In exchange for being allowed to attend the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, work asked me this one favour: to be their representative at Dare to be Digital. Hardly the worst deal in the world as Dare is a competition run between Scottish, English and Irish universities to bring on the next generation of video game developers… where I get to play lots of games.
The scheme originated in Scotland as an IT initiative to help setup fledging businesses but has since evolved to solely focus on the games sector. Participating teams are asked to pitch an idea to a panel with a lucky twelve moving on to the finals where they are given ten weeks to produce a finished product to show off at the Fringe.
Each team is made up of at most six people and can be any combination of artists and programmers. Some members are under-grads looking for experience, others are post-grads signing on for one last hurrah before joining the job market.
Rare have been involved for several years, now, along with other developers, including EA and Real Time Worlds. Those sent along from the studios act as mentors, offering advice to the teams and trying to brace them for the microcosm of games development that their two-and-a-half months will represent; for what we go through during two years, they have crammed into less time than a series of Big Brother.
I had no idea what to expect from the dozen demos housed at Our Dynamic Earth early on Sunday morning, however, knowing exactly how much work gets done at our place during the same period I can’t say I was exactly overly positive. Despite being assured that considering the time frame things had come along nicely I was still slightly skeptical about the quality that would greet me.
Over the next few days I’ll run you through a few of the entries that really caught my eye, starting with…
Voodoo Boogy’s Ragnarawk
Each team were given four PCs to show off their wares and upon entering the hall set aside for Dare, rather than people battling with WASD keys, I was confronted with a quartet of rockers, enthusiastically strumming and brandishing their Guitar Hero guitars with exuberance.
Ragnarawk is an RPG set in a musically obsessed universe where you battle your foes using the oldest and most traditional of weapons, the guitar. The demo level was a small, stylised town set at the dead of night with undead roaming its streets and each time you wandered too near too one of the lost souls you engage them in battle using your guitar. They, being musically talented too, would dispatch a riff in your direction and you would have counter it following the traditional Guitar Hero notation on screen to return it and in turn deal them damage. Think of it like the old dueling banjos of the Wild West but slightly more supernatural.
With each returned riff your enemy’s energy levels would be sapped and eventually he would be defeated giving you a hearty dose of XP and allowing you to move on to your next confrontation.
Special moves and parries are available to you, too, with chords and raising the guitar vertically (ala Star Power) activating them respectively. The powers can be a sudden bolt of destructive energy sent to your opponent to put them off or a healing spell, depending on which way you have decided to shape your character. The parrying, mind you, does the opposite and protects you from the spells flying your way. If you do get hit, the effects can be interesting as the notes start dancing across the fret board making it surprisingly hard to hit the required note.
One thing was for sure, my expectations were completely rewritten with this very first game I played as I can’t deny I broke out into a beaming smile as I dueled my first zombie. Countering riffs had the same feeling you get when playing multiplayer in Guitar Hero, that sensation you get when you know you’ve just bettered your mate’s stadium rock solo, and this time you get to fight the undead at the same time!
After talking to the team behind Ragnarawk, it seems that the idea for the game has been around even since the pre-Guitar Hero days. However, it was quite a different game back then as dance mats were going to be used instead of guitars.
Variety shouldn’t be a problem in this game, either. As explained to me, rather than having the traditional ice/fire/water levels, they would be based around styles of music with your character travelling through realms of electronica, classical and rock (or rawk), to name but a few, before reaching the end boss. Each world would have a completely different soundtrack adapted to that style and considering how polished and professional even the existing audio is, that is an exciting prospect.
With boss battles, power-ups, leveling system and parries all making interesting additions to the standard guitar based game play and I can genuinely see this being a solid commercial idea. After all, if Puzzle Quest can take the Bejeweled crowd into the realm of RPGs, imagine how Oblivion crossed with Rock Band is going to do.