Two X360 games to see…

This past weekend my brother and I spent quite a bit of time trolling through PS2 and X360 games, looking for that rare gem that would capture our attention and give us hours of fun. We found a few good titles (Ratchet: Deadlocked, Atelier Iris Eternal Mana), played with some known goodies (such as Guitar Hero), and dug through a lot of stuff that didn’t hold our attention at all.
During the course of trolling through titles, I tested a handful of X360 games from EA. And there are a couple games here you should make sure to look at, if you haven’t already.
NBA Live 06 has gotten pretty soundly trashed by the press. But there’s one really interesting strategy they’ve taken with this next-gen title that you should check out if you work in the game industry. As you probably know, the speed of disc media has not increased as quickly as the size of memory; therefore, filling up memory from disc takes longer on the next wave of consoles. This of course means you should expect longer load times, and that as a developer you should investigate doing more streaming, and more seriously consider straight binary copies of data into memory.
Another thing you could consider is giving the player something to do while the game is loading. This is something that NBA Live 06 has pulled off quite well.
While the X360 is loading and building the playfield, you as the player get to shoot a few hoops. When the match is loaded, your player is “beamed out” and the camera swooshes into a video of the upcoming event. The effect is seamless, and I found myself looking forward to it. Instead of being bored while waiting for the load, I felt some tension and excitement about the match to come. This is really a well done effect, and you should have a look at it if you haven’t.
The other X360 game I recommend trying out is Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I enjoyed this game, finding it playable and fun, if not something that knocked my socks off. The interesting design decision with this game is their use of live actors chromakeyed into the scene for many of the cinematics. This isn’t something I’ve seen in a game for a long time, and I can only imagine the ridicule suffered by the poor bloke at EA who suggested it.
At first I thought this was super cheesy! I was reminded of Wing Commander and Riven, and all those awful CD-ROM games with the video rectangles of live actors superimposed onto an otherwise static scene. But then I found myself admiring the color matching job they’ve done in getting these actors to fit into the scenes. For the most part the actors blend in well; even complicated camera moves look good, without foot slide or edge jitter. So, good job there. However, the performance of some of the actors is pretty lame. I felt like I was watching an after-school special.
Okay, that said, ignoring my emotional baggage about previous games with cheesy live actor segments, having live actors definitely lent the cinematics something that I hadn’t realized was missing – my interest. The live actors conveyed real nuance that engaged me, something which animated characters have still failed to do successfully. Even Half-Life2’s characters, as well done as they are, don’t have the nuance of live performance. If you doubt me, just check out the lead actress’s first lean-in performance before a race.
These two titles from EA represent two interesting results from “what can we do with the next-gen consoles” conversations. Have a look at them and make your own decisions about what you’ll put into YOUR next-gen titles.