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"Legends are almost always beautiful. The reality often leaves a lot to be desired."

The witcher's remark is aimed at the Elves, who have strained out the grit of life, love and loss before writing down their history, leaving only romantic, idealistic odes to the past. But it could just as easily be applied to the role-playing game: video game memories that sit warm and pretty in the heart, the reality of their original awkwardness so often lost to time and nostalgia.

So we remember the vainglory of slaying the dragon atop a mountain in Skyrim, not the 20 minutes of tacking zig-zigs on horseback that it took to reach its summit. So we remember Aerith's hands clasped on her still chest in Final Fantasy 7, not the machinegun volley of random battles that prevented us from reaching her in time to save her life. So we remember the silhouette of Fable's sheepdog fighting faithful by our side, not those times he caught upon a sticky polygon, or lost his mind to AI Alzheimer's and tore off to greet the distance. Legends are almost always beautiful. The reality often leaves a lot to be desired.

The witcher's game - his second, a Polish blockbuster exquisitely rebuilt stone by stone for Xbox 360 from the 2011 PC original - has been designed to ensure that, wherever possible, the legend and the reality match.

It's in the interface, which allows you to hack, slash, parry and throw spells with the touch of a button, stylishly slowing time to a crawl as you select a different brand of magic from a radial menu before winding it back to full speed once selected with decidedly un-RPG-like flair. It's in the cut-scenes, which press interactivity into the player's palms at every opportunity while maintaining their Game of Thrones-style directorial drama.

It's in the story itself, which is written at a geographical, architectural level just as much as it is written in the words of its characters. It's in the trade-post town of Flotsam where you spend the first few hours of your adventure, a riverside settlement where racial tension, poverty and hopelessness are scrawled into its dirt and structural layout as much as the dialogue boxes of its inhabitants. It's in the whorehouses, gambling dens and fighting rings where you can fritter away your hard-earned pennies on womanly comfort or manly jeopardy - downtime that might not make it to the history books, but which adds spice and grit to the true tale behind the telling. If The Witcher 2 is the stuff of legend, it's a legend rolled from s**t and blood, semen and mud; a plausible legend.

It's in the voice acting, which brings to vivid life dialogue that has the capacity to move in one moment and arrest the next. It's in the races and dialects, the social pecking order that reveals itself in every conversation with a beggar, a king and everyone in between. It's in the way in which the scriptwriters weave this cultural detail into your missions, over the short term and the long. The witcher's working to clear his name for the assassination of a king, but never too busy to ignore a cry for help from a pauper.


Nintendo of America has snapped up the domain SuperMario4.com.

The web address currently acts as a redirect: try to access SuperMario4.com in a browser and you'll be warp-piped to the official Nintendo US website.

Nintendo has already announced a new side-scrolling Mario game for release on 3DS by the end of the financial year - April 2013.

A return to Mario's numbered roots fits a move back to the series' origins. A fourth numbered Super Mario title would follow NES classic Super Mario 3, launched way back in 1988.

The upcoming 3DS side-scroller will mark a change of pace from the last major Mario title to launch. Mega-selling Super Mario 3D Land, a cross between classic Mario games and the more recent Galaxy sub-series, has sold over five million copies since its launch late last year.

But Super Mario 4 may be a confusing moniker in Japan. In 1990, Super Famicom classic Super Mario World was released with "Super Mario 4" as a subtitle.


The developer behind Baldur's Gate Extended Edition is interested in tackling much-loved role-playing game Icewind Dale - but only if its current efforts are successful.

Beamdog chief Trent Oster, formerly of BioWare, tweeted about Icewind Dale, released in 2000 and developed by Black Isle Studios under the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset.

"The topic of Icewind Dale has come up a number of times," Oster said. "We are interested, but first we need #bgee to succeed."

Then: "If we were to do Icewind Dale we would likely use our codebase, so all classes and kits in ToB."

ToB stands for Throne of Bhaal, the expansion pack for Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn released in 2001 and developed by BioWare.

BeamDog, under license from Dungeons & Dragons IP holder Atari, is making Enhanced Editions of the first two Baldur's Gate titles.

BeamDog's Cameron Tofer has said it eventually hopes to get a third game in the classic RPG franchise off the ground - indeed it is its "long term goal".

Adding to this, Oster said on Twitter: "If we were to do a #BG3 we would probably develop a new engine and tool path. Clipping map areas is not an ideal level art workflow."

For now, though, the focus is Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, which launches on PC, iPad and Mac OS X this summer.

The Enhanced Edition of the renowned 1998 PC RPG will be powered by an "upgraded and improved" version of the Infinity Engine. The original BG adventure plus Tales of the Sword Coast expansion pack will be included, as will "never before seen content" - a new party member and adventure.


A new Valve job advertisement has added weight to the recent rumour that the Half-Life maker is working on a Steam Box product.

Valve is after an electronics engineer to help it develop hardware to "enhance" the gameplay experiences it's known for.

"Join our highly motivated team that's doing hardware design, prototyping, testing, and production across a wide range of platforms," Valve said (via Engadget). "We're not talking about me-too mice and gamepads here - help us invent whole new gaming experiences."

The successful applicant's primary duty will be to "work with the hardware team to conceive, design, evaluate, and produce new types of input, output, and platform hardware".

Some have suggested the role indicates Valve's desire to create peripherals - indeed patents filed by the company show it has already thought up some interesting designs for gamepads with trackball integration. While this may be the case, recommended knowledge of "power supply management" and "ARM / X86 system design" suggest something more akin to a console or PC.

The call for an electronics engineer is but one of a number of job openings that form part of what Valve's Jeri Ellsworth describes as "our R&D dream team". She joined Valve recently to work on "next-gen gaming hardware".

The Steam Box was first mentioned by a report on The Verge, which last month reported that Valve was working on a console to be developed in partnership with manufacturers.

The Verge report said the Steam Box would "likely" launch with a proprietary controller that may allow for swappable components (analogue sticks, etc.). Valve filed a patent for such a device last year.

'Valve job ad adds weight to Steam Box rumour' Screenshot 2

It also heard that some of these devices - maybe the controller itself - could be (or include) biometric sensors. These could measure heart beat (via a bracelet), skin galvanic response (sweaty hands) and feed that information back into the game. Sources intimated to The Verge that the technology was so good, "You won't ever look back."

Backing up its report, The Verge pointed to a tweet from Valve's Greg Coomer, who posted a picture online of a PC he had built, complete with specifications.

This, Valve marketing chief Doug Lombardi told Kotaku at GDC, was simply a test unit for the company's new user interface, designed to make playing Steam games through a PC connected to a telly easier.

"We're prepping the Steam Big Picture Mode UI and getting ready to ship that, so we're building boxes to test that on," Lombardi said.

"We're also doing a bunch of different experiments with biometric feedback and stuff like that, which we've talked about a fair amount.

"All of that is stuff that we're working on, but it's a long way from Valve shipping any sort of hardware."

However, Lombardi refused to rule out such a device for the future.

"Whether we're talking about Valve making hardware or partnering with others, nothing like that is happening any time soon," Lombardi confirmed.

'Valve job ad adds weight to Steam Box rumour' Screenshot 3

Last November, a film archivist in Hertfordshire found an old tin sitting on a shelf. The tin was labelled "Hungry Hobos", and a quick check on Google revealed that it contained a genuine piece of movie history. It was an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon - he was the precursor to Mickey Mouse - made by Walt Disney's animation company in 1928, and long thought lost forever.

A copy of the film travelled with Junction Point boss Warren Spector when he visited London last week to show of Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, the unexpected sequel to the odd, and rather troubled, Wii exclusive from 2010. Spector screened it for us before launching into his game presentation - I wish all press events worked like this - and it was astonishing stuff to watch.

When you think of Disney cartoons - I'm talking about the shorts, here, rather than the full-blown features - you may be picturing something that's lavish and beautiful, but rather tame, and rather bloodless. Disney shorts tend not to be funny and violent the way that Warner Bros. cartoons are. They don't feel as subversive.

Back in the days of Oswald, though, they were. Hungry Hobos - one of now just 14 of the original 26 Oswald cartoons to have survived - is refreshingly cruel, in fact. Oswald and Peg-leg Pete are hitching a ride on a train. They want something to eat, so they pull the head off a chicken and shake out a few eggs. To cook them, Pete holds Oswald against the train track until his pants catch fire. That's just the first scene.

Oswald used to be mischievous and anarchic, and so did Mickey Mouse. Disney cartoons were once brash, inventive, and even mean. You don't see much of that any more, but you did get a little glimpse of it in Epic Mickey. In the first game, in fact, Oswald spent a lot of time as the villain of the piece, a spurned and bitter cinematic icon left to wallow in the Wasteland, his toxic version of Disneyland, while some newcomer got all the attention. This was a Mickey Mouse game that kicked off with an attempted surgical disembowelling, remember, and things only got weirder and scarier from that point on.

In the sequel, however - which is coming to the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well as the Wii - Oswald and Mickey are partners, and they're off on a new adventure that sees the Wasteland suffering strange seismic events that threaten to pull it apart. So that's the first thing that's changed, then: you've got local split-screen co-op that sees you teaming up, drop-in, drop-out style, throughout the entirety of the campaign.

Playing on PS3, this makes for scrappy, rather chaotic fun. Mickey's still armed with his paint and paint-thinner, allowing him to rub out parts of the environment or build it back up again - on a pad, this is done with L2 and R2, with the right stick controlling the reticule - and Oswald has a remote control that he can either use to zap electrical equipment to life, or to throw and then catch, like a kind of boomerang.

Co-operation's the order of the day, and plenty of the game's very early puzzles rely on Mickey clearing a path with his thinner while Oswald powers an electrical platform that will move them along some tracks. If you're playing with a friend, it can all feel pleasantly clumsy in a pantomime sort of way. If you're playing alone, meanwhile, the AI isn't bad, and it looks like you can switch characters with the press of a button.

The adventure still seems to be split between 2D and 3D sections, and Spector's said that his goal is for players to make their way through the entirety of the main campaign without ever having to touch the camera controls, which are located down on the d-pad. The camera was a real issue back in the first game, but 20 minutes or so spent in the new version of OsTown, a large 3D space with a fountain right in the centre, suggests that the team is making noticeable improvements, even if there's still some way to go.

The split-screen leaves both players with plenty of space to see the environment, and it feels a little easier to target NPCs for a chat. When platforming is called for, the camera seems to anticipate where you're trying to go, and it can even cope with a new special move in which Oswald's ears turn into helicopter blades and Mickey hitches a ride on his feet.

In terms of objectives, the section we're allowed to play is not particularly inspired, however. After working through a quick tutorial in Yen Sid's workshop and navigating a floating path made of rocks, a 2D travelling level features a series of very simple door puzzles, while OsTown sees us locating three fuses to power a thinner pump that will drain the nearby fountain. It's early on in proceedings, of course, so it's probably wrong to expect too much in the way of excitement, but it's also worth remembering that, while Epic Mickey was always very good at taking you to amazing locations, it often didn't have anything particularly brilliant for you to do once you were there.


Dungeonbowl, a PC exclusive spin-off of Games Workshop tabletop game Blood Bowl, launches at some point before July, developer Cyanide has announced.

The online only game uses characters from the American Football fantasy-themed game, and is set in the same world. The difference is, Dungeonbowl is played in a dungeon. Apparently the wizards created it because they wanted to know which Magic College was the most powerful. Ha! Those crazy wizards!

A match is played between two teams, each made up of three races. For example, the Rainbow Wizards team includes Wood Elves, Halflings and Humans. The first team to score a touchdown wins the match.

Sound easy? It isn't. The ball itself is hidden in one of six treasure chests, five of which are booby-trapped with an explosive spell. If that wasn't bad enough, teleporter pads complicate movement. You can use them to your advantage, but you can also end up inadvertently teleporting your players out of the match.

Similar to Blood Bowl, each player plays in turn, and the gameplay is driven by dice. First screenshots are below.

Apr 12, 2012

You don't need to go hunting for meaning in Fez. Chat to the villagers at the very start of the game and one wise old coot says, "Reality is perception. Perception is subjective." If there's a theme to the perspective-shift puzzles of Polytron's "2D platformer in a 3D world," then there it is. Philosophy so dispensed with, we can all just get on with soaking up the mystery and wonder of this fabulous adventure game.

In Fez, you play Gomez, a blob-headed sprite living in a peaceful, two-dimensional pixel village. One morning, he witnesses a strange event in which a monolithic golden cube disintegrates into hundreds of fragments, threatening the fabric of his reality so much that it glitches, crashes and resets (with a nice impression of an old DOS boot screen). At the same time, a magical red hat - the fez of the title - grants Gomez knowledge of his world's greatest and oldest secret: there are actually three dimensions.

Now - as well as running, jumping and climbing as he seeks the cube fragments that made up the golden "hexahedron" - Gomez can rotate his world through 90 degrees before it snaps back into a flat plane. The perspective shift reveals hidden areas and realigns platforms; a yawning gap becomes an easy jump, a thin sliver becomes a wide gangway, and impassable distances are squashed into nothingness. It's a combination of the wraparound platforming of cult '80s game Nebulus with the Escher-like spatial non-sequiturs of Echochrome, and it's a wonderful conjuring trick.