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Amid claims the traditional console business is on its last legs and reports about the power of the next Xbox and PlayStation 4, the boss of Avalanche Studios, the developer of the Just Cause series, has warned better looking games on next generation consoles "won't save the game industry".
Christofer Sundberg told Eurogamer that it is essential the next consoles from Microsoft and Sony combine the strengths of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 with new business models so those who invest in making games see a suitable return.
Last month Ben Cousins, manager of Ngmoco Stockholm, predicted that in the next few years there will exist a free-to-play equivalent of single-player RPG Skyrim.
"I believe that single-player will be the next to be cracked in terms of freemium monetisation," he said. "And I'm talking about traditional, story-based, scripted, linear and non-linear single-player that we see on consoles.
"I am totally 100 per cent confident - I will bet large amounts of money - that we will have, in the next few years, a free-to-play equivalent of Skyrim. A game like Skyrim, where you accrue skills and equipment over time, that you can play for hundreds of hours, is actually one of the easiest games to develop for a free-to-play model. That would be a big hit."
Cousins said the future is freemium games where micro-transactions include gameplay features and functions that cause positive reactions. The average lifetime spend by a gamer here will be $60, predicted Cousins - the price of a new, boxed game. The difference is, however, that the audience for these games is potentially much larger than that for console games.
For Sundberg, who has teams working on next-generation games now for release in 2013 and 2014, Ngmoco's vision of the future is only "partly true".
"To sound exceptionally boring, I can't comment much on next-gen platforms," he said. "However, better looking games won't save the games industry - I can say that much.
"What companies such as Ngmoco have been talking about very actively in the press is partly true. Traditional business models are dead and if you want to survive as an independent studio you have to think outside the box."
Sundberg stopped short of agreeing with some commentators who have predicted the death of consoles. He imagines next-generation hardware fusing what hardcore console gamers expect with new ways for publishers to make money.
"I don't believe in the F2P model either and consoles are far from dead," he said. "How we combine the traditional consoles with new business models will be absolute key to success - not one way or the other.
"Since the recession of 2008/09 everybody has been looking for that Silver-bullet to save the games industry and jumps on every opportunity there is - developing a quirky PSN/XBLA game or building your own F2P game. That is suicide."
At GDC last month Unreal Engine maker Epic Games called on Microsoft and Sony to make the next Xbox and PlayStation 4 as powerful as "economically possible" to ensure both devices "remain relevant for another generation".
Reports have pegged the horsepower of the next Xbox at around six times the power of the Xbox 360. Others suggest visuals pumped out by high-end PCs using the DirectX 11 standard provide a glimpse at what will be possible.
Swedish developer Avalanche Studios has told Eurogamer Just Cause is "perfect" for the next Xbox and PlayStation 4.
The third game in the open world action series is rumoured to be one of Avalanche's in development games set for release in 2013 or 2014. If Just Cause 3 is a next-gen game, based on when we expect the next Xbox and PS4 to launch (in time for Christmas 2013), it could be a launch title.
"There is a very strong emotional attachment to the franchise as it was created by me and my design team here so we would obviously like to see a very bright future for Just Cause," Avalanche boss Christofer Sundberg told Eurogamer this afternoon.
"In this day and age when everyone is struggling to make money, my opinion is that the JC IP is perfect for everything that next-gen has to offer."
Avalanche has multiple projects on the go across its various studios. It's just announced a major recruitment drive aimed at expanding its studio operations in Stockholm and New York for work on current and next-gen console games. At least one of these titles will be announced before E3 in June.
Sundberg added: "As we've said before they are two pretty damn cool and big licenses which we have chosen to work on just because they allow us to create two new open-world/sandbox experiences in worlds where we've seen a lack of features that Avalanche Studios has to offer."
That Avalanche would embark on a third Just Cause game should come as no surprise. The second instalment was widely acclaimed, and recieved 8/10 in Eurogamer's Just Cause 2 review.
But Avalanche isn't a one-trick pony, and has since released tip-top twin-stick shooter Renegade Ops.
I had a friend who had synaesthesia. Sounds would form a iridescent fog over her vision, with different sounds creating different colours, and multiple sounds layering over one another; blue could be shot through with silver, or pockets of red would flare in a brown malaise. Most of the time, she said it was actually quite pleasant, as though she was seeing an extra layer to sound that was unique to her. Most of the time, it made her feel special.
Sometimes, when there was too much sound, or too many that conflicted, it would overwhelm. It would make it difficult to see, and difficult to think, with this violent storm of colour covering everything. It was only at those times that she ever claimed to 'suffer' from synaesthesia.
Proteus, a procedural exploration game by Ed Key, doesn't let you see what you hear. It lets you hear what you see.
Trees have a low bass that takes you by surprise the first time you hear it, but provides a steady musical bed for the higher melodies of fireflies and flowers, or the sudden tinkle and upwards cadence of a hopping rabbit. Synths and beats are laced throughout the entire island that the game generates specifically for you, layering all these sight-sounds over them, so that you have a constant aural texture building and building.
You break from the canopy of the woods, and the tone changes instantly. Without those bass notes everything feels suddenly more open, not nearly so constrained. Wheat fields and daisies have their own notes, too, but they can't match the power and majesty of the trees, or equal the spritely staccato of the animals. They have their own place, and their sound is more delicate, but just as pretty. They're worth visiting.
Playing the unfinished preview build, Proteus feels surprisingly complete, not least because the main structure of the game, where you move through the seasons from spring to winter, is fully in place. Each season has its own wildlife, and its own music, both the synth bed and the tones of vegetation and animals changing to match the march of the year.
And while you can't actively interact with anything in the world, the construction of melody and sound is enough. It's enough to know that you can go down to that clearing and change Spring to Summer, Summer to Autumn, Autumn to Winter, at any time. It's enough to wander over to a frog and watch it hop away, each movement soundtracked with an electronic buzz. You don't need to pick anything up, or solve any puzzles, to feel involved in a world.
That's the wonder of Proteus, as it stands. That this is a world that feels alive, and it feels as though you're a part of it. It doesn't matter that this is a bespoke island created just for you, or that there's a house with no occupant, or a field of gravestones without any explanation. It's enough to just wander, and have the world sing to you. But it's so much, so constantly, that it threatens to overwhelm. The sounds flood your ears as you drink in the sights, and you can get lost in it all. The seasons, each with their own distinct feel, build a narrative that is bitter sweet at best.
Right now, Proteus is a beautiful, wonderful game. It's unique, and it provides an experience that is quite unlike anything I've come across before. The more that gets added to flesh out these pocket worlds that the game creates for you can only to the majesty of it all. Ed Key, the developer, talks about the game in terms of EPs and LPs, as if they were musical records, and if this is the EP, the small collection of songs that lead into the release of a full blown album, then consider me well and truly teased.
I can't wait to hear it.
The Just Cause movie is called Just Cause: Scorpion Rising.
Bryan Edward Hill (Broken Trinity: Pandora's Box, 7 Days From Hell) is rewriting the script originally penned by Michael Ross, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
As previously revealed, the movie focuses on the origin of The Scorpion, aka Rico Rodriguez.
Producers Adrian Askarieh and Eric Eisner are yet to take the film to movie studios or financiers. Last year the pair said they hoped the Just Cause flick would emulate Bond film Casino Royal.
Backing previous rumours, The Hollywood Reporter claims a third video game in the Just Cause series is in development. This was reportedly set for launch in 2012, but Avalanche told Eurogamer it will not release a game that year.
So, as of now, Avalanche hasn't confirmed Just Cause 3 as a project. The Swedish studio told Eurogamer it has two "huge" titles in development. Both are scheduled for 2013.
A complimentary download of 2008 adventure Tomb Raider: Underworld headlines the latest PlayStation Plus content update.
You'll also get early access to a GoldenEye 007 demo and savings on a number of other titles, including Burnout Crash, Rocket Knight and 4 Elements HD.
The following offers are available until 4th January 2012 unless otherwise stated:
From 7th December:
From 14th December:
Danish Hitman developer IO Interactive will work on new IP following the completion of Hitman Absolution.
That's what studio head Niels Sorensen is reported to have told Gamasutra.
There was, however, no mention of what this new IP will be.
Sorensen explained that after Hitman Absolution, released next year, part of IO will go on to collaborate with new studio Square Enix Montreal on a brand new next-gen Hitman game. The rest of IO, Sorensen said, will begin work on the new IP.
"When people work on the same IP for some time, I believe that there's a sort of creative drain," Sorensen told Gamasutra. "Thankfully we managed to make sure we keep focusing on different IPs and keeping people fresh."
"We've built an incubation department whose focus is work on new IP and prototypes, and all sorts of things for existing and new IP. And that's a really interesting sort of secret place where they cook up a lot of new things."
IO has tried new IP for much of this seventh generation of consoles. The last Hitman game released was Blood Money in 2006, which was a last-gen game tarted up for Xbox 360. And what fun it was.
After Blood Money, IO embarked on gritty new co-op shooter Kane & Lynch. The series started confidently in 2007 with Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, but plummeted below average with sequel Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days in 2010.
In between the Kane & Lynch games, IO tried yet another new tack: kid-friendly action game Mini Ninjas, which was forgettable but enjoyable.
So, where will IO go next?
As a hormonal and tone-deaf teen I went to see Megadeth live. Despite my unfathomable love for speed metal with Sylvester the Cat-style vocals, their support act Pantera stole the show. I could only pity Megadeth for having to follow Pantera's aural sledgehammer of a performance and I feel the exact same kind of pity for Deus Ex: Invisible War - for it had the unfortunate task of following up a game that would come to be seen as a classic at a time when the technology or budget couldn't match the team's vision.
By now you've probably read or heard all about the first Deus Ex countless times in the build up to the release of Human Revolution. How it's a masterpiece, how it changed gaming, how Human Revolution has a massive legacy to live up and how Eidos Montreal's game better not be another Invisible War.
These days it seems that no one has anything good to say about the black sheep of the Deus Ex family. The mention of its name brings back old wounds for those who worked on it. Human Revolution's developers talked of the 2003 sequel as "a cautionary tale", a what-not-to-do lesson for their reboot of the franchise. Every mention of it on discussion forum involves sage nodding of heads and plenty of backslapping chat about just how dreadfully disappointing it was.
And they're right. I'm not going to argue that Invisible War is a better game than Deus Ex. That kind of talk would only end with me being carted off in a straitjacket. But despite its many mistakes, Invisible War is nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests. In fact, in a few ways it's actually better than the original (and now I think might be the time to install that flame-retardant biomod).
For a start it's a better shooter than Deus Ex. For a series that prides itself on player agency the tricky gun play of the first game nudged people towards creeping around rather than allowing them to choose between being a sneak or acting like RoboCop.
Then there's the universal ammo concept. No more messing around rearranging ammo in your inventory like an obsessive compulsive - just one clip to rule them all.
Sure the execution wasn't spot on as nothing told you how much ammo each weapon would drain, but the basic concept certainly didn't do Mass Effect 2 any harm. There were also some great biomods like the nanobot spy drone that you could use to scout an area before piloting it up a military bot's rear end and letting it dissipate in an EMP blast.
That said, for every decent addition Invisible War screwed up somewhere else. It reduced hacking to waiting for a bar to fill up. Even worse, it then rubbed that in by robbing us of the joy of playing a nosy parker who gets their kicks from reading emails that provide tiny insights into life as a bored office worker from the future. The scale of the areas in the game is another bugbear, each seemingly squashed down to the size of a bedsit to help Invisible War to fit on the Xbox.
But some of the other criticisms levelled at the game are really questions of design preferences, like the controversial decision to remove the mixing and matching of the skills and augmentations that let you mould a JC Denton of your own design in the original. Instead of this freedom, Invisible War gives you a miserly five biomod slots to fill.
After the freedom of Deus Ex it felt as confining as the game's bonsai maps, but this restriction also made each choice more meaningful and important. Do you sacrifice the ability to regenerate your health at will in order to have the spy drone option? Invisible War simply decided you couldn't have your cake and eat it. And that's kind of fitting because Invisible War's morally ambiguous tale is rather bleak.
The opening sets the tone with the destruction of Chicago by a suicide bomber who unleashes a nanotech bomb that turns the windy city and its citizens into grey goo. For a game released at the height of post-9/11 fears about dirty bombs and Islamist terrorism, the topicality can't be missed.
Later down the line - and once you leave Seattle the game really gets into its stride - there are plagues caused by nanotech pollution, exclusive enclaves where the rich enjoy a pampered life while the rest of the population lives in shanty towns, and genetic purists who think nothing of killing children to further their cause.
And then there's the Omar - a sinister group of hive-mind cyborgs that echo the cybermen off Doctor Who. Their creepy, barely human personalities make you almost feel sorry for the arrogant Leo Jankowski when they decide he should join them in their blue frog suit club. Almost but not quite. Hell, even Tracer Tong now regrets his actions in the first Deus Ex.
On top of that you're not even really the hero, but a cipher being played by vying factions who want to impose their vision on the world. As such the endings you can choose are really a choice between the lesser of four evils rather than any world-saving glory moment. Games don't usually do bleak; usually there's a pat on the back for being a winner. Invisible War instead simply makes you question whatever reasoning you use to justify your actions.
Still there's always the secret nightclub finale if that's all too much. Although that involves something about flushing an American flag down the loo, so you'd probably just cause the Tea Party to rise up and who knows what they would be capable of in an age of biomodification.
It's not all bad. There's the amusing tit-for-tat competition between the Pequod's and Queequeg's coffee shops with their nanotech coffees that whiten your teeth as well as wake you up. And who couldn't enjoy the chats with the holographic AI pop star NG Resonance who moonlights as a police informant - guess that's what happens in a future where no one pays for music.
That said Invisible War's overall attempt at creating a truly malleable story didn't really work. It's too easy to shift allegiance at any point, which undermines the meaning of your choices, and you can miss important parts of the story by sticking to one faction too much.
Invisible War is destined to spend its future living in the shadow of the game that came before it and, now, the game that came after it. But there's enough Deus Ex pixie dust within Invisible War for it to deserve a better fate than being remembered for what it is not rather than for what it is.
Sheldon Pacotti, the video game developer who wrote the first two Deus Ex games, has revealed his indie game, Cell: emergence.
Cell: emergence, due out before the end of September on PC and the Xbox Live Indie Games platform, is based on voxels. You pilot a nanobot through the body of a sick little girl, melting infections with self-replicating colloids, building shields and pathways with buckyfibers, and shredding germs with monofilament daisycutter depth-charges. Or something.
"The visual style looks low-fi and even retro, but that is because the bulk of the processing is dedicated to a deep simulation that extends down to every voxel in the world," he told Eurogamer.
The game's mechanics are based on "dynamic voxels" - voxels which contain not just visual data but also game-state.
Arcade action is layered on top of a "cellular automata" simulation of the human body.
Pacotti's studio, New Life Interactive, has released a video that shows off the simulation. It's below.
"We assert that such 'massively reactive' mechanics could add life to the next generation of video games," he said.
"Massively reactive describes game mechanics that leverage massive processing power for game interactions, rather than just visuals," Pacotti continued.
Sheldon Pacotti is best known for co-writing the first two Deus Ex games both won critical acclaim for their storytelling.
Stockholm-based Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios has just set up an outpost in New York to create a new IP for next-gen systems.
All it's saying right now is that the game will be "AAA", ex-Mindspark creative lead Roland Lesterlin is directing and it's targeting a 2014 release.
The new office, headed up by former Activision and Atari executive David Grijns, will also develop titles for handhelds and PC. It plans to employ 50 staff during its first two years of operation.
"While most developers and publishers are focused on expanding (or contracting) their operations in over-crowded industry centers such as Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle, New York provides us with a diverse talent pool from which to create our next big console title," commented Avalanche Studios founder Christofer Sundberg.
Sundberg shouldn't have too much trouble finding potential recruits in the region. Earlier this week, THQ announced it was closing down Kaos Studios, the New York-based developer behind Homefront.
Avalanche is also working on twin-stick shooter Renegade Ops for PC, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, due out later this year.
Swedish developer Avalanche Studios has just announced a downloadable PC, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network game called Renegade Ops its first foray into the digital download space. But does this mean the company has turned its back on big budget games?
Not a chance in fact it's working on two "huge" licenses due out in 2013.
"I wouldn't say instead of, I would say we'll do both," Renegade Ops senior producer Andreas Thorsén told Eurogamer.
"We will continue to do hardcore triple-A games and downloadable games."
In March last year Avalanche launched the Square Enix-published open world action game Just Cause 2.
So what about Just Cause 3 then?
"I can't see that Avalanche wouldn't want to continue on the Just Cause series," Thorsén said. "We love that franchise."
Avalanche founder and original concept creator of Just Cause Christofer Sundberg explained to Eurogamer that while the Stockholm-based studio does not own the Just Cause intellectual property, it remains intrinsically linked to it.
"I can't really comment on the future of Just Cause," he said, "but as we created the IP there is an attachment to the studio even though we don't own the IP."
"We are not finished with traditional boxed retail games by far. We have two huge licenses that we work on to be released in 2013.
"Can't say anything about them at this point."
One of those "huge" licenses is thought to be an action game based on the upcoming flick Mad Max 4: Fury Road.
In September last year Eurogamer revealed that God of War II director and writer Cory Barlog was working with Avalanche on an unannounced game.
"I can't comment on the projects we are working on," Sundberg said at the time, "but Cory is working here with us in Stockholm as you have probably read on his Twitter recently."
But what's the other "huge" game?