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  1. In the midst of a hectic, crowded, and noisy E3 2013, there was a quieter (albeit only slightly) corner of the show floor. Out of curiosity and after being dazzled by the lights and bombast of the larger booths, I decided to wend my way through the smaller set-ups in this calmer section of the expo. I was approached by a representative of Blue Marble Games, a relatively new developer that focuses on creating games that are both fun and will hopefully help people with brain injuries, especially returning veterans. I was introduced to Nina Withrington, a physical therapist who works with the programmers and artists to help create Blue Marble’s games. At E3, Blue Marble was showing off a collection of games called RESeT, which collects information about performance that therapists will be able to use to identify problems with patient cognition like memory or attention span. I was able to chat with Nina about RESeT, Blue Marble, their other upcoming game Treasure of Bell Island, and their crowd-funding attempt, Zoezi Park. Jack Gardner: Why don’t you start at the beginning? Nina Withrington: To start from the beginning, this is a suite of games called RESeT. It basically has two parts: An assessment section and an intervention section. These games were made with funding from the Department of Defense for mild traumatic brain injury for the soldiers and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to serve them, because [brain injuries are] a big issue in that population. So, what we’ve done, we have a research team in-house, which I am a part of. I am a physical therapist. Bonnie here is an occupational therapist with a PhD in metrics and math and the owner of the company is a physical therapist and has a PhD in neural science. Garnder: Wow, so you’re a bunch of smart cookies! Withrington: [Laughs] We’re doing all right, we’re doing all right. Yeah, between us we have 75 years of clinical experience. It is really great that we get to work with a team of game designers, programmers, and artists to build these games from the ground up with clinical input in mind. So, going to the literature [and seeing] the current clinical guidelines, the evidence, what clinicians are using, and then inputting that into the game. That’s the whole idea behind this. [Gesturing to the table-sized touchscreen computer on which RESeT is running, Withrington begins flicking through the menus, showing me different features.] So, this is the assessive portion. You can see that it challenges different things that can be impaired in brain injuries: visual perception, visual-spatial inattention, memory, attention, executive function, which is organization and planning, coordination, and patient recorded outcomes. So, the game I’m going to show you here is called Asteroid Adventures and this is an assessment of executive function. It is our gamified version of a common test used in the clinic called 'the trail-making test.' [I took a couple seconds to look the game over. It appeared to consist of identifying the patter and order of numbers and letters in the sand and pressing them in the right order. As I am playing, matching the correct pattern, Withrington continues to talk.] The traditional test is done on paper with circles and a pencil. That’s the difference. Running in the background of all these games is a database that tracks every tap that is made on the screen. From that we can figure out what someone’s response time was, where they made an error, and what they did after they made an error. Did they keep tapping that same thing? Did they pause and make the same error? Did they pause and then make the right choice? That can tell us a lot about what is going on while they are doing an assessment. Another thing, on a big table like this we also know where you touched. [Withrington pulls out her laptop and shows me a map of the Asteroid Adventures. The image is identical to the game I just played, but there are red marks across the left side of the screen, while the right side is relatively clear.] This is actually some data from a person with a brain injury who played this in our offices and what you can see is that all of his mistakes were made on the left side of the screen. What that tells us is that he has some inattention to that side, which is common in brain injury, not necessarily in mild traumatic brain injury, but more severe brain injuries. We can collect that data, which is kind of neat. Let me show you one more thing… We’ll do the same test one more time, but a different version of it…. Just so you know, this suite of games is going to be at the clinical trials at Cedars-Saini* this summer. So, it will be a validation study of the assessment portion. Which is very exciting for us. Another thing about our games is that they are levelled, so that someone who is healthy can play these games and have just as much fun as someone with impairments. So, they level up and then they level down to a lower level. So, that way, if someone is going through the rehabilitation process their family can play with them, and they can play with their friends and they have something to talk about besides their injury. Which I think is really awesome, personally. I am going to show you one more evaluation. This is the same thing, but in this one, there is a line being drawn. Gardner: So, same kind of deal as before. Withrington: Yep, it is the same thing. The major difference being that you are getting this additional queue, right, so you know where you’ve been. Then I can show you the data and show you why that is interesting. [In the interest of time, Withrington does the level herself, performing admirably despite the level being upside down from her point of view, and once more pulls out her laptop to show me data.] This is what I wanted to show you. This blue line is the sandbox one, where you get this queue of where you’ve been, the line. This red one here is the one where you don’t get that queue. This was done with the same player with brain injury. You can see when he has the queue, he goes really fast in the sandbox. When he doesn’t have the queue, it takes him 3-4 times as long. That is a memory issue, where was I last? Trials B, where you switch between number and letter, he does about the same on both, which tells us he primary problem is memory, not flexible thinking. That’s the kind of granular data that you can glean from something that is on a platform like this and gives you data in the background. All of our games port to tablets and they play on the PC as well, so there are lots of platforms for them. We also have another game called Treasure of Bell Island, which is a strategic adventure game, and what happens is- I don’t have a tablet right now, but the player has a cast of characters and they have to solve the mystery of an island. They have to explore the island, they have to hunt to feed their crew, they have to keep their crew sheltered, and all of these things as they go along solving this mystery and collecting golden bells. Each of the mini-games challenges a different aspect of cognition, memory, attention, and executive function. So, there is a whole narrative, you have a purpose, and it is real-life, you have to think about others, not just yourself. So, that is a really great, fun game that we are doing as well. Gardner: Over time do these kinds of games improve that kind of mental cognition? Withrington: That’s a great question. These were literally just built. Gardner: So, we don’t know yet. Withrington: So, we don’t know yet, that’s the answer. But, we have taken the evidence from the literature and I can say they do challenge all of the impairments, but whether that will translate into real world will take lots of studies to figure out over years. In the meantime, this is what we’ve got and it can be used, in my estimation. Especially when you consider that therapists are taking games off the shelf and trying to make those work. Saying, ‘well, at least I am getting this challenged a little bit.’ You know, they are looking at it from a task analysis perspective and saying, ‘what is being challenged here and can I make that work?’ Gardner: Is this available now? Withrington: It will be available soon. Very, very soon. Gardner: And people would just be able to buy this on the Apple App Store, or…? Withrington: They could buy it from our website. That will be the first place you will be able to buy it. We’re not quite on iPad yet. We are working hard to get there, we have a preliminary build, but hopefully we will be. That’s the plan. But it can be played on PC if someone wanted to play on PC. Gardner: What is this going to cost? Will it be free? Withrington: No, that’s a great question. I am not the business person for Blue Marble, but I do know that we are committed to making these affordable. It will never cost more than an off-the-shelf game or what you would spend on a regular app. What would probably cost more would be if you wanted to know the data all the time. That takes a lot more maintenance on our end. But certainly, just to buy the game would be, you know, an average priced game, even though it has so much more going into it, like actual research. Gardner: When someone buys the game, how do they access the data? Withrington: The data is online. They can log in and see it there. Gardner: Would therapists be prescribing these games? Withrington: What’s great about our model here is that it could just be used by someone picking it up and wanting to use it or you can work with a therapist if you have impairments. The way I see these cognitive games is that they could be used as brain games too, because they level so high. But if you do have impairments, you probably should work with a therapist so they can help you through the game and develop strategies for you. In this game we have lots of mini-games as you go up in levels that challenge certain things specifically, so if a therapist has assessed someone, they can say, ‘you know, focus on these challenges, and don’t worry so much about these.’ Gardner: Are you working with other physical therapists not associated with the development? Withrington: Yes, all throughout our design process. It is what we call user-centered design. We go out and do focus groups with all of our end-users. That is clinicians, people with disabilities, caregivers, and family members. We get everybody’s input: What would be fun, what doesn’t work here, does this mechanic really disturb your vision, etc. We have to consider things like that. There are certain mechanics that we can’t do in games here. Is the art too complicated? These are things that are all barriers for [people with brain injuries to enjoy] entertainment games. Gardner: Can you tell me a little bit about how Blue Marble started? Withrington: Yes, absolutely. Dr. Sheryl Flynn is our CEO. She is a physical therapist and has a PhD in neural Science. She won a grant from the Department of Defense to make the Treasure of Bell Island game, which was our first game. Gardner: Treasure of Bell Island is out right now? Withrington: Almost. We just redid the art. So, probably in a month or two, that game will be out. Gardner: Also on the same platforms as RESeT? Withrington: Yes, on tablet and PC, working on the [iOS] process. So, anyway, she won the grant from the government to make that one and then we got a grant to make RESeT and we had gotten another small grant to create a prototype for a game that helps prevent falls in older adults, and that small grant enabled us to create a very basic prototype with just one or two exercises in it, but we want to put in a whole suite of exercises from the Otago exercise program, which has been shown to prevent falls in older adults by 35%. We would love to get the generations playing together and doing that. We are doing crowd funding to raise money to hopefully be able to build out that game. It is Whenyouwish.com and the game is called Zoezi Park and Zoezi is Swahili for exercise. Because you have to train balance to maintain balance and I know as our population ages it is a very big public health issue and just a caring-about-our-seniors issue. I think that what Blue Marble Games is trying to do is pretty great, and not something that we see very often in the video game industry. Check out their products and their stuff if you want to see something unique in the industry. For more information on RESeT go here. *Cedars-Saini is a non-profit hospital that also functions as an academic center for health science.
  2. In the midst of a hectic, crowded, and noisy E3 2013, there was a quieter (albeit only slightly) corner of the show floor. Out of curiosity and after being dazzled by the lights and bombast of the larger booths, I decided to wend my way through the smaller set-ups in this calmer section of the expo. I was approached by a representative of Blue Marble Games, a relatively new developer that focuses on creating games that are both fun and will hopefully help people with brain injuries, especially returning veterans. I was introduced to Nina Withrington, a physical therapist who works with the programmers and artists to help create Blue Marble’s games. At E3, Blue Marble was showing off a collection of games called RESeT, which collects information about performance that therapists will be able to use to identify problems with patient cognition like memory or attention span. I was able to chat with Nina about RESeT, Blue Marble, their other upcoming game Treasure of Bell Island, and their crowd-funding attempt, Zoezi Park. Jack Gardner: Why don’t you start at the beginning? Nina Withrington: To start from the beginning, this is a suite of games called RESeT. It basically has two parts: An assessment section and an intervention section. These games were made with funding from the Department of Defense for mild traumatic brain injury for the soldiers and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to serve them, because [brain injuries are] a big issue in that population. So, what we’ve done, we have a research team in-house, which I am a part of. I am a physical therapist. Bonnie here is an occupational therapist with a PhD in metrics and math and the owner of the company is a physical therapist and has a PhD in neural science. Garnder: Wow, so you’re a bunch of smart cookies! Withrington: [Laughs] We’re doing all right, we’re doing all right. Yeah, between us we have 75 years of clinical experience. It is really great that we get to work with a team of game designers, programmers, and artists to build these games from the ground up with clinical input in mind. So, going to the literature [and seeing] the current clinical guidelines, the evidence, what clinicians are using, and then inputting that into the game. That’s the whole idea behind this. [Gesturing to the table-sized touchscreen computer on which RESeT is running, Withrington begins flicking through the menus, showing me different features.] So, this is the assessive portion. You can see that it challenges different things that can be impaired in brain injuries: visual perception, visual-spatial inattention, memory, attention, executive function, which is organization and planning, coordination, and patient recorded outcomes. So, the game I’m going to show you here is called Asteroid Adventures and this is an assessment of executive function. It is our gamified version of a common test used in the clinic called 'the trail-making test.' [I took a couple seconds to look the game over. It appeared to consist of identifying the patter and order of numbers and letters in the sand and pressing them in the right order. As I am playing, matching the correct pattern, Withrington continues to talk.] The traditional test is done on paper with circles and a pencil. That’s the difference. Running in the background of all these games is a database that tracks every tap that is made on the screen. From that we can figure out what someone’s response time was, where they made an error, and what they did after they made an error. Did they keep tapping that same thing? Did they pause and make the same error? Did they pause and then make the right choice? That can tell us a lot about what is going on while they are doing an assessment. Another thing, on a big table like this we also know where you touched. [Withrington pulls out her laptop and shows me a map of the Asteroid Adventures. The image is identical to the game I just played, but there are red marks across the left side of the screen, while the right side is relatively clear.] This is actually some data from a person with a brain injury who played this in our offices and what you can see is that all of his mistakes were made on the left side of the screen. What that tells us is that he has some inattention to that side, which is common in brain injury, not necessarily in mild traumatic brain injury, but more severe brain injuries. We can collect that data, which is kind of neat. Let me show you one more thing… We’ll do the same test one more time, but a different version of it…. Just so you know, this suite of games is going to be at the clinical trials at Cedars-Saini* this summer. So, it will be a validation study of the assessment portion. Which is very exciting for us. Another thing about our games is that they are levelled, so that someone who is healthy can play these games and have just as much fun as someone with impairments. So, they level up and then they level down to a lower level. So, that way, if someone is going through the rehabilitation process their family can play with them, and they can play with their friends and they have something to talk about besides their injury. Which I think is really awesome, personally. I am going to show you one more evaluation. This is the same thing, but in this one, there is a line being drawn. Gardner: So, same kind of deal as before. Withrington: Yep, it is the same thing. The major difference being that you are getting this additional queue, right, so you know where you’ve been. Then I can show you the data and show you why that is interesting. [In the interest of time, Withrington does the level herself, performing admirably despite the level being upside down from her point of view, and once more pulls out her laptop to show me data.] This is what I wanted to show you. This blue line is the sandbox one, where you get this queue of where you’ve been, the line. This red one here is the one where you don’t get that queue. This was done with the same player with brain injury. You can see when he has the queue, he goes really fast in the sandbox. When he doesn’t have the queue, it takes him 3-4 times as long. That is a memory issue, where was I last? Trials B, where you switch between number and letter, he does about the same on both, which tells us he primary problem is memory, not flexible thinking. That’s the kind of granular data that you can glean from something that is on a platform like this and gives you data in the background. All of our games port to tablets and they play on the PC as well, so there are lots of platforms for them. We also have another game called Treasure of Bell Island, which is a strategic adventure game, and what happens is- I don’t have a tablet right now, but the player has a cast of characters and they have to solve the mystery of an island. They have to explore the island, they have to hunt to feed their crew, they have to keep their crew sheltered, and all of these things as they go along solving this mystery and collecting golden bells. Each of the mini-games challenges a different aspect of cognition, memory, attention, and executive function. So, there is a whole narrative, you have a purpose, and it is real-life, you have to think about others, not just yourself. So, that is a really great, fun game that we are doing as well. Gardner: Over time do these kinds of games improve that kind of mental cognition? Withrington: That’s a great question. These were literally just built. Gardner: So, we don’t know yet. Withrington: So, we don’t know yet, that’s the answer. But, we have taken the evidence from the literature and I can say they do challenge all of the impairments, but whether that will translate into real world will take lots of studies to figure out over years. In the meantime, this is what we’ve got and it can be used, in my estimation. Especially when you consider that therapists are taking games off the shelf and trying to make those work. Saying, ‘well, at least I am getting this challenged a little bit.’ You know, they are looking at it from a task analysis perspective and saying, ‘what is being challenged here and can I make that work?’ Gardner: Is this available now? Withrington: It will be available soon. Very, very soon. Gardner: And people would just be able to buy this on the Apple App Store, or…? Withrington: They could buy it from our website. That will be the first place you will be able to buy it. We’re not quite on iPad yet. We are working hard to get there, we have a preliminary build, but hopefully we will be. That’s the plan. But it can be played on PC if someone wanted to play on PC. Gardner: What is this going to cost? Will it be free? Withrington: No, that’s a great question. I am not the business person for Blue Marble, but I do know that we are committed to making these affordable. It will never cost more than an off-the-shelf game or what you would spend on a regular app. What would probably cost more would be if you wanted to know the data all the time. That takes a lot more maintenance on our end. But certainly, just to buy the game would be, you know, an average priced game, even though it has so much more going into it, like actual research. Gardner: When someone buys the game, how do they access the data? Withrington: The data is online. They can log in and see it there. Gardner: Would therapists be prescribing these games? Withrington: What’s great about our model here is that it could just be used by someone picking it up and wanting to use it or you can work with a therapist if you have impairments. The way I see these cognitive games is that they could be used as brain games too, because they level so high. But if you do have impairments, you probably should work with a therapist so they can help you through the game and develop strategies for you. In this game we have lots of mini-games as you go up in levels that challenge certain things specifically, so if a therapist has assessed someone, they can say, ‘you know, focus on these challenges, and don’t worry so much about these.’ Gardner: Are you working with other physical therapists not associated with the development? Withrington: Yes, all throughout our design process. It is what we call user-centered design. We go out and do focus groups with all of our end-users. That is clinicians, people with disabilities, caregivers, and family members. We get everybody’s input: What would be fun, what doesn’t work here, does this mechanic really disturb your vision, etc. We have to consider things like that. There are certain mechanics that we can’t do in games here. Is the art too complicated? These are things that are all barriers for [people with brain injuries to enjoy] entertainment games. Gardner: Can you tell me a little bit about how Blue Marble started? Withrington: Yes, absolutely. Dr. Sheryl Flynn is our CEO. She is a physical therapist and has a PhD in neural Science. She won a grant from the Department of Defense to make the Treasure of Bell Island game, which was our first game. Gardner: Treasure of Bell Island is out right now? Withrington: Almost. We just redid the art. So, probably in a month or two, that game will be out. Gardner: Also on the same platforms as RESeT? Withrington: Yes, on tablet and PC, working on the [iOS] process. So, anyway, she won the grant from the government to make that one and then we got a grant to make RESeT and we had gotten another small grant to create a prototype for a game that helps prevent falls in older adults, and that small grant enabled us to create a very basic prototype with just one or two exercises in it, but we want to put in a whole suite of exercises from the Otago exercise program, which has been shown to prevent falls in older adults by 35%. We would love to get the generations playing together and doing that. We are doing crowd funding to raise money to hopefully be able to build out that game. It is Whenyouwish.com and the game is called Zoezi Park and Zoezi is Swahili for exercise. Because you have to train balance to maintain balance and I know as our population ages it is a very big public health issue and just a caring-about-our-seniors issue. I think that what Blue Marble Games is trying to do is pretty great, and not something that we see very often in the video game industry. Check out their products and their stuff if you want to see something unique in the industry. For more information on RESeT go here. *Cedars-Saini is a non-profit hospital that also functions as an academic center for health science. View full article
  3. While at E3, I had a chance to sit down with a few of the people from Gaijin Games, the developer behind the Bit.Trip series to talk with them about the challenges of porting Runner2 to Vita and what it is like to be an indie developer in this day and age. The three members of the team that I had the pleasure of talking with during the interview were Danny Johnson – Designer Extraordinaire, Dant Rambo – Associate Producer (with the coolest name ever), and Chris Meyer – 3D Artist and Dream Maker. (Note: Gaijin's official job titles probably do not include “extraordinaire,” “(with the coolest name ever),” or “dream maker,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply) --- Danny Johnson: With the Vita Version, we heard the feedback from a lot of fans that there was a desire to get the game on Vita. We’ve heard from other independent developers that their games had done really well on the Vita and stuff like that, so it was a market that we really wanted to go after. It is just that we hadn’t scheduled to do it at the beginning of the project, so we finished the main game up on consoles and then have been doing the Vita version amongst other things. So, basically what we have to show is Runner2. It’s all of Runner2. It’s, you know, the same game, but on handheld. We’ve retained everything from the console version, so I think that’s pretty impressive. Jack Gardner: So, you heard from other people that it would be good to have it on the Vita. What specifically makes Runner2 good to have on Vita? DJ: I think part of it is that we heard there was a bit of a different audience on Vita versus even on the PS3. People just, you know, want to play it [on the go] or just as their main device or they don’t like playing consoles, I don’t know. I think the big thing was that people wanted access to the game without having to sit at home, [laughs] which, you know, is understandable these days. Dant Rambo: I guess I’d also add that it is cool to be a part of the big indie push on Vita, which is nuts. Chris Meyer: Sony in general, not just Vita, is really embracing the indies. JG: Did Sony approach you guys about putting it on the Vita? DJ: I’m sure they kinda nudged us and said, ‘so you’re gonna put it on the Vita, right?’ You know? So we’ve kept in contact with them all throughout development, just making sure things were going all right. They definitely like to see stuff on the Vita. We kind of had that idea that we wanted to do it and it was a little bit of seeing how it goes and when can we fit it in and now is the time. JG: Are there a lot of challenges involved in taking a game that was made with consoles in mind and putting it on a handheld? Artistically, programming-wise, etc.? DJ: I think the ideal is that we could bring the same exact game and put it on handhelds. I mean, at this point we’ve only been working on it for about a month or so, but we’ve got it running. We just need a lot of the little optimization stuff and to work out the kinks. But it seems like it has been pretty good, pretty easy. You know, always bringing a game to a new platform brings a new set of challenges, but the whole thing is that we are looking to retain the main game and keep it at a solid frame rate. CM: We just don’t want to trim it down. We don’t want to give handheld users a lesser experience. DR: And it is also cool that it is level-based, so it already lends itself well to being on a mobile device, so you can pick it up and play it for five minute or for hours. JG: With the PS4 coming out soon, will Runner2 be available on the PS4? DR: That’s not out of the question. DJ: Yeah, I think part of it was we were waiting to see how their backwards compatibility was going to work and if you could still play it on PS4. I think they’ve said they have some streaming capabilities, but I think it is possible that we would port it up to PS4. Who knows if we would add stuff or what, but the whole thing about Runner2 was we didn’t want to leave it out of the hands of anyone. We wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to play the game could play the game. So, we put it on whatever we could. JG: Alright, makes sense. Are there plans to create a follow-up or branch out into different explorations of the concept? DJ: Um… There is still stuff yet to be done on Runner2. We’re not going to go into that quite yet, but we are not done with Runner2, but definitely at this point we are looking into other avenues, other games, future projects, a couple of exciting possibilities, but that stuff is still probably a little ways out. But we have been toying with smaller stuff and bigger stuff, so… yeah. JG: Has the reception of the game been pretty good today? DR: Yeah, I would say so. I haven’t heard anything negative. Even people who had never played it on console seemed to really enjoy playing it. CM: There are also a lot of fans who have already played it, beaten it, one-hundred percent-ed it that want to play it again on their Vita. [Laughs] DJ: The console version was so well rated, that we hope it would bring out the people who are interested on Vita. JG: Yeah, that’s always the mark of a- [clattering noise] Always the mark of a great game when someone throws their pen in the middle of an interview. [laughter] When people like the game so much that they want to buy it again so that they can play it again. DJ: We certainly love how the fans have accepted the game and gone far beyond what we would expect. Like, one-hundred percent-ing the whole game and posting videos on YouTube. DR: One related anecdote to that, is that someone on Twitter said that they one-hundred percent-ed it and then deleted their save file so that they could start again. That was nuts. JG: Wow, I don’t know of anyone that actually deletes their save file… DR: At least not intentionally. [Laughs] JG: So, about how big is your team at Gaijin? DR: It is nine, I can confirm. DJ: Nine full-time, I think we have two or three contractors. JG: And how involved is Sony in the process of creating a game like Runner2? DJ: I’m not the person that they deal with, but I think that they just sort of make sure that things are going well for us, that we have the stuff we need. I think the PS4 dev kit came before we even ordered it or anything, so we were like, ‘Oh, awesome! We’ll have to check this out!’ JG: They are kind of hands off when it comes to- DJ: Yeah, I mean they’ll talk to us when we need to. I mean we have some people over there that we know pretty well and will answer our questions if we need them. JG: But it is a pretty good relationship? DJ: Yeah, we definitely like them. We make them happy and they make us happy. Everyone wins. DR: It is a good relationship. JG: I’m just wondering with the whole indie push coming out of Sony and the implosion of Microsoft’s indie stuff, people have been kind of wondering about indie development on consoles and for big companies like Microsoft and Sony. They’ve hear a lot about how terrible Microsoft has been for developers, but I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about Sony. DJ: Part of it was, you know with all the console makers, they have a lot of guidelines that you need to go through. Some of them make it easier or harder for you, which is a bit rough. We kind of like the Steam model where they are very hands off and they let you do what you need to do to make it work. It is a different approach from the consoles, but they are a little more nimble than these big corporations. I don’t know, it is tough to say. DR: I guess there is a little bit more of a hurdle with Microsoft because they don’t allow you to self-publish. JG: Is it hard to find a publisher for indie developers on consoles? CM: If I am not mistaken, we were able to establish Gaijin Games itself as a publisher. I think we can take that route if we want to. We worked with Aksys in the past because we wanted someone to help fund our game and get it through, because that is always really beneficial to a small team to see if they can get a game out there. But we’ve allowed ourselves the ability to self-publish on some of the platforms. Whenever that option is available we like to do it, but whenever there is publisher assistance then that is also pretty helpful. DR: This isn’t even related to us, but I met someone in the Sony booth today who had an idea for a game and they said Sony and Nintendo wanted to play ball right away, but he was here trying to find a publisher for Microsoft. Which isn’t to say that it is harder or easier. DJ: And I mean, we’ve talked with Microsoft, and they do support developers. It is just that they have a different approach to who they want on their system. It’s not a terrible approach or anything like that, it is just that they have their own mindset. Sony seems to be more, ‘we’ll take any cool games we can get,’ whereas Microsoft is a bit more exclusive with their stuff. DR: One last thing: The intended launch window for the Vita version of Runner2 is between mid-July and mid-August. JG: If you loved Runner2, you’ll love Runner2 on Vita. DR: You’ll love playing it on the toilet! CM: That’s the new feature. [Laughter] Runner2, fully titled Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is a side-scrolling platformer currently available for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC, and Mac. The Vita version, as stated in the interview, will release sometime between mid-July and mid-August.
  4. While at E3, I had a chance to sit down with a few of the people from Gaijin Games, the developer behind the Bit.Trip series to talk with them about the challenges of porting Runner2 to Vita and what it is like to be an indie developer in this day and age. The three members of the team that I had the pleasure of talking with during the interview were Danny Johnson – Designer Extraordinaire, Dant Rambo – Associate Producer (with the coolest name ever), and Chris Meyer – 3D Artist and Dream Maker. (Note: Gaijin's official job titles probably do not include “extraordinaire,” “(with the coolest name ever),” or “dream maker,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply) --- Danny Johnson: With the Vita Version, we heard the feedback from a lot of fans that there was a desire to get the game on Vita. We’ve heard from other independent developers that their games had done really well on the Vita and stuff like that, so it was a market that we really wanted to go after. It is just that we hadn’t scheduled to do it at the beginning of the project, so we finished the main game up on consoles and then have been doing the Vita version amongst other things. So, basically what we have to show is Runner2. It’s all of Runner2. It’s, you know, the same game, but on handheld. We’ve retained everything from the console version, so I think that’s pretty impressive. Jack Gardner: So, you heard from other people that it would be good to have it on the Vita. What specifically makes Runner2 good to have on Vita? DJ: I think part of it is that we heard there was a bit of a different audience on Vita versus even on the PS3. People just, you know, want to play it [on the go] or just as their main device or they don’t like playing consoles, I don’t know. I think the big thing was that people wanted access to the game without having to sit at home, [laughs] which, you know, is understandable these days. Dant Rambo: I guess I’d also add that it is cool to be a part of the big indie push on Vita, which is nuts. Chris Meyer: Sony in general, not just Vita, is really embracing the indies. JG: Did Sony approach you guys about putting it on the Vita? DJ: I’m sure they kinda nudged us and said, ‘so you’re gonna put it on the Vita, right?’ You know? So we’ve kept in contact with them all throughout development, just making sure things were going all right. They definitely like to see stuff on the Vita. We kind of had that idea that we wanted to do it and it was a little bit of seeing how it goes and when can we fit it in and now is the time. JG: Are there a lot of challenges involved in taking a game that was made with consoles in mind and putting it on a handheld? Artistically, programming-wise, etc.? DJ: I think the ideal is that we could bring the same exact game and put it on handhelds. I mean, at this point we’ve only been working on it for about a month or so, but we’ve got it running. We just need a lot of the little optimization stuff and to work out the kinks. But it seems like it has been pretty good, pretty easy. You know, always bringing a game to a new platform brings a new set of challenges, but the whole thing is that we are looking to retain the main game and keep it at a solid frame rate. CM: We just don’t want to trim it down. We don’t want to give handheld users a lesser experience. DR: And it is also cool that it is level-based, so it already lends itself well to being on a mobile device, so you can pick it up and play it for five minute or for hours. JG: With the PS4 coming out soon, will Runner2 be available on the PS4? DR: That’s not out of the question. DJ: Yeah, I think part of it was we were waiting to see how their backwards compatibility was going to work and if you could still play it on PS4. I think they’ve said they have some streaming capabilities, but I think it is possible that we would port it up to PS4. Who knows if we would add stuff or what, but the whole thing about Runner2 was we didn’t want to leave it out of the hands of anyone. We wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to play the game could play the game. So, we put it on whatever we could. JG: Alright, makes sense. Are there plans to create a follow-up or branch out into different explorations of the concept? DJ: Um… There is still stuff yet to be done on Runner2. We’re not going to go into that quite yet, but we are not done with Runner2, but definitely at this point we are looking into other avenues, other games, future projects, a couple of exciting possibilities, but that stuff is still probably a little ways out. But we have been toying with smaller stuff and bigger stuff, so… yeah. JG: Has the reception of the game been pretty good today? DR: Yeah, I would say so. I haven’t heard anything negative. Even people who had never played it on console seemed to really enjoy playing it. CM: There are also a lot of fans who have already played it, beaten it, one-hundred percent-ed it that want to play it again on their Vita. [Laughs] DJ: The console version was so well rated, that we hope it would bring out the people who are interested on Vita. JG: Yeah, that’s always the mark of a- [clattering noise] Always the mark of a great game when someone throws their pen in the middle of an interview. [laughter] When people like the game so much that they want to buy it again so that they can play it again. DJ: We certainly love how the fans have accepted the game and gone far beyond what we would expect. Like, one-hundred percent-ing the whole game and posting videos on YouTube. DR: One related anecdote to that, is that someone on Twitter said that they one-hundred percent-ed it and then deleted their save file so that they could start again. That was nuts. JG: Wow, I don’t know of anyone that actually deletes their save file… DR: At least not intentionally. [Laughs] JG: So, about how big is your team at Gaijin? DR: It is nine, I can confirm. DJ: Nine full-time, I think we have two or three contractors. JG: And how involved is Sony in the process of creating a game like Runner2? DJ: I’m not the person that they deal with, but I think that they just sort of make sure that things are going well for us, that we have the stuff we need. I think the PS4 dev kit came before we even ordered it or anything, so we were like, ‘Oh, awesome! We’ll have to check this out!’ JG: They are kind of hands off when it comes to- DJ: Yeah, I mean they’ll talk to us when we need to. I mean we have some people over there that we know pretty well and will answer our questions if we need them. JG: But it is a pretty good relationship? DJ: Yeah, we definitely like them. We make them happy and they make us happy. Everyone wins. DR: It is a good relationship. JG: I’m just wondering with the whole indie push coming out of Sony and the implosion of Microsoft’s indie stuff, people have been kind of wondering about indie development on consoles and for big companies like Microsoft and Sony. They’ve hear a lot about how terrible Microsoft has been for developers, but I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about Sony. DJ: Part of it was, you know with all the console makers, they have a lot of guidelines that you need to go through. Some of them make it easier or harder for you, which is a bit rough. We kind of like the Steam model where they are very hands off and they let you do what you need to do to make it work. It is a different approach from the consoles, but they are a little more nimble than these big corporations. I don’t know, it is tough to say. DR: I guess there is a little bit more of a hurdle with Microsoft because they don’t allow you to self-publish. JG: Is it hard to find a publisher for indie developers on consoles? CM: If I am not mistaken, we were able to establish Gaijin Games itself as a publisher. I think we can take that route if we want to. We worked with Aksys in the past because we wanted someone to help fund our game and get it through, because that is always really beneficial to a small team to see if they can get a game out there. But we’ve allowed ourselves the ability to self-publish on some of the platforms. Whenever that option is available we like to do it, but whenever there is publisher assistance then that is also pretty helpful. DR: This isn’t even related to us, but I met someone in the Sony booth today who had an idea for a game and they said Sony and Nintendo wanted to play ball right away, but he was here trying to find a publisher for Microsoft. Which isn’t to say that it is harder or easier. DJ: And I mean, we’ve talked with Microsoft, and they do support developers. It is just that they have a different approach to who they want on their system. It’s not a terrible approach or anything like that, it is just that they have their own mindset. Sony seems to be more, ‘we’ll take any cool games we can get,’ whereas Microsoft is a bit more exclusive with their stuff. DR: One last thing: The intended launch window for the Vita version of Runner2 is between mid-July and mid-August. JG: If you loved Runner2, you’ll love Runner2 on Vita. DR: You’ll love playing it on the toilet! CM: That’s the new feature. [Laughter] Runner2, fully titled Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is a side-scrolling platformer currently available for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, PC, and Mac. The Vita version, as stated in the interview, will release sometime between mid-July and mid-August. View full article
  5. The Lost Planet series is a bit of a gaming anomaly. The first game, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, gave players robotic suits of armor called Vital Suits, a grappling hook, and giant enemy monsters to shoot. The gameplay was pretty straightforward and the game world was refreshing and fun, but the story was the special kind of so-bad-its-good. All of these elements combined to create a pretty enjoyable game. Extreme Condition also had an online multiplayer component, which became the main focus of Lost Planet 2. Many people felt alienated by the shift in direction from the first Lost Planet game and most people assumed that the series died after the sequel. Then, Capcom did the unthinkable. They decided to try and revitalize the series with a story driven, single-player experience. Early trailers showed a bearded man both in and out of a gigantic Vital Suit fighting off Akrid, insect-like enemies that were the mainstays of the previous two titles. This seemed like a step in the right direction for a series seemingly back from the dead. I was able to play the single-player demo and what I saw was in desperate need of last minute tweaking. Picking up the single-player, I was thrust into a boss battle against a giant ice worm. The creature thrashed at the room sending claws through the broken window and occasionally spitting larva reminiscent of the face-huggers from the Alien series. All of the elements were present for a thrilling, satisfying battle. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of health the ice worm had made this battle last for nearly seven minutes. During that time I stood in one place constantly shooting at the worm, occasionally turning to take care of the face-huggers. After defeating the worm, I ran through some hallways of the destroyed facility before running onto a platform outside and waited for an elevator. Surprise! The worm appeared again and a repeat of the last encounter began. I stood still and shot at the giant worm and its larva for a prolonged period of time until the elevator arrived. Then I got into a giant Vital Suit to fight the worm in close-quarters-combat. What I thought would be an awesome culmination of the demo, possibly redeeming the lackluster combat up until that point, turned out to be a difficult quick-time-event to which I died repeatedly. After pressing on through the frustration generated by the ice worm sequence, I encountered a cutscene which sets up the story of Lost Planet 3. Visually, Lost Planet 3 is gorgeous. Snow swirls, creatures and VSs look appropriately amazing, fantastic, and cool, and the animations are smooth and pleasing. The cutscenes in particular were dazzling and left me wanting to just watch a Lost Planet CG film. However, in pretty much every other area I found Lost Planet 3 to be in need of some polish. Many of the sound effects seemed to be place-holders, guns made strange, unsatisfying, and decidedly un-gunlike noises. The music would probably have been pretty great, but after spending twenty minutes listening to the same, looped orchestral track it began to wear a bit thin. The gameplay seemed sluggish and unresponsive, moving from cover to cover seemed to take too long and the aiming felt slippery. To be fair, most of my time spent in single-player was standing stationary and holding down the shoulder button to shoot. This is mostly a balancing issue that could be taken care of with a bit of effort between now and release. It remains to be seen if these problems will persist into the full retail release or if I happened to play through a particularly frustrating part of the game. Lost Planet 3 is being developed by Spark Unlimited and published by Capcom. Expect to see it hitting stores August 27 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.
  6. The Lost Planet series is a bit of a gaming anomaly. The first game, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, gave players robotic suits of armor called Vital Suits, a grappling hook, and giant enemy monsters to shoot. The gameplay was pretty straightforward and the game world was refreshing and fun, but the story was the special kind of so-bad-its-good. All of these elements combined to create a pretty enjoyable game. Extreme Condition also had an online multiplayer component, which became the main focus of Lost Planet 2. Many people felt alienated by the shift in direction from the first Lost Planet game and most people assumed that the series died after the sequel. Then, Capcom did the unthinkable. They decided to try and revitalize the series with a story driven, single-player experience. Early trailers showed a bearded man both in and out of a gigantic Vital Suit fighting off Akrid, insect-like enemies that were the mainstays of the previous two titles. This seemed like a step in the right direction for a series seemingly back from the dead. I was able to play the single-player demo and what I saw was in desperate need of last minute tweaking. Picking up the single-player, I was thrust into a boss battle against a giant ice worm. The creature thrashed at the room sending claws through the broken window and occasionally spitting larva reminiscent of the face-huggers from the Alien series. All of the elements were present for a thrilling, satisfying battle. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of health the ice worm had made this battle last for nearly seven minutes. During that time I stood in one place constantly shooting at the worm, occasionally turning to take care of the face-huggers. After defeating the worm, I ran through some hallways of the destroyed facility before running onto a platform outside and waited for an elevator. Surprise! The worm appeared again and a repeat of the last encounter began. I stood still and shot at the giant worm and its larva for a prolonged period of time until the elevator arrived. Then I got into a giant Vital Suit to fight the worm in close-quarters-combat. What I thought would be an awesome culmination of the demo, possibly redeeming the lackluster combat up until that point, turned out to be a difficult quick-time-event to which I died repeatedly. After pressing on through the frustration generated by the ice worm sequence, I encountered a cutscene which sets up the story of Lost Planet 3. Visually, Lost Planet 3 is gorgeous. Snow swirls, creatures and VSs look appropriately amazing, fantastic, and cool, and the animations are smooth and pleasing. The cutscenes in particular were dazzling and left me wanting to just watch a Lost Planet CG film. However, in pretty much every other area I found Lost Planet 3 to be in need of some polish. Many of the sound effects seemed to be place-holders, guns made strange, unsatisfying, and decidedly un-gunlike noises. The music would probably have been pretty great, but after spending twenty minutes listening to the same, looped orchestral track it began to wear a bit thin. The gameplay seemed sluggish and unresponsive, moving from cover to cover seemed to take too long and the aiming felt slippery. To be fair, most of my time spent in single-player was standing stationary and holding down the shoulder button to shoot. This is mostly a balancing issue that could be taken care of with a bit of effort between now and release. It remains to be seen if these problems will persist into the full retail release or if I happened to play through a particularly frustrating part of the game. Lost Planet 3 is being developed by Spark Unlimited and published by Capcom. Expect to see it hitting stores August 27 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. View full article
  7. For people who may not be familiar with Octodad, you play as an octopus that masquerades as a human and tries to perform mundane tasks like walking or using forks without alerting normal humans that he is, in fact, an octopus. During E3, I was able to sit down and play as the sneaky cephalopod on the PS4. The demo of Dadliest Catch (by the way, how can you NOT love such a terrible/hilarious play on Deadliest Catch?) tasked me with making it to my wedding without drawing too much attention to my rather obvious tentacles. Shoulder buttons control leg movements in conjunction with the analog sticks, while tapping one of the face buttons allows you to control one of the hand-tentacles to grab and manipulate objects. While the controls seem simple, deadliest Catch goes to great lengths to inform players that if an octopus was to put on a man’s suit, tie, and pants, it would be very difficult for that aquatic creature to assume the role of a father. By using the octopus’ natural (See: completely unnatural) ability to walk and pick up things, players will need to figure out the best way to complete objectives like cooking dinner or putting a wedding ring on a beloved’s hand. Often, picking up a single object or walking in a straight line results in hilarious destruction and much limb flailing. I began by having to put on a bowtie, which proved incredibly disastrous, as I sent wedding gifts scattering across the floor before falling onto a table, burying myself underneath a mountain of presents. When I tried to rise up, like a beautiful, aquatic phoenix, I smashed a few of the gifts through the stained-glass window of the church. Luckily, no one was around to observe my miserable performance and I was able to saunter away from the wreckage of my bowtie adventure, whistling innocently (or whatever the cephalopod equivalent of whistling would be). Following the bowtie escapade, I needed to walk down the aisle of a church to get married to my human bride. On the way, I wobbled from right to left, knocking over several pillars that lined the pews and nearly falling over multiple times, all while the digital wedding-goers wondered at my clumsiness. If these missteps occur too often while other people can see you, they will begin to get suspicious and eventually see through the ruse, resulting in a game over. Luckily, I successfully made it to my bride, after which I needed to make my way to a nearby chest and retrieve the wedding ring. Retrieving the ring with little effort (okay, I might have thrown a ton of jewels out of the chest all over the church altar), I carefully placed the ring into the possession of my bride. And just like that, the demo was over. I could tell you a lot of things about Octodad: Dadliest Catch. I could say that the animations are amazingly funny; that the ridiculousness of the premise is really enjoyable if you can find some modicum of joy in your heart; that the team at Young Horses has put a lot of genuine heart into Dadliest Catch. I could say those things. But I think what really speaks for the game is that throughout the entire demo I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. Dadliest Catch is a direct sequel to the original PC game (which can be downloaded here) and will be releasing on PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4 sometime this year.
  8. For people who may not be familiar with Octodad, you play as an octopus that masquerades as a human and tries to perform mundane tasks like walking or using forks without alerting normal humans that he is, in fact, an octopus. During E3, I was able to sit down and play as the sneaky cephalopod on the PS4. The demo of Dadliest Catch (by the way, how can you NOT love such a terrible/hilarious play on Deadliest Catch?) tasked me with making it to my wedding without drawing too much attention to my rather obvious tentacles. Shoulder buttons control leg movements in conjunction with the analog sticks, while tapping one of the face buttons allows you to control one of the hand-tentacles to grab and manipulate objects. While the controls seem simple, deadliest Catch goes to great lengths to inform players that if an octopus was to put on a man’s suit, tie, and pants, it would be very difficult for that aquatic creature to assume the role of a father. By using the octopus’ natural (See: completely unnatural) ability to walk and pick up things, players will need to figure out the best way to complete objectives like cooking dinner or putting a wedding ring on a beloved’s hand. Often, picking up a single object or walking in a straight line results in hilarious destruction and much limb flailing. I began by having to put on a bowtie, which proved incredibly disastrous, as I sent wedding gifts scattering across the floor before falling onto a table, burying myself underneath a mountain of presents. When I tried to rise up, like a beautiful, aquatic phoenix, I smashed a few of the gifts through the stained-glass window of the church. Luckily, no one was around to observe my miserable performance and I was able to saunter away from the wreckage of my bowtie adventure, whistling innocently (or whatever the cephalopod equivalent of whistling would be). Following the bowtie escapade, I needed to walk down the aisle of a church to get married to my human bride. On the way, I wobbled from right to left, knocking over several pillars that lined the pews and nearly falling over multiple times, all while the digital wedding-goers wondered at my clumsiness. If these missteps occur too often while other people can see you, they will begin to get suspicious and eventually see through the ruse, resulting in a game over. Luckily, I successfully made it to my bride, after which I needed to make my way to a nearby chest and retrieve the wedding ring. Retrieving the ring with little effort (okay, I might have thrown a ton of jewels out of the chest all over the church altar), I carefully placed the ring into the possession of my bride. And just like that, the demo was over. I could tell you a lot of things about Octodad: Dadliest Catch. I could say that the animations are amazingly funny; that the ridiculousness of the premise is really enjoyable if you can find some modicum of joy in your heart; that the team at Young Horses has put a lot of genuine heart into Dadliest Catch. I could say those things. But I think what really speaks for the game is that throughout the entire demo I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. Dadliest Catch is a direct sequel to the original PC game (which can be downloaded here) and will be releasing on PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4 sometime this year. View full article
  9. One of the biggest “huh” moments of E3, overshadowed by the console war between the PS4 and Xbox One, was the revelation that a new game based on the 1980 film Mad Max was in the works by Avalanche Studios simply titled Mad Max. We were given a live, hands-off demonstration of Mad Max in action. How does Max hold up in the 21st century? Slated as a next-gen, open-world title, Mad Max will put players in the boots of the titular Max himself as he struggles to reclaim his classic Interceptor car from the marauders of the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the game is set. Along the way, Max is aided by the twisted genius of the deformed Chum Bucket, a mechanic who builds Max a new vehicle called the Magnum Opus, which can be upgraded in a variety of different ways. In the demonstration, Max needed to get to a place called Gas Town for unspecified reasons. Along the way, he saw some wrecked cars along the road and stopped to scavenge them for supplies. Scavenging will be an integral part of surviving in Mad Max and will net you all kinds of new equipment and upgrades. By searching the wreckage, Max walked away with a beat-up, but serviceable harpoon cannon. This new weapon was put to use a few moments later when Max was ambushed by bandits while driving toward Gas Town. Using the harpoon cannon rips pieces of other cars off, exposing enemies or even destroying the vehicle outright. During this encounter, one of the bandits managed to jump onto the roof of the Magnum Opus and started trying to get into the car. The demonstrator took the opportunity to show off how the game’s physics can be used to repel boarders, swerving to and fro, eventually dislodging the tenacious bandit. After the dust had settled, we were told that if we went back and searched the bodies and vehicles, we could probably find more cool stuff, but in the interest of time we pressed on. The map system in place right now looks like a placeholder for the final design, but it functions. Really important areas will be highlighted on the map, but random encounters, roving bands of marauders, and smaller sidequests will not be. While the roads are always the safest routes to take, players will be able to cut through the more dangerous wilderness to find riches and glory. Off-road exploration of the desert wastes will be necessary to find some of the coolest gear and locations. Encountering a bandit camp roadblock and an entrenched sniper, Max stepped out of the Magnum Opus to take care of both on foot. The combat in Mad Max is brutal and intense. Max will use whatever he can to best his adversaries, be it fists, shotguns, or explosive harpoons. Using these weapons, Max caused havoc in the camp and destroyed the roadblock before sneaking up behind the sniper to finish him off with a silent takedown. It was at this point that the demonstrator paused to make it clear that Mad Max is not a stealth game, nor do they encourage that type of play, but there are times when you can make use of the element of surprise. After taking the sniper’s rifle and making his way back to the Opus, Max continued on his way, before encountering a walled fortress blocking his route. The gates of the fortress glowed red, alerting players that the Opus would need to be upgraded before being able to bash through them. This is where the team at Avalanche has tried to make Mad Max shine. There are numerous ways to approach a combat scenario: head-on with guns blazing, long range sniping/mortar attacks, by using vehicles, etc. In the demo, Max used his newly acquired sniper rifle to take out a couple of sentries on the fort’s walls. This caused an alarm to go up and loud bells began clanging within the enemy camp. Max had awoken the horde, which began pouring from the now open gate. Running back to the Magnum Opus, Max jumped in and floored the accelerator, rushing straight into the oncoming sea of marauders. Then the screen faded to the slogan for the title, “Only the savage survive.” Everything we saw was from a pre-alpha version of Mad Max, and is subject to change as the final version is still quite a ways off. To be honest, not much is known about the game, but from what I saw I thought it looked like an intense, visceral, and potentially fun experience. Look for Mad Max in 2014 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
  10. One of the biggest “huh” moments of E3, overshadowed by the console war between the PS4 and Xbox One, was the revelation that a new game based on the 1980 film Mad Max was in the works by Avalanche Studios simply titled Mad Max. We were given a live, hands-off demonstration of Mad Max in action. How does Max hold up in the 21st century? Slated as a next-gen, open-world title, Mad Max will put players in the boots of the titular Max himself as he struggles to reclaim his classic Interceptor car from the marauders of the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the game is set. Along the way, Max is aided by the twisted genius of the deformed Chum Bucket, a mechanic who builds Max a new vehicle called the Magnum Opus, which can be upgraded in a variety of different ways. In the demonstration, Max needed to get to a place called Gas Town for unspecified reasons. Along the way, he saw some wrecked cars along the road and stopped to scavenge them for supplies. Scavenging will be an integral part of surviving in Mad Max and will net you all kinds of new equipment and upgrades. By searching the wreckage, Max walked away with a beat-up, but serviceable harpoon cannon. This new weapon was put to use a few moments later when Max was ambushed by bandits while driving toward Gas Town. Using the harpoon cannon rips pieces of other cars off, exposing enemies or even destroying the vehicle outright. During this encounter, one of the bandits managed to jump onto the roof of the Magnum Opus and started trying to get into the car. The demonstrator took the opportunity to show off how the game’s physics can be used to repel boarders, swerving to and fro, eventually dislodging the tenacious bandit. After the dust had settled, we were told that if we went back and searched the bodies and vehicles, we could probably find more cool stuff, but in the interest of time we pressed on. The map system in place right now looks like a placeholder for the final design, but it functions. Really important areas will be highlighted on the map, but random encounters, roving bands of marauders, and smaller sidequests will not be. While the roads are always the safest routes to take, players will be able to cut through the more dangerous wilderness to find riches and glory. Off-road exploration of the desert wastes will be necessary to find some of the coolest gear and locations. Encountering a bandit camp roadblock and an entrenched sniper, Max stepped out of the Magnum Opus to take care of both on foot. The combat in Mad Max is brutal and intense. Max will use whatever he can to best his adversaries, be it fists, shotguns, or explosive harpoons. Using these weapons, Max caused havoc in the camp and destroyed the roadblock before sneaking up behind the sniper to finish him off with a silent takedown. It was at this point that the demonstrator paused to make it clear that Mad Max is not a stealth game, nor do they encourage that type of play, but there are times when you can make use of the element of surprise. After taking the sniper’s rifle and making his way back to the Opus, Max continued on his way, before encountering a walled fortress blocking his route. The gates of the fortress glowed red, alerting players that the Opus would need to be upgraded before being able to bash through them. This is where the team at Avalanche has tried to make Mad Max shine. There are numerous ways to approach a combat scenario: head-on with guns blazing, long range sniping/mortar attacks, by using vehicles, etc. In the demo, Max used his newly acquired sniper rifle to take out a couple of sentries on the fort’s walls. This caused an alarm to go up and loud bells began clanging within the enemy camp. Max had awoken the horde, which began pouring from the now open gate. Running back to the Magnum Opus, Max jumped in and floored the accelerator, rushing straight into the oncoming sea of marauders. Then the screen faded to the slogan for the title, “Only the savage survive.” Everything we saw was from a pre-alpha version of Mad Max, and is subject to change as the final version is still quite a ways off. To be honest, not much is known about the game, but from what I saw I thought it looked like an intense, visceral, and potentially fun experience. Look for Mad Max in 2014 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. View full article
  11. For those who are unfamiliar with Earth Defense Force (EDF), let me paint a word-picture of what the series is like, at least as I am familiar with it from the previous two game that have released in North America. Imagine a third-person shooter with low-budget graphics, hilarious animation, and a laughable storyline. Combine that mental image with the concepts of infinite ammo, flying saucers, lasers, jet packs, destructible environments, giant robots, hundreds of giant ants, spiders, and other insects. Does that sound awesome? Then EDF 2017 and its direct sequel EDF 2025 might just be for you. The events of the first game aren’t all that important. All you need to know is that aliens dubbed “The Ravagers” descended on Earth, and were defeated by the Earth Defense Force. Thought to be destroyed, the Ravagers suddenly reappear in 2025 stronger than ever, and the EDF must once more step up to stop the global threat. Taking cues from a previous EDF title called Insect Armageddon, 2025 has four playable classes. The Air Raider can call down vehicle drops and functions as a support class, improving and working with other classes. The Ranger class is the most balanced and “normal” of the classes, able to roll out of danger. The third class is the mobile Wing Diver, who comes equipped with a jet pack and laser weapons. Playing as a Wing Diver was perhaps the most fun I had with a class in my hour with EDF 2025. The light weapons she uses are offset by her maneuverability in the air, in which she can fly almost indefinitely. Some of her weapons drain her jet pack energy, forcing an early landing if you aren’t careful, but there is no fall damage in EDF. Finally, the Fencer heavy weapons class can bring four weapons into a level instead of two and can switch between both load outs on the fly. Basically, the Fencer quadra-wields weapons. QUADRA. WIELDS. WEAPONS. Oh, and the Fencer has access to hyper-charged melee weapons like a gravity hammer that can be charged up and releases a gigantic shockwave. The game was designed with splitscreen and online co-op in mind. Up to four people can play together online, while two people can play together locally in splitscreen. Some weapons can only be used in conjunction with other classes in multiplayer. The example I was shown involved the Air Raider and the Fencer. As the fencer, I had a weapon which fired a single, powerful guided-missile, while the Air Raider had a guiding laser which could be used to select the target for the missile. Many features have stayed the same from 2017 to 2025. The goal of each mission is as simple as it ever was: Destroy all the enemies. There have been some slight graphical improvements and the frame rate no longer stutters when faced with hundreds of charging ants, spiders, flying saucers, giant robots, etc. However, the low-grade charm of 2017 remains intact. The multiple difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Inferno return, as well as better weapon rewards for completing higher difficulties. Previous EDF titles consisted of up to sixty missions. When I asked one of the developers about how many missions we could expect to see in 2025, she was unable to give the exact number of missions, but assured me that “the number will be much higher than sixty.” In 2017, buildings would crumble into rubble at the slightest touch of a rocket. While buildings no longer seems as if they are constructed of papier-mâché, they remain destructible. Another new aspect is that enemies can pick up your character and toss them around. While this might seem like it would be frustrating, players will be able to continue firing while grabbed. These attacks feature the use of new (and hilarious) ragdoll animations which also occur anytime your character is hit by an explosion. The Earth Defense Force series holds a special place in my heart. With cheesy graphics, a laughable story, and hilarious scenarios, EDF has always been a great arcade experience to share with friends. By now it appears that 2025 will fill the shoes left by 2017. For every step taken to improve the experience, there is a half-step backward onto a banana peel, which is where Earth Defense Force truly shines. Mark my words, Earth Defense Force 2025 will be a cult classic for many years to come. Earth Defense Force 2025 will release July 4, 2013 in Japan and February 4, 2014 in North America on Xbox 360 and PS3. There are currently no plans for a next-gen release.
  12. For those who are unfamiliar with Earth Defense Force (EDF), let me paint a word-picture of what the series is like, at least as I am familiar with it from the previous two game that have released in North America. Imagine a third-person shooter with low-budget graphics, hilarious animation, and a laughable storyline. Combine that mental image with the concepts of infinite ammo, flying saucers, lasers, jet packs, destructible environments, giant robots, hundreds of giant ants, spiders, and other insects. Does that sound awesome? Then EDF 2017 and its direct sequel EDF 2025 might just be for you. The events of the first game aren’t all that important. All you need to know is that aliens dubbed “The Ravagers” descended on Earth, and were defeated by the Earth Defense Force. Thought to be destroyed, the Ravagers suddenly reappear in 2025 stronger than ever, and the EDF must once more step up to stop the global threat. Taking cues from a previous EDF title called Insect Armageddon, 2025 has four playable classes. The Air Raider can call down vehicle drops and functions as a support class, improving and working with other classes. The Ranger class is the most balanced and “normal” of the classes, able to roll out of danger. The third class is the mobile Wing Diver, who comes equipped with a jet pack and laser weapons. Playing as a Wing Diver was perhaps the most fun I had with a class in my hour with EDF 2025. The light weapons she uses are offset by her maneuverability in the air, in which she can fly almost indefinitely. Some of her weapons drain her jet pack energy, forcing an early landing if you aren’t careful, but there is no fall damage in EDF. Finally, the Fencer heavy weapons class can bring four weapons into a level instead of two and can switch between both load outs on the fly. Basically, the Fencer quadra-wields weapons. QUADRA. WIELDS. WEAPONS. Oh, and the Fencer has access to hyper-charged melee weapons like a gravity hammer that can be charged up and releases a gigantic shockwave. The game was designed with splitscreen and online co-op in mind. Up to four people can play together online, while two people can play together locally in splitscreen. Some weapons can only be used in conjunction with other classes in multiplayer. The example I was shown involved the Air Raider and the Fencer. As the fencer, I had a weapon which fired a single, powerful guided-missile, while the Air Raider had a guiding laser which could be used to select the target for the missile. Many features have stayed the same from 2017 to 2025. The goal of each mission is as simple as it ever was: Destroy all the enemies. There have been some slight graphical improvements and the frame rate no longer stutters when faced with hundreds of charging ants, spiders, flying saucers, giant robots, etc. However, the low-grade charm of 2017 remains intact. The multiple difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Inferno return, as well as better weapon rewards for completing higher difficulties. Previous EDF titles consisted of up to sixty missions. When I asked one of the developers about how many missions we could expect to see in 2025, she was unable to give the exact number of missions, but assured me that “the number will be much higher than sixty.” In 2017, buildings would crumble into rubble at the slightest touch of a rocket. While buildings no longer seems as if they are constructed of papier-mâché, they remain destructible. Another new aspect is that enemies can pick up your character and toss them around. While this might seem like it would be frustrating, players will be able to continue firing while grabbed. These attacks feature the use of new (and hilarious) ragdoll animations which also occur anytime your character is hit by an explosion. The Earth Defense Force series holds a special place in my heart. With cheesy graphics, a laughable story, and hilarious scenarios, EDF has always been a great arcade experience to share with friends. By now it appears that 2025 will fill the shoes left by 2017. For every step taken to improve the experience, there is a half-step backward onto a banana peel, which is where Earth Defense Force truly shines. Mark my words, Earth Defense Force 2025 will be a cult classic for many years to come. Earth Defense Force 2025 will release July 4, 2013 in Japan and February 4, 2014 in North America on Xbox 360 and PS3. There are currently no plans for a next-gen release. View full article
  13. Teased during the pre-E3 Sony press conference, I was given a screening of the twelve-minute long real-time short film developed by Quantic Dream for the PlayStation 4. The tech demo itself is very impressive. The plot revolves around an actor trying to do his best to act within a video game and each take getting ruined by glitches and faux pas. The entire thing was done in real-time. Real-time graphics are all produced by the game engine, not as pre-rendered cutscenes. For people who might not understand what that means, think of it as the difference between seeing a performance live, versus a movie version. To prove that the demo was actually in real-time, we were shown a live demonstration of the tech, with a free camera moving around the set seen in the short film as the goblin moved around and lighting and other settings were changed on the fly. The character models in the demo were created using the same techniques that Hollywood uses for big budget special effects characters. The actors in the short film even performed on a stage together to get the most realistic and believable interactions possible. The team even went so far as to include details that you never see in the trailer. Zooming in close to one of the sorcerer’s eyes, the presenter pointed out that they had included blood vessels, eyelashes, and even a waterline between the eye and the eyelid. This amount of detailing is now possible, and even if you have no need of that minutia, this means you only need to create one character model during development instead of several for varying distances. If a game director wants to have the camera go right up to the eyeball, he can have that shot without creating drastically more work for the team. All this work on the character models occurs so that emotion can be conveyed in subtle ways, through facial expressions and body language instead of using words. Quantic dream has worked hard to eliminate imperfections and achieve what they call “true HD.” This means no jagged lines that appear upon close inspection of most current generation titles. The presenter told us that despite how good The Dark Sorcerer looks, there is still a lot of room for improvement. He stated that on top of using unoptimized hardware, they were only making use of about half of the PS4’s memory capacity, using the same engine from Beyond: Two Souls, and were just using hi-res character models that they plugged into the system to see what would happen. In the future they will have optimized hardware, make full use of the internal memory, a new game engine specifically for PS4, and models made for those ideal hardware limits. Quantic Dream took only six months to create The Dark Sorcerer from scratch and it is exciting to imagine what they might come up with in a full production cycle with a dedicated team. Much like Kara, which eventually became Beyond: Two Souls, The Dark Sorcerer is meant to show off the capabilities of the new hardware, not to be taken as a trailer for an actual game. That isn’t to say The Dark Sorcerer might not become something more in the future, but for now the developers assured me that they don’t have anything in the works for The Dark Sorcerer beyond the tech demo.
  14. Teased during the pre-E3 Sony press conference, I was given a screening of the twelve-minute long real-time short film developed by Quantic Dream for the PlayStation 4. The tech demo itself is very impressive. The plot revolves around an actor trying to do his best to act within a video game and each take getting ruined by glitches and faux pas. The entire thing was done in real-time. Real-time graphics are all produced by the game engine, not as pre-rendered cutscenes. For people who might not understand what that means, think of it as the difference between seeing a performance live, versus a movie version. To prove that the demo was actually in real-time, we were shown a live demonstration of the tech, with a free camera moving around the set seen in the short film as the goblin moved around and lighting and other settings were changed on the fly. The character models in the demo were created using the same techniques that Hollywood uses for big budget special effects characters. The actors in the short film even performed on a stage together to get the most realistic and believable interactions possible. The team even went so far as to include details that you never see in the trailer. Zooming in close to one of the sorcerer’s eyes, the presenter pointed out that they had included blood vessels, eyelashes, and even a waterline between the eye and the eyelid. This amount of detailing is now possible, and even if you have no need of that minutia, this means you only need to create one character model during development instead of several for varying distances. If a game director wants to have the camera go right up to the eyeball, he can have that shot without creating drastically more work for the team. All this work on the character models occurs so that emotion can be conveyed in subtle ways, through facial expressions and body language instead of using words. Quantic dream has worked hard to eliminate imperfections and achieve what they call “true HD.” This means no jagged lines that appear upon close inspection of most current generation titles. The presenter told us that despite how good The Dark Sorcerer looks, there is still a lot of room for improvement. He stated that on top of using unoptimized hardware, they were only making use of about half of the PS4’s memory capacity, using the same engine from Beyond: Two Souls, and were just using hi-res character models that they plugged into the system to see what would happen. In the future they will have optimized hardware, make full use of the internal memory, a new game engine specifically for PS4, and models made for those ideal hardware limits. Quantic Dream took only six months to create The Dark Sorcerer from scratch and it is exciting to imagine what they might come up with in a full production cycle with a dedicated team. Much like Kara, which eventually became Beyond: Two Souls, The Dark Sorcerer is meant to show off the capabilities of the new hardware, not to be taken as a trailer for an actual game. That isn’t to say The Dark Sorcerer might not become something more in the future, but for now the developers assured me that they don’t have anything in the works for The Dark Sorcerer beyond the tech demo. View full article
  15. At E3 2013, Sony went out of its way to demonstrate its support of indie titles and developers, dedicating a large section of their booth area specifically to independent games. One of the games on display was Supergiant Games’ Transistor which I was able to play for a sizable chunk of time. The demo of Transistor began with text, explaining that assassins had been silencing the important voices of Cloudbank one by one and that Red, one of the most famous and beloved singers in the city, was next. These assassins, who belong to a group known as “The Process,” fail to kill Red, but succeed in taking her voice. Red is saved by clutching onto the Transistor, a sword-like device that contains a sentient intelligence and can absorb other minds into its own. The Transistor whisks Red to safety on the other side of Cloudbank, where it explains to her what it is and who The Process are. Red sheds her impractical singer’s garb and takes off on the run from the homicidal machines of The Process. As I progressed through the level, I encountered people who had recently died or were dying. The Transistor was able to communicate with them and convince their souls to come along on the adventure, absorbing them into itself. Each time this occurred, a new ability was unlocked to use in battle. After unlocking all the abilities in the demo, I was able to attack with a short-range shockwave, a long-range piercing laser, a devastating cluster bomb attack, and teleport dash through obstacles and enemies to use sneak attacks. Much like Supergiant Games’ critically acclaimed Bastion, combat occurs in real-time. However, players can now freeze time and plan out their next few moves in advance before executing them in quick succession. This adds a very enjoyable layer of strategy to engaging enemies in combat. Players won’t be able to use this ability continuously. A bar at the top of the screen depletes after each usage, and players will need to wait until it fills back up again to unleash their strategic fury upon their foes. There are light RPG elements to the combat, as well. You can see how much life enemies have and how much damage you do to them. After a combo done in strategic mode, a small message will appear next to an enemy which tells you how well you did against it. I actually laughed out loud after I unleashed a flurry of attacks against a boss creature and the message progressed from “Great!” to “Overkill” to “Seriously, can’t you read?” Transistor felt really at home on the PS4. The Supergiant team did a great job mapping the controls to appropriate and natural feeling buttons and creating a pretty self-explanatory HUD. Each attack was mapped to one of the controller’s face buttons, while R2 controlled the time freeze ability. There was just something intangibly satisfying about destroying enemies in both real-time and in the lightning strikes following the time freeze. Given that Red has lost her voice, the Transistor becomes her voice. It talks constantly, explaining the world and monologue-ing about the state of affairs in which the two find themselves. The demo ends with the Transistor urging her to escape, but Red silently riding her motorcycle back into the heart of Cloudbank with the amazed Transistor in tow. I honestly couldn't wait to see what happened next and how abilities would be expanded and improved further along in the game. Visually and audibly, Transistor impressed me. I even heard that someone (i.e. me) put the trailer for Supergiant Games’ next hit on loop in a YouTube playlist, just to hear its music and see the visuals. But don’t just take my word for it. You can watch the trailer below: Transistor will release in early 2014 on PS4 and PC.
  16. At E3 2013, Sony went out of its way to demonstrate its support of indie titles and developers, dedicating a large section of their booth area specifically to independent games. One of the games on display was Supergiant Games’ Transistor which I was able to play for a sizable chunk of time. The demo of Transistor began with text, explaining that assassins had been silencing the important voices of Cloudbank one by one and that Red, one of the most famous and beloved singers in the city, was next. These assassins, who belong to a group known as “The Process,” fail to kill Red, but succeed in taking her voice. Red is saved by clutching onto the Transistor, a sword-like device that contains a sentient intelligence and can absorb other minds into its own. The Transistor whisks Red to safety on the other side of Cloudbank, where it explains to her what it is and who The Process are. Red sheds her impractical singer’s garb and takes off on the run from the homicidal machines of The Process. As I progressed through the level, I encountered people who had recently died or were dying. The Transistor was able to communicate with them and convince their souls to come along on the adventure, absorbing them into itself. Each time this occurred, a new ability was unlocked to use in battle. After unlocking all the abilities in the demo, I was able to attack with a short-range shockwave, a long-range piercing laser, a devastating cluster bomb attack, and teleport dash through obstacles and enemies to use sneak attacks. Much like Supergiant Games’ critically acclaimed Bastion, combat occurs in real-time. However, players can now freeze time and plan out their next few moves in advance before executing them in quick succession. This adds a very enjoyable layer of strategy to engaging enemies in combat. Players won’t be able to use this ability continuously. A bar at the top of the screen depletes after each usage, and players will need to wait until it fills back up again to unleash their strategic fury upon their foes. There are light RPG elements to the combat, as well. You can see how much life enemies have and how much damage you do to them. After a combo done in strategic mode, a small message will appear next to an enemy which tells you how well you did against it. I actually laughed out loud after I unleashed a flurry of attacks against a boss creature and the message progressed from “Great!” to “Overkill” to “Seriously, can’t you read?” Transistor felt really at home on the PS4. The Supergiant team did a great job mapping the controls to appropriate and natural feeling buttons and creating a pretty self-explanatory HUD. Each attack was mapped to one of the controller’s face buttons, while R2 controlled the time freeze ability. There was just something intangibly satisfying about destroying enemies in both real-time and in the lightning strikes following the time freeze. Given that Red has lost her voice, the Transistor becomes her voice. It talks constantly, explaining the world and monologue-ing about the state of affairs in which the two find themselves. The demo ends with the Transistor urging her to escape, but Red silently riding her motorcycle back into the heart of Cloudbank with the amazed Transistor in tow. I honestly couldn't wait to see what happened next and how abilities would be expanded and improved further along in the game. Visually and audibly, Transistor impressed me. I even heard that someone (i.e. me) put the trailer for Supergiant Games’ next hit on loop in a YouTube playlist, just to hear its music and see the visuals. But don’t just take my word for it. You can watch the trailer below: Transistor will release in early 2014 on PS4 and PC. View full article
  17. In the midst of the insanity that made up E3 2013, I encountered a game called Pinstripe at the IndieCade booth. What followed was akin to a descent into surreal madness of the sort one might expect from a more malign Alice in Wonderland. With little introduction, I was thrust into the role of James Weaks, an absurdly wealthy man who is aboard a train with his wife. After being asked to retrieve my wife’s scarf, I was able to explore the various compartments of the train using the W, A, S, and D keys to move. As I moved through the train cars, I came into contact with various other passengers who chatted about their goals in life, before I was able to proceed. Once I obtained the scarf from several cars farther forward, I encountered what appeared to be a demonic cat. With some cryptic words, the cat vanished and the train wrecked itself in a snowy land. The haunting melodies of Pinstripe’s soundtrack played as I tried to get my bearings. Donning my wife’s scarf against the cold, I soldiered on through the ice. Soon I began to meet other survivors from the wreck, but all of them seemed different, obsessed with their desires. One of the first people I encountered was an alcoholic from the train, who was now obsessed with drinking the honey from black beehives. After retrieving a hive for him to eat, he allowed me through his shelter and I found a blunderbuss. With this weapon I was able to sever ropes and fight the enemies that had appeared; odd tear drop creatures with propellers that dropped oozing bombs. It became clear that not everything was right in the world. Pressing onward, I solved more problems from people who had been on the train and I met what seemed to be a dog from my childhood. I saw the fleeting image of my wife, running in the distance. Shortly after, I was told by the demonic cat that my wife was waiting at the hotel, a building off in the distance. To reach the hotel, I needed to take a boat across a lake. In a scene that brought to mind the crossing of the river Styx from Greek mythology, I was propelled on the boat by a lanky, oozing, black creature with a singular red eye for a head. Upon reaching the far shore, I disembarked (hoping never to see that monster again) and made my way into the nearby hotel where I was greeted by the demonic feline. At this point, my demonic guide revealed that the world was no longer the mortal world, but “a place where the selfish become more selfish” before vanishing into a puff of smoke. More than a little disturbed, I made my way to the top of the hotel, encountering fantastical creatures, like a strange spore-spider creature the size of an entire room. In the process of solving puzzles, I ran across a newspaper with a headline proclaiming the suicide of a certain Mr. James Weaks and a scrap of paper hinting that the pinstripe man might know of a way out of this world. More and more perplexed, I made my way to the room in which the cat had told me my wife would be, only to find a mannequin and the black cat, taunting me for my foolishness and condemning me to spend eternity within the room. Seemingly doomed to spend the rest of existence trapped and alone with my dog, I explored my prison. After fiddling with a singular mirror, a portal to another world was opened and I stepped though with my trusty dog companion. On the other side of the mirror, a crystalline wall arose and would not open, unless someone stood on a certain spot. Gently, my dog explained that it had been my loyal friend its entire life, and it would not stop being so now. Urging me to go on, it stood on the switch and allowed me to proceed – leaving him behind. It was a poignant moment and one that was followed by the conclusion of my time with Pinstripe. At its heart, Pinstripe is a 2D point-and-click adventure game with some light puzzle, action, and platforming elements. Overall, the impression I walked away from Pinstripe with was good. The surreal insanity of the world really engaged me and kept me wondering where the story would bring me next. The sound design and music are worth noting as well, given how well they blended with the simple and understated visuals. The actual gameplay was frankly a bit bland, but it was serviceable and it didn’t really need to be interesting given the intriguing aesthetic, sounds, music, and story. Pinstripe is being developed by one-man team Thomas Brush and will continue development until it is done, aiming for a release on PC sometime in 2013.
  18. In the midst of the insanity that made up E3 2013, I encountered a game called Pinstripe at the IndieCade booth. What followed was akin to a descent into surreal madness of the sort one might expect from a more malign Alice in Wonderland. With little introduction, I was thrust into the role of James Weaks, an absurdly wealthy man who is aboard a train with his wife. After being asked to retrieve my wife’s scarf, I was able to explore the various compartments of the train using the W, A, S, and D keys to move. As I moved through the train cars, I came into contact with various other passengers who chatted about their goals in life, before I was able to proceed. Once I obtained the scarf from several cars farther forward, I encountered what appeared to be a demonic cat. With some cryptic words, the cat vanished and the train wrecked itself in a snowy land. The haunting melodies of Pinstripe’s soundtrack played as I tried to get my bearings. Donning my wife’s scarf against the cold, I soldiered on through the ice. Soon I began to meet other survivors from the wreck, but all of them seemed different, obsessed with their desires. One of the first people I encountered was an alcoholic from the train, who was now obsessed with drinking the honey from black beehives. After retrieving a hive for him to eat, he allowed me through his shelter and I found a blunderbuss. With this weapon I was able to sever ropes and fight the enemies that had appeared; odd tear drop creatures with propellers that dropped oozing bombs. It became clear that not everything was right in the world. Pressing onward, I solved more problems from people who had been on the train and I met what seemed to be a dog from my childhood. I saw the fleeting image of my wife, running in the distance. Shortly after, I was told by the demonic cat that my wife was waiting at the hotel, a building off in the distance. To reach the hotel, I needed to take a boat across a lake. In a scene that brought to mind the crossing of the river Styx from Greek mythology, I was propelled on the boat by a lanky, oozing, black creature with a singular red eye for a head. Upon reaching the far shore, I disembarked (hoping never to see that monster again) and made my way into the nearby hotel where I was greeted by the demonic feline. At this point, my demonic guide revealed that the world was no longer the mortal world, but “a place where the selfish become more selfish” before vanishing into a puff of smoke. More than a little disturbed, I made my way to the top of the hotel, encountering fantastical creatures, like a strange spore-spider creature the size of an entire room. In the process of solving puzzles, I ran across a newspaper with a headline proclaiming the suicide of a certain Mr. James Weaks and a scrap of paper hinting that the pinstripe man might know of a way out of this world. More and more perplexed, I made my way to the room in which the cat had told me my wife would be, only to find a mannequin and the black cat, taunting me for my foolishness and condemning me to spend eternity within the room. Seemingly doomed to spend the rest of existence trapped and alone with my dog, I explored my prison. After fiddling with a singular mirror, a portal to another world was opened and I stepped though with my trusty dog companion. On the other side of the mirror, a crystalline wall arose and would not open, unless someone stood on a certain spot. Gently, my dog explained that it had been my loyal friend its entire life, and it would not stop being so now. Urging me to go on, it stood on the switch and allowed me to proceed – leaving him behind. It was a poignant moment and one that was followed by the conclusion of my time with Pinstripe. At its heart, Pinstripe is a 2D point-and-click adventure game with some light puzzle, action, and platforming elements. Overall, the impression I walked away from Pinstripe with was good. The surreal insanity of the world really engaged me and kept me wondering where the story would bring me next. The sound design and music are worth noting as well, given how well they blended with the simple and understated visuals. The actual gameplay was frankly a bit bland, but it was serviceable and it didn’t really need to be interesting given the intriguing aesthetic, sounds, music, and story. Pinstripe is being developed by one-man team Thomas Brush and will continue development until it is done, aiming for a release on PC sometime in 2013. View full article
  19. One of the indie titles on display at the Sony E3 booth was a game called Outlast. I stopped by to play Red Barrels’ heart-pounding descent into horror on the PS4. While waiting to play the game I took the opportunity to chat with a couple of the Outlast developers. With their goal being to “make the game as scary as possible,” I was told that Outlast relies heavily on paranoia, drawing upon the hair-raising Amnesia: The Dark Descent for inspiration. I was also told that they designed the game with somewhat unpredictable AI. Even while playtesting the game multiple times, enemies would do the unexpected and create organic scares. This means that few of the moments in Outlast are predetermined, scripted events. Scenarios employ an “ease in, ease out” where a scripted sequence will introduce a new enemy and their motivation, then concluding with another scripted sequence. In between these two segments, the AI will take over and direct the enemy’s actions for the majority of the gameplay segment. In Outlast, players take on the mantle of independent journalist Miles Upshur as he breaks into a remote asylum for the criminally insane in Colorado. Miles is on the trail of a compelling news story after receiving an anonymous tip that something was happening at the asylum. This is the situation in which I assumed control of Miles and began playing. Being a journalist, Miles’ constant companion throughout the game will be his trusty camera, through which he views almost all of the horrific events taking place within the asylum. The camera is his only tool, allowing him and the player to see in the darkness. The downside of this is that the camera runs on batteries. If you run out of batteries, your ability to see in the dark is drastically reduced and you are left very vulnerable. One of the hooks of Outlast is that there is no combat. You cannot fight the enemies, you can only run, hide, and pray that they don’t find you. After checking the front door of the asylum and finding it locked, Miles decides it would be a great idea to break in through an old set of scaffolding which leads up to a window. Upon entering, he sees blood all over the floor. For some suicidal reason he is undeterred and pushes on, despite seeing bodies and obvious signs that something has gone horribly wrong. By the time Miles figures out that the asylum is one of the worst places on earth it is too late and he is trapped in the depths of the asylum with some of the worst and most twisted criminal minds on the loose. Not all of the enemies will want to kill Miles immediately. This trades on the paranoia that Red Barrels wants to provide. Some of the inmates will have different reactions toward Miles ranging from benevolence to apathy to murderous hatred. The question most survival horror fans must be pondering: Is Outlast scary? Horror, like humor, is a subjective thing. However, in my time with Outlast I physically jumped, was unnerved, and made involuntary noises. The atmosphere is taut and nails the feeling of being in an abandoned building full of lunatics. As for the lunatics in question they were incredibly effective as nightmare material. In my estimation: Yes. Outlast is very scary and you can look forward to being terrified and entertained. Outlast will debut on PC at the end of summer, while the PS4 version will release in early 2014. Currently there are no plans to bring the title to Xbox One.
  20. One of the indie titles on display at the Sony E3 booth was a game called Outlast. I stopped by to play Red Barrels’ heart-pounding descent into horror on the PS4. While waiting to play the game I took the opportunity to chat with a couple of the Outlast developers. With their goal being to “make the game as scary as possible,” I was told that Outlast relies heavily on paranoia, drawing upon the hair-raising Amnesia: The Dark Descent for inspiration. I was also told that they designed the game with somewhat unpredictable AI. Even while playtesting the game multiple times, enemies would do the unexpected and create organic scares. This means that few of the moments in Outlast are predetermined, scripted events. Scenarios employ an “ease in, ease out” where a scripted sequence will introduce a new enemy and their motivation, then concluding with another scripted sequence. In between these two segments, the AI will take over and direct the enemy’s actions for the majority of the gameplay segment. In Outlast, players take on the mantle of independent journalist Miles Upshur as he breaks into a remote asylum for the criminally insane in Colorado. Miles is on the trail of a compelling news story after receiving an anonymous tip that something was happening at the asylum. This is the situation in which I assumed control of Miles and began playing. Being a journalist, Miles’ constant companion throughout the game will be his trusty camera, through which he views almost all of the horrific events taking place within the asylum. The camera is his only tool, allowing him and the player to see in the darkness. The downside of this is that the camera runs on batteries. If you run out of batteries, your ability to see in the dark is drastically reduced and you are left very vulnerable. One of the hooks of Outlast is that there is no combat. You cannot fight the enemies, you can only run, hide, and pray that they don’t find you. After checking the front door of the asylum and finding it locked, Miles decides it would be a great idea to break in through an old set of scaffolding which leads up to a window. Upon entering, he sees blood all over the floor. For some suicidal reason he is undeterred and pushes on, despite seeing bodies and obvious signs that something has gone horribly wrong. By the time Miles figures out that the asylum is one of the worst places on earth it is too late and he is trapped in the depths of the asylum with some of the worst and most twisted criminal minds on the loose. Not all of the enemies will want to kill Miles immediately. This trades on the paranoia that Red Barrels wants to provide. Some of the inmates will have different reactions toward Miles ranging from benevolence to apathy to murderous hatred. The question most survival horror fans must be pondering: Is Outlast scary? Horror, like humor, is a subjective thing. However, in my time with Outlast I physically jumped, was unnerved, and made involuntary noises. The atmosphere is taut and nails the feeling of being in an abandoned building full of lunatics. As for the lunatics in question they were incredibly effective as nightmare material. In my estimation: Yes. Outlast is very scary and you can look forward to being terrified and entertained. Outlast will debut on PC at the end of summer, while the PS4 version will release in early 2014. Currently there are no plans to bring the title to Xbox One. View full article
  21. One of the entirely new IPs brought to the Electronic Entertainment Expo by Square Enix, Murdered: Soul Suspect tasks players with solving one of the most difficult of all crimes: their own murder. After being killed under strange circumstances, Ronan O’Connor finds himself as a ghost in the land of the living. We were shown a section from the beginning of the game, involving the first investigative portion as well as the introduction of combat. The demo began with Ronan’s murder in the middle of a street at night. Feeling completely disoriented from his death, Ronan finds himself near his own body watching his murderer walk away from the scene of the crime. As police officers arrive on the scene and begin searching for clues, Ronan decides to help the investigation. Being an incorporeal ghost renders Ronan unable to directly interact with most objects or people. The objects that are solid to ghosts are known as “vestiges” and can be manipulated to progress through levels. This means that Ronan must use his wits and what vestiges or people he can influence to collect evidence and unravel the mystery surrounding his death. It also means that few walls have any meaning. Frequently, Ronan will be able to walk through walls, objects, and people to find new hints to take note of and observe. I was surprised to learn that Soul Suspect has one of the most logical explanations of why players can’t enter any building they choose that I’ve seen in a video game. The game is set in Salem, Massachusetts a place that has been historically superstitious and has had many of its buildings consecrated. Ghosts like Ronan cannot enter a consecrated space unless invited, as with an open door, which was demonstrated in the demo. Once within the structure, he can freely move through the walls and furniture. Another of Ronan’s ghostly abilities is mentally influencing or outright possessing people’s bodies. In one instance, there was one witness to Ronan’s murder (it was in the middle of the street after all) and the woman was so distraught she couldn’t answer the police officer’s questions coherently. Ronan was able to enter her mind and had the option of focusing her thoughts onto a variety of topics. After choosing thoughts of the killer, the witness became able to clearly describe what she saw of the murderer to the officer and indirectly to Ronan. As Ronan continues to collect clues, he begins to have flashbacks to the events leading up to his death and realizes he was shoved from a window before being killed in the street. Moving toward the house from which he fell, Ronan sees one of the officers leave a door open, which allows him to enter the home. At that point, the demonstrator pointed out that later on in the game Ronan would be able to make electrical equipment malfunction, distracting people into revealing clues or allowing Ronan to proceed. On his way to the top floor of the house, Ronan encounters a young ghost, who is unable to move on because she can’t find her body. This was one of the game’s many side-quests in which Ronan can solve side mysteries to help other deceased move on into the after-life. It was at this point that we were also introduced to the combat. In the world of Soul Suspect, there are ghosts who pass on and there are the ghosts that cling to the world of the living. The ones that remain eventually begin feeding on other ghosts, obsessed with the idea that if they consume enough souls they will become human again. These ghosts become demons and are incredibly deadly to Ronan if taken head-on, but that is where players need to get creative. The best way to destroy a demon is by possessing them unexpectedly. Demons can’t find a ghost who has possessed someone, so possessing a bystander and then jumping into a demon was one of the solutions presented to us in the demo. The other method we were shown involved Ronan’s teleport ability, which functions as a dash that can be used to surprise and destroy the insane spirit. We only saw one type of demon in the demo, but there should be several other types in the final game. As Ronan progresses through the house, he encounters various runes and psychic imprints on objects that all gave clues. After reaching the window he was thrown from, the game entered deduction mode in which the player must correctly order clues and events in the proper order by using logic and reasoning skills. Piecing together his memories of the event and the clues present at the scene of the crime, Ronan realizes that there was a second witness to the murder hiding in the room with him at the time, and that she has disappeared. With no further clues as to the identity of his killer, Ronan begins his search for the witness, the only one who could help him bring his murderer to justice. Murdered: Soul Suspect will be coming to PS3, Xbox 360, and PC in early 2014. View full article
  22. One of the entirely new IPs brought to the Electronic Entertainment Expo by Square Enix, Murdered: Soul Suspect tasks players with solving one of the most difficult of all crimes: their own murder. After being killed under strange circumstances, Ronan O’Connor finds himself as a ghost in the land of the living. We were shown a section from the beginning of the game, involving the first investigative portion as well as the introduction of combat. The demo began with Ronan’s murder in the middle of a street at night. Feeling completely disoriented from his death, Ronan finds himself near his own body watching his murderer walk away from the scene of the crime. As police officers arrive on the scene and begin searching for clues, Ronan decides to help the investigation. Being an incorporeal ghost renders Ronan unable to directly interact with most objects or people. The objects that are solid to ghosts are known as “vestiges” and can be manipulated to progress through levels. This means that Ronan must use his wits and what vestiges or people he can influence to collect evidence and unravel the mystery surrounding his death. It also means that few walls have any meaning. Frequently, Ronan will be able to walk through walls, objects, and people to find new hints to take note of and observe. I was surprised to learn that Soul Suspect has one of the most logical explanations of why players can’t enter any building they choose that I’ve seen in a video game. The game is set in Salem, Massachusetts a place that has been historically superstitious and has had many of its buildings consecrated. Ghosts like Ronan cannot enter a consecrated space unless invited, as with an open door, which was demonstrated in the demo. Once within the structure, he can freely move through the walls and furniture. Another of Ronan’s ghostly abilities is mentally influencing or outright possessing people’s bodies. In one instance, there was one witness to Ronan’s murder (it was in the middle of the street after all) and the woman was so distraught she couldn’t answer the police officer’s questions coherently. Ronan was able to enter her mind and had the option of focusing her thoughts onto a variety of topics. After choosing thoughts of the killer, the witness became able to clearly describe what she saw of the murderer to the officer and indirectly to Ronan. As Ronan continues to collect clues, he begins to have flashbacks to the events leading up to his death and realizes he was shoved from a window before being killed in the street. Moving toward the house from which he fell, Ronan sees one of the officers leave a door open, which allows him to enter the home. At that point, the demonstrator pointed out that later on in the game Ronan would be able to make electrical equipment malfunction, distracting people into revealing clues or allowing Ronan to proceed. On his way to the top floor of the house, Ronan encounters a young ghost, who is unable to move on because she can’t find her body. This was one of the game’s many side-quests in which Ronan can solve side mysteries to help other deceased move on into the after-life. It was at this point that we were also introduced to the combat. In the world of Soul Suspect, there are ghosts who pass on and there are the ghosts that cling to the world of the living. The ones that remain eventually begin feeding on other ghosts, obsessed with the idea that if they consume enough souls they will become human again. These ghosts become demons and are incredibly deadly to Ronan if taken head-on, but that is where players need to get creative. The best way to destroy a demon is by possessing them unexpectedly. Demons can’t find a ghost who has possessed someone, so possessing a bystander and then jumping into a demon was one of the solutions presented to us in the demo. The other method we were shown involved Ronan’s teleport ability, which functions as a dash that can be used to surprise and destroy the insane spirit. We only saw one type of demon in the demo, but there should be several other types in the final game. As Ronan progresses through the house, he encounters various runes and psychic imprints on objects that all gave clues. After reaching the window he was thrown from, the game entered deduction mode in which the player must correctly order clues and events in the proper order by using logic and reasoning skills. Piecing together his memories of the event and the clues present at the scene of the crime, Ronan realizes that there was a second witness to the murder hiding in the room with him at the time, and that she has disappeared. With no further clues as to the identity of his killer, Ronan begins his search for the witness, the only one who could help him bring his murderer to justice. Murdered: Soul Suspect will be coming to PS3, Xbox 360, and PC in early 2014.
  23. During the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD portion of Nintendo's pre-E3 conference, the company revealed some key aspects of the upcoming revamp to the classic GameCube title. Changes include some light integration of motion controls, like aiming bows or grappling hooks with the GamePad, some improved pacing changes, and fast travel has been added to the sea-faring portions of Wind Waker. After playing around with the game shortly after the pre-E3 show, I can confirm that the changes are in place and blend very well with the rest of the game. One of the three items available in the demo was the bow and arrow, which are now aimed with the GamePad. Admittedly, it takes some time to acclimate to lining up shots using motion controls. To make the game seem more smooth and natural, almost all pausing was worked out of the game. Inventory and equipment management has all been moved to the GamePad. Finally, it is still unclear how faster traveling will be implemented in Wind Waker HD. You might need a special item or have it from the first time you step aboard Link's magical, talking vessel. One feature from the original game, the Tingle Tuner, won't be reappearing in Wind Waker HD. Instead, Tingle Bottles replace the Game Boy Advance attachment item and provide all the same functionality. Players will also be able to send each other messages through the Miiverse. The feature to receive messages can block spoilers, block non-friend messages, or block all messages entirely. The most obvious way in which the title has been improved is in the graphical department. Brighter lighting, smoother lines, and bolder outlines all contribute to an update to a classic that many thought had aged well. Let me put it this way, the old Wind Waker looked great when it came out over a decade ago and many maintained that the cell-shaded art style would render it timeless. While it certainly has shown some slight signs of aging, the GameCube title still looks fantastic. With the Wind Waker HD looking noticeably better in many respects, it is incredibly hard to imagine a future version of the title looking any better than it does on the Wii U. For those worried that any significant changes might have been made to the story, characters, or world, I was assured by multiple Nintendo reps that, other than the Tingle Tuner, everything is the same as the GameCube version. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD will be available sometime in October 2013. View full article
  24. During the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD portion of Nintendo's pre-E3 conference, the company revealed some key aspects of the upcoming revamp to the classic GameCube title. Changes include some light integration of motion controls, like aiming bows or grappling hooks with the GamePad, some improved pacing changes, and fast travel has been added to the sea-faring portions of Wind Waker. After playing around with the game shortly after the pre-E3 show, I can confirm that the changes are in place and blend very well with the rest of the game. One of the three items available in the demo was the bow and arrow, which are now aimed with the GamePad. Admittedly, it takes some time to acclimate to lining up shots using motion controls. To make the game seem more smooth and natural, almost all pausing was worked out of the game. Inventory and equipment management has all been moved to the GamePad. Finally, it is still unclear how faster traveling will be implemented in Wind Waker HD. You might need a special item or have it from the first time you step aboard Link's magical, talking vessel. One feature from the original game, the Tingle Tuner, won't be reappearing in Wind Waker HD. Instead, Tingle Bottles replace the Game Boy Advance attachment item and provide all the same functionality. Players will also be able to send each other messages through the Miiverse. The feature to receive messages can block spoilers, block non-friend messages, or block all messages entirely. The most obvious way in which the title has been improved is in the graphical department. Brighter lighting, smoother lines, and bolder outlines all contribute to an update to a classic that many thought had aged well. Let me put it this way, the old Wind Waker looked great when it came out over a decade ago and many maintained that the cell-shaded art style would render it timeless. While it certainly has shown some slight signs of aging, the GameCube title still looks fantastic. With the Wind Waker HD looking noticeably better in many respects, it is incredibly hard to imagine a future version of the title looking any better than it does on the Wii U. For those worried that any significant changes might have been made to the story, characters, or world, I was assured by multiple Nintendo reps that, other than the Tingle Tuner, everything is the same as the GameCube version. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD will be available sometime in October 2013.
  25. After the last minute pre-E3 presentation by Nintendo yesterday morning, the company allowed the gathered journalists to play every game that they had talked about (with the exception of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS). I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to sit down and play A Link Between Worlds without distractions for 10 minutes. The goal of the demo was to make your way through a dungeon to the boss at the top of the tower. The first thing that I noticed is that the familiar control scheme of previous handheld Legend of Zelda entries has been altered slightly. The most notable change is that movement now occurs with the 3DS joystick rather than the D-pad. This small alteration actually changes the game quite a bit. You can now face in any number of angles as opposed to only facing up, down, left, right, and diagonal variations on those directions. On first loading up the game, you can immediately discern the unique graphical style that sets A Link Between Worlds apart from other top-down Zelda titles. The visuals draw from older depictions of Link found in early game manuals and combine that look with some light cell-shading elements from Zelda titles like Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. The 3D was on in full effect for the entire duration of my play, even though I normally leave it off or only slightly active. I found that the 3D added significantly to the experience, especially within the multi-floor dungeon that I played through. Starting out in the dungeon, I was equipped with a magic hammer capable of squashing springs for a certain amount of time and Link can use the squashed spring to propel himself to higher floors. The 3D capabilities of the system allowed me to see higher areas to which I could be sprung. However, within the first room I learned that the emphasis of the demo would be on Link’s new ability to meld into walls as a 2D drawing. At first, I thought that the wall melding trick would just be a gimmick used once to highlight its potential in the demo and then never be touched on again, but I was wrong. Many of the most creative puzzles revolved entirely around being able to read Link's environment and knowing when to become 2D and when to stay a normal shape. A great example of how this ability promotes outside-the-box kinds of thinking was at the point where I had reached the top of how far I could go within the tower. With no way out, I flailed around for a few seconds before noticing a grated window. Having exhausted all other options, I decided to try and go through the grate as 2D Link, and low and behold I went through the bars to discover that the second half of the dungeon was using the wall meld ability to navigate the outside of the dungeon. Being several floors up above the ground, stuck in a wall (which drains mana), and desperate to find a platform to emerge upon was a tense, fun experience. In my time with the demo dungeon, I managed to reach floor 9, which I was told was right before the dungeon boss. I found it to be a classic Zelda-style game with little improvements and tweaks that add depth to the game and create new and exciting puzzles to be solved. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds will be coming sometime soon to 3DS. View full article
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