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The 2010 E3, Electronic Gaming Expo held at the Los Angeles Convention Center from June 15th-17th featured some of the most immersive and exciting first person shooter games to ever be released.

Fans of first person shooter games have many titles to look forward to in the coming year that will have the gamer battling as a Tier 1 operator in Afghanistan, a member of a secretive special forces unit or as a soldier using weaponry fifteen years in the future.

The expo was a buzz with 3-D gaming and interactive peripheral devices like XBox’s Kinect and Sony’s Move. War-time based first person shooter games have had a shadow cast on them by Sci-Fi based titles such as the Halo series and the Killzone franchise in the last few years but 2011 looks to make a huge blast with new titles from favorite franchises.

Medal Of Honor is taking us to present day Afghanistan instead of WWII in their new release. You become a Tier 1 operator in a super secretive team that operates above the Special-Forces Unit. These guys are the elite of the elite. Medal Of Honor is still telling a narrative of one soldier’s battle within the broad scope of war but it has added a litany of upgraded controls like weapon modifications to further enhance your soldier’s repertoire.

“It’s really important for us in the Medal Of Honor franchise to be very authentic. We’ve worked directly with the Tier 1 operators to better understand the work that they do and how they go about doing what they do,” said Jim Varis, Senior Product Manager for Medal Of Honor.

The game allows the player to choose specific gear to fit the scenario they are entering into. Modifications can be made to weapons like the MP-7, a favorite among the Tier 1 operators. The player can customize their weapons with scopes, laser sights and grenade launchers.

“Instead of trying to do some crazy science fiction things we are staying true to our roots. We want to share with gamers unique individuals who are out there doing incredible work,” Varis said from the busy show floor.

There were a couple games showcased at E3 that had some aspect of crazy science fiction but according to the makers behind Blacklight: Tango Down their game is grounded in science fact.

Blacklight: Tango Down is influenced heavily by the aesthetic of the movie Blade Runner but maintains a plausible near future setting, if not modern day. Jared Gerritzen of Zombie Studios, project lead and lead game designer for Blacklight: Tango Down said he has had the idea of a game built around weapons customization since H&K first introduced the MP5.

“Just the subtle changes of the butt stock and the barrel made the gun look really cool. I started learning more and more about it and became pretty much a pretty bad gun freak” he said over the phone from his office in Seattle.

Blacklight: Tango Down offers a deeper level of weapons customization than any other shooter on the market. The game features seven different weapons classes, each with their own modification capabilities that can be unlocked as the game progresses. Muzzle, barrel, grip, magazine, scope and stock can all be tailored to meet the need of a certain mission. The number of possible weapon combinations is in the millions.

Another exciting feature to the game is HRV (Hyper Reality Visor), which allows players to enter a virtual reality mode via their helmets. Enemy locations and key points become visible to allow for faster game play and promote teamwork. The developers say such technology is not far off from being used in the actual battlefield.

“With this game it’s definitely not your hardcore creep through the bushes wait for that guy to come because with HRV everyone knows where you are.”

Gerritzen agreed that the current market of shooter games are either hyper-militaristic or science fiction based. Blacklight: Tango Down rests comfortably somewhere in the middle.

“We really wanted to have that middle where you have these cool fantastic environments but yet these more down to earth weapons that are cool but less purple and green.”

Blacklight: Tango Down is set for release in the second quarter of this year as a digital download.

Long lines plagued the expo but an extra few minutes wait was more than worth it when only a few moments into the Call of Duty: Black Ops demo a WMD manufacturer took a ninja star to the throat. The demo of the new game only got more engrossing from there giving the player a chill in the snowy winds or singed eyebrows due to a blown up gas truck.

“It’s brand new ground; we’ve never done the Cold War era before so it’s given us access to brand new weapons, brand new tactics, all new conflicts and new locales. These are the Godfathers of special operations. These guys wrote the book on how to be black ops,” said Josh Olin Community Manager for Call Of Duty: Black Ops.

Olin described the process they use for capturing the most minute details. First the Call of Duty development team partnered with Sacred Sword; a Hollywood prop rental company that does mostly film and TV. They have hundreds of authentic replicas and real weapons. Once a team of artists have taken pictures and made compositions of the weapons, they go to an armourer and take the real weapons to a firing range to record the sound and muzzle flash. Dozens of microphones are set up in varied distances from the weapons to record a rich, accurate sound.

Every game takes certain creative liberties when in development but Call Of Duty: Black Ops makes an extra effort to stay historically accurate. For example, the AUG Assault Rifle is available for use in missions that are supposed to take place between the late 60’s and early 70’s, but the AUG wasn’t designed until 1977. Olin said that this isn’t a case of the team taking creative liberties with the history of the Cold War.

“We’ve talked to a lot of guys and they’ve informed us that it’s not unreasonable to say that an early prototype could been used at that time. If they wanted to field test those, these guys in the Black Ops unit would have been the first to get it. They would have been the guys to field test it before it went into production,” Olin said from Call Of Duty’s media room.

Ret. Lt. Col. Hank Keirsey of the US Army has been working as a technical advisor with the Call Of Duty development team since 2003. He is an instructor at West Point and an expert on military tactics. The development team brought the Lt. Col. on board to advise on weapons, tactics, combining infantry and tank tactics, how to clear a room, how to build a trench, etc., etc.

“When we finished World at War we sat around drinking copious amounts of amber fluids and asked “Where are we going to go next?” he said, as this writer grimaced from the handshake that could only be delivered by a retired Army Officer of 24 years.

“The ontogenesis of those weapons (the weapons featured in the demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops seen at E3) are from the early sixties. There was a conversion from the old 7.62 mm to a long range M1 variant kind of rifle, the M-14. When we went to Vietnam in the sixties we needed to pack a little more ammo. So we sacrificed the validity of the round, a long-range round, for more ammunition.”

What’s really interesting about Call Of Duty: Black Ops and what sets it apart from the other first person shooters featured at the expo is that it showcases a very covert group that existed in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Not much information has ever been released on this group. It worked with the CIA and was briefly branded SOG or the Studies and Observation Group. The name was dropped, however, because it gave away what the group was commanded to do, conduct highly secretive reconnaissance and rescue missions in Cambodia and Laos with the threat of severe political implications.

“They were sent in to get down pilots, POW rescue and finding concentrations of North Vietnamese. Picked from Special Forces, Green Berets and other units they were chosen based on their audacity, toughness and were allowed to carry any weapon they wanted.”

As the Call of Duty: Black Ops demo played on, one stealth kill even topped the ninja star when a bad guy guarding a door to the WMD factory was silently taken out with a cross bow. The Lt. Col. said that the cross bow was put in due to an anecdote told by a retired Black Ops operative.

“CIA had a James Bond technical guy where you would say “can you put some explosive tips on a cross bow? Can you get a shotgun round that fires incendiary?” And they would work on it for him. Would it be widespread? No, it would just be with this particular outfit.”

The Lt. Col. also added that every gun you see in the game somebody owns and that they were all live fired on a range for the game. He wanted to express to the readers of Tactical Weapons that buried and tucked away in the hills of California are real Americans holding the line against tyranny from an isolated outpost.

“Keep your weapons, keep them close” as he delivered another bone crushing handshake with a smile and walked away.

A franchise of military based gaming that keeps their firearms close by is the weapons-centric SOCOM series. Sony unveiled their new Move peripheral controller that brings more fluidity to game play and control of your character.

The development team for SOCOM 4 from Zipper Interactive has become synonymous with tactical gaming. The SOCOM series puts the player in the boots of an elite soldier in a Navy Seal Tactical Team. SOCOM generally defines the roles of the Seals in the game by the weapons they hold. Senior Producer at Zipper Interactive, Mark Bridges stressed that keeping the game weapons-centric is the most important part of the game because of the many different ways to approach a tactical situation.

“Different weapons have different purposes. (Modifications) add to the personality of the weapon. Different individuals like certain types of weapons to suit their style of play.”

Bridges also said that SOCOM 4 has always been a team based game but this release will be more immersive and strategically minded than past releases.

“The biggest change is visual perception. Gamers feel like they are essentially working with the weapon. The weapon is a tool but your team keeps you alive. (Gamers) must be spatially aware, knowing where their individual team members are.”

The introduction of the Move pulls out different aspects of the game itself. Giving gamers the ability to pick and choose targets on screen as well as coordinate teammates.

“As you go through and perform different strategies, the AI (artificial intelligence) or enemies will adapt. You rely on your teammates. With team coordination you will dominate” said Bridges as he tossed a hand grenade into an enemy hideout.

Sony’s Move motion-sensing system is slated for release date September 19th of this year and SOCOM 4, featuring 12 hours of game play and a multi-player option will be available in the fall of this year.

If you never get enough of shooting bad guys from the comfort of your couch, then there is a lot to look forward to in the coming year. Game enthusiasts that aren’t all about hopping on top of mushrooms for power-ups or playing guitar on some silly controller have several new reasons to dust off their gaming consoles. We can all look forward to coming home, cracking open a cold one, getting comfortable and fighting the War on Terror.

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