The debut trailer for Hardware: Shipbreakers, the sci-fi strategy game made by some of the people behind the Homeworld series, shows what can be achieved with just concept art, music and magnificently gruff narration. There's nary a hint of 'gameplay' in this video - which tells the story of a shipbreaker's desire to return home from a mysterious 'graveyard planet' - but it's comfortably the best trailer I've seen all year, evoking the similarly beautiful cutscenes from the Homeworld games. Have a gander below.
We don't know much about Hardware: Shipbreakers, other than that it's a "persistent multiplayer" "social strategy game" from Blackbird Interactive, a company made up of former Relic staff, including Homeworld's art director Rob Cunningham and lead artist Aaron Kambeitz. The description on the Facebook beta signup page reveals a little more: "HARDWARE (HW) is a next-generation online social game based on the concept of salvaging resources on a distant, barren planet named LM-27." Next-generation eh? So presumably it's going to be on PS4 or the mythical next Xbox as well.
Hardware: Shipbreakers is due out sometime this year, and after watching the following video, you'll wish that "sometime" meant "sometime next week". (Thanks to Kotaku.)
I'm always excited to start a new game of Fallout 3. The early stages are my favorite: those wonderfully scrappy first few levels where every bottle cap is a fortune, every trashcan a treasure chest. This time around I'm looking for more of a challenge, something to make the early days of my new character, Kurt, even scrappier than usual, but I'm a little daunted by some of the more popular rebalancing mods. Many of them completely overhaul every single element of the game. I'm just looking for something simple.
A mod called Simple Realism sounds about right. It doesn't reshape the entire game, it just juices some of the behind-the-scenes math relating to weapons, damage, health, and loot. Perfect.
By now you know how Fallout 3 starts, so let's just fast-forward: I'm a baby, I'm at my birthday party, I'm shooting my dad in the butt with my BB gun, I'm bribing my way out of taking the G.O.A.T. test, Butch's head falls off because I'm doing something violent to it, yadda yadda yadda, I've escaped the Vault. Hooray!
Pew pew! That's for abandoning me seven years from now, Dad! Pew pew!
Now, I'm preparing to heal the various injuries I sustained during my escape. I've got a couple bullet wounds from guards, a few roach bites from saving Butch's Corpse's mother, and my shoulders are probably a little sore from frenziedly beating the Overseer to death with a baseball bat in front of his daughter. Injecting myself with a stimpak, I get to see one of the changes of Simple Realism: my health slowly increases for a few seconds before the injection wears off. There will be no more bringing up my Pip-Boy, injecting myself while the game is paused, and instantaneously recovering health. Health is now recovered slowly, and in real-time, and each stimpack only lasts a few seconds.
I head to Megaton, taking a brief moment to stand ankle-deep in the puddle formed by the town's giant unexploded atom bomb. In just a few seconds I've gotten radiation poisoning, which is another feature of the mod: irradiated water is immediately and incredibly hazardous. Why the noisy lunatic praying to the bomb hasn't dropped dead yet, I don't know. I guess he hasn't installed the mod. After selling Moira my collection of Vault jumpsuits, I head back out into the wastes to start some trouble. The Springvale School is nearby and full of raiders, a good place to see how combat has been tweaked.
Realism has been tweaked, but surrealism is still intact.
Weapon damage has been increased, and shooting someone in the head tends to kill them pretty darn quickly. This definitely smacks of realism, but after creeping through the building and popping raiders in their domes, it seems like it might actually be making the game easier instead of harder. Most of them never even manage to get a shot off at me.
Then I step outside and ow ow OW. A raider on a ledge spots me, opens fire, and immediately almost all of my health is gone. Not only do my weapons do more damage to NPCs, but their weapons do more damage to me, which sounds perfectly fair but doesn't really feel fair at this particular moment. I hunch behind some cover, inject a stimpak, and anxiously wait, bullets zinging by my head, as my health slowly creeps back up to tolerable levels. Crouching there as I slowly heal, wondering if the raider will charge me in the meantime, is pretty tense. I actually like this stimpak change a lot.
After I finish off the remaining raiders, I head to a nearby overpass and find a few more. I take several of them down, then spot another in the distance. He notices me as well. I also notice he has a sniper rifle. Then I notice I'm dead. Hey man, nice shot. I reload the game, and this time he misses me with his shot but hits the ruined car I'm hiding behind. It explodes. So do I. I'm dead again.
Oh yeah. Cars explode pretty seriously in this game. I'd forgotten.
On my third or fourth try, I finally manage to drop him with a lucky, long distance pistol shot. I kill the remaining raiders, and I'm excited to find one of them was carrying a flame-thrower. Excellent! I might get to try another feature of this mod shortly: when NPCs are set on fire, they panic and run away, which sounds like some pretty darn realistic behavior.
Since I'm out of stimpaks (the mod makes the chances of finding them in stashes quite unlikely) and low on health, I slowly limp back to Megaton (the effects of crippled limbs has been enhanced) and head to the clinic. With stimpaks appearing less frequently in the world, they're more valuable, and thus more expensive, costing 200 caps each. Oddly, the doctor offers to heal me completely for just 100, which should probably be increased. Even more oddly, he doesn't notice as I rob the clinic of every stimpack I can find. You'd think a ragged maniac with a giant fuel tank strapped to his back crouch-walking around the office might make the doctor a little suspicious. I guess the mod doesn't do anything to make stealth more realistic.
Ignore me, my odd scuttling, and the opening and closing sounds you're about to hear. Thanks.
After selling my collection of refuse to Moira again, I head back out to set some things on fire. A molerat attacks me, I flame him, and sure enough, he flees in a trail of smoke. More molerats approach and it just takes a toot from my flamer to send them sprinting away. Cool!
Come back, coward, so I may sear thee once more!
I'm keen to see if this works humans, but before I can find one, I stumble upon a Mr. Gutsy robot who is ironically using his own flamethrower to scatter a pack of dogs. Mr. Gutsy, on the other hand, doesn't flee when I set him on fire. I guess robots don't fear the flames the way organic life does. Makes sense.
How about a little fire, Tin Man?
Rather than trying to burn me back, Mr. Gutsy shoots me with a plasma bolt, which strikes my flame-thrower, instantly breaking it. "My new toy! Nooooo! You'll pay for this, Mr. Gutsy!" is a thing I want to shout but I'm dead roughly a millisecond later from Mr. Gutsy's second plasma bolt.
By the way, another thing the mod does is to slow down level progression. For instance, Kurt advanced to Level 2 after escaping the Vault, and currently, Kurt's dead body is still Level 2, whereas in the un-modded game, he'd probably have earned enough XP by now to be closing in on Level 4, and thus perhaps would have survived Mr. Gutsy. Sorry, Kurt! You're probably not enjoying this mod, but I definitely am.
Installation: Simple Realism is also simple to install, but there are different installation methods depending on if you have the Mothership Zeta and Broken Steel DLC. Note: you don't need the DLC for Simple Realism, but the installation method is different if you do have it. Rather than try to sum up the various install options, I'm just going to sternly insist you view the Read Me files in the download folders.
“Let’s Reboot” takes a look back at a classic in need of a new outing or a beloved series gone stale and asks how it might be best redesigned or given a kick up the backside for today’s gaming audience. The Rules: Assume a free hand, and a decent budget, but realistic technology and expectations. This week’s sacred cow – an air combat game with a heart as big as a zeppelin”.
See this permanently crinkled forehead, these prematurely silver locks, and this twitchy eyebrow? This is how a person looks when he's spent the last twelve years waiting for a PC sequel to the best light flight game ever made. A chap can do a lot of sighing and head shaking in four and half thousand days. Happily, he can do plenty of pipe-dreaming too. Move those spanners and coffee cups to one side; it's time to unfurl the heavily annotated PC Gamer blueprint for Crimson Skies 2!
You look worried. Don't be. We're determined to retain all the stuff that made Crimson Skies Crimson Skies. The player is still a dashing sky pirate, dogfighting dastardly aces and hunting humongous airships in a twisted pre-WW2 world. By drawing directly from the inspirational wellspring - American pulp literature of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s - we're actually hoping the son will be more colourful than the father.
HAWX, Jane's Advanced Strike Fighters, Damage Inc... today's frothy flight fare often seems to mistake freneticism for intensity, and physics for frustration. Rest assured, in CS2 you'll never be asked to down fifty bandits in a single sortie. You'll never attempt an Immelmann without a flicker of “Have I got enough speed to make this?' doubt. Because garish HUDs and fussy screen furniture pollute painstakingly crafted period flavour, those that want to fly from a first-person perspective (strongly recommended) will have to rely on panel-mounted instruments and rich audio for mechanical information, and put up with moments when targets disappear behind canopy struts, cockpit rims, and oil smears. Post-release, anyone that goes on the official forum and complains about the lack of a lead-calculating gunnery reticule, bullet-time button, or spin recovery cheat, will be hunted down and hurled into the contra-rotating props of a Hawker Harridan (one of the new Brit planes).
Enough of the similarities. Respecting Zipper Interactive's vision doesn't mean replicating it. One of our boldest plans is the ditching of linear mission structure. Drawing inspiration from both Air Power (An obscure yet brilliant fantasy flight sim from MiG Alley master-craftsmen Rowan Software) and the Silent Hunter sub sim series, the follow-up will feature a gloriously replayable go-where-you-like, hunt-what-you-like campaign. Creating a decent seamless North American scenery for use in this mode probably isn't practical (there's just too much topography to model well) hence the decision to move the sky savagery several hundred miles to the south.
The Pandora's ravishing new playground will stretch from Miami to Caracas, from the Mosquito Coast to Barbados. Why are Nathan Zachary and the Fortune Hunters now fortune hunting over the Caribbean rather than the North American mainland? Simple. Self-preservation. Since the events immortalised in the original game, the air militias of the disUnited States have grown considerably stronger. Outside of the typhoon season most sensible skywaymen now make their living bushwhacking the freighters and yachts that ply Caribbean air and sea routes. Piracy has returned to its spiritual home.
With a bitter civil war raging in Haiti, a huge volcano threatening to blow its top in Martinique, and the recent opening of the Nicaragua Canal, it's a particularly interesting time to be operating in this neck-of-woods. As the Pandora ambles around the strat map, sentient skippers are sure to find themselves getting entangled in intriguing subplots. The Voodoo Vultures, a local pirate outfit, will be a constant threat. The temptation to take sides in the simmering hostilities between British, French, and Spanish colonial powers, increasingly hard to resist. Every dynamically generated ship (air or sea) you hijack will damage your relationship with one or other of the local factions, so, before you rake the bridge or put a torpedo across the bow of that fleeing freighter, it's definitely worth training your spyglass on the rag fluttering above its taffrail.
You know how pressing Ctrl+E in most flight sims triggers a bale-out animation and effectively ends your mission? In CS2 things will work a little differently. Because the heroes of pulp air stories like 'The Gorilla of the Gas Bags' and 'Satan Paints the Sky' spend almost as much time out of cockpits as in them, and arsing around in a Just Cause-fashion is endlessly entertaining, the sequel will permit encourage extra-vehicular activity. Port engine blazing on your Balmoral bomber? Activate the autopilot then get out there on the wing with an extinguisher! Need to capture an intact Curtiss Storm Petrel (one of the new American seaplanes)? Tell your co-pilot to get in close, then make the leap!
The highlight of the planeless high jinx is bound to be the airship assaults. Warbirds like the STOL-specialising Dewoitine Djinn (a French débutante) can be landed right on top of the game's colossal motherships, allowing aviators to disembark, and gunplay their way down to lavishly decorated passenger gondolas, or rum-scented freight holds. Not for the faint-hearted, boarding isn't a tactic exclusive to players. Anyone that neglects defences (booty receipts can be spent on replacement pilots, repairs, supplies or upgrades) and ventures too deep into the home territory of a rival gang, can expect to find themselves desperately defending their own bridge on occasion. Would it be giving too much away to mention that stealthy nocturnal skyjackings are a Vulture speciality?
First-person freedom means you're free to take the wheel of the Pandora, or man one of her turrets during an attack. It also means you can - theoretically - explore every nook and cranny of spectacular new dirigibles like the Fanny Adams (a vast British sugar transport) and the Bacchanalia, a luxury sky catamaran owned by millionaire distiller Ramón Prío. While a few of CS2's characters, will be familiar to lore lovers, a good portion won't. Byron 'Samedi' Samson (superbly voiced by Don Warrington) the unforgettable leader of the Vultures, should provide some classic comms chatter, as should Aida 'Dusty' Fields (Lucy Lawless) the crop sprayer turned desperado that heads the unspeakably brutal Shrikes.
There'll be freshness amongst the flyables and weaponry too. Conventional torpedoes are set to appear in the series for the first time, as is a fiendish form of the parachute mine and an ingenious precursor to the Luftwaffe's Schräge Musik.
I've been mentally flying the fleet of new interceptors for a few years now and, if I had to pick a favourite, would probably plump for the Machete Mk II, a converted Spanish sesquiplane favoured by the Vultures.
Then again, the bizarre Blackburn Butterfly-Bat, a catapult-launched fighter used for ship protection by the Brits, is also a bit of a sweetie - as you'll discover when Crimson Skies 2 is released in... in...
I still haven't seen a single groundhog, but people are already talking about Summer, let alone Spring, like we're absolutely certain it's going to happen. Yesterday, Piranha Games gave us another reason for this damnable Winter to shuffle off and give Spring/Summer their due: the launch (proper) of MechWarrior Online. As revealed at GDC, the stompy multiplayer shooter will exit beta in late Summer, more specifically "no later than" September 21st. Well that is the last official day of Summer.
Before its balmy launch, the team are hoping to add a number of new features. Firstly they aim to increase the number of mechs in-game from 8-on-8 to 12-on-12, something that will happen in "the next 60 days". The user interface is also getting a bit of spit-and-polish, which should go well with the revamped community warfare features. You'll soon be able to pledge your allegiance to various houses from the BattleTech universe, including Bungalow, Semi-Detached and... OK, so I'm not exactly au fait with BattleTech.
Star Trek: The Reboot 2: The Movie: The Game pulled its Gorns out of its pointy ears the other week, but that was in a silly Making Of video that featured lots of in-game footage of Kirk's famous alien sparring partner, but precious little of William Shatner himself. Sure, he's been replaced by Chris Pine for the recent films/upcoming game, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a little Shat now and again. Here he is, in the latest trailer, sitting down with an actual Gorn to play a game of Star Trek, before the two inevitably come to blows. This is apparently in advance of some sort of co-operative shooter, but now I'm more interested in a Shat/Gorn fighting game and I won't rest until somebody (Capcom?) makes one.
Star Trek the game beams down to the gangster planet known as Earth on April 23rd or 26th, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on. If you need more William Shatner to keep you satisfied over Easter, here is William Shatner speaking the song Rocket Man. He found a way.
Processor giant Intel has been an unusually active presence at this year's GDC, glad-handing game developers, announcing new graphics technologies and convincing top dev houses to use their proprietary gaming advances. You might say they’re acting just like AMD or Nvidia. In fact, when Intel's Haswell CPU hits shelves this summer, they’ll be taking those two companies' dominance of the graphics market head-on.
I spoke to their wonderfully-titled European Gaming Enablement Manager, Richard Huddy last week ahead of the announcement of Intel's two latest graphics technologies – InstantAccess and PixelSync, both advances that you won't see working with any other GPU tech.
The technologies don’t sound particularly exciting when you describe them as (brace yourselves) new API extensions for the DirectX framework, but they could end up being very effective indeed. And we'll be seeing them soon: the new extensions have already been made available to Codemasters for GRID 2 and Creative Assembly for Rome 2.
The first of the extensions, InstantAccess, is intended to help the CPU and the GPU to share memory. That's going to be particularly important with the way the coming generation of consoles are likely to be built, working with similar ideas to the unified memory of the PlayStation 4 and the AMD-sponsored Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) initiative.
With InstantAccess the CPU and GPU will be able to access and address each other’s memory without having to go through the DirectX API itself. Previously, when the CPU and GPU have actually been on the same silicon and not discrete cards, DirectX has had a tendency to get in the way.
“DirectX was built on the idea that the GPU will probably be a discrete card,” says Huddy. “It will be on the far end of a rather slow bus. That sort of assumption doesn’t play particularly well for us, it just disadvantages the platform.”
The benefit in-game is not about raising the average frame rate when you’re playing on Haswell hardware - Huddy concedes that you’ll only see an improvement of around one or two per cent - but raising the minimum frame rate and eliminating those jarring moments when performance drops sharply.
The aim here is to introduce Order-Independent Transparency (OIT) to real-time rendering in-game. It’s been called out by graphics coders like DICE’s Johan Andersson as one of the greatest problems in getting cinematic-quality rendering in modern games, and of the two API extensions, this is the one which most clearly sets Intel apart from its competitors. While DX11 originally shipped with it, modern GPUs are not built to be able to render realistic transparency without surrendering a huge amount of gaming performance.
Attempting such a thing on today’s graphics architectures, Huddy claims, would result in a seventy percent performance hit. Haswell can do it with a mere ten percent frame rate drop.
Showing the difference between standard transparency (left) and OIT (right)
That sort of transparency is vital if you want realistic-looking glass, water, smoke, foliage, hair - y'know, things that crop up in games quite a lot. Though, as Huddy points out, they're currently recreated using "cheap and nasty approximations." Dry your eyes, AMD, I'm sure he wasn't talking about TressFX.
Codemaster’s GRID 2 uses PixelSync's version of OIT when it detects a Haswell GPU. With the game currently running on that hardware at around 40-50FPS, turning on OIT only costs a further 4-5FPS.
PixelSync Order-Independent Transparency
In Rome 2 you can actually use the system-melting original DX11 OIT tech if you’re using a discrete GPU, but Huddy thinks that ability will likely be removed for launch.
“If you put a high-end discrete card up against Intel graphics, we win,” he says. “If you turn on OIT we win because we can do this with a tiny performance loss; we know how to synchronise pixels. But there’s just no way to do it in a discrete card. It’s going to be a bit embarrassing having a $400 graphics card struggling to keep up with Haswell.”
You may yet to be convinced by the above screenshots of GRID 2, but the difference of having a proper transparency effect interacting with the lighting model will likely be most palpable in motion.
Hopefully it will look more impressive in motion
I’m pretty sure Intel is looking to release serious gaming laptops that are running a Haswell chip for both processing and graphics - probably with the touted beefed-up GT3E version of its graphics architecture. There’s a possibility that we may yet see that top SKU in the desktop range too, but unlikely as that may be, the mobile power could worry both Nvidia and AMD’s discrete mobile division.
Huddy’s been looking at the Steam Hardware Survey with interest, where Intel’s HD 3000 stands as the graphics hardware most-used by subscribers. With Haswell, Huddy says, Intel will now be “taking another significant step towards making our graphics the graphics of choice for playing games.”
That's some tough talk. When I ask if that means Intel is expecting Haswell to create a three-way graphics fight he agrees.
“And we are coming well-armed to this particular fight,” he adds.
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week… who framed Roger Rabbit? Judge Doom. But that's not important right now - this Easter bunny has other reasons to get hot and cross.
No argument is permitted here - Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a great movie. The noir ambience. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse sharing a screen. The perfect line "Dabbling in watercolours, Eddie?" and subtle details children were never expected to get. Really, it only has one problem - Roger Rabbit himself being the cartoon equivalent of getting a filling in every single tooth and then chomping on tinfoil.
Didn't stop him getting his own game, mind. Oddly though, it wasn't a platformer.
And with that, the fish had more to do with the plot than Klaus in all eighteen seasons of American Dad!
That's what you'd expect for the early 90s - a generic load of streets where Roger or Eddie runs around and has wacky adventures with assorted cartoon types, probably with an LJN logo on it for console owners. And yes, those games existed and were dreadful. On PC and Amiga though, the licensees tried something a little different - instead of converting the movie itself, playing with Roger's job as a cartoon star. Hare Raising Havoc then is an expansion of the short at the start, where long-suffering Roger has to save the 'innocent' Baby Herman from wandering off into harm. Points for trying at least.
What has to stand out about this one is how good it looks. It's about 6MB in total, which stuffs in lots of cartoon action, recorded voice samples, and some pretty fancy wrappings for both the cartoon intro, and the studio that the action cuts to every time something goes wrong. It's obviously not Disney quality animation, but it's several cuts above what most other games were doing at the time. The only real catch? The result is that the game is phenomenally short. It's about 15 minutes if you know what you're doing, compensated for by a brutally tight, perfection-demanding time limit if you don't.
Roger's cartoon career was short; but like they say, hare today, gone tomorrow...
It's also pretty horrible as a game, with limited interaction and tedious slapstick you have to keep replaying to beat the incredibly finnicky timing challenges. There's also something more than a little creepy about it, which I found hard to put my finger on at first. Let me explain the premise - when you see it, shout. Since I'm probably not in the room, and also not writing this as you read it, you'll need to shout quite loudly, ideally through a dimensional tear in time and space.
You're Roger, and as the game starts, you're being ordered to babysit Baby Herman, right as Baby Herman disappears out of the front door. Frankly, given that his mother is standing right there at the time, this one really has to be on her. It's only Roger's fault if anything happens while he's in charge, surely. Still, the objective is pretty simple - get Baby Herman-
Okay, that was weird. A strange voice just yelled "BATHOS!" out of nowhere. Well, top marks for interdimensional manipulation, but that's not the right answer. So, where was I before I was so rudely distracted? Ah, yes. The objective is pretty simple - get Baby Herman back. The only problem is that you're locked in the house for...some reason... and have to escape and track him down first.
Don't play in the toilet, Roger! That's where the script of Space Jam came from.
Controls are dirt simple - up, down, left, right, and action - with the general idea being to abuse Roger's toon powers of taking punishment to solve problems. In the first room for instance, the trick is to open an ironing board, then push a stool across the room so that he can jump on the sofa to be caught on a ceiling fan to be thrown at the ironing board to bounce off the stool to go through the window on the door. It's a kind of puzzle design that Coktel would use in its Gobliiins series in the same year.
The issue here is with the concept of crime and punishment - that a character's suffering usually has to be earned in some way by their actions. It might be a literal crime, where a villain faces humiliating retribution, or something simple, like the prideful businessman being hit by a pie. The basic rule is that the more serious the crime, the worse the punishment can be and still be funny rather than coming across as bullying from other characters or the universe. Like everything, there are exceptions, including good old schadenfreude and refuge in audacity, but the rule works as a starting point and ignoring it often results in the line between comedy and tragedy reaching an all-cress-diet level of thin.
In the case of a cartoon - and gosh, isn't discussing comedy hilarious? - that 'crime' can be various things. Tom suffers from chasing Jerry, for example, but Roger going into a situation at full-tilt would also qualify. In Hare Raising Havoc though, much of what goes wrong is deliberately initiated by the player. A character falling on a banana peel might be funny. A stranger throwing that banana peel down to make them slip though is simply a dick, to say nothing of making a good-natured innocent walk onto a burning stove just to make them leap up in agony and help solve a puzzle. In Hare Raising Havoc, you are that dick - setting up situations where Roger gets beaten up without having done anything to deserve it.
Unless of course you count 'being Roger Rabbit', which on second thoughts is probably a crime worthy of being very slowly lowered balls-first into a bucket of Dip, so never mind, I guess.
Still, in principle, this approach feels a little Wrong. Just a little. Y'know?
Fun fact! Rakes do more than smash faces. Sometimes gardeners use them. For boring stuff.
The big problem for anyone trying to make a game around Roger Rabbit is that so few of the characters were available post-movie. Disney and Warner Bros weren't about to let a mere licensee throw in their characters as extras, and there's not a vast amount to be done with just Eddie, Jessica, Roger and a couple of others. That's a real pity though, as an LA Noire type adventure with Toons could be fantastic. Almost as good as an LA Noire that actually understood the genre, instead of being, well, LA Noire.
The nature of this game means there's not a vast amount more to say about it - it's a series of set-pieces I could describe, but are probably better simply watched. As ever, YouTube provides with this complete walkthrough - and that timer also includes some bonus stuff at the end. This length and the general lack of stuff to poke at are the main reasons this game struggled at the time. On CD though, with more actual content a la Virtual Springfield, it could have been a neat Multimedia Experience™.
With, ideally, less Roger Rabbit. None would have been a good start.
And just for the sake of comparison, here's what Nintendo fans got. Sure, it would have lasted them longer. But it would also have been... this. Shudder. The music alone. As over-played as Why Don't You Do Right? is these days, at least it takes more than one play to never want to hear it again.
The NES game? Half a level, maximum.
Luckily, the PC did finally get a spiritual answer to all this in the form of Toonstruck, in which a very bored Christopher "A Role That Christopher Lloyd Played" Lloyd played the role of 'human' amongst three worlds of original cartoon creations. It pulled it off pretty well, was spectacularly rude (going from a happy cutesy world to a sheep and a cow taking up bondage) and a cool adventure in its own right. We'll probably take a look at it one week. But a different week. One with less chocolate to be eaten.
What? No, I'm not doing any egg puns this year. Thought I'd ovoid them for once.
But I really must do something about all these dimensional tears...
Creative Assembly revealed some staggering statistics with interesting gameplay implications at their GDC presentation. Perhaps the most interesting was the announcement that there will be 117 different factions present in the campaign, which starts players off from "the earliest days of the Roman Republic" and tasks them with building an empire.
An immediate effect worth considering is the fact that Rome, for which the game is named, may not even become the colossal empire that it did in actual history. (If my Arverni warriors have anything to say about the matter, it certainly won't.) We're not sure yet how the 100+ minor factions will compare, in terms of their ability to compete, to the handful of playable states and tribes. But it seems, at least, that we might see a little bit more Crusader Kings-esque state building than in the original Rome, which essentially boiled down to a few mega-blobs scrapping with one another.
We're also promised 500 unit types, which is five times as many as in the original Rome. That certainly leaves room for 117 factions to each have a few unique units each. To what degree a Northeastern Germanic Axe Dude will differ from a Southwestern Germanic Axe Dude in terms of model and stats, we can't be sure yet. I'd imagine many of these "unique" units may differ only in name and palette swap, though I am prepared to be moderately blown away if this is not the case.
Rome II will also feature 183 map regions, which is almost double what we saw in Shogun 2. It also means that a majority of these 117 factions will start of relegated to a single territory. Overall, the picture that is forming of this new campaign is one of a wild, untamed frontier, where players will be forced to unite (if you want to be nice about it, subjugate if you're a realist) their own neighborhoods before getting to the stage of huge, state vs. state warfare that most previous entries in the series have started you off with. If that's the case, I really like the sound of it.
We'll have more Rome II coverage to share in the not-so-distant future. Until then, you can help yourself to our last two previews, detailing the Battle of Teutoberg Forest scenario which was also shown off at GDC.
Coked-up neon murderfest Hotline Miami was originally a one-off project from developer Dennaton, but fans took to trial-and-error spree killing well enough to prompt co-creators Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin to start development on a sequel. The duo shares a few extra details with Joystiq, saying the the setting moves on to the quieter early years of the '90s.
No, this doesn't mean bemasked protagonist Jacket will don faded cutoffs and wax angst on teenage hardships while Pearl Jam blares in the background—in fact, he's not the focus of Hotline Miami 2 at all, though he'll play a minor role with whoever his trigger-happy replacement turns out to be. Don't expect a grunge-encrusted score, either, but do expect to hear some "sweet tunes."
Hotline Miami 2 will also be Dennaton's "grand finale" for the storyline, and it hopes to start work on a new concept beyond having you rip the faces off nameless goons over and over until your ballet of death is just right.
On my last day to explore GDC, I received a real-life quest via e-mail. "Meet me at Metreon Park, by the bronze statue with 3 hands." My quest-giver was none other than Obsidian's Chris Avellone, of Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale fame, currently working on Project Eternity. He also holds the distinction of being a stretch goal in the Kickstarter for inXile's Torment: Tides of Numenera.
My reward was some xp, a few clot charms, and the interview that follows. Exploring Avellone's dialogue trees brought to light info on Eternity, Torment, crafting open world games, and how to (theoretically) strike fear into the heart of inXile's Brian Fargo. More on that last bit when I post my interview with Brian next week...
Chris Avellone: Before we start, this isn't to ask about my criminal record or anything, or the murders?
PC Gamer: Well...
Because they told me it was for PC Gamer, but if you're actually a cop, you have to tell me right now.
No, I swear I'm not a spy for any sort of organization of transdimensional justicars that might have a rap sheet on you. I promise.
Alright, now that that's out of the way, let's just start with, how's the development of Project Eternity going? Where are you guys on that?
It's going pretty good. We are still in pre-production for the project. And that means, like, we're figuring out all the level design pipelines, the narrative pipelines. What we want to make sure is we do our due diligence before we hit the production phase, and we understand how all the pieces go from start to finish. Because you want to do that before you add a bunch of designers onto the project. If you don't have those pipelines figured out first, it just causes a lot of problems with iteration for everybody.
So, along those lines, we did an update yesterday that sort of gave the run-down of where our first prototype is. And that's sort of proving out all our priority systems, in terms of, "Hey, here's how combat feels. Here's how navigation feels in the environment. Here's how you control the entire party." Basic door movement, dungeon exploration. And then we're actually planning to do a second prototype later on that sort of does the priority elements. For things like, when we want to do new conversational aspects, a little bit more about the crafting and merchant systems. But we wanted to make sure to get the solid, core gameplay down first, so that it felt right. Everyone at the studio had a chance to play it, give feedback on it, then move on from there.
In terms of the storyline stuff, we're still working on the lore. We're doing a variety of sort of one-pagers, and multiple takes of the storyline and world from just about every designer that's working on the game. And what we do is, we've been reviewing each of those pitches that each individual designer has done, and say, "Hey, you know, there's some particular strength to this, individual storyline. We like the characters here, the protagonist here, the antagonist here. Why don't we see how we can blend these elements together and make a stronger storyline overall." Having multiple designers do their take on the story has actually been pretty cool.
Speaking of the story, how does the process work when you've got so much writing to fill in all the little cracks of this big, open world?
Eternity has been different from our other projects. With our other projects, we haven't had quite the luxury to have this sort of process. So generally, on our previous projects, a project director would sort of set up the overall vision for the game. In terms of, here's the overall mechanics I'm looking for. Here's the overall feel that I want the player to have. And then what we call a creative lead kind of holds the torch for the storyline. What he'll do is do a few takes on the storyline, let everyone in the studio offer feedback on that particular storyline, and then we iterate on that until we feel solid about it.
And then we divide that story up into chunks amongst the designers. "Hey, you develop this area and these characters. You develop this companion, you develop that companion." On Eternity, it's been a little different because Josh Sawyer set up the vision, the feel he's looking for, and then every designer had a chance to sort of do their own take on what the storyline was like, and we picked and chose from there. Even Josh did a take on the storyline, as well. So it's been a lot different, and we're really enjoying the process.
How many writers do you have working on Eternity altogether?
Just about all of our designers are writers, too. In terms of full-time narrative designers, I think there are only two. There's me and then there's George Zeits, who's also doing work on the Torment: Tides of Numenera project. But we're pretty much the only two full-time narrative designers, although we do expect to have more in the future once we ramp up production.
You guys are kind going back a little bit old school with the 2.5D perspective. Have you been worried at all that some of the newer generation of RPG players who didn't grow up with this, and they expect these publisher-funded blockbuster type things with full voice-acting, might look at a game like Eternity and think, you know, "What is this?"
No. Because everyone who supported our project understands what , and they actually love to play that type of game. If the project appeals to more people beyond the backers, that's great. But we're not counting on it. We certainly hope it does, but ultimately, we're making a project for the audience that supported us, and we just want them to be happy.
So, Eternity is set in a fantasy universe with swords, dwarves, and elves. There's sort of this trend in the gaming zeitgeist of, you know, "I'm sick of swords, dwarves, and elves." How would you go about selling this new setting to someone who might be of that mindset?
It's not much of a sell. The differences are the following: First off, when Josh was setting up the vision goals for the feel of the world, the technology level is a little bit more advanced than the sort of traditional fantasy tech levels that we've seen in other games. And that definitely sets it apart from the Forgotten Realms. The world is sort of on the cusp of a technological revolution, and as a result, people are finding new ways to wage war, to defend against magecraft. And even wizards find they're suddenly not in a completely secure location from the common populous, because these new weapons are becoming available.
Also, what we tried to do, even though there are recognizable tropes like elves and dwarves, we've tried to introduce some new elements into their cultures and make them stand out. "Elves and dwarves" are just nouns that we use to lure you in. But then, once you're in there, you suddenly realize that there are a lot of differences between this, and what you'd consider typical fantasy fare.
Also, I think the overall magic system that's in the game—the idea that souls recycle themselves over time, that sort of lends itself to people being able to harness that energy for powers—that's caused, personally, for , a lot larger repercussions in how society views life and death, and how one should live their life. And also, factions and cultures that are based around the idea that souls persist... that threw a different feel over the world, much more than I was expecting. But in a good way.
You mentioned the different cultures. We saw some of that in the early concept art, where we had the Inuit-inspired dwarf. Do you have a particular favorite culture that puts a spin on an existing fantasy trope?
Well, my favorite race is the Orlans. They're feline-based, and I don't think there's actually an equivalent of them in standard fantasy fare. Partially because I'm a cat person, and I really like the idea that they're sort of the stealthy, guerrilla class. That kind of appeals to me. And you know, the trap-making. They're very anti-slaver, because the slavers love to pick on them. So that's caused some interesting paranoia and hostility in their culture.
As far as dwarves and elves... I've been mostly focused on the human interaction. So, the human cultures that Josh is developing- those have interesting spins on them, in terms of... Josh is a very focused history and religion major. So, when he develops cultures, he thinks very much about the deity breakdowns, the actual climate and environment of the area where they grew up.
The Aumaua, they have a very interesting Polynesian take on their culture which I haven't seen before in other games. They're not really the equivalent of half-orcs. They're actually just a brand new, sort of swarthier species. And they're sort of like our tanks in the game.
Have you guys given any thought into where you might want to take this setting beyond just the base game? Thinking along the lines of novels, or, I'm actually a big fan of tabletop roleplaying.
Yes, what we'd like to do, because we see a lot of possibilities develop in the lore and the world beyond just the gaming arena... Like, BioWare's famous for this, in the sense that there's a lot of lore material that they do that just simply can't fit into their games. They have the comic books, graphic novels, various other types of games that aren't computer games. All those things are things that we'd like to explore with Eternity. As well as do future installments in the series.
Going back to your roots with this classic cRPG model, is there anything particularly significant that has changed, technologically, that will set Eternity apart from its, I guess you could call them ancestors, you worked on back in the day?
Yeah, there are a few things we've noticed. One is, working with Unity allows us to build the levels that we did back then much, much faster. We've been surprised at the rate that we can construct dungeons and create gameplay spaces, and sort of paint out those locations in Unity, and then to be able to actually walk around in those environments. So that's been really encouraging for the production process. We feel like we can get a lot of mileage out of that.
Another thing is digital distribution has suddenly given us an avenue to distribute the game, where we definitely would have had to work with a publisher before. But because there are other ways to get the game to the consumers, that sort of frees our hands a little bit, and I'm pretty happy about it.
The other thing is just Kickstarter in general. It's not so much technology, but just the fact that now there's an opening for players to be able to vote with their own dollars for games that they want to see, especially ones that might not be able to make the route through the publishers, that's been really important for us. Because I don't think we could have gotten a game like this financed in any other fashion except going to the players. And if Kickstarter hadn't existed, we would have been out of luck.
PC Gamer: As a studio that's in the vanguard of telling stories with games, which is something that really hasn't fully come into its own the way literature or even film has, where do you guys see yourselves as having made the most progress as storytellers, and where would you like to see the medium go from here?
CA: Well, the first thing I think we're really conscious of is the fact that we try to pay a lot of attention to the actual game systems before we start a story. Like, when we were doing Fallout: New Vegas, we had some pillars for the project. But one in particular was, we knew that one of the new systems we wanted to add was the reputation system. So, once you have that as one of your pillars for the new gameplay experience, you want to make sure that you weave a story that takes advantage of those mechanics.
And that may sound obvious, but I don't know if every game necessarily focuses on that when they're doing stories. I feel like, sometimes, people take the route of making the story much more independent, rather than anything that's actually going on with the second-to-second gameplay. So, for example, the reputation system. Okay, that means we've got the following things the story needs to incorporate. Like, there have to be multiple factions. There have to be consequences, and sort of ego-stroking reactivity that occurs based on what your reputation level is with them, either negative or positive. It doesn't necessarily have to be punishing to the player, but they should feel like they're making a difference in the world.
Also, if the game you're constructing is an open-world game, like with New Vegas, we tried to make sure that we were also constructing an open-world story. Which may sound kinda weird. We'll have have characters with agendas, we'll have factions. But ultimately, we're designing this story so that the player wants to go in and mess it up however they want, they'll still have an entertaining experience, and they'll still be able to complete the game. But they feel like they have more room to breathe than in, say, a linear storyline.
And then, the second part of that—where would you like to see game storytelling go? Where do you think the boundaries are that you'd like to push with telling stories in games?
I think there are two things. One is, I'd like to see more reliance on system mechanics to allow the player to tell their own story. Some of the most entertaining New Vegas experiences we had were from people who found interesting ways to create events in the game itself. They weren't necessarily narratively scripted. They didn't necessarily have any dialogue or writing associated with them. It was just stuff they could do to the environment by pushing the systems around and getting entertaining events that way.
Also, I'd like to see much more of a focus on visual storytelling. I think that, sometimes, writers can lose sight of the fact that audio, level design, graffiti, graphics, posters... can all be used to flesh out a location without a single line of dialogue, and still tell a compelling story about what happened, what your goals for the area are, and what the theme of the adventure is. I'd like to see much more attention to that, as opposed to, there are two heads talking to each-other, and you see text on the screen with a menu.
Let's talk Numenera really quick. If you are brought on to the project , what would your role be?
It's two-fold. One part is, I will be reviewing all of the design documentation that the project develops. Kevin Saunders is the project lead, Colin McComb is the lead designer. And what I would do is review all of their documentation, offer feedback, give whatever critiques, if there are any, both positive and negative. And then I'll just reinforce, you know, "Hey, here are some of the goals we were going for in the original Torment, here are some positive things you guys are doing that I think are hitting the mark, and here are some other things that you might want to consider incorporating."
The other thing that I would be doing, is that I should have a chance to write the eighth companion for the game. And that would be a lot like what I did for previous Obsidian titles, and Black Isle, in the sense that... when we did Mask of the Betrayer at Obsidian, I wrote Gann and Kaelyn the Dove. And I think Kevin and George really liked what I did with those two characters. So I would be doing one additional character, much like that, for Numenera.
Do you have a rough idea of what kind of character you would like to add to that world?
You know, as I was taking the plane ride over here, I actually pulled out my sketchbook... and I started writing down all of the possible directions I could take the character. What I really like is that, already, the locations they're coming up with for Numenera are sparking my imagination. For example, George Ziets had his update on that one area, the Bloom. And I got so excited to hear the little details. Like, if anyone attempts to quantify the Bloom, it devours and destroys them. And the idea that, whatever you feed it, it opens up new dimensions... when I hear that stuff, I just get really excited.
How early were you talking with the guys at inXile about doing a new Torment game? I know a lot of people in the community were asking after those first few blog posts from Brian Fargo about bringing the name back, like, "Where's Chris Avellone?"
The time frame was... not long after Brian realized that he could get the name, and he actually purchased the name for Torment, then he talked to me about it, and whether or not I would be interested in working on the project. But at the time, between Wasteland 2 and Eternity, there wasn't any time for me to do that. And occasionally, Brian would follow up with me and see what my situation was, and if things might work out.
Then Wasteland 2 finished up, and my time freed up a great deal more. Then Brian and Kevin started talking to me and Feargus , not necessarily about my time, but just about ways we could work together. And I think that between Kevin and Brian, they were able to break out a reasonable schedule for me to work on the project with Feargus. And Feargus was pretty comfortable with that. So he was like, "Hey, if you really do want to work on this.." And I did! But that didn't happen until a few days before the stretch goal announcement. Before that, I thought there would be no chance I'd be able to do it.
So, this is something that I can't help but wonder about: With the shared heritage you guys at Obsidian and the guys over at inXile have, and how often and openly you collaborate, what's stopping you from just coming together to form the Ultimate RPG Studio of Ultimate Destiny?
I don't really know. I think that inXile and Obsidian just like casually dating right now. We don't want to quantify our relationship, and mess it up with a boyfriend/girlfriend thing.
I think, right now, Brian, Feargus, and just Obsidian and inXile... we just enjoy working together, sharing information on how to make both of our Kickstarters better, sharing products across Kickstarter, and also sharing technology. We've learned about Unity together. And so far, it's a really comfortable relationship. If things get better in the future, that's great. But right now, things are pretty great as they stand. I certainly like working with Brian, and I like working with Feargus.
This whole Kickstarter process has sort of allowed our organizations to talk more than we could otherwise. That's another reason I like Kickstarter!
I'm actually interviewing Brian later today. What could I say to him that would totally freak him out coming from someone he's never met before.
Oh... tell him, "The clowns are coming for you, Brian. They've made peace with Avellone."
Alright, I'll do that. Anything else you'd like our readers to know before we wrap it up here?
Well, considering it's PC Gamer, one thing I did want to say was, one obstacle to getting some of our products funded was because no publisher would listen to having a PC-focused or PC-only title. Basically, not having consoles involved with the process. And, obviously, that would have been a huge, additional cost for us. The fact that we can do a PC-focused product... we can use the keyboard controls, we can use the mouse. That is very liberating for us as game designers.
Thanks again to Chris for talking to us. As of the writing of this article, there are about six days left and $300,000 to go for Chris to be involved in Torment: Tides of Numenera. You can keep up with the development of Project Eternity on Obsidian's official site.