Archives for posts with tag: Gamescom

Drew and Thuban
Since its unveiling at E3 2014, gamers have wondered just what kind of game Platinum’s Xbox One exclusive would be. Until recently, all we had to go on was a pretty-but-cryptic CGI announcement trailer that did little to describe the kind of things we’d be doing in-game. At Gamescom last week, we finally got our answer.

If people had been expecting a character action game, perhaps they were a touch disappointed. But if there’s one thing you can say about Platinum’s output, it’s that they don’t much like repeating themselves, so it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise to discover that, with Scalebound, the Osaka-based team are treading fairly virgin soil.

In a six-minute demo at Microsoft’s Gamescom press conference, we got to see Hideki Kamiya’s new action RPG, starring some guy and a massive dragon. That guy, Drew, has somehow been transplanted to a fantasy world that bears more than a passing resemblance to Avatar‘s Pandora – all floating islands and cascading waterfalls – and finds himself bonded to an enormous dragon called Thuban. Perhaps as a consequence of this, he also has a scaly, claw-tipped arm.

The world Drew finds himself in, Draconis, is sustained by an energy source called The Pulse. Much like its inspiration, it pervades and links all living things, though hopefully there will be no sign of any midichlorians. It’s this force (sorry) that links Drew and his dragon, the last of its kind in Draconis, and one cannot survive without the other; should Thuban fall in battle, so will Drew. Thus, the player will often find themselves playing as much of a support role as an offensive one, backing up his draconic buddy with heals while Thuban goes claw-to-claw with enormous monsters, like the Gamescom demo’s titanic mantis.

This is still a Platinum game though, and there’ll still be plenty of hacking and slashing for Drew to take part in. In the first combat encounter against a group of plate-mail-armoured knights, you’d be forgiven for being reminded of Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XV, except there’s an angry dragon beside you instead of three impeccably-coiffed bros. Combat looks to be somewhat pared back compared to the usual Platinum extravaganzas, but it still looks tight and responsive, if not massively flashy and over the top. Drew flashes into combat with wide, arcing sword swipes, stopping to defend himself with his shield, and while there is no crafting mechanic in Scalebound, there are other weapons to be found, such as a bow, a spear, and an enormous greatsword that would make Cloud Strife blush. As well as standard blades and bows, you’ll also be able to find weapons with innate elemental properties, which should further extend Drew’s utility against Draconis’ oversized menagerie. Using his scaled dragon arm, Drew can also tether himself to larger enemies, clambering aboard them to deal large amounts of damage, and maybe even sever a gigantic limb in the process. And if he feels like he’s not quite pulling his weight in battle next to Thuban, Drew can also draw upon that Pulse energy to clad himself in thick, scaled armour, dialling up his speed and damage output in the process.

Thuban will act independently for the most part, though the player can direct his attention to certain enemies and structures that might be in need of some attention from a big stompy dragon. Thuban can also be heavily personalised, from armour, horns and offensive tail-blades to the elemental effect of his breath; need to hit some ungodly, building-sized nightmare creature with a frigid blast of ice, rather than the more traditional flaming dragon-breath? No problem, you can make that happen. But in order to build up Thuban, you’ll need to gather gems from defeated enemies. These gems are only available if you land the killing blow as Drew, so while you could easily rely on Thuban to wipe out fodder enemies in one hit rather than wade into battle yourself, you’ll miss out on an opportunity to develop your dragon. Platinum really wants you to strike a fine balance between the pair, and they really want you to feel a connection to your own, personalised vision of Thuban. “The more you invest in that dragon and in your relationship with that dragon, the more that dragon becomes yours,” says Creative Director JP Kellams.

And what of the world of Draconis itself? Media have been quick to call Scalebound an open-world RPG, but it’s not a term that Platinum themselves are using, preferring to call the game ‘non-linear’, while also promising that the game-world will be vast – it’s going to have to be to accommodate Thuban and some of the larger creatures we’ve seen. While the team won’t be drawn on the openness of the game’s world, they are promising many different villages and towns across Draconis, each with their own personal look. In one of their ‘First’ articles, IGN were treated to views of a “village that stretches off into the distance.” Hopefully, if the world is big enough, we’ll be able to fly Thuban between these outposts of civilisation.

The same article states that Drew and Thuban will have to gain new skills in order to fully traverse and explore Draconis, which perhaps brings to mind a gear- or skill-gated progression system; could Scalebound be a post-Okami Kamiya taking another crack at the Zelda formula, perhaps? From the sounds of it, rather than levelling up, Drew will gain skill points based on his actions and his performance: ““If you heal your dragon, or execute other supportive role-type actions, you’ll be able to earn skill points, ” Kamiya explains. “By motivating the player to participate in actions and behaviours that are meaningful, it will… help you progress further”. Drew can also extend his earning potential by chaining kills together, adding a bonus onto the skill points he has already gained: “If you’re successful at consecutively defeating the enemies, the longer that chain will last,” says Kamiya.

scalebound

But if all this focus on skill points, gems and customisation gives you cause to worry about the action side of things, fear not; Platinum aren’t about to let their hard-earned reputation slide. “Even though I know we’ve been emphasising that this is an action RPG, because I need to get that message across – I hope you agree that we know how to make action games,” Kamiya told IGN. “We know how the responsiveness of a move is what really differentiates our games from other action games. That’s what’s so special about our games, whether it’s Bayonetta or my previous title Devil May Cry. So one thing that’s not going to change is that how great it feels when Drew is in battle. You’re not going to feel like it’s worse than what we’ve done before. The sort of intuitiveness and the response to the action that Drew is taking? That will remain at the quality that’s always defined our action games.”

In the run-up to Gamescom, UK developer Ninja Theory had been teasing their new IP. The game, Hellblade, was announced on-stage at Sony’s conference via a sombre, eye-catching CGI trailer.

The first reaction many had to that teaser was that it looked like Heavenly Sword, Ninja Theory’s 2007 PS3 exclusive. It’s not hard to see the similarities – the strange, mythical world, the female warrior protagonist, even the name. Ninja Theory have since made it clear that Hellblade bears no relation to Heavenly Sword, and when we take a look at how the game is being developed, it’s clear that it’s a very different beast in some very significant ways.

To begin with, Hellblade will be a smaller-scale project – it’ll be shorter than the developer’s previous titles and forgo a physical release. That’s not to say they’re taking their collective feet off the gas when it comes to production values; we expect a great audio-visual aspect to their games, and we’re promised Hellblade won’t disappoint in that respect. But perhaps the biggest point of difference here is that Hellblade won’t be tied to a publisher; it will be Ninja Theory’s first self-published console game, and, most importantly, it will allow the team to retain their own IP.

It’s a proposition that co-founder Tameem Antoniades calls “Independent AAA”. In a sense, Antoniades sees this as reclaiming the middle ground that we’ve lost over the last generation; as triple-A development costs rise, publishers seek to mitigate risk and more often than not this leads to homogenisation – if something’s a massive hit, other publishers will seek to emulate that success. Everyone wants a Call of Duty. Everyone wants a GTA.

This leads to less diversity in the market, which isn’t great for gamers, but it can also be destructive to the people that make those games. Most studios can’t compete with the funding enjoyed by the likes of Infinity Ward or Rockstar North, and attempting to respond to those mega-franchises carries its own risks – risks that can often be fatal. We’ve seen plenty of development houses close down over the last generation, even long-standing ones like Bizarre Creations or Sony Liverpool; even a mildly successful title in a genre that may have shrunk to a niche can kill a studio.

Being an independent developer, Antoniades knows his team can’t compete on a level playing field with the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted. But equally, he’s not about to let his studio join the list of casualties that has resulted from what he calls the “go big or go home” world of AAA console development. So he’s making a play for that abandoned middle ground. “It’s about self-publishing AAA-quality games that are narrower in focus, selling them for a fair price and connecting to your fans in a meaningful way,” he says. “It’s a place for developers like us who don’t fit comfortably in the mega-budget AAA space but who are not true indie developers.”

Looking back through NT’s history, it’s clear to see why this approach appeals to them. Hellblade will be the first of their games that they retain ownership of, which means that they have full control over where it goes and how it evolves. Over the years, fans have asked for sequels to Heavenly Sword or Enslaved, and though Ninja Theory would love to revisit these franchises, these characters, these worlds that they created, they can’t. Because to get those games made, they had to hand over ownership of them.

ntgen7

They’ve also had to fight to keep their team together on a number of occasions, whether that be down to parent companies imploding, publishing deals going south or simply being unwilling to scale down the team after production, something that is an inherent part of AAA production. Ninja Theory have re-mortgaged houses, sought investment, and even walked away from precious IP to keep their team together as, in Antoniades’ words, “[w]e knew that the value of a creative company comes from the team-work, experience and talent of the people in it.” Testament to this, he says, is the fact that Enslaved, with only two-thirds the budget, had double the game content of Heavenly Sword, adding “[m]assively improved efficiency is the real value of keeping a team together.”

But it’s that ownership of their creative output that will no doubt appeal to Ninja Theory the most, giving them not only the freedom to decide their own future but also the freedom to actually green-light and create the games they want to make in the first place. Antoniades recounts reactions to his team’s pitches, saying that “[w]e’ve variously been told point blank that single-player story games are dead, that any art style other than realism is not commercial, and that melee games do not sell.” For a developer whose main focus is third-person story-driven melee action games, that’s obviously not what they want to hear.

Ownership of IP is only going to become more important for developers looking to safeguard their futures. In the world of AAA, we’ve recently seen some of the bigger independent studios manage to retain ownership of their projects – gamers may have been dismayed to see Bungie team up with Activision for Destiny, for instance, but crucially the Bellevue studio owns that franchise. It’s theirs. Likewise, when shopping around Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac went with the deal that allowed them to keep the IP, as their usual partner Sony had previously requested ownership.

But smaller developers don’t really have the clout to demand the same, not if they want funding to get their projects made. So smaller scale projects and digital distribution is an important direction for them, making the ability to self-publish that Sony and Microsoft have brought to their new consoles an enormous boon. At the very least, it means not having to worry about the costs of manufacturing discs and packaging, or the traditional distribution costs that come with physical product. Money saved elsewhere can be fed back into development of the important part of the project – the game itself.

As a fan of their previous releases, I’m both looking forward to getting my hands on Hellblade and hopeful that this “Independent AAA” focus works out for Ninja Theory. Perhaps if other smaller developers see them having success there they will also be inspired to give it a try, like Just Add Water (whose Lorne Lanning Antoniades cites as an inspiration for his company’s direction), who released Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty! just last month to rave reviews, proving that there is a space there for developers to target. This should hopefully mean more developers making the games they want to make, rather than the games they have to make, enriching game development for all of us.

If you’re interested in the development of Hellblade, the history of Ninja Theory, or an insight into AAA development, it’s worth checking out the Hellblade development blog.

Microsoft have published a new video showing Director of Programming for Xbox Live, Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb, unboxing the upcoming successor to the Xbox 360.

The video, embedded below, confirms that the Xbox One will indeed come with a headset in the box. The retail package was previously said not to include one, with Microsoft claiming Kinect 2.0 would handle all your in-game chat needs, but it seems they’ve relented and thrown a decent-looking standard headset in the box. According to Major Nelson, it features “improved comfort, in-line audio controls and improved audio quality for in-game chat”. He also talks about the “4K-capable” HDMI cable that Microsoft are including with the console, which is a nice gesture considering neither current-gen consoles come with one in the box.

Also on display is the Kinect sensor, which Major Nelson rather laughably calls “little” – it’s huge! It’s certainly noticeably larger than the current one that’s sitting in front of my TV. We can also see that the Xbox One again has an external power supply, which continues the two-tone gloss/matte black of the main console unit. I can’t say I’ve ever been particularly bothered about power bricks, so this one will again fail to raise any annoyance in me. At the end of the video, Major Nelson also shows off the capacitive touch power button, before signing off with “See you at Gamescom”, which will take place in Cologne, Germany in a couple of weeks.

I have to say, the more I see the Xbox One the more I’m starting to like the way it looks. I hated it when it was first unveiled, but it’s really growing on me. It’s just as well, considering I have one on pre-order! You can see the unboxing video below.

Source: Xbox Wire

After the Vita’s virtual no-show at E3, many commentators all but wrote off the handheld’s chances of mass market adoption – after all, if Sony won’t even get behind their own platform, they argued, how could anyone expect third-party developers to do so? While I didn’t buy in to this hyperbole, Sony’s seeming lack of conviction certainly concerned me.

And so all eyes were on Cologne’s Gamescom. Would Sony repeat their E3 mistake?

The good news is that Sony did indeed give the still-fledgling platform a bit of a boost by featuring it at the very start of their 90 minutes, and actually showing some games for the device, while also finally (finally!) giving a date for PS1 Classics being playable on the handheld.

Let’s take a look at the big announcements, beginning with the one that will bring PS1 games to your Vita screens.

Firmware 1.80
PS1 Classics are nearly here! From August 28th, we’ll be able to relive our mid-to-late Nineties memories all over again! Just like we did on the PSP! Ok, so I’m being a touch facetious, but this really should have been in place at launch. Having said that, the current lack of PS1 Classics support shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for anyone considering a new console purchase, as some have painted it. It’s certainly a very welcome (and long overdue) extra for current owners, though, and means that I’ll finally be able to retire my long-in-the-tooth PSP-1000. Curiously, Sony only lists Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil 2 and Metal Gear Solid as “confirmed so far”. I would have thought that all titles currently available on PSN would simply need to be copied across or downloaded directly to Vita consoles. Let’s hope Sony don’t make this needlessly complicated…

A big new feature is what Sony are referring to as Cross-Controller. This will allow the Vita to be used as a controller for PS3 in certain, compatible games, such as LittleBigPlanet 2, via Remote Play. Cross-Controller will be able to make use of all of the Vita’s features (front and rear touch, sixaxis motion, cameras), and seems to be Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s dual-screen challenge with the WiiU. How widespread Cross-Controller becomes will ultimately be down to two factors: the number of Vitas out there in customers’ hands, and the effort on the part of game developers to include it.

If you’re tired of using touch (and touch only) to navigate Vita’s menus and home screens, you’ll be pleased to know that one of the usability tweaks in Firmware 1.80 will allow you to control them with those lovely sticks and buttons. Touch-only navigation did mildly irritate me at first, but I’m used to it now, so it remains to be seen how much this feature will be used on my Vita. It’s nice to have the option, though.

The rear touchpad will soon be able to zoom and scroll in the browser, and though I don’t use my Vita for browsing, I’m sure this will be a welcome addition for those that do. This is one of a handful of smaller usability changes, such as the ability to import music playlists and attach images in group messaging.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified:
We’ve known a Call of Duty title was on its way to the Vita since before the machine itself was released, but thus far we hadn’t seen anything of it. It appears there’s a reason for that.

It looks at first glance like a fairly basic, watered-down CoD, but something else was bugging me. Then I realised what it was: it looks like Resistance: Burning Skies. And there’s a reason for that – Nihilistic Software, the people behind that game, are now making this one. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in isolation – as much as R:BS was critically panned, I quite enjoyed it for bringing a decent FPS with excellent controls to a handheld. But this really does strike me as more of the same, just with military types replacing the Chimera, and I really don’t want to play essentially the same game again.

A good number of people are under the impression that a Call of Duty title will push Vita sales into the stratosphere. I think this is a flawed argument to begin with – are the huge numbers of people who buy CoD titles really going to shell out over £200 for a handheld and a watered-down version? And a version that can only offer 4v4 multiplayer at that? – and my first glance at this title doesn’t fill me with confidence that it could achieve that lofty goal. Also, I couldn’t help but be amused by the trailer’s claims of “covert single player missions” followed by yet more footage of the player unloading a machine gun…

Killzone: Mercenary
Killzone is another big IP we’ve known to be making its way to our handhelds, and we finally have an all-too brief look at this new title in Dutch developer Guerrilla Games’ shooter franchise.

It’s a shame that most of the trailer is taken up by slightly hokey live-action footage, but what little we see of the game looks promising. While obviously not on par with its bigger PS3 brothers, the gameplay footage shows a pretty high level of environmental detail and smooth animation. I’d suspect the main reason behind the polished look of Killzone: Mercenary is down to that logo you see throughout the trailer: Guerrilla Games. Vita has come in for some (not entirely undeserved) criticism for seemingly playing host to cut-down installments of PS3 franchises (though Sony Bend did an admirable job with Uncharted: Golden Abyss), but this new entry into the Killzone series is being developed by the creators behind the other four installments in the franchise. I think this is a massive positive, as it allows the franchise to stay in-house and easily use existing technology – this handheld installment is reportedly built on the same engine that powers Killzone 3.

The premise of the game seems to revolve around a team of mercenaries on a mission to liberate a Vektan child from Helghan hands, and the trailer makes a few references to money, even showing kills earning the player cash. This does worry me ever so slightly; I’m hoping for Killzone: Mercenary to be a story-focussed affair rather than a mission-based score-attack game. Hopefully these fears will prove unfounded when we discover more about the game.

Tearaway
Media Molecule were also on-hand at Gamescom to show what they’ve been working on. We’ve known for a while that the LittleBigPlanet developer isn’t behind the forthcoming Vita iteration of the series (another example of ‘Vita B-team port syndrome’?), and now we know why; they’ve been working on an entirely new Vita game, Tearaway.

Tearway is a papercraft 3d adventure starring iota, a messenger with an envelope for a head. An envelope that contains a unique message for the player, and Media Molecule characterise Tearaway as a buddy movie starring you and iota. The game uses all of the Vita’s tricks to effect change on its papercraft world, from touch and sound through to motion, and you can use the rear touchpad to literally rip through the fabric of the world to directly affect both the world and iota’s journey.

It certainly looks the part, with a style similar to the LBP series, but with a papery twist, and it appears to make good use of the Vita’s hardware in ways that don’t look like gimmicks. I’ve never been the biggest fan of LittleBigPlanet (I think I’m just too impatient to put in the work necessary to create something decent), but I’m really looking forward to this. These are the kinds of games the Vita needs to play host to – something a bit different, something that takes the hardware into account, and something that can only be found on Vita.

I think it’s fair to say things are looking up somewhat for the Vita. Sony seem to be paying attention to it and some big-name titles are on the way, along with something new from Media Molecule. Sony still have an uphill battle in front of them, and there are still many unanswered questions (where the hell is Final Fantasy X HD!?), but today, I am a somewhat calmer Vita owner than I was after E3.