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Shacknews - John Keefer

We've known that Blizzard had scrapped a project called Nomad, but we didn't have too many details other than it was to have been a squad-based affair. Author David Craddock has been able to fill in a few details from his in-depth interview with Shacknews.

"World of Warcaft didn't start as such. The team originally conceptualized a squad-based game based on a tabletop war-game called Necromunda," Craddock said. "In the game, codenamed Nomad, players would build up squads of soldiers, upgrade their abilities, find new guns, and go online to challenge other players' armies. Others on the team favored an adventure/RPG more in the vein of Final Fantasy. Many of the team members were growing frustrated. Some wanted to settle on a direction and hit it hard, others didn't care for one direction or another and wanted to do something else.

"Two developers from the latter group were Kevin Beardslee and Bill Petras," he said. "They, like most of the guys at both Blizzards, were hooked on EverQuest and started to think, "Hey, why can't we make a game like this?" In fact, most of Blizzard's games came about because of games the developers enjoyed playing: Diablo was a graphical roguelike, Warcraft was meant as an answer to Dune II's lack of a multiplayer mode. On a Wednesday, Kevin and Bill pitched their idea for a better, more user-friendly answer to EverQuest to Jeff Strain, one of Blizzard's senior programmers. Jeff offered to bring it up to management at the next meeting.

"Two days later, Nomad was scrapped and the team started in on what became World of Warcraft."

The interview is now live as part of our week-long coverage of David Craddock's book on Blizzard Entertainment, Stay Awhile and Listen.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

There you are, busy scheming Machiavellian plots to seize control of Europe through careful marriage and the odd proxy war in Crusader Kings II when Aztecs storm your capital and sacrifice your king with an obsidian knife. Such is the promise of new DLC for Paradox Interactive's strategy game, rewriting European history with an Aztec invasion in the 13th century.

As well as bringing new gods which demand appeasement, boatloads of warriors, and novelties like potatoes and cocoa, the Aztec ships in Sunset Invasion have carried over new diseases for you to contend with, Paradox's announcement explains. Which all sounds quite tricky.

Crusader Kings II: Sunset Invasion is due on November 15, priced at $4.99.

Shacknews - Kat Bailey

If the newly announced Star Wars: Episode VII is anything like Halo 4, it figures to be at once ambitious but conservative; ready to rope in new fans, but desperate to please the old ones. As such, newcomer 343 Industries is looking less for a new beginning than to set the table for the franchise without alienating the fans. In that, they are reasonably successful.

Halo 4 picks up where the last numbered entry left off, but a few things have changed in the intervening years. The Flood is long gone, and the franchise's namesake -- the galaxy-busting Halo superweapons--only warrants a passing few mentions. The Covenant is still kicking around, but they could be replaced with any generic alien villain and function just as well. Their presence in the story mostly feels like a product of 343 Studios trying to inject a sense of familiarity into the proceedings. From there, Halo 4 jumps into what amounts to its own Mass Effect or Star Wars Episode IV--a standalone story that leaves the door open for something bigger.

Along with the new story is a new enemy--biomechanical aliens known as the Prometheans. Drawn with a minimalist style that brings to mind Platinum's Vanquish, their warriors are even nastier than the Covenant's famed Elites. Their best warriors teleport around the field, operate behind shields, and wield an array of devastating energy weapons. Halo may be under new management, but the A.I. is nasty as ever--maybe a little too nasty.

Longtime Halo veterans will doubtlessly disagree, but I found Halo 4 to be tougher than usual even on the normal difficulty. It's not so much the AI as the enemy placement. Especially later on, Halo 4 absolutely loves its densely packed chokepoints, which can be a real bear to break on Heroic. Checkpoints are also a little sparse, which can be painful when you buy it after an especially long encounter. Higher difficulty isn't necessarily a bad thing--not when other first-person shooters are rolling out four hour campaigns--but Halo 4's difficulty can feel a little unbalanced at times.

Matters come to a head in the final level, which combines fairly boring level design with those really nasty chokepoints, compounded by the fact that the Prometheans really only seem to have three types of fighters. Playing it leaves the impression that 343 was under the gun and needed to wrap the campaign as quickly as possible. The final battle does little to dispel that feeling.

The disappointing finale aside, Halo 4 provides a very solid campaign. At its best, Halo 4 offers sprawling battlefields that can be tackled in a number of different ways. The best level appears around the game's midpoint, when Master Chief teams with a massive land tank called The Mammoth to hunt Covenant. It's big, it's beautiful, and it features encounters with solutions that range from hijacking enemy vehicles to abusing The Mammoth's big guns.

Some of that scope manages to find its way into the multiplayer as well, thanks to the new Dominion Mode--a fantastic addition that combines the base-building of Starhawk with control point-to-control point fighting of Battlefield. The mode is centered around taking three bases and fortifying them into fortresses, which brings with it new weapons and vehicles. The swings of momentum can be huge as teams take the bases, knock the opposition down to their Spartan, then get thrown right back on their heels because they couldn't hold all three bases.

343 has also seen fit to make a number of other changes that benefit the overall balance. Weapon camping is less of an issue due to the advent of more random weapons spawns, and sprinting is no longer a special ability. Those changes aside, it still feels like Halo. Veterans are apt to be pleased by the changes while feeling right at home.

In both the single-player and multiplayer, Halo 4 is mostly content to hold serve and build on what's come before it. The new multiplayer modes, the new enemies, and everything else is designed to feel new without rocking the boat too much. Dominion Mode expands on the franchise's longstanding focus on diverse weapons and vehicles. The new Spartan Ops mode, a series of downloadable missions that tell a story over a period of weeks, are effectively a new brand of co-op challenge. It's not precisely accurate to say that 343 Industries is playing it safe, but it's obvious that they are very conscious of fitting in and building on what's already there.

That's not to say that Halo 4 is afraid of striking out on its own. There's one story decision in particular that is apt to prove very daring, and may end up angering a legion of Halo fans. It's more that 343 is out to set the stage for the next decade worth of Halo games. Well, consider the stage set. The story stands on its own, the multiplayer is strong as ever, and the new components fit right in. 343 Industries hasn't quite made the franchise its own, but it has accomplished its first and most important goal--it didn't mess it all up.


This Halo 4 review was based on a playthough of the game at a review event sponsored by the publisher, as well as additional play time with a retail version of the game provided by the publisher. Halo 4 is scheduled to be released on November 6 for the Xbox 360.

Shacknews - Tyler J. Smith

I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I loved from my childhood. Something that could never ever possibly destroy us. Mr. Stay Puft! Or maybe just Late Night Computing for October 31, 2012.

With today being Halloween, I wanted to go out of my way to highlight this post by xembler showcasing his absolutely hilarious costume. Not too many costumes impress me, and I have to say this thing is sheer genius. Anyway, enjoy your evening debauchery!

News bits:

  • True PC Gaming interviews Black Mesa project lead Carlos Montero on the development and reception of the famous Half-Life modification. [via True PC Gaming]

  • Watch Adam Savage of Tested put together Patton Oswalt's hilarious Doc Ock ensemble for Halloween.[via Tested]

  • Now that he's part of the Disney family, Darth Vader and his Stormtrooper contingent hit up the theme parks. What else is he going to do? [via Youtube]

  • This 12-year-old uses Dungeons and Dragons to help his father, who is a scientist by the way, research the human mind. [via Discover Magazine]

Chatty posts of the moment.

Make sure you log-in and check your filters if you can't see the following:

  • "Is now a good time to buy a new videogcard? Is there something new and amazing coming out soon, or would it be safe to get a GTX670 now? I'm so out of the loop." [by m0nkz]

  • "So what's the over/under on this new Halo game? I'd like it to be good, but it looks like a lot more of the same. Since ODST and Reach already felt like 'best of' releases, I'm not hopeful. Seriously though, what does everyone hope is in this game? Cortana goes rampant? Chief takes off the helmet? Halo 1 pistol? New enemies? Flood?" [by brickmatt]

Nightly file.

  • Grimind demo 1.0. "Grimind is a 2D physics based adventure, platform game in horror/creepy theme. Grimind casts you into forgotten caves and ancient crypts, without memories. While being there you must to demonstrate big manual skills to pass obstacles and solve non trivial puzzles to get out of scary environment and additionally remind yourself or even discover who you really are and what are doing there alone â€" but is it sure… that you are there, alone?" Download the free demo for Windows.

Media.

Sleeping Dogs Nightmare in North Point launch trailer:

Square Enix and United Front Games release the Nightmare in North Point downloadable content pack for Sleeping Dogs just in time for Halloween.

Sony drops some loot for all of you trick or treaters out there with a bevy of new Halloween trailers for Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, LittleBigPlanet Karting, and Until Dawn, along with a launch trailer for Natural Selection 2, a Wizard trailer for Neverwinter, the teaser trailer for Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut, an Autumn trailer for A Game of Dwarves, and a launch trailer for Borderlands Legends.

Shacknews - John Keefer

Almost a month after opening up the Mogu'Shan Vaults, Blizzard has unlocked the next raid for World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, called Heart of Fear. A schedule for future raid unlocks has also been released.

Only the normal difficulty is available for Heart of Fear, which tasks players with working their way through five Mantid bosses to eventually take on the corrupted Mantid grand empress. The heroic version of the 10- or 25-person raid will unlock on November 6, along with the first half of the dungeon showing up in the Raid Finder.

By November 13, the second half of Heart of Fear will be available in the Raid Finder, and a new raid, Terrace of Endless Spring, will open on normal difficulty. Finally, on November 20th, heroic Terrace of Endless Spring unlocks and the whole dungeon will be open on Raid Finder.

Blizzard said that they had intended for all dungeons to be available November 20, but they have staggered the release a bit more.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Infinity Ward has shot down speculation regarding Modern Warfare 4, denying any contact with the purported source of the rumor. Word began spreading yesterday, after a report that claimed voice actor behind Captain Price had said he was signed on to the next project.

"Interesting news today, but it's not true," read a response from the official company Twitter account. "We've not talked with any voice actors, so all news is speculation."

The denial doesn't explicitly claim that Modern Warfare 4 isn't in development, mind you. Call of Duty is on an annual release schedule for the foreseeable future, so it's reasonable to assume we'll see a MW4 eventually.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Boo! No, it's not a ghost, it's just me surprised that I'm using that joke once again. But boo! In the spooky spirit of the season, Outlast developer Red Barrels has released a frightful four-minute trailer for its survival horror showing the sort of moody mood it's gunning for.

Outlast sends an investigative reporter into a spooky abandoned asylum where a huge corporation has been experimenting with goodness knows what. Oh no, who could possibly have foreseen that everything would go wrong and horrors would be unleashed and people would die?

Red Barrels is a small studio founded by folks who've worked on series including Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, and Uncharted. Outlast will hit PC next year.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Two more apps have launched on Xbox Live today, one that might be useful, the other not-so-much. The first is an official Wall Street Journal app. WSJ Live from The Wall Street Journal will offer "up to four total hours of live video programming each business day," from the Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Barron's, MarketWatch, SmartMoney, and AllThingsD.com. As with all other Xbox Live apps, you'll need a Gold subscription to take advantage of it.

But wait! There's more. Another app from Ford has also launched. Blatantly described by Major Nelson as "a new advertising app," this downloadable lets you actively choose to be bombarded with intrusive advertisements while using the Xbox 360 dashboard. Fun!

Shacknews - Ryan Calavano

The Walt Disney Company has acquired Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, including its LucasArts video gaming division, in a deal that's valued at $4.05 billion. LucasArts was working on Star Wars 1313 before the acquisition. Then, Borderlands 2 has been a success for publisher 2K Games, appearing high on last month's NPD chart. In Take 2's earnings report, the company revealed that it has shipped 5 million copies at retail. Then, EA admits that Medal of Honor Warfighter will not meet financial expectations, adding "while we're disappointed in the critical response, we believe this is a good game." But, FIFA Soccer 13 is now "the biggest sports launch of all-time," Electronic Arts has revealed, with 7.4 million copies sold through within its first four weeks of release. Finally, come celebrate Halloween with a peek at some of the things that'll terrify you next year, won't you?

You can also watch this episode on YouTube. And, don't forget to subscribe to get the latest episodes as they go up.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

The Ship remains one of the most interesting multiplayer FPS concepts, a shooter where players are all hunting someone specific but must pretend they're perfectly harmless and simply enjoying a nice cruise. Also interesting is its passage through various business models, from free Half-Life mod, through commercial Source engine remake to, now, Kickstartered sequel.

The Ship: Full Steam Ahead is going steampunk, which means fancy dresses, goggles aplenty, automatons, and cogs, cogs, cogs everywhere! If you missed all The Ship's previous incarnations, imagine the Assassin's Creed multiplayer but with needs like hunger, cleanliness, tiredness and socialization to juggle, meaning you may need to go somewhere risking leaving you along with your killer. On the bright side, your victim feels them too, so hammer their heads in the bogs.

The KickStarter campaign from developer Blazing Griffin is looking for £100,000 (about $160,000). Yes, Blazing Griffin, as it bought the series from creator Outerlight after it shut down. Things sadly did not end well for Outerlight, which it shut up shop shortly after launching its The Ship-inspired murderfest Bloody Good Time.

Pledging at least £16 ($25-ish) will get you a copy when Full Steam Ahead launches, currently slated for early 2014 on PC. Higher perks include posters, patches and getting into the game.

What's up with all the crazy £ symbols? Today was the official launch of Kickstarter in the UK, causing a sudden spurt from this green and pleasant land, this sceptered isle.

...

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