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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Rewriting History

For me, there’s nothing more damaging to the credibility of a universe than a rewrite. Though there are those who simply enjoy being taken on an adventure through its backwaters and thoroughfares, there are also a core that will invest. Designers who build a world prey for this; that their hard work pays dividends and it draws players in deep enough to want to know more.

This was how I originally found the lore wrapped around the Halo series. Though the game itself only scratched the surface of an intergalactic war, the books that came with it spoke of races brought together through religion, a human civil war, and the series of unfortunate events that bring the UNSC and Covenant to blows. Far too much to sum up in the inter-level cutscenes.

Come Halo: Reach, however, that all went out the window. What had in the texts been a surprise and comparatively swift and brutal attack on humanity’s primary military world was depicted as a slow, drawn out campaign in the game. Large swathes of the core of Halo, such as how Master Chief had received his Mjolnir armour and link up with Cortana, were shoved to one side.

Fair enough, you may say. If it made a better game, so be it. But I counter: why upset the invested when the rest of your audience don’t care enough to notice?

This reared its head again this week with the announcement of the inclusion of a fourth ending in Mass Effect 3’s expansion. Though they brand it as an Extended Cut, it seems the pressure from a very vocal minority has told and Bioware has created a new ending.

Though they may not have been overly enamoured with the original ending, it was still the intended send-off. Consideration for such a climax cannot have been taken lightly by the vast team responsible for the trilogy. They will have been every bit invested in the universe and its outcome as its fanbase, if not more.

When such epic adventures are tweaked and changed however it brings to question not just the resolve at those behind the story, but a large one involving the genre as a whole. Some strive for our hobby to be recognised to be as equal an art form as cinema, comics, or television. A medium that can support epic tales sitting alongside casual affairs, just as Pride and Prejudice may be scheduled after Hole in the War on BBC 1.

Viewers may have opinions on how Mr Darcy reacts and behaves, or even ponder the merits of throwing those responsible for the latter out of Auntie all together, but all they are are opinions. No matter how many people write in, chances are that nothing will be reshot. Television and cinema are not mass collaborative media, they come from a creative core; someone has an idea and a team brings it to fruition to promote a reaction in you.

If you like it, fantastic. If you don’t, then hopefully on the journey you felt something, anything. Even a negative reaction shows you were engaged.

Dungeonbowl

For those of you who think American Football is for wimps, Blood Bowl was invented. A game full of spikes, claws, cheating and bone crunching tackles, so much so that it has always a blessing that no bright spark had ever taken it from the tabletop to the field. Dungeonbowl is a twist on that formula and who better to talk to about it than the team behind the new digital version, Cyanide…

7outof10: For those unaware of the brutal world of Dungeonbowl, could you tell us a little about?

Cyanide: Dungeonbowl is the strangest variation of Blood Bowl. For many decades spellcasters have disputed which of their magical colleges is the most powerful. Tired of all-night arguments, a few wizards suggested that each college should set up a team and settle the matter in a magically constructed underground labyrinth. The ball is hidden in one of six treasure chests – the other five are booby-trapped with an explosive spell. The first team to find the ball and get it to the opposing team’s End Zone wins the match. The wizards added a few teleporters to allow players to magically travel from one place to another as a dungeon can be quite big.

After the success of your digital version of Blood Bowl, did you feel that Dungeonbowl was a natural extension?

We looked at different expansions of Blood Bowl and Dungeonbowl was the most interesting one with its unique dungeon setting. Also the game was officially endorsed by Games Workshop in 1989 with the release of the boxed supplement Elves & Dwarfs Dungeonbowl so it was easier to approach Games Workshop and discuss a video game adaptation.

So given its less stadium-sport feel and brutal dungeon environment, will it attract a different group of players compared to Blood Bowl?

Yes, I think it definitely will. I personally find the game more engaging to new players than Blood Bowl, it might be more complicated to master with the specific Dungeonbowl rules but in a sense the game is more fun to play… Pushing opponents into lava is fun, right?

Always. But with that comment in mind, is this a faithful recreation, or have you had to tweak anything from the tabletop?

We tried to stay true to the tabletop as much as possible but we had to make changes for the video game. One of those changes is the addition of a soft time limit to match duration, the original rules had none so a game could virtually last forever which doesn’t work in a video game.

I know where you’re coming from; we have a few slow players in our gaming group who have an ability to make certain games feel like they’re lasting forever even if they’re not.

Fro competitive play are you offering support for online leagues, tournaments and ladders to let managers pit their wits against each other?

We currently support a ranked ladder with matchmaking and unranked challenges. Unlike the Blood Bowl game there are no leagues support but that is something we would like to add in the future.

Interesting this is only available as a download, what DRM do you have planned for Dungeonbowl? It’s always a touchy subject with certain portions of the Internet.

Like Blood Bowl we are using SecuROM with a number of allowed activations on multiple computers. We have full control over the system so we can easily tweak the numbers if there is a need to.

With recent announcements concerning the game the dungeon editor has been focused on quite prominently. How crucial to you was including an editor?

It was crucial to include an editor as it’s the core of the game. We designed the game around it and we want the community to use it. Players have already published over 80 dungeons and some of them are really great to play on!

Have your test team created some truly evil “pitches” with it?

We had a few “evil” dungeons, one of them consisted of small islands where one could only progress using teleporters. It had less than six teleporters so players had higher chances of getting lost in space…fun but not really fair!

That itself sounds enough to keep your games fresh but are there any plans for expansions, be it dungeon tiles or races?

We have new colleges and new environment kits in the pipe. The environment kits are very different from the default one and you will be able to mix them in your dungeon.

You’ve worked with Games Workshop now for a number of years, have you considered branching out into any of their other brands? Are there any Necromunda fans at Cyanide?

We are always working on concepts, so far the only one that worked out is Blood Bowl but who knows…
Yes there are a few fans of Necromunda here at Cyanide. Some people also used to play Warhammer Quest and Man’o'war.

Finally, do you in the office partake in the tabletop version of Blood Bowl and Dungeonbowl? If so what team do you play and any particular tips for an aspiring Dungeonbowl coach?

We used to play it when we started working on the first edition of Blood Bowl. It has been quite some times since our last game but I heard someone wants to bring his box and teams to play some games!

I enjoy playing Norse, they are doing ok at everything. Regarding tips for new coaches in Dungeonbowl, just like Blood Bowl you should avoid taking risks at the start of your turn…also, always open treasure chests as your last action unless you are sure the ball is in there!

Thank you very much to Cyanide for taking time out to talk to us, and to Camille Lisoir for arranging the interview. Dungeonbowl is available now through Cyanide’s own website.

A Wii-U-Turn On Nintendo

Last week I finally managed to pin down why I was not enamoured with the Wii-U. For the first time ever I would not be pining for a Nintendo console on day one. Though this may in itself save £250 from leaping from my bank account, there’s a part of me that’s disappointed it’s come to this. E3 may have tried to dazzle me with Pikmin 3 and Zombi-U, but why was it not enough?

It’s not because of the lack of quality output on the Wii. I know others have said they felt “stung” by the Wii and its barren release schedule and don’t want a repeat performance with its follow-up. For every month that saw a Skyward Sword or Mario Galaxy there were ample more that saw nothing but shovelware and movie tie-ins. The quality of the first-party offerings were enough for me, though; enough to keep the Wii a fixture under the television. It’s not that.

It’s not because of the potential that within 12 months the Wii-U will once again seem like an outdated device. With as much as Nintendo put into proving that the Wii-U could handle the likes of Mass Effect 3 and Batman Arkham City, they failed to understand that at the same time they were indicating that their hardware had only just caught up to what Microsoft and Sony produced five-years ago. If the Wii-U launched this festive season, owners could probably expect a year worth of parity, pulling in the huge multi-format releases, before once again being outclassed by the rumoured next round of next-gen consoles. At that point would the third-party publishers again forget about it? It’s not that.

It’s not because of the technology. The concept of an extra screen is intriguing – just ask Microsoft about their Smart Glass – and in the hands of Nintendo’s creative minds there is a vast amount of potential. See how Mario 64 came from the analogue stick, Star Fox was brought to life with the FX chip, and Wii Sports brought living rooms to life using the Wiimote; Nintendo do interesting things with interesting tech. It’s not that.

What it is then, is that I own something very similar already.

When I watched the Zombi-U trailers, pored over the Pikmin demo and raised eyebrows at the Nintendo theme park, all I could think is that each one would be perfect for the DS/3DS. Having four Captain Olimars running about, tapping back and flicking Pikmin to do you bidding would be great on the go; sniping zombies as you held the 3DS up and used its orientational knowhow to train you sights; even linking up five handhelds over Wi-Fi to play a Nintendo-themed Pacman.

With each of these thoughts the disappointment grew. With both the DS and the Wii Nintendo seized upon something different; a new and novel way to interact with games. They produced unique experiences that you could not get anywhere else. What I see when I look at the Wii-U is a company playing it safe, combining the dual screens of their handheld with the waggle sticks with the best-selling console of a generation, but at the same time over complicating it all.

Put like that it may be hard to argue with, but with an attitude like that I find it hard to see a repeat of the Wii’s runaway success. Millions of “casual” gamers who bought in won’t care about an upgrade to their Wii Fit machine; the older players who just wanted to keep active with the odd session of Wii Sports bowling are hardly like to reinvest; and the cautious who were brought in by the simplicity of the Wiimote will now have a whole tablet to concern themselves with.

And me? Me, I have my DS, a very fine and hardy dual screen experience. My money’s safe for now.

Resonance

If there was ever a genre suited for telling stories then point-and-click would be it. Capable of turning its hand from comedy to mystery, the ability to immerse a player into a world by making them part of the story is unmatched. Resonance is a new title from Wadjeteye Games and places a player in the shoes of not just one main character but several.

We talk to studio founder Dave Gilbert and Resonance developer Vince Twelve about their exciting new project…

7outof10: For those unfamiliar with Resonance, could you tell us a little about it? What is it all about?

Vince Twelve: Resonance is a point-and-click adventure game where you take control of four characters and their memories to work your way through a complex sci-fi mystery. A scientist has died after creating a terrible new technology and the race is on to secure his secret vault before the technology falls into the wrong hands. The player can use the unique short-term memory system to talk to any character in the game about practically anything you see! So you’ll have to do some logical thinking to figure out how to navigate the game’s tricky puzzles and twisty plot.

What would you say influenced the story of Resonance the most?

Vince Twelve: I drew inspiration from a number of TV shows, movies, books, and comic books. I’d name Twin Peaks as one important inspiration. I watched the entire show while in a hospital bed early in the game’s development and knew I wanted a similar atmosphere of mystery and peculiarity.

Telling the story from the perspective of three different characters and breaking it into pieces is quite a different approach to storytelling, was it difficult to write from that angle?

Vince Twelve: Four, actually! The game was definitely difficult to write and program because of the decision to have four playable characters. Especially later in the game where they’re all working together and you can swap between them. This creates a ton of extra work because your writing and code has to take into account the huge number of combinations of ways the player can explore the story and interact with characters and the world. It really becomes mind-boggling.

What inspired the very interesting use of STM and LTM as opposed to a just a conventional inventory? It appears to play a large part in the game, but did the concept come before the story was fully fleshed out or evolve as a useful way of allowing players to go back over key pieces of information?

Vince Twelve: I wanted the game to require the player to think logically about how to overcome obstacles. The example I like to use is a locked door and a locksmith. In a lot of adventure games, if you see a locked door and you go to talk to the locksmith, the game will provide you a list of dialog choices including “Hey, could you unlock that door for me.” This is practically spoon-feeding the solution to the player since all you have to do is exhaust all your dialog options in most cases.

So I wanted to come up with a new way for the player to communicate his or her intentions to the game in a way that wasn’t so easily brute-forced but also to have this communication take place via an easy to use and understandable interface. The theme of memories was already very important to the game’s story, so it was a natural metaphor for this interface. In real life, if you were to run into this locked door, you would “store” it in your short-term memory, and then walk over to the locksmith and talk to him about it. That natural process informed the design of the STM (Short-Term Memory) system.

Why include a point system? On one hand it’s obviously a great way to compare player’s talent at weaving their way through your puzzles but the decision to kill the player when they reach zero could be seen as a little harsh.

Vince Twelve: This is actually a system that we re-thought and changed after the press preview was distributed. I wanted the characters to be in actual danger in the game to keep tension high. So, character death was important. But how do we handle that fairly?

Since fate was another theme in the game, I added this concept of “fate points” that you would earn during gameplay. If you would fail in the game, rather than run to your most recent save-game, you could instead rewind the game (fate correcting itself) at the cost of a few fate points.

But in the end this felt too punitive, so we decided to de-couple the point system from the rewind system and just allow the player to rewind as many times as needed. Janet, our programmer, still wanted to keep the point counter, so we left that in as a side challenge, but it now goes only one way: up!

In many previews I’ve seen the voice acting has been highly commended. How hard was it to find actors that fit the key roles? And as they grew into them, did you find yourself altering lines to fit the personality they brought to proceedings?

Dave Gilbert: I found three of the four lead characters almost instantly! As soon as I played the first build I knew exactly who I wanted to play Ed, Anna and Ray. It didn’t take much convincing to get Vince to agree. The hardest role to cast was Bennet. Originally I had Brian Silliman earmarked for the role, but he already did the “tough gravelly cop” thing when he played Azriel in Gemini Rue so it sounded exactly like the same character. I asked around, and it turned out that Sarah Elmaleh (Anna) knew Logan Cunningham and he lived very close by. I was familiar with his work on Bastion, so I knew he could do the type of voice we wanted. I was very happy when he agreed he could do it.

Vince Twelve: One instance of the lines changing to fit the voice actors is seen in Detective Bennet’s first scene. I wasn’t happy with the introduction to that scene; it was too wordy. But when I heard that we were getting Logan as the Detective, I rewrote the intro to be kind of a film-noir narration, because I really wanted to hear it in that gravelly voice!

Personally I’m a great fan of pixelised point and clicks as opposed to their polygonal brethren. However, in this day and age why do you choose to stick with 2D? And what benefits do you and your animators see from that style.

Dave Gilbert: Mostly budget more than anything else! You can get very evocative 2D art for a reasonable cost, but getting quality 3D art is significantly more expensive. It’s very quick and simple to make a 2D animation and get it right into the game. With 3D you have to deal with meshes and rigging and modeling and all sorts of things that I know nothing about, and there’s so much that can go wrong at any stage of the process. I’m a bit of a luddite, so I find 2D art much easier to work with. You have frames which make up an animation, and that’s it!

Vince Twelve: Absolutely. Time, budget, and familiarity. Plus, it just looks gorgeous! Look at it!

Have you ever been tempted to go episodic?

Dave Gilbert: I’ve done the episodic thing with Blackwell, and for the most part it’s worked out great. But I was lucky. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have started out with an episodic series! The consumer confidence is just not there yet. Aside from Telltale, nobody has ever pulled off the episodic thing successfully and gained the trust of gamers. While the opinion of Telltale’s games vary, nobody ever doubts that they will finish what they start. After four Blackwell games, people generally believe by now that I am going to deliver on the next installment, but I still get emails from people saying that they don’t want to get invested in the series without knowing if it’s going to be finished or not. So episodic games are much harder to sell, even if they are cheaper/quicker to produce!

Vince Twelve: I briefly considered breaking Resonance into three episodes just because it was taking so long to complete. But the story wasn’t really structured in a way conducive to an episodic release. The episodes just wouldn’t have stood up on their own.

As developers in the midst of the adventure scene, do you feel like the attention surrounding high-profile Kickstarter projects is helping the genre flourish?

Dave Gilbert: I think it’s great! Anything that brings more attention to point-and-clicks can only mean good things for us.

I have very fond memories of the quite evil Discworld, though never quite managed to complete it until the era of Game FAQ. What is the one point and click that thwarted you but you still loved?

Dave Gilbert: Probably King’s Quest 3. I spent months being blown up, dusted, transformed, and all-around humiliated by that wizard Manannan! This was in the days before internet walkthroughs, so I had no choice but to solve it on my own. When I finally DID best him, I could only describe the feeling as “absolute euphoria.” Take that, stupid wizard.

Vince Twelve: The Space Bar. What a brilliant but deeply flawed game! It had the most amazing sense of style with great settings and characters, but it was punishingly difficult with little-to-no readability on some of the puzzles. Zero indication of what you were supposed to do. Even playing through it with the help of a walkthrough I still didn’t understand the logic behind some of the puzzles. Even so, I have loved that game ever since I played it back in high school, and have a secret desire to somehow acquire the IP and make a sequel.

Thank you very much to Emily Morganti for arranging the interview and Dave Gilbert and Vince Twelve for taking time out of the schedule to talk to us. Resonance is out 19 June on PC and is available through WadjetEye Game’s website.

7Up: Gaming Royalty

We may have had an extended weekend, but it’s not just been spent having street parties and waving flags. We’ve been comtemplating the top seven members of gaming’s royal family.

7. King Jingaling

A friend of Banjo and Kazooie, this high ranking Jinjo is all about his people. In Banjo Tooie, when Gruntilda and her sisters scare off his entire village, he implores the bear and bird duo to find his subjects and bring them back for a game of Kickball. Sadly, during events, he’s turned into a zombie, but that’s all sorted by the end of the adventure.

He reappears in Nuts & Bolts although in slightly less glamorous surroundings, having opened up a Bingo hall by the pier. A lesson to bear in mind for all those on the Civil List.

6. King of All Comsos

Most parents are embarrassing, but for the poor Prince in Katamari Damacy having your father where a skin tight outfit and a ruff the size of Saturn’s rings is only the start of it. The series only turned into a video game as the King got so drunk he accidentally destroyed every star in the universe. Parents! Tsk.

Despite the Prince’s help he’s never happy with his efforts, usually belittling or berating him. Quite why Prince puts up with it is anyone’s guess, though it could be that one day he hopes to inherit his father’s natty wardrobe.

5. Locust Queen

More family issues as we look upon The Locust Queen from Gears of War. Rumoured to be Marcus Fenix’s mother, it opens up a whole new set of mother-son emotional turmoil and psychology that the ancient Greeks would have a field day with. Eat your heart out Oedipus.

4. King

A mainstay in the Tekken series, King is a distinctive fighter thanks to appearing to have the head of a Jaguar. Disappointingly however it is supposed to be a mask, having been inspired by Japanese and Mexican wrestlers, but I still like to think there’s a man-cat on the rosta.

Amusingly, King never speaks, instead just growling at passers-by. It seems to work well enough though as they understand everything this pussy cat purrs.

3. King Dedede

The bird with a hammer taller than himself, King Dedede is the self-professed King of Dreamland, a title Kirby does not take kindly to. It’s a love hate relationship though as Kirby has been caught breaking into Dedede’s castle on more than one occasion to fill his ever hungry belly.

The answers as to how an overweight penguin in a kimono learned how to wield such a large hammer or indeed become king of a land are sadly lost in the mists of time.

2. Dark Queen

A trip back to the land of 8-bit now as we look upon the cruel beauty of The Dark Queen, nemesis of the Battletoads. Dressed in rather unsuitable attire for most royal duties – she’d have caught her death of cold during Sunday’s flotilla – she regularly appeared as the final boss in many of the series’ instalments.

She was a true cartoon villain. Controlling an army of hopeless pig- and rat-men, she would constantly bemoan their uselessness whilst regularly turning up in between levels to mock the Battletoads. A definite product of the 80s.

1. Queen of Blades

It seems like we could find no “nice” queens on our search through videogame history. Though all seem young, confident women who obviously work out and are careful with what they eat, they’re also liable to send the universe down the plug-hole at a moment’s notice. We round out our list with the Queen of Blades from Starcraft II.

Formerly Sarah Kerrigan, this once Terran Ghost was taken by the Zerg before being mutated into a human-Zerg hybrid. Her powerful psychic abilities lead her to be spared a life of suffering and instead she went on to rule the swarm, taking on the title Queen of Blades. Can’t quite see a Royal gaining much public sympathy if they ever adopted that moniker in Britain.