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Monthly Archives: August 2008

365 Word Review: Too Human

The concept of Too Human is simple: Cyber vikings are at war with a breed of mechanised humans on one front and robotic elves on another. Solution? Beat them all around the face with a large hammer until they behave.

In this third-person, action RPG, you take the reigns of Baulder, son of Odin and the one tasked with dishing out said beatings. Using only a single stick for basic attacks, you smash and crash your way through dungeons, setting the world to rights, collecting loot as you go.

This approach to combat is initially engaging. Sliding from one batch of foes to the next is simple and by incorporating double taps and the odd button press, powerful combos open up. The challenge comes from the enemies you face in any single encounter; trolls have area-effect attacks, goblins prefer melees, whilst spiders like ranged weapons. You approach each skirmish assessing what to remove first to make your life as easy, and as long, as possible.

However, death bears no real penalty. Bar an irritating cutscene, you respawn back in the midst of battle as if nothing had happened. At times I would just wade in regardless, knowing that death awaited me but at least I’d whittle the opponents down to make my next life easier.

Combat eventually grows tired, with only end of level bosses offering true variety. The minimal RPG elements that exist only offer to enhance your existing abilities rather than unlock new, distinctive attacks. Even with five available classes, the only thing different is your starting stats and not styles.

With dull and repetitive environments, the only thing to keep most people going is the Diablo-esque attraction for collection loot and by the end of the first level you’ll have so many shoes that even Imelda Marcos would be put to shame.

The annoying thing is that it shouldn’t have like this; the story of humanity with cyborg implants and it’s consequences, the trimmed down co-op, the RPG-lite and the repetitive gameplay, they all had potential but nothing ever clicked.

With another two in the trilogy still to come we had better hope for a fresh start - I couldn’t do that again.

6/10

How to make a Believa

My Dare write up is still going slowly, so today I’d like to share with you this.

Chris, Andy and I would like to thank everyone who helped put the covert Believa project together. Special thanks to Will, Adam, Justin, Ryan, Louise, Simona, Jamie, Alan and Stephen, plus the hordes that helped us cut out all those blasted papercraft. Yes, Ali, that means you, too.

What price freedom?

Gold, that’s what price. Viva Piñata: Trouble is Paradise has gone gold and after a couple of weeks of additional promo work I am now on holiday, lounging on my sofa and watching the Olypmics in HD.

As immensely satisified and proud as I am of our team’s efforts over the last couple of years, and especially the few months just gone, I have to say that when I walked out of the barn last night and switched the light out there was a big smile on my face. Knowing I had a fortnight off where no bug could reach me is a grin-worthy event.

This has been my hardest crunch by far and I’ve run the full gambit of emotions with it. With Ghoulies I was young and fresh and VP: Classic saw a lot of my features cut before we got to the business end of things. With Trouble in Paradise, however, I had a lot more responsibilities, more features and a lot more stress. Goodness knows how Ali managed to cope, this being her first first-hand crunch, and I thank her for her patience.

September 5th (2nd t’other side of the pond) is now the next date in the diary for me, being that of VP’s release, and I hope to see a few of you online. Beware, noobs, I’m going to pwn your gard3n.

Believe.

Team Caffeine’s Plight of the Weedunks

On its own, Lego Indianna Jones is a good game. Where it becomes a better game is when you plug in a second controller and let someone else share in the brick smashing fun. Team Caffeine have taken this concept of “the more the merrier” on board and have created a game that solely revolves around co-op. Put simply, there is no single-player mode in Plight of the Weedunks so prepare to get friendly with someone.

Set in a world inhabited by genetic experiments called Weedunks, a cross between living creatures and household objects (“Imagine a bunny crossed with a toaster,” I was told), one player controls Grando, a gaseous hot water bottle, whilst the other takes the reigns of Kohl, an alarm clock with some serious allergy problems.

Past this point it gets a little wierd… these genetic rejects are on the brink of being crushed and recycled when they escape the mangler and end up running amuck through the Weedunk factory, which is incidentally teeming with tiny unmodified versions of themselves. No matter how disturbing all of this sounds, the Psychonauts-esque graphics takes the edge off and actually makes it rather warming and humorous.

At it’s core, Team Caffeine’s game is a platformer. The twist being that the blockages you encounter throughout the level can only be solved through team work as only the other player can trigger your special abilities. Based around their defects, Grando has the ability to inflate and reach high spots whilst Kohl possess an explosive sneeze. The two can combine, too, as Grando does a convincing imitation of a zeppelin carrying, and seemingly propelled by, Kohl.

Communication is key as both coordination and placement are needed to get the pair of you through each barrier on the level. Throughout our fifteen-minute playthrough, Ali and I were constantly egging each other on or shouting out instructions so we could both progress. Every situation was full of banter and laughs as each character had their moment in charge.

Some simple puzzles had Grando floating up to platforms to flick a switch or Kohl was blowing up blockages. The most memorable portions, though, were when it was a series of back and forth, multi-stage puzzles that meant each character was needed multiple times and where the cooperation level was such that if you weren’t getting on you then weren’t getting any further in the game.

For me the strength of Plight of the Weedunks is in the simplicity of the core design; with two people and only a very small set of moves, there is the ability to know everything that you ever do in the game very quickly. This is very attractive in a multiplayer game because both players can get up to speed very quickly and then the game can be built up around that.

As with most games on show, the bite size sections that were produced promote them all as downloadable and episodic. Weedunk’s is no different and having talked to the team they did mention that ideally they could even swap characters between episodes, keeping it fresh and introducing new experiences as they go.

At the moment future episodes maybe jumping the gun just a little - after the work they’ve all done recently I’m sure they’d be happy for a little break – but as it currently stands they have an absorbing and entertaining game and a great platform to work from.

Back in town

I am not a happy bunny. At this very moment in time I should be settling down with a croisant, enjoying Shakespeare for Breakfast in the middle of Edinbrugh. What I am actually doing is sifting through emails in Twycross slowly growing very grumpy indeed.

For this reason my write up of Dare has been delayed slightly. I will endeavour to put up more reports as and when I can.

Game Over Studio’s Smile

The unnervingly named Smile has depth. Given a ten week development cycle, it would be oh-so simple to knock out a concept of a survival horror game that worked on cheap scares and a cliched storyline, but not so for Game Over Studio’s creation.

Although heavily trimmed due to the restrictive deadline, this third-person survival-adventure is steeped in Maori mythology, revolving around reflections and their symbolism. Throughout the game, a demi-god is playing silly buggers, corrupting reflections, distorting your image to make minions and creating portals in time and space.

An early example of this mirror based gameplay showed puddles reflecting abstract images of your next destination and finally the kidnap of a girl, a sort of visual treasure hunt ending in the unveiling your ultimate objective. From there on, stealing glimpses into the water source will give you a hint of the girl’s then whereabouts or trigger an encounter with a demon.

Teleportation is also possible through some shiny surfaces, although at the moment the use seems quite arbitrary as the tech isn’t up to giving you a feel to where you’ll end up; you just have to jump in and hope. This isn’t Portal, more Prey, where each reflection has a set destination. Still, if you remember the teleporter happy Halo multiplayer maps you’ll know that’s it can be used to create a maze or level just as taxing as anything Glados can set you, and you never know what’s going to be waiting for you on the other side.

Later on light is used, affecting how reflections are perceived. Given a single sheet of glass, the light properties on either side can either make it translucent or mirror-like, thus affecting the demi-god’s influence on it.

Maori imagery even extends to the very subtle hint system. Maori rock paintings are tucked away in corners, pointing explorers in the right direction. On one occasion the previously docile kiwi (the bird, not the fruit) decided to help me, jumping into a puddle and giving me the inkling that I should do the same.

The concept is very solid and despite the loud show floor the sense of suspense and mystery came across well. Smile definitely has a touch of the Resident Evil 4 about it with the horror used sparingly and to good effect, whilst also teasing the player enough into making them want to get to the bottom of the mystery,

On a practical level, aspects such as the camera, graphics and combat weren’t as tight as others on display, but given that you really felt and understood what the team had set out to convey this was a very strong showing with a veritable kiwi (still the bird) full of potential.

Dare to be Digital 2008

Welcome to Dare to be Digital 2008. After last year’s incredible experience, I was very honoured and excited to find out that the powers-that-be wanted to send me back up to Scotland to be a “walk and talk judge” at the event’.

Last year’s event showcased some truly wonderful titles, with Climbtastic, Ragnarawk and Bear Go Home all being shortlisted for a BAFTA.

This year there are 50% more teams, a setting that is more akin to E3 than last year’s white room and I have Ali in tow to give me her own unique perspective on things.

Over the next few days I’ll be taking complete advantage of my situation and posting up some of the games that have caught my eye, what captutured my imagination in various fields, so do stay tuned.

Edit: due to an “incident” my camera is out of comission so please do excuse the lack of images. Thank you.

Are you a Believa?

Over the weekend, my good friend Jimmcq dropped me a link to a video that basically glues together my two favourite things in gaming: Halo and Viva Piñata. What more could a man want for?

The toys that Burger King released some time ago now have been thrust into a world of darkness and war where Pester stands tall at the end, paying tribute to the UNSC-Covenenant war.

For those of you unfamiliar with Believe, here is the 60 second version of the original that accompanied Halo 3′s launch and it seems to be going for a shot for shot remake.

If only I could get my hands on that layout, it would make a great Halo Clix map.