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Thunder Lotus Games, the maker of the Norse mythology action-exploration game Jotun, has announced a new project, based on a wholly different sort of pantheon, called Sundered. As creative director William Dub explained on the PlayStation Blog, it's a horrifying fight for survival and sanity in a ruined world filled with eldritch horrors.
Sundered is a game that builds on the strengths of Jotun: Hand-drawn art, epic boss battles, and great immersion, Dub said. However, we know Jotun was far from perfect. With Sundered, we ve added more complex mechanics, tons of replayability, and meaningful choices. We ve gone into a darker universe heavily inspired by Lovecraft s writings.
Dub described Sundered as mainly a replayable Metroidvania, close to Rogue Legacy and Super Metroid. The game world is procedurally generated, there will be multiple endings, and your abilities will be corruptible, which sounds interesting. Resist or embrace, as the tagline says. Harness the power of corrupted relics to defeat gigantic bosses, at the cost of your humanity.
There's not much to see yet at either Thunder Lotus' website or on Steam, but they're both live if you'd like to take a peek, and we've got a short trailer and some screens to look at too. Sundered is currently expected to be ready for launch sometime in 2017.
Campo Santo, the studio behind the watching-for-fire simulator Firewatch, revealed today that it has partnered with motion picture production company Good Universe to develop new videogame and film projects beginning with a feature film based on Firewatch.
When we met Good Universe we were floored by how they recognize, cultivate, and produce incredible stories, Campo Santo co-founder Sean Vanaman told The Hollywood Reporter. It's rare you meet another group that shares so many of your values and makes the process of creating things even more exciting. We can't wait to see what we make together.
We're thrilled to announce our partnership with Good Universe! https://t.co/hSI25Mu9TNSeptember 26, 2016
Firewatch, as a very linear and relatively non-interactive videogame, is an obvious fit for a movie translation, and I've seen a few people say that it might actually make for a better movie than a game. I don't agree: Walking simulator aspersions notwithstanding, I thought Firewatch did a fantastic job of instilling the feeling of persistent isolation and the tricks it can play, and of capturing the unearthly beauty of the deep forest with its bold, and decidedly unrealistic, visual style. The story could serve as the basis for an interesting, if ultimately conventional, in-the-woods thriller, but that's a long way from what I would say is the Firewatch experience.
But hey, your mileage may vary. And since casting choices haven't been announced, let's do that instead. I'll go first: I think Rich Sommer would be a great Henry, and I'll go with, say, Cissy Jones as Delilah. Other ideas?
The Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA have acquired Team Dignitas and Apex, becoming the first North American pro sports franchise to own and operate its own esports team. The 76ers said the two outfits will be merged under the Team Dignitas name, and will field teams in League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, and Smite.
The 76ers and its ownership group, which holds other pro sports teams including the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and the English Premier League team Crystal Palace FC, will directly manage the day-to-day operations of the newly-unified Team Dignitas, sharing best practices in sponsorship, sales, branding, digital marketing, merchandising, publicity and more, the team said. Michael O'Dell, formerly the managing director of the pre-merged Dignitas, will assume the role of president of the new team, while former Apex owner Michael Slan will step in as vice-president and general manager. Greg Richardson of Rumble Entertainment will serve as chairman.
The attractiveness of this deal is as much about the people as it is the opportunity, Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O Neil said. Bringing together gaming industry luminaries including Greg Richardson, Michael O Dell and David and Michael Slan puts us on track to build the most respected and dominant franchise in the esports space, spur fan engagement, and reimagine corporate sponsorship to create a vibrant, global e-arena where the greatest players in the world aspire to compete.
The 76ers aren't the first pro sports organization to get involved in esports: German soccer team Schalke picked up LoL team Elements earlier this year, and Premier League clubs West Ham and Manchester City have their own pro FIFA players. But in terms of scope, and also of visibility in the North American makret, this easily outstrips them all, and it puts Team Dignitas and the 76ers in a uniquely powerful and privileged position. I expect other teams will follow their lead.
GOG Connect launched earlier this year as a means to allow users to transfer select DRM-free Steam games to their GOG libraries. Assuming said games exist in the CD Projekt Red-owned distribution platform s catalogue, and the relevant developer has agreed to take part in the process, Connect scans your Steam collection before permanently making the switch, free of Steam s copyright protection.
The initiative premiered in June with resounding success , thus GOG has returned to announce the second major batch of GOG Connect titles 17 in total. These include:
In other GOG-related news, the platform has just launched a Back To School Sale which houses individual discounts and bargain bundles on a range of games. Deals change daily, however today s include Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines for 5.19/$6.66, Day of the Tentacle Remastered for 5.49/$6.99, Dragon Age: Origins Ultimate Edition for 5.99/$7.69, and Dying Light: The Following Enhanced Edition for 19.99/$25.79.
The Back to School sale is on now until 11pm BST/3pm PT Sunday, October 2. The list of discounts in its entirety can be perused this-a-way.
Sunless Sea is getting a sequel (not a sea-quel, unfortunately for pun fans), which is set in ruddy space. You can read all about that here, but before space comes a bit more soggy sea, specifically the bit underneath it, which you can explore in Sunless Sea's upcoming Zubmariner expansion. That's due out on October 11, but we can watch the launch trailer now.
Nicely written text! A slowly moving sea vessel! This looks like Sunless Sea alright, and I like that a bit of frantic drumming, and rapid editing, is all that's required to big that up.
I see that Chris added a disclaimer to his post on Sunless Skies, so I'll add one here too. Long-time PC Gamer contributor Richard Cobbett is a writer for Sunless Sea, and maybe the Zubmariner expansion too.
This week on the Mod Roundup, a Fallout 4 mod connects almost all of the game's subway stations with a network of tunnels, giving you a new way to travel the wasteland. Also, an ancient Half-Life multiplayer mod resurfaces, and a mod for No Man's Sky makes it easier to summon your ship while wandering a planet's surface.
Here are the most promising mods we've seen this week.
Looking for an alternate route through Fallout 4's wasteland? Head underground. This mod connects most of the world's subway stations with tunnels, giving you a subterranean travel option. The tunnels aren't empty, naturally, but are populated with ghouls, raiders, and mutants some would describe as super. They will have to be dealt with before you can travel safely, and once you clear them out they won't repopulate. You'll also find some beds down in the tunnels, if you're a survival mode enthusiast.
It took a little time roughly 13 years but a Half-Life multiplayer mod has resurfaced. Threewave, originally a Quake mod, was found in an unfinished state as part of the 2003 Valve server hack. It's been re-discovered and patched into a playable state. You can watch an informative Valve News Network video about the history of Threewave here.
Some mods just make you say "Ahhh, thank you." Like this one, which adds more... I don't know what they're called, exactly. Those things you can summon your ship with using a bypass chip. In vanilla No Man's Sky, wandering far from your ship is a dubious prospect, because if you can't find one of those things you wind up having to wander all the way back. More things equals more wandering equals more freedom. Good stuff.
Failbetter Games, maker of Sunless Sea, has announced its next game: a sequel to its murky Victorian naval exploration adventure called Sunless Skies. A post on Failbetter's site titled "7 Facts About Our Next Game" gives us a few details, namely that it will provide another world "rich with stories" that will "elaborate on Sunless Sea" by enhancing the original's features and refining its systems. As you may have guessed, Sunless Skies takes place in space. If you're wondering why there's no sun in space, which is typically according to top scientists filled with a whole bunch of stars, the post explains this, sort of:
"The stars are dying. The stars are the Judgements: the inventors, arbiters and enforcers of the universe s laws but a revolution has begun, and the stars are being murdered."
Despite the obvious early blunder of not naming the game STAR MURDER! yes, with all caps and a slammer Failbetter goes on to outline its plans for Sunless Skies. It is following in the original's wake and will seek crowdfunding through a Kickstarter campaign scheduled for February (Sunless Sea gathered just over 100,000 during its campaign) to be followed by a stint in Early Access. Failbetter says the game is currently in pre-production, so hopefully we'll see some art conceptual or screenshots soon.
In the interest of disclosure, long-time PC Gamer contributor Richard Cobbett was a writer for the original game, though I just saw on Twitter that he states he is not currently involved in the sequel.
I'm not sure exactly what is going on in Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor, but I do know that on my first day of picking up trash in a bustling alien bazaar I wound up eating an eyeball, wandering a labyrinth, and being cursed with a hovering skull that now follows me everywhere, periodically roaring and lunging at me. I met an alien who told me that I could remove the curse, but I haven't attempted to do so yet because having a screaming skull follow me everywhere is kind of cool. It's the closest thing I've got to a friend, and I'm not ready to shed it quite yet.
In this "anti-adventure game" from developer Sundae Month you play as a custodian, picking up garbage, trinkets, food or food-ish items, vomit (sometimes your own, depending on what sort of food-ish items you were brave enough to eat), and either incinerating these items, trying to sell them to vendors, or holding onto them in hopes they might come in handy later. The stated goal is to earn enough money to leave the spaceport, but I always seem to be short of cash since I'm not paid much for my job, vendors almost never want to buy my crap, and, on one occasion, an alien stopped me on the street and simply ate most of my money.
The spaceport itself is an enjoyable place to wander: colorful and filled with shops and sights, a 3D environment populated by 2D aliens and monsters. Some look like fried eggs on legs, some look like walking turnips, and there are lizard guys and bird people and ghosts and robots and blobs and aliens. It really does feel like an interplanetary flea market.
I've been alternating my activities, spending one day picking up and burning as much trash as I can find there's a lot and spending the following day just exploring, seeing what vendors have for sale, trying to learn my way around, and getting shrieked at by the ever-present floating skull. I don't know the purpose of most of the trinkets I find, if they indeed have one, but I've discovered that candles can be placed outside shrines as an offering, which may improve my character's luck. Luck comes in handy at lotto machines, which reward you, once a day, with a free item. My luck, thus far, has not been good, which may be due to that damned skull curse that I'm unwilling to cure.
Most NPCs are just scenery, but there are a number you can talk to and accept quests from. I'm currently bringing any empty containers I find to one of them, who has promised me a reward when I bring him a certain amount. I'm not sure what that amount is he won't tell me and I'm a little exasperated at what he considers a container. An empty coffee cup I found apparently doesn't count. He's picky like that.
You do need to eat at least once a day (I'd recommend buying food rather than eating stuff off the ground) or you won't be able to sleep, which you also need to do once a day. You also need to visit a 'gendershift' terminal every few days, and if you delay the screen begins to go a bit wonky and the text becomes garbled. The genders are alien ones: so far, I've been Hellgender, Artisnal Femme, Aggramoprh, and was once even told "Your gender is now DIRT. You feel amazing!" I did feel amazing, in fact. The skull roared, perhaps in agreement.
I found a post from a member of the development team on the Steam forums about the idea behind changing and choosing your character's gender:
"Multiple people on the team are nonbinary, trans, or otherwise gender nonconforming," the post reads.
"Gender in the game reflects the way gender in real life works (tho certain aspects are maybe emphasized). Gender is highly pathologized in our society and feeling okay about it often requires spending money on expensive treatments, or struggling through constant dysphoria something represented by the screen and text effects. And, as an alien, it doesn't really make sense to have gender that aligns with human social expectations, so we felt this was an opportunity to do something potentially interesting.
"As with everything about the game, we totally encourage people to form their own interpretations! "
Much as I like my pet skull, lately I've been considering trying to break the curse. I'm afraid I might regret it, but its roaring is getting a little tiresome. I found a ziggurat I could climb, the one place in the game the skull will not follow me, and it was very peaceful up there without all its screaming. It was waiting patiently for me at the bottom of the steps, however, when I came back down. Like a dog. A loyal, shrieking, skeletal dog.
By the way, a wonderful thing about Diaries is that you can even keep your own in-game diary. Every night before you go to sleep, you can write up the day's events. Below you can page through a few of my diary entries. I guess it's a bit of a bleak read, but the life of a cursed alien spaceport janitor isn't an easy one.
Ubisoft Toronto level design director Matt West will never approve a four-meter-high wall. Three-meter-high walls look scalable, he told me over the phone, and five-meter-high walls look unscalable, but four meters high? That s a confusing wall. You ve got to run up to it and mash a key to find out if you can climb it screw that, get rid of it.
West works on some of Ubisoft s big open world games, including Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal, which feature vast environments. At the same time, another level designer, Nina Freeman, is wondering what someone s bathroom might look like. Freeman started her career studying poetry in New York, where she developed an appreciation for 70s and 80s poets and vignettes about ordinary life and people s life experiences. She s now a level designer at Gone Home developer Fullbright, working on science fiction exploration game Tacoma, and thinking about how people live on a spaceship: What s on the dinner table? Who left a sock on the floor?
Freeman probably thinks about wall height too, but level design is such a broad pursuit that gunfights and Jeeps and mountain tops and stray socks exist in the same discipline. It involves psychology and storytelling and logic mechanisms and architecture and ecology. Rand Miller, one of the creators of Myst (along with his brother, Robyn Miller) and the recent Obduction, was designing levels nearly 30 years ago as black and white still frames, and says he still hasn t really figured it out yet completely.
I interviewed West, Freeman, and Miller as well as a couple other level designers over email looking for commonalities in their work. I wanted to see what sort of tricks they use to guide players. Putting a light at the end of a hallway, according to West, will nearly always attract the player s attention and that s the sort of thing I was after. But 10 wild and wacky tricks level designers use to totally Criss Angel mindfreak us didn t turn out to be exactly the story I found. What fascinated me is how much else these designers share in common, whether they re making a firefight or a puzzle or a crumpled note on a kitchen floor, and how they seek to gently guide us toward clever thoughts.
West describes level design as the practical counterpart to game design s theoretical art if a creative director decides what kinds of decisions and experiences should be in a game, the level designer creates specific decisions and experiences. Even on the practical side of game design I found that there s a lot of theory, but wall height is important too. In the practical work and testing, you see echoes of the big ideas.
When there are boundaries that aren t walls, for instance, Warframe s lead level designer Ben Edney tries to make them clear, but at the same time, not obvious through differences in materials and lighting. Before having heard that, I coincidentally asked Miller how he makes his obscure worlds, which hint at puzzle solutions, clear, but not obvious. He laughed and acted flustered. That s one of the challenges he s been experimenting with throughout his life.
It s all experimental, as far as Miller is concerned. He got his start designing levels for children s games such as The Manhole. The advantage we had is it was just a mouse and one button, and we could sit a kid in front of it and watch what they do, and it was amazing how kids and adults did the same thing in front of those early games, said Miller. They d click on the same spot, you could entice them to click somewhere, entice them to go somewhere, and we had to figure out how to give them continuity, connect all the dots.
As a puzzle designer, Miller has a somewhat unique perspective he wants players to be stumped, at least for a little bit but the dots should all be there to see so we can connect them. At one point in Obduction, the player is asked to restore power to a building (aren t we always) and the solution is to look up, see a powerline, and follow it, a literal connection.
It s amazing how many people, though, walk out of that hut and don t see it, don t put that together," said Miller. "But at some level, then, it s not up to me anymore. We did our job.
In that case, the powerline was enough. But watching testers fumble to make sure they only fumble so much does often lead to changes. The week before Obduction was released, for instance, Miller and the team added a license plate to a desk. We put it there because we were seeing a lack of connection, and hearing it from some of our testers, and that small little change gives people, a lot of times, just the push it might even be subconscious a subconscious push to make a connection to something that was important in that space.
Aside from keeping players on track with well-placed license plates, I heard a few things that might be called tricks that Criss Angel headline isn t bad, so don t count it out for the future such as using enemy pathing to direct the player. But what I found more of were good old fashioned architectural principles, such as what Warframe s Edney calls hierarchy of space.
This is essentially designing our crazy sci-fi levels with the same considerations one might plan a new building in the real world, Edney wrote. Main through-paths are open, clear of obstacles, and generally inviting when first entering a room. Side rooms and access hallways are tighter, more defined in their usage and utilitarian.
The same goes for Freeman and Tacoma. She s concerned with spaces people live in, and how they re laid out in our world be it natural or cultural, it s what we already experience. Bedrooms are typically tucked away in the backs of houses, not the front. More fundamentally human, if you find a kitchen, you should probably find a bathroom somewhere in the same area. Granted, Tacoma takes place on a spaceship, so there s also room for set pieces that aren t going to be totally plausible but as long as they re plausible enough the player can get around with their already-learned understanding of architecture.
Good architecture is one aspect, but designers have to support the game design as well, and give players the opportunity for clever solutions a game where you can scale walls would suck if 90 percent of walls weren t scalable. And there s balance to find between complex mazes and stifling linearity.
Earlier in West s career he worked on Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which he describes as linear, but Splinter Cell linear meaning that there was always more than one way to approach a problem. There d be a center path, more brightly lit and obvious than the others, for instance, and contrasting paths to either side. Maybe one goes to the left and below and the other to the right and above. And all of them should feel like good choices.
In the world, there definitely are dead ends, and I ve had level designers kind of glibly inform me of that fact, said West. But in a game, it just takes the wind right out of your sails. The whole thing is about making players feel smart, making players feel like they re intuitively selecting good routes, but then smacking into a wall? That is a personal pet peeve of mine.
Now that he works on open world games, West has many more paths to think about than he did with Splinter Cell as many as the players want. Out there in the wild, big landmarks in the distance give guidance, and that s a major principle of Obduction s design as well: there s literally a big red beam on the horizon. You can t even see what the source is, said Miller. But we knew when we put it there that everyone would head over that direction, of course they do.
For West, open world level design is about getting out of the player s way, letting them tell their own story. It s almost like you re dressing kids to go play outside in the winter, he said, recalling a conversation with a recently-hired junior level designer. You re giving them scarves, hats, and boots and all that stuff, but eventually they re going to go outside and throw snowballs. So we re just preparing them so that they can do that stuff, but we re not telling them to throw exactly 13 snowballs and then take cover behind a tree.
He has another metaphor: a buffet table with all the different types of foods the player could want. The food is actually elements of the game design and different playstyles, of course so if the player wants to stealthily eat a banana, it s there. If they want to throw a steak at someone, that s an option as well. I might be mixing up his metaphors. The point is that West tells young designers to pull back on any urge to design specific action sequences.
The player is the best storyteller, said West. If I see this kind of elaborate set up, and the level designer is saying, Enemies are going to come in from here, and then there s going to be a big swinging scythe, and then you have to jump to this spot, and turn and fire, I will just turn around and tell her, No, we re not doing that. We re going to say the scythes can be there, and the enemies can be there, but there s got to be three or four or five ways to get out of this situation.
Miller also employs open areas and branching paths, and our conversation took West s thoughts about preparing players further. Miller compares games to trips to foreign countries, in that the unfamiliarity can be stressful at first.
We realized that providing people completely wide open space to start with, with options in every direction that you can just click anywhere and do anything is not a very reassuring way to start a game, he said. People don t respond well to that. They feel a little inhibited, they are uncomfortable with so many options.
As a result, Obduction begins in a cave which is very similar to Fallout 3 starting in a vault with only one direction to go. Outside of the cave, there s a canyon that begins to widen. (West also mentioned that widening paths attract players, while narrowing corridors do the opposite.) As the canyon widens, there s still only one way to go the world is expanding, but the player is still comfortably going in one direction and then a man gives you a goal: go to the house with the white picket fence.
It was very deliberate that we gave you the goal before we branched open the path, said Miller. Because now you have the assurances of, Well I have the white picket fence in my pocket, I know I can go there eventually, and you feel the freedom to start making some choices without anxiety. Now it s interesting to see what players do depending on their style, whether they re rebellious and like, Screw you, I m not going to the white house with the white picket fence, I m going over here to the second path that you didn t tell me to go on.
Well, they can act all rebellious but the fact of the matter is they re only doing that, they only have that rebellion in them, because they have the security of the little goal in the distance.
Freeman is less interested in how players might find their way through a canyon, and more interested in the little details of life. She loves the bar in the game Catherine, for instance, where the player can sit with friends, go to the bathroom and look at their phone, play an arcade game. It s all these little, little moments, and I like that stuff because that s just what I do every day, she said. And I think ordinary life is interesting and I like to see the ways in which these game designers are putting their characters into those situations, and what those spaces are like. I m always just like, Put more bars in your videogames!
Her focus on Tacoma is making spaces that feel lived-in, and it was her previous game, Cibele, that led her to Fullbright. The kind of level design I was doing on [Cibele] was, How do I design an in-game computer that feels plausible and feels lived in, very similar to how someone might design a bedroom in Gone Home or something, said Freeman. She had never designed a 3D level before joining Fullbright, but a penchant for designing around authentic stories was there. Tacoma is definitely about ordinary lives and people who feel like you could know them, like they could be your neighbor. That s what we share despite coming from different backgrounds.
While Freeman s focus is heavier on tasking players with putting together the remnants of an ordinary life connecting dots in a different way than in Obduction, or in Far Cry 4 all three designers share a desire to build plausible spaces.
"The puzzles have to fit the world as best as possible, at least the way we do it," said Miller. " loves to feature the puzzles, so his levels, the puzzles that are there just in some ways can be arbitrary, because the thing is the puzzle. But I think what we've done and what we've gotten to in our little niche, what we do, we're trying to balance all three of the legs that I think are interactive: the environment, the puzzles, or whatever the friction is, and the story."
He added later that it s a pain in the ass.
We have people who are in charge of those aspects. So the art guy may come up with a visually stunning looking piece of equipment, but the story guy goes, That doesn t make sense, that couldn t be in this world, and we have to figure that out. The same goes in any direction puzzles that don t fit the story, story that doesn t fit the art. It must be cohesive.
For West, a level design could start as a sketch on a soggy bar napkin (he actually once approved a bar napkin scrawl as an initial design) or an MS Paint drawing, but from there he believes collaboration with artists is vital so that they don t get handed this dodecahedron that s done in this gray flat texture and get told to turn it into a carousel. He wants to see plausible spaces, and he makes a point of saying that it s a team effort, that the best level designers are the ones who work well with their artists.
A typical level designer can be seen as a balancer of Miller s three legs environment, obstacles, and story which I prefer to call 'Miller's Pillars.' The other part of their challenge might best be summed up by that phrase I stumbled on earlier: be clear, but not obvious.
In Cibele, Freeman wants players to discover a folder of photos on a desktop, and later put together themselves why it s there and what it means to the character. Miller wants players to have a cognitive rush as they discover how his puzzles and worlds fit together, without ever telling them explicitly how it all works. West wants players to choose their own path and feel good about it without being guided too closely to know where to go, but to tell their own personal story on the way.
These level designers don't want to tell us what to do or think, but to guide us gently like good parents. I think it s telling that Miller delights that there s no difference between what adults and children click on, and West thinks of the player as a kid getting dressed to play in the snow.
It's a good principle, but of course these are hardly the only game design philosophies. Miller doesn't make puzzle games like Jonathan Blow makes them, for instance. A favorite game of mine, Lovely Planet, forces players to perfectly execute the designer s vision in an entirely implausible world a very strict parent in an abstract shapeland. West would never design a shooter like that. Miller would wonder if the planet could actually be three planets, connected by giant gears. Freeman would add a bar.
So there are methods but not rules, and every level designer brings their own experiences and ideas to the task. But however I'm guided toward a designer's conclusions, I like it best when I'm shown the way, but not told.
The Watch Dogs 2 story trailer released today introduces Marcus Holloway's buddies in the Dedsec crew, a team of elite hackers dedicated to bringing down the power-hungry Dusan Don't Call Me Douche Nemec. Power to the people!
Intros aside, the trailer doesn't really tell us much that we didn't already know: Dedsec is good, Dusan is bad, and the people are mindless sheep. The people, they don't care how it works! Nemec yells, clearly annoyed by Holloway's refusal to compromise his idealistic principles. Only that it does! It's not the smoothest dialog that I've ever had stuffed into my ears, but he's not wrong, and makes me wonder who the real bad guy is. Nemec makes cool stuff that works well and improves the quality of life of its users; Dedsec steals cars and blows things up. That's some seriously mixed signals there, guys.
More worrisome, at least if you're hoping that Watch Dogs 2 will be a game that's actually about something, is our hands-on preview, published earlier today, which declares the game slick, enjoyable, but terribly hollow. Watch Dogs 2 sounds like it might simple, silly, open-world fun, but the underlying story, which at first glance appears positioned to make pertinent commentary on the state of the world, is apparently not nearly as substantial as it seemed. That's a shame.
Watch Dogs 2 comes out on November 15.