Multiplayer Archive: Week Fifteen

Multiplayer: Teasing 'Grand Theft Auto'

Rockstar Games will debut an online trailer for 'GTA IV' on March 29.

Across the street from the MTV offices in New York's Times Square, there's a giant sign for the "Spider-Man 3" movie wrapping around the corner of a city block. The giveaway is the two big images of Spider-Man's head and a giant "3" hovering between them. When you're really big, you don't have to spell it all out. It's obvious.

On Thursday, Rockstar Games e-mailed reporters an image of a giant "IV." They used Roman numerals, which only get used for really important happenings like Super Bowls and, until recently, Wrestlemanias. They didn't need to say much more except offer the news that the first trailer for the game being teased — "Grand Theft Auto IV" — will debut online March 29. (The trailer will appear at RockstarGames.com/IV.)

A Rockstar PR rep declined to reveal any details about the trailer or the game. The only details confirmed by the company since the game was announced last year is that it will be released October 16 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and will include downloadable content, at least for the 360 and likely for the PS3 as well. Rockstar reps told MTV News in May that the graphics engine powering the company's table tennis game would also power "GTA IV" (see "The First Rule Of Ping-Pong Club: Talk About Rockstar's Table Tennis Game"). That's it.

What might a "GTA" trailer reveal? Typically they've indicated the era and location of the games and given a sense of who the main character is. So if "GTA IV" is going to star a Russian in 19th century Moscow, or a 300-pound man raging through the 21st century United States, we'll likely know by the end of March. The "GTA" games have always employed a cartoonish aesthetic, the somewhat simply drawn characters lacking enough detail to have five separate fingers, for example. A trailer will likely show whether Rockstar wants to continue that not-so-realistic look or provide something truer to life.

What will be harder to discern is if the "IV" attached to the game truly means the series will significantly evolve from the formula introduced in 2001's "Grand Theft Auto III" and continued in "GTA: Vice City," "GTA: San Andreas," "GTA Liberty City Stories" and "GTA: Vice City Stories." The cities got larger, and different types of vehicles came into play. In the earlier games, your character couldn't swim. In the later ones he could. The targeting system improved. But fundamentally the games all played the same. You would look for an icon on the map marking the start of a new mission, you'd take it on, and if you failed, you'd go back to that icon and start again. Or you'd ignore all that and just cause wanton mayhem. As the years progressed, some holes emerged in that layout. Failing near the end of a really long mission would require a lot of backtracking and repeated play. Rockstar threw in some patchwork solutions, like letting players restart a failed long mission from the halfway point.

It so happens that I just started playing "Vice City Stories" on PSP this week. I began it on the subway on Tuesday. My ride from work to home is about 45 minutes, which turns out to not be long enough for me to get in a successful "GTA" groove. Playing the games at home, I can tolerate failing a mission a few times, because once I succeed I often can then breeze through the next few. On the subway, I fail a couple of times and then reach my stop. It had me wondering why they can't "fix" things, which means why can't they make the series easier for me to play.

March 29 will answer some questions. But knowing how secretive Rockstar likes to be, I'm not expecting all my answers until October 16.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Getting The Swing Of Things

How does PS3's motion-controlled 'Virtua Tennis 3' measure up to its Wii counterpart?

03.01.07

I played a tennis video game on Wednesday by waving a controller through the air, but it wasn't on the Nintendo Wii. It was on the PS3. How good is Sony at one of the Wii's most popular feats?

I conducted my experiment on "Virtua Tennis 3," an upcoming Sega game slated for the Xbox 360 and PS3. The "Virtua Tennis" series has been around since Sega's Dreamcast days and has always been a critical hit. On Wednesday, the company's PR team held a demo of the game along with a slew of PSP titles in a midtown hotel penthouse where Microsoft also sets up the New York sessions for a lot of its Xbox road shows. Publicist Jay Boor had the task of showing me tennis.

We started the game using buttons. Tennis is a cleanly simple sport. There aren't that many moves to assign the buttons of a controller. Because of that, tennis video games are really easy to pick up and play. Without a prompt from Jay, I was using the left stick to run Roger Federer around the court. I was using a few PS3 controller buttons to serve and volley. I scored points quickly.

I asked if the game had motion control. He said it did. I was especially curious because of the success of the tennis game in Nintendo's "Wii Sports." That little game has been one of the crossover hits for the system. The game controls the movement of the players on the court. It's so easy to play that all sorts of YouTube-able scenarios have resulted (watch Al Roker try it on the "Today" show, see Conan O'Brien and Serena Williams play a match on "Late Night," etc.). The thing with "Virtua Tennis," however, was that Jay hadn't used the motion controls yet. We'd be learning together.

We asked another Sega publicist, Jennie Sue, to help us out. She switched our players to motion control. She advised us to make small movements. That sounded OK.

Jennie left. Jay tried to serve.

Fault. Double fault.

He tried again and again. We couldn't get it. The PS3 controller is nothing like the Wii remote. You hold it with two hands. To serve, Jay was supposed to be jerking the controller in the air and then ... we weren't sure what.

Jay faulted a few more times, so he got up to ask Jennie for help. He had to turn his back to the TV to do this, and as he went over to talk to her, still holding the controller and no longer facing "Virtua Tennis," the shaking of his hands caused the perfect serve. I told Jay this when he returned. He theorized, "It only works when you're standing next to Jennie."

Soon enough we figured it out. A quick jerk in the air starts filling a meter that sets the power of the serve. A second jerk serves the ball. Shaking the controller from that point on swings the racket. Tilting the controller forward, back or to the sides moves the player around — something the Wii controller doesn't offer at all, since movement around the court is not player-controlled. If the learning curve for playing "Virtua Tennis" with buttons was less than 10 seconds, this learning curve for motion control required 10 minutes. I don't think that's too bad.

On Monday, I wrote about EA's "SSX: Blur," a new Nintendo Wii game that uses motion control for moves that used to be triggered by buttons in earlier games in the series. I lamented that one classic "SSX" set of moves, the Uber tricks, are beyond my abilities to pull off in the new game because I can't seem to swing the proper triggering motions. It's made me question if I am physically capable of enjoying the game to its fullest — do I have the coordination?

By accident or design, "Virtua Tennis 3" offers a counterpoint. It gives gamers a choice. Do you want to try to play the classic way or the newfangled motion way? Is one better? I think, in these early days of motion control, offering a choice is helpful.

— Stephen Totilo

Multiplayer: Playing Sports Video Games As Seen On TV

PSP's 'MLB 07: The Show' lets gamers control one athlete instead of whole team.

02.28.2007

I don't play sports video games very often, but I think I would if they looked the way they do in TV commercials.

In TV commercials, video game football players tackle their opponents right into the camera. You see virtual baseball stars dive for a steal as if you were watching from the infield grass. Basketball players dunk right through whatever virtual cameraman was snapping the shots. Then you actually play these games, and the action is all shot from the rafters and the sidelines. You're controlling the game from the cheap seats. The games probably would be impossible to control otherwise. You can't orchestrate a squad of athletes if the camera view is riding on one of their shoulders.

Millions of people don't mind this. They buy and play baseball, football and basketball games by the store-full every year. I've just never gotten into them. They don't get me as close to the action as those commercials tease. I assumed there wasn't a sports game for me.

Then I got a copy of the new "MLB 07: The Show" on PSP. The game has a mode called Road to the Show that lets players control a single baseball player through an entire season. There's a similar feature for football players in "Madden," but I've never messed around with it. I checked it out in "MLB."

Yesterday I started myself off in "MLB" as a first baseman for the Yankees. Instead of playing the normal mode, which would have me swing the bats for all nine guys on the team and pitch every inning, I played the Road to the Show. I only had to play my guy's at-bats. The game skipped everyone else's.

I didn't have to throw one pitch. I didn't have to field any balls not hit to first base. This is great for me for a few reasons, among them the fact that it lets me play a baseball game the way I play "God of War," "Tomb Raider" and any "Zelda" game: control one character, advance them toward a goal, focus on nothing else.

Better — well, maybe not better, but still good — were the camera angles. I was fast-forwarded to a fielding moment. A soft grounder was tapped to first base. I had to scoop down and grab it. The game's camera shot the action from just behind first, from a few yards into the sky. Most of my team wasn't even on the screen. This was my player's moment, and the camera view showed it. It was almost like how video game baseball looks in a TV commercial. Now I have proof: It can be done. The sports games I want can be made.

Every year the publishers who make sports games release sequels that tweak the formula a little bit. Games like "Madden" and "MLB" even include an option on the menu that lists what's been added to the new year's edition. It's easy to be cynical, to assume that if a game has to flag players' attention to the new content with a special menu screen then maybe the new stuff isn't so important. Shouldn't good improvements be self-evident?

"MLB: 07" knocked the cynicism out of me. With one fine tweak to the franchise they turned their brand of baseball into something I want to play and brought it one step closer to the kind of video game baseball they know people really want — the version they sell on TV.

— Stephen Totilo

Once a week Multiplayer provides a Stock Report that should give you a sense of what actually is streaming into the office and how companies are trying to grab our attention:

The Stock Report:

» Number of games at MTV HQ: 259

» Last three games to arrive: "300" (PSP),"Burnout Dominator" (PS2), "MLB 07: The Show" (PSP and PS2)

» Last system to arrive: PS3

» Last swag to arrive: Fake mustache and purple Green Hornet mask (for "Wario: Master of Disguise")



Multiplayer: 'God Of War II' - Lights! Action! But Please, No Camera
Developers have control over camera work in game's second installment.

02.27.07

I don't like freedom as much as I thought I did. I discovered that last weekend as I played through a review build of next month's PS2 action epic, "God of War II."

(Check out action-packed "God of War II" images right here.)

The game doesn't let the player control the camera. And I think that's for the best. I don't want to worry about moving a camera around in my Greek Medusa-fighting, Cyclops-slaying adventure. I shouldn't have to. For too long, we gamers have been asked to do too much.

Whether we're talking games, movies or TV, I like good camera work as much as the next person. And while I don't know who just won the Oscar for Cinematography, I'd like to think that I can appreciate a piece of visual entertainment that was shot from some attractive angles. That used to not be a concern in video games. Back in the "Super Mario Brothers" side-scrolling days, gamers and gamemakers didn't have to fret about the angles. The action was shot from afar. The game's camera just tracked the left-to-right movement of Mario as he hopped from mushroom to turtle.

When games started to regularly appear in 3-D around the time of 1996's "Super Mario 64," game makers had to start making the camera move. It had to float at just the right height and distance to keep the player's character and whatever the player was trying to look at — an attacking enemy, a gap needing to be jumped over — on the screen. It had to spin and adjust at just the right moments. That was tough in those early days, and so even the great minds behind "Super Mario 64" enlisted the players' help, granting some control over the camera to the gamers.

Some subsequent games kept the camera largely out of the gamer's control. "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" let players center the camera shot and look around if they stopped moving the character and switched to a first-person view. But they couldn't run and swivel the camera at the same time. The camera moved only as it was programmed to move. The game did the looking for its players.

That proved to be an exception. As the PlayStation popularized controllers with two joysticks, developers popularized the idea that the left joystick would be used for character movement, the right for swiveling a camera. By the time "Super Mario Sunshine" and "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" came out for the GameCube, even Nintendo's top designers were allowing — or should I say forcing? — gamers to do their own camera work with that right-side stick.

I got used to it. I took it on as another requirement of being a good gamer. I have to keep the hero alive. I have to save the princess. I have to make sure we were getting good camera angles.

So imagine my double surprise when I discovered that "God of War II" didn't let me control the camera and that the game didn't suffer for it. I've played six hours of the thing and haven't yearned to control the camera once. My view has been clear. The shots have been great.

The game plays as smoothly as the first one. You control an antihero named Kratos who uses to big blades attached to long chains to propeller a pantheon of Greek gods and minions into bloody bits, and you do this across an epic landscape. You just don't have to worry if you're getting the right shot. The game's developers take care of that for you. In fact, sometimes they pick shots I'd never think of, like a long-distance zoom-out during an epic bridge-crossing. It makes a simple moment feel epic. If I'm playing a stealth game like "Splinter Cell" or "Metal Gear Solid," I'd like to have control of the camera. I need it to peek around corners. But my experience with "God of War II" makes me wonder if game developers could, in general, be doing a better job and could ask a little less of us players.

When I jump into a game, I want to take on a role. I'm being an actor. In some games, like "The Sims" or "Nintendogs," I'm being a director. That's all good. But, really, I've never asked to be the cameraman. I'm grateful that "God of War II" proves I shouldn't have to be. That's some next-gen thinking as far as I'm concerned — even if the game is "just" on a PS2.

— Stephen Totilo


Multiplayer: Worn Out By The Wii

Our games reporter shares his reservations about gesture control.

02.26.07

It used to take a button.

I used to jump, swing a sword and flip through extreme-snowboarding stunt routines with taps of buttons. But I'm a Wii player now, so I do that stuff by swinging my arms.

Sometimes I miss the buttons.

I spent a couple of hours over the weekend playing "SSX Blur," Electronic Arts new snowboarding game for the Wii. The game gives a good first impression (see "Multiplayer: A Nintendo Wii Plot Twist"). Its menus are slick; its soundtrack grooves. The graphics are sharp, and they flow as smoothly as the snowboarders and skiers you steer down the slopes. The controls are almost entirely motion-based.
You twist your left wrist, holding the Wii nunchuck, to steer and flick that hand up to jump. When a character is airborne you tilt your right hand, holding the Wii remote, up and down for flips. You lean it left and right to make the boarder spin. If your character is airborne long enough, you can make the little guy pull off an impressive trick combo just by swinging your right arm like an orchestra conductor.

All of that works as well as the conventional joystick-and-buttons control schemes from earlier "SSX" games. And then I got to the "Blur" Uber tricks. These are the peak-moment maneuvers that set "SSX" games apart from real life by launching riders from their boards for some midair breakdancing. The tricks have always been the reward for plowing a good run. Better performance charged a meter. When it lit up in the old "SSX" titles, all the games asked gamers to do was hold down a button or two. An Uber would unfurl, rider showboating through the sky.

"SSX Blur" demands more from its Ubers. Players first must race well, of course. The meter maxes. And then the game wants gamers to draw patterns with the Wii remote in the midair of their living rooms: a "Z," a loop, a scribble in the shape of a key. This weekend I tried and tried. I failed and failed. I couldn't do an Uber. There's no indicator on the TV screen, no sound from the speakers or rumble in the remote to tell you that you're getting it or not. It just doesn't happen. I'm sure I drew a "Z" in the air. I'm sure I swung my arm in a loop. But the Wii apparently disagreed.

This is what I feared from Nintendo's vaunted move to gesture control. I was sure I'd made the right movements, just as sure as my friends who can't use a PS2 controller have been the many times they followed the instructions and pressed an "X" button to punch or shoot but wound up blocking or just standing there — only to die and tell me my controller might be broken. My controller has never been broken; my friends just couldn't handle the controls. Now I can't either.

Nintendo wanted the Wii to level the playing field, to bring experienced gamers and intimidated non-gamers all back to video-game kindergarten and teach us in a language new to everyone. Surely, the point was for us all to rise in new skills together. But right now I feel like I've been dropped to the level of finger-twisted novice.

In three months I've done some very satisfying things with gesture control. I've pointed my Wii remote to zap Elebits, heaved the thing to attack in "Sonic and the Secret Rings" and turned a snowboarder with precise rolls of my wrist in "Blur." But I've also had more trouble using a sword swing to repel energy blasts with the flick of the Wii remote in "The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess" than I did by tapping buttons in previous "Zelda" games. I've shaken the Wii remote to turbo boost in "Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam" and wondered if that could ever be as natural as just hitting a button.

I may yet learn the "SSX" controls and draw my Uber-triggering "Z" with the skill of Zorro himself. And maybe I will feel grateful that the game asked more of me than pressing a button to accomplish the wildest of tricks. But three months into owning the Wii, I feel I have enough experience to express my reservations: Are Wii developers abandoning buttons with too much haste? Let's hope they don't get too carried away with the swing of things.

— Stephen Totilo

About this column: The average gamer doesn't have the time or cash to experience one-tenth of the games that come out every week. Collectively, the MTV News team does — and then some. With games streaming into the office each day, we see a lot, we play a lot and we remember a lot. We want to tell you what we're playing and what's worth caring about it, and we'll do it every day at MTV News: Multiplayer. To follow the column daily, bookmark multiplayer.mtv.com.