Why Insomniac Is The Perfect Studio For Spider-Man

Why Insomniac Is The Perfect Studio For Spider-Man

Just one of the surprises to come out of Sony’s E3 2016 press conference was the announcement of a new Spider-Man game. A glossy debut trailer that shows off gameplay promises a different, and hopefully, better take on everybody’s favorite New York superhero. The game was rumored to be in development a few months leading up to the show, with inFAMOUS developer Sucker Punch believed to be working on it. That rumour does make sense, given Sucker Punch’s work on its flagship superhero series. One could argue that inFAMOUS is already basically a Spider-Man game, but much to everyone’s shock, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Sunset Overdrive studio Insomniac Games is actually heading development. Though Sucker Punch might seem like the more obvious choice, Insomniac is still the perfect studio to take on Marvel’s hero.

The most notable thing to note is Insomniac’s experience making games that are lighthearted, funny and visually bright and colourful. Even the Resistance series, which is thematically quite dour, has a stunningly vivid aesthetic. More importantly, all of Insomniac’s games contain relatable, flawed, and grounded characters; all major characteristics of Peter Parker. Both Ratchet and Clank are outcasts and underdogs who have to save the galaxy countless times from much more powerful villains. Ratchet is the last of his species and often feels lonely and hollow. He has questions about his past and his parenthood. At the surface he might seem like a cute, furry, and funny hero, but there’s plenty of pain buried beneath his armour and fur.

Why Insomniac Is The Perfect Studio For Spider-Man 1Clank is similar in that he is a defective robot that gets chased after because he’s different from the countless generic machines that were built to wreak havoc. One of the main reasons why people love Peter Parker is because he’s just a normal kid who’s trying to make it through high school while coming to grips with his newfound powers. He has crushes on girls, he is constantly bullied, and the people he cares most about (excluding his aunt) are all murdered or missing. He’s not some otherworldly God, a billionaire, or an immortal mutant. Insomniac has the experience and the storytelling chops to nail this character, and finally provide players one of the first truly great Spider-Man video game stories.

Also, let’s not forget, Peter Parker is pretty funny too. Comedy is often a major aspect in the hero’s comic books, shows, and movies. Insomniac is one of the best when it comes to both subtle and crass humor.

Mechanically, Spider-Man is right up Insomniac’s alley as well. Spider-Man 2, arguably the best Spider-Man game, employs highly enjoyable open world gameplay, platforming and traversal, and hand-to-hand combat. A new Spider-Man title needs to have a stunning New York City setting that allows players full freedom to swing their way to any destination they’d like. Sunset Overdrive proves Insomniac is more than capable of completely nailing fast-paced traversal. The game lets you hop, jump, and weave from one area or platform to another in mere seconds. You can make across an entire world map without touching the ground as well. It’s dynamic, exhilarating, and satisfyingly ridiculous. Much like Sucker Punch with inFAMOUS, Insomniac might as well just call Sunset Overdrive a full-blown comic book/super hero video game; it does play like one.

Why Insomniac Is The Perfect Studio For Spider-Man 2Finally, in a business and resource sense, Insomniac is the best choice for Sony. This is a PlayStation 4 exclusive, and by having Sucker Punch or another first-party studio work on the title, Sony won’t allow its developers to work on new ideas or make sequels to beloved PlayStation franchises. Sucker Punch wouldn’t have been able to make another inFAMOUS or a completely new title. Instead, Sony now has Insomniac working on yet another exclusive for it. Apart from Ratchet & Clank, the developer has been releasing multiplatform titles alongside Xbox One and virtual reality exclusives. This way, Sony has two new exclusive franchises in partnership with one of PlayStation’s oldest contributors in Insomniac. It really is the best-case scenario for Sony.

Spider-Man doesn’t have a release window yet, nor an official name, but it’s been confirmed that it won’t be tied to the upcoming Marvel film. All that’s left to do is patiently wait and see if Insomniac can finally deliver the first great Spider-Man game in years.

CGM’s Best of E3 2016

CGM’s Best of E3 2016

E3 2016 has come and gone, bringing with it an expected barrage of exciting announcements and excellent demos both on the stage floor and behind closed doors. Sony and Microsoft had quite a lot to show, from the colorful Cuphead and stunning Horizon: Zero Dawn, to more speculative titles like The Last Guardian. Plenty of doubt and pessimism still hover around the long-gestating PlayStation exclusive. With hundreds of games played and covered, there are always a handful of titles that stand out from the rest, games that are trying out interesting new things from both a gameplay and storytelling perspective. Heck, some are just highly enjoyable to play. These are the winners of  CGMagazine’s E3 Awards for 2016.

Read moreCGM’s Best of E3 2016

E3 2016: Gears of War 4 Behind Closed Doors

E3 2016: Gears of War 4 Behind Closed Doors

There was a time not too long ago when Gears of War was Xbox’s other, other shooter, lagging behind Halo and Call of Duty.  In the videogame industry, however, the only constant is change, and Gears has a very real opportunity to become Microsoft’s crown jewel shooter.  Halo isn’t the killer app it once was, and Call of Duty turned its promotional partnership favour to the PlayStation 4. To paraphrase Chris Rock, Xbox needs another hit.  Xbox needs another hit like a crack addict needs another hit. From the looks of it, Microsoft seems to be banking on Gears of War 4 being that hit.

With many gamers delaying an Xbox One purchase to find out what Project Scorpio actually is, Gears of War 4 may be the sole compelling reason to buy the cheaper Xbox One S.  And unlike the seismic shift that hit Halo when Bungie jumped ship to Activision, some of the past Gears devs are still involved. Most notable is Rod Fergusson, whose reputation in gaming could be summed up as, “the guy who makes sure big games don’t suck”.

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I believe Gears of War 4 will be a look into what the reformed Gears developer The Coalition believes makes up, in developer terms, the DNA of the Gears franchise.  The the most recent original Gears game, 2013’s Judgment, was downright terrible, and I believe that’s because Judgment was a game for Gears critics, not Gears fans: it attempted to “fix” so-called “bad” writing, which ironically resulted in humorless, hackneyed dialogue with an overly complex narrative structure devoid of any real spark.

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I hope that Gears of War 4 marks a return to making games for Delta Squad fans who loved the bromances, the banter, and the games that didn’t try to be anything but what they were.  However, the public stuff we’ve seen from Gears 4 so far has been visually pretty, but flat when it comes to characters. In general, the public mood surrounding shooters is cautious: with shooter after shooter turning away from traditional living room play to chase the eSports crowd, many gamers are waiting to see how much Gears of War is going to continue to be a franchise aimed at gaming consumers who just want to have fun, instead of eSports pros.

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The behind-closed-doors session with Gears of War 4 did show promise, especially regarding those couch co-op features that Halo 5 stripped out. That said, it didn’t totally assuage my concerns that this latest outing is going to feel flat compared to its predecessors. The new cast doesn’t have the scrappy charm of the original Delta Squad, and I couldn’t help but feel that the new Gears are just too pretty, losing that “I could hang out with this guy” feeling present in the first three games.

Granted, these Gears are rookies, not the seasoned fighters raised in wartime like the original cast.  In fact, the powerful flashback trailer with the new protagonist, JD Fenix, shows his childhood memories of daddy Marcus planting trees and mommy Anya in a dress.  I’m going to give him a chance because I’m interested in the intergenerational story of the Fenix men, but he just doesn’t have the visual charm that his dad does.  Marcus Fenix still fills the screen in a much more compelling way.

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I’m also not loving the extremely young, borderline-princess voice-acting approach on Laura Bailey’s character, Kait Diaz. There was an authenticity that came with Dominic Santiago being voiced by Latino voice actor Carlos Ferro that we’re not going to get here. That’s not Bailey’s fault, but she’ll probably take some flak for it, especially since she was also the mo-cap actress for the black female character in Uncharted 4.  This criticism might seem minor, even oversensitive, but in the tinderbox conditions gaming finds itself in these days, it’s unfair to put actors in such politically awkward positions.  If the character is from a particular racial background, the ideal casting is an actor who shares that background.  Furthermore, grit and comedy have been so important to Gears in the past, and it’s hard to do either of these things as a female voice actor when you’re trying to make your voice sound more youthful without making it sound cartoony.

It doesn’t stop there, however. Kait is apparently an Outsider, a group that lives outside the COG and raids COG territories. There are no signs of hard living in the physicality of this character – she’s “model-with-tattoos pretty” instead of “mercenary pretty” – as if someone hired Zooey Deschanel to play a part meant for Claudia Black. This is usually a sign that she’s designed to be “the girl” and not a character in her own right, and that puts me off.  

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The third revealed character, Delmont Walker, voiced by Eugene Byrd, brought more pop to his lines, and he acted legitimately terrified, which I really liked. Delmont is so far the most inherently likable character with his orphan backstory and his legitimate reactions. He gives me the most hope that Gears will still be Gears from a character perspective because he showed signs of being fun.

Since Gears traditionally has a fourth character in the main roster, these are just my first impressions, not final judgements. The creative decisions that bother me could all make sense in the context of the complete team. I hope that there will be a second prominent female character to balance things out and take some of the pressure off Kait. Being the token woman is always a straightjacket, and Gears has had such great female characters in its extended canon.

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Concerns out of the way, let’s talk about what’s good. The aforementioned DNA of Gears of War combat is intact, with some extra flourishes that enhance what’s come before instead of trying to outdo it. You can now grab enemies over cover, but if you miss it makes you vulnerable.  There’s also more environmental interaction, with blobs of cover you can shoot to make it drop from the ceiling… And yes, I meant to say blobs. They’re mushy cocoons.

The enemies have stayed similar-looking — with some cool notable exceptions to this rule — but there seems to be a different motivation for them. Some enemy is swiping people and transforming them, and instead of grubholes there are nests… which function exactly like grubholes.  I don’t mind this “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.  The combat should feel familiar, since the third-person tunnel shooting is a hallmark of the franchise. Of course, this game opens things up more in places, but they’re not straying so far afield that I’m worried it won’t feel like a Gears game. This makes me happy since games lose something if critical pieces of their DNA are altered.

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If I have to choose between good gameplay and entertaining writing, I’d obviously rather have the gameplay. I hope, however, that we won’t have to give up either as Gears moves forward, and that the demo they showed just happened to be an especially flat bit regarding story and character. Gears plots have always been silly but entertaining. They’re action stories, not hard science fiction. I hope that continues. In the meantime, the gameplay definitely shows promise, complete with split-screen co-op in addition to PC/Xbox One cross-play. There would have been great sadness in my house if my husband and I couldn’t play a new Gears game together. This feature is a pretty good sign that Gears of War 4 is still striving to be for the fans.

E3 2016: Indiecade – Floor Plan, Clapper, and More Are Gems Among The Hipster Gimmicks

E3 2016: Indiecade - Floor Plan, Clapper, and More Are Gems Among The Hipster Gimmicks

You never know what you’re going to get from Indiecade in a given year.  Last year it was a lot of heavy-handed social justice stuff, mixed with millennial ennui. At E3 2016, it was loaded with interactive art exhibits as opposed to actual games. Some worked: the giant wall that created a ghostly image of you when you danced in front of it was pretty fun, and the meditation space that was intended to be a VR art installation would be ideal for being stuck next to a Chatty Cathy during a day spa trip.

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One Indiecade selection that took a new approach to interactive toys was Octobo, a plush blue octopus with sock tentacles and a pylon on his head who has a pocket in his face that fits a seven inch tablet.  An app on the tablet gives Octobo interactive expressions that respond to you shaking hands with him, hugging him, and feeding him his favourite sort of stuffed fish.  Intended for preschool children 3-5, Octobo also teaches basic reading via the storybook that provides simple instructions for interaction.

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There were also three actual games that caught my eye for being fun, unique, and free of glaring design errors.  The first was Clapper, a novel two-person twist on a rhythm game played on an iPad laid flat on a table. Clapper gets its name from its basic mechanic: you work with your partner to pop bubbles through clapping motions similar to the stuff kids did on playgrounds before handheld video games were a thing.  The tablet tracks the hand movements as shadows on the screen, and if the shadows trap a bubble between them, that scores points.

E3 2016: Indiecade - Floor Plan, Clapper, and More Are Gems Among The Hipster Gimmicks

My favourite “board game” was Escape Room In A Box, a series of complex puzzles that allow you to mimic one of those escape room events in your living room.  The special concept for E3 was that you were auditioning to be the assistant of a werewolf scientist.  She’ll only take the best and brightest, however, so you have to prove yourself by solving puzzles to escape her challenge.  There were three increasingly difficult puzzles that, when solved, provided you a clue to the scent of a liquid in a series of test tubes.  Each of those tubes had a number on it, and figuring out those numbers allowed you to open a lock.  The puzzles were challenging and each had multiple steps.  It’s a great dinner party or large group activity.

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My absolute favourite Indiecade game this year, however, was Floor Plan, a VR game for the Oculus Rift and Gear VR by a developer called Turbo Button. Floor Plan is a whimsical, incredibly fun puzzle game that takes place entirely in an elevator.  You solve puzzles by collecting items from various themed floors and use them to interact with the environments, not unlike those old classic Sierra adventure games. The trial and error is a lot of fun, and some items serve multiple purposes.  In classic adventure game fashion, not all of those purposes are immediately intuitive.  It’s an ingenious, entertaining use of VR technology.

Clapper and Escape Room In A Box are available for purchase through their respective websites.  Floor Plan can be purchased through the Oculus store.

Tyranny – A New RPG Classic

Tyranny - A New RPG Classic

The Baldur’s Gate games hold a special place in many players’ hearts. They’re a reminder of a time when PC role-playing games offered hours upon hours of gameplay, and where one simple dialogue choice could send you down radically different paths of the story. The Dragon Age games brought back that concept to some degree, but it was not until Pillars of Eternity that players were delivered a true successor to the games they knew and loved.

Tyranny looks to be following that same lead.

Tyranny - A New RPG Classic

Published by Paradox Interactive and developed by Obsidian Entertainment, Tyranny was playable in a closed doors session at E3 2016. I was lucky enough to play part of a quest, which helped me to get a real feel for what the game had on offer. Stepping into the demo, I had a basic idea of what to expect; having played hours of Pillars of Eternity, I knew what the team at Obsidian were capable of. With Tyranny, I am happy to say they have delivered once again.

Tyranny transports the player to a land where evil reigns supreme. You have the choice of either pushing down the path of darkness or trying to bring light to the land. It all depends on you and the choices you make. Listening to the description of the world, it was evident that Tyranny is filled to the brim with lore just waiting to be uncovered. The demo I spent time with emphasized the importance of choice to the overall gameplay. Through dialogue choices and actions, I could change the outcomes of future battles, even skipping them entirely if I played my cards right. The reputation and karma systems play an integral part in the way the story unfolds, with every choice having a tangible impact to the story and what the player will experience.

Immersing players in a new fantasy universe is not an easy feat in today’s market. Players expect a rich world filled with interesting characters, fearsome monsters, and fantastic places they can explore. This is why writing is something that can never be overlooked. It is clear the team at Obsidian know this, and are working hard to build a complicated, nuanced story that pulls players into the world. The dialogue within the E3 demo fits what you would hope for such a work, and although some of it might have been a bit melodramatic for my tastes, it all fits the setting and helps craft a believable world, one that I am very excited to dig into upon release.

Visually, Tyranny harkens back to Baldur’s Gate with the traditional isometric style, combined with a modern, high definition feel. While it may not have the flashy graphics or intense action of the Dragon Age series, the game definitely feels very polished. The compelling aesthetic works to pull players into a dark, mysterious world filled with characters and settings you’ll want to know more about. It is a visual style that will please newcomers and old fans alike, with a polished look that doesn’t compromise that iconic style players have loved for years.

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If you have played Pillars of Eternity, then you have you have a good idea of what to expect from Tyranny from a gameplay perspective. At its core, Tyranny is an old school throwback to titles in the vein of Baldur’s Gate, with a series of modern gameplay elements thrown in for good measure. The real-time combat is mixed up with a pause mechanic that allows players to plan out moves and think strategically with the simple press of the spacebar, not dissimilar to the Dragon Age series. This gives players a sense of chaotic action, while still maintaining control and stability when things get tough. The Fog of War is also present, limiting the view to only what the characters would see. This ensures you always must plan each move carefully, as the tides of battle can shift quickly if you are not careful.

Players will rely heavily on their companions in battle, and interpersonal relationships are another factor players must manage in Tyranny. Every companion matters for the game, and it is up to you to ensure these relationships are cultivated. While the AI in Tyranny will hold their own in combat, working with your party and building relationships will open up special attacks. These are moves that, if timed right, can change the outcome of a fight. I found that these attacks had a real impact on skirmishes, and even allowed me to take down powerful enemies, further stressing the importance of character relationships.

In the short time I spent with Tyranny at E3 2016, it was obvious the team are putting serious effort into building a game people will enjoy. The visuals are crisp while still calling back to the games of old; the gameplay was fun and well designed, and the overall story was rich and teeming with things to discover. It is hard to say if the game can live up to all the hype, but if my brief journey into the world was anything to go by, Tyranny will be a game every RPG fan should be excited for.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Preview

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Preview

To me, the most important game of E3 2016 was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  It’s the newest installment in one of the most cherished franchises in gaming history, and it’s simultaneously the swan song for the Wii U and a bold opening statement for Nintendo’s upcoming console, the NX. Not only that, but it promised to completely change the Zelda formula and make an experience that we’ve never seen from the series.  This game is definitely Zelda, but in many ways it’s not. There already are a ton of think pieces and analysis based off about an hour of gameplay, but the overall conclusion from everyone is that this could be the biggest leap for the franchise we’ve ever seen.

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The changes become apparent right from the beginning, when you discover you don’t find hearts or rupees in grass. This sort of bothered me, as it feels like those are series staples that shouldn’t be messed with. However, it does open up some interesting options to work around their absence. Long time fans of the series might find this to be a little too much of an overhaul, but it works for me. For health, players must hunt for food and cook it. I guess it makes the game a little more difficult than before, and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to Link cooking Monster Hunter-style, but it’s definitely something new. As for rupees, I wasn’t told how to earn them. I hope this means taking odd jobs everywhere, or maybe taking up side quests, but that’s merely speculation.

There should be a lot of options in that regard, considering this is the largest, most sprawling Hyrule we’ve ever seen. The map is gigantic, featuring what looks like close to five or six regions, or even more. The PR rep cursed with sitting with me during my play through said she couldn’t confirm if they were actual provinces like in Twilight Princess, but it did bring back memories of the recently revamped title.

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The section I played on was dubbed “The Great Plateau” and it was probably the smallest portion on the map. Even still, it was a large slab of land. I was told I could go anywhere and climb anything I saw in the distance.  I could do whatever I want, whenever I want however I want. It was almost overwhelming. Every tree, wall, or mountain is climbable.  I guess that’s the big new feature. Skyward Sword introduced running and the stamina metre, and now Breath of the Wild adds to that mechanic with climbing. There are consequences to dilly-dallying on walls, and I can see this as a recurring gameplay system throughout each dungeon.

In many ways, Hyrule could be considered a dungeon itself. The area is full of Moblin camps, reminiscent to how Wind Waker had islands scattered throughout the flooded land. It makes the world feel inhabited, much like the dungeons and their surrounding towns.  I also encountered a boss in the middle of a field. He was a massive rock golem with a special weak point on top. I had to climb up him and attack him, or wait for the perfect time to use my bombs.  It’s the kind of thing you don’t expect to pop out wandering Hyrule Field, but it’s something players will have to get used to.

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I ended up running away from the golem because I didn’t have a proper weapon to fight with. That’s a big change in the series as well; your sword and shield take damage.  This adds a bit of tension to combat because at any given point your sword or shield will break. There is a bit of a warning, but there wasn’t any damage metre or some kind of quantifiable explanation for why it was ready to break, but that’s me being a little nitpicky.  I asked what this meant for the Master Sword, and was told Nintendo couldn’t comment on that at this point in time, which makes me wonder if the sword is even in the game. Or perhaps that is the main quest—restore the Sword of Evil’s Bane so you can take out Ganon again.

In this game, wherever in the timeline it lands, the wielder of the Triforce of Power broke out of the seal locking him away, and he’s holding Hyrule Castle under siege. This is the biggest, baddest Ganon ever. So much so, he has a new form called Calamity Ganon. His design is perfect for the minimalistic, impressionist art direction of the game. While everything is bright and vibrant, Calamity Ganon stands as a dark splotch of wet paint contaminating the composition that is Hyrule. Because of this, Link awakes from a slumber, or even death, to return and restore order to the land. In contrast to Ganon, Link is colourful, and represents the beauty in the game, which can look gorgeous. Sometimes however, the less detailed art direction hurts Link’s character design and makes him stand out in a bad way.  He almost looks jagged at times, which really hurts the soft tones of the game’s art direction.

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In reality, that is one small nitpick for a game that is changing almost everything its series is known for. This is probably the most ambitious Zelda title we’ve seen in quite some time in terms of size and how much it’s trying to change. I worry the initial shock will spark some outcry from long time fans, but this is the first time in years that it feels like Nintendo means what they say they’re trying to break the Zelda formula.