E3 2011: Hands on with Perfect World's Hottest New Titles


A boss monster prepares its attack in Rusty Hearts

This writer was invited to sit down and sample Perfect World Entertainment‘s latest offerings at E3 2011. Known for free-to-play MMORPGs such as Battle of the Immortals and Forsaken World, the developer/publisher presented three very unique titles during the event: the cel-shaded brawler Rusty Hearts, the first-person shooter Blacklight Retribution, and the monster-slaying action MMORPG RaiderZ. Read on to learn more about these fantastic titles.

The first title on our plate was Rusty Hearts, an Anime-inspired dungeon-crawler/action game. Rusty Hearts shares much in common with the Devil May Cry and Castlevania games; namely fast-paced action combat, gothic-inspired environments and demonic and monstrous enemies.

What was immediately noticeable while standing around the in-game town hub was the large amount of customization options available to players. While only two characters were available in the demo, over two dozen variations of these characters stood around town, with differences ranging from hair color to ridiculous costumes. I was given control of the scythe-wielding Angela, who was nigh unrecognizable due to the enormous bear outfit she was wearing.

The town areas are where players can interact with one another, form groups, trade, or simply explore. The many pathways and gates in town lead to instanced dungeons, where the real heart of Rusty Hearts lies.

Taking down some mermen in Rusty Hearts

Once players dive into a dungeon, the camera is locked into a side-scrolling view, which gives Rusty Hearts an old-school brawler look (à la Streets of Rage or Double Dragon). Dungeons are overrun with undead creatures and freakish monsters – some are easy to deal with, while others can put up a terrific fight. If the combat isn’t demanding enough, however, players can select from four difficulty levels to find the right level of challenge.

Combat is very combo-centric, with each playable character possessing a wide selection of attacks and skills that can be chained together to stun, juggle, or knock-down enemies. Players can defend themselves from attack by blocking incoming blows or evading them. The blocking mechanic is relatively strict; bosses can break through defense and players cannot effectively cancel their attacks into a block should the need arise. On the other hand, the evasion system is less rigid, allowing players to dodge away from attacks more easily and giving combat a more fluid feel overall.

In addition to offering full gamepad support (I played with both keyboard and mouse as well as an Xbox controller), Rusty Hearts offers more hardcore fans a solid PvP experience with features such as battle arenas, guild battles, and a tournament system.

Rusty Hearts is expected to enter its closed beta phase in July 2011 and will be free-to-play, so players need not worry about pesky subscription fees. Players interested in being a part of the closed beta can sign up for it on the official website.

The next title PWE presented was the first-person shooter Blacklight Retribution. Utilizing Unreal 3 and DirectX 11 technology, Blacklight looks great, especially for a free-to-play game. It is also highly detailed, featuring a wealth of customization options: from weapon modifications to swapping individual pieces of armor, I wasted plenty of time fiddling with my character’s appearance, much to the chagrin of the rest of my team.

While Blacklight doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel as far as core gameplay is concerned, there are unique elements to the combat that make the game stand out when compared to other FPS titles. Engagements are generally fast and frantic, due in part to a unique feature called the Hyper Reality visor. This allows players enter a “scan mode” which lets them see the position and movement of their opponents and allies. This means that players can find their target (or be found by an opponent) extremely quickly, making for very intense confrontations.

The biggest threat my team faced, and the most unique aspect of fighting in Blacklight, came in the form of mechs – players equipped with powerful mechanized armor called the Hardsuit. Unlocked through the weapon depot once players earn enough points, the Hardsuit not only increases its wearer’s resilience, but it allows them to chew through their opponents with ease. It certainly didn’t help that my team and I sucked: by the end of the match almost everyone in the opposing team had earned themselves a Hardsuit. To maintain balance, these powerful tools have a weak point which can be exploited by opponents: it is only visible when using the Hyper Reality visor. It was certainly a neat feature, though I admit I lacked the skill to take advantage of it.

The last title Perfect World presented was RaiderZ, a title that played like a cross between Nexon’s action-heavy Vindictus and Capcom’s Monster Hunter series. Imagine, if you will, satisfying action combat, massive monsters and an open-world environment, and you will get a good idea of the “feel” of RaiderZ.

RaiderZ offers its players a tremendous amount of control over their character’s growth. More conventional fantasy MMORPGs feature strict class systems, in which a player must choose a pre-set role for his/her character in combat. RaiderZ tosses this notion out the window, allowing players to select from over 350 skills and abilities to create their own class. Players who want to focus on pure damage-dealing can choose skills that encourage this, while players who want to create more hybridized classes can select from skills that suit their desired role or roles.

Customization is all well and good, but taking down massive mythical monsters is the name of the game in RaiderZ. After practicing on a dummy for a bit, our group left town to start a mission. We encountered plenty of cannon-fodder enemies, as well as two bosses during our demo session: a goblin-operated golem and massive dragon.

The goblin-golem was protected by a magic crystal in its chest, which mitigated any damage it received. In order to damage the boss, we needed to destroy the crystal. The problem with attacking it directly, however, was that it put players in the beast’s melee attack range, From powerful swipes to charges and grabs, the golem could knock away or stun its targets effortlessly and deal ridiculous amounts of damage while doing so. Recognizing the creature’s patterns and attack telegraphs and dodging accordingly was crucial to success. We were given the benefit of infinite resurrections: playing the game legitimately will offer players no such luxury.

The Goblin Golem boss in RaiderZ

Eventually we shattered the creature’s core, which allowed us to finally damage and defeat the boss. A facet of combat unique to RaiderZ is that enemies (and bosses) have various breakable appendages, which can be recovered and used by players. The crystal shards broken off the golem’s chest, for instance, could be picked-up and thrown at the boss for damage.

With the golem down, we took on the dragon next, who swooped in on our group as we traveled across the plain. Much like the golem, the dragon had a wide variety of attacks, but all of them were recognizable or predictable after spending time fighting the beast. After the intense workout we received from taking down the golem, the dragon seemed almost disappointingly easy. Still, it did its very best to rend us with its claws and teeth, or roast us with its fiery breath. After a few minutes of hacking, slashing and dodging, the beast breathed its last, bringing our demo session to a close.

It is satisfying to see MMOGs embrace precision and action, and it is impressive to see Perfect World Entertainment make the push on the free-to-play front. An oft-heard expression from free-to-play gamers is that PWE’s titles are all very similar to one another. All three of these upcoming titles are not only highly polished, but they are radically unique games that stand apart from the publisher’s previous offerings. We look forward to seeing more of these titles in the future.

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Child labor laws come to agriculture forefront.

Western Farm Press (Online Exclusive) August 31, 2011 | Bennett, David Byline: David Bennett Farm labor issues continue to frustrate producers across the country.

Among the chief complaints are federal visa programs that have proven too cumbersome and slow to keep up with the demands of cropping seasons. Add to that state laws passed to curtail illegal immigration that have instead had the unintended consequence of shortfalls in farm work crew numbers.

Now, the Department of Labor (DOL) is set to release new proposed rules for child labor. Long in the works, the new rules have reportedly been approved by the White House.

Farm Press spoke with Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), about visa program tweaks, whether the new child labor laws will impact family farms and why the labor situation is so dire. Among his comments:

On the DOL updating child labor laws and how that could affect children working on farms…

“We’re not sure what will happen, but recent reports are that the White House has agreed to allow proposed new rules to be issued.

“That will come in the form of a notice of proposed rule-making, not a finalized rule, yet. By law, that notice requires the DOL to seek public comment for a reasonable amount of time. *aNormally, there is at least a 30-day public comment period. I’ve been told this one may be open for 60 days.

“Also, (organizations like NCAE) that want to comment normally look at the proposed rule and, if it’s very complex, one of the first things we’ll ask for is an extension of the comment period: ‘Look, this is really complicated. We want to comment fully and can’t do it in the short time you’ve offered.’ “In the past, DOL hasn’t been as forthcoming in issuing such extensions as some other agencies. But in some case they have allowed extensions so we’ll probably ask.” On the Obama administration having been tight-lipped about the proposed changes…

“They’ve kept a very tight lock on what the proposed rules say. I’ve been told — but have not confirmed — that it does not remove the exemption for farm family children.

“Our best guess is that DOL will raise the age levels on some specific jobs they consider more hazardous than others. We also won’t be surprised if they place more limitations on works hours.

“That’s what is in place in Europe. The EU standard, with a few exceptions, makes it pretty difficult for anyone under 15 years of age — even the farm owner’s kids — to work on a farm.” Why that may not matter… see here child labor laws

“We just had some legal research done for one of our members. That was to clarify whether, or not, it makes any difference if their family farm is an LLC versus a sole proprietorship.

“According to most lawyers, it does make a difference. If your family farm is an LLC, the child doesn’t work for the parents solely. That’s a bit scary and into a gray area. Actually, some of the lawyers said it isn’t gray at all — that it’s very clear the child is like any other that steps on the farm to work without exemptions. *a “That’s a concern because a huge percentage of family farms are now set up as an LLC.” Is there a legal work-around there? Will your group be looking into that? childlaborlawsnow.com child labor laws

“We will. However, this LLC issue is separate from the new rules (set to be released by the DOL).

“I had a member say ‘Man, we want to be very sure that if our granddaughter comes to work on the family farm it won’t be a problem.’ “Well, their farm is an LLC and the lawyers said ‘you can try to skirt around that. But if it ever went to court, they’ll likely find the child is working for the LLC, not directly for the parent.’ “A lot of our members with LLCs don’t allow their kids work until they’re 12 or 14, depending on the job.” Visa programs On the federal farm worker visa programs and the fallout of migrant worker laws recently passed in several states…

“The H2A program is very important. Obviously, with mandatory E-Verify more people want to look at it.

“But the H2A program only brings in about 60,000 workers every year. Actually, it was less than 60,000 people last year.

“If we implement mandatory E-Verify across the nation, even if only 50 percent of our (migrant) workforce turns to be falsely documented — and we think it’s closer to 70 or 80 percent — we’d lose over 500,000 workers. Consider that.

“H2A may be a great program. However, it’s supplying 60,000 workers a year, it’s difficult to use, difficult to get everything done in a timely fashion. It’s difficult for farmers to be assured they’ll have workers where and when they need them.

“If it’s hard to bring in 60,000 workers annually now, why would anyone believe the pipeline can be made big enough, fast enough? That system is going to serve American agriculture and bring in almost 500,000 people almost overnight?” On legislators’ claims…

“A lot of politicians and congressional staffers say ‘don’t worry. We’ll ramp up and do it.’ “That doesn’t pass the red-face test. That’s why I like what (Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner) Mike Strain has been saying with regard to this.

“The current proposal for a new H2 program — a tweaked-up H2A that (Texas) Rep. Lamar Smith’s staff has floated — starts out handicapped. That’s because it suggests capping the number of workers at 500,000. Our experience is that once a cap is suggested it is sniped at and the proposed number usually shrinks if legislation progresses.” On the future of farm labor…

“We see this horrendous ag labor shortage getting worse. We’re currently seeing less immigration from Mexico because their economy is stabilizing and aging and their birth rate is dropping. So, where will farm workers come from in a decade?

“More recently, there have been some workers that come in from other areas of the world. Some of the big harvesting crews that start in Texas and move up to the Midwest and into Canada are composed of South Africans or Australians. *a “I’m sometimes asked about farm workers coming in via J-1, or student, visas. Generally, that works well only for relatively small growers — like some organic growers. If you need someone to pick crops for 10 hours, that’s not likely to appeal to someone on an educational visa. They’ll sign up for a small organic farm with lots of mixed crops with (the aim of taking the gained knowledge) back home. That’s worked out well for some of those U.S. producers — but not for bigger operations. *a “But producers are being forced to consider all kinds of farm labor alternatives, including convicts. And using convicts can be problematic because some large grocery chains have prohibitions against using prison labor.” Bennett, David