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Found 4 results

  1. Daniel Jones

    Review: Abzû

    With 2012’s Journey, thatgamecompany succeeded in creating a type of interactive tome, replete with all the self-reflective ambiguity of an abstract painting. Debates over video games as art notwithstanding, Journey could hardly be described as anything but. While it wove an astoundingly rich visual tapestry, the surprisingly effusive weight of its anonymous multiplayer carried the brunt of its artistic meaning. So it’s impressive that developer Giant Squid—founded by Journey’s Art Director, Matt Nava—has created a game in Abzû that not only sparkles with aesthetic brilliance, but also finds its own voice as an emotionally driven work of artistic expression. The fact that it occasionally feels slight in the shadow of Journey’s monolithic legacy is something I struggle to hold against it, especially when the overall experience feels so singularly divine. Abzû’s wordless story begins in a serene corner of its ocean setting, as your avatar, a wet-suit-clad scuba diver awakes on the surface. Subtle visual cues and camera tricks help to guide you along your trek through underwater caverns, dense kelp forests, and even some less organic structures that I dare not detail further. Along the way, you’ll interact with all manner of sea life from the smallest clownfish to blue whales the size of a naval submarine. It’s in the interaction with these creatures that Abzû sets itself apart from any game I’ve played before. Each of the game’s environments is its own mini ecosystem, teeming with aquatic inhabitants that interact with each other and the player in fascinating and believable ways. Sharks will chomp on smaller fish, dolphins flip and twirl in their pods, and giant squid spray ink when you come near. These interactions are rarely scripted, often relying on your input to trigger, such as enticing a massive humpback whale to breach the surface or hitching a ride with a turtle. Finding new ways to play around with Abzû’s wildlife proves fun and engaging, while nicely complimenting the game’s naturalistic themes. Just as playful is the game’s soundtrack from Austin Wintory, whose work composing Journey earned him a Grammy nomination. The lively strings, twinkling harps, and celestial choir simply sound exactly like Abzû looks. Wintory’s scores have an exquisite knack for capturing the essence of a game’s visuals and themes, and his work on Abzû is no exception. This inimitable, ever-present music ties into the gameplay and adapts appropriately to your actions, making it as vital a part of the experience as the vibrant visuals and the smooth controls. As you might expect from the art director behind Journey, Abzû’s visuals inspire awe, a true sight to behold. Each area exhibits a distinct color palette with what can almost be described as a bouquet of marine wildlife. Seeing thousands of fish all animated on screen at once is jaw dropping more so for its audacious beauty than its technological achievement. Abzû has much in common with thatgamecompany’s earlier title, Flower, as you spread life through the world, making each new area more vibrant and lively than it was when you first waded into its waters. This is more than just pretty visuals at thirty frames per second; it’s emotion through gameplay and gameplay through art. Abzû’s ocean is not all smooth sailing, however, as a few questionable design decisions muddy the otherwise clear waters. Each area has a few hidden shells that you can collect, much like the scarf pieces from Journey. But whereas those pieces granted your avatar with a longer jump and eventually—if you were able to find them all—a white robe with an infinitely regenerating scarf, Abzû grants the player no such rewards, besides a gold trophy. A sense of progression would have served Abzû well, and would’ve made the already enjoyable movement even more gratifying. Though it may seem unfair to hold Abzû to the standards set by its predecessor, the corollary couldn’t be more apt. Make no mistake about it, this game—though not designed by Journey mastermind Jenova Chen—is a clear successor to that modern classic. Though the visual stylings and game design present a unique twist on the sub-genre, the level structure and pacing are lifted almost wholesale from Journey. As someone who has played through that game more times than I can count, I often found myself predicting what would happen next. Though the beats are familiar, each new area still kept me engaged as the game floated towards its conclusion. It’s just disappointing that Giant Squid chose to stick so vehemently to a previously established formula for a game that otherwise presents wonders I had never experienced before. That statement’s not completely true actually; I do have some experience with the grandeur of our planet’s oceans. I have been snorkeling on a few occasions, off the coast of Maui and Hawaii, and though it was over a decade ago, the adventure has hardly faded from my memory. Never have I been so humbled by nature as when I found myself surrounded by all manner of sea creatures, from turtles to barracudas to massive manta rays that dwarfed my six foot frame. This is the type of feeling Abzû so deftly replicates; that of a stranger in a strange land, discovering wonders your eyes weren’t meant to see. I never expected a game to make me want to don the flippers and goggles again, but that’s exactly what Abzû has accomplished. Despite that, Abzû isn’t a scuba simulator, and it never attempts to be. You don’t need to manage oxygen levels, or worry about depth pressure, or fear any of the predators that lurk in the deep. While the fish are all modeled after real species in both design and behavior, this is a stylized version of underwater ecosystems, not a perfect replication. So in place of realism, Abzû fosters a wondrous sense of respect for the species that exist in our oceans, and it’s all the better for it. Conclusion: After my second playthrough, I still haven’t uncovered all of Abzû’s marvels, and I can’t stop thinking about my next dive in its magical world of color and life. I want to unlock all of the fish species, collect all of the mollusk shells scattered in the hidden corners of the world, and I want to find every last meditation statue. Mainly, though, I look forward to revisiting Abzû anytime I just need a break from the noise and bustle of human life on the surface of this Earth. The flaws that keep Abzû from being an unequivocal masterpiece are of little import when fully submerged in the adventure’s calming beauty and spectral wonder. Abzû was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is now available on PS4 and PC
  2. With 2012’s Journey, thatgamecompany succeeded in creating a type of interactive tome, replete with all the self-reflective ambiguity of an abstract painting. Debates over video games as art notwithstanding, Journey could hardly be described as anything but. While it wove an astoundingly rich visual tapestry, the surprisingly effusive weight of its anonymous multiplayer carried the brunt of its artistic meaning. So it’s impressive that developer Giant Squid—founded by Journey’s Art Director, Matt Nava—has created a game in Abzû that not only sparkles with aesthetic brilliance, but also finds its own voice as an emotionally driven work of artistic expression. The fact that it occasionally feels slight in the shadow of Journey’s monolithic legacy is something I struggle to hold against it, especially when the overall experience feels so singularly divine. Abzû’s wordless story begins in a serene corner of its ocean setting, as your avatar, a wet-suit-clad scuba diver awakes on the surface. Subtle visual cues and camera tricks help to guide you along your trek through underwater caverns, dense kelp forests, and even some less organic structures that I dare not detail further. Along the way, you’ll interact with all manner of sea life from the smallest clownfish to blue whales the size of a naval submarine. It’s in the interaction with these creatures that Abzû sets itself apart from any game I’ve played before. Each of the game’s environments is its own mini ecosystem, teeming with aquatic inhabitants that interact with each other and the player in fascinating and believable ways. Sharks will chomp on smaller fish, dolphins flip and twirl in their pods, and giant squid spray ink when you come near. These interactions are rarely scripted, often relying on your input to trigger, such as enticing a massive humpback whale to breach the surface or hitching a ride with a turtle. Finding new ways to play around with Abzû’s wildlife proves fun and engaging, while nicely complimenting the game’s naturalistic themes. Just as playful is the game’s soundtrack from Austin Wintory, whose work composing Journey earned him a Grammy nomination. The lively strings, twinkling harps, and celestial choir simply sound exactly like Abzû looks. Wintory’s scores have an exquisite knack for capturing the essence of a game’s visuals and themes, and his work on Abzû is no exception. This inimitable, ever-present music ties into the gameplay and adapts appropriately to your actions, making it as vital a part of the experience as the vibrant visuals and the smooth controls. As you might expect from the art director behind Journey, Abzû’s visuals inspire awe, a true sight to behold. Each area exhibits a distinct color palette with what can almost be described as a bouquet of marine wildlife. Seeing thousands of fish all animated on screen at once is jaw dropping more so for its audacious beauty than its technological achievement. Abzû has much in common with thatgamecompany’s earlier title, Flower, as you spread life through the world, making each new area more vibrant and lively than it was when you first waded into its waters. This is more than just pretty visuals at thirty frames per second; it’s emotion through gameplay and gameplay through art. Abzû’s ocean is not all smooth sailing, however, as a few questionable design decisions muddy the otherwise clear waters. Each area has a few hidden shells that you can collect, much like the scarf pieces from Journey. But whereas those pieces granted your avatar with a longer jump and eventually—if you were able to find them all—a white robe with an infinitely regenerating scarf, Abzû grants the player no such rewards, besides a gold trophy. A sense of progression would have served Abzû well, and would’ve made the already enjoyable movement even more gratifying. Though it may seem unfair to hold Abzû to the standards set by its predecessor, the corollary couldn’t be more apt. Make no mistake about it, this game—though not designed by Journey mastermind Jenova Chen—is a clear successor to that modern classic. Though the visual stylings and game design present a unique twist on the sub-genre, the level structure and pacing are lifted almost wholesale from Journey. As someone who has played through that game more times than I can count, I often found myself predicting what would happen next. Though the beats are familiar, each new area still kept me engaged as the game floated towards its conclusion. It’s just disappointing that Giant Squid chose to stick so vehemently to a previously established formula for a game that otherwise presents wonders I had never experienced before. That statement’s not completely true actually; I do have some experience with the grandeur of our planet’s oceans. I have been snorkeling on a few occasions, off the coast of Maui and Hawaii, and though it was over a decade ago, the adventure has hardly faded from my memory. Never have I been so humbled by nature as when I found myself surrounded by all manner of sea creatures, from turtles to barracudas to massive manta rays that dwarfed my six foot frame. This is the type of feeling Abzû so deftly replicates; that of a stranger in a strange land, discovering wonders your eyes weren’t meant to see. I never expected a game to make me want to don the flippers and goggles again, but that’s exactly what Abzû has accomplished. Despite that, Abzû isn’t a scuba simulator, and it never attempts to be. You don’t need to manage oxygen levels, or worry about depth pressure, or fear any of the predators that lurk in the deep. While the fish are all modeled after real species in both design and behavior, this is a stylized version of underwater ecosystems, not a perfect replication. So in place of realism, Abzû fosters a wondrous sense of respect for the species that exist in our oceans, and it’s all the better for it. Conclusion: After my second playthrough, I still haven’t uncovered all of Abzû’s marvels, and I can’t stop thinking about my next dive in its magical world of color and life. I want to unlock all of the fish species, collect all of the mollusk shells scattered in the hidden corners of the world, and I want to find every last meditation statue. Mainly, though, I look forward to revisiting Abzû anytime I just need a break from the noise and bustle of human life on the surface of this Earth. The flaws that keep Abzû from being an unequivocal masterpiece are of little import when fully submerged in the adventure’s calming beauty and spectral wonder. Abzû was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and is now available on PS4 and PC View full article
  3. 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.”
  4. 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
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