Monday, June 28, 2010

MINI-LIST: Best Announcements of E3 2010

I guess we have ourselves a tradition. Here’s – in my opinion – the best announcements of E3 2010… as a MINI-LIST!

As a side note, of my Best Announcements of E3 2009 list, only one of the games will actually see a release in 2010. Square Enix claims Final Fantasy XIV will be out this year, but I’ll believe it when I see it. That gives you an idea of how the video game industry moves. You’ll also notice that there’s only one non-Nintendo title on this list. Well, unless you’re excited by Xbox 360 and PS3 trying to imitate the Wii’s motion controls with Kinect and Playstation Move, then there wasn’t too much else to see. Sorry, Halo and Gears of War fanboys.

But yes, on with the list!

5. Donkey Kong Country Returns

What’s the big deal? It’s a new Donkey Kong Country, for God’s sake. Do we have stupid characters like Baby Kong and Cranky Old Bitty That Cuts You Off on The Highway In Her Huge Chrysler Fifth Avenue Kong? No, and what’s wrong with you, Invisible Question Man? We’re back to the roots with Diddy and Donkey! Is it 2D, sidescrolling? Oh yes, with parallel layers. Donkey and Diddy can make their way to the background or foreground whenever they need to. I guess Rare is back and better than ever? Nope, Rare still sucks. This one is being developed by Retro Studios – the guys that brought us the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Most importantly, will there be Mine Carts? Oh, you’d best believe.

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword

Didn’t you mention this in your list last year? Yes I did. So why bring it up again? This is 2010! Last year all they had to show was a teaser poster and there wasn’t even a title. This year they have gameplay! Albeit early, under-developed gameplay, but heck, Link was swinging his sword in perfect 1:1 connection with the Wii Motion Plus! Oh, man… is it cell-shaded again? Yes, but not like Wind Waker. This is a more colourful style, and besides, Link’s all grown up… and no freakin’ boats! Please, for all that’s holy, Tingle isn’t in it, is he? It’s too early to tell, but you could probably start fashioning a noose now, just in case. Will we still be hearing about this at E3 2011? Probably.

3. Portal 2

How could Valve possibly top Portal!? Well, how about new gameplay elements like physics-changing paint that can give you super speed? Huh, what about that? Is that hilarious, and completely harmless, GLaDOS still up to no good? Oh yes, GLaDOS is back and this time there’s several of her. Those personality cores you met at the end of Portal? Well they’ve all split off and created their own identities this time around. Companion cube, companion cube, companion cube? Honestly, I didn’t see anything about our best friend ever, but they’d have to be completely brainless not to bring the Weighted Companion Cube back in a big way. Did Chell escape in the last game and do we have a new protagonist? Chell did not escape. If you’ve seen any of the updated additions to Portal on Steam then you’d know they altered the ending so that Chell is recaptured. Portal 2 is set 100 years in the future and Chell has been kept on ice. Will there be cake? Oh yes, and science.

2. Goldeneye 007

You idiot, Goldeneye came out in 1997. Are you playing tricks on us? I’m not messing with you. An all new Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo Wii, with updated graphics, gameplay and online multiplayer! O RLY!? OMG, is Brosnan making a return!? Actually, no. This game is being remade in the new style of Bond film and featuring Daniel Craig as 007 to help it mesh with the new films. Well, Rare is at least doing something worth a damn, right? Ha, again, no. This one is being developed by Eurocom and published by Activision. I think Rare made some shitty Facebook game for Xbox 360, though. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. What about Trevelyan and Natalya? Are they making an appearance? Trevelyan has been shown, and no, before you ask, it’s not Sean Bean. As to whether we’ll have to return to Hell and cart Natalya’s ass around the Bunker or the Jungle is yet to be seen. Will we finally get an All Bonds Code? Yes, and Sasquatch will also be a playable character.

1. Nintendo 3DS

3D without glasses? Oh, please. It’s real and apparently, it’s amazing. Imagine Mario jumping off the screen at you? Well, from all accounts that’s just the kind of thing you’ll see. Isn’t this just another stupid version of the DS? No, this is a full-on successor. If you don’t recall, Nintendo used the Gameboy brand name from 1989 right up until 2005 with the release of the Gameboy Micro. This has all new graphical output – comparable to the PS2 and Wii – and will have new titles as well as backwards compatibility with the DS. Oh, and you'll be able to take 3D pictures.  Yeah, that just happened.  Are the games going to be focused on casual players, like usual with the Nintendo? I don’t think you’ve been paying attention. Nintendo is definitely focusing their efforts on the hardcore and regular gamer. Did you see more Cooking Mama this year? No. You saw Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Goldeneye and Kid Icarus, carnsarnit. To top that, some of the games that were announced for 3DS were Resident Evil Revelations, Star Fox 64 3D, Paper Mario 3D and Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater “The Naked Sample” – I know, what a title – for crying out loud. Okay, sure Nintendogs + Cats was there, but you have to give Shiggy Pop something goofy to play with. Lemme guess, I’ll have to buy all the old Nintendo classics again, won’t I? Well, if you want them in 3D, then yes. But why wouldn’t you want them in 3D, fool!? At the show Nintendo had Yoshi’s Story, Mega Man 2 and Legend of Zelda up and running, and rumor has it that they looked awesome in pop-up, 3D graphics. Other games shown in a preview demo included Castlevania, Urban Champion, Kid Icarus, Smash Ping Pong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros., Tennis, Metroid and Mystery of Murasame Castle. Okay, I'm sold.  Will we see this in 2010? Sadly, no. The President of Nintendo of America – Reggie Fils-Aime - announced it wouldn’t make its way out until 2011. That being said, just about every other huge announcement the Big N had this year is intended for 2010, including Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Metroid: Other M, Kirby: Epic Yarn, etc, etc, etc.

Now that’s how you do an E3, Microsoft and Sony.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

RyHo's Favourite Episodes of The X-Files

When I was a kid I was at a friend's house on a Friday evening, 1993. I was 10 years old and we were playing video games in his basement. It was late – remember, I was 10 - and I was on my way home when I came upstairs and found his mother watching a TV show. It was The X-Files. I watched a few minutes of the show and instantly became hooked.

From that day forth I had to catch The X-Files every week. It eventually made its way to Sunday night TV with the likes of The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and many other great shows. Sunday was a ritual for me. The weekend was winding down. I'd make a snack and sit back and watch two hours of great TV, which included my favourite TV show of all time.

Here are five of my favourite episodes. I'd like to say on this occasion that these are in order, but I think my top ten shifts now and again. I haven't purposely avoided "mytharc" episodes here, which is a whole other can of worms, but none appear in the list. I've just always been more into the "monster-of-the-week" episodes when I look back at the series as a whole.

5. Paper Hearts: Season 4 - Episode 10

This episode is an interesting one because in it we have Mulder and Scully investigating a child- killer, played by Tom Noonan. It’s an odd duck of an episode because we have a seemingly real-world killer, with no real supernatural affiliation.

If you don’t know Tom Noonan, he’s been in some different films that you may have seen, such as The Monster Squad as Frankenstein’s Monster, RoboCop 2 as Cain and Heat as Kelso. I know him mostly from Manhunter, which was another Michael Mann film – like Heat – based on the Thomas Harris novel “Red Dragon”, which was remade in 2002 starring Ed Norton. Noonan played Francis Dollarhyde in the film – the role reprised by Ralph Fiennes in the 2002 version – a creepy, psychopathic serial killer that believes he is evolving into a god-like beast, the Red Dragon. I find him to be a really good character actor, even though his appearance and height, at 6’6, probably keep him out of a lot of roles he would be great in.

Regardless, he once again plays a fantastic “monster” in this episode of the X-Files. His character is a serial killer by the name of John Lee Roche, who killed little girls for many years as he traveled the country as a vacuum salesman, evading the police. He would take little cut-outs of hearts from their clothing as a souvenir.

The supernatural aspect of this episode is that Mulder is having dreams that lead him to Roche and through the investigation for one of Roche’s victims, whom Roche claims is Mulder’s little sister, Samantha. One of the driving forces of the show, in case you don’t know, is that Mulder witnessed his sister’s abduction by aliens when he was a boy, resulting in his fascination with aliens, UFOs, and all things “X-File”.

I think the characters and the acting drive this episode, Noonan playing a great villain. Again, it’s an interesting episode because it isn’t really “mytharc” – an episode that follows the backbone alien invasion arc throughout the series – but involves Samantha, shedding doubt on Mulder’s experiences as a youth. It is also a great episode for Duchovny, who’s pushed off the deepend with Roche and the possibility that this man did abduct his sister – which could completely negate his life’s work, in a way - and voraciously hunts this final victim both in the real world and in his dreams.

4. Jose Chung's From Outer Space: Season 3 - Episode 20

This episode is one of those kismet moments in the series where everything just comes together. It’s an excellent script, perfect acting and timing as well as fantastic characters. The episode is also strewn with inside jokes and homages that make it a must-see for anyone that’s into The X-Files.

Occasionally throughout the series there would be these tongue-in-cheek episodes where the show takes some time to make fun of itself. Whenever these sorts of episodes come along it’s a nice breath of fresh air from the usual conspiracy and straight-forward monster-of-the-week stuff, and are always memorable. For me, none are as memorable as Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.

In this episode we have an author, Jose Chung, played by Charles Nelson Reilly – an American actor known for his comedy roles – who is consulting with Mulder and Scully as he’s trying to write a book about alien abduction. They speak to him about a specific case of theirs involving a young couple who both had conflicting stories about their alleged alien abduction.

The episode goes from crazy to full-on insanity as it advances. In the beginning we have the two teenagers being found, the girl with her clothes on inside out, which leads to Scully thinking she was a victim of rape by her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, however, claims they were abducted by aliens, which the girl corroborates after a hypnosis session. This snowballs into a conspiracy involving the government and an apparent witness that claims a giant, Harryhausen-themed alien, by the name of Lord Kinbote, took the teenagers. At one point Mulder is confronted by Men in Black, played by Jesse Ventura and, wait for it, Alex Trebek...

Please, folks. Even if you don’t watch X-Files, but can appreciate a fun, comedy piece, do yourself a favour and watch Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, from Season 3 of The X-Files.

3. Ice: Season 1 - Episode 8

Ice is an oft-cited episode by horror buffs because the storyline is very reminiscent of a widely popular horror film by John Carpenter. This episode most definitely takes cues from the short story “Who Goes There?”, by John W. Campbell, which was the inspiration for the Howard Hawk’s film The Thing From Another World (1951) and its subsequent remake by Carpenter, The Thing (1982).

In the first season of the show creator Chris Carter and his go-to writers, Glen Morgan and James Wong, wanted to set the tone as a “monster-of-the-week” series. (I’m sorry I keep using that term, but if you were to search anything X-Files, you’d see it’s the most prominent buzzword for the series, next to the term “mytharc”, which I explained above.) As this was the first season, and the backbone of the series would really be developed in the next few seasons, we were treated to lots of these mini-horror films.

In this episode we have Mulder and Scully traveling to a desolate location in the North. Several researchers are working in Alaska drilling for ice cores and when a very distressing transmission is received from their base, the FBI and several other researchers and scientists are sent in to see what’s wrong. Much like in The Thing we have Mulder and Scully trapped in the research bunker with several other individuals, which are one-by-one being taken over by some entity long-forgotten in the ice.

Again, like The Thing, the isolation and confinement of the research bunker play a great role in this episodes success, as does the acting and characters. This episode actually has Xander Berkeley, whom you’d remember from countless TV shows including The A-Team, The Twilight Zone and 24, as well as films like Terminator 2, Candyman, Heat – oddly enough - and most recently Taken and Kick-Ass. He’s just one of those guys that end up in everything.

This episode was actually intended to be a “bottleneck show”, which is a term used for an episode that costs the least amount of money, in this case due to the one, small location. However, it ended up being one of the most costly with the special effects used.

It might be due to the short story it’s based on, but this episode is considered not only one of the best from Season 1, but one of the best the entire show has to offer and I think stands up just as well – although on a much lesser scale – with a film like The Thing. Horror fans should at least check this one out.

2. Detour: Season 5 - Episode 4

With all of the different monsters that have made their way into X-Files episodes, the creature featured in the episode Detour is one the most memorable, in my opinion, and you don’t ever really even see it.

The premise is that Mulder and Scully are on their way to a team-building exercise, much to their chagrin, but fate steps in as they are stopped en route and become involved in the case of a missing hunter in the forests of Florida, which remarkably look like British Columbia.

In the search for the missing hunter, Mulder, as usual, starts to figure out what’s going on, and surmises that they’re dealing with an invisible hunter; a species of creature, divergent from human evolution, that has remained unseen and unnoticed in the forests for thousands of years.

What makes this episode stick clearly in my mind is the visual effects. In showing us the creatures they use what I’d call a poor man’s Predator effect. You know when they show the Predator in cloak? Well, it’s like that, but on a TV show budget. This is blended, very well, with dark scenery and the eerie landscape of the forest and it comes out as a great effect.

The landscape itself is fantastic as well. As is often the case in X-Files episodes, the location is almost a character in and of itself, creating a great atmosphere that helps the show deliver as much scary as it could.

1. The Host: Season 2 - Episode 2

My number one episode, by far, must go to The Host, from Season 2.

I remember the first episode of The X-Files I ever saw very well. It was called Fallen Angel and aired mid-way through Season 1. Although I hold this memory near and dear, in a way – even though it’s odd to say that I remember something like a TV show so fondly – there was never such an episode that scared me like The Host.

This episode is a brainchild of series’ creator Chris Carter. Carter didn’t actually write all that many episodes, mostly being involved as the show’s producer and the major backbone storylines for the series, but when he did do an episode, they were pretty much always great. The Host came about from several topics ranging from his dog having worms to Chernobyl. It’s amazing how this sort of thing can come together.

The plot follows Mulder who is sent by Assistant Director Skinner to look into the case of a Russian sailor found half eaten in the sewers of New Jersey. An interesting aspect of this episode is that in the first few episodes of the show, Scully actually acts as a sort of spy. She’s sent in by the powers-that-be to look into Mulder’s work on the X-Files, which sets up her skepticism in the majority of the series. In this particular episode she’s decided to leave the FBI to go back to being a medical doctor - her former profession - and Mulder feels that this case is a form of punishment against him and his work. After talking Scully into performing an autopsy on the Russian man’s body, the two become intrigued with the case and pursue it.

On the Russian’s body Scully finds a fluke worm, which couldn’t have caused the damage to the man’s body and raises Mulder’s suspicions that something out of the ordinary is afoot. As the episode progresses there are other deaths in the sewers of Jersey, which some people think are a result of the old urban legend of alligators in the sewers. What they find is much more sinister than that... the Flukeman.

The Flukeman is an awesome use of monster special effects. The idea here is that a fluke worm was radiated, possibly by Chernobyl, and evolved into some kind of new man-like species. This monster, guys, is so creepy and gross. I saw this thing in my nightmares for weeks. There’s just something so placid in its eyes and so jarring in its appearance. If you’re ever looking for a good scare, check out Season 2’s The Host.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

MINI-LIST: Coolest Alien Races

It's time for me to give this mini-list thing a whirl. So let's get it on like Red Dawn.

5. Technarchy/Phalanx

What's with the slash? Well, the race is the Technarchy while the Phalanx are a genetic offshoot. You seriously think these guys are cooler than the Transformers? No. I'm just not comfortable calling Transformers an alien race since they're machines. But these guys are techno-organic so...yeah. What alien race from Star Trek are they most comparable to? The Borg. But they're way more hardcore. Have they ever tried to take over the Earth? While it's something they totally would do if they ever had the chance, it was actually the Phalanx that pulled this trick after stupid humans inadvertently created them and tried to use them to eliminate mutants. Didn't work out too well. Would I enjoy visiting their homeworld (Kvch)? Sure. You'll enjoy everything once you are assimilated into the Collective.

4. Xenomorphs

Aren't they more like an alien species rather than alien "race"? Whatever. Are they friendly and cuddly? Look at the freaking picture! OK, so should I shoot them? Not at close range if you can help it. Didn't they kill Bill Paxton? Yup. Is Burke still worse than them? Well, it's not like you see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.

3. Irkens

How's their government work? They are ruled by The Almighty Tallest - the two Irkens who just happen to be...taller than everyone else (pictured).Works for me. What's their favourite thing to do? It's a tie between bulldozing planets to convert them into single-purpose areas (like parking lots or food courts) and eating snacks. Have they ever tried to take over the Earth? Not officially. The Irken Empire doesn't give two shits about the Earth. But Zim doesn't know that and takes his "mission" to wipe out all humans and prepare the planet for conversion very seriously. But, as Gaz observed, "He's so bad at it." Don't they seem a little tame for a Jhonen Vasquez creation? I guess you're right. Except that their MO is exterminating and enslaving other races just so they can turn their planets into one-stop shopping complexes. What does the "g" stand for? I don't know.

2. Predators

Isn't it awesome how they insist on using edge weapons despite their super-advanced technology? It sure is. Have they ever tried to take over the Earth? Nah, they just like to hunt us for sport from time to time. Killed Bill Paxton? Natch. What alien race from Star Trek are they most comparable to? You could say the Klingons but it's quite a stretch. They're a hell of a lot deadlier and cooler. Is the new movie actually going to be any good? God, I hope so.

1. The Shi'ar
What alien race from Star Trek are they most comparable to? The Romulans. They're smart, aggressive and mean. What makes them cooler than the Kree and the Skrulls? For one thing they're a lot smarter. As technologically advanced and powerful as both the Kree and Skrulls are, both races are completely preoccupied with killing each other. This has led their empires into decline while the Shi'ar's just keeps growing. They did actually have a war of their own with the Kree but they won. Have they ever tried to take over the Earth? Pretty sure they haven't. But they have messed with Earth on occasion, including once sending the Brood (a very nasty alien species kind of similar to the Xenomorphs) there but this wasn't an official act of the Empire, it was just Deathbird acting on her own. Since their relations with the X-Men, the Shi'ar have actually for the most part maintained a good relationship with Earth (although they're still really fucking condescending) Are they fun at parties? I'm not sure but they were definitely a hit at the Grey family reunion. Unless you think massacring every single guest but Rachel wouldn't be a good time. Aren't you cheating by including the entire Shi'ar Empire since while the primary race is the Aerie, it actually incorporates many other races as well? Go fuck yourself.

Looking Forward to E3 2010

When I was a kid and started reading gaming magazines there was one event that I always looked forward to: the Electronics Entertainment Expo – E3. All the best announcements from the biggest video game companies came from this event.

The last few years have been very toned down. The video game industry was seeing some odd times, and the reaction was to make E3 a closed event, shrinking its size and grandeur immensely. Still, I (and Cole) have always said one day we’d like to go to an E3.

This year looks to be the return of the massive, media event that I remember from those gaming magazines a decade ago, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about some of the stories and announcements I think we’ll hear about (or at least hope) at this year’s E3.

You might remember that last year I wrote about the Best Announcements from E3 2009 and that’s something I might do again after the event ends. I’m actually going to attempt not mentioning any of the items on last year’s list that have not yet come to pass. This list is more of a prediction, which could contain some outright anticipation, optimism, and just a little bit of intrigue.

I’d also like to add that this list was actually a list of six, but by the rules that govern all things here in Five-O-Rama Land, one had to be culled. An honourable mention goes to The Last Guardian, a spiritual sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus for PS2.

5. Virgin’s Online Gaming Service

Richard Branson, adventurer and multi-millionaire, is not new to the video game world. You might recall in the NES and SNES/Genesis days that Virgin Interactive made all kinds of licensed games – both good and bad – for Disney, 7-Up and even the Dune novels. They also worked on region specific editions of all sort of titles in Europe like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Command and Conquer, and even Devil May Cry as late as 2001.

Since then they’ve been out of the game – I know, I kill me – but in 2007 Branson announced that he was working on a form of downloadable video game service. The project appeared dead, but that may have been premature. Apprently Branson has been given time at this year’s E3 event. A British electronics magazine, MCV, seems to think that his could be an announcement on a new Online Only video game service from Virgin, and so do I.

Why would I be excited about this? Well, honestly, I don’t know that I am. When I first heard of OnLive, I thought it sounded like a pretty bad idea. My tune has since changed, however. OnLive is a pseudo-platform-based video gaming system. Basically you pay a subscription fee - or possibly pay-per-title? - but you actually have a unit, some sort of small black box, which pulls the games from “the cloud” and streams them to your TV.

I’ve always been a console gamer. I like getting a system, buying titles for it; I actually feel like I have something substantial and operational. With PC games you could get software that might not work for your machine. Then you have to upgrade or buy a whole new unit to play it. With a console, I know the games will work right about of the box. With the idea of OnLive, basically it is a way of streaming PC games to your TV; just something I’m not interested in.

Virgin’s service is reported to be something a little different. We’ll have to wait for Branson’s address at E3, but the rumblings are that this will be an online service that will match, and compete, with the current-gen consoles, with multi-platform games from their libraries and even its own sort of challenge or trophy system. One thing I’m supremely annoyed with myself over lately is that I currently own all of the video game consoles on the market, with the exception of the PSP (which I really want for the remakes!). For some reason I felt like I needed all three (Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360… not to mention the Nintendo DS) so that I could get all of the cool games coming out. It’s too much! Really, it is. When the next console war hits, I’ll be choosing a side and sticking with it. With a service such as Virgin could propose that might not be an issue. I could get all the multiplat games, exclusives, and more, on-demand download. That could be very cool!

I won’t go on about this anymore, suffice it to say, I’m definitely intrigued and looking forward to hearing more about this service at E3 – should this come to pass.

4. Retro Studios Next Game

Who are Retro Studios? They’re an in-house development company for Nintendo, and have only produced three games to date: The Metroid Prime Trilogy. You might remember in my Best Announcements of E3 2009 list that I mentioned a new game in development by Team Ninja, which will be the newest installment to the Metroid series.

When asked why Retro Studios wasn’t developing Metroid: Other M, their answer was that they were working on a different game. So what game could Retro Studios be working on? The hope is that they are taking another classic Nintendo title, something almost long-lost or a stagnant series, and bringing to the current-gen in a big way.

Although I’ve only played the first Metroid Prime title, I loved the new gameplay, style and the departure from the rest of the Metroid series. It was an interesting step in a new direction, and I think they need to be commended on that. I really hope that Retro Studios is trying to do the same thing with another old Nintendo franchise – Donkey Kong, Kirby or perhaps Star Fox – and bringing it to the current market in a fun, innovative way. Here’s hoping there is an announcement at this year’s E3!

3. Nintendo “3DS”

The Nintendo DS has got to be Nintendo’s most successful video game system since the Gameboy was released in ’89. With innovative hardware, tons of fun and interesting titles and some great remakes/re-releases, the DS has easily become my favourite handheld ever.

The DS has seen some upgrades as of late, including the DSi – with upgraded hardware capabilities, including a camera, flash memory and downloadable game service – and the DSi XL – a DSi with much larger screens. Then why would Nintendo release a new handheld system right now?

Well, the word is on the street that information about the system was going to be leaked in Japan, so Nintendo of America had to step up and release information about the system, and what better event than E3?

Currently titled the “3DS”, the system has already been announced. Nintendo has stated that it will be a dual screen handheld system and that the screen (or screens) will be 3D displays without the need of glasses or external hardware.

Now everyone remembers the big N’s last try at 3D “handheld” gaming in Virtual Boy. With changes in technology, however, Nintendo – and I’d dare say the average consumer – are much more confident this time out. Reportedly the 3DS will use autopolyscopy, which is a big “sciency” term for using two screens, working in tandem to display simultaneous images. This creates the 3D effect. In fact, most of the movies you see in 3D today use this trick, but with the use of glasses as well - autostereoscopy, in case you were wondering.

With Nintendo’s track record of consoles, and especially handheld systems - with the minor exception of the Virtual Boy - this could very well be the next big thing in handheld gaming, and a real technological feat. Introducing the dual screens with the DS, Nintendo added a lot of innovation to the style of games that could be produced for the system. The same goes with the Wii and its “waggle” controls. People made fun of it a few years back, but now you see Xbox’s Project Natal and Playstation Move coming in and emulating this modernization.

News on the 3DS – and what it might actually be named – is a lock for the Expo. Nintendo has said openly that not only would there be info about their new handheld, but it would be playable at the show. I for one am definitely looking forward to June 15th!

2. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair

This one really falls in the rumour bin, but I just couldn’t help myself. At last year’s E3 a new Castlevania title, Lords of Shadow, was teased. A remake/reboot of the Castlevania series, the game keeps some old, faithful aspects like a Belmont with a whip, but creates a whole new story, that may or may not involve vampires – or Dracula – at all.

As exciting as a new, full 3D Castlevania title on the current-gen systems is, I’m a total sucker for the old-school Castlevania titles, most specifically the RPG, Castleroid-style games that branched off from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

Very recently a patent went through in the UK for a Castlevania gamed titled Harmony of Despair. As far as unique, music-themed titles for Castlevania games go, “harmony” has already been used with Harmony of Dissonance for the Gameboy Advance. All that aside, the buzz is that Konami has created a new Castlevania title, intended for Xbox Live, PSN and maybe even WiiWare, that will be the penultimate SOTN-styled game.

In this game there will, reportedly, be six classic characters from these series, that may include Richter (Rondo of Blood/Dracula X), Soma Cruz (Aria of Sorrow/Dawn of Sorrow), Jonathon Morris (Portrait of Ruin), Charlotte Aulin (Portrain of Ruin), Shanoa (Order of Ecclesia) and possibly even Alucard Tepes (Symphony of the Night) himself!

From the trademarking information, it’s believed that this will be a single-player title, but also a co-op and versus game. Ideas and screenshots are floating around that there might be a battle between two players – over the net – to take down a boss first, or several friends can co-op Castle Dracula together. Also, the whole presentation will be in HD (Xbox Live, PSN) and will be the first game of this style not on a handheld console since SOTN.

It’s incredibly exciting, and I’m hoping with all the hype and gossip floating around this title that Konami will make some sort of announcement regarding it on the June 15th weekend.

1. Portal 2

In 2007 Valve released a game for the Xbox 360/PC/PS3 called Portal. It was really only an “add-on” title for Half-Life 2, their insanely popular FPS series. The game became insanely popular with many gamers and an instant Internet meme superstar. Originally released in The Orange Box, which contained Half-Life 2 Episodes 1 and 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. It was also subsequently released for Xbox Live with additional challenge maps in 2009 as Portal: Still Alive – a title you’ll understand if you’ve beaten the game.

The game is a triumph – oh, if you play Portal, you’re so chuckling right now – and became a true phenomenon. The basics of Portal’s gameplay are that you have a protagonist named Chell – not that you’d ever get that from the storyline – who is locked in a facility owned by a company called Aperture Science. You are given a “gun” that can shoot portals on certain flat surfaces. Eventually you can fire two different coloured portals and you must use them to traverse different areas and puzzles.

The game is so short and sweet, but with its revolutionary gameplay aside, the story is also amazing. We watch as a seemingly insane robot by the name of GlaDOS attempts to trick you through the game, like a lab rat, all for the hopes of making it to the end and cake. You meet such vibrant characters as the Companion Cube, a completely inanimate object that you will most certainly fall in love with, and the cute, disarming robot gunners that Chell finds strewn throughout the game.

I can’t say enough about Portal. Not only did I get it in The Orange Box on the Xbox 360, I repurchased it on Xbox Live just to get the new challenge maps. When Valve pulled some brilliant viral marketing and added content to the game on their own downloadable game service, Steam, a few months back, I seriously considered buying it again. I think the storyline is hilarious, and inventive, and the gameplay is addictive and insanely fun.

Well, guess what!? After so many years of waiting, we have a sequel! This one was confirmed to be at E3, and in a playable demo, but in pure Valve/Aperture Science fashion was actually removed from the E3 press event with this message:

“Aperture Science is pleased to inform you that we have partnered with Valve to announce the gala CANCELLATION of the June 14 Portal 2 event at the Regal Theater. The event will be replaced by a surprise. And even though the cancellation of the event certainly counts as a surprise, we are pleased to further announce that the cancellation of the event is not THE surprise. However, per International treaties regarding the definition of the word "surprise", of which both Aperture Science and Valve are signatories, the time, date and content of the actual surprise will only become available as you experience the surprise.

If you'd like to ask fruitless questions about the E3 Portal 2 surprise or, more fruitfully, schedule an appointment to attend a Portal 2 screening at the Valve booth during E3, please contact Valve's Special Envoy to Surprises, Doug Lombardi.

Thank you for [RECORD SCRATCH].

PS: The surprising record scratch is also not the surprise.”

If you’ve played Portal, you know just how much this completely suits the game. Whether this is just Valve being funny and viral about the demo of Portal 2 at E3, or a slick way of showing off Half-Life 3 at the event with Portal 2 as an addition, isn’t known at this time. All I know is that I cannot wait to get my hands on another Portal game, and I believe that after this year’s E3 I’m going to be left spent and alone, awaiting Portal 2’s eventual release date.