These images are the work of Nacho Yagüe, a senior concept artist at Ubisoft Toronto. You'll see not only a selection of his work on the first Vita Assassin's Creed game, but also some other work from projects like Tintin, as well as some personal pieces.
Far Cry 3 does something interesting with its protagonist Jason, presenting him not as a bloodthirsty killer with military training, but as some kid, thrust into a situation well outside his abilities or understanding.
When you jump off a cliff, he screams. When you cut open an animal for its skin, no matter how many times you do it, he goes "eeewwww", just like you or I would.
When the game opens, he's quite literally running for his life. It has you thinking that, hey, maybe this game will be different to every other shooter ever released. Maybe in this shooter I'll actually be outmatched, my lack of training and experience with military weapons turning me into a vulnerable little bag of exposed flesh, fear and panic.
Then, within ten minutes, you're storming a compound of bloodthirsty pirates with an assault rifle, tossing grenades and pulling off headshots, and you realise nothing is different whatsoever. Shame.
In narrative terms, and this continues long into the game, Jason is portrayed as a naive rich white kid, without any kind of experience or training whatsoever, who is suddenly dropped into the mouth of hell when he and his pals are kidnapped. It's meant, I guess, to make you relate to him, if not in terms of gender or race, then at least in terms of the fact most gamers are just regular people, not military professionals.
No matter how many movies I've seen or games I've played, if you put me on an island and handed me an assault rifle, I'd be lucky to know how to properly load the thing, let alone shoot someone in the head with it. I don't know how to ride a jetski. I can't operate a heavy machine gun. And don't get me started on firing a bow and arrow.
If that really was me on that island, or someone like me, the biggest challenge would be learning how to even use a gun. So it's jarring to see the whole "helpless dude" routine confined to the game's story, while the actual game has you playing with the skillset of Rambo or Master Chief.
I mean, in the game's opening section, you can't even crawl without guidance. A bit later, there's a point where your girlfriend says she's worried about your relationship. Um, sure, so am I, more worried than I was about the three panthers I just killed with a knife, or the jeep I blew up while flying over it on a zipline.
The gulf between the person the story is telling you you're playing and the way you're actually playing is similar to that found in, say, Grand Theft Auto games, where murder is treated as a big deal on a mission... even though you just ran over 17 people on the way over. But in those games, it's almost a joke, so absurd is the nature of the game.
In Far Cry 3, things are so much more immediate, your premise taken so much more seriously that for much of the game's opening sections it just feels stupid. More importantly, it feels like a missed opportunity.
I think there's scope out there for a game to actually play as though you're a rookie. Make you learn how to fire a gun not by simply pointing a cursor at something, but with, say, minigames teaching you how to load and ready the weapon. If you're going to just suddenly jump into all these exotic vehicles, make you struggle to learn how. If you're going to make some kid do something as complex and messy as skin an animal, make you have to earn it by doing it properly.
This might sound boring to you, but I think with the right application, pacing and introduction, it'd be fantastic. By replicating a sense of helplessness you're creating tension and excitement, in which every single kill is a victory, which also has the knock-on effect of making those victories more rewarding.
I'm not knocking Far Cry 3 for not doing this. It's the game its designers wanted it to be, and the gulf between the story's Jason and my Jason is quite literally the only thing I'm finding wrong with it right now. But the disappointment I felt when the game didn't follow on with that opening premise has certainly left the door open, even if it's just in my heart, for another game to come along and make me a helpless, accidental hero.
That's something developers Riot Games are trying to address, and according to lead producer Travis George in an interview with Gamasutra, there's a novel way they're going about it.
"We actually have built a team around this, to address [the problem]," he says. "We call it, lovingly, the PB&J Team, which stands for Player Behavior and Justice Team. And there's a lot of really talented folks on that team, including two PhDs. One's a cognitive neuroscientist and one's a behavioral psychologist."
"We've actually developed specific trends, and our own set of metrics that we look at for measuring what percentage of times we think that players will encounter a negative experience in a game, and how severe that negative experience is," George continues. "And then we have to build things or be responsive or message the community in a particular way to address those things."
"This is going to be a major focus for us".
Good to hear. Lord knows the game needs it.
As promised, LEGO movie-maker extraordinaire Kooberz has finished the first part of his epic re-telling of Portal 2 via the wonders of stop-motion animation.
This opening part runs for over five minutes. The amount of work that must have gone into this makes my head want to go lie down independent of the rest of me.
The nominations for the 55th Grammy Awards have been revealed, and for PS3 gamers there's quite the surprise: Austin Wintory's wonderful score for PSN title Journey has been nominated for Best Score Soundtrack.
That's not some weird term for an obscure category nobody will ever hear about; it's the category for the best original score soundtrack, and has Wintory up against people like Hans Zimmer and John Williams, and the scores to movies like Dark Knight Rises, Hugo and Tintin.
If he wins, it won't be the first Grammy a video game has won; Christopher Tin's "Baba Yetu" won in 2011 for a track he composed for... 2005's Civilization IV. But it will be the first time an entire video game score has won.
Best of luck, Austin!
55th Annual GRAMMY Awards Nominees [Grammys]
Thomas Deer is a cultural liaison officer at the Kahnawake Language and Cultural Centre. He helped Ubisoft out on Assassin's Creed III, and did one hell of a job making sure it became easily the best representation of Native Americans in a video game.
According to this report in the Montreal Gazette, Deer "was brought on board fairly early in the process of fleshing out the game", and was responsible for overseeing the implementation of a culture often overlooked, if not presented inaccurately, in modern media.
This job meant overseeing the way Ubisoft's developers were handling the inclusion of Native American tribes in the game, but Deer says he stepped in directly on two matters, one which impacted gameplay, the other a little less direct.
The first was scalping. It was originally going to be a part of the game, a seemingly obvious one given the practice's awareness in Western culture, but once Deer says he pointed out that the Mohawk people in question didn't actually scalp (Connor/Ratonhnhaké:ton's people are Mohawk, part of the larger Iroquois confederation), it had to go.
Note: this seemingly contradicts statements made earlier in the game's development, where it was said scalping was cut because it felt "too brutal".
He also had to request a change to a cutscene, in which the developers wanted to portray Ratonhnhaké:ton's village as wearing ceremonial masks. While these masks did exist, because they're a very "private" part of their spirituality, Ubisoft took Deer's advice and left them out of the game.
Other things he helped out on included working with a Kahnawake Mohawk translator on the game's extensive native dialogue, along with helping arrange for 20-30 contemporary Mohawks to record authentic songs and sounds of children at play.
All of which seems to have paid off, as the game's reception amongst Native Americans, a demographic not usually treated with the utmost respect in games, has been positive. "It was the talk of the town - at least among younger people," says Deer. "For the first time, they actually got to play a mainstream video game that was honest about our culture, featuring a Mohawk hero they could be proud of, and gameplay in the Mohawk language. That's a phenomenal achievement.
Assassin's Creed 3's Mohawk character shaped by Kahnawake's Thomas Deer [Montreal Gazette]
Ian McKellen looks so impressed I really hope they let him keep it.
The Hobbit Cast & Their LEGO Minifigs [The Hobbit]
Today, the world lost one of the greats: Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck died at the age of 91. Among his many musical achievements, Brubeck was the man behind the iconic jazz record Time Out, a collection of odd-meter compositions best known for the famous tune "Take Five." Time Out experimented with song-form, meter, and merged classical and jazz tonalities. It was also the first jazz record I fell in love with.
When learning jazz, transcription is everything. The best way to get good at improvising is to sit down with recordings of your favorite players and learn their solos, note for note. The summer before my sophomore year in high school, I finally got serious about the saxophone, and the first solo I transcribed was alto saxophonist Paul Desmond's famous solo on "Take Five."
It was the first of many solos I'd transcribe, but I'll never forget it. It was the first time I ever had that feeling of playing along with a master, of conceptualizing phrases that weren't my own and sounding out the changes in a way that started strange and became familiar. "Take Five" was actually composed by Desmond, not Brubeck, though from the arrangement to the form, it's still got the pianist's fingerprints all over it. It's a wonderful tune, a great performance, and one of the most enduring jazz recordings of all time.
Over the course of my time with "Take Five," I fell in love with the rest of Time Out. With Desmond on alto sax, Brubeck on piano, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums (who plays a solo on "Take Five" that actually outdoes Desmond's sax solo), Brubeck's quartet was the first full jazz ensemble I learned to identify individually by name.
The track above is "Strange Meadow Lark," which I think is my favorite tune on Time Out. It sums up the album's whole approach—a grandiose, lush piano intro that gives way to a swinging, modern tune before opening up for some blowing. And somehow, it all holds together.
It's like a more chilled-out take on the structure of "Blue Rondo a la Turk," the album's opener, and the tune that got me comfortable with counting 9/8 time. The recording (embedded here) still crops up in places from time to time—I'll always get a kick out of the football scene in Wedding Crashers where the frantic, Turkish-influenced intro riff plays.
Brubeck wasn't the most straight-up swinging pianist in the world, but that wasn't really the point—he was a thoughtful player with a deep respect for melody, and he carefully fused classical forms with jazz harmonies. He and his bands always approached improvisation with care, and used space to great effect. He knew when to play and when to lay out, and how to let the band breathe.
He was an innovator and performer to the end, and left a great legacy in his wake. The Brubeck Institute will long be a bastion for young jazz talent. His compositions will be performed for decades to come—I know I'll still be playing "In Your Own Sweet Way" at jam sessions 30 years from now.
After I graduated from music school, I spent several years teaching jazz out here in San Francisco. One of my best private students, a talented young saxophonist named Ben, started finally taking my advice about transcription to heart. He asked which solo he should transcribe first. "Take Five," I responded, without hesitation. He took it, learned it, and never looked back. Now he's in music school in New York and is probably better at saxophone than I am.
Rest in peace, Dave. Thanks for the music.
As news goes, the Video Game Awards are more about the future games they will tease than the existing ones they honor. Kotaku will be in Los Angeles on Friday covering the gala. Here is an internal chatroom discussion among Stephen Totilo, Luke Plunkett, Mike Fahey, Kirk Hamilton and yours truly as we try to pin down the most expected unexpected announcement of the evening.
so I'm speculating but I must say that I love my theory that Rocksteady will debut their new game during the VGAs
Geoff [Keighley] lines up tons of WBIE exclusives for each show, he got Arkham City in 2009 and I think again in 2010. Rocksteady HAS to be due for a new game in 2013...
video game poison!
Ecco the Dolphin: Now There's a Guy
There is a Superman movie coming out in the summer....
What was it that tipster said
I know it was debunked but I still want Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It would not be Superman?
I am 1,000 percent sure.
yeah, I think it'd be Worlds' Finest, at most
tmnt is dead
Mmmm, World's Finest. That would be lovely.
its an iOS runner game
TMNT will get a Wayforward platformer tied to the new TV show
"A rumor swirling around a few weeks ago pegged Rocksteady Games as the developers on a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. Rocksteady chief Sefton Hill told Kotaku that, while the rumor was amusing, they're doing no such thing."
yeah I remember
why dont you think superman?
The only way a Superman video game would ever work is if it were based on Krypton and he stole cars.
same arkham engine, gameplay built around saving others instead of taking damage, until you reach enemies using kryptonite. easy
Right. So he can bust through walls?
Punch down mountains?
Exactly. It's a game about limiting the unlimitable in a believable way
No one wants to play Superman with his powers shackled.
its less a matter of how accurately they can portray him
and more that, hey, WB has a superman movie coming out
these guys have a rep for DC games
lets do superman
They'll do a mobile game
Maybe something downloadable
But there isn't going to be a full movie-based Superman game
it wont be movie-based
arkham wasn't movie based
not sure. a Flash game would be totally workable and it's a bummer no one has made it.
flash would be amazing
cos games need to make money, and nobody cares about the flash
mirror's edge + bullet time + arkham brawling
as a console game? my limited imagination is getting into the way
i see flash more as brawling + fast travel
Flash don't Arkham brawl.
I just mean like cool fighting
He's punching people 20 times on his way to the donut shop
I just meant they have a good fighting system they could use!
He likes donuts.
which is why it'll be superman
he tones it down and incapcitates dudes
I bet it's Arrow.
They are pushing the fudge out of Green Arrow lately.
Green Fucking Arrow?
for a studio with that rep
its either justice league or superman
anything else is a step down
that could work
Now I want that game. v.v
still remember when they were talking about that new wonder woman movie. wonder if they'll ever make it
I liked the idea of a joss wonder woman with Morena Baccarin but it could've been a total disaster too
i have a screenplay treatment written up about the Flash, rebooting him as a rodeo performer living in Idaho, if anyone wants to read it
Kirk H. has left the room
Fahey M. has left the room
Stephen T. has left the room
Luke P. has left the room
A game where you become a pro gamer... by playing games? How meta!
This was made in 24 hours, so while not particularly fleshed out, it's still worth spending a few minutes with it.
My favorite bit is that going outside ends the game, though the stuff you can purchase comes close. The Toritos are described as "not Mexican, but not exactly food either," and Mountain Dude "helps soul-dead journalists promote your game." Heh.
Play it here.