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Turning good video games into great films April 14, 2008

Posted by farhanriaz in Games, Movies, Review.
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Group of game-industry veterans think plotlines should be the priority

At the end of a long day working in Hell’s Kitchen, N.Y.P.D. detective Max Payne returns to find his home being ransacked by armed junkies. High on a new designer drug called Valkyr, they open fire on the cop, who stumbles over the dead bodies of his wife and newborn daughter. Killing the murderers doesn’t quench Payne’s thirst for revenge, and he sets out to find the sources of Valkyr and make them pay.

It sounds like the setup for a movie—and it is, now. “Max Payne” will be released in 2009, courtesy of 20th Century Fox, with Mark Wahlberg in the starring role. But the story didn’t start as a screenplay; it debuted seven years ago as the plot of a videogame and spawned two interactive sequels before making it to movie theaters.

Since its earliest days, the videogame industry has been enamored of Hollywood, and with turning big-screen stories into interactive worlds—with a range of success. Atari’s E.T. game is said to have ushered in the videogame industry crash of 1983, but blockbuster franchises have come out of Harry Potter, Shrek, and Lord of the Rings. More recently, Hollywood has been mining videogames (and their huge male fan base) for box office gold. The results have been just as mixed.

“Few games have translated well to film,” says Michael Pachter, videogame analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, in New York. “’Doom’ was a flop, as were the second ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Super Mario Bros.’ movies. ‘Resident Evil’ has done well, as have the Lara Croft films, so I’d say it’s hit and miss.”

Now, some of the people behind “Max Payne” are trying to change that. In June 2007, Hollywood producer Scott Faye, owner of Depth Entertainment; Scott Miller, also head of game developer 3D Realms; and Jim Perkins, former CEO of game developer-publisher Arush Entertainment, formed Radar Group. Rather than creating a game, then licensing it as a film, or vice versa, Radar will cultivate story lines—“storyverses” in company parlance—that transcend any one medium, whether linear or interactive. From there, they can spin out movies, videogames, comic books, and anything else that might emerge.

“I think that because we’re starting at the outset, both cultures will have an incredibly solid foundation for an ongoing evergreen franchise,” says Faye.

In addition to Max Payne, Perkins and Miller have helped develop highly successful game franchises including Duke Nukem, Prey, Doom, Blood, and Shadow Warrior. Together, their games have sold more than 35 million units globally. The pair have also founded, expanded, and sold three successful publishing companies — Arush Entertainment, to a foreign-distribution company in 2004; Gathering of Developers, to Take-Two Interactive in 2000; and FormGen, to GT Interactive in 1996—generating a combined $1.5 billion.

They’ve invested some of those proceeds into Radar, which has three games in development: “Earth No More,” an environmental-disaster action story; “Prey 2,” an alien-invasion game with a Native American protagonist; and Incarnate, a horror story in which evil must be hunted down and imprisoned (and whose concept came from Hollywood screenwriter Frank Hannah, who wrote “The Cooler”).

Usually, a movie based on a game gets green-lit only after the game has been released and built an audience. But Depth Entertainment is already shopping Radar’s stories around to studios—even though the games are still a few years away from hitting shelves. Merchandising and expanding an intellectual property from the get-go has been a long-standing Hollywood strategy, but the concept is still new in the game business, where all the focus generally remains on creating the game.

The typical game developer turns to a publisher to cover the costs of producing a game and subsequently surrenders ownership of that property. Once the game recoups the publisher’s loan, the developer begins to earn royalties. Radar is instead taking original ideas, partnering each with a game developer—it will work only with independent shops like Human Head Studios and Recoil Games—and then cutting distribution deals with publishers. The startup is working with retained adviser Gallipo Group, a new videogame venture-capital company, and expects to have $90 million in funding by this May.

By 2011, Radar plans on releasing three or four games per year, with eight to 12 projects in development at any one time. The franchises are expected to launch on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 platforms and gradually expand to Wii, Nintendo DS, and PSP.

One thing the company principals won’t ever do is license a Hollywood property. They’ll leave that task to companies like Brash Entertainment, which is sinking all of its funding into movie properties like Saw, Speed Racer, and Space Chimps. Miller believes that’s a doomed enterprise. But without a Hollywood association to fall back on, Radar’s games will have to be stellar to win over fans.

Coming soon to a theater near you? If the story’s good enough, yes.

~farhanriaz

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1st-person shooting games win top honors February 10, 2008

Posted by farhanriaz in Games, Review.
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  Academy Awards Top Honors to Call of Duty 4, Bioshock, The Orange Box at 11Th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards

 

Three critically acclaimed first-person shooters won top honors at the video game industry’s most prestigious awards show.

BioShock,” “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” and “The Orange Box” garnered four prizes apiece Thursday night at the 11th annual Interactive Achievement Awards.

“Call of Duty,” praised for its unique online multiplayer leveling system, was named overall game of the year and console game of the year. It was also honored as the top action and online game. It features an intense single-player mission revolving around global terror as well as a diverse set of multiplayer modes.

“BioShock,” which had a record-setting 12 nominations, won awards for art direction, story development, music and sound.

“The Orange Box,” a compilation of five distinct games, was named computer game of the year. Its mind-bending physics puzzler, “Portal,” was honored for game design, character performance and game play engineering.

The awards were handed out by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences at the D.I.C.E. (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) Summit. Winners were selected by panels of engineers, designers and others in the industry.

The winners in each category are as follows:

Overall Game of the Year:
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Producer: Mark Rubin
Game Director: Jason West
Creative Director: Vince Zampella

Console Game of the Year:
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Producer: Mark Rubin
Game Director: Jason West
Creative Director: Vince Zampella

Computer Game of the Year:
The Orange Box

Publisher: Electronic Arts, Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
Producer: Gabe Newell

Outstanding Innovation in Gaming:
Rock Band

Publisher: MTV Games
Developer: Harmonix
Producer: Robert Jerauld
Game Director: Bob Settles
Creative Director: Jonas Norberg

Handheld Game of the Year:
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

Publisher: Nintendo of America
Developer: Nintendo
Producer: Shigeru Miyamoto
Director: Eiji Aonuma Massively

Multiplayer Game of the Year:
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Publisher: Vivendi Games
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Producer: Frank Pearce
Game Director: Rob Pardo
Creative Director: Chris Metzen

Cellular Game of the Year:
skate.
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: EA Mobile
Producer: David Manriquez
Game Director: David Manriquez
Creative Director: Derek Zakaib

Role-Playing Game of the Year:
Mass Effect

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: BioWare
Producer: Casey Hudson
Lead Designer: Preston Watamaniuk
Art Director: Derek Watts

Racing Game of the Year:
Motorstorm

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Evolution Studios
Producer: Simon Benson
Creative Director: Paul Hollywood

Outstanding Achievement in Game Design:
The Orange Box: Portal

Publisher: Electronic Arts, Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
Lead Game Designer: Robin Walker
Game Director: Kim Swift
Creative Director: David Speyrer

Adventure Game of the Year:
Super Mario Galaxy

Publisher: Nintendo of America
Developer: Nintendo
Producer: Takao Shimizu
Game Director: Yoshiaki Koizumi
Creative Director: Shigeru Miyamoto

Sports Game of the Year:
skate.

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Black Box
Executive Producer: Scott Blackwood

Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year:
Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Los Angeles
Producer: Mike Verdu
Creative Director: Matt Britton

Action Game of the Year:
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Producer: Mark Rubin
Game Director: Jason West
Creative Director: Vince Zampella

Family Game of the Year:
Rock Band

Publisher: MTV Games
Developer: Harmonix
Producer: Tracy Rosenthal-Newson
Game Director: Greg LoPiccolo
Creative Director: Josh Randall

Outstanding Achievement in Animation:
Assassin’s Creed

Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Animation Director: Alex Drouin
Lead Animators: Elspeth Tory, Sylvain Bernard

Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction:
BioShock

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia
Visual Art Director: Scott Sinclair
Technical Art Directors: Hogarth De La Plante, Andrew James, Jay Kyburz, Nate Wells

Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering:
Crysis

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Crytek
Director of R&D: Douglas Binks

Outstanding Character Performance:
The Orange Box: Portal

Publisher: Electronic Arts, Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
Writer: Erik Wolpaw
Voice Actor: Ellen McLaw
Character Name: GLADos

Outstanding Achievement in Story Development:
BioShock

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia
Writer: Ken Levine
Character Designer: Rob Waters

Outstanding Achievement in Game Play Engineering:
The Orange Box: Portal

Publisher: Electronic Arts, Valve Software
Developer: Valve Software
Lead Game Designer: Robin Walker
UI Designer: Alden Kroll
AI Designer: Tom Leonard

Outstanding Achievement in Online Game Play:
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Lead Online Designer: Todd Alerman
Lead Online Programmer: Richard Baker

Downloadable Game of the Year:
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Publisher: D3 Publisher or America
Developer: Infinite Interactive, 1st Playable Productions
Producers: Arthur Kawamoto, Steve Baldoni
Game Directors: Steve Fawkner, Janeen Fawkner

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition:
BioShock

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia
Composer: Garry Schyman

Outstanding Achievement in Soundtrack:
Rock Band

Publisher: MTV Games
Developer: Harmonix
Music Supervisors: Paul DeGooyer, Eric Brosius

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design:
BioShock

Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Boston, 2K Australia
Sound Designers: Emily Ridgway, Patrick Balthrop, Justin Mullins
Audio Lead: Eric Brosius

Since 1996, the Interactive Achievement Awards have recognized outstanding games, individuals and development teams that have contributed to the advancement of the multi-billion dollar worldwide entertainment software industry. More than 160 titles were played and evaluated by members of the Academy’s Peer Panels. The panels are comprised of the game industry’s most experienced and talented men and women. Each panel is responsible for evaluating one award category. Interactive Achievement Award recipients are determined by a vote of qualified Academy members. Award voting is confidential, conducted online and supervised and certified by VoteNet Solutions, Inc. The integrity of the system, coupled with a broad-based voting population of AIAS members, makes the Interactive Achievement Awards the most credible, respected and recognized awards for interactive entertainment software.

About the D.I.C.E. Summit:
The D.I.C.E. Summit is a high-level interactive entertainment industry conference that brings together the top video game designers and developers from around the world and business leaders from all the major publishers to discuss the state of the industry, its trends and the future. The three-day event will be held in Las Vegas, at the upscale Red Rock Resort, February 6-8, 2008. Online registration for the D.I.C.E. Summit 2008 is open now. Please visit http://www.dicesummit.org for more information and to register to attend the interactive entertainment industry event of the year.

About the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences
The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) was founded in 1996 as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of the interactive arts. The Academy’s mission is to promote and advance common interests in the worldwide interactive entertainment community; recognize outstanding achievements in the interactive arts and sciences; and conduct an annual awards show (Interactive Achievement Awards) to enhance awareness of the interactive art form. The Academy also strives to provide a voice for individuals in the interactive entertainment community. In 2002 the Academy created the D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit, a once yearly conference dedicated to exploring approaches to the creative process and artistic expression as they uniquely apply to the development of interactive entertainment. The Academy has over 12,000 members, with the board comprised of senior executives from the major videogame companies including BioWare/Pandemic, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Insomniac Games, Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Sony, THQ and Ubisoft. More information on the AIAS, the Interactive Achievement Awards and the nominees can be found at http://www.interactive.org.

~by farhanriaz

2008 The PlayStation Evolution January 26, 2008

Posted by farhanriaz in Games, Software.
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How PlayStation will own 2008

Since the release of PSP, Sony’s been about creating platforms that aren’t just for gaming. Right now, both the PSP and PS3 are great for playing back movies, music, and displaying photos when you’re taking a break from button-bashing madness. Here’s how Sony plans to turn its PSP / PS3 combo into a real force to be reckoned with in 2008.

Sony has huge, on-going plans to evolve and enhance what both PlayStation platforms can do. It starts with PS3 becoming the centre of all your ‘digital lifestyle’ and feeding that down to the portable PSP. So much so that Sony hopes you’ll be using a PlayStation branded product as part of your everyday life.

We’re all in it for the games but with all these developments coming to our consoles, we’re happy (and rather excited) to embrace whatever other developments Sony may have. Here’s what we’ve got to look forward to in 2008.

PlayTV – TV tuner/recorder

Sony revealed at the Leipzig Games Convention last September its plans to turn PS3 into a digital TV receiver and recorder with the new PlayTV service.

Now, if you’ve got Sky Plus already you probably won’t give a damn. But with the ability to pause live TV, and to record programs onto the hard drive for later viewing, PlayTV is a luxury that many of us will be looking forward to.

And for us gadget-loving types, it gets even cooler when you consider PS3’s Remote Play connection with PSP. You’ll be able to access all your PS3’s recordings on your PSP via Wi-Fi internet, so you could be in India beaming the latest episode of Coronation Street to your portable. Isn’t that your dream? You know it is.

This is big bananas for the PS3 as a platform too, though. The phenomenal success of PS2 was partly thanks to the legions of people who bought it simply to use as a DVD player – the uncles out there that considered the game-playing part a mere bonus.

Those same people will be picking up a PS3 for its affordable, upgradeable Blu-ray capabilities as the population converts to HD entertainment, and the inclusion of recordable digital TV is, for those people, another crucial reason to buy the console over a dedicated Blu-ray player.

Hopefully Sony will keep the price of the receiver nice and low, so it can appeal to those same people, who tend not to like buying add-ons for consoles.

Home

Sony is taking its bloody time with this one, but it insists that the virtual world for PS3 has to be nothing short of perfect before it’s released. Of course it won’t be, but the firm’s aiming high with this one.

Home is one of those things that, if done right, could have A-bomb-like impact on PS3, bringing the PlayStation community together with a level of virtual interactivity not available on any other console. It’ll give PS3 owners their own virtual space that could become as precious to them as the MySpace and Facebook phenomenon of the internet. Sony wants it to be more of course, but one step at a time.

It could become the place you spend time in everyday, searching for new content, meeting other people and making Xbox Live feel like a relatively shallow, empty experience faced by nothing but menu screens.

Home could be incredible. But if done wrong – if it doesn’t run smoothly, connect gamers the way it promises to, feature all the constantly-added content or be easily personalised – it could just become another ignored icon on your XMB menu.

First impressions though are extremely positive, and we can’t wait to get our hands on it for ourselves. Here’s hoping it doesn’t turn into a breeding ground for sub-human behaviour. Like Xbox Live is becoming.

Go! Explore – GPS on PSP

None of us have TomToms in our cars. It’s got the worst name for a gadget ever, and the three-figure price tag is a lot to pay for fancy road maps that point you to the shops. They only end up getting stolen anyway.

So Sony unveils Go! Explore for PSP, which will be cheaper, smaller and more convenient than a dedicated machine. Suddenly we’re a lot more willing to let the wonders of satellite navigation technology into our lives. In fact, we’re actually looking forward to it.

PSP will become something that we’d actually carry around with us for its directional abilities. We’re waiting to see the full service in action but having a UMD dedicated to London town or another European city could put an end to getting stung at dodgy restaurants because you couldn’t find the one you wanted.

Skype

f GPS support isn’t already good enough a reason to carry about your PSP everywhere, how about the ability to use it as a phone over the internet?

Skype, a free voice-over-IP (VOIP) program currently used by PC types, will allow PSP owners to contact each other for free, using a microphone attachment that’ll come with the software. As long as you’re in range of a Wi-Fi access point, you’re good to chat as long as you like.

You can call real phones from it too, although that’ll cost a little – but it should be reasonably cheap. The only major downer is that Skype will only work on PSP Slims. Owners of the older model – Sony’s loyal early purchasers – will miss out on it completely, or be forced to make the upgrade. Thanks for that Sony.

Profile 2.0 Blu-ray support

A slightly less significant but nevertheless noteworthy part of PlayStation’s evolution, particularly in 2008, is the expansion of PS3’s Blu-ray playback abilities.

it’s ironic that not only is PS3 one of the cheapest Blu-ray players on the market, but it’s also the only future-proof player.

Profile 2.0 Blu-ray features will be launched later this year, which will allow users to download new content for their films, including trailers, features and ringtones.

But most of the dedicated Blu-ray players on the market to date lack support for internet connection, rendering them completely incapable of supporting the internet-centred features of Profile 2.0.

So as you’re downloading all the sweet Blu-ray content of joy on your PS3, you can laugh in the face of your rich uncle who bought a first-generation Blu-ray player for RS 100,000 that can’t do any of it.

~by farhanriaz

NVidia Quadro FX 5600 January 10, 2008

Posted by farhanriaz in 3D, Games, Hardware, Review.
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NVidia Quadro FX 5600
Written by Eric Beaulé

The NVIDIA Quadro FX5600, introduced in March 2007, is designed to tackle the most demanding 3D animation, rendering and visualization tasks. We’re not talking about a gaming video card here, but rather a high-end professional level graphics card based on the G80GL GPU with a hefty 1.5GB of onboard memory. The Quadro FX5600 along with the FX4600 is NVIDIA’s flagship graphics card. We have put NVIDIA’s top model, the FX5600 to the test, and you wll find our results and comments below.

Environment
Our test machine was a Dual Core AMD Opteron Processor 275, which is 2.21 GHz with 2.00GB of RAM running Windows XP Pro SP2, and the Quadro FX5600 resolution was set to 1600×1200.
The tests were done using real-word 3D scenes from a current HD 3D TV production. We did our tests by mainly importing very large existing scenes, mostly from Autodesk’s 3dsMax8, and ZBrush 3.1 from Pixologic. Yes, 3dsMax9 was available at the time, but the available material was created with the previous version of 3dsMax.

Installation
The installation of the Quadro FX5600 went very smoothly. The board is a full size graphics Card (12+ inches) which is almost the full length of a PC case, lengthwise. The card takes up two slots in the back of the host PC. The board connects to a PCI Express Bus. It also requires two auxiliary PCI Express 6 pin power connectors aside from the PCI-E host bus. One thing to keep in mind is to uninstall the video driver form the previous card before installing the FX5600, that is, if you are doing an upgrade.

For our test, we installed the 162.62 WHQL certified driver, which was the one available at that time. A newer version of the certified driver will be available by the time you read this article. For our testing purposes, it proved to be very stable and reliable. The driver was a breeze to install; even the Dual View option installed right away without a reboot. This is quite different, in my experience, as NVIDIA entry level cards usually require several reboots.



The NVIDIA Quadro FX5600 installed: Shown above 2X6 pin connectors & full length card 3dsMaxing The first test we ran was to import a very large size 3dMax8 scene from the Sci-Fi spoof 3D animation show, “Tripping The Rift”. The scene consisted of a heavily detailed background and five characters. In technical terms, the scene contained 987 objects, 166 lights and 1,183,273 polygons (faces). The Turbo Smooth function was set on 2 for all of the characters. We started moving the scene in a circular motion on the X and Y axis, and what we got, to our amazement, was ultra smooth and fluid movements without any lagging whatsoever. I mean, we were expecting great results, but this was nothing short of amazing. Since many textures and lighting artists do struggle while tweaking these large scenes, the director and animators literally stood in awe at the performance of the Quadro FX5600. And that was only our first test.

Another quick test was done with the particle flow in 3dsMax8. Nothing special here, except the FX5600 did effortlessly handle 1000 polygons per second with the 3dsMax generated particles.

ZBrushing
Our second segment was done within the new ZBrush 3.1 from Pixologic.We went all out and used a very large canvas of 4000 pixels for our model, with a face texture of 4096X4096 using the pixel-tri-shader. That did not take a toll on the FX5600, however, it proved a bit difficult to move the model around. Upon resizing the canvas to 2000 pixels, which is still a rather good size canvas, it was business as usual for the Quadro FX5600.

For the technically inclined, our model had 5,775,360 polygons (yes, that’s 5 million), and was set to “best.” Lights were in Zmode, shadow length was set to 400, alias was set to 8, and super sample was on 4 for our render test.

We then proceeded, and did an alpha test on a 2000 pixel canvas, with a 1,443,840 polygons model using the Lazy Mouse for precise and controlled brush strokes. Again, everything worked seamlessly and fluidly. The FX5600 is no slouch when it comes to keeping up with graphics refresh.

As we wanted to push the Quadro FX5600 to the limit and see how far we could go with it, we used Zbrush’s HD Geometry, which is an advanced sculpting feature. We created a model which in the end was made up of 92 million polygons (yes, that is correct). Then, whichever region we’d select to work on, the sculpting was fast and responsive. Editing and sculpting sections (or subdivisions) was handled very easily and precisely by our test card. We experienced no waiting or delay while pushing the FX5600 to (what we thought was) the limit. Again, we were pleasantly surprised.

Conclusion

I was expecting to review a very good graphics card, but it really did exceed my expectations. The Quadro FX5600 with its 1.5GB of onboard RAM performed flawlessly in all our tests. Anything that was thrown at it, was successfully handled. Although in the higher price range of the graphics card market; it retails at MSRP of $2999, it will, without a doubt, serve the most demanding users. Also, It offers the instant gratification and rewards of the new power-hungry features and functionalities from all the latest software.

I truly believe that the FX5600 would greatly benefit any busy freelance graphic artist, or animation/graphics studios that works with demanding graphic data. In my opinion, it will speed up workflow,and improve render and delivery time.

[Related Links]
www.nvidia.com/quadro

http://www.nvidia.com/datasheet.pdf

Burnout Paradise Hands-on Preview December 31, 2007

Posted by farhanriaz in Games.
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Criterion doesn’t need to justify its work on EA’s Burnout series. In fact, Burnout has nearly become synonymous with driving games that concentrate more on creating vehicular havoc rather than trying to avoid it.

The original BurnoutTakedown and Point of Impact—were all great games, but it became apparent that Criterion started to reach the limits of what it could do with the old Xbox hardware. Burnout Revenge was the developer’s first foray on the Xbox 360, but this speed demon showed no signs of the typical freshman foibles that plagued some of the other teams new to MS’ latest box; a great game for sure.

If one had to dig for a shortcoming in the lineage of Burnout titles, it would have to be with the way in which its various modes are presented. And if one really wanted to dig a bit further, there are arguments to be made with how the series has gone about Live multiplay functionality.

Yeah, we have to really stretch here, due to Criterion’s impeccable reputation on the Burnout series, but, as we all know, nary a game is perfect. It’s that strive towards unreachable perfection that has pretty much made every new Burnout title greater than its predecessor. Our hands-on time with Burnout Paradise confirms this same trend and, not surprisingly, has showed us that big changes have been made this time around pertaining to the way in which events are accessed and Live functionality is presented.

You’ll instantly know that Criterion has some interesting tricks up its sleeve for Live integration and social gameplay functionality for Burnout Paradise. With a Live Vision camera connected, you can take a driver’s license photo that will be instantly linked to the gamertag signed in at the time. With this virtual license as your new calling card, you can now put a face to the thousands of potential online competitors that can interact within the confines of Paradise City.

The mugshot fun carries on into co-op events in the form of FreeBurn Challenge events. You and up to seven friends can combine efforts to attack the records already set by other FreeBurn competitors. Or, you can create your own FreeBurn contests and have the rest of the posse follow your lead.

General co-op Challenges are also pre-set in the “always online” format of Burnout Paradise. The events are all dependent on the number of players (from two to eight) and can range from simple electronic gatherings, to cumulative yardage while airborne and just about everything in between. Of course, there are gads of opportunities to go head-to-head in Burnout Paradise’s instant online architecture, including competitor-created race events, quick matches or your very own versus race routes created from dozens of start/finish/checkpoint locales strewn all about the eighteen-plus square miles of Paradise City. Take a guy down and you’ll actually get the chance to send him a super-special mugshot message of what you think about his skills as a driver. Of course, these won’t include any obscene finger gestures, now will they?

The really good news in all of the changes made to Burnout Paradise’s Live multiplay capabilities is that you’ll hardly know if you are involved locally or remotely in the action. A quick tap of the d-pad will bring up the Paradise City Live menu, which can be accessed any time during a game. From there, a Friends list can be brought up for instant Freeburn action, player/ranked matches can be searched or created, Challenges attempted, Leaderboards accessed and a cool mugshot trophy room can be perused. But you’ll never have to leave your current game to do anything online in Burnout Paradise, and you can just as easily pop back to local play if you so desire. A quit confirmation and slight pause is all that separates you from intense human interaction via Live (and Vision) and a solo session with less critical AI buddies.

The local play of Burnout Paradise will be a bit more familiar to the fans of this series, but it’s pretty easy to call the user interface and general work flow of this latest model revolutionary. You’ll have some new events—such as the Stunt Run,which is all about THawk-like tricking, but with cars instead of decks; and you’ll also get to try out the cat-and-mouse-like game of Marked Man—but the vintage bits have been salvaged as well. Again, it’s really how Criterion went about presenting the user’s chores that makes Burnout Paradise much more intriguing than its predecessors. Simply pulling the brake and accelerator at a stop light accesses the events, which progressively unlock as you tool around Paradise City. Events are made apparent on the mini map once they are accessed, which means you’ll never have to leave the gaming action to try and complete a race, takedown a foe or trick for points. You’ll have to pay close attention to the inset map and the street sign GPS system at the top of the screen to progress through the game, but hardcore race-game fans will surely see this as the beauty of Burnout Paradise; you never really quit driving.

While there is a greater emphasis on aerial tricking in Burnout Paradise than ever before, the real bread-and-butter of Criterion’s extreme racer/crasher is very much intact. A new deformation system is in place for Burnout Paradise, and it’s pretty much a sight to behold for those guys that get off on the tech stuff. How Criterion can make a faux Accord accordion is beyond us, but it sure does speak loudly and directly about its experience in digitally creating destruction. The more normal scrapes, bumps and bruises, and the more serious body-part damage, missing panels and “total loss” conditions are stunning to boot, especially when running at an unbelievable 60fps. And the best part is that you’ll have even a better lineup of pretty cars to turn ugly in Burnout Paradise, as SUVs, muscle cars and more exotic exotics have joined this ode to vehicular homicide.

Easily the best looking, most innovative and online-functional extreme racer that we have played to date, Burnout Paradise is very much poised to make an…er, impact once it finally drops.

With its exploration and social interaction emphasis mixed in with the bits from Criterion’s storied franchise that you’ve already fallen in love with, there’s already reason to believe that Burnout Paradise will be the clear-cut race leader for most of—if not all of—2008.

Look for more on Burnout Paradise as its January 22 ship date approaches.

~ from the mag TEAM XBOX