To Boldly Go Where No Trek Has Gone Before…So far

To Boldly Go Where No Trek Has Gone Before…So far

Earlier this year, during a period in my life where I had a lot of downtime and required some distraction to fill the endless hours, I binged through all of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (the latter I did twice).

Read moreTo Boldly Go Where No Trek Has Gone Before…So far

Producer’s Corner with Sean Ramjagsingh

Producer’s Corner with Sean Ramjagsingh

Benjamin Franklin once said, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, if ol’ Benji was around today he would have added “…and EA sports games.” It’s that time of the year again when fans of real and virtual sports get to combine their passions in the realm of video games. On the plus side, that means the one consistently fantastic EA Sports game will also be seeing a new release, much to the pleasure of the majority of Canadian players. NHL 18 drops this Friday, and CGM was lucky enough to snag a quick chat with Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh, the Producer for EA’s NHL 18, to see what we can expect in this year’s version of the long running franchise.


CGM: When did you begin working on the EA NHL games?

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: I’ve been working on NHL since 09. I’ve been on the franchise for a long time and we’ve been working on 18 for probably 18 months or so, it’s been a long time in the making.

CGM: Did you have any specific goals in mind for NHL 18, or did you mainly focus on building and improving elements that were already present in the series?

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NHL 18 – images via EA Sports.

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: For us with 18 we really wanted to capture the authenticity of the sport and the real shift towards that new generation of young talent, the McDavids, the Laines, the Mathews of the world and the speed and skill and creativity they bring to the game every night. That was our vision from the start for 18, trying to capture those characteristics. That’s why you’ll see the new moves and dekes you can pull off in the game this year. We’ve put a new Defensive skill section to counter all those offensive moves. The other thing for us was to create a really accessible experience that is arcade-inspired that really shows off that speed/skill/creativity in a fun and easy to pick up and play, hard-hitting, high goal scoring experience. That’s what NHL Threes is for us. You play in a rink that’s 75 per cent the size of a real rink, simplistic broadcast package and a bunch of different designs on the ice with very few faceoffs and stoppages in play. The concept of money-pucks where pucks are worth different values i.e. for each goal you score it will take away a goal from your opponent. Those are the key features for us, and continue to round out the depth and add Vegas in our new Expansion Draft feature for our Franchise Mode.

CGM: How do you guys keep things fresh after so many years?

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: People ask that all the time. There’s no shortage of ideas, people always want more things to make the game more realistic, and to make the stuff already in the game better. It’s all great feedback for us and it’s our job as producers and designers to think outside the box, about things people aren’t already thinking about. That’s kind of where Threes came from when we thought about “how do we bring back in that more casual fan” that maybe is no longer as connected to the sport of hockey as they once were or feels like the complexity of sports games and controllers these days has maybe put them off a bit. How do we bring them back to just pick up the controller and have fun?

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NHL 18 – images via EA Sports.

CGM: On that note, the analog control first featured in NHL 08 was hugely innovative. Will we ever see a similar leap in control? How does it get better than that?

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: It’s tough. We’re using all the buttons right now in our default control scheme so when you want to add new stuff like we did this year, it’s a bit of a rejig, you have to move stuff around to make sure the moves aren’t super complex to pull off and that people have the opportunity to use them and get good at them as well. One of the things we talked about was, “should we allow fans to fully customize their controller,” put whatever they want on whatever button they want to. There were lots of complications with doing that in terms of the testing efforts to make sure every single combination out there works and some of the controls we have associated with moves in the game are sustain hold vs. taps and flicks. We’re always looking for ways to make the controls more accessible for people.

CGM: Are you guys working on or tinkering with a possible VR version of NHL?

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: We’re not currently tinkering with any VR-related for NHL specifically, but it’s something we’ve definitely got our eyes on. It’s a technology of the future. When we think about for NHL, the experience that I’ve seen it’s always tough when the characters start moving around the screen and how you deal with the motion of the characters. We’ve always thought about the goalie being the right place to start, we said, “Let’s go down that path,” as the goalies don’t skate around that much and for the most part are confined to that small area. We’ll see how the technology pans out over the next couple years. It’s advancing very quickly so it’s definitely something we have our eyes on.

CGM: With the release of the Xbox One X and the PlayStation Pro are you guys really cranking up framerates and resolutions for NHL 18?

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: Absolutely. We’re sitting in front of a 4K TV right now. We have enhanced ports for both consoles and it’s something we’re really excited about, it just makes the game that much more beautiful to watch on the screen, which is awesome.

CGM: You mentioned earlier that you guys are focusing on the modern game of hockey. In the real NHL, they’re trying to phase out things like fighting and overly aggressive hitting, is that something you guys took into account with NHL?

Producer’s Corner with Sean Ramjagsingh 1
NHL 18 – images via EA Sports.

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: Yeah, absolutely. For me, one of the best parts about hockey is the mix of speed, skill, and aggression. This year we’ve still got out hitting but a lot of our focus was on the speed and skill and capturing that aspect of it. As long as the hitting and the fighting are a part of hockey we’ll continue to have it in our game but this year’s focus is a lot more on showcasing the speed and skill you see in today’s NHL. With NHL Threes we’re going to show that off with 3-on-3 hockey, 3-on-3 overtime, more space on the ice for you as a player to show off, again, that speed and skill.

CGM: Anything else to add?

Sean “Rammer” Ramjagsingh: The game comes out this Friday so go out and grab it!


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Part 2: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith

Part 2: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith

The Dishonored series premiered an astonishing and almost unbelievable six years ago, and has spawned a full sequel and two DLC add-ons. This Friday, the storyline will conclude with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. While not necessarily the final entry in the Dishonored series of games, it will conclude a story arc eight years in the making. While covering QuakeCon, CGM was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Harvey Smith, the Creative Director and one of the original creators of the Dishonored series. In this two-part interview, Smith allows our readers a peek into his brain, and offers a personal account of the enormous IP that he helped create, and what it means to him to finally say goodbye to the world of Dunwall.

If you didn’t get a chance to read part one, you can find it here.


 

Part 2: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith 1
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

CGM: How Death of the Outsider compare to previous entries in the series as far as length goes?

Harvey Smith: You know we call it a stand-alone expansion, not a full sequel or anything like that. We didn’t put Dishonored 3 on it. But honestly the way that Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches are just DLC, they’re short, but for most players, DOTO is somewhere between 9–12 hours long. It ended up feeling more like a decent finale, an appropriate or proper ending to that arc. I think Dishonored 1 was similar in length for more people, we thought of it as a full game. But Dishonored 1 is much more like a bunch of one-off missions that add up to the story whereas this is one big mission with pieces that you pick up along the way.

CGM: Are you sad to say goodbye to the franchise? Are you ready to move on?

Harvey Smith: I don’t know if there will be more Dishonored games or not, I hope so, but definitely it would involve different characters and different scenarios—not the Outsider— maybe a different time period? For me, it’s been eight years and I started with Raphael Colantonio a good friend and Ricardo Bare who worked on Prey with Raph and we didn’t know anything when we started working on it. We were like “it’s London in 1666, and are we going to kill the pope?” That was something we talked about, the year of the great fire and the last year of the plague—not coincidentally—and then we started advancing it in time because we wanted more technology, then we started talking about maybe an American whaling city in the 1800s. It just drifted and then one day we had magic in the game and said “this isn’t on Earth anymore” so we literally drew a world map and made a calendar for an alternate universe and alternate timeline. It does feel like the 1850s.

Part 2: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith 2
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

That was the beginning of Dishonored and we were making it up as we went and trying to keep track of it all and by the end of Dishonored we’re hiring people like Sachka Duval our Narrative Designer who has played all the games and she knows everything about the lore and takes it as canon. She comes in and she starts adding to it with us but she’s steeped in it. It becomes more and more like “We know what Dishonored is, we know what the characters are” it’s a little more locked down as you get toward the end. It’s a very different challenge than the “What do we do, what is this,” it’s a wide open thing at the beginning and very narrow at the end.

By the end of [DOTO] we hired people to work on it and they came in and they already knew Dishonored really well. We hired Hazel Monforton who was working with Sachka and she’s working on her Ph.D. and she wrote this huge thing about the Outsider and her understanding of our world and lore is some ways—while it’s not as well-informed as mine because it’s in my head—but everything that’s in the games is in her head and her broader understanding of literature and history is better than mine and therefore she contextualizes our work in a different way. It’s fascinating to work with people like that on your game after a certain period of time.

So am I sick of Dishonored or do I love Dishonored? It’s probably a bit of both. First of all, it’s a rare opportunity to get to create something new, an IP. I was talking to a friend earlier about the Umbrella Academy [the books], they’re great. He [Gerard Way] did two volumes and there’s a rumored third volume but it’s been stalled for years and there’s also a TV show coming. To create something out of nothing that takes on culturally, imagine J.K. Rowling, there’s a theme park. It’s mind-blowing. It’s a rare opportunity, first of all, to get to do that no matter how big or small it is, whether it’s a comic book or a theme park. Then to be able to stay with it for that long? In videogames, people are swapped on and off projects and things like that, but to actually also be able to say “we wanted to have a beginning, middle, and end.” It’s not like a cash cow and we’re going to make the same dude [Corvo] over and over again. We’re going to go to Doud, then Emily, then we’re going to resolve this. We’re going to kill the Outsider. It doesn’t mean the end of Dishonored but it does mean the end of this arc. It’s a very rare privilege that we just got lucky to resonate with people so in that sense you have to think that this was eight years of my life. It goes from being a job to being “I’ll be remembering this when I’m 80.” It was an incredible opportunity and connecting with the fans that have done music, cosplay, art, tattoos, it’s amazing. It’s mind-blowing. I will always miss it.

Part 2: Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith 3
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

I honestly don’t know what’s in the future. I don’t want to imply that I do but at some level, it’s probably time for me personally to move on to something new. But I’ll always have a special place for it because it’s eight years of diving into that lore, working with new people, new gadgets, and new moves.

Our lead designer for Dishonored 2 is Dinga Bakaba and I worked with him on Dishonored 1 but he was just a designer on the project. By Dishonored 2 we made him lead designer and for Death of the Outsider I planned it while I was living in France and maybe the first half of it I worked on and then I moved back to Austin and they did the heavy lifting of actually finalizing it. So in the credits, we say Additional Creative Direction: Dinga Bakaba, Sachka Duval, and Christoph Carrier. Those guys are so pivotal to this and you really get to know somebody when you sit side-by-side with them for four years and you wrestle and solve problems. Some of those guys I’ve worked with for eight years now. It’s bigger than going off to university with some good friends; it’s huge. It’s the length of a Ph.D. or something. I can’t get my head around it. It’s impossible to actually explain.

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Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

It gives me a tiny insight into what people like J.K. Rowling must experience. Her experience is a million times bigger of course and probably has a million times more money but still. I read this quote from Willie Nelson that said basically he is a guy known by one name. Everywhere he goes people are like “Hey Willie” and he knows none of them, but they all know him and they all speak to him as if they know him because they listen to his music and have an intimate relationship with this creative guy through music. He said the world is very strange because his work has affected other people and they speak to him as if they know him. I wonder what that’s like. It must be a trip, but when we come to places like QuakeCon and it’s really cool to interact with people who have either just played the games, and maybe couples that met over it.

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Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

We had a Dishonored event in London not too long ago, a dinner, and one person proposed on the spot to their partner. We knew about it in advance so we took the heart device, this thing that speaks to you in riddles, and we talked to the voice actress, April Stewart—who is also the Mayor in South Park. We asked her to record some lines for the Heart for this proposal and she was totally down with it. We sent it to the audio guy and he processed it with the sound effects the heart makes. At the event, our PR people had a stuffed heart to give the one person and they proposed to the other person by holding the heart up. The heart said all these lines about their partner and stuff and it was beautiful. So you do stuff like that and that’s just the players.

We also interact with critics who are thinking about your stuff and they have a broader and deeper understanding of all of it because they’ve studied media for so long. It is mind-blowing and if it was a one off project and you were here talking to me about “Oh I got to work on the new Star Wars or whatever,” that would be one thing. It would be cool and I’d do my best. But when it runs eight years and it’s a whole arc and you see a whole culture form and you hire people who were probably in high school when you started this it becomes something totally different. I worked on all these games but I also worked on Deus Ex and Deus Ex 2 and people are still talking about those games. People make mods for them. There are comic books and novels and it’s pretty trippy, it’s hard to get your head around.


CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Brendan Quinn’s interview with Creative Director of iD Software, Tim Willits,  or his interview with Agents of Mayhem voice actor, Kay Bess.

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Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out our first looks at Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith

The Dishonored series premiered an astonishing and almost unbelievable six years ago, and has spawned a full sequel and two DLC add-ons. This Friday, the storyline will conclude with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. While not necessarily the final entry in the Dishonored series of games, it will conclude a story arc eight years in the making. While covering QuakeCon, CGM was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Harvey Smith, the Creative Director and one of the original creators of the Dishonored series. In this two-part interview, Smith allows our readers a peek into his brain, and offers a personal account of the enormous IP that he helped create, and what it means to him to finally say goodbye to the world of Dunwall.

Stay tuned for Part Two, coming tomorrow.


CGM: Was it hard to come up with new powers for Death of the Outsider? How do you keep things fresh?

Harvey Smith: There’s a pretty big difference here, there’s a lot of experimental stuff in Death of the Outsider. We decided to let go of some dogma and go out on a limb a little bit. Billy doesn’t use potions to replenish her mana, it’s now timer based. The fiction behind that is that she doesn’t draw her powers from the Outsider, she draws it from the void itself. She could theoretically persist after the Outsider’s death. We know this is a game about stealth, infiltration, and assassination—sometimes fighting if you have to. Therefore, it’s not about summoning skeletons or casting a fireball and that narrows it down.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith 1
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

Constraint is a good thing for design, of course, filters. Knowing those things we say, “Within that suite of movement, sliding, assassinating, and dropping off roofs…what does an assassin need.” When a ninja is overwhelmed they need a smoke bomb to get away. So they probably need an escape power, a mobility power, an infiltration power, something to mesmerize enemies to slip past them, some sort of information collection power. We start thinking like that. For all the characters we’ve done, for all the protagonists, we can put something in those buckets. Her foresight ability is probably my favourite vision power that we’ve done. Foresight is really active and interesting, much more than the other ones. I wouldn’t say that her displace ability is my favourite of the news ones. It’s cool, but it’s not my favourite either. Emily’s far-reach is really cool, and Dauds redirected blink is really cool, mind-bending. But her [Billy] Semblance power is really cool, even if I was really dubious about it in the beginning. Her gadget, the hook mines, are new to the series and they’re wildly cool. The designers did a great job. I think I pitched it initially but they took it further and did something much cooler with it than I thought we were going to do. They’re magnetic, you can put two up and pull people apart, put them on people and it will draw other people to them; it’s very systemized and works as part of the simulation.

Part of it is not allowing ourselves to be redundant, part of it is using the filters to decide “what is the function here that would make you feel not like a tank or a wizard but like the guy that can sneak in, take someone out, and escape.” Once you have those creative goals you’re not just making a game you’re following a vision. Billy is a very different protagonist than we’ve had before, her history and everything about her. Corvo to Daud was not that different, a royal bodyguard to an assassin, they’re both similar in other ways. Emily was a pretty big departure, she’s an Empress. Billy is an even further departure. Her powers are more curated than before. Before, we gave you a big set and you could spend points on them. This time we actually say contrary to what you might think, it will be more interesting if we give you a set and highly constrain them.

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Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

CGM: So you’ve designed the game around the powers rather than just throwing players in like, “who knows what they’re going to do?”

Harvey Smith: That’s exactly right. Often in our games, we do something like, “Okay what’s this scene about. High Overseer Campbell is about to poison this guard captain, what powers COULD the player have at this point?” Because it’s at least three hours into the game it’s possible that the player could have almost any of the powers. We can probably guarantee that they wouldn’t have “this” power at level 2 but almost any other. So we have to bulletproof for all of those and that’s a lot of work. How much special case work can we do to reward the player if they do that one special little thing to pay it off. Well, not much because it could be twelve different version of that. There are trade-offs, one is choice, the other is depth, so in the latter model, the one we used for Billy, we can assume certain things. You don’t have that power yet so we don’t have to bulletproof against. However, we know you have this power so if you think to do this one little thing with it we can pay it off. You take the face of the guard and walk past and they say “Captain” that kind of thing, and it’s like whoa that felt special. Or there’s a set scene between important characters and one says “I can join you in a moment,” you choke him out, take his face and walk over to the other important character and she continues on as if you were that guy. It feels very gratifying.

You obviously can’t do that in the same frame of time, the same amount of man months, if you have to support twelve powers. This is an experimental project. There are five Dishonoured titles and each one is a major chapter in the same arc. This is the finale. There may be more Dishonoured games going forward but this is the end of the one related to the Outsider, Billy, Corvo, and Daud, and it’s a rare opportunity to work on eight years worth of stuff where you get to have a beginning middle and end I’m grateful that we’re ending it with Billy, the death of the outsider it feels like a good thing.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider: An Interview with Harvey Smith 2
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – images via Bethesda.

CGM: Was Billy formed specifically as she is now or were you guys kicking around a few ideas before you landed on her?

Harvey Smith: Her as the protagonist came pretty late, like near the end of Dishonored 2 I would say. About five years ago as we were planning Dishonored 2 we were having a meeting, briefing the team, and I said I was thinking for Dishonored 2 we’re not going to use Corvo, we’ll jump forward 15 years, Emily has grown up, she’s the Empress, she’s off her throne and on the run. At first, it was shocking but people really quickly latched on to it. I said around that time that after Dishonored 2 we should do a DLC where you kill the Outsider. We had all these ideas we were going to pursue which we simplified later but it wasn’t Billy yet, but it was definitely the death of the outsider. Toward the end of Dishonored 2, you realize that starting during the Rat Plague when civilization itself was about to topple and Daud took this assassination job. When she dies, Corvo her lover and bodyguard is standing there. Her daughter Emily is standing there. Daud is there because he pushed the knife in. Billy is there because she’s part of the crew working with Daud. We did Corvo’s story, we then did Daud’s two-part story, and then 15 years later we did Emily’s. And while we were doing there—SPOILER—she’s living on the boat of Megan Foster, called the Dreadful Whale, and they really get to know each other and Emily takes a lot from Megan Foster and is Billy of course. While Billy takes a few things from Emily; she clearly has a lot of unresolved issues. The boat is called the Dreadful Whale which is an anagram for Farewell Daud, Emily goes back to Dunwall and Billy then says “I’ve been adrift, I’ve been lost I have to take control of my life again.” She goes back to her old name, she hatches a plan “I’m going to find my old mentor and look for some sort of closure for all this weird shit that’s happened to me.”


Want to hear more? Join CGMagazine for Part 2 on Friday, September 15, 2017.

Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky.

Captain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky.

Captain Canuck may not be a name you’re familiar with at first glance: the series has been on-again, off-again since 1975. Over the last few years, however, under the Chapterhouse comic book label out of Toronto, the hero has seen a resurgence and with him, a self-contained and entirely unique shared universe.

Read moreCaptain Canuck and Canadian Comic Books, an interview with Kalman Andrasofszky.

Hands-On With The Evil Within 2

Hands-On With The Evil Within 2

QuakeCon is in full effect here in Dallas, Texas, and thanks to the rad people at Bethesda I was lucky enough to spend some time with The Evil Within 2.

Hands-On With The Evil Within 2 1
The Evil Within 2 gameplay images via Bethesda Softworks

First things first, the game finds Sebastian, several years after the events of the first game, a burnt out alcoholic with zero credibility. The world doesn’t believe his accounts of what happened at Beacon and like any fantastic horror/noir protagonist; he is drowning his misery in alcohol. Three years go by, and this is when we join Sebastian again to lead him through yet another terrifying, messy, reality warping and zombie blasting adventure.

The Evil Within 2 sees our happy-go-lucky hero being dragged back into the messy world of STEM in hopes of finding his apparently—but not really—missing daughter. Kidman, Sebastian’s pal from the first game, contacts Sebastian to let him know that Lily, his daughter, is actually alive and was the test subject for the evil Umbre…sorry, Mobius corporation’s plans to use STEM on Lily to create Union, the setting for the sequel.

Hands-On With The Evil Within 2 2
The Evil Within 2 gameplay images via Bethesda Softworks

Gameplay is familiar for those veterans of the survival horror genre, including various weapons that never seem to have enough ammunition, upgrades galore, and the always-entertaining and satisfying stealth sections. What’s interesting about The Evil Within 2 is the semi open-world structure, which really works in conjunction with Sebastian’s communicator device. This device can pick up signals, and the player can choose to focus on the main goal of finding Lily, or tracking down the source of various other signals—side quests—to find out more about the story, discover what happened to certain Mobius agents, and find more weapons and upgrades.

As far as upgrades go, Sebastian can collect all kinds of ingredients and crafting materials to upgrade and expand his skill set, weapons, and personal attributes. A hub world of sorts takes the form of the Krimson City police department, and it is here where Sebastian can tinker with his weapons and journey into the realm of creepy madness to upgrade his own statistics—like health, stealth, etc.

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The Evil Within 2 gameplay images via Bethesda Softworks

The setting of Union is traditional survival horror fare, with an Inception-style twist that shows various aspects of the “city” in warped and geometry breaking fashion. Creaky doors, rotting corpses, flies, detritus, broken down cars it’s all here and all adds to the atmosphere of a messed up pseudo-reality where anything can happen. The sound design is fantastic, especially when played with a decent headset. Moans, groans, bugs, screams, and thunderous glitches all sound fantastic when pumped directly into your brain and all comes together to form a full-on horror experience.

While last years Resident Evil 7 resurrected—ha!—what was basically a dead franchise that started this entire genre, The Evil Within 2 looks to be the heir to the throne. It looks and sounds fabulous, and has plenty of crafting and combat mechanics to keep players busy, especially on the harder difficulties. The game launches, fittingly, on October 13th, a Friday. I don’t think Bethesda could have chosen a better date to drop their next installment for their signature horror franchise.

Hands-on With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Hands-on With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Killing Nazis never gets old. In light of recent events in America, it also feels rather cathartic and timely. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was playable at QuakeCon and holy moley; it is easily my most anticipated game so far.

Hands-on With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus gameplay images via Bethesda Softworks and MachineGames

The level I got to play was the fifth chapter in the game, so as far as story goes I don’t have much to spoil here. Essentially though, our intrepid hero B.J. Blazkowicz is tasked with sneaking a nuclear bomb into Area 51—by means of rocket train. The demo level began with a meeting of our wonderful cast, including some recurring characters and some new ones. The leader of this ragtag band of rebels is Grace, a Nazi killing, cigarette smoking, Pam Grier style lady who does not have any time for your whining. After breaking down the mission, B.J. is sent to meet up with Speshie, a rebel agent who also happens to run a diner in the creepiest rendition of alternate-history Nazi controlled small town ‘Murica. One of the highlights right off the bat was listening to a German soldier dressing down two hillbillies in KKK garb and testing their German—it wasn’t good enough. But watching a Nazi bully and humiliate the KKK was just delicious and speaks highly to what the full game may have to offer as far as a living, breathing world can be represented in a video game.

Once B.J. meets up with Speshie—a former lawyer turned lunatic conspiracy nut and rebel agent—he follows some tunnels into a secret underground Nazi rocket train station. Cue the combat. Blasting Nazis with dual-wielded assault rifles feels as tight and fluid as ever, and the DOOM influence is very clear. Combat in Wolfenstein II is fast, fluid, and frenetic. You will be running, gunning, and melee-ing SS goons and robots non-stop. I had the difficulty set one below the highest, and I died often. However, it never really felt frustrating because once the flow gets going and you begin to get the hang of things the combat starts to become second nature despite the difficult. It’s more of a “git gud” then the game being unfairly difficult.

Hands-on With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus 1
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus gameplay images via Bethesda Softworks and MachineGames

Visually speaking the game is gorgeous. I was playing on PC however, so I cannot speak to how the game looks or runs on consoles. However, even taking this into consideration, players are in for a visual spectacle. Colours pop, the lighting is wonderful, and the fire and weapon effects look as visceral as they feel. Lighting Nazis on fire or smashing their face with a hatchet has never looked this good.

Hands-on With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus 2
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus gameplay images via Bethesda Softworks and MachineGames

Like the first game, most weapons can be dual-wielded and swapped on the go. Whether you like to go old-fashioned with matching assault rifles or switch things up with a shotgun in one hand and a machine pistol in the other, there are combos galore to fit any playstyle. Weapons can also be upgraded via kits, and range from simple additions like scopes and armour-piercing bullets to deciding whether you want your grenades to explode in shrapnel, flames, or an EMP pulse to take down robotic enemies. Although I only got to use several of the available guns, I was assured there are plenty more to tinker with in the full game.

If you’re looking for a deep, tactical, careful shooter you may want to look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want a game that’s lightning quick with satisfying and impactful shooting mechanics at a pace that will keep you on your toes, Wolfenstein II will certainly fit that mould. I walked away with a big grin on my face and honestly, what more can you ask for from a video game?

Chatting with Kay Bess, The Voice Behind Agents of Mayhem

Chatting with Kay Bess, The Voice Behind Agents of Mayhem

An often underappreciated but crucial sign of a video game’s quality is the strength of its characters, and one of the most important facets of that strength is the depth and range of the actor voicing them. Wooden acting can be immersion breaking and really take a player out of the game. It’s off-putting and a mark of poor effort on behalf of the developers. Fortunately, for every poorly localized and half-assed JRPG character, you get an awesome portrayal such as Ana from Rise of the Tomb Raider, voiced by California voice actor Kay Bess. Bess has also done narration for the popular show The Property Brothers, and will be starring as Persephone Brimstone in the upcoming Volition game Agents of Mayhem. Bess was kind enough to chat with CGM about the game, her past work, and how to breathe life into an animated character.

Chatting with Kay Bess, The Voice Behind Agents of Mayhem 5
Agents of Mayhem images via Volition

CGMagazine: Generic question, but how did you get into voice acting?

Kay Bess: I am a voice actor living in LA; I’ve been doing voiceover for about 30 years. I’m from up the road a bit, Santa Barbara. I’ve been doing voiceover, commercial work, promo work, and narration work for about 30 years. I came to LA to attend acting school at the University of Southern California in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program in acting. At the beginning of my junior year I left school, and it was probably six months after that I found—in an acting publication—a class for voiceover. A one day workshop kinda thing, so I took that class and there was a casting director there … [who] took home the recordings that she made of us, and the following Monday she calls me and says “I think you’d be good at this” and pointed me to a real class, if you will. I took a class, I made a demo, I submitted it to three different agents, and William Morris called and signed me. From there, maybe a month or so later, I booked my first radio spot and … have been working ever since. I initially came to LA to be an on-camera and stage actor, but I found myself terribly uncomfortable in front of a camera, unlike being in front of a microphone, which felt very easy and comfortable and normal and natural to me. I had been a singer and done jingle work in Santa Barbara where I grew up, so I was comfortable in a studio setting in front of a microphone, so I guess it all kind of felt like home to me.

CGMagazine: When did you start doing voice acting for video games?

Kay Bess: I got into games about three years ago. I just wanted to venture into new land in voiceover, and my agents were fantastic in giving me copy … and auditions to read and I got some really good feedback from them, as I am always asking for feedback and if my reads are competitive. I was given some really great feedback, and based on that … I decided to go back to acting school. I signed up for a two-year program in Meisner technique, and probably three months into that two-year stint I started booking games. I think the very first thing I booked was a small role in Skylanders Superchargers, and the second role I booked was Ana in Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was really just a fantastic role. Very complex and meaty and great. That’s where it all started, just a couple of years ago.

Chatting with Kay Bess, The Voice Behind Agents of Mayhem 1
Rise of the Tomb Raider images via Square Enix

CGMagazine: How is something like Agents of Mayhem or Call of Duty different from something like The Property Brothers?

Kay Bess: I guess I should start from the other side. Being a character in a game is acting, it’s so not about the sound of your voice per se, it’s about your ability to engage with other characters … using your imagination, because you’re in a studio alone, you’re not with the other characters that you’re conversing with. There’s a lot more imagination at play and truly the use of acting skills. Whereas narrating is storytelling, but you’re a narrator. I don’t really engage any sort of acting skill when I’m narrating something like The Property Brothers. I’m really telling a story, I’m being myself. Certainly a little more heightened, but I’m myself telling a story and helping what’s on screen …[tell] the story. Doing games is … challenging in a great way. It really expands your acting skills. It adds that layer of difficulty by virtue of [your] having no other people with you in the room. You’ve got to have a pretty good imagination.

CGMagazine: What’s been your favourite experience or role that you’ve done so far?

Kay Bess: I would have to say … Persephone Brimstone for particular reasons and also Ana in Rise of the Tomb Raider. For Persephone Brimstone…she’s sort of a Euro French Femme Fatale who suffers no fools and is smarter than anyone in the room and is very pithy … [with] a wicked sense of humour, and she’s the boss. In a certain sense she’s really a fabulous cartoon character because she’s [a] gorgeous [person] ..[who has] dark hair and smokes a cigarette in the end of a long cigarette holder. She’s a classic cartoon character in that sense, and I just loved it, and at the same time, while she’s this gorgeous creature to look at, she’s also wickedly smart and uses all those things to her benefit. I think she’s fabulous, and it was really fun to do a French accent.

Chatting with Kay Bess, The Voice Behind Agents of Mayhem 2
Agents of Mayhem images via Volition

And for Ana, that character has such a turn in the middle. It would be easy to think of her as being evil, but she’s really not. She’s driven by her fear;… she’s sick and dying and wants a cure, so her reason is overtaken by her desire to be well. She’s a multilayered character, but as an actor to make that turn in the middle of the character development was really fun, and to end up as her [Croft’s] nemesis was just great. It was definitely not one-dimensional.

CGMagazine: What was it like working with the team at Volition?

Kay Bess: Oh they were great. One of the writers … and one of the designers …[were] there at just about every session, and they love this game. There’s a lot of humour in this game and a lot of parody and it’s all quite heightened and my hope is that all of the humour is really apparent to everyone. It really is like a 1980’s cartoon, it’s fantastic, and they were great and really fun to work with, and [they] have a great director in Amanda Wyatt… [W]e all were on the same page with regards to the character, and so that’s always a great thing, when everyone has the same focus and picture in their head. It was great working with them; I loved it and would love to work with them again.

CGMagazine: What’s a normal day like for you?

Kay Bess: It depends. There really is no average day. A [busy] day … is … where I have auditions, where I have work, either in my home studio or out. If I’m doing a game it’s always out at another studio. But my day would look like…I have a daughter, so we get up and have breakfast, I get her all together and then I’ll come out into the studio. Most of my auditions are due at 9:00 a.m., so I’m usually out here by 7:30 or 8:00 ,and I sit at my desk with my equipment and … record and send stuff off…. [G]aming sessions are generally four hours long, and it seems of late that I’ve been getting the 1-5 p.m. or 2-6 p.m. kind of schedule, so I will then hop in my car and drive to sessions. I live probably 25 miles outside of where all of that happens, so I spend a lot of time in traffic, and I work, and then I come home. I’ll often have some auditions that come in that day, so I’ll get back in the studio and record some more, and then have my evening with my family and all the other stuff of life like working out, grocery shopping, doing laundry.

Chatting with Kay Bess, The Voice Behind Agents of Mayhem 4
Agents of Mayhem images via Volition

I’m excited about the game, I love this game I hope it does well, I think the characters are fantastic and the cast is amazing, which I didn’t even know. You don’t know until they post it on IMDB. I looked at it and was like “wow” such a great cast, and I’m excited that I worked with them and didn’t even know it.

Television, the Internet, and What’s Wrong With Social Media : An Interview with Halt and Catch Fire’s Scoot McNairy

Television, the Internet, and What's Wrong With Social Media : An Interview with Halt and Catch Fire's Scoot McNairy

Scoot McNairy is a film and television actor currently wrapping up his run as Gordon Clark on the AMC show Halt and Catch Fire, which covers the explosion of the tech industry in the 1980s and 90s. The show enters its final season this Sunday and covers the period in the 1990s when the Internet really took off and humanity entered an entirely new era. CG Magazine was lucky enough to get hold of Scoot and pick his brain about acting, the show, and his opinions on the birth of the Internet.

Television, the Internet, and What's Wrong With Social Media : An Interview with Halt and Catch Fire's Scoot McNairy
Scoot McNairy in Halt and Catch Fire – images via AMC

McNairy also might just be one of the friendliest people we’ve ever interviewed.


CGM: Now that the show is ending, looking back on the whole thing, how was the experience?

Scoot McNairy: It was incredible. I can’t believe how much I learned about TV: what it takes to write a show, producing a show like this, the inner workings. It was probably the most … [educational] experience that I’ve had. I learned so much about television, the process of it, and myself over these last four years that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

CGM: How was Halt and Catch Fire different from other shows or movies you’ve worked on?

Scoot McNairy: When you spend this much time with a group of people, I don’t know that there’s any way it can’t make an imprint on you. The character has been beaten up a lot throughout the seasons and went through a lot of struggles and hurdles that he had to overcome, so that part was always a challenge. What I remember most is the people I worked with and how much I enjoyed working with them, and that’s what I’m going to miss more than anything, as well as the writers and the creators. I always felt that when I got the scripts and read them, … the writing was so fantastic that I was always excited to go to work and do it, and that’s not always the case. I feel blessed and appreciative to have had the opportunity to be a part of this show.

CGM: Are things going to end well for Gordon?

Scoot McNairy: I think that right now we’re seeing Gordon in a wonderful place in his life, he’s sort of acquired his dreams and goals and [done the] things he really wanted to do in his life, and now he’s at a place where can he sit and be content with these things or is he going to continue to look and search for more? That’s what we’re going to see from Gordon over this final season and in regards to where he ends up, I think that’s sort of up in the air as to where all these characters end up because they are wrapping up this show and tying it up, so I think they aren’t going to leave anything open-ended this season. I think everyone is in for a really good ride as to what happens with these characters and where their endeavours lie and where they end up.

Television, the Internet, and What's Wrong With Social Media : An Interview with Halt and Catch Fire's Scoot McNairy 3
Scoot McNairy (left), Lee Pace (right), and Kerry Bishé (centre) in Halt and Catch Fire – images via AMC

CGM: This season deals with the birth of the Internet, which was obviously a pretty big leap for human history. How does Gordon factor into this, and did you have to do much research to ensure an accurate portrayal?

Scoot McNairy: This season in regards to the birth of the Internet is actually around the time I started to take note of the tech industry, I don’t know how old I was, but I must have been 13 or 14-years-old. Everything up until this point, I didn’t have much of a reference for, so this season was the first time I was like, “Okay, I remember this”. In previous seasons, there was a lot of Googling to figure out what we were talking about and what was actually happening. The creators were always so wonderful, you could pick up a phone and call them at any time and they would spend as much time as you needed on the phone with you, explain things to you, and sort of lay it out for you in regards to what was happening and what was taking place. To answer your question though, yes, we always have to do tons of research because you have to keep up with the writers and the creators who were always ten steps ahead of us, and you always felt like you were struggling to catch up to them in regards to where the story was heading or what you were talking about when you were getting the episodes.

CGM: What does that research entail? Do you just start reading Wikipedia entries? How do you go about researching such a vast subject?

Scoot McNairy: Google. But you get certain catch phrases words, like “tokens”. I remember in season 2 in regards to tokens shifting in the tank game, and that didn’t really make sense to me. Because we’re in 2015, 2016, 2017 and all that stuff took place in the 80s and 90s, there’s a plethora of information about it, so you can just about find anything on the web. We read books, we watched documentaries. One of the most beneficial was the Steve Jobs book that Walter Isaacson wrote; it carried you through Steve Jobs’s experience in regards to these times. We obviously had to look deeper into it because we weren’t really necessarily in his story, but it’s all available, anything you wanted to know about computers you could find on a computer.

CGM: What was your first, personal experience with the Internet?

Scoot McNairy: I remember AOL and dial-up. I have a very short attention span, so until they got high-speed Internet, I didn’t really get on the Internet, because I couldn’t sit there and stare at a computer and wait: it reminded me of sitting in an edit-bay while you’re waiting for the computer to render. … [S]omething [I saw] to be a problem, and what I still think has some plusses and negatives, is social media. When social media sort of took off with Myspace, I never really hopped on board and still haven’t to this day. When I saw this could have a negative effect…there are a lot of people out there who don’t have people in their lives so the positive effect is that these people can connect with and reach out to somebody. With that being said, there have been so many negative things in regards to cyber-bullying down to people taking their lives based on something that someone wrote on the Internet. Also the lack of connection that people have with one another in this day and age. I don’t really email anybody: I pick up the phone and call them. I just feel like there has been a certain sense of separation in society …[when it comes to] how we communicate with each other. I looked at social media and thought, “I don’t know how great this is”. We’re moving towards people sitting in a pod 24 hours a day having things delivered to their house and not really associating with anybody. That was the first time I got a scare that this could be a negative thing.

Television, the Internet, and What's Wrong With Social Media : An Interview with Halt and Catch Fire's Scoot McNairy 1
Scoot McNairy (left), and Lee Pace (right) in Halt and Catch Fire – images via AMC

CGM: Upcoming projects and plans now that Halt and Catch Fire is done?

Scoot McNairy: I have a couple jobs that I’m starting, reading some scripts. I’ve always kept my eye on working on films, and now I’m in a position where I don’t really have to squeeze a film or another project in based on the hiatus of the show, so the sky’s the limit at the present time. I’m starting back to work in November but I’m just taking some time off to spend with my family and be with them.

CGM: Thanks for chatting to us Scoot!

Scoot McNairy: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, and thanks for taking interest in the show. The show doesn’t work unless we have fans, so I want to say thank you so much watching the show.

Crafting Music for Farpoint: an Interview With Unified Sounds

Crafting Music for Farpoint: an Interview With Unified Sounds

Virtual Reality is changing the face of video games, and while a lot of focus tends to fall on its visual aspects, composing the perfect soundtrack is also vitally important in maintaining an immersive virtual gaming experience. Farpoint is an impressive first-person shooter for the PlayStation VR. Players will experience alien landscapes and, well, shoot spiders. Steve Cox and Danny McIntyre of Unified Sounds built the soundtrack for Farpoint, and were kind enough to talk to CGM about their history with the medium, what makes VR different from a normal gaming experience, and the importance of storytelling from a musical perspective.


CGMagazine: You guys composed to music for Farpoint, but can you tell us more about the history of Unified Sounds?

Steve Cox: I’m the lead composer of Farpoint, the awesome VR game where you blow up spiders (I still play it, way too often). I started a company with Danny, my partner in crime, around 2012, so not too long ago. We joined forces and started collecting amazing composers and producers, and produced Unified Sounds to handle a lot of the TV work we were getting like CBS Sports. Ever since, we’ve just been doing a lot of exciting work, and once Sony came along it got super exciting. Oh, by the way, I’m a composer.

Danny McIntyre: I’m also a composer and producer, I started working with Steve just a little bit before Unified Sounds came to fruition. We did a bunch of collaborations for CBS Sports, which is one of the main things we contribute to compositionally, and we have a number of writers who work under us and for us and with us and we do everything from Video Games to sports music to TV to background music. Everything, you name it. We’ve got really strong composers that do their thing in different genres. I’ve been working with Steve since about 2010, and we also worked at Full Sail University. He used to teach there and I’m the department chair there. We very much have our fingers on the pulse as to whatever’s new and cool and hot so we can share it with our students.

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Farpoint (PSVR) – gameplay images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

CGMagazine: Have you guys done much video game work prior to Farpoint?

Danny McIntyre: Actually, yeah; applications, put it that way. We have a few members, one member in particular Michael Schiciano, who is credited on Farpoint as well. He has quite a thick mobile game background, so we were able to pick his brains quite a bit and process that. Farpoint is definitely the first and biggest game opportunity that we’ve had. We have done some sound design and also some trailers for a different game a few years before this one. It was a game called Depth, and they actually recorded me in a swimming pool with my scuba gear for some sound design stuff, and then Steve and I scored the trailers to those three videos that came out. I think aside from that, Steve is right that Farpoint is the first really big game that we’ve worked on. But really, I consider it all kind of the same, in the end, it’s just storytelling.

CGMagazine: How do approach scoring a game compared to other media?

Danny McIntyre: As I was saying before, it’s really a matter of storytelling. With any scoring for media, the composer has to first figure out the sound palette of the universe. It could be a television show, it could be a movie, it could be a video game. But once you have that the rest is kind of done. It’s just a matter of developing those ideas and the only difference between them is the deliverables, we might have to send in multiple versions of one thing for a video game or we might only have to send in a 30-second clip for a movie. It’s just a matter of what does the client want physically from us, but emotionally it’s all very the same. How can we set … the stage for the story to take place … and manipulate [that] over time.

Steve Cox: If there’s any difference between game writing and film and other media, it’s the whole nonlinear aspect. It sort of starts that way with a film in the beginning, you’re sketching out scenes and the tentpole pieces for the emotional content, but after that you really have to lock down the timeline, where the score is going to progress in a linear fashion, and being disconnected from that whole ball and chain during a game writing process is really freeing in a lot of ways. You get to experiment, and I really enjoyed the creative aspect of being untethered from the timeline. I think the sound palette was more important with Farpoint … than [for] any film or TV show I’ve done. Finding the right instrumentation, the right vibe, and the right world. You’re really writing to the atmosphere first and foremost, and then after that, it’s the storytelling that kicks in and takes over the composition process. It’s a lot of fun.

CGMagazine: How long does your process typically take?

Steve Cox: It was about nine months, maybe a little longer. We did the demo and it was pretty quick that we got the response back, maybe a week or two. That was back in February and we really didn’t kick it off until the end of March, and then [we] were more or less done at the end of the year on our part. We still had the soundtrack, we still had quite a lot of mixing that went into 2017, but as for composition and the heavy lifting, that was more or less wrapped in nine months. There are also a lot of gaps in there. We’d finish a chunk that was asked of us, but [then] the developers had to basically lay down the tracks for the next part, so we’d have to wait for that to be laid down before we continued working. If we compressed the time, it probably didn’t take us that much time, but it was spread out over the nine months because the whole thing was being built from scratch.

Crafting Music for Farpoint: an Interview With Unified Sounds 1
Farpoint (PSVR) – gameplay images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

CGMagazine: Is doing music for VR different in any way? Is that something you guys take into account when writing the music?

Steve Cox: I think in the beginning it was kind of like a “that’s a thing we’ll address later in the mix, we’ll fix that in post” but it was really two tiers in that we realized that this is very important in how thick the instrumentation is going to be, how sparse, how the ambiance should envelop the listener—and I’m talking about the musical ambiance, not just the background sound effects, which Sony handled and did great with all the sound design. During the process, it felt like the sound design and the music were kind of one and the same for a while a there. We were trying to create a palette of rich textures that could … [work] as an alien background to a planet, [so] when it came to mixing and implementation it was very different, very specific, very pinpoint. That required some tricky deliverables—more so than a normal game or film.

Danny McIntyre: Steve nailed it. Especially, in the end, it was where Steve really shined.

CGMagazine: Where did you guys look for influence when making this?

Danny McIntyre: All over the place really. One of the biggest cues that they sent us for reference was the opening to Aliens, the Goldsmith theme …[with] what was really kind of sparse string lighting, that one stuck with me. It was weird in that it didn’t necessarily mean that they wanted strings, but the sparseness of that part; the coldness of that scene, that [was what] they were attracted to. Other than that I think it was a matter of Steve and I just making up weird sounds and inspiring each other.

Steve Cox: Goldsmith was a big one – that was part of the brief going in. That kind of lonely, stuck in space…it’s eerie, it’s dark. That was a big part of the vibe they were going for. I think along the way when it comes to gameplay and the kind of action that would work during those scenes—and this is about halfway through the composition process—we started taking a look at The Last of Us, I’m talking about the real in-game cues that you won’t hear on the soundtrack but [that] you can dig … up in-game, and the way it used that really heavy sound design, sparse percussion with a lot of space in-between – it was really inspiring.

Danny McIntyre: Yeah, it’s a really great score, good call.

Crafting Music for Farpoint: an Interview With Unified Sounds 2
Farpoint (PSVR) – gameplay images via Sony Interactive Entertainment

CGMagazine: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Danny McIntyre: I think it’s really fun to play. … Steve and I try to have business meetings on the phone at least once a day, and sometimes we have them in co-op mode in Farpoint. We’ll meet up in a spaceship and we’ll decide which towns we’re going to jump on, and while we’re blowing up spiders we’ll talk Unified Sounds. It’s a really cool game and it’s quite addictive.

Steve Cox: I have to second that. It’s really fun to play, and all the trepidation about VR causing motion sickness was a non-issue. For everyone that I’ve exposed to it, the co-op mode …[has been] next level, and it’s so much fun. It beats Skype.

CGMagazine: Thanks a lot, guys. Best of luck with everything going forward!

Both: Thank you so much for your time.