Month: September 2013

Guerrilla Games retires Killzone.com, spelling out a grim future for the franchise

Killzone: Mercenary (PS Vita) Review

Portable Shots

The FPS has so far had an underwhelming time on the PlayStation Vita. Sure, we’ve had the likes of big brands like Call of Duty and even Sony’s own Resistance franchise appearing on the diminutive platform, but those projects were always farmed out to less established, “B Team” studios that created games that compared poorly to their console ancestors. Now Sony has tried to step in to fix that with Killzone: Mercenary, and while it’s still not Guerilla Games proper, the new Cambridge team has succeeded where others failed; they’ve made a pretty good—but not amazing—FPS experience on the Vita that has everything you’d expect, including multiplayer.

Blood Money

Killzone suffers the problem of having some passionate people create a compelling backstory that is then never adequately explored in the main game. Guerilla Cambridge tries to remedy that somewhat in this story of Arran Danner, merc for hire. His missions occur during the same period as Killzone and Killzone II but never actually cross over into direct participation in events from those games. As a hired mercenary, Danner (who is mute) walks a morally ambiguous line with some interesting plot twists that never feel earned. There’s a forced sensibility to the plot developments, but at least the game is trying to tell more than a “good guys good, bad guys bad, so shoot the bad guys” story.

Getting into technical details, what we find here is a showcase of the Vita’s power. This is, without a doubt, the most technical impressive game for the handheld yet. It’s been said already, but it bears repeating; it’s easy to forget that you’re playing this on a portable device. The graphics, while not up to the fidelity of Killzone II or its sequel, look crisp and detailed on the Vita’s small screen, and for the most part, the frame rate holds up. It’s an impressive vote of confidence for the Vita’s power, but it also comes at a price; this thing eats up battery life like nothing else on the system. It doesn’t seem possible to play it for more than two, perhaps two and a half hours before the Vita is in dire need of a recharge. So while playing this for short commutes is certainly possible, longer trips will require keeping the AC adapter on standby. The art direction is what we’ve come to expect from the series; mostly muted tones, reverting to the drab, grey world of Killzone II rather than the more colourful world of its sequel. Heavy asset re-use is also prominent, with many of the same soldiers from the console versions appearing here in all their shameless SS-inspired glory. Classic props like the ISA bomb and even the animation for helping fellow soldiers up to higher platforms also make a return, so it’s obvious that Guerilla Cambridge had full permission to raid Guerilla Game’s libraries during the development of Mercenary.

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The audio is probably the one area where there’s a big difference. The score still feels bombastic and orchestral at times, and the firearms retain their signature sounds, but all of this is fed through either headphones now, or the small speakers of the Vita. This is definitely best played with headphones, for more “oomph,” but even then, the house shaking, bass-y explosions and the multi-directional audio have lost a lot in the translation to a portable. The voice acting is serviceable but never particularly good. It doesn’t help that the voice actors don’t have a great script to work with, but with a mute character and some arch British and Russian accents, the quality of the acting here has a late 90s feel. You’ll never encounter a “Jill Sandwich” moment, but neither is there anything as remotely memorable as GLaDOS. The writers occasionally fail to restrain themselves from using bad puns and/or references, but these are kept to a minimum.

Shooting In Hand

This is, to some degree, damning with faint praise, but it’s true that Killzone: Mercenary is currently the best FPS on the Vita, partially because the others are subpar. It’s not a long game, with nine campaign missions that can be finished in four to five hours. That would be alarming by $60, retail release disc standards, but for $40 on the go, with multiplayer, that’s quite reasonable. The controls still have the same weighty feel as the console versions, which some will love and some will hate. There’s also been some touch screen integration built in, though much of it can be turned off, except for zooming on sniper scopes, which requires an up/down swipe motion on the rear screen to work. It’s unobtrusive though, so it actually works to the game’s benefit. All of these tweaks are just that, however. The big change to the nature of the game is the central mechanic, and that is, appropriately for a merc, making money.

The key to Mercenary’s longevity in single player is the repeatable nature of the missions, and the “gear RPG” nature of the game. All actions in the game, from picking up ammo to stabbing enemies, will reward players with money. The money can be used to purchase new gear such as weapons, armor and special attacks in the form of a “Vanguard system,” and the type of gear Danner equips will have an effect on the playstyle. In some ways, this is reminiscent of Ubisoft’s recent tweaks to Splinter Cell, with Mercenary’s gear choices giving players options to load up for all-out assault, take a more stealthy approach, or even emphasize the use of gadgets. The missions even pay out different amounts of money for meeting the requirements for various stealth/assault/whatever conditions, which means using specific weapons and gear as defined by that playstyle parameter. One interesting aspect of this is how the player can actually change loadout/playstyle even during the mission itself. “Vendor chests” are scattered liberally through each mission, and, if there’s enough money on hand—it costs $250 to re-equip an individual piece of gear, so armor, primary/secondary weapons, grenades and special total up to $1250—players can completely reconfigure Danner for a new playstyle. This is often a necessity as the game can change the nature of the approach called for. All playstyles are valid, and any mission can be stubbornly completed with one playstyle if players choose, but it’s often easier—and more fun—to try and complete missions the way the game encourages you to.

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For example, a mission may start encouraging a stealthy approach, with fewer guards a nice bonus for sneaking—or killing—undetected. Infiltration armor and cloaking abilities come into heavy use during this phase, but later in the level, a confrontation is forced, at which point, it’s more prudent to hit the vendor chest and switch things up for ballistic armor and greater firepower. With more money—likely gained by grinding missions—players can graduate to even more lethal weapons, like rocket launchers and even satellite directed attacks. All of this, incredibly, carries over to the multiplayer.

Multiplayer is both impressive and at the same time somewhat crippled. The good news is that it covers most of the fundamentals, with free for all deathmatch, team deathmatch, and objectives based matches that resembles the console modes. This is fun, chaotic, and once again recalls that “I can’t believe this is on a portable” feeling, provided there’s access to a decent Wi-Fi connection. The downside to this is that, unlike the PS3 version, there’s no dedicated player chat, although the Vita’s party chat works just fine. So, you can talk to your friends who are already on your party chat/friend list, but you can’t strategize with people you just met on your team for the latest match. There are understandable technical limitations for why this is the case, and for some, it may be a deal breaker, but the fundamental multiplayer gameplay actually WORKS.

Ultimately, Killzone: Mercenary is a big “Yes,” for anyone looking for a decent FPS to play on the go. The dual analog sticks of the Vita make this the single most playable FPS on the portable market, and the decent campaign and surprisingly good—but hamstrung—multiplayer adds legs to the game. This is not an FPS revolution that demands people go out and buy a Vita just to play the game, but is it IS a worthwhile title to play for FPS fans. It doesn’t embarrass its franchise the way Resistance and Call of Duty did, carrying the same feel of quality as the console titles. Just don’t go into it expecting to have your life changed, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fact that you’re enjoying a console quality shooter on your Vita, even with some blemishes here and there.

Video Game Expendables 2 - Part 1 - These Warriors Are Terrible

Video Game Expendables 2 – Part 1 – These Warriors Are Terrible

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IT’S OUR ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!!  These Warriors Are Terrible is turning one year old, and in celebration we are returning to the campaign that started it all, Video Game Expendables!  At long last Big Mike returns to Video Game Expendables. In the aftermath of the first Terrible Warrior’s session a new evil rises over the landscape of the Video Game multiverse. The team of Commander Shepard (Birdman Dodd), Master Chief (Steve), Solid Snake (Laidman) are joined by Cole McGrath (Derek the Bard) and Max (Justin) as they awaken in a strange arena where they must fight to survive and save their souls.

CONTEST TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We have a special contest going to celebrate the One Year Anniversary of These Warriors Are Terrible and you could win any RPG book you want from our sponsor (who’s been with us since the beginning) NobleKnight.com!  (Up to $80 value).

All you need to do is leave a review of These Warriors Are Terrible on our iTunes Podcast Page, which can be found HERE.  Leave any review you want, we leave that up to you.  Then follow us on Twitter @dicewarriors because we will pick a random reviewer’s name and when Video Game Expendables 2 – Part 5 Debrief airs we will announce the name over Twitter! 

Also, are there any settings or RPG systems you’d like the Terrible Warriors to visit? Do you have your own shameful, awesome or just plain silly RPG adventures? Tell us with a comment below or e-mail us at [email protected] With your permission we’ll share these stories and play your suggested settings for upcoming games for the Terrible Warriors.

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Precursor Games Halts Eternal Darkness Sequel, Shuts Down

Precursor Games Halts Eternal Darkness Sequel, Shuts Down

In local news, Precursor Games, the small outfit composed of former Silicon Knights members, including Denis Dyack, is shutting down and putting development of Shadow of the Eternals “on hold.” The announcement came on the official Precursor Games forum on Friday morning. The game, which was an unofficial sequel to the original, critically acclaimed Eternal Darkness for Nintendo’s GameCube, was originally placed on Kickstarter to imitate the happy-ending-funding-stories of other unofficial sequels, such as Keiji Inafune’s Mighty No. 9 Megaman-esque sequel, and Chris Robert’s phenomenally successful Star Citizen which is a Wing Commander/Star Lancer follow up.

Shadow of the Eternals has had a troubled history, with rumors circulating that its early development at Silicon Knights was the cause for the distracted, slap dash production of X-Men: Destiny, the failure of which was the final, financial nail in the coffin for the St. Catherines-based studio. Denis Dyack and a small core team then went on to form Precursor Games and attempted to appeal directly to fans by putting the game up on popular crowd funding website Kickstarter. The funding attempt failed, twice, with the initial $1.35 million for the first Kickstarter effort reduced to $750, 000 and still not meeting goals.

Officially the game has not been cancelled. In the same post, by Denis Dyack, he writes:

Is the project dead? No, but we feel it needs a rest too. We have all agreed as a group that when and if the time is right we will get together and start it up again.

This is a real shame, as the original Eternal Darkness was something of a minor cult hit among horror aficionados. Unfortunately, Denis Dyack’s notorious reputation (he’s one of the few developers to actually get banned from prominent gaming forum NEOGaf for antagonizing posters) has created a lot of tension in the gaming community. It’s created a conflict in the gaming community between a desire for a sequel crashing head on with a dislike and/or distrust of Dyack. Precursor Games, prior to shut down, was based in Hamilton, Ontario.

I Am Not My Gender: A Discussion of Women in the Videogame Industry 3

I Am Not My Gender: A Discussion of Women in the Videogame Industry

This article is the conclusion of a three-part series dealing with women and gaming. It discusses the inclusion of women in the videogame industry, and the implications that follow.

To recap, the past two articles discussed the harassment women experience within the videogame community, as well as an analysis of Anita Sarkeesian’s backlash when she took a critical eye to the portrayal of women in videogames. Both articles discussed how women are viewed within the videogame medium; little fishes swimming in a hypermasculine pond. However, as the tides turn, women are becoming more proactive within the industry, claiming roles such as studio heads, scriptwriters, developers, programmers, designers, and so on. While this radical change is running rampant the world over, it’s also happening right in our backyard.

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The Canadian videogame industry is the third largest in the world, after the United States and Japan. Not only is Canada home to some of the biggest studios, such as Edmonton’s BioWare and Electronic Arts Canada in Burnaby, B.C., it’s also home to non-profit, feminist organizations that enable women to develop videogames, such as Toronto’s Dames Making Games. Cecily Carver, along with Jennie Faber, co-founded Dames Making Games, which is dedicated to addressing and changing the male-dominated nature of the videogame culture. Faber is Carver’s primary collaborator for the organization’s programs. Just recently in June, Dames Making Games held a game development workshop called “Junicorn”, helping women achieve their dreams of designing and developing their first games. The 10 female participants had minimal experience creating videogames, and came from diverse backgrounds.

Speaking with Carver about Junicorn and her organization as a whole, Carver said proactive women in the industry are vital to promoting diversity without discrimination.

Games are an exciting medium and can do a lot of things that other mediums can’t do,” Carver said. “We think it benefits our participants a lot to be able to incorporate games into their work. I also believe that games as a medium will benefit from more creative diversity—if the game world continues to be dominated by the same small group of people making games for each other, then the medium won’t develop and grow.”

At Ubisoft Toronto, Jade Raymond undertakes an important position as Managing Director of the studio, overseeing the production of titles such as Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Raymond is one of the most prominent female figures in the videogame industry, but she is also an example of a big issue for women in the videogame industry: appearance. In other industries, a woman’s appearance can affect her chances of success, and the videogame culture is no exception. As far as Raymond is concerned, the majority of her public perception has been unfairly focused on her looks, as she is known to be quite attractive. Moreover, the obsession with Raymond’s beauty has become quite inappropriate and overtly sexual. In 2007, a pornographic comic starring Raymond surfaced across the Internet, even spawning a rumor that Raymond would supposedly grace the December 2007 cover of Maxim. Raymond has since dismissed the rumor, and was quite disgusted with condescending online behaviour.

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Raymond’s credentials can’t be contested just because “she’s pretty”—she has earned her spot in rising up the ranks. The consensus amongst some members of the male videogame community is a woman is apparently more respected if she possesses both beauty and brains. That is, a female industry worker is accepted if she satisfies the requirements of a man’s “dream girl”. Indeed there are women in the videogame industry that possess just about the same credentials as Raymond, but the issue remains: women in the industry cannot seem to avoid judgment of their appearance. And the judgment appears to be worse for those who are not considered beautiful.

At this point, while it may be case that women have come far in the industry, the dark cloud of misogyny still hovers over them, continuing institutional sexism. The clouds get even darker when a woman, such as Microsoft’s new Xbox head Julie Larson-Green, assumes leadership of a division that enables her to control the direction of such a heavyweight console. When Microsoft announced the 20-year company veteran Larson-Green as Don Mattrick’s successor in July, the sexist comments raged on: “Too bad she’s old, would’ve been cuter 20 years ago”; “She slept her way to the top”; “Great, she’ll create apps dedicated to knitting and baking”. Some gamers went as far to question Larson-Green’s credibility as a Microsoft executive, claiming she is not a gamer and therefore is not qualified to helm the Xbox division. Simply put, Larson-Green is not man enough to take on a man’s job.

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It’s no mistake that gender plays an integral part within the videogame realm, but the significance of gender solely depends on how it is used—a woman can use her gender to either limit her, or empower her. Statistics show that 45 % of females make up the gaming audience, cementing the inevitable notion women are here to stay in the videogame industry, despite the barrage of harassment and sexist attitudes.

The keyword in all this is change. Change can be a scary thing, especially in the case of videogames. What was once a boys-only medium has become open to not only women, but also gays, lesbians and transgendered people. The face of the industry is changing, as far as identities are concerned, and it is high time the videogame industry reflects that of a healthy, progressive movement towards equality and respect. Doesn’t matter if one is man, woman, gay, lesbian or transgendered—what brings everyone together is the love of videogames.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (Movie) Review 4

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (2013) Review

When Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs hit screens in 2009, it proved to be an unexpected treat that arrived with little hoopla beyond sporting one of the weirdest (and wordiest) titles of all time. However, the movie proved to be a strangely subversive comedy gem that even managed to sneak Eraserhead references into a kiddie blockbuster. We can thank co-writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller for that given that they pulled the same trick on the underrated animated series Clone High and the unexpectedly awesome 21 Jump Street movie. Sadly, the duo didn’t return to the sequel beyond some screenplay tinkering. They’re off making the Lego movie instead, and they should be because they’ll make it great. So now, we have Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 arriving with expectations and without the key creative talent. Fortunately, it’s a wonderfully entertaining sequel that continues the franchise well. It’s more sweet and sincere than subversive and reverential, but when you’re talking about a CGI family comedy about giant sentient cheeseburgers, that’s not exactly a bad thing.

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The roughest patch of the movie comes right off the bat. Unfortunately, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 does suffer from that unfortunate medical condition that plagues many Hollywood products: sequel-itis. The original film was never intended to set up a franchise, so there are some awkward patches early on as the filmmakers struggle to kick off a new story and reunite all of the characters the kiddies loved last time. Fortunately, that’s out of the way fast. Bill Hader’s manic inventor Flint is selected by his childhood hero/iconic food inventor Chester V (Will Forte doing an amusing Steve Jobs impression… only evil) to join his tech conglomerate LIVE Corp. Flint toils away fruitlessly in the big city hoping to become one of the team’s star inventors and then gets a chance to prove himself when his old invention starts running amuck in his hometown. The machine that once made food out of drops of water has started malfunctioning and turned the island into a land overrun by giant sentient food (cheeseburger spiders, crazy cucumbers, cutie pie strawberries, the whole nine yards). So Flint gathers up all of the popular characters from the last movie like gal pal reporter Sam (Anna Faris), her wacky accented cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), dedicated local cop Earl (Terry Crews), weirdo Brent (Andy Samburg), and his daddy (James Caan) and together they head out to food island for more wacky adventures.

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The good news is that said wacky adventures are still a lot of fun. There’s a worrying moment early on when Flint screams out “there’s a leak in my boat” and then an anthropomorphized leek starts screaming. Thankfully, the movie is not defined by bad puns, even if it’s not above them. Some of the pop culture references from the original remain like the general plot that’s ripped from The Lost World (both the original Arthur Conan Doyle novel and the Jurassic Park sequel) and the goofy Apple parody that is LIVE Corp. However, the new directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn lean more on eccentric character comedy and CGI adventure this time around and thankfully that approach works. The voice cast is ridiculously talented and even if it’s a stretch to cram all of the popular characters in here, every actor gets some big laughs (especially Forte who is hysterical as the villain). The character design still comes from the Lord/Miller/Clone High school, and it’s still wonderfully unique and cartoony. The living food monsters/buddies are all creatively designed and milked for all their comedy and cutesy potential. The action scenes are genuinely thrilling and take advantage of the 3D visuals. The emotional arc sparks tear trickles without feeling saccharine. And most importantly, it all wraps up quickly without ever feeling strained or boring. In short, it’s a blast of simple entertainment that will charm the pants off parents, children, and regressed children alike.

cloudyinsert2“Charming” is the word that best describes Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 and given the genre of CGI family comedy it slides into that word suits the film well. Would it have been better if Phil Lord and Chris Miller stuck around for the sequel to pack it full of their weirdo wit? Of course, but at the same time the original movie never cried out for a franchise and the sequel never could have been anything more than a charming follow up. Animation veterans Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn at least know their genre and medium well. They suck up all the possible entertainment value out of continuing the adventures of this likable gang of characters and food fantasy world, then roll the credits before outstaying their welcome. The film is no masterpiece, but it is a perfectly serviceable and goofy blast of family fun that will make the target audience giggle while scarfing down snacks. Really, what else could you possibly expect from a movie called Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2? Wanting more is just being greedy. This is as good as a movie with giant cheeseburger spiders can be and that ain’t bad.

Microsoft buying iPhones for store credit

Microsoft buying iPhones for store credit

In addition to iPads, Microsoft announced they will be accepting “gently used,” iPhone 4S and 5 models in exchange for a minimum of $200 gift cards that can be used at the Microsoft Store.

The promotion begins today at select Microsoft retail stores in the United States, including Puerto Rico and Canada. It will run through Nov. 3.

As before with the iPads, the devices must include a power cord and not be password protected. There is a one unit limit on how many units a customer can trade in.

The iPad promotion expires Oct.27.

 

Source: content.microsoftstore.com

Valve announces Steam Controller

Valve announces Steam Controller

The final announcement has been made, capping off a week filled with Steam-related news, and the last mystery has been revealed as the Steam Controller.

Steam’s teaser site, which revealed the controller, says the company spent a year “experimenting with new approaches to input.”

The Steam Controller is designed to work with all the games on Steam, including those that weren’t built with controller support. The controller has two circular trackpads, which the player’s thumbs will drive across. The pads are also clickable. Steam says PC gamers will appreciate the pads approach to control, similar to that of a desktop mouse. Games that were only playable with a keyboard and mouse, like casual, cursor-driven games, strategy games, and other indie games will now be accessible from the sofa. First-person shooters that rely on precision aiming will now benefit from the trackpads’ position control.

A new generation of precise haptic feedbacks deliver a wide range of force and vibration, allowing precision control over frequency, amplitude, and movement direction. These two haptics are attached to each of the dual trackpads. The controller will apparently be able to play audio waveforms, and the haptics can function as speakers.

The centre of the controller contains a high-resolution touch screen. It will allow users to perform a wide variety of actions. The screen itself is clickable as well, allowing players to easily access the Steam marketplace or other menus.

Steam has built in a legacy mode which enables the controller to present itself as a keyboard and mouse. Players will be able to choose from a list of the most popular configurations.

Steam is encouraging the Steam Community to deliver additional concepts and other designs to the Steam Controller.

13-year console ban lifted in China 1

13-year console ban lifted in China

The 13-year ban on the sale of video game consoles in China has been lifted, according to the Chinese government

The news comes on the heels of the newly established free-trade zone in Shanghai. As long as the the Ministry of Culture approves the products, companies that operate sales and production within the new trade zone will now be able to sell their products in China.

Despite the ban on consoles, an article in The Wall Street Journal pointed out that “unofficial channels” like private retail outlets have still made them available.

This week Microsoft announced a $237 million investment into a joint venture with BesTV, a Chinese TV company in order to create “family games and related services.”

The console ban emerged in 2000 as a result of concerns about the potential harm games have on the physical and mental development of children. Smartphones and other touch-enabled systems are allowed because they’re not deemed gaming devices.

Source: gamespot.com

Tackling the Canadian wilderness in Hinterland's new Kickstarter project 3

Tackling the Canadian wilderness in Hinterland’s new Kickstarter project

Raphael van Lierop and the rest of the highly-talented Hinterland team are working on an upcoming project called The Long Dark, a first-person, post-disaster survival-simulator. The Kickstarter project has accumulated over $83 000 in its first two weeks, is backed by the Canada Media Fund, and is set to release next fall. Hinterland is a fresh face within the industry that emerged in 2012, and the ambitious team of six, which includes the likes of technical director Alan Lawrance (Saints Row IV) and writer Marianne Krawczyk (God of War), aim to create something totally unique that takes place in the Canadian wilderness.

CGM: You guys have a lot of talent working on this project who have worked on other major titles, what was the incentive for you guys to come together and create The Long Dark?

Raphael van Lierop – It had a lot to do with the fact that our core team, which is made up of veterans who have 10-20 years experience and have worked on large triple-a franchises, I think we reached a point where we’ve started to look for other challenges and I think that’s common throughout the industry today. We’re looking for new opportunities to do more personal work, and be more creative, things that are sometimes difficult within the confines of an established franchise where less risks are possible. So that was a really the starting point, and we have a common language about how things work which really helps. Everyone on the core team is world-class talent and could work on any project for any studio in the world I think, but they want to work on something more personal to them, and that comes down to being an independent studio, and working on a game that you wouldn’t see from traditional publishers. It also helps that we have a distributed team structure, so the studio is set up in Vancouver Island, but the rest of the core team lives and works out of their own home city. I think that largely came from personal experience in the industry, where I had to move my family  around for work more than once. Sometimes it works out really well and often doesn’t, and for me after I finished my last big game at Relic which was Space Marine, I said to myself there’s gotta be a different way to do this, and that was sort of the seed that started the whole process of coming up with The Long Dark and coming up with a studio that would become Hinterland. Everybody was quickly sold on the project’s concept and the studio’s concept, but the heart of the matter is that talented people want to work with other talented people. So when you announce you’ve managed to sign these great people it’s that much easier to sign even more great people. We’ve announced Mark Meer, who did the voice work for Commander Shepard, will provide the voice acting for Will Mackenzie who’s our protagonist, today we announced Elias Toufexis, another renowned voice actor in games who voiced Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, will also be joining us as well.  It really comes down too having a concept that’s interesting to people, and having a concept for the studio itself to get behind, and then bringing talented people in to make something great in an environment that’s more inclusive about doing more creative, more personal work.

CGM: How often is the group able to come together around a table and throw ideas around?

RVP: The goal is every two or three months. Recently, about three weeks ago we had an on-site together here on the island. Everyone came in and we spent a few days together in a cabin on Mt. Washington. We just hung out, talked about the game, strategized about the company, ate pancakes and played games, it was a chance to have that bonding experience. That’s one of the things that are great about working this way, like when we’re off in our respective home bases, we’re using all the tools of collaboration that are available to us through the technology like Skype, and Google tools which really makes the collaboration quite seamless. There’s a lot of work involved to set it up and I don’t think everybody could do it, but this team is so professional and the level of experience is so high that we could definitely make it work. But then when we get together face-to-face we can really just focus on being together, and that creates a very neat ebb and flow in the way the communication and relationships work. As a result I think the team bond in certain ways is a lot stronger than it would be if we just had those coffee machine moments in between meetings, and here and there around the studio. This team structure allowed me to bring everyone together and have a very focused three or four day period where we just had to focus on being together and not worry about work, and we could do things like go for walks and just hang out and get to know each other better, and just build on our team dynamic, strengthening the unity between everyone. So far it’s been working very very well.

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CGM: When you mention post-apocalypse, many people think of zombies. How important was it to stay away from the undead with this game?

RVP: I’ve always been fascinated with post-disaster, post-apocalyptic settings and I’m a huge fan of zombie movies and games and all the big summer-blockbuster disaster films, but I find that the genre is generally sort of over-saturated. I think what’s interesting about these post-disaster scenarios is not the zombies or anything like that, but it’s the hard situations people find themselves in and the decisions they have to make. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road had a huge impact on me. In many ways it’s a fairly traditional post-apocalyptic story, but the treatment is so elevated and very literary, and had way more impact because it didn’t fall back on a lot of the conventions. It wasn’t Mad Max, it wasn’t a zombie disaster, in fact you didn’t even really know what happened in the world, you just knew something bad had happened and you’re living in the aftermath of that. I thought that treatment was really really amazing and even back then I started asking myself, “Could you make a game that was more focused on the survival aspects and more focused on the actual decisions you have to make in order to survive, and how those decisions impact those around you?” As a result the game isn’t an action game, but instead very much a pensive, thoughtful game about exploration, looking for resources, soaking up the atmosphere, focusing on your day-to-day survival, managing your resources, worrying about the weather and wildlife, managing the temperature, and all that kind of stuff. Then layered on top of the core simulation is all the interaction with the survivors, and how your story intertwines with them. Having no zombies was an aesthetic choice. We knew we wanted the game to feel a little bit more mature, and we wanted the storytelling to be more sophisticated as opposed to giving it the B-movie treatment. We’re definitely targeting an older audience, and hopefully an audience beyond gamers. I think the themes we’re dealing with along with the gameplay aren’t meant for a twitch-shooter setting, and I think people who aren’t even gamers will find something interesting about that. The no zombies thing has actually resonated with people, and it’s really easy to say “Oh we’re going to do another version of this already established game that everybody loves, but put our own unique spin on it,” which you see a lot of now on Kickstarter and are still doing really well, but I think we have to work twice as hard to get our message out there and get people to buy into it.

CGM: You mentioned how in The Road the reader is thrust into the midst of the apocalypse, not even really knowing what happened in the world, is the apocalypse explained or expanded upon in The Long Dark?

RVP: We’re not as mysterious or as oblique as The Road. We mention how technology has basically become neutralized because of a geomagnetic event, which you experience at the start of the game as Mackenzie, who’s flying across the wilderness, and you deal with the aftermath of that. That was a very deliberate choice, so instead of falling back to the classic post-apocalyptic trip of “Oh 20 years ago the bombs exploded or the virus wiped out so-and-so,” We wanted to put the player in the heart of this event while its happening, and avoid the urban setting where it’s like New York and oh no the aliens are coming! We all know what that looks like. This is about being on the fringes and on the edge of the wilderness, and asking yourself how do we deal with the loss of what pretty much unifies our civilization? It’s about how we deal with the loss of things we take for granted like security, communication, medical supplies, food production. There’s more to it than that because we are including that element of mystery behind the disaster, but we definitely hint more strongly at what has gone down in the world and how its affected things. We haven’t given the player all the answers, but we’re certainly a little more clearer as to what’s been happening.

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CGM: Do guys have an idea as to how big this game is going to be in terms of scope and how far players can travel?

RVP: Because we’re a small team and our budget is going to be pretty reasonable, we’re not going to be able to achieve the size of a world you find in Red Dead Redemption. We’ve made some deliberate choices about the structure of our world and the art style of the game. The art style is intended to be very very beautiful and to stand out, but it also allows us to build assets for it relatively easily because it relies on us to focus on style rather than photo-realism. Despite our limits, we have this ambition to make a large game. The game really has two, let’s call them modes. The first one is survival-story, which is the survival-simulation with mission progression layered on top of it so you have an actual story-line you’re playing through. This is very similar to the model you see in games like Fallout 3 or any of the big open-world games, but then we also have the survival sandbox  mode, which is essentially more of a challenge mode with no real narrative, it’s just about you in various survival scenarios. How long can you survive in that environment with varying conditions? We’re targeting for about five to six hours of gameplay for the story mode, and for the sandbox mode it could potentially last you dozens of hours depending on how many of these scenarios we unlock. We’re imagining a price point of about 25 or 30 bucks, and we think that amount is a good deal for the amount of content we’re offering.

CGM: Can you talk more about some of those survival scenarios the player has to face in the game?

RVP: We have weather conditions that could change dynamically, we have wildlife that behaves dynamically, so for example there might be a wolf in the distance that’s just howling or maybe stalking you, and based on how it behaves you’ll have to make different decisions about what you do. There’s a day and night cycle, so night-time is colder and you have to decide at times whether its safe to go out in the dark at night or go you find shelter instead. You also have survival skills playing as Mackenzie, and knowledge is a really key resource in the game for us, and is one of the main reasons this game isn’t about running around and shooting everything you encounter. Knowledge can really save your life, and it can be an understanding of where things are in the world like supply caches, and knowing about key locations in the world. You get these pieces of knowledge mostly by talking to other survivors around you, so if you go around and kill everyone, you won’t be able to obtain that information and you’re probably going to die. Knowledge can also improve skills like first-aid and hunting, you have to learn how to dress meat properly so you can eat it, you also have some minor crafting skills, so you have to know about plants and herbs. Things like maintaining your gear and some crafting elements also come into play. There’s a lot of gameplay built into the skill system. The third layer is the direct action stuff, so gameplay where I’m holding a hunting rifle and I have to use my own skill as a player to take that deer down. Or you have to pick a lock to get into a safe, so there’s a component based on Mackenzie’s skill level, and then there’s a component based on the players ability to manipulate the system with the controls. We have these three layers working in tandem with each other to create this interesting survival sandbox.

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CGM: Can you swap to a third-person view or is it always in first-person?

RVP: We want it to be in first-person because we believe it makes for a stronger feeling of immersion in this kind of environment, and with the gameplay that we have we felt first-person is really what fits best. We may occasionally slip into third-person during little moments, but the majority of the game will be first-person.

CGM: What were some of your inspirations for the art design of the game?

RVP: My very early inspiration was a children’s book author named John Klassen, and he’s illustrated several books that I’ve read to my kids. I came across one called House Held Up By Trees which was beautifully illustrated, and the book itself really resonated with me because of the things I was thinking about for The Long Dark and figuring out what type of environment I wanted to have. That was really the starting point and from there we started to explore other renowned landscape artists, and eventually Hokyo Lim our artistic director, who’s a very visionary director and developed the art style for League of Legends and Unfinished Swan, which was a beautiful beautiful game, developed his own style that drew from some of those inspirations. We want to go for a very clean look, and not go down the road of photo-realism. There’s no doubt the setting of the game is also inspired by being on the northern part of Vancouver Island and the west coast. I’ve also visited northern Alberta and BC, I love the Yukon. We’re not re-creating specific locations, but our mythos certainly draws from the pacific northwest and the northern wilderness.

CG: You talked a bit about The Road, but what games served as inspirations for you?

RVP: A lot of our inspirations do come from established games like Fallout 3. I’m a huge fan of Fallout 3 and I put a lot of hours into that game. When you develop games you find you don’t really have time to keep up with what’s around you, and so you’re only able to jump in for a few minutes and try something out. So the fact that I put over 100 hours into Fallout really says a lot about how great that experience was. People who love that game will find a lot of elements in The Long Dark that will resonate with them. Same with StalkerRed Dead RedemptionBioshock, these are games that have inspired us and many aspects of our experience. People will find elements in our game that are familiar to them, but in a package that they haven’t really seen before.

CG: How have you been able to work off the feedback you’ve received so far?

RVP: We’ve had a lot of great support so far, and we’ve even posted a lot of them on to our Kickstarter page. We’ve had tons of support on Twitter and Facebook from notable members of the industry, colleagues, and people who haven’t played games before. That support has really strengthened our initiative and the risks we’re taking with this game. We announced last week our Willpower mechanic, which is basically a buff that can help you out if you’re really low on resources and down to your last minutes. In this instance you can call upon this bonus, and we’ve manifested it in the form of a photo of loved ones, and every time you use it the photo fades a bit, so it’s not something you can use endlessly. It’s like your memories are fading more and more as you use it, but you also become inspired by it to keep going and survive. It really emphasizes the mental and emotional aspects of survival. When we posted details about this system and how we’re going to allow players to upload photos of their own loved ones, the support for that was overwhelming. One backer in particular told us they really appreciated this system because they wanted to upload a photo of a loved one that passed away. When we heard that the whole team was just floored by it. That was the moment when we were like, wow we really have something here.

 



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