Archives for posts with tag: Web series

Overwatch Heroes
The release of Overwatch is mere hours away, and to celebrate – and of course keep the hype flowing – Blizzard yesterday released Hero, the fourth in a series of animated shorts that have been running in the lead-up to launch. Following on from the recent Dragons, which served to illuminate the family feud between Hanzo and Genji, aka the Super Shimada Bros., Recall, which focused on Reaper’s attempt to steal intel from Winston, and Alive, in which Tracer faced off against the assassin Widowmaker, Hero gives us an insight into the character of Soldier 76, as he attempts to reconcile his current vigilante status with the paragon he used to be.

Yeah, there’s actually a story to Overwatch. You may well have entirely missed it if you dipped into the recent open beta just to shoot other people online, but there’s actually quite a depth of lore setting the scene for those battles. The story begins over thirty years ago, with the Omnic Crisis, as humanity’s robots rose up against them. To combat this global threat, the countries of the world banded together to create a specialised strikeforce, and Overwatch was born. All good things must come to an end however, and the organisation was acrimoniously disbanded some time later, with its members parting ways, some becoming mercenaries for hire, while others tried to continue fighting the good fight.

There’s this whole weight of history weaved in and around Overwatch, yet you could be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing at all of substance there. Look closely, and you’ll notice the odd easter egg hidden in the maps, or you might hear a line of dialogue that alludes to the relationships between the heroes, but it’s all too easy to miss in the heat of the moment during a game of Escort.

Of course, it’s difficult to tell a story in a multiplayer-only shooter game – Titanfall had a crack at it, and nobody talks about that game’s ‘campaign’ anymore – and what makes it a bit more difficult in Overwatch‘s case is the fact that your team can include anyone, which has the potential to confuse an overt storyline given the rivalries and enmity between some of those characters. Instead, Blizzard is focussing on fleshing out the Overwatch universe through those beautiful, action-packed CG shorts, digital comics, and in-depth character bios on the game’s official website. One wonders if the desire to be able to tell a story around a genre that affords little opportunity to do so is a holdover from the aborted Project Titan, the long-in-development MMO that was cancelled before much of the team began work on Overwatch. Many Blizzard developers regard Titan as the company’s biggest failure, so perhaps they’re trying in some way to feed a little of the grandiosity you’d expect from an MMO into Overwatch‘s multiplayer shooter framework?

With 21 heroes, there’s a lot of scope for separate stories in the Overwatch universe, and already fans are calling for spin-offs – a Metal Gear Rising-style game starring cyborg ninja Genji seems to be a popular idea at the moment, but what I really want is a mecha game with D.Va as our lead character. And the idea of spin-offs seems to be a genuine possibility; Blizzard built Overwatch‘s universe as their analogue to the big comic book multiverses, full of characters that can both come together and stand apart. Speaking to PC Gamer, creative director Chris Metzen alluded to the potential for more stories in the Overwatch world. “[T]his first game is really just the first shot in what we hope is a long, rich world journey that could be encompassed by many different products. Obviously many different fictional expressions. In many ways, we’re just getting started. So when we think about Overwatch as a big universe, as a big living idea, it’s not necessarily – as we look down the line of years – encapsulated only by this game expression.”

Widowmaker

In the same interview, senior game designer Michael Chu explained some of the thinking behind the team’s character design process, giving some insight into why there’s so much, well, character to these heroes. “I would say when we’re developing characters, we like to think about if each one of these characters could kind of stand on their own. I like to imagine, “What if each one of these characters has their own game?” And I think what Chris was talking about was that kind of shared universe comic stories. It’s like we have all these individual characters, we have these great stories, challenges, powers and stuff, and they all have their own little ecology. But then when you mix them all together, they start to have relationships. They start to tackle larger worldview problems. And I think that’s kind of where that inspiration leads.”

Where that inspiration leads, we can only wait and see – for the foreseeable future, Blizzard’s focus will of course be on supporting the Overwatch that launches in just a few short days with new heroes and maps. But where the story goes and how the universe grows over the next few years? Well, it’ll be exciting to watch and see.

Seriously though Blizzard, please can I have that D.Va mecha game I mentioned?

Announced at Square Enix’s Uncovered Final Fantasy XV event in Los Angeles, Brotherhood is a five-part anime miniseries that leads into the main game. We’d heard rumours of both a CG film and a new demo to be unveiled, both of which came true, but apparently no one saw this coming, so it was a surprise to say the least. In my write-up of that event, I talked about how Square Enix seems to be extremely bullish about Final Fantasy XV‘s prospects – creating a cross-media sub-series right off the bat surely signifies their confidence in the game’s success.

Brotherhood focuses on Noctis and his three chums Ignis, Gladio and Prompto and aims to give fans a closer look at these four young men and the bonds of friendship between them. Fans have long questioned whether they’ll be able to get behind these characters, pointing out that they look like a Korean boy band in matching clothing, so hopefully we’ll be able to get a good feel for them over the five episodes. With the first eleven-minute episode available to watch now, we decided to take a look.

warpstrike

The series begins with a short flash-back scene, in which we see a young Noctis, bloodied and seemingly at death’s door thanks to an enormous sword-wielding snake monster. Luckily, he is saved by his father, King Regis, who appears with his glittering Phantom Swords and engages the beast. We soon join an adult Noctis, asleep in the Regalia as he and his friends make their way to Caem, and we learn that they’re on the run from Niflheim’s forces in the wake of the empire’s defeat of the Kingdom of Lucis and occupation of the Royal City. It seems that Noctis and his party were on their way to his impending wedding to Tenebrae’s Lunafreya Nox Fleuret when the Empire attacked, meaning they were out of the city when it fell. The Empire has told the world that all members of Lucis’ royal famiy were killed during the fighting, and they’re now hunting Noctis to make that lie a reality, sending Magitek soldiers to track him down.

As the four friends stop at a diner to grab some food, we sense that they’re at ease with one another, comfortable in each other’s presence despite Noctis’ royal blood. Ignis is a little stiffer than the rest, which is to be expected from his position as Noctis’ royal advisor, but Prompto – constantly hyperactive, taking pictures and wanting to play games – and Gladio – more laid back, confident – seem to enjoy engaging in a little friendly teasing when it comes to the Prince. Noctis himself is portrayed as a little immature; he’s rather unwilling to talk to his friends about his betrothed, Luna, and refuses to eat the salad in his burger, which both Gladio and Ignis gently chastise him for as he carefully extracts pieces of lettuce and tomato and discards them on poor Ignis’ plate. Given the circumstances he finds himself in, I’m sure we’ll see Noctis grow and mature somewhat across the following four episodes, though going by what we’ve seen of the game so far I wouldn’t be surprised to see him retain a hint of childish petulance.

Oh, Noctis...

Oh, Noctis…

Near the episode’s conclusion we’re treated to a nice battle scene, as Noctis and friends try to break through an imperial roadblock, and it’s a nicely-drawn scene, if a bit lacking in peril. It manages to showcase a number of Noctis’ abilities from the game, like his now-iconic Warp Strike, which he uses to stab a Magitek soldier in the head from extreme distance, as well as some of his other weaponry that materialises out of thin air and his almost ethereal dodging of enemy attacks. At one point we even see Noctis use Tempest, a wide-arcing Zweihander technique that you can use in last year’s Episode Duscae playable demo. For their part, the Empire’s Magitek soldiers don’t appear to pose much of a threat; they’re slow to react to Noctis and friends’ assault, and slow-moving and ineffective when they do.

These guys are pretty damn lethal in Episode Duscae, adept at punishing your mistakes and soaking up a ton of damage, but here they’re simply fodder: as the battle rages on, it becomes clear the empire have set a trap for our heroes. As a dropship thunders into the scene, dropping a reinforced metal crate onto the battlefield, out comes – you guessed it – that very same monster that nearly killed young Noctis years earlier. Consumed with anger, Noct charges the creature, sword in hand, and our first episode of Brotherhood ends on a cliffhanger.

It’s a good start to the series, with decent animation courtesy of A-1 Pictures, the studio behind Sword Art Online and Blue Exorcist. It does a good job of setting up our protagonists, offering a decent bit of interplay between them despite its brevity, and it’s nice to see that they’re all distinct enough to want to get to know them better. We have four more episodes to look forward to before the game releases, and it’ll be interesting to see how it leads into Final Fantasy XV itself. I’m certainly eager to find out. You can watch episode 1 of Brotherhood: Final Fantasy XV below.

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Though GameSpot managed to spill the beans mere hours before Square Enix’s Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event in Los Angeles last night, spoiling the upcoming title’s release date in a since-removed YouTube video, they certainly didn’t manage to ruin all the surprises. Square Enix’s social media accounts had promised that fans of the long-running Final Fantasy saga should tune in regardless, promising they’d be missing out if they didn’t watch. And, as it turns out, they were absolutely spot on, as Uncovered featured a bevy of reveals, announcements and surprises, the first of which was Hironobu Sakaguchi, the father of Final Fantasy, opening the show.

Taking the stage to rapturous applause, Sakaguchi-san talked about how he views the series as his child, and much like a child, a parent often wonders whether they are on the right path or not – a not so veiled reference to the franchise’s recent struggles that sent some ripples of laughter through the 6,000-strong audience, and set a playful, self-assured tone for the rest of the night. Though he hasn’t been involved with Final Fantasy for quite some time now, leaving Square Enix over a decade ago, he spoke about how he had a chance to sit down with Final Fantasy XV director Hajime Tabata, who told him that he planned to take the series back to its ‘challenger’ roots. This reassured Sakaguchi, who had always thought of Final Fantasy as something that always sought out new challenges, and it certainly looks like that’s what the team are hoping to do with Final Fantasy XV.

The main takeaway from Uncovered is that Square Enix seem to be incredibly bullish about Final Fantasy XV‘s chances at recapturing the public’s imagination. They’re going all out with this property, treating fans to a lavish event streamed around the world, with Final Fantasy royalty in the house – as well as Sakaguchi-san, long-standing series artist Yoshitaka Amano, FFXV composer Yoko Shimomura and director Hajime Tabata were all in attendance. Last night’s event wasn’t just to generate hype for the new game, which we now know will be launching worldwide on September 30th (yes, this year); it was also to announce that Final Fantasy XV will be accompanied by its very own compilation of expanded material. Years after Final Fantasy VII’s release, with its legacy already assured, Square Enix began the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. With Final Fantasy XV, they’re establishing it as its very own metaseries right now.

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In an astonishing display of confidence, last night Square Enix, via presenters Greg Miller and Tim Gettys of Kinda Funny Games, announced that Final Fantasy XV will be getting a five-part anime prequel series, a feature-length CG movie, and a mobile app minigame. They’re going all-in with this, turning Final Fantasy XV into a complete cross-media sub-franchise of its own, so let’s talk about each of those in a bit more detail. Brotherhood, the anime prequel, stars the game’s four main characters – Noctis, Ignis, Gladio and Prompto – and serves as a direct prequel to the game, promising to elaborate on the history and bonds between our heroes. Made by A-1 Pictures, the animation house behind the likes of Sword Art Online, the five episodes will be free to watch on Square Enix’s YouTube page, and the first one is already available to watch now. I’ll be writing about that in more depth in a separate piece.

Kingsglaive is the name of the CG movie, a feature-length film in the vein of 2005’s Final Fantasy VII sequel Advent Children, and it focuses on the characters of Noctis’ father King Regis of Lucis, Noctis’ betrothed, Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, and the soldier Nyx, a member of the titular Kingsglaive, an elite unit commanded by King Regis as they try to push back Niflheim’s imperial army. In another show of confidence, the film will feature an all-star cast, with Sean Bean, Lena Headey and Aaron Paul starring as Regis, Luna and Nyx respectively, though it’s not yet clear whether these same actors will reprise their roles in the game itself (or whether Nyx will even appear in-game). It certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, going by the game’s latest trailer, in which Regis sports an American accent, but time will tell. Kingsglaive will be available to stream and download worldwide sometime this year, and you can see the trailer below.

And then there’s Justice Monsters Five, a minigame that appears and is playable within Final Fantasy XV. Existing within the game’s fiction – we see our heroes excitedly come across a table in a diner – Justice Monsters Five appears to be some kind of pinball/battling hybrid featuring iconic Final Fantasy monsters. Leading up to its unveiling, names like Tetra Master, Triple Triad, Blitzball and Chocobo Racing were bandied about, so we can assume that Justice Monsters Five will be the main minigame in Final Fantasy XV. But it won’t just exist inside the game of course, as it will be coming to iOS, Android and Windows 10 as a standalone app, so you can get your Justice Monsters Five fix on the go.

While there was quite a focus on the supplemental, expanded universe content during the Uncovered event, that’s not to say we didn’t get a good look at the game itself. Viewers were treated to a few short gameplay clips featuring things such as chocobo riding (chocobos can jump, glide, and even drift around corners), and driving in the party’s car, the Regalia. Of course, an open world game with driving wouldn’t be complete without radio stations, and Final Fantasy XV doesn’t disappoint here, offering a selection of classic Final Fantasy songs from across the franchise’s entire history to cruise along to – we heard short snippets of the overworld theme from the first Final Fantasy game, as well as Sunleth Waterscape from XIII. As a huge fan of Final Fantasy music this is something that will make me very happy indeed, and I can imagine driving around the world for hours just listening and humming along to some classic FF tunes.

While driving around, we also see a car stopped at the side of the road, its occupants trying to flag down help, and it’s suggested that this is an example of some of the side content we’ll be seeing in the full game. Following that was a short clip of the party in battle, mostly showing off stuff that you’ll be familiar with if you played Episode Duscae last spring, with the addition of a short look at magic as we see Noctis manage to scare off an enormous Behemoth by casting Blizzara. Then we’re treated to a brief glimpse of an absolutely titanic Titan, and at this point it’s worth remembering that the summons in this game are going to be insane. We also saw a clip showcasing some of the beautiful, sprawling environments that we’ll be visiting throughout the world of Final Fantasy XV, including our first in-game look at the gorgeous, Venice-inspired city of Altissia. Final Fantasy XV has long been billed as “a Fantasy based on Reality’, but fans of the fantastical need not worry that the game will appear mundane; there seems to be plenty of fantastical elements and environments in there to justify the name, and you can see the clip shown last night below, courtesy of Youtuber YongYea. Honestly, it’s worth watching for the music alone, which is stunningly beautiful.

Before our final surprise of the night, there was time for a couple more announcements. First heard in the opening trailer, the theme song for Final Fantasy XV is a lush, orchestral reimagining of Ben E. King’s Stand by Me, performed by Florence and the Machine. I must admit that I thought it sounded incredibly out of place when it suddenly began, halfway through that trailer, even if does seem like an obvious song choice for a story about four friends heading out on an uncertain journey. But I think it’s going to grow on me. Florence Welch’s powerful vocal performance certainly sells the emotion of the piece, and as the trailer goes on it seems to fit more and more. If Square Enix must insist on this kind of thing, at least it’s a much better choice than Leona Lewis’ My Hands was for Final Fantasy XIII.

Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the announcement of a new demo. This one isn’t tied to a purchase, unlike the Episode Duscae demo that accompanied Final Fantasy Type-0 HD last year, so it’s available for everyone to try on both PS4 and Xbox One. Titled the ‘Platinum Demo’, it begins with a strange premise; you control kid Noctis as he journeys through a dream, guided by Carbuncle as he makes his way to the royal citadel, armed only with a toy sword and a squeaky hammer. It sounds odd, but the good thing is you don’t have to wait to find out just how weird it is, as the demo is live on both storefronts right now. I haven’t yet had a chance to play it myself, so, like with the Brotherhood anime, I’ll be writing up some impressions, complete with video, a little later, much like I did last year with Episode Duscae.

And so we were coming to the end of the Uncovered event, with Director Hajime Tabata taking to the stage to announce the release date that we all already knew. This didn’t mean the stream ended without a surprise, however; Tabata had recently teased that the team had determined how to include airship travel in the game, a core FF motif that has been essentially missing from the last few main series titles that fans really want back. At the very end of an epic, extended trailer, we see the party’s flash car sprout wings and take to the skies. If I’m being honest, I found it to be a little goofy, as the car begins to transform and a pair of wings fold out before it rather quickly takes off. Hopefully it’s just one method of transport – the same trailer shows the boys speeding across the water in a yacht, for instance.

Still, the thought of driving, boating and flying around this massive world is tantalising, and with all of last night’s announcements still ringing in the ears, today is a good day to be a Final Fantasy fan. Square Enix seem hugely confident about the prospects of this long-in-development epic and its chances at winning back the limelight and returning to the enormous, world-conquering franchise it used to be. And I for one cannot wait to dive right in and experience it. I’ll have to wait until September of course, but what’s another six months when you’ve been dreaming of it for ten years?

See the epic extended trailer for Final Fantasy XV, complete with flying transformer car, below.

In a strange bit of scheduling, both of the final episodes of Ryse: Son of Rome‘s four-part webseries have appeared on Machinima.

In episode three, we meet Gannicus, a gladiator fighting in the arena as he regales us with stories of how death has been good to him. Yet now it appears he is up against the vengeful spirit of Damocles that we saw in episode 2. I have to admit, I really enjoyed this episode. It’s well paced, very atmospheric and a little bit brutal. I do wonder what significance it bears to the game’s narrative, but I guess I’ll have to play it to find out.

In episode four, we’re back with protagonist Marius as he sits with an older man, presumably his commander. In between images of the sacking of Rome, Marius’ commander speaks of the real heart of Rome, Palatine Hill. He tells the young legionnaire that the day will soon come when he must decide whether he fights for his own honour or for Rome.

It’s been a strange, disjointed webseries across these four episodes, and it hasn’t really told us anything about anyone. I’m mildly intrigued to see what importance it may have to the game, but in hindsight I think I would have enjoyed a series of separate, atmospheric vignettes like episode 3 rather than a disjointed semi-arc that doesn’t really go anywhere.

But then perhaps I’m unfairly comparing ‘The Fall’ to ‘Forward Unto Dawn’, which had a very definite story arc; maybe the sole purpose of this is to get people intrigued enough in the game to buy a copy. Given the setting, and the fact that, while short, the series has been very well produced, I’d liked to have seen where this could have gone had it been a bit longer. Perhaps we’ll have to wait for Microsoft’s TV productions to see the potential realised.

See parts 1 and 2 below:
‘The Fall’ episode 1
‘The Fall’ episode 2

A few days ago, Microsoft announced a live-action webseries for upcoming Xbox One exclusive Ryse: Son of Rome. Titled ‘The Fall’, the series was to focus on protagonist Marius Titus and his quest to avenge the murder of his family at the hands of barbarian bandits. The first episode, ‘Funeral’, has been published today on Machinima, and in it we see a young Marius in the aftermath of the murders. Coming in at under five minutes, it’s a pretty short introduction to the series, though it sets a decent atmosphere. Hopefully the following three episodes will be a bit longer, otherwise there won’t be much story to get through.

What did you think of this first episode? Will you continue to watch the series? Leave a comment below.

A few days ago, news leaked out that upcoming Xbox One exclusive Ryse: Son of Rome would be getting its very own webseries. Today we have a trailer, and I must say, for a webseries it looks rather expensive!

Of course, this isn’t the first time Microsoft has backed up one of its exclusive titles with a lavish web production; last year’s Halo 4 had its own five episode series that told the story of Thomas Lasky’s first encounter with the Master Chief, building up to their next meeting on Requiem during the events of Halo 4. Next month’s Ryse series will be a four-parter, with new episodes to follow in the lead-up to the game’s November 22 release.

What’s interesting is that, while Forward Unto Dawn told something of a side story, Ryse: Son of Rome – The Fall (that’s a bit of a mouthful, but I suppose Ryse: The Fall sounds a bit silly) appears to be telling the ‘origin’ story of protagonist Marius Titus. From Xbox Wire:

Told through the eyes of Marius Titus, a fearless Roman soldier who must avenge the murder of his family at the hands of barbarian bandits, “The Fall” brings the world of “Ryse: Son of Rome” to life with gripping storytelling and visceral action. As Marius pursues his vengeance, he must confront the corruption, turmoil and depravity that marked the final days of Rome, and question whether he’s fighting for the empire’s honor or his own.

Surely there’s going to be significant overlap with the game? We can see Marius finding his murdered family in the story trailer, for instance. Of course, the webseries’ trailer doesn’t show a great deal, so I could be wrong. Ryse: Son of Rome – The Fall begins on November 5th on Machinima, so it’s only a matter of days until we find out either way.

As a related aside, I’m now wondering if the Man At Arms guys did all the props for the webseries, as I saw this video the other day. I found it a little weird that it was uploaded to the official Xbox Youtube channel and ends with Xbox branding – I figured it was just Microsoft recruiting Man At Arms for a bit of a PR thing, but perhaps it was for The Fall after all. It did seem like a lot of effort to go to for a five minute Youtube clip.

I absolutely loved Forward Unto Dawn, so I’m looking forward to this. As to the game itself, I’m not entirely sure; I thought the E3 reveal looked spectacular, if a little limited in playability terms. Subsequent trailers have kept my interest (including this impressive performance capture clip), but the focus on multiplayer when showing the game to the public has been a bit offputting; I like the look of the shifting arenas and I think the MP could be decent fun with a good friend, but I want to see more single player footage so I can get a feel for what I’d be spending my money on. As it is, I’m tempted to pre-order a copy simply as a graphics showcase for the new hardware. Knowing me, I’ll probably cave if I enjoy The Fall!