After a reasonably quiet January and February, the past two weeks have been so massively busy. I’ve been to a ton of interesting events (Stemettes, WOWhack, various PR events) and I seriously need to catch up on blogging about all of them.

Star Trek Game

Two weeks ago I got invited to the Science museum for a special hands-on preview of the upcoming Star Trek game. Now I hadn’t heard much about the new Star Trek game; I kind of assumed it was yet another cheesy movie tie-in game, but seeing as it was held at the Science museum I thought I’d give it a chance. And I’m glad I did. It looks like a fun game and a good addition to the Star Trek universe.

The event started with a presentation by Brian Miller, senior vice president of Paramount Pictures and producer of the Star Trek game. Hearing Miller speak so passionately about the game, you really got the sense that this isn’t just a movie tie-in and cash-in. Development started three years ago, and they’ve worked hard to create a game that belongs in the Star Trek world. Unlike most movie tie-in games, the plot of this game isn’t just an obvious rehash of the upcoming movie (which I really dislike; why “spoil” the movie by playing the game first or vice versa?). Instead the game has its own new standalone storyline set between the two movies, although I suspect that the end of the game might give a reason as to why the start of the upcoming movie seems to be set on Earth.

So what is the new game about? From what I can piece together the Enterprise is called to examine haywire experimental tech on a Vulcan space station and when Kirk and Spock go on an away mission to investigate things go wrong. Obviously. Miller stated that most of the game would take place on New Vulcan and that the main enemy is the Gorn, but how that exactly relates to the initial away mission I’m not quite sure.

Star-Trek-screenshot

You can play the game completely as Kirk or Spock, and each character allows for different gameplay techniques. Spock, for instance, will be able to mind meld with enemies and use the Vulcan nerve pinch on them. Besides playing it on your own in single player though, the game will also allow co-op, which I’m quite looking forward to.

All the actors in the movies were involved lending their voices to their game counterparts. Miller added that they gave Simon Pegg free rein to improvise whatever he wanted during the recording and that they did their best afterwards to include most of those bits into the actual game.

After the presentation, I got to try out the game myself. There are parts of the game that I so far really like and other bits that I don’t. For starters, I love the look of the Enterprise. I didn’t get to explore that much, but I think it looks great; you really feel as if you’re walking around a proper starship. I didn’t like the look of the characters though. The likeness of all the actors were used and yes, they do look like them, but there’s still a bit of uncanny valley going on.

Star-Trek-screenshot-2

Gameplay is obvious, but still quite fun. The demo mainly had us running around traversing stuff, but we also got to try out the handy tricorder. It pretty much works like Batman Arkham Asylum/City detective mode, giving you extra onscreen info about people, locations (== find secret places) and weapons (== giving you extra bonuses). There’s also an in-game “hacking” puzzle, where you have to match up frequency signals (I wonder how quick this gets old though). We were told that there were over 20 different weapons in the game, but the demo level that I tried out didn’t involve any battles.

So far I quite like the look of this Star Trek Game. It not’s going to be the-best-game-evah, but it’s definitely a step up from the typical movie games and something I think is worth investing my time in. It feels like the team have done their best to make it part of the Star Trek world and from what I can tell I think they’ve succeeded.

Dishonored is set in the industrial city of Dunwall, where Corvo Atano, a bodyguard to the Empress, is framed for her murder and forced to become an assassin to seek revenge on those who conspired against him. I only saw the trailer of Dishonored a few weeks back, but it looks like it could be an interesting game:

Looks pretty cool, right? It’s got a bit of a steampunk meets Assassin’s Creed vibe going on, from what I can tell. There’s also a gameplay trailer that you can watch here, which shows the more darker elements of the game (love the creepy version of the Drunken Sailor song).

Dishonored will be released on October the 12th in the UK, but there are a couple of special bonuses if you preorder the game at certain stores. All pre-order bonuses come with 500 bonus coins, an “unhidden” book, an in-game statue and three special powers. Amazon offers the Acrobatic Killer pack, ShopTo.Net the Backstreet Butcher pack, Tesco the Shadow Rat pack and Game/Gamestation the Arcane Assassin pack.

Two weeks back I got invited to the THQ Game Preview Event in Dublin. It was an interesting two days, getting to meet tons of games bloggers and journalists, and getting some cool previews of some upcoming games. I got to play 2 hours of Darksiders 2, after which I sat down with its lead designer Haydn Dalton. Although I’ve participated in roundtable interviews and press conferences before, this was my first ever one-on-one interview! I was pretty nervous and my questions aren’t as brilliantly formulated as I had hoped, but it was a great first interview.

What’s your role on the game?

I’m the lead designer on the project. So I obviously help come up with the initial ideas and the structure of the game, and then I oversee the execution of the game. Like how the combat plays out, how the encounters work and how the levels are designed. I get to be involved in a lot of different disciplines on the project; the programmers, the animators, whoever it might be. It’s more overseeing things and making sure things are built to a certain level of quality.

So how does the process most of the time work? With what would you start? What do you focus on first?

We firstly try to figure out what type of game it is and what type of things we’d like to see. Obviously we try to see what other games in that genre are doing; you need to know your competition and understand what’s working and what’s not working. And then you try and think of “well, how could we be different in that genre? What can we add to that genre?” And you think of all your cool ideas and you come up with a basic plan of how to execute that idea. That’s when you start to think: to do this we need these tools, and we need these people to do it. Usually it’s coming up with a groundwork plan and you build upon that plan and execute that.

You usually find out that whatever you write down as an idea, sometimes you find out when you’re doing it in practice and you see, that actually it doesn’t quite work. So sometimes you have to either change the idea or you just have to scrap it entirely. We scrapped a lot of things for Darksiders 2, cause it didn’t quite fit. There was potential there, but we didn’t have time to fix it all.

Seeing as this is built on Darksiders 1, how much of those ideas did you already have with the first one?

The cool thing we took from Darksiders 1 is a certain level design philosophy that we have there, and we do puzzle design as well. So those two things were the things that were core: we had to have that. We also brought over the pretty frantic combat from the first one. And then we really wanted to look at the things that didn’t make it into the first game. We originally wanted more NPCs in the game for instance, and more items. Kind of like the loot system we now built.

The first thing was: let’s get the things we really loved from the first one into this one first, and then let’s layer it with cool new ideas on top of that. So yeah, the loot was a big thing, that took a long time to get the balance right on that. And then all the side quests that we did; we didn’t have any side quests in the previous one. It was all about giving the player a lot more choice.

The main characters of the two games have some similarities, but how was it designing a completely new character?

The core set of abilities are similar, but there were certain things we wanted to do: we wanted to bring out more agility in Death. We had seen some original sketches that Joe did for Death; during the first project he had done first concepts for all of the four Horsemen. And Death was a lot more athletic and thin and gangly build, whereas War is more broad and stocky. So we thought what would fit a character like Death and it seemed like he was a lot more agile, a lot more nimble. In combat he doesn’t really stand and block, he kind of flips around, he’s a slippery character. That also fed into his traversal sets; he can scamper up walls, scamper across walls, swing on the bars, he’s a lot more about shaping around the environment, being very fluid. It’s the same thing in combat; rather than blocking, he’ll switch out and attack the person from the side. it was really what did we want to do from an actual gameplay point of view and what sort of character did we want to provide the story and bring those two together.

What about the third and the fourth Horsemen? We briefly see their silhouettes at the start of this game… do they show up during Darksiders 2?

[laughs] You’ll have to play the game to find out. The other two are basically Strife and Fury. Fury is the female Horseman; she’s the one with the whip. Then you have Strife who uses pistols. They definitely have their own character; and we have ideas as to how they’d be like if you ever got to play them. But we can’t really tell right now if they turn up in the game or not.

I love the look of Fury, even only her silhouette looks awesome. I want to see more of her!

Yeah, Fury’s pretty bad-ass. I like the whip that she’s got; it segments and extends out. I can imagine that being a very cool thing to use in the game. You could use it to latch on to things…

That sounds a bit like Ivy’s [from Soul Calibur].

Yeah, she’s got a sword that segments too. Ours is kind of like an energy whip with metal bits.

We saw some of the Realms in the demo; how many different ones are we going to see?

Well, you start within that snowy Realm. Then you’ve got the Maker’s Realm, which was the kind of lush one. That’s one of our biggest Realms. Then the third one is another big one, that’s the Kingdom of the Dead; that’s pretty much the same size as the Maker’s world, but it’s all based in the underworld. And then we got an area for Angels, and also an area for Demons. They’re not as big as the Maker’s world and the undead world, but they’re pretty big areas.

When I was playing the demo I came across some areas that I couldn’t figure out and access yet. Are they just difficult puzzles or are there some abilities that you only gain later on  that allow you to access those?

It could be a bit of both. We do have some places that are vey clear challenges or barriers. The way we design the levels usually we have a hub area and spokes, like corridors and sets, that come off it. Now when you keep passing through this central area you become familiar with things within that area. For instance, something that’s considered a gating mechanism might be in that central area; so when you pass by it several times and when you see whatever it might be, like the yellow glowey balls on the walls: you’ve seen it, but you’e not quite sure what it is. Then as you pass through it a few times, you might get the ability down here to clear those things and you always remember: “oh, I passed that thing like two, three times in that area.” So you go back to that area and that usually progresses the story on in a much more advanced way. That’s how we design things for small areas that you at least pass once or twice; it keeps it in the player’s psyche when he’s playing the game. So there are visual gates where you can’t get passed.

Then some of the bits are just about trying to read the room: look at where the traversal points are, see if it’s a traversal problem. Or do I need to use an item that I’ve already used before, but now I have to use it in a unique way in this instance. It’s forcing me to make that logical jump; sometimes that’s a little bit hard for players; normally games don’t puzzle the player logically. They’ll do it physically, like: I’ve got to beat this guy down, that’s very clear. But then when you already know how to push a switch in a wall for instance and when you get to part where there’s a switch you can’t get to. You start thinking “well, how am I going to do it” . You realize you’ve got a bomb and think oh I wonder if I can throw that against the switch, will that be pushed in cause of the explosion? And that’s what it is: the player is making that logical step to do the next bit on their own. We try not to do too much hand-holding with that. It’s very fulfilling from a player point of view; you’re sat they’re thinking “what the hell am I supposed to do” and then when you do it, it’s like a little mini moment for yourself, it’s satisfying and you feel all good about yourself. That’s what’s different about Darksiders from an actual action genre type of view; we have a lot of those things in the game, where we just expect a lot more of mental challenges from the player.

What type of levels of achievements/trophies can we expect?

Usually people talk about the 60/20/20 split: 60% is for the core game, then there’s like 20% for skilled players, which are skilled based achievements, and then there’s 20% which is for the ADD I-need-to-collect-everything type of guy. Ours is more like 70% for the main play through, and then we probably got 20% for the skilled player and then 10% for the guys who really want to collect everything and find every single item. If you just play the game start to end, you’ll get a big chunk of achievements just for playing the game. We know that not many people finish games now, so it’s like at least you’re rewarded and giving them a little push to keep playing on.

I think it’s a little deceiving; at the start you just think “oh, it’s just a simple action game”. And then you start seeing the loot, and you start to realize how deep that system is. And you’re like “hang on, I have to start managing all this stuff”. Then you really got to start thinking “what’s my thing, what am I trying to focus on”; do I focus on skills, do I focus on magic? And then you start looking at the skill tree ; and then you go “well, okay, my thing is strength, I’ll start looking at Harbinger stuff, which is based on melee combat”. And maybe my skills and weapons should feed into that as well. So it’s all about these little choices; the player can choose to invest as much or as little time he wants in it. We definitely think if you invest time in it, the character will definitely be more tailored to the way you play.

Two weeks ago I got invited to a “hands-off” demo of the first person shooter Metro: Last Light, the sequel to the 2010 game Metro 2033. Having not played its predecessor, I was initially hesitant to come by and take a look at the new game. Would I “get” it? Would I miss something by not having played the previous one? Can I review/preview a game of which I don’t know the full back story? But then I realized: that shouldn’t matter at all. I’m certainly not the only one out there who hasn’t played the first game!

The original game was based on the novel Metro 2033 by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Both the game and the book got sequels (Metro: Last Light and Metro 2034) and even though the original author has worked on both, the sequels don’t have anything to do with each other. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic Moscow, where humans have survived by living underground in Moscow’s vast metro system. Our protagonist is Artyom, a 20 year old survivor, that has to deal with the various issues the new world has to offer, including mutants, nazis and other rival bands of survivors.

I was planning on writing up and exactly describing what I saw in that demo, but it turns out that the entire demo is now on YouTube. So instead of describing it all, I’ll just post the video here and let you guys see it for yourselves (yay, for lazy blogging!):

I like the look and feel of the game; I always enjoy post-apocalyptic stories and seeing the different ways they can come to life. The underground metro system looks suitably creepy and dark, while the above ground left-over bits of Moscow look exactly like you imagine a post-nuclear city would look like. I initially thought the story looked quite straight forward, but I’m intrigued by the whole hallucination thing in the plane: clearly both Artyom and Pavel have the same experience… I’m very curious to see what happens next.

Gameplay wise I think this looks like the type of game I could loose myself a couple of hours in. I like how immersive the game feels; there is no HUD and no blinky-look-an-item-is-here-highligter, with you only having to rely on your own eyes, your watch, your visible ammo and signs of how you feel (like heavy breathing and blood spatters indicating that you’re hurt). Even though I like how immersive this looks, I do wonder how much more difficult this will make the game. A HUD and item highlighter will be available in the end game, but you’ll always have the option to turn those all off.

Metro: Last Light looks like it could be a great game, and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on it and trying it out for myself. I also now am quite curious to see how the first game was; the story seems intriguing and if it’s similar to this one, I wouldn’t mind playing it.

Wow, this looks awesome! I had heard about it some time ago, but that was ages ago when there wasn’t any footage available yet. Now… wow.

Initially announced as a Nintendo DS game, Ni no Kuni: The Another World is the first partnership between animation studio Studio Ghibli and game developer Level-5 (the guys who did the Professor Layton series and the Dragonquest series). Then last week it was revealed there would now be two games: Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madoushi for the Nintendo DS and Ni no Kuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou for the PS3.

Here’s some footage from the PS3 version:

Both versions are being developed from scratch, and each will feature different artwork, graphics and story developments, while only “retaining the same story axle”. That story is about a 13 year old boy Oliver, whose mother suddenly dies. He’s given a book by a fairy that allows him to go to the parallel world of ‘Ninokuni’, where he might be able to revive his mother.

I love the footage of the PS3 version, but the Nintendo DS version already has me intrigued. That game comes with an elaborate 350 page book that is needed to play the game. It’s part tutorial, but also part strategy guide, featuring instructions on how to draw runes to cast magic in the game, enemy weaknesses and other info, and encrypted codes to unlock secrets in the game.

I’m definitely going to get both games when they’re released there (if they’re released here, but I think they will be). And you? Are you a Studio Ghibli fan? Do you want these games?

I haven’t blogged much about the Tron viral/ARG, but I’ve been following everything so far. About one and a half week ago there was a live event in San Francisco, where Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner’s character from the first movie) announced that Encom would be releasing an online version of their Space Paranoids game. And now there’s a trailer:

I think Alex from FirstShowing is right, in that Kevin Flynn will probably try to contact us through the game. There’ll be 15 new levels designed by Flynn himself, so there’s got to be something hidden within that. I’m guessing it’s going to be something collaborative, like the Dark Knight pixel picture from 2 years ago. Like each level represents 1 letter, but letter is only revealed after 100 scores above a certain threshold?

The story behind the ARG so far is that Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappeared 7 years after the events of the first movie; nobody has heard of him since, including his son. But there is a group called FlynnLives who still believe he is alive and that “he is out there, that he’s waiting for us, and that he will return when the time is right”.

If you’re interested in playing along, just sign up on FlynnLives.com. You can still earn badges for all of the previous steps, except for the live events (which I don’t have anyway).

Via FirstShowing

I can’t wait till this game comes out in March! Regular readers here will know how much I love the Final Fantasy series, and this latest installment looks gorgeous. I haven’t heard that many good reviews about the storyline though, but even that won’t stop me from getting this game. Enjoy:

I’m pretty much addicted to both Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan these days, so imagine my delight when I found out both of them are (soon to be) available on the Nintendo DS (discovered via Twitter while checking out the ‘tag’ carcassonne). I’m not sure how I missed this, but the Catan version has been available since this May!

The Nintendo DS version of Catan was developed in collaboration with Klaus Teuber. Besides the Basic Game, it also contains scenarios from the Seafarers expansion (among others, Greater Catan) that offer additional adventures and challenges. The Basic game presents a varied Campaign with eight different computer opponents. You can also play against up to 4 others over the wireless Nintendo WiFi connection. Here’s the trailer of the game:

From what I can find, I think it’s only available in Germany, but the NDS cartridge contains the English as well as the German language version. So far, I haven’t found an actual store that sells this game though; apparently it’s not as popular as I imagined it could be. If anybody finds out where you can get Catan for DS, please let me know.

The Carcassonne game for the Nintendo DS will be coming out this September. It’s already listed on Play.com for £24.99, so that will at least be available here in the UK (no idea about the US though).

Carcassonne for Nintendo DS will contain the main game including the River expansion. In multiplayer mode, both Single-Card Play and Multi-Card Play will be available for Nintendo DS owners and their friends via the wifi connection. The adaptation is true to the original, but with three added new locations: the Asian, Arabic, and Nordic worlds. I’m curious to see how this looks; I can imagine the gameplay will be exactly the same, it’s just different “themes” basically in which you can play in.

carcassonneds

The above screenshot is from the Xbox Live version, so I’m assuming we’ll get a smaller trimmed down version of that. Still, I think it could look pretty sweet, and it’s definitely the type of game I’d love for on my DS.

Anybody know of any other Nintendo DS boardgame versions?

I stumbled on this game trailer via Wonderland this morning:

[Watch the trailer on MissGeeky.com]

It looks like a cool little game; I always enjoy the 2d versions of these type of puzzles, but they’re never really that difficult. Introducing a 3D aspect to it, is just what it needs to give that extra layer of difficulty.

The only problem is that it’s only available for Windows for $10. I wouldn’t mind having this game on my Mac, but seeing how the game is played I’d think the iPhone would be a better platform for it.

Check out CogsGame.com to download the game (or a trial version to try it out first).

Last Friday I was invited to a press event at Sci-Fi London for Dead Space Extraction, the Wii prequel to the popular PS3 and Xbox 360 game Dead Space. I still haven’t played Dead Space, mainly because I still haven’t got a PS3 or an Xbox 360 (I know, I know, I should get one), but it’s been high on my To-Get list once I’ve got one of those consoles. Needless to say (even though I hadn’t played it’s predecessor) I was curious to see what Dead Space Extraction had to offer.

At the press event, I got to meet Steve Papoutsis, the executive producer of the games, and Antony Johnston, the writer of the games and the prequel comics. They both held short presentations about their views on Dead Space Extraction, after which we got to see a live demo.

dead_space_extraction-poster

Dead Space Extraction is a prequel to the original game, taking place months before the events of Dead Space, during the infection of the colony. Your main protagonists are a group of 4 characters attempting to escape the colony: 2 security guards (McNeill and Warner, I tried to decipher my handwriting, so I think that’s what I wrote), a company executive (Eckhart) and an engineer (Lexine). It’s a stand alone game, perfectly playable if you haven’t played the previous one (or read the comic or seen the anime), but if you have, there are questions answered left hanging in the original and new secrets expanding the universe of Dead Space.

Unlike the original game, Dead Space Extraction isn’t a third person shooter, but something more like a rail shooter (as Steve Papoutsis put it “a guided first person experience”). Now this might seem a bit off-putting for some, but combined with the Wii controls it results in a great type of gameplay. Plus there are a couple of elements that differentiate it from a normal rail shooter, like some control over the camera for the player, the inclusion of puzzles and being able to choose different branching paths. Besides that, the game is designed to use the Wii controllers in a natural way to use objects. 

dead_space-extraction_concept-art

One cool example during the demo was the glowworm, a stick you have to shake to generate light, which meant of course you had to shake the Wii controller for it to go on. In one scenario, everything goes dark, while you’re being attacked by the Necromorphs. You have to decide if you want to shoot randomly in the dark, or take the time to shake your glowworm and generate more light. Another cool feature of this game was the option of drop-in co-operative play. With a single action, a friend can jump into your game and play with you together. No hassle!

I really liked the look of Dead Space Extraction and am now considering getting a Wii to be able to play this game. From what I saw from the demo the gameplay looks great. Plus it seems to have an interesting and intricate backstory. Now if only I could try out the original (and get a PS3)…

Dead Space Extraction – Release Date: Fall 2009

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