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You enter the vaulted stone chamber with walls that are painted in a mosaic of fantastic worlds. The floor is strewn with manuals, controllers, and quick start guides. An Atari 2600 - or is that an Apple? - lies on an altar in a corner of the room. As you make your way toward it, a blocky figure rendered in 16 colors bumps into you. Using a voice sample, it asks, "You didn't happen to bring a good game with you, did you?" Will you:

A)ttack?
R)un away?
P)ush Reset?

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Ubisoft E3 2009 Media Briefing Summary

by Reggie Carolipio on June 20, 2009 @ 11:27 a.m. PDT

Not only did Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have E3 briefings, but to make up for its missing UbiDays, the publisher/developer decided give us a brief look at their upcoming titles, and what to expect from E3 itself. James Cameron was on hand to talk about Avatar, Pelé was introducing a new soccer game for kids, and plenty more looks at the 2009, and beyond, lineup.

After we survived the crazy queuing outside the Los Angeles Theatre, the Ubisoft press conference started off with Yves Guillemot's introduction of Uplay, an online feature that promises to offer game options that appear to be aimed at building communities. Most of the presentation consisted of several slides introducing the aspects of the free service, one of which was an online help system that could allow players to share hints from within the games that they are playing. Can't get to that last mark in Assassin's Creed 2? From within the game, you'll be able to find out whether someone else who's been playing the game has left behind a note about how to do it.

While the focus on the following presentations was on the games, Guillemot also spoke about "confluence" in driving the company forward into the future. By expanding into books, film and other avenues of entertainment, he argued, it would be possible for Ubisoft to develop its properties in ways that would promote this idea of confluence in merging these elements to promote its creativity in every direction. They had even gone so far as to purchase Hybride, a special effects company, which had provided over a hundred shots for their next guest's film.

James Cameron strode onstage to warm applause as the backdrop lit up to display the title of "Avatar," the technological tour de force that the groundbreaking director has promised would redefine the way we would view film. He spoke about the game that he and Ubisoft had been working on for the past three years, which is nearly as long as the film has been in production. After acknowledging that most movie games kind of "suck," he promised that the collaboration with Ubisoft in their game for the film wouldn't and began to explain why.

"Avatar" takes place in the far future centered on a world called Pandora, which mankind has discovered through space exploration. The atmosphere is poisonous to humans, but a workaround has been found in order to work within the deadly environment without risk because there are all sorts of goodies on the planet. Avatars, artificially grown examples of the large natives that live there, are used by operators via sophisticated equipment that sees, walks and feels through them as if they were in the same skin. For example, a person who could no longer walk could interface with one of these and experience what it's like to run and jump.

Ubisoft had approached Cameron and his team with an idea for a game in 2006, which was very similar to what he was thinking about for "Avatar." They found that they had a lot in common with their proposals and decided to team up and in doing so, created a partnership that had ideas flowing in both directions. The game won't tie in with the film's story, but it'll take place on the world of Pandora and have a completely separate story to expand the experience that gamers may discover.

Cameron went on to describe what the partnership was like with Ubisoft by explaining that ideas were freely shared between both teams, noting that his own production team had even gone so far as to design unique vehicles for use within the game. The director also mentioned that after seeing a bio-luminescent glow effect that Ubisoft created for the title, he adopted it into the film. The game will also be in stereoscopic 3-D, just as the film will be, which has apparently been described by those who have seen the results as "dreaming with your eyes wide open." Ever the showman, however, no footage from either the game or film was shown to the audience, leaving everyone wanting more.

Red Steel 2 for the Wii was shown off next, demonstrating the title and its new, western-styled look, courtesy of Creative Director Jason Vandenbergh. One of the exciting scenes shown off was where the trenchcoated protagonist was being dragged through a gully by a motorcycle. Since the game is played from the first-person perspective like its predecessor, the only things you could see were his hands and any obstacles that were in the way. A few fights were also shown, and the next game was announced with the help of an unexpected guest, Pelé.

Yes, THAT Pelé.

Ubisoft's new soccer game for kids will feature the legendary athlete as the main character. Players try to lead a scrappy group of young soccer stars into competition against other colorful teams. The artistic touches given to Pelé's alter-ego and the other characters in the game make the title look like a cross between a Saturday morning cartoon and a soccer version of Hogwarts, but that's only part of the title's charm.

Splinter Cell: Conviction showcased the title's innovative changes, since players last knew Sam Fisher as the most deadly person with a five o'clock shadow. Although we had seen some of the same footage at the Microsoft conference earlier in the day, Ubisoft spent more time going over the game's finer points, such as how the very environment was used to create a seamless experience by projecting mission objectives on buildings, walls, and whatever else the player might be instinctively heading toward. Sam also has the ability to tag enemies before storming a room, something which was shown off as the former covert specialist took a peek at what was on the other side of the door, marked two targets, and then proceeded to take out everyone. While it might seem like the game may require some skill to take out the bad guys, you could also say that it gives the player a few new tools through which to live the black ops lifestyle of Splinter Cell's star.

The trailer for Ruse followed, and it was the same trailer that we had seen before E3. The premise for the upcoming RTS seems to be based on fooling your opponent through bluffs, although how that is going to work was left to our imagination. It was a great trailer, but I wish that there was some gameplay to go along with it.

Next up was a title called Your Shape for the Wii, which the presenters demonstrated by taking a snapshot of your body.  Based on your body's general shape, the game allows you to target "problem areas" by building a workout regimen based on a few other factors. Once that's done, a default series of workout programs are shown, and you can tweak them to meet your specific needs. Then it's off to train with a series of exercises that the program will lead you through.

The program also tracks your progress, and at the end of a specified period, such as 30 days of daily training, another snapshot is taken and a graphic displayed to gauge any improvements providing immediate feedback about the effectiveness of your regimen. In some ways, it reminded me of Natal, only here replacing Milo with a professional trainer, which might be less eerie. While it might not challenge Bowflex for your floor space, it could fit in right next to it.

Cheers and whoops greeted the next Rabbids title as it was introduced.  Rabbids Go Home cheekily explained that the Rabbids have hatched a plan to go home ... to the moon ... by replacing Katamari Damacy balls with slightly unhinged Rabbids. The key part of their plan is to collect as much junk as possible to build a mountain of stuff to reach the moon. Supermarket, airport terminal, or wherever else stuff can be found, the Rabbids are rearing to go.

The first thing we saw from the game was a Rabbid sitting inside the Wii Remote, and as the demonstrator shook it around, the Rabbid went bouncing between the circuit board, chips and the far sensor wall. From there, he opened up a bag of tricks that you can use to modify your Rabbid, and it will smile sweetly back at you no matter how much abuse you might put it through. Inflate its eye with a pump, bounce it around some more, or give it a dorky hat; it doesn't matter. It loves you and will be your Rabbid in the game.

Gameplay included a wild ride atop a jet engine stolen from a passenger plane after Rabbids — and the player — had knocked it off to use for themselves. With it, the Rabbids went flying through the terminal, sweeping up everything in their way. Even people weren't immune to the Rabbids' plans to get to the moon, as they were pulled into the turbine and emerged crispy on the other end while hanging on for dear life to the exhaust port. Green rubber-suited foes, called Verminators, would also get in the Rabbids' way, deploying obstacles such as inflatable barriers to block areas from the Rabbids' five-fingered shopping spree.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash Up, due out on Sept. 22, also come out to play and looked like TMNT Brawl, which isn't a bad thing at all. Players looking for a fighting game on the Wii featuring their favorite ninja-trained terrapins won't have to wait for long.  From what we've seen, the roster will pit players against their favorite characters and finally settle the score as to who would win in a Splinter vs. Shredder matchup. It's too bad we didn't see Baxter Stockman, but I'm sure he's probably in there as an unlockable.

A trailer for Goichi Suda's sequel to No More Heroes, NMH2: Desperate Struggle, was also shown off to the crowd, and it was announced that Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Space Channel 5, Lumines) and Q Entertainment are working on a secret project called "Eden."

Last, but certainly not least, Assassin's Creed 2 was shown off with a release date of Nov. 17. Although the demo appeared to be similar to what was seen at Microsoft's conference, this one took players into the skies over Venice as one of da Vinci's inventions was demonstrated to help the player reach a rooftop target. Dual blades were also shown off and took two guards by surprise at the same time, but before he was able to escape, the courtyard was filled with very angry soldiers.

That was it for the show, but one of the things that we took away with us was that Ubisoft had spared little expense in proving that they are as serious about games as Microsoft is about hardware. It was an exciting view into Ubisoft's world and the games that they are ready to excite gamers with, and who can blame them? With all of the talk about confluence, using games to expand the world of film as opposed to simply miming the experience, and the innovation that the company continues to creatively experiment with in their titles, Ubisoft looks like it's on track to make 2009 another great year.

 

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