card selections advance. 32-Player Leaderboard – April 29-May 5: Fans vote for their favorite 16 candidates; top 16 vote-getters advance. 16-player Bracket – May 6 - May 26: Weekly round-by-round, single-elimination playoff bracket decides finalists. The Finals – May 27- June 2: Winner takes the NHL 14 Cover.  
To cast your votes and see the initial 60 candidates, head over to CoverVote.nhl.com.

Jack Gardner
Naughty Dog’s acclaimed PlayStation 2 trilogy about a young, pointy-eared man named Jak and his companion Daxter is coming to PS Vita. The collection includes Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak II, and Jak 3. While the graphics won’t be as high quality as the PS3 release of the collection, the graphical quality will be on par or better than the original PS2 releases. Several new features have been added into the Vita release including touch screen functionality for some mini games and a full list of trophies that will be different from the PS3 version.
 
For those unfamiliar with the series, the Jak and Daxter titles are action-platformers that tell the story of Jak and his battle to save the world by utilizing his ability to manipulate an energy source called Eco. Throughout the games, a core part of the story revolves around the partnership between Jak and his best friend Daxter, who is transformed early on in the first game into an Ottsel (a fictional and adorable otter-weasel hybrid). The series takes place over a number of years with players watching Jak and Daxter grow up and mature as the series progresses. Likewise, the storytelling techniques mature and the scope of the duo's adventures expand.
 
 
The Jak and Daxter Collection for Vita will be released sometime in June and will retail for $29.99. 

Jack Gardner
In a Nintendo Direct video, which can be viewed here, Reggie Fils-Aime, the president and COO of Nintendo of America, shared that a direct sequel to the classic top-down Legend of Zelda adventure is coming to the 3DS. The new title will make use of the 3D features on the handheld to incorporate vertical levels and the ability to transform into a 2D wall drawing into its puzzle solving mechanics. We are incredibly excited to see more details on the title which are likely to be revealed during E3 in June. 
 
The press announcement also included a slew of information regarding previously announced titles. Satoru Iwata touched on the story details of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (3DS), the wireless features of Mario Golf World Tour (3DS), the changes New Super Luigi U brings to the New Super Mario Bros. U (DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U on the WiiU), the differences between the Wii version of Donkey Kong Country Returns and the remake coming to 3DS, and a new flying pikmin type in Pikmin 3. Other new game announcements were made as well. A new Mario Party title, a downloadable Mario vs. Donkey Kong game called Minis on the Move, and a third installment in the Yoshi’s Island series (which is well worth being excited about as well) were announced for 3DS.
 

 
Mr. Iwata discussed the console update for the WiiU. The update will improve load times, allow users to transfer data between two hard drives, automatically install software, and allow gamers to download and install updates even when the system is turned off. The WiiU Virtual Console will launch the day after the update goes live next week. When the service launches, classic titles like Balloon Fight, Mario Bros., Punch Out, Super Mario Bros. 2, F-Zero, Super Metroid, Excite Bike, Kirby Super Star, Super Mario World, all of which can be played on the WiiU gamepad. Iwata added that Nintendo is working on bringing Game Boy Advance and N64 titles to the WiiU virtual console. Most importantly for Virtual Console fans, Iwata announced that Earthbound will finally be making its way to Europe and North America in response to fan outcry at the Japanese only release of the title in March.
 


Bill Trinen from the Treehouse branch of Nintendo then came on to demonstrate gameplay from the upcoming Game & Wario, discuss features in the newest Monster Hunter, and showcase a 3DS sequel to Lego City Undercover. Trinen also announced that numerous Japanese releases are being brought overseas for 3DS. Among these titles are Square Enix’s Bravely Default Flying Fairy (see image below), a wide variety of Level 5 titles such as Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, The Starship Damrey, Bugs vs. Tanks, and Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale. Atlus also announced an incredibly lavish Shin Megami Tensei IV release for the 3DS this summer.
 


For more information, you can watch the Nintendo Direct press release here (if you are only interested in the Legend of Zelda announcement, skip to 35:10).

Jack Gardner
The open world, superhero-creation title by Phosphor Games, Project Awakened, has surpassed 1,000 supporters with 18 days left in their independent support campaign. After failing to meet their goal in an ambitious Kickstarter endeavor, Phosphor reached out to their backers asking if they should give up their dream game, or try one last time to raise enough money to continue working and finish Project Awakened. So far they have raised $56,467, a sizable chunk of change, but still $193,213 short of their minimum goal of $250,000. If they fail to meet their goal in 18 days, all money pledged will be refunded via PayPal.
 
 
The goals for the project are incredibly tantalizing. At $250,000, they will release a single-player version of the game that Phosphor Games has been working on in Unreal Engine 3 under the name PA: Danger Room, an early version of which can be seen on their website. $300,000 nets the game multiplayer support including lobbies, matchmaking, scoring, and multiple game modes. Mod support will be added if the project reaches $350,000 in pledges. The next two stretch goals will add support for Linux and Mac. After that, $500,000 will solidify the release date of PA: Subject, another part of Project Awakened, in June 2014. If the game surpasses $1,000,000 in pledges, the team will release Subject with an open world instead of a more linear experience. The final goal for the project is $1,500,000 and if it is reached, both Danger Room and Subject will be released in Unreal Engine 4 instead of Unreal Engine 3.
 
Just ask yourself the questions posed on Phosphor's website: “Want to be a Batman-like superhero with an awesome arsenal of guns? Or a Stormtrooper wielding a giant battle axe?” If the answer is yes, you might want to support Project Awakened. Again, if they don’t make their goal of $250,000, the studio will refund all of the money and go back to working on their game part-time, hopefully to finish it someday.
 
You can view a few screenshots of the Unreal 3 version of Project Awakened below. More screenshots, videos, and information are available over on www.projectawakened.com.
 


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