Friday, June 25, 2010

Collect 10 skulls for the throne of Khorne!

A trailer has been released with gameplay footage from Vigil Games' forthcoming Warhammer 40,000 MMORPG, Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online. (Or Warhammer 40K, for you godless metric system users.) I'm not much of an MMO guy, but what they're showing so far is interesting:

The trailer's pretty impressive, but I've long thought that Warhammer 40,000 was ill-suited to the MMORPG genre. The 40K universe mostly revolves around very large-scale military conflicts, and the Imperium of Man- the good guys, sort of, albeit by the standards of a universe where a genocidal amalgam of the Spanish Inquisition and Stalinist Russia is the last, best hope for mankind- is a rigidly hierarchical and authoritarian society. It's a context where the usual paradigm for MMOs, where players and their characters have a great deal of autonomy, doesn't really make much sense for the setting's most important faction.

That's fine for a strategy game like Dawn of War, but a setting that is less “lone hero or small band of adventurers running around on their own initiative and doing various quests” and more “enormous hordes of nameless, faceless canon fodder being ground into mulch” is less promising for an MMORPG. (Unless the game's main buffer class is the Commissar, who strengthens the stats of the party by periodically executing other party members, in which case I will buy at least three copies the day it comes out.)

That said, the look and style of what they've shown so far suggests that Vigil has a good feel for Warhammer, so that's cause for optimism. Time will tell.

I do have a minor nitpick about the video's opening narration: Saying “It is a time of war” in this context is sort of superfluous, given the Warhammer 40,000 universe's lack of times of things other than war. It's like specifying that World War I was a time of humans who breathed oxygen, or that the Roman Empire fell during a time of a time of things that were made of atoms, or that August 3rd, 1998 was a time when Pauly Shore should have been repeatedly kicked in the balls for being Pauly Shore. Aside from that, though, top notch.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I never thought I'd long for the quiet dignity of the U-Force

Microsoft has announced that the Xbox 360's motion control system, heretofore called Project Natal, will instead be released under the name "Kinect." At this point I'm starting to wonder if Federal Trade Commission regulations require all video game motion control devices to have really, really stupid names. There's clearly some malign force at work when changing the name of a product to something as cringe-inducing as "Kinect" is at least arguably an improvement.

First Nintendo replaced the perfectly serviceable name "Nintendo Revolution" with "Wii." Then Microsoft, witnessing the Wii's explosive success and apparently reaching the conclusion that pre-Wii motion controls systems had failed to catch on because their names weren't stupid enough, dubbed their own motion controls system "Project Natal," which makes it sound like either some sort of obstetric equipment or (if you pronounce it "Na-TAHL") some war-torn Third World capital city of the sort that Christiane Amanpour does solemn voiceovers from for CNN.
Now Natal is replaced by Kinect, which sounds like the sort of name you'd give to a cheap knock-off of Legos or Tinkertoys. The name does have the advantage of sort of resembling the word "kinetic" and so has something approaching actual relevance to the product, though if Microsoft is trying to imitate Nintendo's success in appealing to a broader audience I'm not sure a name vaguely evoking a term most people probably haven't used since fifth grade science class is really the way to go.
Meanwhile, there's Sony's entry in the field, PlayStation Move, which is arguably the most generic name ever given to a consumer product. It makes the branding of the cheap store-brand soda that my mom used to buy, with the brown label that just said "Cola" on it, seem like a riot of creativity by comparison. It's like making a candy bar called Eat, or marketing a clothing line called Wear, or re-releasing Daikatana with the title Uninstall. On the plus side, Move isn't obnoxiously "clever" like Wii or Kinect, and sadly that's enough to make it my favorite of the the three. It's troubling to realize that the best-named motion controller ever made was probably the Sega Activator, AKA this monstrosity:

There's just no marketing like 90s Sega marketing.

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