Monthly Archives: August 2011

Orcs Must Die! | Interview

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

With the impending release of Robot Entertainment’s debut title, Orcs Must Die!, we wrestled Community Manager Justin Korthof away from his deadline and posed to him some very pertinent questions.

Firstly, why must the Orcs die?

In Orcs Must Die!, you play as a character called The War Mage. The War Mage has, for all intents and purposes, recently become the last member of a magical group of guardians known as the Order. The Order was tasked with defending a series of magical rifts that were protected by giant fortresses.

The fortresses are being invaded by an army of orcs and other nasty creatures, and the War Mage is tasked with defending them on his own. To do this, he’s got to learn how to conjure a variety of traps, and to use various spells and weapons to prevent the orcs from getting to, and through, the rifts.

What made you choose a Tower Defence style game over that which your more readily associated with, namely the RTS?

Well, we never sat down and explicitly said “Let’s make this kind of game!” About a year ago, we were kicking the tires on several game ideas, looking for a project that we could build in a relatively short development cycle. There was a lot of pent-up creative energy in the studio, and ultimately that manifested in an early prototype or Orcs Must Die! that was a ton of fun to play.

The game developed over time to become a happy hybrid of Tower Defense, third-person shooter, and strategy gaming. As much combat as there is in the game, there’s a significant strategy component, which is what I think most people would expect from the folks at our studio.

What influenced the decision to make it third-person?

It was the most natural thing for the game. We wanted to put the player down in the action, and the third-person perspective felt really appropriate for our mix of combat and trap-setting. It gave players a little more sense of what was happening in their immediate surroundings.

Would you say that you’ve taken inspiration from any other Tower Defence game, or that there are any you particularly admire?

Nothing specifically has been a core inspiration. Several people in the office were playing various horde-esque game types, and a small handful of people started kicking around similar ideas.

From your previous experiences with Age of Empires and Halo Wars, which did you bring to Orcs Must Die and how did they help shape the project?

Certainly a good grasp of strategy gameplay. Orcs does require as much of your brain as it does of your trigger finger, so having a background in strategy game development was very helpful there.

Additionally, on the console side, there was previously a mountain of thought put into developing console-friendly controls for Halo Wars. Several lessons learned from that helped to rework the controls of Orcs Must Die! when we were bringing it over to the console.

There seems a multitude of way of dispatching the Greenskins, some rather comic, some quite brutal. Was there an open season on suggesting new and painful ways to off the invaders?

Absolutely. Trap suggestions were always open to the whole studio. We all spent time each week playtesting the game and bringing deadly trap ideas to the table.

Do you have a favourite weapon/trap? And were any cut that you wished had been snuck in?

My favorite trap at the moment is the Wall Blades because of how awesome it is to watch a large group of orcs get reduced to bits of orc parts. But frankly, my favorite trap changes on a regular basis. We were fortunately able to get almost all of our favorite traps into the game. As for any that didn’t make it, we may be able to find homes for them in the future. So they’ll stay secret for now.

There’s also an accompanying comic, does this mean there’s a lot more to the world than purely squishing Orcs that will expanded upon?

The story isn’t terribly complex. We explicitly tried to avoid making the narrative too heavy for the game itself. The comic expands on much of the backstory that we only hint at during the game itself. We have a ton of comic fans in the studio. The idea came up from our art department to develop a comic based on the game. It was a really exciting opportunity to do something that is usually reserved for much larger franchises. We had the chance to do it, so we took it. The results have been great.

We’ll be handing out printed versions of the comic at PAX Prime and the digital version of the book will be available on the official website just before the game releases.

I’ve heard some funny stories emerging from the various previews you’ve given, about players setting up traps backwards and hastening their own failure. Have you seen anything truly ridiculous happen in game?

The best story I’ve got came from PAX East, when we announced and showed the game for the first time. A player inadvertently set up a flip trap facing toward the rift and he was literally flinging enemies into the air at just the right angle that they were landing in the rift itself. Once they were airborne, it was over. Since you can only sell back traps in between waves of enemies, he was frantically guarding the flip trap to ensure that it didn’t throw anyone into the rift.

Finally, as a fan of Orcs, what do you have against them? Why them?

They’re really ugly, really smelly, and they’re trying to take over. What more reason could you need? There are more story elements in both the game and the comic that discuss exactly why Orcs Must Die! But we’ll leave those a secret for now.

Many thanks to Robot Entertainment for taking time out of the busy schedule for taking time to talk to us, and to Sean Kauppinen for arranging the interview.

Orcs Must Die! is due out in late Summer on XBLA and Steam.

Body Count | First Impressions

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

Pitched somewhere between Modern Warfare and Bulletstorm, the world of Bodycount offers up a mix of tactical and considered shooting whilst encouraging the player to really show-off and execute some stylish gunplay. Not pushing too far in either direction, the aim is evidently to try and attract as many shooter fans as possible.

And for the most part is does this surprisingly well, consider the spectrum it’s trying to cover. For those more concerned with the more tactical aspects of picking your way around and map and similarly picking off targets, the control scheme proves reassuringly tight, with one neat ability so often lacking in many shooters: the lean.

It’s a simple addition that negates the need for a dedicated cover mechanic; one which so often bogs down and draws combat out unnecessarily. This far less intrusive alternative allows battles to flow in a smoother manner back and forth across the wide levels, rather than simply being locked into a series of flagged cover points. Looking down the iron sights, a simple shift of the stick will allow you to peak out and pop a few shots off before ducking back into safety and scampering off to the next target.

The world also encourages such behaviour, supplying a ready amount of pillars and makeshift barricades. Of the levels available in the preview, one saw us navigating a slum come military compound in West Africa, where corrugated iron sheets and half built walkways were ideal point of protection, whilst another dropped us in a rainy fishing village. The weather and darkness afforded us an extra level of protection, as the elements shrouded our movements. Sneaking about and removing threats oblivious to our presence.

This is no Splinter Cell however, and, as straight as it can appear in places, it positively encourages the big kills. Every headshot or explosive kill chains, popping up on in your HUD accompanied by a large digit to inform you just how brutal you’ve been. There’s plenty of scope for chaining some truly vast streaks, too, with a good array of accurate rifles and pistols at your disposal, whilst the levels are littered with that classic of 90s gameplay, the explosive barrel.

Shotguns and pumping bodies full with bullets is as effective as clearing the level as you’d expect, but this method offers very little reward by comparison, as racking up kill streaks does more than just improve your rating at the end of each level. With each additional “skill kill” a metre is charged, and once full an array of power-ups are then at your disposal; ranging from periods of invulnerability, armour piecing rounds, or even airstrikes.

The thought of invulnerability may be a far cry from the tactical shooter I began speaking of, but the power-ups are just the right thing to pull players out of a tight spot. One instance, when surrounded and trapped by African militia, saw me quickly tap on the d-pad to enable the armour piercing rounds, allowing me the ability to fire off a flurry of accurate headshots, easily penetrating their helmets that had been bested me previously. That quick spate of kills then earned me enough of a bonus to then grant invulnerability, giving me the grace to storm into the militia’s base and face down a towering mini-gun toting warlord. Not something I’d have like to have done sans the ability to repel his hail of bullets.

Rounding off our glimpse at Bodycount was an encounter in an underground lair with a private military that would have seemed at home at any Japanese developer as opposed to Codemaster’s Guildford studio. The sharp, dark, angular nature of the body armour and brilliant flashes of energy weapons put me in mind of Capcom’s Project No. 3, or Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey.

Their highly stylised base of clean white panels and dark pillars, was a deep contrast to the slums where we had started out, and shows that variety is as key a part in the experience as the combat. Although one and the other do play off each other with the difference in architectural design playing through to the style of combat employed, as it’s very doubtful that a high-tech military base will allow flammable containers to be left everywhere. Those pointed headed guards seem far too sensible for that.

And so, with that Japanese inspiration, it seems Bodycount draws from many quarters, bringing them all together into their own shooter brew. As such, there is a possibility that it lacks its own distinct personality, although no doubt that could easily filled by the cohesion the full campaign will bring.

Charisma aside, this mix is nothing but beneficial for actual gameplay. A complete control setup combined with wide environments and subtle cover mechanic make for open playgrounds in which fire-fights can unfold. Whilst an obsession with keeping barrels of kerosene and a selection of useful power-ups only serve to give even further options to the player.

From Dust | Review

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

There are plenty of releases slapped with the moniker of “sandbox”, the notion being that it’s up to you to make your own fun. From the rampages in Grand Theft Auto to the destructive freedom seen in Red Faction: Armageddon, the very concept typically brings to mind vast cities chocked full with buildings, citizens and vehicles, all ready to play their small but key role in your self-made narrative.

But how many real-world sandboxes (or sandpits depending on the colour of your passport) can you remember teeming with the tiny cries of people as they run from a crazed lunatic driving down the motorway against on-coming traffic whilst wielding a rocket launcher?

To me a sandpit was somewhere that you could build fantastical structures; heaping sandy piles up to test the boundaries of construction before introducing the raging rapids of a sluiced bucket of water. Watching the tiny rivers and streams the flow would create as it razed, and then building once more on the macro flood plain. To this day I am never happier than when left on a beach with a bucket and spade.

The magic of From Dust is that it captures this elemental quality. Within the first half-hour I had forgotten the tribe I was supposed to be guarding and instead had my interest stolen by a rocky outcrop, from which a spring ran down its side and across a sandy shore to the sea. As I watched the sand began to shift. Encouraged by the water it spread and a delta began to form. The beauty came not just from the final formation but in the subtlety and understated nature of such an event. But for chance I could have missed the whole thing.

Such loose rules underpin the challenges found within this “Modern God game”. Matter can be controlled by your almighty self, though it is more about redistribution than simply summoning it into being. Ground may spring forth at the click of an omnipotent finger, but it will just as soon slide back into the sea if carelessly deposited.

Pick up a quantity of sand and you can either drizzle it out, as though a bag of sugar with a hole in the bottom, or dump the whole lot in one go and let the simulation take care of the resultant heap. To produce anything worthwhile however, the sandbanks must be built up and spread. There’s no chance of creating stairways or intricate bridges, instead they must work their way out into the ocean or be the foundations for greater earthworks should the tribe wish to scale new heights.

Water and lava can similarly be controlled, with the former spreading life through the sand, turning it into verdant pastures, whilst the latter cools quickly to stone. Such material is handy for more durable bridges and constructing walls that can withstand even Nature herself.

The whole purpose of your being is to serve and protect your tribe, leading them to new settlements and uncovering the ancient relics their people have scattered throughout the lands. With each new discovery so your powers grow, allowing larger quantities of matter to be scooped up, summoning the evaporation of any body of water, and even the ability to shield each village from the elements themselves. For as much as you can control the elements, so they run their course caring not of your deity status. More often than not a disaster of one sort of another, be it tsunami or volcanic eruption, is just minutes away.

Although these events focus the mind, the time given to you to react is often contary to the extremely unprecise nature of your responses. Being tasked with building up a flood defence or beating back a forest fire is all well and good but accuracy is not a known trait within From Dust, and solutions are very rough and ready.

Such matters are exhacerbated by some curious pathfinding by your head-strong tribesmen, who usually seem insistent on taking the scenic route to their destination or staring blankly at blockages that seem no more than a couple of feet in height.

The call to answer these challenges is further hampered when lava is involved. Compared to the reusable properties of sand, not only are most of the edifices unchangable but the burning rock has a tendency to set light to any greenery nearby. One moment you may be erecting a sea wall to stop your village from drowning and the next their neighbourhood is ablaze, and the only way to save them is to drown them.

Comic as it may be, the brutal reality is that some of the later levels do border on the frustrating as you’re tasked with the seemingly impossible in such conditions. Conversely, however, if you break the back of these particular levels then it’s there you’ll see the most in Ubisoft’s earthy puzzler. It’s at that point that whole regions will have changed before your eyes; volcanoes may have pushed themselves up from the sea bed; the land itself has been reshaped by the assault of the waves; and in the centre you have played your part sculpting a sanctuary for you people.

Indeed, you have to almost suffer these hardships to then be able to truly play. Once the men and women are safely tucked away in the villages and the weather has been tamed, then the world is free to be shaped. Completed levels will stay as left should you wish to return and resculpt, whilst the final levels show you what powers an unfetted god can truly wield.

Tying the package together is a visual style at one with nature. So undoubtedly inspired and pushed by the team’s understanding of geology and anthropology, tribal motifs and statues sit seamlessly in the natural world. The technology underpinning it all is also an art in of itself, as the sight of water eddying through tiny gaps and spilling into tributaries easily matches the care and attention lavished on the solid world about it. It’s such a shame that a restrictive camera system denies real opportunity to soak it all in.

Given the camera, the curious pathing and the infuriating difficulty spikes, it’s a wonder I still feel so strongly for From Dust. Sandboxes without direction can soon become a tiresome adventure, and whilst at times there may quite the opposite occuring here, for the most part you are free to shape and tackle the world in your own way. Be it constructing dykes to control the flow of lava, or dunking a large chunk of sand down in the middle of a stream just to see what would happen, it is incredibly easy to get distracted and head off down your own path.

If a similar child still lives within you: grab a spade.

8 /10