Saturday, June 2, 2012

Five games to watch at E3

Editor's note: John Gaudiosi is co-founder and editor-in-chief of video syndication network. He's covered video games for hundreds of outlets over the past 20 years and specializes in the convergence of Hollywood and games.

(CNN) -- The video game industry has had a slow start to the year, but that's about to change.

As the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) takes over the Los Angeles Convention Center this week, the biggest games of this year and next will be showcased in front of 45,000 attendees. With a big slate of blockbusters scheduled to hit retail shelves this holiday, things are looking up for gaming.

The game industry is growing rapidly through new business models like free-to-play games, mobile games and cloud-based gaming. But it still relies on big-name titles to fill its coffers and entice gamers to spend an inordinate amount of time on multiplayer experiences online.

Like Hollywood, game publishers are counting on bestselling franchises and sequels to attract the growing demographic of people who play games.

There are a lot of games at E3, but these five titles will stand out. Collectively they should provide hours of new interactive entertainment to gamers around the world once they're released over the coming year.

"Resident Evil 6" (Capcom, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, October 2, 2012)

In a rarity in the game industry, where delays are commonplace, Capcom actually moved up the release date for this much-anticipated horror sequel.

The "6" in the title holds a deeper meaning, as this "Resident Evil" offers three distinct, yet interconnected, two-player cooperative gameplay experiences. Set 10 years after the events that ravaged Raccoon City, these globe-trotting survival horror stories feature six unique characters that gamers control to contend with the new C-Virus plague.

The zombies in this game are smarter, faster and even wield weapons, upping the ante and requiring that second player's sharpshooting help. The development team is going for a more Hollywood feel with this blend of action and terror.

Gamers will actually get a double-dose of this franchise with Sony Pictures releasing "Resident Evil: Retribution 3D" in theaters September 14.

"Halo 4" (Microsoft, 343 Industries, Xbox 360, November 6, 2012)

"Halo" developer Bungie has moved on to an original franchise for Activision, leaving Microsoft to turn to new developer 343 Industries for the first in the Reclaimer Trilogy of Halo games.

Set four years after the events of "Halo 3," Master Chief returns with a new setting (the planet Requiem) but the same beloved first-person shooter action that has sold over 40 million games around the globe.

The new game will further explore the man beneath the mask, John-117, while pushing multiplayer forward. Gamers can create their own Spartan IV warrior for multiplayer and engage in a four-player cinematic adventure in the new Spartan Ops or jump into massive competitive arenas with War Games. All multiplayer will be linked through the UNSC Infinity starship to keep players immersed in this rich sci-fi universe.

"Call of Duty: Black Ops II" (Activision, Treyarch, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, November 13, 2012)

With the "Call of Duty" franchise breaking entertainment launch records every year and raking in over $1 billion per release, developer Treyarch is catapulting the first-person shooter action into the future. "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" spans a cinematic storyline that propels the action into 2025, although some backstory gameplay will focus on the 1980s.

With American cities like Los Angeles under attack from flying drones and robots, players must contend with terrorist Raul Menendez, who's turned America's own military technology against itself. Treyarch is introducing more open-world gameplay to the mix and promises a more robust multiplayer experience (with all those new drones and robots), as well as an expanded Zombies mode with more undead enemies to contend with.

"Crysis 3" (Electronic Arts, Crytek, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, 2013)

Crytek returns to a future Big Apple, circa 2047, in this first-person shooter, although New York has never looked quite like this. Players will explore a massive Nanodome called the New York City Liberty Dome, which offers a diverse range of environments known as the Seven Wonders.

Taking control of the Nanosuit-armed Prophet, skyscrapers have been replaced by an urban rainforest teeming with overgrown trees, dense swamplands and raging rivers. It's within this landscape that players will hunt Ceph aliens and Cell Corporation henchmen using a composite bow (armed with the latest technology) and an assortment of high-powered weapons from Earth and beyond.

Crytek is blending the best of both worlds from its first two bestsellers and offering gamers more options in both the campaign and multiplayer experiences this time around.

"Dead Space 3" (Electronic Arts, Visceral Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, 2013)

In space, no one can hear you scream. With Ridley Scott terrifying a new generation of audiences with "Prometheus," Electronic Arts' Visceral Games is bringing more alien horror to gamers. In "Dead Space 3," Isaac Clarke crash lands on a snowswept planet that just happens to be overrun with alien Necromorphs.

After contending with these assorted alien monstrosities in the past, Clarke has new weapons and technology to help him perform the strategic dismemberment that has become the cornerstone of the franchise. The subzero planet adds a twist to the gameplay with more open, and hostile, environments to explore and even bigger creatures to content with.

Fans of the franchise will also see a return of the more close-quarters, don't-be-afraid-of-the-dark areas, as well as those signature zero-gravity sequences. "Dead Space 3" is slated to scare gamers in the dead of winter early next year.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

'Build and Battle,' multiplayer action shine in 'Starhawk'

(CNN) -- Using a new "Build and Battle" game mechanic, "Starhawk" offers more than your typical third-person shooter, tapping ino the player's strategic thinking while creating an enjoyable ride.

Lightbox Interactive founder Dylan Jobe wanted to take one of their old titles, "Warhawk," and make it into something more enjoyable and more complete. "Warhawk," released in 2007, was widely praised for its multiplayer action, but it had no single-player campaign.

Jobe and his team took the best ideas from "Warhawk," combined them with a new setting and single-player campaign, then added his a new mechanic that effectively creates what can be considered a new way to think about shooters.

"Build and Battle" allows players to call down hardware from a ship circling high above the planet. When I say hardware, I don't mean a weapons cache full of ammo and guns. I mean large, physical structures and buildings that allow players to defend, attack and punish the enemy.

Walls with turrets on top, garages with jet cycles inside, buggies, tanks and tall sniper towers complete with rifles -- all are at the players' command. These items and many more can be called down and placed on the battlefield for maximum damage or protection.

Ground and air vehicles can also be called down and used. Jet bikes and Razorbacks (three-player combat buggies) handle a lot of the ground transportation. Ox Tanks can bring the pain with artillery shells and cannons. (As their name implies, they can take a lot of punishment but are slow to move).

If you are looking for more speed and maneuverability, the Hawk is a transformer-like vehicle that switches from armored robot to nimble aircraft quickly. On the ground, a "mech stomp" wipes out scores of troops, while in the air, the jet has a range of specialized missiles and bombs at its disposal.

Each one of these vehicles can be spawned from a garage summoned with the "Battle and Build" mechanic. As with the other buildings, planning must be utilized to determine prime placement as well as how each garage can be defended.

The "Build and Battle" concept works seamlessley within combat and adds a strategic element to each battle. No longer do players have to think only about conserving ammunition. Now, they need create the environment around themselves while taking on waves of enemies.

Do you use walls to block routes into your area? Or do you arrange them to funnel the enemy into a gauntlet of beam turrets? It is this flexibility of gameplay that makes "Starhawk" enjoyable and interesting.

Plus, if a particularly large group of scabs (the enemy grunts) are headed your way, you can always just drop a building on them. Each structure costs "rift energy," a universal source of power harvested from different planets, much like oil on Earth.

Indeed, the single-player campaign has a Wild West feel and motif that could remind gamers of the great Oil Rush in the United States. Rifters want to capture the rift energy to sell it, while Outcasts believe the rift energy to be their lifeblood and want to destroy all who would take it. Emmitt Graves, the main character in the campaign, goes into the disputed areas to reclaim the rift from the Outcasts.

The storyline is told through cinematic videos rather than actual gameplay and merely acts as rather weak glue between the combat set pieces. Despite trying to inject some connection between Emmitt and the leader of the Outcasts, characters in the story come across as emotionless and uncaring about anything other than getting the job done.

But it's multiplayer mode where the game really shines. Up to 32 players can battle in four different scenarios and five different environments across two maps. More maps are planned as downloadable content (DLC), which Jobe says will be free to all.

The "Build and Battle" mechanic is at its best in the Capture The Flag and Zones modes. Teammates work together to build walls, turrets and repair arms to defend their areas while others take vehicles out to seek and destroy the opposing side.

Coordination is key and many battles have been won due to the combined efforts of teammates defending or attacking en masse. The more players per side, the more action and organized chaos there is across the battlefield. It truly is some of the best and most enjoyable gameplay I've experienced on the PlayStation 3.

Overall, the combat in "Starhawk" is refreshing, thoughtful and very well done. The environments are as beautiful as the "Build and Battle" mechanic is unique. The breadth of weapons, vehicles and buildings make each playthrough different, and the multiplayer highlights the best of all that is available.

While the campaign story is disappointing, "Starhawk" ends up being a game that shines in spite of its weak characters. In some ways, the "Build and Battle" system is the true star of the action, and that's just fine for gamers who enjoy thinking their way through a battle as much, if not more, than shooting their way through one.

"Starhawk" is available now worldwide exclusively for the PlayStation 3. It is rated T for Teens due to blood, language, and violence. This review was done with a provided copy for the PlayStation 3 and multiplayer action done on public servers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How MIT could help you pour ketchup

(CNN) -- The video is as short as it is surprising. A hand tilts a glass bottle containing a red glob of ketchup, which -- instead of oozing out in slow motion or getting stuck -- slides out easily, leaving the bottle nearly spotless.

Posted last week, the 20-second clip has been viewed more than 125,000 times on YouTube, prompting dozens of news stories and brightening the spirits of impatient ketchup lovers everywhere.

But it's not exactly what Kripa Varanasi had in mind when he and his students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology set out to develop a new kind of slippery coating that would keep water droplets from sticking to steam turbines in power plants.

"I never thought a ketchup bottle would make us this famous," said Varanasi, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. "We were all focused on [solving] the big problems, like water and energy."

But one of the goals of Varanasi's MIT lab is to develop potential commercial products, not just publish research in academic journals. The coating, which he and his graduate students call LiquiGlide, seemed more immediately viable as a food-packaging product, he said.

LiquiGlide is made from a secret cocktail of edible, nontoxic materials that can be sprayed into bottles or other food containers. Videos on the LiquiGlide site show it working its slippery magic on plastic bottles of jelly and mustard, too.

"You could literally scratch it off and eat it," Varanasi told CNN in an interview. "It's that safe."

LiquiGlide first gained attention earlier this month at MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, an annual forum for launching academic projects into the commercial marketplace, where it won an Audience Award. Now Varanasi and his students are fielding interview requests, talking to bottling companies, filing for patents and planning to launch a startup this summer. An MIT grad student, Dave Smith, will serve as CEO, Varanasi said.

As Varanasi sees it, LiquiGlide offers several benefits: It's more convenient for consumers, and it makes recycling easier because the bottles are clean. It also wastes less food, because people won't be tossing out bottles coated with mustard that they can't squeeze out.

He also believes LiquiGlide has practical applications beyond condiments, such as high-end cosmetics. Who wants to waste precious drops of $50 hand lotion because they can't get the stuff out of the bottle?

"It works on everything we've tried so far," Smith told CNN.

Varanasi and his students hope to have their product on supermarket shelves within two years. Right now they have momentum on their side, thanks to a deceptively simple idea, a niche nobody realized needed filling -- and a little video.

"It just went viral," Varanasi said. "The video sold it."