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Found 78 results

  1. The studio behind Killer Instinct is primed to bring another hard-hitting action experience to fans of properties like Attack On Titan and Shadow of the Colossus. Extinction drops players into the role of one of the world’s last Sentinels, warriors tasked with protecting the realm from towering, bloodthirsty ogres. Through a mix of high-speed movement and careful precision, players will have to find each ogre’s weak spots before they level the world. Extra Life got the chance to preview an early build of Extinction at E3, with Iron Galaxy and publisher Maximum Games showing off the basics of combat and just how we’ll be tearing down these monolithic monstrosities and their smaller minions. Iron Galaxy started our demo off in a modest village with a smattering of stone towers and houses. As Avil the Sentinel, we’re gifted with the ability to leap great distances and slice through ogre flesh and armor with a swing of a sword. Several ogres are bearing down the center of town, smashing entire buildings with their feet and fists. Iron Galaxy says each level will be completely destructible, and it certainly shows in the path of carnage each ogre leaves behind them. The only shortcoming is that each building leaves a perfectly squared pile of ashes, though it’s unclear if Iron Galaxy will add in some sort of destructibility physics so it looks more natural. As for the buildings that aren’t crushed, however, Avil can make great use of them by bouncing from canopies, gliding alongside walls, and dashing up them as well, similar to games like Prototype and Metal Gear Rising. When Avil makes it to his first giant ogre of the day, order of business dictates that he needs to dismember as many of its limbs as possible. He has to act fast, though, considering each limb can regenerate as long as the ogre still possesses its head. Avil strikes each limb’s armor, shattering it in one powerful swing, then ripping flesh apart moments later. All the while, the ogre is taking great swipes with its fists and stomping its feet in an attempt to smash him. Once the ogre is damaged enough, it slumps over, letting its wounds heal, allowing Avil to leap up its backside and slice it across the neck, cutting its head off and evaporating the body into valuable energy that Avil can absorb for his own benefit. You’d be forgiven for noticing the similarities ripped right from Attack On Titan, including the need to cut each giant’s nape, but in fairness the ogres do possess enough individuality among them to make them a little more entertaining than the awkward-looking Titans. And it won’t just be one ogre at a time. Iron Galaxy has shown off groups of ogres attacking from different directions or in packs, adding to the difficulty. There will also be a number of smaller minions (including human-size ogres and winged beasts) scattered about the map to distract you from bigger threats. Through it all, though, the visual aspect of combat does look entertaining, to say the least. Leering up at a giant from underneath its toes feels daunting, especially when those toes are closing in at high speed. That these creatures can be scaled relatively easily, in an environment with hundreds of variables to consider, means players will hopefully be more focused on the fun of the experience than battling the control scheme. The only possible downside to Extinction’s gameplay thus far is whether or not performing the same executions will get stale, and whether or not Iron Galaxy can instill a bit more life into these levels so we can feel like we’re saving the world, not just building after building. It’s fine that the world of a game called “Extinction” feels a little barren, but hopefully players will feel like they’re fighting for something instead of being the sole human left on the planet. Beyond the world-building, hopefully we’ll get a few more moves at our disposal for dispatching ogres, as the same combination of leaping, slicing, and wall-riding might feel played out by the time Extinction hits its third or fourth level. There’s still plenty more to see before Extinction releases sometime early 2018. View full article
  2. The studio behind Killer Instinct is primed to bring another hard-hitting action experience to fans of properties like Attack On Titan and Shadow of the Colossus. Extinction drops players into the role of one of the world’s last Sentinels, warriors tasked with protecting the realm from towering, bloodthirsty ogres. Through a mix of high-speed movement and careful precision, players will have to find each ogre’s weak spots before they level the world. Extra Life got the chance to preview an early build of Extinction at E3, with Iron Galaxy and publisher Maximum Games showing off the basics of combat and just how we’ll be tearing down these monolithic monstrosities and their smaller minions. Iron Galaxy started our demo off in a modest village with a smattering of stone towers and houses. As Avil the Sentinel, we’re gifted with the ability to leap great distances and slice through ogre flesh and armor with a swing of a sword. Several ogres are bearing down the center of town, smashing entire buildings with their feet and fists. Iron Galaxy says each level will be completely destructible, and it certainly shows in the path of carnage each ogre leaves behind them. The only shortcoming is that each building leaves a perfectly squared pile of ashes, though it’s unclear if Iron Galaxy will add in some sort of destructibility physics so it looks more natural. As for the buildings that aren’t crushed, however, Avil can make great use of them by bouncing from canopies, gliding alongside walls, and dashing up them as well, similar to games like Prototype and Metal Gear Rising. When Avil makes it to his first giant ogre of the day, order of business dictates that he needs to dismember as many of its limbs as possible. He has to act fast, though, considering each limb can regenerate as long as the ogre still possesses its head. Avil strikes each limb’s armor, shattering it in one powerful swing, then ripping flesh apart moments later. All the while, the ogre is taking great swipes with its fists and stomping its feet in an attempt to smash him. Once the ogre is damaged enough, it slumps over, letting its wounds heal, allowing Avil to leap up its backside and slice it across the neck, cutting its head off and evaporating the body into valuable energy that Avil can absorb for his own benefit. You’d be forgiven for noticing the similarities ripped right from Attack On Titan, including the need to cut each giant’s nape, but in fairness the ogres do possess enough individuality among them to make them a little more entertaining than the awkward-looking Titans. And it won’t just be one ogre at a time. Iron Galaxy has shown off groups of ogres attacking from different directions or in packs, adding to the difficulty. There will also be a number of smaller minions (including human-size ogres and winged beasts) scattered about the map to distract you from bigger threats. Through it all, though, the visual aspect of combat does look entertaining, to say the least. Leering up at a giant from underneath its toes feels daunting, especially when those toes are closing in at high speed. That these creatures can be scaled relatively easily, in an environment with hundreds of variables to consider, means players will hopefully be more focused on the fun of the experience than battling the control scheme. The only possible downside to Extinction’s gameplay thus far is whether or not performing the same executions will get stale, and whether or not Iron Galaxy can instill a bit more life into these levels so we can feel like we’re saving the world, not just building after building. It’s fine that the world of a game called “Extinction” feels a little barren, but hopefully players will feel like they’re fighting for something instead of being the sole human left on the planet. Beyond the world-building, hopefully we’ll get a few more moves at our disposal for dispatching ogres, as the same combination of leaping, slicing, and wall-riding might feel played out by the time Extinction hits its third or fourth level. There’s still plenty more to see before Extinction releases sometime early 2018.
  3. Dead Alliance is a game in search of an identity. Equal parts Call of Duty, horde mode, and MOBA all in the same breath, the competitive undead shooter banks its success on finding a player base with a love of all three genres and then some. Not only do you have to worry about a team of enemy players firing bullets at you, you also have to contend with the ravenous horde of zombies roaming around each map. But have no fear, for the combatants of Dead Alliance aren't running in without some nifty tools to turn the undead into your buddies. I recently got the chance to play a preview build of Dead Alliance; more specifically the game’s team deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes. At a glance the game might appear little more than another competitive shooter, replete with armored dudes toting heavy machine guns and more body armor than a presidential meet-and-greet. There’s also the maps, which range from an uninteresting warehouse to a seaside port town, that all look as dilapidated and overgrown as you might expect. Thankfully, the developers at Psyop have injected this melting pot with enough variety in terms of gameplay and strategic options to warrant at least a chance. In Dead Alliance’s multiplayer modes (including team deathmatch, CTF, free-for-all, and king of the hill), players are outfitted with a standard variety of weapons (assault rifles, machine guns of the bulky and sub variety), but are also given special tools called “Zmods” that influence the zombies found on every map. If you’re losing sight of your enemies, throwing the P.A.M. grenade at a group of zombies will force them to run for the nearest competitors, giving you ample room to hose them down while they’re fleeing from the horde. The L.R.A.D. attracts nearby zombies to a single point, allying them to your team, while the Trailer flare lets you string along a group of zombies while it’s in your hands. Those tools, coupled with a few that repelled zombies, made for chaotic firefights and a few tense retreats as zombies swarmed my team. At times, the game can feel like a well-measured bit of chaos. Hunting down enemy players through MOBA-like lanes of traffic is frantic, and often the team on the receiving end of the horde has little time to react. Dead Alliance’s overall pacing also plays a role, as players only move at a fraction of the speed you might in a game like Call of Duty or Titanfall. This means a dead sprint will only keep zombies off your back for as long as you keep running, but it also means that evading enemy fire is more a matter of getting the drop on someone than actual mechanical skill. During our demo, it often felt like our victories were due to easy manipulation of choke points more than anything else. It’s difficult to tell from two rounds if the game will have much depth, but at this rate, Dead Alliance risks players losing interest more quickly than most. Dead Alliance is out August 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $39.99. View full article
  4. Dead Alliance is a game in search of an identity. Equal parts Call of Duty, horde mode, and MOBA all in the same breath, the competitive undead shooter banks its success on finding a player base with a love of all three genres and then some. Not only do you have to worry about a team of enemy players firing bullets at you, you also have to contend with the ravenous horde of zombies roaming around each map. But have no fear, for the combatants of Dead Alliance aren't running in without some nifty tools to turn the undead into your buddies. I recently got the chance to play a preview build of Dead Alliance; more specifically the game’s team deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes. At a glance the game might appear little more than another competitive shooter, replete with armored dudes toting heavy machine guns and more body armor than a presidential meet-and-greet. There’s also the maps, which range from an uninteresting warehouse to a seaside port town, that all look as dilapidated and overgrown as you might expect. Thankfully, the developers at Psyop have injected this melting pot with enough variety in terms of gameplay and strategic options to warrant at least a chance. In Dead Alliance’s multiplayer modes (including team deathmatch, CTF, free-for-all, and king of the hill), players are outfitted with a standard variety of weapons (assault rifles, machine guns of the bulky and sub variety), but are also given special tools called “Zmods” that influence the zombies found on every map. If you’re losing sight of your enemies, throwing the P.A.M. grenade at a group of zombies will force them to run for the nearest competitors, giving you ample room to hose them down while they’re fleeing from the horde. The L.R.A.D. attracts nearby zombies to a single point, allying them to your team, while the Trailer flare lets you string along a group of zombies while it’s in your hands. Those tools, coupled with a few that repelled zombies, made for chaotic firefights and a few tense retreats as zombies swarmed my team. At times, the game can feel like a well-measured bit of chaos. Hunting down enemy players through MOBA-like lanes of traffic is frantic, and often the team on the receiving end of the horde has little time to react. Dead Alliance’s overall pacing also plays a role, as players only move at a fraction of the speed you might in a game like Call of Duty or Titanfall. This means a dead sprint will only keep zombies off your back for as long as you keep running, but it also means that evading enemy fire is more a matter of getting the drop on someone than actual mechanical skill. During our demo, it often felt like our victories were due to easy manipulation of choke points more than anything else. It’s difficult to tell from two rounds if the game will have much depth, but at this rate, Dead Alliance risks players losing interest more quickly than most. Dead Alliance is out August 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $39.99.
  5. What if I told you that the developers who reintroduced “hella” back into modern lexicon were tackling a 20th century vampire action epic for their next game? You’d be forgiven for refusing to believe me, but it’s true! Dontnod, the same team behind the 2015 hit narrative adventure Life Is Strange, are taking to the streets of 1918’s vampire-infested London, complete with all the stabbing and bloodsucking that entails. Dontnod gave a media-exclusive hands-off demo of Vampyr at E3 this year, demonstrating their progress since last year's already impressive E3 showing. The demo showcased how expansive their incarnation of London is and how its citizens will play a vital role in determining your fate as well as the city’s. You play as Jonathan Reid, a brooding doctor who quite literally moonlights as a recently-turned vampire. London is currently under siege from all ends, including a deadly flu virus and ravenous undead humans called the “Skal". Reid must work to find solutions to end both threats. Fixated on him, however, are an order of cutthroat vampire hunters nipping at his every step. Our E3 demo began with Reid confronting his superior at his place of work, a London hospital. Reid is attempting to determine what caused a number of grisly deaths, only to stumble upon another vampire speaking with his boss. Reid’s boss is quick to remind them both that the hospital is sacred ground among London’s vampire clans, suggesting the game’s dialogue and action choices will carry consequences far and wide. While searching for clues in the streets and alleys, Reid finds himself chatting with a suspiciously hostile man by the docks. It’s here that Dontnod shows off how his vampiric needs will twist each of London’s several districts and the people who reside there. The man is unwilling to cooperate with Reid’s investigation unless he can help him find his mother’s missing ring. It seems that she’s the only person this miserable grump loves, so in the interest of digging up clues, Reid searches the nearby dock. Unfortunately, the misplaced ring isn’t the only thing we find underneath a tunnel entrance. There’s also a nice pile of dead bodies. Turns out our reluctant informant is a serial killer, and after meeting mother dearest, it’s clear the poor old lady has made peace with her son’s vicious ways by covering up for him. Since you’re a vampire, you’ll need to feed off of at least a few of London’s residents to grow in power so you can defend yourself from the hunters. While the obvious choice might be to take out our murdering friend, it’s actually his mother’s blood that’s much higher in quality, and thus grants more experience points to channel into abilities. Dontnod makes the call to end the woman’s existence and reap the rewards. After assimilating her blood by sleeping the day away, we get a chance to see the results of our handiwork, and it isn’t pretty. Mr. serial killer’s home is trashed, with the man in question brooding in the bedroom about all the revenge he’s going to exact on the city. Dontnod informs us that other effects of our actions will include different market prices for items, more undead in the underground and dark corners of the city, increased crime, and a higher murder rate for NPCs. Dontnod also took some time to show off combat, and how you’ll mix traditional fisticuffs and bladework with vampiric bloodsucking. On a more surface level, it mirror’s Batman: Arkham’s third-person punching and dodging, with a bit of teleportation ala Dishonored’s blink ability. Enemies have health bars above their heads, so you’ll know exactly how close they are to death, but if you’re feeling a little aggressive, you can also magically sap blood straight from their skin to recharge your abilities and health. It’s inventive enough, especially once your blood bar is filled to allow some gory finishing moves. Reid eventually performed a finisher that teleported his form into the body of an enemy, tearing him apart from the inside before teleporting back to watch the ensuing explosion. I just hope it doesn’t feel like a weightless mash-a-thon in the final product. Part of Batman’s thrill was feeling every bone crunch. It only makes sense that actual bloodsuckers have as much force behind their punches, too. Vampyr won’t be the first action game Dontnod tackles (2013’s Remember Me saw to that), but their proclivity for taking risks, along with excellent characters and world-building give the game a solid foundation to move forward on. It remains to be seen if the experience will translate to a full open world with side quests and other minutia to tackle, but this will definitely be one shadow to watch over your shoulder for in the future. Vampyr is available this November for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  6. What if I told you that the developers who reintroduced “hella” back into modern lexicon were tackling a 20th century vampire action epic for their next game? You’d be forgiven for refusing to believe me, but it’s true! Dontnod, the same team behind the 2015 hit narrative adventure Life Is Strange, are taking to the streets of 1918’s vampire-infested London, complete with all the stabbing and bloodsucking that entails. Dontnod gave a media-exclusive hands-off demo of Vampyr at E3 this year, demonstrating their progress since last year's already impressive E3 showing. The demo showcased how expansive their incarnation of London is and how its citizens will play a vital role in determining your fate as well as the city’s. You play as Jonathan Reid, a brooding doctor who quite literally moonlights as a recently-turned vampire. London is currently under siege from all ends, including a deadly flu virus and ravenous undead humans called the “Skal". Reid must work to find solutions to end both threats. Fixated on him, however, are an order of cutthroat vampire hunters nipping at his every step. Our E3 demo began with Reid confronting his superior at his place of work, a London hospital. Reid is attempting to determine what caused a number of grisly deaths, only to stumble upon another vampire speaking with his boss. Reid’s boss is quick to remind them both that the hospital is sacred ground among London’s vampire clans, suggesting the game’s dialogue and action choices will carry consequences far and wide. While searching for clues in the streets and alleys, Reid finds himself chatting with a suspiciously hostile man by the docks. It’s here that Dontnod shows off how his vampiric needs will twist each of London’s several districts and the people who reside there. The man is unwilling to cooperate with Reid’s investigation unless he can help him find his mother’s missing ring. It seems that she’s the only person this miserable grump loves, so in the interest of digging up clues, Reid searches the nearby dock. Unfortunately, the misplaced ring isn’t the only thing we find underneath a tunnel entrance. There’s also a nice pile of dead bodies. Turns out our reluctant informant is a serial killer, and after meeting mother dearest, it’s clear the poor old lady has made peace with her son’s vicious ways by covering up for him. Since you’re a vampire, you’ll need to feed off of at least a few of London’s residents to grow in power so you can defend yourself from the hunters. While the obvious choice might be to take out our murdering friend, it’s actually his mother’s blood that’s much higher in quality, and thus grants more experience points to channel into abilities. Dontnod makes the call to end the woman’s existence and reap the rewards. After assimilating her blood by sleeping the day away, we get a chance to see the results of our handiwork, and it isn’t pretty. Mr. serial killer’s home is trashed, with the man in question brooding in the bedroom about all the revenge he’s going to exact on the city. Dontnod informs us that other effects of our actions will include different market prices for items, more undead in the underground and dark corners of the city, increased crime, and a higher murder rate for NPCs. Dontnod also took some time to show off combat, and how you’ll mix traditional fisticuffs and bladework with vampiric bloodsucking. On a more surface level, it mirror’s Batman: Arkham’s third-person punching and dodging, with a bit of teleportation ala Dishonored’s blink ability. Enemies have health bars above their heads, so you’ll know exactly how close they are to death, but if you’re feeling a little aggressive, you can also magically sap blood straight from their skin to recharge your abilities and health. It’s inventive enough, especially once your blood bar is filled to allow some gory finishing moves. Reid eventually performed a finisher that teleported his form into the body of an enemy, tearing him apart from the inside before teleporting back to watch the ensuing explosion. I just hope it doesn’t feel like a weightless mash-a-thon in the final product. Part of Batman’s thrill was feeling every bone crunch. It only makes sense that actual bloodsuckers have as much force behind their punches, too. Vampyr won’t be the first action game Dontnod tackles (2013’s Remember Me saw to that), but their proclivity for taking risks, along with excellent characters and world-building give the game a solid foundation to move forward on. It remains to be seen if the experience will translate to a full open world with side quests and other minutia to tackle, but this will definitely be one shadow to watch over your shoulder for in the future. Vampyr is available this November for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  7. The year is 1986 and Miami has found itself struggling against gangs, drugs, and the AIDS epidemic. One person per day is found murdered and hundreds go missing, overwhelming local police departments. Many of those people are never found, disappearing without a trace. Consuelo "Chelo" Martínez tracks down those ghosts to uncover the truth behind their disappearances. Ghosts of Miami tells the story of Chelo's sleuthing as she solves cases and makes a name for herself as a lady who can get things done. I had a chance to play through the demo of Ghosts of Miami this week and found myself really impressed. I'm not one who typically falls in love with visual novels. The limited degree of interactivity and the stylistic rut many fall into generally loses my interest. Not so with Ghosts of Miami. Developed by Pillow Fight, the team that made a name for themselves with 2015's We Know The Devil, Ghosts of Miami drips with 80s style. The dream pop art exudes charm and personality. While backgrounds have an ethereal, dream-like quality, the principle characters come alive. Their various facial expressions and poses render the cast instantly endearing and eye-catching. The animated opening alone demonstrates how much life Pillow Fight poured into Ghosts of Miami. There's a really passionate core to the game that its visuals thoroughly succeed in conveying. While style certainly contributes to the tone of Ghosts of Miami, writing remains the lifeblood of a visual novel. It needs to hold up to scrutiny. On that front, the title stands strong. Chelo herself presents a compelling protagonist as a sleuth who can take more morally ambiguous jobs because she lacks even a Private Investigator designation. The player feels her frustrations, insecurities, and fears via her dialogue or internal asides. The well realized supporting characters showcased in the demo pull their own weight, too. While the game itself will follow Chelo over the course of five cases, the demo only shows a part of her first case. She's hired by her landlord, Mrs. Woon, to find Grace Woon, her daughter who has been missing for two days. This first case proves to be an important one for Chelo, both because it could make or break her reputation, but also because it is her first case after quitting her gas station job and she really doesn't want to go back there. After setting the scene, Ghosts of Miami allows players to choose which lead they would like to follow up. The catch is that each lead takes time - Chelo only has time to visit three locations throughout the day - morning, afternoon, and evening. Do you go to Grace's favorite childhood spot? Check out her sketchy boyfriend? See if you can track down her best friend? Or do you put all that aside for now and see what your screw-up of a brother is up to this time? While visiting locations, players typically encounter new characters who can prove helpful, resistant, or clueless depending on the circumstance and the approach players choose to take. Like many visual novels, players will encounter helpful (or possibly distracting) love interests while solving mysteries. Players can rebuff these romantic advances to focus on work or blow off work to spend time with their new romance. Be warned! Spending too much time with those amorous connections could lead to disaster. The Ghosts of Miami has been Greenlit on Steam and it's definitely worth a look, especially if you're in the market for a different kind of game to spice things up in this year of great games. The full release of Ghosts of Miami is coming up sometime this summer. It will be available in English, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese. Pillow Fight is also working on additional accessibility options like screenreading, text-to-speech, and gamepad controls. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ghosts of Miami. The demo felt incredibly refreshing with its overpowering charm, stylish aesthetic, and well written dialogue. It made me want to spend more time in its world and characters over the course of just one in-game day. Keep an eye on this one. You can download the demo from the Ghosts of Miami website. View full article
  8. Become an 80s Detective in Ghosts of Miami

    The year is 1986 and Miami has found itself struggling against gangs, drugs, and the AIDS epidemic. One person per day is found murdered and hundreds go missing, overwhelming local police departments. Many of those people are never found, disappearing without a trace. Consuelo "Chelo" Martínez tracks down those ghosts to uncover the truth behind their disappearances. Ghosts of Miami tells the story of Chelo's sleuthing as she solves cases and makes a name for herself as a lady who can get things done. I had a chance to play through the demo of Ghosts of Miami this week and found myself really impressed. I'm not one who typically falls in love with visual novels. The limited degree of interactivity and the stylistic rut many fall into generally loses my interest. Not so with Ghosts of Miami. Developed by Pillow Fight, the team that made a name for themselves with 2015's We Know The Devil, Ghosts of Miami drips with 80s style. The dream pop art exudes charm and personality. While backgrounds have an ethereal, dream-like quality, the principle characters come alive. Their various facial expressions and poses render the cast instantly endearing and eye-catching. The animated opening alone demonstrates how much life Pillow Fight poured into Ghosts of Miami. There's a really passionate core to the game that its visuals thoroughly succeed in conveying. While style certainly contributes to the tone of Ghosts of Miami, writing remains the lifeblood of a visual novel. It needs to hold up to scrutiny. On that front, the title stands strong. Chelo herself presents a compelling protagonist as a sleuth who can take more morally ambiguous jobs because she lacks even a Private Investigator designation. The player feels her frustrations, insecurities, and fears via her dialogue or internal asides. The well realized supporting characters showcased in the demo pull their own weight, too. While the game itself will follow Chelo over the course of five cases, the demo only shows a part of her first case. She's hired by her landlord, Mrs. Woon, to find Grace Woon, her daughter who has been missing for two days. This first case proves to be an important one for Chelo, both because it could make or break her reputation, but also because it is her first case after quitting her gas station job and she really doesn't want to go back there. After setting the scene, Ghosts of Miami allows players to choose which lead they would like to follow up. The catch is that each lead takes time - Chelo only has time to visit three locations throughout the day - morning, afternoon, and evening. Do you go to Grace's favorite childhood spot? Check out her sketchy boyfriend? See if you can track down her best friend? Or do you put all that aside for now and see what your screw-up of a brother is up to this time? While visiting locations, players typically encounter new characters who can prove helpful, resistant, or clueless depending on the circumstance and the approach players choose to take. Like many visual novels, players will encounter helpful (or possibly distracting) love interests while solving mysteries. Players can rebuff these romantic advances to focus on work or blow off work to spend time with their new romance. Be warned! Spending too much time with those amorous connections could lead to disaster. The Ghosts of Miami has been Greenlit on Steam and it's definitely worth a look, especially if you're in the market for a different kind of game to spice things up in this year of great games. The full release of Ghosts of Miami is coming up sometime this summer. It will be available in English, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese. Pillow Fight is also working on additional accessibility options like screenreading, text-to-speech, and gamepad controls. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ghosts of Miami. The demo felt incredibly refreshing with its overpowering charm, stylish aesthetic, and well written dialogue. It made me want to spend more time in its world and characters over the course of just one in-game day. Keep an eye on this one. You can download the demo from the Ghosts of Miami website.
  9. The era of point-and-click adventure games is, for the most part, remembered fondly by the gaming community. The genre helped establish Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) as a powerhouse game studio (to say nothing of film) during its time. Now, over 20 years later, the point-and-click (PAC) genre has sustained itself almost strictly through fan games or deliberately indie fare looking to tap into nostalgia, but the team behind Thimbleweed Park aims to change that. As point-and-click genre visionaries, game developers like Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Gary Winnick are teaming up once again (along with a small team of younger developers) to give genre fans another grand adventure. We played an early demo with developers Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island, co-creator of Maniac Mansion) and David Fox (Lucasfilm’s third employee and SCUMM scriptor for Maniac Mansion) and spoke about how it feels to come back to an adult point-and-click game after so long, and what they hope to achieve. --- Ron Gilbert: Gary Winnick and I, we did Maniac Mansion together. We kind of wanted to create a game that really captured the charm of those old games. And we really weren't sure what that charm was. It was very ethereal. We didn't really know. It's just like, well if we kind of make a game in the same way that we made a game back then, can we kind of capture what that was? [Thimbleweed Park] is really the story of these two detectives. This is agent Ray, and the other detective is agent Reyes. So it's these two detectives who show up in Thimbleweed Park because this dead body has been discovered out by the bridge. It's really the story of their investigation into the mystery of what killed this person in this really strange, bizarre town. You realize these two agents are really not partners. They don't actually know each other until they show up. They kind of randomly show up and the other one was there. So you're always very suspect of them. Like, why are they here? What are they doing? And it really plays into the bizarre-ness of Thimbleweed. I don't think I remember seeing any of the classic control layout of “interact,” “grab,” “combine,” etc (during gameplay) at the bottom, so it's interesting that you're still going with that. It's the most obvious callback. Ron: Yeah. I think it's also a bit of the charm of those games. You had all your options and you built the sentences and the verbs and stuff. So we really wanted to retain that as much as possible. We've done play testing with people who have not played classic adventure games before. There's probably this maybe 15-20 second period where they're kind of going oh my god there's all these things on the screen, and then they realize, if they want to look at something, you just click look at it. [At this point in the demo, Gilbert reveals that the character Dolores, a young programmer, is attempting to mail a job application to a studio called “Mucus Phlegm.”] Is Mucus Phlegm a play on LucasArts? Ron: It was Lucasfilm. We all used to joke. We called it Mucus Phlegm when we worked there. Anytime we wanted to make fun of who we were working for. Are you guys coming back to “adult” point-and-click games for any particular reason? Did it feel like a good time or were you thinking you should fill gap? Because there are a few other indie point-and-click games out there. Ron: Yeah, there’s other point-and-click stuff. I guess I haven't really designed a pure PAC adventure since those days. I did "The Cave," which is like an adventure game but more a platformer adventure. I haven't really done pure PAC adventure. I think that is interesting. When Gary and I first did the Kickstarter, that really came about because Gary and I were talking about the charm a game like Maniac Mansion had, or Monkey Island, and just talking about what seemed to be missing from modern adventure games. Because while they're fun and interesting, they're kind of missing that charm that old games had. This really became an experiment. What is that charm? Can we capture that charm? If we just go back and make this game just like we would have made a game when we were doing Maniac Mansion, can we recapture the charm of those games or not? It seems interesting. Even in just the short playthrough here, the style, and writing as well, seems to be much closer to that old school Maniac Mansion. It's goofy, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. [laughs] I've played my fair share of PAC games that were inspired by those that came before, but I would grow so frustrated with them because I was never amused. It was either a raw story or it didn't have a carrot on a stick to help push me through. So what would you say are the bigger changes, if any, in making a PAC game in modern times? Like you said, you play-tested with people who never played PAC games before. Are you changing the aesthetic or gameplay loop in any significant way? Ron: We are changing it, but I think what we're doing is changing it in very subtle ways. Because I think if you look at modern gamers who like modern adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero or Firewatch- I think modern gamers in general, they enjoy being challenged, but they don't enjoy being frustrated. I think when we were making games back in the 80's and 90's, being frustrated was almost a badge of honor for players back then. Players today just won't put up with that stuff. But they don't mind being challenged. They don't want to be led around. They don't want to be told "go here and do this," but they want to understand that yes I'm heading in the right direction. They need that comfort, that little bit of security to know that yes, you're doing the right thing. This is the right path for you to be going down. So those are some of the small changes we're making. Playing something like Broken Age, I think that was another game that really hit the nail on the head in certain ways, but there were a few instances where I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I can appreciate that as someone who both appreciates more old school things like Maniac Mansion, but I'm a big Firewatch fan, too. The narrative is obviously very X-Files, Mulder and Scully inspired. Was there any particular reason you guys ran with a mystery, or what appears to be a mystery, with a lot of supernatural stuff? Does that stem from time with Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones? Is it kind of just you had a story idea and wanted to go further with it? Ron: Maniac Mansion really came from the fact that Gary [Winnick] and I were fans of bad B-horror movies, so Maniac Mansion was sort of a send-up of B horror movies. In particular, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. I really like the the stuff he's done. So in some ways it's almost a send-up of Twin Peaks and really not the X-Files. We have this man, this woman, federal agents, and everybody thinks Mulder and Scully, but really that wasn't in our heads at all. David: This is set in 1987 which is before the X-Files [laughs]. Ron: Right, so it's impossible it would be Mulder and Scully [laughs]. Case closed. But I think a lot of it is more Twin Peaks and David Lynch. When Gary and I did the Kickstarter and came up with the story of the characters, we were not thinking of X-Files at all. I was not an X-Files fan. I've seen maybe five episodes. And the second we did the Kickstarter and that image went up, everybody went "oh my god, it's agent Mulder and Scully X-Files." And I kind of went "oh, shit." [laughs]. That was my first reaction, "oh, shit, this is not the X-Files." I hope nobody is disappointed when they play the game expecting an X-Files game. David: Having watched every episode of the X-Files, the story does not do X-Files in any way. It's very Twin Peaks. So aside from the certainly-not-X-Files, certainly-not-Mulder-and-Scully duo, what is the kind of narrative that you're wanting to tell? I remember that you're exploring this old American town. It’s very post-industrial. Was there anything you were trying to communicate there? Ron: Yeah, it is. I think adventure games in general, to me, I've always looked at the main character of an adventure game as the world. The main character in Maniac Mansion is that house. The main character in Monkey Island is that world [Guybrush Threepwood] inhabits. I think if you treat the adventure game world as if it's the main character, it can come alive. We treat the town like that. We built a real town. It connects like a real town would be. We expect you to navigate like a real town. So I think the town is kind of important. In terms of themes, this is 1987, but Uncle Chuck [Delores’ relative], he's this strange inventor. He has all these weird computers all over town, and so there's a little bit of hints of this modern world we live in where we're all connected in some way with computers everywhere. So you see this little thread of that running through the story, but kind of in this 1987 frame of mind. I guess even the humor too? PAC games feel like the first to really approach dry and sardonic humor. Ron: I think that's kind of my humor style in general. I love dry humor. I have a lot of respect for comedians that can deliver really dry lines. I never use smiley faces in my tweets or emails. Sometimes it throws people off, because I say something and "oooh, there's no smiley face. Is he mad at me?" No, no, it's just that I'm sarcastic. I think a lot of the humor in the game is that kind. That's just me. That's what I enjoy. And there's a lot of fourth wall. I love breaking the fourth wall. You've got to tell me about the damn clown. What's the deal there? Ron: The clown? [laughs]. Ransom the Clown. He's been cursed. He's an insult clown. He goes up on stage and he basically insults everybody. But he's really an asshole, so everybody really kind of hates him, but they laugh at him because people laugh in uncomfortable moments. And he insults the wrong person in the audience and he gets cursed. And he can no longer remove his makeup. So he's stuck with this clown makeup and he retires to live in this old run down circus, can't really ever leave because everyone hates him and he's stuck with the makeup. His story is how he got cursed to never lose his makeup. So now he's a has-been, no career, he's broke and living out of a circus.  That was one of the things that struck me most interesting. There's a few clown-based horror films out there. Ron: Some people find clowns terrifying. Not me. They've never bothered me. I've never had a clown phobia. But a lot of people really do hate clowns. It's always the older, washed-up clowns like Ransom. Like something CLEARLY went wrong in this guy's life. Not where they enjoy their career. Ron: If you look at the old advertisements from the 1950s or 60's where they had Ronald McDonald, he just looks creepy as hell. He just looks like a child molester clown. It's amazing that they got away with that, but it's weird. The rest of the team. Have they had any significant input, especially having people come back from Lucasfilm? Ron: Yeah, there's me, Gary, David, and [Lucasfilm background artist] Mark [Ferrari]. Coming back from something like that, 20 years later, has the group collaborated in any interesting ways that you didn't expect? Ron: I think the thing about working together again was how quickly we just fell into working. Dave and I worked on several projects together, plus Gary and I. And just how quickly we got into that mode where we're just anticipating each other's' thoughts about stuff. And that's been nice because we've really been able to work through issues and problems and all this stuff really quickly. David: I think there may also be like an ego-less part to it. Like each of us dealt with it the way we have to be, where one tries to take the lead on something. In this case I feel like Ron is the lead. And he's the one who's arbitrated choices. So if I say how about this, I try to see if he'll say he'll think about it. Ron: There's a respect, right? A respect for each other. David: It's safe for me to throw out ideas. And the same thing with people who aren't directly working with us, like playtesters. A lot of our ideas we get from playtesters. Ron: They'll start calling us on stuff that isn't good enough. I think that's one of the things that struck me the most. A lot of games in the AAA space, they tout that they're bringing back the creator of X, Y, or Z game, and he or she is serving as the project lead, but it's like subscribing to auteur theory. I like that there's a handful of the guys who helped build the genre and then you have younger devs to make those sorts of suggestions. Ron: I think what you need on any project is a vision. There has to be a vision. Sometimes that comes from one person. Sometimes it comes from a small group of people. But I think as long as you have that strong vision then everything is going to be OK. Where projects I see don't really work it's because there were five different visions. All these people had their own vision and it never really meshed together. So at the end you don't produce a cohesive piece of art at the end. Where if everybody has a shared vision, you're going to do that. David: It's broader than just the vision of the game. We worked together for years at this company where there was already a strong culture, even before we started. It kind of took on the culture of Lucasfilm as a film company and then right into our attention to detail and really wanted to make a way to do our own thing. So with the four of us who've worked together before, there was already this established sense of culture. So as we brought in other people who were new to it, they fell into that established culture, so in a way this is really is kind of the continuation of that original Lucasfilm culture. I don't know what happened 25 years later, for how much of that stuck. So you keep saying culture. You mean just the work environment or how you guys communicate or something deeper? Ron: I think it's when you're dealing with a creative medium, right? It's like how you deal with creative issues, input, and ideas. Because it's like anybody on the team should be able to contribute. It's not like "this is my vision, I will think of everything. I don't need you." A game like Monkey Island, everybody was suggesting ideas for that, from the testers to the artists, programmers. The whole vision. My job on Monkey Island wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was just to sift through all the ideas. It was to say "that works, that doesn't." Some project leads understand that, and there are others that do not, where everything they feel has to come from them. And we just try to create this culture that anybody on the team could just throw out an idea. Hey, if they have an idea for a puzzle or an animation, just throw it out there. That's the only criteria is it has to be good and fit the vision for the game. David: The art, our primary character animator Octavi [Navarro], is a really good example of that. We know he's brilliant at doing animation, we'll give him direction. We'll give him intent and what has to happen, and he'll go crazy building something we never would have thought of. This all means you're pulling creativity from all these different talents into the game. Kind of like the, computer animation where [Delores] is printing out the job application, that was a funny animation. You pointed it out, that reminded me that the best point and click adventure games do have those little nuggets of motion to them. David: I agree. With that printer animation, the original puzzle was a good example of something that was kind of tedious because you had to have the letter, put it in the envelope. You had to press the button on the computer, get it to print, had to combine the letter and envelope, and it was all busywork. To Ron's point, this wasn't working. We had the idea for hands on the computer and Octavi made the animation that combined all these steps. It's not really fun to stamp envelopes [laughs]. Ron: And it masks all the really fun animation. Did you guys think you’re taking anything from PAC adventure games that have come between then and now anyway, or do you think the medium/subgenre has reached a zenith. Are these games going to get stagnant again? Have you guys been inspired by anything, or some of the earliest stuff? Ron: I don't think there's anything in the PAC genre that necessarily has. I kind of feel the PAC genre is very stagnant in a lot of ways. There are interesting PAC games being made now, but they really feel like they are just 1990's PAC games, and I don't feel like they're moving anything forward with what they're doing. So more of the inspiration, especially with the narrative, has really come from games like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, and the more modern games and how they deal with narrative, and how they deal with moving players through their worlds, and what modern gamers find compelling about that. I think PAC adventures fell off the face of the earth. I think there's something about them that very modern players don't quite get. How do we make them feel safe and comfortable playing this? If you're a Firewatch fan or Kentucky Route Zero fan, [Thimbleweed Park] isn't going to be this horrible, frustrating experience that you heard your parents talk about [when they mentioned] how much they hate PAC adventures. This is going to be an interesting kind of experience. I think that's our challenge in a way. David: There's a whole lot of stuff we've learned over the years about what you think is funny, what's good. I think back then, part of what was supposed to be fun was having a game that lasted a certain number of hours. You didn't kill people off. We did things that would extend gameplay, but they weren't especially that fun to do. So we want to make sure the gameplay is really fun and in-depth. There's a density, I think, to making progress. You're solving a lot of filler that you have to get through to make something happen. We talk a lot about puzzle design, which I don't think we thought about much back then. If you have a puzzle, it's really good to know what you're trying to solve before you start clicking on random objects and try to combine them randomly. So there's an intent. You're actively solving something. In researching, I reacquainted myself watching old videos of Maniac Mansion, and yeah that makes sense that you see somebody who knows the game saying "we're going to go here and here," click, click, click, picking up 50 items, but you would never have any idea what to use them for. So having that intent I think, especially as a younger gamer who certainly didn't grow up with these, that makes a lot of sense. You're being much more intentional. David: Yeah, we have a bunch of objects which have no use. They're there for atmosphere or backer objects [laughs]. Ron: If you backed at the $1,000 level you got to create an object in the game. There's the Ransom the Clown itch cream that's kind of fun. Octavi did a great animation of Ransom applying his itch cream [laughs]. You’ve said you’re aiming for an early 2017 release. I've noticed a lot of indie developers, old and new, seem to work on a timetable on three years. Have you guys been busting to get this done? Ron: We've been really focused. A lot of Kickstarter projects work off the rails. It's like five years later they haven't built a game. We were very intent to not have that happen. We were supposed to release in July [2016]. So we've kind of slipped by about six months, but we've stayed very focused. We've tried to say hey, we're going to build this game, we're going to scope correctly, we're going to do all of these things that we've learned about games and shipping games on time. David: There's also the work in making sure to do the wireframe art. We wireframed rough versions of every single room or area. Ron: We cut a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff we did with this quick wireframe art, that we had working, and then said, this room isn't needed, and decided to cut it because it was only half the work time. It's easy to cut that stuff. I think that keeps the world kind of lean. Everything is there for a reason. We've gone through this process of essentially storyboarding the game out and cutting the stuff that isn't needed before time is invested. David: There was a point where Ron had us each come up with a list of 10 or 15 rooms we could cut without killing the game. Some of our favorite rooms were in there, but I think one or two of them got back in the game[laughs]. It was a really good exercise to see what we needed, and if each room has a purpose, something happens there, do you need that room there? Ron: There's the bar that's just gone. Aside from the collaboration element, is that wireframe method, making drastic cuts, similar to what you did back when you were in the Maniac Mansion era? Ron: No, actually, not at all. When I was doing Monkey Island, it was like we would have a room, and the artist would draw the whole thing, and it would be done to completion, and we'd do it and move onto the next one. It was this really linear fashion. It really wasn't until - because I started the company Humongous Entertainment after Lucasfilm, and we made adventure games for kids - it was there that we started doing all this very hand-drawn animation. I say hand-drawn, it was literally drawn on paper with pencil. Not in Photoshop. It was a very time consuming and expensive process. The results were amazing, but we couldn't waste doing animation that wasn't needed. So we got in this habit of doing storyboards of the entire game, all this black and white stuff. And within a month or two, we could play our entire game from beginning to end. It was all this black and white art, but that was the point we started going through and cutting a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, because the actual production was so expensive. We needed the production to just happen, to just go. I've really adopted that philosophy ever since. So now I like to build games and get them up and completely playable very, very early, and then go through and cut stuff before it's expensive to actually develop. So obviously the value of budget and money has fluctuated in the decades that have passed. Does it feel like you're operating on a larger or stricter budget since those days? Because with Lucasfilm, I don't know what it was like in those days, especially in the gaming division. Ron: Well, we didn't spend a lot of money. I don't think there was a lot of money to be spent. We had money, obviously. We had billions of dollars from Star Wars flowing in. But I think games were so simple that we couldn't have spent that much. There wasn't any place to pour that kind of money into games. So it was a much easier to keep things scoped a bit more. Games now, there's so many places you can pour money into a game that I think you have to be really careful. Certainly, coming from Kickstarter, we only had a certain bucket full of money. We got $623,000. I think with Kickstarter, the most important thing for a Kickstarter is you need a hook. You can't just have an idea for a game. You need a hook that hooks people. People often ask me, "what's some advice for running a Kickstarter?" I always tell them "sell people your dream. Don't sell them your game." It's not a store. Because if all you're doing is trying to sell people your game and getting them to fund the game, it's like well, go to Steam and find 50 games just like that. Sell them your dream. Sell them your passion for making this thing because that's what people will give you money for- it’s that kind of stuff. So I think Kickstarters need some kind of hook. David: So the [original Kickstarter] art was Gary's and much closer to Maniac Mansion-style. [To Ron] Do you think if we had done the Kickstarter with Mark's art and actual scenes, do you think that would have gotten more or less? Ron: More.  David: Yeah?  Ron: Yeah, I think we would have raised a lot more money.  If it evoked the Maniac Mansion aesthetic? David: I'm stunned by [the game] now because when I go back and look at the Kickstarter art, or I see the Kickstarter art in some articles that still pull from the old stuff, it's like "whoa" because it's so different. Ron: Well we didn't know how much money we were going to raise. We asked for significantly less money than we got and we wanted to make sure that we had an art style that we could do for the money we wanted to raise so we kind of went with this more simplistic art that was more like Maniac Mansion. But then we raised almost twice the money; then we had the money to bring on Mark and Octavi and all these people and kind of raise the bar on the art. David: The characters look different, too. Totally redone. Ron: Which I think is just natural. Any game, you go through this natural process. At least you're not going backwards. Ron: [laughs] That's true. Is there anything else you guys want to add? David: You talk about other graphic adventure games that maybe don't have people doing it with as much experience. It's almost like most art forms where maybe some people think that it's really easy to do it because you consume it. "I can make a movie because I see movies," or "I can write a book because I read books. I can make games because I play games." The best games, I think, are not accidents. They're people who work really hard and have a lot of experience and draw on experience and keep polishing and polishing and polishing, and not take the first ideas that come up. In brainstorming we'd come up with ideas and say "that's not good enough. We can push a little further into it and not just use the first thing that comes up." And so I think that to do a really good one it helps to have that experience of which pitfalls to avoid, and to keep pushing on until it really feels like "yeah, that's a good puzzle." The old saying being innovation rather than emulation, but this time it’s iteration over emulation. Ron: I find with writing humor, I'll kind of write a line of dialogue and I just immediately say "well, how can I make this funnier?" And then I'll rewrite it and I'll go "how can I make this funnier?" Then I'll rewrite it again, and maybe after the third or fourth time I can go "that's a good line." It's like the writer's room on a TV show, right? It's just a group of writers, and somebody comes up with the core thing and then the group writers punch it up. Everybody just adds little things upon it to make it better and better. That's how you get really, really funny things. David: I've seen a few movies lately where I'm just totally caught up in it, and then there's some point where, maybe in the third act, it just kind of goes "wham!" and falls to the ground. Whether you have this great idea -- you polish the first part over and over again, then you get to the end and whoops, you fall back on the easy solutions or cliches. Or it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. David: I shouldn't be talking about this since we haven't done the end of our game yet. [laughs] I'll be looking for that. Ron: We see a lot of that in our game, because we get a lot of time on the beginning of the game. There isn't a lot of playtesting on the end of the game. The beginning of the game is going to be super tight. David: Earlier games at Lucas, there never was a budget that I was aware of. I don't know if that changed for Monkey Island. But basically, it was "here's the game, any idea of how big it's going to be?" You'd have to estimate how many discs it would be. Ron: That was our budget. Our budget wasn't "you can spend $200,000." It was "this game has to fit on five floppy disks. They can accord for the cost of goods for the box. So I just looked at everything as "I have to fit this game on five floppy disks. That constrains the budget right there, because there's only so much art that can fit on five floppy disks. --- As someone who appreciates not just where games are going, but where they’ve come from, Thimbleweed Park feels poised to remind us why the genre charmed a generation of players. With a cast of memorable (if freaky) characters and an accessibility that previous point-and-click games felt little need to include, Thimbleweed Park may reignite that enchantment, if only for another moment in history. Thimbleweed Park releases on March 30th on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One. View full article
  10. The era of point-and-click adventure games is, for the most part, remembered fondly by the gaming community. The genre helped establish Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) as a powerhouse game studio (to say nothing of film) during its time. Now, over 20 years later, the point-and-click (PAC) genre has sustained itself almost strictly through fan games or deliberately indie fare looking to tap into nostalgia, but the team behind Thimbleweed Park aims to change that. As point-and-click genre visionaries, game developers like Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and Gary Winnick are teaming up once again (along with a small team of younger developers) to give genre fans another grand adventure. We played an early demo with developers Ron Gilbert (creator of Monkey Island, co-creator of Maniac Mansion) and David Fox (Lucasfilm’s third employee and SCUMM scriptor for Maniac Mansion) and spoke about how it feels to come back to an adult point-and-click game after so long, and what they hope to achieve. --- Ron Gilbert: Gary Winnick and I, we did Maniac Mansion together. We kind of wanted to create a game that really captured the charm of those old games. And we really weren't sure what that charm was. It was very ethereal. We didn't really know. It's just like, well if we kind of make a game in the same way that we made a game back then, can we kind of capture what that was? [Thimbleweed Park] is really the story of these two detectives. This is agent Ray, and the other detective is agent Reyes. So it's these two detectives who show up in Thimbleweed Park because this dead body has been discovered out by the bridge. It's really the story of their investigation into the mystery of what killed this person in this really strange, bizarre town. You realize these two agents are really not partners. They don't actually know each other until they show up. They kind of randomly show up and the other one was there. So you're always very suspect of them. Like, why are they here? What are they doing? And it really plays into the bizarre-ness of Thimbleweed. I don't think I remember seeing any of the classic control layout of “interact,” “grab,” “combine,” etc (during gameplay) at the bottom, so it's interesting that you're still going with that. It's the most obvious callback. Ron: Yeah. I think it's also a bit of the charm of those games. You had all your options and you built the sentences and the verbs and stuff. So we really wanted to retain that as much as possible. We've done play testing with people who have not played classic adventure games before. There's probably this maybe 15-20 second period where they're kind of going oh my god there's all these things on the screen, and then they realize, if they want to look at something, you just click look at it. [At this point in the demo, Gilbert reveals that the character Dolores, a young programmer, is attempting to mail a job application to a studio called “Mucus Phlegm.”] Is Mucus Phlegm a play on LucasArts? Ron: It was Lucasfilm. We all used to joke. We called it Mucus Phlegm when we worked there. Anytime we wanted to make fun of who we were working for. Are you guys coming back to “adult” point-and-click games for any particular reason? Did it feel like a good time or were you thinking you should fill gap? Because there are a few other indie point-and-click games out there. Ron: Yeah, there’s other point-and-click stuff. I guess I haven't really designed a pure PAC adventure since those days. I did "The Cave," which is like an adventure game but more a platformer adventure. I haven't really done pure PAC adventure. I think that is interesting. When Gary and I first did the Kickstarter, that really came about because Gary and I were talking about the charm a game like Maniac Mansion had, or Monkey Island, and just talking about what seemed to be missing from modern adventure games. Because while they're fun and interesting, they're kind of missing that charm that old games had. This really became an experiment. What is that charm? Can we capture that charm? If we just go back and make this game just like we would have made a game when we were doing Maniac Mansion, can we recapture the charm of those games or not? It seems interesting. Even in just the short playthrough here, the style, and writing as well, seems to be much closer to that old school Maniac Mansion. It's goofy, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes very intentionally. [laughs] I've played my fair share of PAC games that were inspired by those that came before, but I would grow so frustrated with them because I was never amused. It was either a raw story or it didn't have a carrot on a stick to help push me through. So what would you say are the bigger changes, if any, in making a PAC game in modern times? Like you said, you play-tested with people who never played PAC games before. Are you changing the aesthetic or gameplay loop in any significant way? Ron: We are changing it, but I think what we're doing is changing it in very subtle ways. Because I think if you look at modern gamers who like modern adventure games like Kentucky Route Zero or Firewatch- I think modern gamers in general, they enjoy being challenged, but they don't enjoy being frustrated. I think when we were making games back in the 80's and 90's, being frustrated was almost a badge of honor for players back then. Players today just won't put up with that stuff. But they don't mind being challenged. They don't want to be led around. They don't want to be told "go here and do this," but they want to understand that yes I'm heading in the right direction. They need that comfort, that little bit of security to know that yes, you're doing the right thing. This is the right path for you to be going down. So those are some of the small changes we're making. Playing something like Broken Age, I think that was another game that really hit the nail on the head in certain ways, but there were a few instances where I had no idea if I was doing the right thing. I can appreciate that as someone who both appreciates more old school things like Maniac Mansion, but I'm a big Firewatch fan, too. The narrative is obviously very X-Files, Mulder and Scully inspired. Was there any particular reason you guys ran with a mystery, or what appears to be a mystery, with a lot of supernatural stuff? Does that stem from time with Maniac Mansion or Indiana Jones? Is it kind of just you had a story idea and wanted to go further with it? Ron: Maniac Mansion really came from the fact that Gary [Winnick] and I were fans of bad B-horror movies, so Maniac Mansion was sort of a send-up of B horror movies. In particular, I’m a big fan of David Lynch. I really like the the stuff he's done. So in some ways it's almost a send-up of Twin Peaks and really not the X-Files. We have this man, this woman, federal agents, and everybody thinks Mulder and Scully, but really that wasn't in our heads at all. David: This is set in 1987 which is before the X-Files [laughs]. Ron: Right, so it's impossible it would be Mulder and Scully [laughs]. Case closed. But I think a lot of it is more Twin Peaks and David Lynch. When Gary and I did the Kickstarter and came up with the story of the characters, we were not thinking of X-Files at all. I was not an X-Files fan. I've seen maybe five episodes. And the second we did the Kickstarter and that image went up, everybody went "oh my god, it's agent Mulder and Scully X-Files." And I kind of went "oh, shit." [laughs]. That was my first reaction, "oh, shit, this is not the X-Files." I hope nobody is disappointed when they play the game expecting an X-Files game. David: Having watched every episode of the X-Files, the story does not do X-Files in any way. It's very Twin Peaks. So aside from the certainly-not-X-Files, certainly-not-Mulder-and-Scully duo, what is the kind of narrative that you're wanting to tell? I remember that you're exploring this old American town. It’s very post-industrial. Was there anything you were trying to communicate there? Ron: Yeah, it is. I think adventure games in general, to me, I've always looked at the main character of an adventure game as the world. The main character in Maniac Mansion is that house. The main character in Monkey Island is that world [Guybrush Threepwood] inhabits. I think if you treat the adventure game world as if it's the main character, it can come alive. We treat the town like that. We built a real town. It connects like a real town would be. We expect you to navigate like a real town. So I think the town is kind of important. In terms of themes, this is 1987, but Uncle Chuck [Delores’ relative], he's this strange inventor. He has all these weird computers all over town, and so there's a little bit of hints of this modern world we live in where we're all connected in some way with computers everywhere. So you see this little thread of that running through the story, but kind of in this 1987 frame of mind. I guess even the humor too? PAC games feel like the first to really approach dry and sardonic humor. Ron: I think that's kind of my humor style in general. I love dry humor. I have a lot of respect for comedians that can deliver really dry lines. I never use smiley faces in my tweets or emails. Sometimes it throws people off, because I say something and "oooh, there's no smiley face. Is he mad at me?" No, no, it's just that I'm sarcastic. I think a lot of the humor in the game is that kind. That's just me. That's what I enjoy. And there's a lot of fourth wall. I love breaking the fourth wall. You've got to tell me about the damn clown. What's the deal there? Ron: The clown? [laughs]. Ransom the Clown. He's been cursed. He's an insult clown. He goes up on stage and he basically insults everybody. But he's really an asshole, so everybody really kind of hates him, but they laugh at him because people laugh in uncomfortable moments. And he insults the wrong person in the audience and he gets cursed. And he can no longer remove his makeup. So he's stuck with this clown makeup and he retires to live in this old run down circus, can't really ever leave because everyone hates him and he's stuck with the makeup. His story is how he got cursed to never lose his makeup. So now he's a has-been, no career, he's broke and living out of a circus.  That was one of the things that struck me most interesting. There's a few clown-based horror films out there. Ron: Some people find clowns terrifying. Not me. They've never bothered me. I've never had a clown phobia. But a lot of people really do hate clowns. It's always the older, washed-up clowns like Ransom. Like something CLEARLY went wrong in this guy's life. Not where they enjoy their career. Ron: If you look at the old advertisements from the 1950s or 60's where they had Ronald McDonald, he just looks creepy as hell. He just looks like a child molester clown. It's amazing that they got away with that, but it's weird. The rest of the team. Have they had any significant input, especially having people come back from Lucasfilm? Ron: Yeah, there's me, Gary, David, and [Lucasfilm background artist] Mark [Ferrari]. Coming back from something like that, 20 years later, has the group collaborated in any interesting ways that you didn't expect? Ron: I think the thing about working together again was how quickly we just fell into working. Dave and I worked on several projects together, plus Gary and I. And just how quickly we got into that mode where we're just anticipating each other's' thoughts about stuff. And that's been nice because we've really been able to work through issues and problems and all this stuff really quickly. David: I think there may also be like an ego-less part to it. Like each of us dealt with it the way we have to be, where one tries to take the lead on something. In this case I feel like Ron is the lead. And he's the one who's arbitrated choices. So if I say how about this, I try to see if he'll say he'll think about it. Ron: There's a respect, right? A respect for each other. David: It's safe for me to throw out ideas. And the same thing with people who aren't directly working with us, like playtesters. A lot of our ideas we get from playtesters. Ron: They'll start calling us on stuff that isn't good enough. I think that's one of the things that struck me the most. A lot of games in the AAA space, they tout that they're bringing back the creator of X, Y, or Z game, and he or she is serving as the project lead, but it's like subscribing to auteur theory. I like that there's a handful of the guys who helped build the genre and then you have younger devs to make those sorts of suggestions. Ron: I think what you need on any project is a vision. There has to be a vision. Sometimes that comes from one person. Sometimes it comes from a small group of people. But I think as long as you have that strong vision then everything is going to be OK. Where projects I see don't really work it's because there were five different visions. All these people had their own vision and it never really meshed together. So at the end you don't produce a cohesive piece of art at the end. Where if everybody has a shared vision, you're going to do that. David: It's broader than just the vision of the game. We worked together for years at this company where there was already a strong culture, even before we started. It kind of took on the culture of Lucasfilm as a film company and then right into our attention to detail and really wanted to make a way to do our own thing. So with the four of us who've worked together before, there was already this established sense of culture. So as we brought in other people who were new to it, they fell into that established culture, so in a way this is really is kind of the continuation of that original Lucasfilm culture. I don't know what happened 25 years later, for how much of that stuck. So you keep saying culture. You mean just the work environment or how you guys communicate or something deeper? Ron: I think it's when you're dealing with a creative medium, right? It's like how you deal with creative issues, input, and ideas. Because it's like anybody on the team should be able to contribute. It's not like "this is my vision, I will think of everything. I don't need you." A game like Monkey Island, everybody was suggesting ideas for that, from the testers to the artists, programmers. The whole vision. My job on Monkey Island wasn't to come up with the ideas, it was just to sift through all the ideas. It was to say "that works, that doesn't." Some project leads understand that, and there are others that do not, where everything they feel has to come from them. And we just try to create this culture that anybody on the team could just throw out an idea. Hey, if they have an idea for a puzzle or an animation, just throw it out there. That's the only criteria is it has to be good and fit the vision for the game. David: The art, our primary character animator Octavi [Navarro], is a really good example of that. We know he's brilliant at doing animation, we'll give him direction. We'll give him intent and what has to happen, and he'll go crazy building something we never would have thought of. This all means you're pulling creativity from all these different talents into the game. Kind of like the, computer animation where [Delores] is printing out the job application, that was a funny animation. You pointed it out, that reminded me that the best point and click adventure games do have those little nuggets of motion to them. David: I agree. With that printer animation, the original puzzle was a good example of something that was kind of tedious because you had to have the letter, put it in the envelope. You had to press the button on the computer, get it to print, had to combine the letter and envelope, and it was all busywork. To Ron's point, this wasn't working. We had the idea for hands on the computer and Octavi made the animation that combined all these steps. It's not really fun to stamp envelopes [laughs]. Ron: And it masks all the really fun animation. Did you guys think you’re taking anything from PAC adventure games that have come between then and now anyway, or do you think the medium/subgenre has reached a zenith. Are these games going to get stagnant again? Have you guys been inspired by anything, or some of the earliest stuff? Ron: I don't think there's anything in the PAC genre that necessarily has. I kind of feel the PAC genre is very stagnant in a lot of ways. There are interesting PAC games being made now, but they really feel like they are just 1990's PAC games, and I don't feel like they're moving anything forward with what they're doing. So more of the inspiration, especially with the narrative, has really come from games like Firewatch and Kentucky Route Zero, and the more modern games and how they deal with narrative, and how they deal with moving players through their worlds, and what modern gamers find compelling about that. I think PAC adventures fell off the face of the earth. I think there's something about them that very modern players don't quite get. How do we make them feel safe and comfortable playing this? If you're a Firewatch fan or Kentucky Route Zero fan, [Thimbleweed Park] isn't going to be this horrible, frustrating experience that you heard your parents talk about [when they mentioned] how much they hate PAC adventures. This is going to be an interesting kind of experience. I think that's our challenge in a way. David: There's a whole lot of stuff we've learned over the years about what you think is funny, what's good. I think back then, part of what was supposed to be fun was having a game that lasted a certain number of hours. You didn't kill people off. We did things that would extend gameplay, but they weren't especially that fun to do. So we want to make sure the gameplay is really fun and in-depth. There's a density, I think, to making progress. You're solving a lot of filler that you have to get through to make something happen. We talk a lot about puzzle design, which I don't think we thought about much back then. If you have a puzzle, it's really good to know what you're trying to solve before you start clicking on random objects and try to combine them randomly. So there's an intent. You're actively solving something. In researching, I reacquainted myself watching old videos of Maniac Mansion, and yeah that makes sense that you see somebody who knows the game saying "we're going to go here and here," click, click, click, picking up 50 items, but you would never have any idea what to use them for. So having that intent I think, especially as a younger gamer who certainly didn't grow up with these, that makes a lot of sense. You're being much more intentional. David: Yeah, we have a bunch of objects which have no use. They're there for atmosphere or backer objects [laughs]. Ron: If you backed at the $1,000 level you got to create an object in the game. There's the Ransom the Clown itch cream that's kind of fun. Octavi did a great animation of Ransom applying his itch cream [laughs]. You’ve said you’re aiming for an early 2017 release. I've noticed a lot of indie developers, old and new, seem to work on a timetable on three years. Have you guys been busting to get this done? Ron: We've been really focused. A lot of Kickstarter projects work off the rails. It's like five years later they haven't built a game. We were very intent to not have that happen. We were supposed to release in July [2016]. So we've kind of slipped by about six months, but we've stayed very focused. We've tried to say hey, we're going to build this game, we're going to scope correctly, we're going to do all of these things that we've learned about games and shipping games on time. David: There's also the work in making sure to do the wireframe art. We wireframed rough versions of every single room or area. Ron: We cut a lot of stuff. There's a lot of stuff we did with this quick wireframe art, that we had working, and then said, this room isn't needed, and decided to cut it because it was only half the work time. It's easy to cut that stuff. I think that keeps the world kind of lean. Everything is there for a reason. We've gone through this process of essentially storyboarding the game out and cutting the stuff that isn't needed before time is invested. David: There was a point where Ron had us each come up with a list of 10 or 15 rooms we could cut without killing the game. Some of our favorite rooms were in there, but I think one or two of them got back in the game[laughs]. It was a really good exercise to see what we needed, and if each room has a purpose, something happens there, do you need that room there? Ron: There's the bar that's just gone. Aside from the collaboration element, is that wireframe method, making drastic cuts, similar to what you did back when you were in the Maniac Mansion era? Ron: No, actually, not at all. When I was doing Monkey Island, it was like we would have a room, and the artist would draw the whole thing, and it would be done to completion, and we'd do it and move onto the next one. It was this really linear fashion. It really wasn't until - because I started the company Humongous Entertainment after Lucasfilm, and we made adventure games for kids - it was there that we started doing all this very hand-drawn animation. I say hand-drawn, it was literally drawn on paper with pencil. Not in Photoshop. It was a very time consuming and expensive process. The results were amazing, but we couldn't waste doing animation that wasn't needed. So we got in this habit of doing storyboards of the entire game, all this black and white stuff. And within a month or two, we could play our entire game from beginning to end. It was all this black and white art, but that was the point we started going through and cutting a bunch of stuff that didn't matter, because the actual production was so expensive. We needed the production to just happen, to just go. I've really adopted that philosophy ever since. So now I like to build games and get them up and completely playable very, very early, and then go through and cut stuff before it's expensive to actually develop. So obviously the value of budget and money has fluctuated in the decades that have passed. Does it feel like you're operating on a larger or stricter budget since those days? Because with Lucasfilm, I don't know what it was like in those days, especially in the gaming division. Ron: Well, we didn't spend a lot of money. I don't think there was a lot of money to be spent. We had money, obviously. We had billions of dollars from Star Wars flowing in. But I think games were so simple that we couldn't have spent that much. There wasn't any place to pour that kind of money into games. So it was a much easier to keep things scoped a bit more. Games now, there's so many places you can pour money into a game that I think you have to be really careful. Certainly, coming from Kickstarter, we only had a certain bucket full of money. We got $623,000. I think with Kickstarter, the most important thing for a Kickstarter is you need a hook. You can't just have an idea for a game. You need a hook that hooks people. People often ask me, "what's some advice for running a Kickstarter?" I always tell them "sell people your dream. Don't sell them your game." It's not a store. Because if all you're doing is trying to sell people your game and getting them to fund the game, it's like well, go to Steam and find 50 games just like that. Sell them your dream. Sell them your passion for making this thing because that's what people will give you money for- it’s that kind of stuff. So I think Kickstarters need some kind of hook. David: So the [original Kickstarter] art was Gary's and much closer to Maniac Mansion-style. [To Ron] Do you think if we had done the Kickstarter with Mark's art and actual scenes, do you think that would have gotten more or less? Ron: More.  David: Yeah?  Ron: Yeah, I think we would have raised a lot more money.  If it evoked the Maniac Mansion aesthetic? David: I'm stunned by [the game] now because when I go back and look at the Kickstarter art, or I see the Kickstarter art in some articles that still pull from the old stuff, it's like "whoa" because it's so different. Ron: Well we didn't know how much money we were going to raise. We asked for significantly less money than we got and we wanted to make sure that we had an art style that we could do for the money we wanted to raise so we kind of went with this more simplistic art that was more like Maniac Mansion. But then we raised almost twice the money; then we had the money to bring on Mark and Octavi and all these people and kind of raise the bar on the art. David: The characters look different, too. Totally redone. Ron: Which I think is just natural. Any game, you go through this natural process. At least you're not going backwards. Ron: [laughs] That's true. Is there anything else you guys want to add? David: You talk about other graphic adventure games that maybe don't have people doing it with as much experience. It's almost like most art forms where maybe some people think that it's really easy to do it because you consume it. "I can make a movie because I see movies," or "I can write a book because I read books. I can make games because I play games." The best games, I think, are not accidents. They're people who work really hard and have a lot of experience and draw on experience and keep polishing and polishing and polishing, and not take the first ideas that come up. In brainstorming we'd come up with ideas and say "that's not good enough. We can push a little further into it and not just use the first thing that comes up." And so I think that to do a really good one it helps to have that experience of which pitfalls to avoid, and to keep pushing on until it really feels like "yeah, that's a good puzzle." The old saying being innovation rather than emulation, but this time it’s iteration over emulation. Ron: I find with writing humor, I'll kind of write a line of dialogue and I just immediately say "well, how can I make this funnier?" And then I'll rewrite it and I'll go "how can I make this funnier?" Then I'll rewrite it again, and maybe after the third or fourth time I can go "that's a good line." It's like the writer's room on a TV show, right? It's just a group of writers, and somebody comes up with the core thing and then the group writers punch it up. Everybody just adds little things upon it to make it better and better. That's how you get really, really funny things. David: I've seen a few movies lately where I'm just totally caught up in it, and then there's some point where, maybe in the third act, it just kind of goes "wham!" and falls to the ground. Whether you have this great idea -- you polish the first part over and over again, then you get to the end and whoops, you fall back on the easy solutions or cliches. Or it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. David: I shouldn't be talking about this since we haven't done the end of our game yet. [laughs] I'll be looking for that. Ron: We see a lot of that in our game, because we get a lot of time on the beginning of the game. There isn't a lot of playtesting on the end of the game. The beginning of the game is going to be super tight. David: Earlier games at Lucas, there never was a budget that I was aware of. I don't know if that changed for Monkey Island. But basically, it was "here's the game, any idea of how big it's going to be?" You'd have to estimate how many discs it would be. Ron: That was our budget. Our budget wasn't "you can spend $200,000." It was "this game has to fit on five floppy disks. They can accord for the cost of goods for the box. So I just looked at everything as "I have to fit this game on five floppy disks. That constrains the budget right there, because there's only so much art that can fit on five floppy disks. --- As someone who appreciates not just where games are going, but where they’ve come from, Thimbleweed Park feels poised to remind us why the genre charmed a generation of players. With a cast of memorable (if freaky) characters and an accessibility that previous point-and-click games felt little need to include, Thimbleweed Park may reignite that enchantment, if only for another moment in history. Thimbleweed Park releases on March 30th on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One.
  11. Arms has stood out to me since its unveiling as the Switch title with the most hidden promise. Punch-Out!! for Wii proved that motion-controlled boxing can be a ton of fun. Arms puts a spin on that successful template with wacky, extendable limbs, the freedom to mix and match zany weapons, and a Saturday morning cartoon presentation. But does it perform as well it looks? I went a few rounds with Arms at PAX South to find out. The first hurdle was acclimating myself to the controls. Playing Arms requires holding a JoyCon each hand with thumbs on the respective shoulder buttons. Instead of using the analog sticks to move, players tilt both controllers to get around. Tilting to the side, forwards, and back positions the boxer accordingly. Throwing a punch in real-life causes the same to occur in-game. Holding down the left shoulder button performs a dash while the right shoulder jumps. Finally, pressing both Z buttons activates your special maneuver once the corresponding gauge has been filled. If that sounds like a lot, it kind of is - I didn’t even touch on blocking and grapples. Putting all of that into practice took more than a little work against my CPU opponents. Leaving the safe confines of the tutorial proved to be a jarring wake-up call. As the A.I. unleashed hell upon me, I struggled to competently combine movement, jumping, dashing, and punching into a coherent strategy and kept mixing up the controls. Still, I managed to win primarily by keeping my distance and performing grapple moves. The pieces began falling in place a bit better by the next round. I started timing my punches better and learned to read my opponent's movements. I even managed to block a few incoming shots and get off a few tricky combos. My bouts still devolved into chaotic, mindless punch parties where I probably looked like raging madman, but I was having some degree of fun. Close-quarter skirmishes are fast-paced affairs, but throwing punches from a distance felt comparable to launching a missile. I took aim and watched my fist hurtle across the screen in hopes it would its mark, and it felt genuinely satisfying when it did. The Switch’s much-touted HD rumble simulates the feel of the arms extending and retracting–a neat, but minor, touch. Button inputs felt exceptional, but tilting the JoyCons for movement didn’t feel natural to me. The entire time I just wished I could move with the sticks, so I’m thankful Arms supports traditional controls as well. The motion controls pick up movements a majority of the time but there were several spots where my inputs didn’t seem to register. It wasn’t egregiously bad, but the occasional misread was noticeable enough to cause some mild frustration. I found a surprising depth to playing Arms. Outfitting your fists with three separate gadgets, such as propeller blades or a missile launcher, before bouts made me consider what combinations would work best. Environmental hazards like a trampoline around an arena’s perimeter can be used to render opponents open to attack or used to evade incoming blows. Even the act of punching shouldn’t be taken lightly. Since characters’ arms extend long distances, every strike leaves the corresponding side of their bodies exposed for a second or two. That means a punch that eats air leaves a fighter vulnerable to retaliation. I’ve heard some predict Arms to become the Switch’s Splatoon. I ultimately found Arms to be entertaining enough, but I don’t think it has the novelty, personality, or shelf life to become a phenomenon the caliber of the Nintendo’s breakout shooter. Still, that doesn’t mean Arms can’t exist as a perfectly respectable and colorful fighter for Switch owners to goof around with. Arms releases this spring on the Nintendo Switch. View full article
  12. Taking A Swing At Arms' Wacky Approach To Boxing

    Arms has stood out to me since its unveiling as the Switch title with the most hidden promise. Punch-Out!! for Wii proved that motion-controlled boxing can be a ton of fun. Arms puts a spin on that successful template with wacky, extendable limbs, the freedom to mix and match zany weapons, and a Saturday morning cartoon presentation. But does it perform as well it looks? I went a few rounds with Arms at PAX South to find out. The first hurdle was acclimating myself to the controls. Playing Arms requires holding a JoyCon each hand with thumbs on the respective shoulder buttons. Instead of using the analog sticks to move, players tilt both controllers to get around. Tilting to the side, forwards, and back positions the boxer accordingly. Throwing a punch in real-life causes the same to occur in-game. Holding down the left shoulder button performs a dash while the right shoulder jumps. Finally, pressing both Z buttons activates your special maneuver once the corresponding gauge has been filled. If that sounds like a lot, it kind of is - I didn’t even touch on blocking and grapples. Putting all of that into practice took more than a little work against my CPU opponents. Leaving the safe confines of the tutorial proved to be a jarring wake-up call. As the A.I. unleashed hell upon me, I struggled to competently combine movement, jumping, dashing, and punching into a coherent strategy and kept mixing up the controls. Still, I managed to win primarily by keeping my distance and performing grapple moves. The pieces began falling in place a bit better by the next round. I started timing my punches better and learned to read my opponent's movements. I even managed to block a few incoming shots and get off a few tricky combos. My bouts still devolved into chaotic, mindless punch parties where I probably looked like raging madman, but I was having some degree of fun. Close-quarter skirmishes are fast-paced affairs, but throwing punches from a distance felt comparable to launching a missile. I took aim and watched my fist hurtle across the screen in hopes it would its mark, and it felt genuinely satisfying when it did. The Switch’s much-touted HD rumble simulates the feel of the arms extending and retracting–a neat, but minor, touch. Button inputs felt exceptional, but tilting the JoyCons for movement didn’t feel natural to me. The entire time I just wished I could move with the sticks, so I’m thankful Arms supports traditional controls as well. The motion controls pick up movements a majority of the time but there were several spots where my inputs didn’t seem to register. It wasn’t egregiously bad, but the occasional misread was noticeable enough to cause some mild frustration. I found a surprising depth to playing Arms. Outfitting your fists with three separate gadgets, such as propeller blades or a missile launcher, before bouts made me consider what combinations would work best. Environmental hazards like a trampoline around an arena’s perimeter can be used to render opponents open to attack or used to evade incoming blows. Even the act of punching shouldn’t be taken lightly. Since characters’ arms extend long distances, every strike leaves the corresponding side of their bodies exposed for a second or two. That means a punch that eats air leaves a fighter vulnerable to retaliation. I’ve heard some predict Arms to become the Switch’s Splatoon. I ultimately found Arms to be entertaining enough, but I don’t think it has the novelty, personality, or shelf life to become a phenomenon the caliber of the Nintendo’s breakout shooter. Still, that doesn’t mean Arms can’t exist as a perfectly respectable and colorful fighter for Switch owners to goof around with. Arms releases this spring on the Nintendo Switch.
  13. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild towers as the Nintendo Switch’s most anticipated title for good reason. In addition to being a new Zelda, thus being a big deal by default, the latest entry in the long-running franchise expands on the series’ formula by featuring a vast open world for players to explore freely. After much anticipation, I had the opportunity to spend roughly 20 minutes of hands-on time with Breath of the Wild. It felt like a fraction of that time because I was completely enamored with Hyrule’s wealth of possibilities. From what I understand, the demo I played was identical to last year’s E3 demo, so the opening events are likely familiar if you’ve read impressions for that version. Link awakens within an ancient temple, beckoned by a mysterious voice. After being bestowed with the magical Sheikah Slate, a multipurpose tool that serves as Link’s map, among other functions, I found and equipped basic clothing. Breath of the Wild’s vibrant world welcomed me with open arms as I exited the structure. There was only one question: Where do I head first? I could have immediately veered off on my own path, but I opted to follow a mysterious hooded man. After catching up with him and absorbing some sage tutorial advice, I embarked on my journey. My first order of business was to climb everything. Link can scale virtually any surface, his actions dictated by a stamina meter ala Skyward Sword. The ability to climbing vastly opens up exploration options. Instead of seeking out a main path, I just scampered up cliffs and improvised my way through areas. Link’s stamina drained rather quickly in the demo to the point of becoming a mild nuisance. Hopefully, it won’t take too long to for players to build up his strength in the full release. I quickly procured my first weapon: a branch. Not quite the Master Sword, but I had to start somewhere. It was a fortunate discovery, since I immediately encountered my first adversary in a lone moblin. Combat itself felt largely identical to previous Zelda games. I slashed, rolled, and leapt in and out of engagement with my foe. The controls felt smooth and responsive as we clashed. The presence of weapon degradation was the most prominent new wrinkle, as it forced me to monitor the state of items. Unfortunately, my branch splintered into pieces before I could finish my adversary, forcing me into a hasty retreat. In an unexpected and humorous moment, the persistent moblin gave chase for several yards. It even followed me down a sheer cliff drop. Even the Nintendo representative guiding me through the demo was taken aback at the beast’s determination. After a lengthy pursuit, the moblin finally decided I wasn’t worth the effort and backed off. That wasn’t the end of my troubles. I turned to discover that I’d accidentally stumbled upon a camp teeming with moblins–and I was completely defenseless. In a stroke of intentionally designed luck, though, I noticed a bow and quiver of arrows laying by a log nearby. There were also a few more branches. Now that I had a larger arsenal, I messed around with Breath of the Wild’s inventory system. Players can quick select weapons in-game on the fly by entering a separate menu. Additionally, hot key options also streamlined selection. I adapted to this new system swiftly, swapping items with ease. Before I tackled the enemy base, my Nintendo rep instructed me to slide the Switch out of its dock and continue playing in handheld mode. The transition from big to small screen was as quick and seamless as advertised. Best of all, the performance didn’t skip a beat and looked great on the smaller display. With my new bow, I took aim and sniped distant enemies, drawing their attention. As the now-alert moblins hurtled towards me, I spotted a nearby shield and quickly equipped it. With my beat-down stick and shield ready, I fought my way through the remaining horde, rolling and collecting additional arrows and sticks mid-fight. Once the last moblin fell, I began collecting the spoils. Among the loot was an actual sword. Hooray, no more branches! That sense of improvement defined much of Breath of the Wild’s experience. Every time I nabbed a new item, I eagerly compared it stats to my existing inventory and wanted to continue searching in hopes of finding greater riches. That’s a fun and necessary incentive to achieve in an open world game. After clearing the area of its riches, I decided to continue towards the main story objective. The waypoint led to a small ruin with a plate to insert the Shiekah Slate. I placed the relic, which triggered a scene where a massive tower emerged from the Earth. Interestingly, the Nintendo Rep pointed out that during this cinematic, moblins are typically present since the structure sprouts near their base. However, since I wiped out the camp before summoning the tower, the moblins were absent. I always appreciate little touches of continuity like that. I’ll have to wait for the full release of Breath of the Wild to see what follows after that tower arose from the ruins as my demo wrapped up shortly thereafter. Although I barely scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg, I left the demo anxious and excited to get my hands on the full experience. Roaming the open world, discovering items and locations with little to no guidance felt like playing a big-budget remake of the NES Legend of Zelda. It’s a freedom that’s been lacking in the last few console entries, and the next logical leap after A Link Between Worlds (a personal fave) began the shift towards a less linear direction. Breakable weapons largely irritate me in most games, but Zelda tempers that annoyance by sprinkling items all over the place. I was always picking up new equipment, and even though most of them were fragile branches, I had a supply of them to rely on until I found something better. Most importantly, Breath of the Wild was just plain fun. Combat works fine, the picturesque world was a joy to run around in, and the loop of exploration and loot has its hooks. If the gameplay continues to evolve in positive ways, and if they story is up to snuff, Breath of the Wild could be a Zelda game for the ages. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches for Switch and Wii U March 3. View full article
  14. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild towers as the Nintendo Switch’s most anticipated title for good reason. In addition to being a new Zelda, thus being a big deal by default, the latest entry in the long-running franchise expands on the series’ formula by featuring a vast open world for players to explore freely. After much anticipation, I had the opportunity to spend roughly 20 minutes of hands-on time with Breath of the Wild. It felt like a fraction of that time because I was completely enamored with Hyrule’s wealth of possibilities. From what I understand, the demo I played was identical to last year’s E3 demo, so the opening events are likely familiar if you’ve read impressions for that version. Link awakens within an ancient temple, beckoned by a mysterious voice. After being bestowed with the magical Sheikah Slate, a multipurpose tool that serves as Link’s map, among other functions, I found and equipped basic clothing. Breath of the Wild’s vibrant world welcomed me with open arms as I exited the structure. There was only one question: Where do I head first? I could have immediately veered off on my own path, but I opted to follow a mysterious hooded man. After catching up with him and absorbing some sage tutorial advice, I embarked on my journey. My first order of business was to climb everything. Link can scale virtually any surface, his actions dictated by a stamina meter ala Skyward Sword. The ability to climbing vastly opens up exploration options. Instead of seeking out a main path, I just scampered up cliffs and improvised my way through areas. Link’s stamina drained rather quickly in the demo to the point of becoming a mild nuisance. Hopefully, it won’t take too long to for players to build up his strength in the full release. I quickly procured my first weapon: a branch. Not quite the Master Sword, but I had to start somewhere. It was a fortunate discovery, since I immediately encountered my first adversary in a lone moblin. Combat itself felt largely identical to previous Zelda games. I slashed, rolled, and leapt in and out of engagement with my foe. The controls felt smooth and responsive as we clashed. The presence of weapon degradation was the most prominent new wrinkle, as it forced me to monitor the state of items. Unfortunately, my branch splintered into pieces before I could finish my adversary, forcing me into a hasty retreat. In an unexpected and humorous moment, the persistent moblin gave chase for several yards. It even followed me down a sheer cliff drop. Even the Nintendo representative guiding me through the demo was taken aback at the beast’s determination. After a lengthy pursuit, the moblin finally decided I wasn’t worth the effort and backed off. That wasn’t the end of my troubles. I turned to discover that I’d accidentally stumbled upon a camp teeming with moblins–and I was completely defenseless. In a stroke of intentionally designed luck, though, I noticed a bow and quiver of arrows laying by a log nearby. There were also a few more branches. Now that I had a larger arsenal, I messed around with Breath of the Wild’s inventory system. Players can quick select weapons in-game on the fly by entering a separate menu. Additionally, hot key options also streamlined selection. I adapted to this new system swiftly, swapping items with ease. Before I tackled the enemy base, my Nintendo rep instructed me to slide the Switch out of its dock and continue playing in handheld mode. The transition from big to small screen was as quick and seamless as advertised. Best of all, the performance didn’t skip a beat and looked great on the smaller display. With my new bow, I took aim and sniped distant enemies, drawing their attention. As the now-alert moblins hurtled towards me, I spotted a nearby shield and quickly equipped it. With my beat-down stick and shield ready, I fought my way through the remaining horde, rolling and collecting additional arrows and sticks mid-fight. Once the last moblin fell, I began collecting the spoils. Among the loot was an actual sword. Hooray, no more branches! That sense of improvement defined much of Breath of the Wild’s experience. Every time I nabbed a new item, I eagerly compared it stats to my existing inventory and wanted to continue searching in hopes of finding greater riches. That’s a fun and necessary incentive to achieve in an open world game. After clearing the area of its riches, I decided to continue towards the main story objective. The waypoint led to a small ruin with a plate to insert the Shiekah Slate. I placed the relic, which triggered a scene where a massive tower emerged from the Earth. Interestingly, the Nintendo Rep pointed out that during this cinematic, moblins are typically present since the structure sprouts near their base. However, since I wiped out the camp before summoning the tower, the moblins were absent. I always appreciate little touches of continuity like that. I’ll have to wait for the full release of Breath of the Wild to see what follows after that tower arose from the ruins as my demo wrapped up shortly thereafter. Although I barely scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg, I left the demo anxious and excited to get my hands on the full experience. Roaming the open world, discovering items and locations with little to no guidance felt like playing a big-budget remake of the NES Legend of Zelda. It’s a freedom that’s been lacking in the last few console entries, and the next logical leap after A Link Between Worlds (a personal fave) began the shift towards a less linear direction. Breakable weapons largely irritate me in most games, but Zelda tempers that annoyance by sprinkling items all over the place. I was always picking up new equipment, and even though most of them were fragile branches, I had a supply of them to rely on until I found something better. Most importantly, Breath of the Wild was just plain fun. Combat works fine, the picturesque world was a joy to run around in, and the loop of exploration and loot has its hooks. If the gameplay continues to evolve in positive ways, and if they story is up to snuff, Breath of the Wild could be a Zelda game for the ages. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launches for Switch and Wii U March 3.
  15. The Game Awards showcased a large selection of upcoming titles that captured the imagination of those in attendance and watching via livestream. While all the games shown were indeed hotly anticipated, few titles have as rabid a following as the Mass Effect fanbase who were treated to almost five minutes of gameplay from the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda. The 4K gameplay on display in the gameplay trailer demonstrated many scenarios of frantic, fast-paced action that maintains the series' third-person perspective adapted to the fluidity of Dragon Age Inquisition's Frostbite Engine. It doesn't quite seem to be as tactical as past entries, with less of a reliance on cover-based shooting. Most of the actions seemed to be mapped to buttons rather than a mid-action pause screen (though on one occasion the feature does reappear when the player character switches ammo types). The series' trademark dialogue wheel and action prompts remain, clearly shown in an exchange between a provincial thug and the Pathfinder. Players will also still be able to combine abilities to perform combos of some sort. Interestingly, it seems like perhaps stealth will be a more viable way of playing Andromeda than in previous entries - one segment of gameplay shows the player can have the ability to turn invisible in order to line up headshots on unsuspecting sentries. Crafting will be a bigger part of the series than it has since the first Mass Effect title. Players will begin with what they have aboard their ship, but anything else will have to be scavenged and crafted from the materials found on the worlds they find during their exploration. That exploration doesn't come without danger, either. Ravenous beasts prowl the unknown and some are willing to attack on sight. Some planets play host to pirates armed with everything from laser cannons to mechs, others might hold unencountered alien races who might view an intrusion by Council races as an act of war. Once again, Mass Effect offers the thrill of the unknown and it is hard not to get excited at the prospect of revisiting that rich universe to see what BioWare has cooked up in the years since the conclusion of Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect: Andromeda releases Spring 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  16. The Game Awards showcased a large selection of upcoming titles that captured the imagination of those in attendance and watching via livestream. While all the games shown were indeed hotly anticipated, few titles have as rabid a following as the Mass Effect fanbase who were treated to almost five minutes of gameplay from the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda. The 4K gameplay on display in the gameplay trailer demonstrated many scenarios of frantic, fast-paced action that maintains the series' third-person perspective adapted to the fluidity of Dragon Age Inquisition's Frostbite Engine. It doesn't quite seem to be as tactical as past entries, with less of a reliance on cover-based shooting. Most of the actions seemed to be mapped to buttons rather than a mid-action pause screen (though on one occasion the feature does reappear when the player character switches ammo types). The series' trademark dialogue wheel and action prompts remain, clearly shown in an exchange between a provincial thug and the Pathfinder. Players will also still be able to combine abilities to perform combos of some sort. Interestingly, it seems like perhaps stealth will be a more viable way of playing Andromeda than in previous entries - one segment of gameplay shows the player can have the ability to turn invisible in order to line up headshots on unsuspecting sentries. Crafting will be a bigger part of the series than it has since the first Mass Effect title. Players will begin with what they have aboard their ship, but anything else will have to be scavenged and crafted from the materials found on the worlds they find during their exploration. That exploration doesn't come without danger, either. Ravenous beasts prowl the unknown and some are willing to attack on sight. Some planets play host to pirates armed with everything from laser cannons to mechs, others might hold unencountered alien races who might view an intrusion by Council races as an act of war. Once again, Mass Effect offers the thrill of the unknown and it is hard not to get excited at the prospect of revisiting that rich universe to see what BioWare has cooked up in the years since the conclusion of Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect: Andromeda releases Spring 2017 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  17. Even as gaming culture becomes more and more tied to the world of music (bringing us annual celebrations like MAGfest and touring acts like Video Games Live), a game’s soundtrack is still a very special thing when incorporated as more than a backdrop or blanketing force. Klang, developed by the one-man operation at Tinimations and scored by famed electronic dance music artist bLiNd, capitalizes on this and then some. Every second of frenetic action and inch of its environment is soaked with pulse-pounding music, making it one of the most promising rhythm action games in years. In Klang, players fill the cybergoth-inspired shoes of an elite rave warrior. If that combination of words sounds weird to you, buckle up. After crashing a rave party hosted by the cruel Soundlord Sonus, the rave warrior must fight for his freedom against the malicious titan and his loyal, audio-bending army. Imagine if instead of vengeful rage, God of War’s Kratos fueled himself on infectious rhythm – and maybe some illicit drugs – and you’ve got Klang. What follows is an ever-increasing drive of frantically paced combat and platforming, all dictated by and perfectly synched to bLiNd’s aggressive soundtrack. Meters on all sides of the main character fill up, teaching you when to strike just as a note is sharply punctuated, deflecting enemy attacks with your tuning fork blades (yeah) and emitting a powerful blast back at them. Leaping from wall to wall to clamber up a narrow passage locks you in perfect rhythm with the underlying beat, a heady thud-thud-thud that every electronic music fan knows all too well. It goes a long way in both ramping up the intensity of a particularly confrontational boss or just teaching a player how to deal with a new attack. Every EDM fan lives for the “beat drop,” and Klang works a pure sense of magic into how well this crescendo fits into its demanding combat. Whereas a more retro-inspired game might default to a traditional chiptune soundtrack, the fact that Klang’s identity is so wrapped up in its own musical style (not an exclusive one, but certainly never grasped onto with such strength) makes every moment a thrilling one. It would be enough if Klang’s world were only so infused with such great audio, but developer Tom-Ivar Arntzen also builds an aesthetic that’s as much Tron: Legacy as it is European warehouse rave. Attacks from certain enemies shoot out in the form of an equalizer wave, combat stages look like the mosh pit at a concert, platforming sections look almost like sheet music, with streetlights built to look like clef notes. So far as we know, all of Klang’s narrative is communicated without dialogue, emphasizing the importance of this music-infused world and the craziness that goes on in it. Klang is expected to release before the end of 2016 on Steam for PC, featuring two to four hours of gameplay and music from bLiNd. A “Nightcore” mode (don’t google that) will also be available to challenge players looking for an even tougher challenge. View full article
  18. Even as gaming culture becomes more and more tied to the world of music (bringing us annual celebrations like MAGfest and touring acts like Video Games Live), a game’s soundtrack is still a very special thing when incorporated as more than a backdrop or blanketing force. Klang, developed by the one-man operation at Tinimations and scored by famed electronic dance music artist bLiNd, capitalizes on this and then some. Every second of frenetic action and inch of its environment is soaked with pulse-pounding music, making it one of the most promising rhythm action games in years. In Klang, players fill the cybergoth-inspired shoes of an elite rave warrior. If that combination of words sounds weird to you, buckle up. After crashing a rave party hosted by the cruel Soundlord Sonus, the rave warrior must fight for his freedom against the malicious titan and his loyal, audio-bending army. Imagine if instead of vengeful rage, God of War’s Kratos fueled himself on infectious rhythm – and maybe some illicit drugs – and you’ve got Klang. What follows is an ever-increasing drive of frantically paced combat and platforming, all dictated by and perfectly synched to bLiNd’s aggressive soundtrack. Meters on all sides of the main character fill up, teaching you when to strike just as a note is sharply punctuated, deflecting enemy attacks with your tuning fork blades (yeah) and emitting a powerful blast back at them. Leaping from wall to wall to clamber up a narrow passage locks you in perfect rhythm with the underlying beat, a heady thud-thud-thud that every electronic music fan knows all too well. It goes a long way in both ramping up the intensity of a particularly confrontational boss or just teaching a player how to deal with a new attack. Every EDM fan lives for the “beat drop,” and Klang works a pure sense of magic into how well this crescendo fits into its demanding combat. Whereas a more retro-inspired game might default to a traditional chiptune soundtrack, the fact that Klang’s identity is so wrapped up in its own musical style (not an exclusive one, but certainly never grasped onto with such strength) makes every moment a thrilling one. It would be enough if Klang’s world were only so infused with such great audio, but developer Tom-Ivar Arntzen also builds an aesthetic that’s as much Tron: Legacy as it is European warehouse rave. Attacks from certain enemies shoot out in the form of an equalizer wave, combat stages look like the mosh pit at a concert, platforming sections look almost like sheet music, with streetlights built to look like clef notes. So far as we know, all of Klang’s narrative is communicated without dialogue, emphasizing the importance of this music-infused world and the craziness that goes on in it. Klang is expected to release before the end of 2016 on Steam for PC, featuring two to four hours of gameplay and music from bLiNd. A “Nightcore” mode (don’t google that) will also be available to challenge players looking for an even tougher challenge.
  19. From Dontnod, the studio behind Remember Me and Life Is Strange, comes Vampyr, an action-RPG set in the London of 1918. As Jonathan E. Reid, a dedicated physician who suffers from the vampiric affliction, players must grapple or give in to their newfound bloodthirst while both searching for a cure to his disease and the ongoing Spanish flu epidemic. I was able to sit down and see a live demonstration of Vampyr in action. One of the key elements of Vampyr is Reid’s internal conflict of being a doctor sworn to do no harm and the need to feed on living people in order to survive. It is technically possible to complete Vampyr without killing anyone. However, players choosing to go that route won’t have an easy time of it. Cleverly, Dontnod has linked the conflict between peace and feast with character progression. Every life the player feeds on as a vampire heals them, imparts the victim’s final thoughts, and provides experience used to level up the player’s vampiric powers. Dontnod summed this up nicely during their presentation saying, “The more you kill the stronger you are. The question is how far are you willing to go?” As players make their way through the world Dontnod crafted in 1918 London, they will encounter human and otherworldly threats. Vampire hunters, humans who have dedicated themselves over the centuries to the eradication of vampires, are a common sight on the dim streets of London. They know how to spot and fight bloodsuckers and can prove to be a real threat to an unprepared or unsubtle vampire. Also shown in the demo were what Dontnod called “skulls.” These creatures are mutant, half vampire, completely unhinged, and somehow related to the Spanish flu outbreak. Both of these enemy groups require either stealth or combat skills. “The combat system is intended to be brutal and challenging, emphasized on timing and positioning,” the demonstrator stated while maneuvering through an encounter, “Our hero uses the mix of melee and with weapons he learned to use [in World War I].” As players wade into battle, using vampire powers will drain their energy and vitality, making it necessary to feed on enemies to keep their strength up. However, players will have to be careful they don’t put themselves in a vulnerable position when feeding in the middle of a fight as it leaves Dr. Reid vulnerable. However, unlike feasting civilians, feasting in combat doesn’t quite have the same experiential reward, “In terms of XP, citizen's blood will always be more valuable than fighting.” Improvised weapons can be crafted and wielded in addition to ranged weapons and vampire powers. Vampyr takes place in a, “semi-open world with interconnected paths, so you will explore different districts of London seamlessly.” Dontnod explained that players can explore these areas freely and implied that thorough exploration will be necessary to uncover all of the secrets London holds. The city is divided into different districts. As the game progresses, how players have treated the citizens in each district will become more relevant. Each district has its own health indicator based on the number of living, healthy people it holds. Feasting on too many people to boost your vampire powers can cause a district to collapse into chaos. The Spanish flu is also ripping through the population and deciding to use your skills as a doctor can prove very valuable to keeping districts healthy. As a vampire, players will be able to assess if someone is infected and how far along the disease has progressed. Do you help those at death’s door or do you suck their blood for your own benefit? Beyond that moral quandary, interacting with London’s residence seems to be one of the most interesting aspects of Vampyr that I’ve seen. Every NPC walking around London has their own backstory, goals, aspirations, and daily routines. As the game progresses and people start dying, it has an effect on the population. Routines will change, NPCs will leave, and goals will shift. The example shown was of a man named Joe. Joe extorts money from local businesses and has a son in Whitechapel. If the player decides that the extortion racket Joe is running makes him a target for bloodsucking, they can use the Mesmerize ability to place Joe under their control and bring him to a secluded area. After killing Joe, the local newspaper will soon discover his body and the behavior of the people connected to Joe will change. The shops he extorted will sell better items and make more money while the son he had will run away from Whitechapel in fear. “You also could have chosen to feed upon the son or even the merchant instead, and the consequences will be significantly different,” explained the demonstrator. “There are no good or bad choices, only morally ambiguous options; so you create your own experience and now you know how it feels to be a vampire.” As you interact with NPCs you can learn more about their lives and activities, gathering a collection of hints. These hints will eventually reveal dirt on most adults you come across in the game, making the decision to feed easier or harder depending on each player’s moral compass. An interesting wrinkle: While getting to know NPCs, you will need to obtain permission from every resident to cross the threshold of their home, a classic vampire rule. Players will have to make the proper conversational choices to gain entrance. Being a doctor, Jonathan Reid views his vampirism as a disease that can be cured. His main goal throughout Vampyr is to unlock its mysteries and ultimately find a cure. However, his pursuit of a cure might drive him mad with guilt or power before he can find a way to undo his infection. It has been a long time since we’ve had a vampire game that was worth playing. The heavy emphasis on the moral questions a vampire might face could be just the approach needed to catapult Vampyr to set a new standard for the subject matter in games. Vampyr releases sometime in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. View full article
  20. From Dontnod, the studio behind Remember Me and Life Is Strange, comes Vampyr, an action-RPG set in the London of 1918. As Jonathan E. Reid, a dedicated physician who suffers from the vampiric affliction, players must grapple or give in to their newfound bloodthirst while both searching for a cure to his disease and the ongoing Spanish flu epidemic. I was able to sit down and see a live demonstration of Vampyr in action. One of the key elements of Vampyr is Reid’s internal conflict of being a doctor sworn to do no harm and the need to feed on living people in order to survive. It is technically possible to complete Vampyr without killing anyone. However, players choosing to go that route won’t have an easy time of it. Cleverly, Dontnod has linked the conflict between peace and feast with character progression. Every life the player feeds on as a vampire heals them, imparts the victim’s final thoughts, and provides experience used to level up the player’s vampiric powers. Dontnod summed this up nicely during their presentation saying, “The more you kill the stronger you are. The question is how far are you willing to go?” As players make their way through the world Dontnod crafted in 1918 London, they will encounter human and otherworldly threats. Vampire hunters, humans who have dedicated themselves over the centuries to the eradication of vampires, are a common sight on the dim streets of London. They know how to spot and fight bloodsuckers and can prove to be a real threat to an unprepared or unsubtle vampire. Also shown in the demo were what Dontnod called “skulls.” These creatures are mutant, half vampire, completely unhinged, and somehow related to the Spanish flu outbreak. Both of these enemy groups require either stealth or combat skills. “The combat system is intended to be brutal and challenging, emphasized on timing and positioning,” the demonstrator stated while maneuvering through an encounter, “Our hero uses the mix of melee and with weapons he learned to use [in World War I].” As players wade into battle, using vampire powers will drain their energy and vitality, making it necessary to feed on enemies to keep their strength up. However, players will have to be careful they don’t put themselves in a vulnerable position when feeding in the middle of a fight as it leaves Dr. Reid vulnerable. However, unlike feasting civilians, feasting in combat doesn’t quite have the same experiential reward, “In terms of XP, citizen's blood will always be more valuable than fighting.” Improvised weapons can be crafted and wielded in addition to ranged weapons and vampire powers. Vampyr takes place in a, “semi-open world with interconnected paths, so you will explore different districts of London seamlessly.” Dontnod explained that players can explore these areas freely and implied that thorough exploration will be necessary to uncover all of the secrets London holds. The city is divided into different districts. As the game progresses, how players have treated the citizens in each district will become more relevant. Each district has its own health indicator based on the number of living, healthy people it holds. Feasting on too many people to boost your vampire powers can cause a district to collapse into chaos. The Spanish flu is also ripping through the population and deciding to use your skills as a doctor can prove very valuable to keeping districts healthy. As a vampire, players will be able to assess if someone is infected and how far along the disease has progressed. Do you help those at death’s door or do you suck their blood for your own benefit? Beyond that moral quandary, interacting with London’s residence seems to be one of the most interesting aspects of Vampyr that I’ve seen. Every NPC walking around London has their own backstory, goals, aspirations, and daily routines. As the game progresses and people start dying, it has an effect on the population. Routines will change, NPCs will leave, and goals will shift. The example shown was of a man named Joe. Joe extorts money from local businesses and has a son in Whitechapel. If the player decides that the extortion racket Joe is running makes him a target for bloodsucking, they can use the Mesmerize ability to place Joe under their control and bring him to a secluded area. After killing Joe, the local newspaper will soon discover his body and the behavior of the people connected to Joe will change. The shops he extorted will sell better items and make more money while the son he had will run away from Whitechapel in fear. “You also could have chosen to feed upon the son or even the merchant instead, and the consequences will be significantly different,” explained the demonstrator. “There are no good or bad choices, only morally ambiguous options; so you create your own experience and now you know how it feels to be a vampire.” As you interact with NPCs you can learn more about their lives and activities, gathering a collection of hints. These hints will eventually reveal dirt on most adults you come across in the game, making the decision to feed easier or harder depending on each player’s moral compass. An interesting wrinkle: While getting to know NPCs, you will need to obtain permission from every resident to cross the threshold of their home, a classic vampire rule. Players will have to make the proper conversational choices to gain entrance. Being a doctor, Jonathan Reid views his vampirism as a disease that can be cured. His main goal throughout Vampyr is to unlock its mysteries and ultimately find a cure. However, his pursuit of a cure might drive him mad with guilt or power before he can find a way to undo his infection. It has been a long time since we’ve had a vampire game that was worth playing. The heavy emphasis on the moral questions a vampire might face could be just the approach needed to catapult Vampyr to set a new standard for the subject matter in games. Vampyr releases sometime in 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
  21. After more than a decade, Warhammer 40K returns to the first-person shooter genre. Space Hulk: Deathwing represents the first FPS title since 2003’s Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior on PC and PlayStation 2. I had the chance to sit down and see a live demo in action. Over the course of a 15-hour campaign, players will venture into the Space Hulk, a mass of asteroids and abandoned spacecraft. The campaign teams players up with up to three friends or AI companions to explore the dangerous bowels of the Space Hulk known as Olethros. Deathwing puts players in the colossal frame of a Librarian, a space marine uniquely gifted with psychic abilities. On their journey through the various ships and asteroids that compose the hulk, players will discover new weapons and unlock new abilities to use in combat, like a 360-degree force push or the ability to discharge chain lightning. As our Librarian and his crew of AI teammates began exploring a black templar warship inside the Space Hulk, a screech echoed through the halls. “That scream indicates that we're probably about to have our first encounter with the alien Genestealers,” Focus Home Interactive’s representative explained, “You'll notice right away that these alien Genestealers fall pretty quickly under a hail of Storm Bolter fire. Instead of defense, they specialize in swarming in huge groups; surrounding your squad; and attacking with powerful melee attacks. If you catch them alone or force them into a choke point they shouldn't be too difficult to deal with.” As players progress through their encounters with Genestealers, they will begin to notice that the AI that governs their behavior leads to unpredictable behavior. If a Genestealer notices players in the distance it may run to alert its companions or, if it is close enough, it will alert the swarm and attack. Additionally, if players encounter a huge group directly, the swarm might break off into two groups and attempt to pincer the players from various directions. Space Hulk: Deathwing obviously derives its series name from the popular Warhammer 40K Space Hulk board game. Streum On Studio has tried to take the spirit of the board game and translate it into video game form. “We've incorporated gameplay elements that made the board game unique,” said the studio’s reps, “The most useful of these is the idea that you have to try and control the flow of the swarm of Genestealers. This is an enemy that's almost unlimited in number. You'll never going to be able to defeat them all. Instead, this is a game of controlling risks. So one of the ways you can do this is sealing entrances. This helps to stop the Genestealer tide.” Occasionally, players might discover shortcuts to their objective locations, but those shortcuts might come with the price of a harder final confrontation as Genestealers swarm through additional openings. Each mission takes place aboard a different ship and will require players to carefully consider their options while they have the opportunity between skirmishes. Exploring off of the main objective path can reveal new items, paths, and secrets, but also proves to be a very dangerous endeavor. The ships the Librarians explore were lost to both time and space for an unfathomably long time, but some ship defense systems might remain online. These can be hazardous to players, but can also prove to be useful if they are preserved and hacked. If reprogrammed to target Genestealers, they could turn the tide in battle at a key moment. Between missions, players will have to properly equip and prepare their team of Dark Angel Terminators to face the hordes of Olethros and solve the mysteries it holds. “The important thing to note in battle,” explained the demonstrator as Genestealers swarmed around, “is that you're going to take damage which is localized to wherever you get hit on your body. Different parts of your power armor have their own hit box. What this means is if you get attacked too much on the right arm, say, you won't be able to effectively use whatever weapon you have equipped there. Another way is if you get attacked too much by a swarm of Genestealers attacking at your legs, you may not be able to move as quickly or sprint.” Genestealers tend to be melee opponents, though there are ranged varieties as well. The larger Genestealers are also heavily armored. To that end, melee combat is important in prolonged battles against their kind. Players will have access to weapons like force swords or axes that can more easily penetrate armor and can be used to parry incoming melee attacks. Overall, I quite enjoyed the tactical, measured aspects of Deathwing’s FPS action. The more deliberate approach and pace seems well suited to hulking, armored space marines. The AI lends an aspect of enjoyable unpredictability to combat that I can only imagine increases with the fun chaos of human companions. Many Warhammer 40K games seem to be a bit off-putting to those who aren’t already invested in the franchise, but Deathwing might be the most accessible the franchise has been in a long while. Space Hulk: Deathwing releases later in 2016 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  22. After more than a decade, Warhammer 40K returns to the first-person shooter genre. Space Hulk: Deathwing represents the first FPS title since 2003’s Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior on PC and PlayStation 2. I had the chance to sit down and see a live demo in action. Over the course of a 15-hour campaign, players will venture into the Space Hulk, a mass of asteroids and abandoned spacecraft. The campaign teams players up with up to three friends or AI companions to explore the dangerous bowels of the Space Hulk known as Olethros. Deathwing puts players in the colossal frame of a Librarian, a space marine uniquely gifted with psychic abilities. On their journey through the various ships and asteroids that compose the hulk, players will discover new weapons and unlock new abilities to use in combat, like a 360-degree force push or the ability to discharge chain lightning. As our Librarian and his crew of AI teammates began exploring a black templar warship inside the Space Hulk, a screech echoed through the halls. “That scream indicates that we're probably about to have our first encounter with the alien Genestealers,” Focus Home Interactive’s representative explained, “You'll notice right away that these alien Genestealers fall pretty quickly under a hail of Storm Bolter fire. Instead of defense, they specialize in swarming in huge groups; surrounding your squad; and attacking with powerful melee attacks. If you catch them alone or force them into a choke point they shouldn't be too difficult to deal with.” As players progress through their encounters with Genestealers, they will begin to notice that the AI that governs their behavior leads to unpredictable behavior. If a Genestealer notices players in the distance it may run to alert its companions or, if it is close enough, it will alert the swarm and attack. Additionally, if players encounter a huge group directly, the swarm might break off into two groups and attempt to pincer the players from various directions. Space Hulk: Deathwing obviously derives its series name from the popular Warhammer 40K Space Hulk board game. Streum On Studio has tried to take the spirit of the board game and translate it into video game form. “We've incorporated gameplay elements that made the board game unique,” said the studio’s reps, “The most useful of these is the idea that you have to try and control the flow of the swarm of Genestealers. This is an enemy that's almost unlimited in number. You'll never going to be able to defeat them all. Instead, this is a game of controlling risks. So one of the ways you can do this is sealing entrances. This helps to stop the Genestealer tide.” Occasionally, players might discover shortcuts to their objective locations, but those shortcuts might come with the price of a harder final confrontation as Genestealers swarm through additional openings. Each mission takes place aboard a different ship and will require players to carefully consider their options while they have the opportunity between skirmishes. Exploring off of the main objective path can reveal new items, paths, and secrets, but also proves to be a very dangerous endeavor. The ships the Librarians explore were lost to both time and space for an unfathomably long time, but some ship defense systems might remain online. These can be hazardous to players, but can also prove to be useful if they are preserved and hacked. If reprogrammed to target Genestealers, they could turn the tide in battle at a key moment. Between missions, players will have to properly equip and prepare their team of Dark Angel Terminators to face the hordes of Olethros and solve the mysteries it holds. “The important thing to note in battle,” explained the demonstrator as Genestealers swarmed around, “is that you're going to take damage which is localized to wherever you get hit on your body. Different parts of your power armor have their own hit box. What this means is if you get attacked too much on the right arm, say, you won't be able to effectively use whatever weapon you have equipped there. Another way is if you get attacked too much by a swarm of Genestealers attacking at your legs, you may not be able to move as quickly or sprint.” Genestealers tend to be melee opponents, though there are ranged varieties as well. The larger Genestealers are also heavily armored. To that end, melee combat is important in prolonged battles against their kind. Players will have access to weapons like force swords or axes that can more easily penetrate armor and can be used to parry incoming melee attacks. Overall, I quite enjoyed the tactical, measured aspects of Deathwing’s FPS action. The more deliberate approach and pace seems well suited to hulking, armored space marines. The AI lends an aspect of enjoyable unpredictability to combat that I can only imagine increases with the fun chaos of human companions. Many Warhammer 40K games seem to be a bit off-putting to those who aren’t already invested in the franchise, but Deathwing might be the most accessible the franchise has been in a long while. Space Hulk: Deathwing releases later in 2016 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  23. I had the opportunity to sit down with Firaxis marketing manager Pete Murray to see an overview of what sets Sid Meier’s Civilization VI apart from its predecessors. Behind closed doors, Murray said, “you're going to see what's new with VI. We're going to show you things like un-stacking the cities, how you're going to build districts and wonders off in the city center. You'll see the active research, how the things that you do in the world make your civilization better, but you'll mostly see why Civ is so great.” With that, Murray began the accelerated gameplay presentation narrated by the soothing voice of Sean Bean. There seems to be a greater visual variety across almost every aspect of Civilization VI. One of the first things I noticed was that a new end-of-turn animation displays a neat day-night cycle to symbolize the passage of time. It’s a small change, but is both aesthetically interesting and adds a sense of time to a series that sometimes felt strangely static. Large, visually distinct structures appear within cities as players construct buildings. A lot of detail seems to have gone into the more vibrant, exaggerated aesthetic to visually convey information to players outside of the UI, which I think is a step in the right direction for an information heavy game series like Civilization. It seems that Firaxis will be prioritizing the utilitarian approach to visuals and trimming fat elsewhere, like the animated backgrounds seen in Civilization V’s diplomacy screens. VI appears to feature static, painted backgrounds behind more detailed character models representing the various leaders of past civilizations. In Civilization VI, certain resource improvements, such as rock quarries, can boost research toward specific technologies. “Quarries provide greater access to building materials, increasing our insight and instruction. Our builder’s efforts are not in vain,” says Sean Bean as a quarry is built and gives research credit toward the Masonry technology. One of the biggest changes to the Civilization formula is the ability to construct separate city districts on tiles within your borders. Sean Bean narrates the gameplay introduction of the new city districting mechanic by saying, “Our cities are now free to develop as never before. For the first time, our civilization spreads beyond the heart of our cities, allowing for the creation of new districts each with its own focus and distinct advantages.” For example, religious districts host improvements that increase faith and theater districts improve culture. Wonders also take up tiles within an empire. This means that players will have to be able to defend not just the central city tile, but all of their territory. To that end, military districts seem to be useful as strategic placements – they appear to spawn units when players become engaged in war. Combat appears to work similarly to Civ V, so unit stacking will not be a thing. I think it is safe to say that Firaxis is not a fan of the “giant death ball” strategy of massing an entire civilization’s worth of military might in one tile to steamroll everything in its path. Barbarians, however, are very much still a thing. “For there will always be those who wish to destroy all we have accomplished” says Bean, channeling his inner Boromir, “Barbarian forces continually prey upon our lands. […] To ensure the safety of our borders, we must defeat the enemy at its source.” The demonstration revealed that the time-honored tradition of hunting down and struggling with randomly spawned barbarian camps will continue in Civilization VI. Government policies are now represented by cards and each civilization will be able to make use of four policies at any given time: Military, economic, diplomatic, and a wildcard policy that seems like it could be used for culture or an additional policy from the other three branches. Precious little was shown of how diplomacy will work in the upcoming Civilization title. That’s perhaps one of the biggest gaps in what we know about the game at the moment. Diplomacy has always been one of the most fickle systems in the Civilization series. In a later part of the demo, after Sean Bean solemnly announces that “upon these once untamed grounds, our civilization grows. A new age is upon us and we find ourselves but one part of a larger world. We are no longer alone,” the player’s civilization proceeds to wipe out a neighboring empire, which has always had drastic diplomatic consequences. The demo doesn’t cover any of the diplomatic fallout, however, leaving diplomacy a giant question mark. Civilization VI releases for PC on October 21. There are still many unknowns, but the core systems still appear to be enjoyable and the new district mechanic and a revamped wonder system seem to be exactly the kind of thing that Civilization needs to mix things up on the strategic level. Here is hoping that Firaxis can nail an improved diplomacy system that players can really dig their teeth into while still being comprehensible to a more causal audience. Sid Meier’s Civilization turns 25 years old this year - make it count, Firaxis. View full article
  24. Civilization VI Aims to Refine the Work of V

    I had the opportunity to sit down with Firaxis marketing manager Pete Murray to see an overview of what sets Sid Meier’s Civilization VI apart from its predecessors. Behind closed doors, Murray said, “you're going to see what's new with VI. We're going to show you things like un-stacking the cities, how you're going to build districts and wonders off in the city center. You'll see the active research, how the things that you do in the world make your civilization better, but you'll mostly see why Civ is so great.” With that, Murray began the accelerated gameplay presentation narrated by the soothing voice of Sean Bean. There seems to be a greater visual variety across almost every aspect of Civilization VI. One of the first things I noticed was that a new end-of-turn animation displays a neat day-night cycle to symbolize the passage of time. It’s a small change, but is both aesthetically interesting and adds a sense of time to a series that sometimes felt strangely static. Large, visually distinct structures appear within cities as players construct buildings. A lot of detail seems to have gone into the more vibrant, exaggerated aesthetic to visually convey information to players outside of the UI, which I think is a step in the right direction for an information heavy game series like Civilization. It seems that Firaxis will be prioritizing the utilitarian approach to visuals and trimming fat elsewhere, like the animated backgrounds seen in Civilization V’s diplomacy screens. VI appears to feature static, painted backgrounds behind more detailed character models representing the various leaders of past civilizations. In Civilization VI, certain resource improvements, such as rock quarries, can boost research toward specific technologies. “Quarries provide greater access to building materials, increasing our insight and instruction. Our builder’s efforts are not in vain,” says Sean Bean as a quarry is built and gives research credit toward the Masonry technology. One of the biggest changes to the Civilization formula is the ability to construct separate city districts on tiles within your borders. Sean Bean narrates the gameplay introduction of the new city districting mechanic by saying, “Our cities are now free to develop as never before. For the first time, our civilization spreads beyond the heart of our cities, allowing for the creation of new districts each with its own focus and distinct advantages.” For example, religious districts host improvements that increase faith and theater districts improve culture. Wonders also take up tiles within an empire. This means that players will have to be able to defend not just the central city tile, but all of their territory. To that end, military districts seem to be useful as strategic placements – they appear to spawn units when players become engaged in war. Combat appears to work similarly to Civ V, so unit stacking will not be a thing. I think it is safe to say that Firaxis is not a fan of the “giant death ball” strategy of massing an entire civilization’s worth of military might in one tile to steamroll everything in its path. Barbarians, however, are very much still a thing. “For there will always be those who wish to destroy all we have accomplished” says Bean, channeling his inner Boromir, “Barbarian forces continually prey upon our lands. […] To ensure the safety of our borders, we must defeat the enemy at its source.” The demonstration revealed that the time-honored tradition of hunting down and struggling with randomly spawned barbarian camps will continue in Civilization VI. Government policies are now represented by cards and each civilization will be able to make use of four policies at any given time: Military, economic, diplomatic, and a wildcard policy that seems like it could be used for culture or an additional policy from the other three branches. Precious little was shown of how diplomacy will work in the upcoming Civilization title. That’s perhaps one of the biggest gaps in what we know about the game at the moment. Diplomacy has always been one of the most fickle systems in the Civilization series. In a later part of the demo, after Sean Bean solemnly announces that “upon these once untamed grounds, our civilization grows. A new age is upon us and we find ourselves but one part of a larger world. We are no longer alone,” the player’s civilization proceeds to wipe out a neighboring empire, which has always had drastic diplomatic consequences. The demo doesn’t cover any of the diplomatic fallout, however, leaving diplomacy a giant question mark. Civilization VI releases for PC on October 21. There are still many unknowns, but the core systems still appear to be enjoyable and the new district mechanic and a revamped wonder system seem to be exactly the kind of thing that Civilization needs to mix things up on the strategic level. Here is hoping that Firaxis can nail an improved diplomacy system that players can really dig their teeth into while still being comprehensible to a more causal audience. Sid Meier’s Civilization turns 25 years old this year - make it count, Firaxis.
  25. As human beings, we continuously try to define art. In the world of video games, this impulse to put clear definitions to the world around us surfaces when we narrow our focus down to genre or use wider reaching umbrella terms like interactive entertainment. Each game is an experience within its own universe and can feature the full diversity of the human experience. ABZÛ can’t be defined by categories, as it falls messily between several, but only by experience alone. The aquatic adventure immerses the player in its undersea environment and the journey through that oceanic world is something special. Matt Nava, the creative director at Giant Squid, has been working on bringing ABZÛ’s aquatic ambiance to life for the past two years. After working as the art director on both the critically acclaimed Journey and its predecessor Flower, he sought to create a world filled with life instead of one void of it. “After working on Journey, which is this very desert, dry game, I wanted to make something that is very vibrant and wet - this sort of opposite world,” Nava said. “I actually love to go scuba diving myself, and I’ve had some great experiences diving. That, I guess, was the inspiration for the game.” In ABZÛ you play as a nameless diver who can freely swim around without restrictions so you can focus on the world around you. Ranging from serene views to engaging set pieces in a world rarely seen by man. “It’s an underwater adventure game where you take control of this diver and you’re sent to the bottom of the ocean. We tried to create a game for folks who dream of scuba diving,” Nava said. “What that meant to us was that there’s no air gauge, you do whatever you wish you could do when you dive. When you actually scuba dive you have all this gear you have to worry about. You have to think about how long you can stay down and in this game you don’t have to do any of that.” The environments start off as simple coves populated by hundreds of fish, which are all based off of real species. From name to physical scale, the species in ABZÛ bring a sense of realism to the fantasy world making it feel plausible that somewhere in the depths these locations exist. “These fish are all as big as they really are, and you can ride on these larger guys,” Nava stated, indicating some of the more massive acquatic creatures. “One of the cool things fish do in this game is they eat each other. Just kind of the main thing that fish do. You really don’t see that too often in video games, which is kind of cool for us because it was a really fun thing to make. You can ride this guy and watch him eat some little dudes. Sometimes you see a smaller predator that you’re riding get eaten by a larger one right up from underneath you which is pretty fun.” One of ABZÛ’s strongest traits is its odd sense of realism; the sense that you’re not swimming through someone’s imagination, but rather an unexplored region on this planet brimming with life and secrets. Along the way you will run into natural (and unnatural) barriers such a thick coral. To pass through natural and man-made barriers you will have to recuse and repair mini submersible robots that will aid you in your endeavors. Using the diver’s ping ability, which acts a sonar and commutation tool, you can unlock secrets and navigate your way through dark trenches and caves. Anything that appears out of the ordinary should be pinged at. In some areas there are fish sealed away and breaking the seal will release an entirely new species into the surrounding environment. “We recently added where you can sit down and meditate. This just lets you watch the fish. You can see what their name is and see what they do,” said Nava. “See who they’re eating and whose eating them. It’s pretty cool to just watch these guys. You can put down the controller and it will switch between fish automatically its like a little aquarium mode.” The tone of the game is peaceful, yet is full on many tense moments. Not from fear or stress, but the feeling of the unknown. Consistently wondering how deep you can go and what exactly is going on. The music expresses this wonderfully, which is no surprise since Austin Wintory wrote the score - the same man who composed the music for Journey, which earned the first Grammy nomination for music in a video game. “The game is this very serene experience and a lot of people ask us, ‘Is there a story in the game or do you just explore?’ and the answer is you definitely discover the story as you go deeper.” Nava said. “There is no text or dialogue in the game at all it’s all told through the environment and the events that occur. These little drones, the diver, you start to figure out who they are, why they're here, as you find more clues.” Just like the games Nava has worked on before, you can expect moments that will take your breathe away. I swam into majestic areas filled with more wish than I could count and felt like a small speck being engulfed in a world I thought I knew. Though experimentation, Nava and his team found a way to redesign aquatic life from the sea floor up. "One of the spaces has about 10,000 fish in it now. To get that many fish we had to really rethink how we animate fish from the ground up. Most times when you animate fish in a game you have kind of a skeleton that moves them,” Nava said. “This is a very traditional animation technique, but it’s expensive for the computer to render. So instead we don’t have any sort of internal skeleton for the fish that animates them. We make them move with mathematical formulas. It makes it so we can render way way more, and when we changed it to work that way we went from having about 100 fish to about 10,000 fish. So that was a really good day.” ABZÛ will be available for the PS4 and PC this summer on August 2. From my time with it, I think it will be worth taking the plunge to explore this world that words really don't accurately capture. Whether you just want to relax in the ocean or find every secret tucked away in its watery depths, ABZÛ seems to be shaping up as an adventure that shouldn’t be missed. “Something that’s really cool about the ocean is how little we know about it,” concluded Nava. “I think everyone has this sense of wonder and imagination about what could actually be happening down there. We wanted to capture that kind of surreal elements of the ocean in the game and this is our take on it.” View full article