Sunday, 31 May 2009

Valve 'Would Love TF2 Movie'

You've got to love the Meet the Team videos. Seriously, it's like a law or something. Valve have been lovingly crafting them since Team Fortress 2 came out in Oct 2007 and each has been a blast and a technical improvement upon the last. Each player has their favourite: personally mine is Meet the Sniper simply for its last line, though Meet the Spy is clearly the most detailed work.

Anyway, the point is Kotaku have a few quotes from Valve's writer Erik Wolpow and desinger on TF2 Robin Walker that you should read. Among them are some insights on the origins of Meet the Team, statement of desire for a TF2 movie or short and a reitteration of plans for a TF2 comic (which seemed to pass me by the first time).

With Meet the Spy, Valve have shown what they can do with three minutes twenty seconds. To be honest, I believe even a relatively short film at 90 minutes would be pushing their creative ability and I know they don't have the time for it. To make it viable, Valve would either have to hand it over to someone like Pixar, who have plenty of experience and resources to make full length digital animation, or create a whole new branch of their company to handle the project.

So a full length movie of Team Fortress 2 is pretty much out of the question. But a ten minute short is absolutely plausible. Even better for Valve, it could be a source of revenue. Just sell it on Steam and iTunes, maybe to specialist short film TV channels. Wouldn't even have to charge people much for it, given the huge fan base Valve have. Yeah, so keep your fingers crossed for hot RED on BLU action.

Of Journalism and Bitmob

RPS's regular Sunday Papers article (collecting interesting bits of news and writings from the previous week that haven't warrented a post of their own) pointed me in the direction of this article by Mike Suszek about how young games journalists (like me, I guess) are not getting the best help in developing the skills and getting into journalism.

What was more interesting, though, was the site this article was hosted on. "Bitmob? What's this?" I asked myself. Checking the About page I see it is a place for games enthusiasts and wanna-be journos to publish whatever smart or creative thoughts they have for public view. 
'We want Bitmob to be the best place for great content creators to build a reputation and get noticed -- by their peers, by our staff, and by the big world outside of Bitmob.'
Which all seems rather intriguing. And I wonder, should I give it a shot posting there? Perhaps just an article or two, showing the best pieces from this blog? Or maybe write things specifically for Bitmob, then link to them from here?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

BioShock 2 Has Bees (And Other Facts)

Gamasutra has an interview with two of the people working on BioShock 2 at 2K Marin - Executive Producer Alyssa Finley who worked on the previous game and newcomer, but Lead Designer, Zak McClendon.

It is interesting, expansive and above all long. The discuss building the team, player's choice, variety of plasmids and tactics, the quantity of bees we can expect and that dredded 'I'-word... immersion.

Anyhoooo... go read.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Assassin's Creed Retrospective

Well, I say retrospective only because *checks - oh good grief* something like 19 months after the release is a little late for a review. So what if I only just got around to playing it.

So, Assassin's Creed is a stabby-stabby, runny-runny game that fits snugly into the spot on a Ven diagram between Prince of Persia, Thief, Mirror's Edge and surprisingly Deus Ex. It tells the story of Crusades-era Hashshashin Altair (Alt-eye-ear) as remembered by his modern day descendant, Desmond.

Coming to this game I knew to expect some measure of combat, hiding in plain sight and free running and Assassin's Creed delivered. Combat feels brutal and fluid, blades clanging off one another and sweeping around into flesh in graceful arcs and claret impalements without feeling excessive. While it is easy to hold Altair in a defensive stance and counter each attack, it is more fun to mix up the moves - attack, parry, grab and throw into a market stall or off a 30 foot high roof, whatever takes your fancy.

The hiding mechanic was completely new to gaming in 2007 and I don't believe it's been used since. When overwhelmed or if you simply have better things to do than slaughter the city guard, you take off through the city streets and over the roofs. When you're out of sight of your dogged pursuers, you can dive into a stack of hay, hide yourself amongst a group of wandering scholars or just take a breather on a municipal bench until they give you up as lost.

And the fleeing is the best bit of all that. Altair crosses the city skyline in leaps and bounds, scrambling over shingle, bouncing from beam to beam or if all else fails careening through the milling crowds. It's every bit as exhilarating as it should be and by the end is only limited by the extent of the city walls. Parkour becomes absolutely necessary when you explore new areas of each of the three major cities - in order to extend your handy map every few streets you have to climb to high view points - church towers, minarets - and even on minimal settings the view is often breathtaking. Of course, when you're all that way up it's a bugger to get down again so Assassin's Creed generously provides you with carts of hay in which to swan dive.

In the Director's Cut edition, prior to each of the game's nine assassinations you have to complete at least 2 of 6 intelligence-gathering tasks. These, in addition to many optional fights and view-point objectives, are why some players have called it repetitive. True enough but I found that the completionist urge in me and the desire to see the next hit and continue the story was more than enough for me to complete every objective (except the obnoxiously difficult find-all-the-flags tasks).

I'd already heard about the complaints of repetative gameplay. What no one had told me was just how fascinating the story is, or how wonderfully morally grey every action and event is. Each execution is book-ended by conversation with the soon-to-dead and the dying where each one of them justifies their actions. They all believe that whatever actions they take ultimately serve to better mankind and ensure peace. This is not the Us vs. Them blandness I have come to expect from AAA games - both Altair and myself became uncertain about our actions and the whole sorry mess of things across the Holy Land. There came a point when I asked myself 'Am I the baddie here?' and even after the end I'm not entirely sure I know either way.

As mentioned, the whole Altair story is wrapped up in Desmond's memory. An ex-assassin, now an average Joe bartender, he is kidnapped by a cutting-edge corporation and his memories used for their own means. Desmond it seems is much slower on the uptake than most players must be and spends much of the time clueless to the big twist seen coming a mile off. Still his times in the real world with the single-minded evil genius and the sympathetic assistant are interesting enough. Generally I'd prefer some choice over my dialogue but I can see that's not the kind of game the devs were trying to make.

Overall I can definitely recommend giving Assassin's Creed a shot, preferably on rental on consoles or like me you can pick it up on Steam for about £20. It's a solid action game with plenty of acrobatics, a strong and intriguing story but poor replay potential. I'd love to tell you about the graphics but I can't - I had to turn everything most of the way down. And as for sound... that's probably lovely, too, but it stuttered something awful for me - probably due to my lack of multiple processor cores.

Assassin's Creed should be getting a sequel by the end of the year. I haven't dared look for screenshots or minimum specs yet, for fear of making my computer curl up and die of shame but fingers crossed.

NOTE - Assassin's Creed has just come on sale on Steam at £10 so now's the perfect time to give it a try. Lucky for you, hey? I still paid double that -.-

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Guantanamo: The Game!

Oh God no... I'm... I'm sorry, world. These guys aren't with us.

Some people with apparently no taste and/or sense are making some kind of game based upon the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Rendition: Guantanamo. See the video below for barely moving images of a guy sitting down and possibly the worst plot outline I have ever read.

Clarification: I'm not against games covering touchy or controversial subjects - in fact, I'm all for it, more please - but this looks so unmitigatidly bad and, well, tacky. It's not even attempting to present itself as being anything but a trashy Z-rate cash-in.

[Via RPS]

Michael Samyn: 'Let Games Be Games'

Always a startling and provocative read, Michael Samyn of Tale of Tales (they of Graveyard and The Path) has published a railing opinion piece against, as I understand, what he percieves as the self-constraint and looming stagnation of 'interactive experiences'. 

"... we obsess about making ever more intricate little puzzles, with ever more clever little mechanics to make people feel ever so smart when all they did was follow rules and obey commands. It’s decadent! It’s wasteful! It’s negligent! It’s a shame!"
While I don't share his pessimism, I do understand his concerns. However, s0 long as people like Tale of Tales and Jason Rohrer keep making the experiences they have been making, and other artists join them, there will always be the avante garde and the truly creative in interactive experiences. They may be relegated to the metaphorical art-house theatres and back street art galleries of the internet, but they will exist.

More cinema goers watch Transformers than watch Amelie. More music listeners hear Lily Allen than... any given local band. But that does not mean those are all that exist.

Demos: You're Doing It Wrong

Shamus Young has a new article up at The Escapist on what developers are doing wrong with their demos. I'm not familiar with the Resident Evil 5 demo myself but its apparent failings and Young's thoughts on how demos should work apply to any platform.

It makes for interesting reading (hence why I'm mentioning it here)  and the comments are filled with peoples memories of the best and worst examples of game demos. My personal favourites were Half-Life: Uplink, which gave players a whole new handful of levels to play with, and FEAR which rejugged the first level into something different and fresh.

Your Demo Sucks - Read away.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Dear Esther, Come Back

The unique semi-interactive story-mod Dear Esther is getting a redesign.

Dear Esther is a beautiful 'interactive ghost story' from British games research team thechineseroom, built as a mod for Half-Life 2. Released back in June 08, it drew a mixed response from gamers. Either people adored it for its ingenuity, par less story-telling and powerful mix of the macabre and the curiously mundane or they loathed it for its slow pace, complete absence of action or puzzles and unpolished world design.

As you explore a cold, wind-swepped island in the Outer Hebrides, you listen to the rambling and half-insane memories of some meloncholical visitor to the island. It is never explained who he is, or was, whether you are the narrator or not. The game's (I use the term usely but in the nicest possible manner - the meaning of the word game is a debate I will not go in to here) most imaginative feature is that the pieces of narration you can hear at each point along your travels are each randomly selected from three very different possibilities. The idea is that every player will have a subtly different experience of Dear Esther and perhaps come away with different understandings of the story being told.

The excellent news is that this fascinating piece of experimental gaming is being redesigned from the ground up by professional 3D artist Robert Briscoe, who has previously worked on Mirror's Edge and They Hunger: Lost Souls, the commercial version of the popular Half-Life mod.

Concept art for the project is being provided by talented artist, Ben Andrews, who is apparently new to gaming concept art but what he's done so far has certainly got me very excited.

Check out Ben Andrew's DeviantART gallery here for plenty of pretty pictures. And you'd do well to keep up with Robert Briscoe's devblog here. No info as to when the remake may come out but do yourself a favour and check out the original - if there's a shred of humanity left in you, you won't regret it.


This blogging lark is easy! Let's see just how long I manage to keep it up...

So from a random idea I had not one hour ago, I have already set up a blog. Go me. Why, what's it about and why should you read it?

* Because I want to see if I can and I think it would be good practice and experience at making regular updates.

* PC games , both indie and mainstream. I'll also be talking about videogame culture and hopefully doing some actual pontification and semi-intelligent musings about all sorts of digital interactive entertainment-like ideas.

* The most difficult question to answer. All I can say is because maybe, just maybe, you'll find something I have to say or point you at the tiniest bit interesting. Who knows, I guess we'll find out together.

For that matter, I guess some of you are wondering who the bally heck I am! If you haven't looked to the right yet, let me inform you I am Chris Fox (Kast or Kastanok to the digital world) and I'm a bright little creative spark in the blinding galaxy of creative sparks that is the video games industry and the journalistic universe surrounding it. I hope to eventually become a games designer or games writer but for now games thinker will have to surfice. 

OK, let's get this show on the road!