7/21/10

Fable 3 Interview: Peter Molyneux


Sitting down to interview Peter Molyneux is an experience that's not unlike the Fable series itself--it's whimsical, charming and a little all over the place.

So with the very limited amount of time of 20 minutes I sat down with him and we talked about Fable 3. We discussed the new crafting system, how to marrying well, how Fable 2 was a little bit like DOS and how you just might get mobbed being a King.

Read on...




It appears that crafting--in its own unique way--has made its way into the Fable series with 3. Can you elaborate a bit on the weapon morphing concept?
Well, I really love the idea of crafting. I think it's a really lovely idea, especially in RPGs, so we thought 'why not let players craft their own swords?' So we initially thought we would give you some kind of Blacksmithing mini-game or we would let you find different things like augmentations, but it was all a bit messy.

Then we thought 'hang on a second! Why cant we change this sword so that it's reflective of how you fight.' So as you're fighting, your sword will start to physically change. For instance the curvature of the blade is now dictated by how many times you've performed a specific action in battle, the notches in the blade represent how many times you've died using it, and the brightness of the glow of the sword indicates how many innocent or evil people you've killed. We've got about 88,000 combinations of things going on here and we mix in your Gamescore as well. It's really quite unique.

So, as you're doing this--as you're crafting your sword--you're unlocking abilities too. There are a lot of finishing and special moves that can be unlocked.

Also you're free, at any time, to actually sell that sword on line. You can trade it too!



In previous Fable games the player was often rewarded for exploring places like hidden caves and such with Legendary weapons. Are you pulling that stuff out of the game now that this new crafting system is being implemented into the game?
No that's a different type of sword, these legendary weapons, and they actually have everything these morphing type of swords have too. The thing is, they have an additional quest associated with them and when you successfully complete these little quests the sword gets even better.

But back to these other swords. These swords are crafted by you! They will have your Gamertag in their names, and if you grind it out then you can make some really superb swords.



Ok, just to be clear--all the swords are malleable including the Legendary swords, but these Legendary swords have these, sort of, side quests associated with them?
Yes. The Legendary swords have these side collectibles associated with them, something like killing 50 goblins or something of the sort. So yes, you know, the players will still have lots of things to find. By the way, this whole idea of crafting and morphing applies to Hammers, Guns, Swords, Rifles and Gauntlets in Fable 3.



Where will the player store and manage all their stuff ?
Well we've got this place called The Sanctuary and it's a replacement for pressing the Start button.

Pressing the Start button in Fable 2 brought up a 2D list of things and it was kind of like going back to DOS. It would list 200 clothing items or 450 swords, and we thought to ourselves 'Why does the pause button always have to do the same thing? Why can't we just teleport the player to another place in the world.' So when you press the Start button, very quickly, it just teleports you to The Sanctuary.

So, yes, we have this chamber with some rooms attached to it. One room has anything to do with your clothes, another room has anything to do with your treasure and another has anything to do with your weapons.

At this point Peter runs into the weapon chamber where two gauntlets lie, and with a big grin on his face puts them both on...


For instance, look at these two gauntlets. You can wear these two gauntlets at the same time. The first one is a Force Gauntlet and it allows you to push things away with your left hand. On the right hand here, we'll put on a Fireball Gauntlet so that, now, when you cast a spell you'll get a combination of pushing and fire. You can also have a combination of pushing and ice if you like. If you had the combination of ice and fire then they would cancel each other out. This way you're weaving these spells together.

See, this gauntlet is level 1 and that gauntlet is level 5 and that will vary the amount of power you get. I really really love that! I love the feeling of 'Hey I'll try to mix these two things together'.



Does the one-button combat remain the same?
Well, we've got one button combat but it's more interesting. For instance, one attack button can be the same as a combination of two other buttons. We can say 'Right, let's swing our sword and shoot our gun. We can say swing your sword and cast magic. We can say shoot your gun and cast magic.'

So now we've got one-button combat and I think a lot of casual players will just focus on it--they'll just keep pressing this one button. Then they're the core players who will really, strategically use it. The problem is, the core say 'what reward do I get for doing combat well'. My answer is, the weapons will now level themselves up.

So there is a lot more leveling up in Fable 3. It's not just happening on the GUI side. It's more focused on making and changing things, which you can do over and over again. It's also another way to earn money, because as you level up a weapon it becomes more valuable to sell. There is a lot of some really cool work being done here!



You say the weapons in Fable 3 will change their appearance as you level them up. So let's say you focus on fighting in one particular style and you love your weapon, and then later on you switch to another style changing it's appearance unfavorably. I'm curious if it's possible to go back to the sword design that you originally liked?
Its just like the morphing system that we have applied to our hero. If you start going down one path it'll start changing the sword, but you can bring it back too. You might have to work a little harder to bring it back though.

What's so cool about all this is that the name of the sword changes with your gamertag integrated into it, and it will always be known as that too. So you will be able to sell it and watch it on-line to see what other people do with it.

It's a really really cool system!

From the development side, changing what the different buttons do has lead us down this route of crafting your own weapons. It's lead to the player feeling like they're getting more powerful, this thing that you're holding in your hand is getting more powerful--I think it's just really really cool.



Is there any kind of visual indicator in terms of the weapon level-up process?
Yes when your sword levels-up, the player will have this sort of Greyskull moment and they will see their sword change.

You know, it's interesting that everything in the game is based on a scale of one-to-five. We didn't want these sort of complex systems in Fable 3. So, for instance, you can have a one-to-five sword, one-to-five hammer, one-to-five in jobs, the muscles in your arms--everything is one-to-five.



Let's say I've progressed my sword up to level 5 and then I put it up on the marketplace, would I be able to buy back my own sword?
Absolutely! Also, you can have someone come into your world--yes there is coop in the game--and you can give them your sword. They can use it, and then give it back to you and it will still be called your sword.



Do I have to give it to the person I'm playing with or is it possible for them to steal it?
No, there is no stealing.

But back to the coop stuff--we actually changed it an enormous amount. The part where your friend comes in, they're now their own hero and not a stupid henchman like they were in Fable 2. They come in with their dog and free to go off running around while you do your things. They're not tied to your camera now. The coop is really cool now.

You can even--and it's quite bizarre--but you can even bring someone in, get married, have sex and have children. If you want to enter a business relationship, you will be able to do that as well. Want to buy a house together? You can!

I talked about leveling up, well you can level your house from one-to-five now too.

We've tried to take all the raw gameplay stuff and really improve it without making is super-complex. There was a lot of leveling up in the previous Fable games and it was all about moving afar, from here to there and it wasn't very exciting. Now when you level up you get that big reward. I think that's a huge improvement.



In the original Fable the Guild Hall was the hub for everything and I really missed that quite a bit in Fable 2. There was a sense of home, or at least a place to be when you wernt out questing. So, in Fable 3, The Sanctuary looks a lot like the Guild Hall--is it back?
Yes it's back. The Sanctuary is indeed your hub. It has this map system we call a "Living Map" where you can zoom into the towns and see the people  of the community walking about--it's alive.

You'll also be able to buy houses from the Living  Map. It's a lot more detailed than the map in Fable 2 where it wasn't really a map. It's just so much more helpful, especially when you rule. Half way through Fable 3 you're going to become a king and this map is going to be very useful.



Ok, so let's talk pacing. Are you guys going to be more aggressive in your push to get the player through the narrative now that you've got this dramatic change half-way through the game, or are you still going to let players do whatever they want?
For me when a game is nagging me to do something in particular, and I all want to do is something else, I just hate it! I hate when quest givers are like "Go to the woods! Go to the woods! Don't forget to go the woods!" "Well shut the FUCK UP! I know where the woods are! I don't want to go to the woods. Why are you telling me to go to the woods?" So, you know, if you go up to a quest giver in Fable 3 you can tell them to shut up and give me the quest. That way you can move on, and if you don't want to accept the quest then you just walk away. I think that's really really cool.

Now if you go to The Sanctuary, there is this John Cleese character, and he's the butler in the game. He's there to help you be the best you can possibly be, so every once in a while he'll prompt you on occasions when the AI think you're really not doing anything, but he doesn't pester you.



When you become King is there going to be a completely different interface?
You know, here's the thing about us talking about being king--it's a MASSIVE spoiler. I don't really want to get into the experience of being king.

Listen, the only thing I've said is that there is this beautiful mechanic. See, you're a revolutionary, and you're going to lead this rebellion and you've got to get people to follow you. Once you do that you're going to assault the castle. You're ready to take on this evil--king Logan.

On the way through this you're going to have to make promises to people. For instance the mayor in one of the smaller communities will say, "That king Logan is rotten! He stopped giving us money and now our people arnt able to do the things they want to do. If we promise to support you, will you promise to give us 200,000 gold? If you do, then our community will support you." So, of course you do it! So you make all the promises on your journey and when you become king, you will have to decide if you're going to deliver on these promises, but guess what? You're not going to have all the resources to do it.

Actually, the follow mechanic--the idea of getting people to follow you--is unified across the whole game. It replaces experience. What's so cool is that you can grind and get a bunch of people to like you and follow you, or you can do the big quest to make these promises. So there is this great replacement of experience. You get followers for being good in combat, you get followers for making friends, you get follows for marrying well! If you marry well, you get a whole new bunch of followers and that will make you more powerful. That, in turn, makes the revolution more powerful!



Can you define "marrying well"?
Well, if you marry someone from the slums, she's not going to have much influence, and that will effect you and your followers.



I know there hasn't been any armor in the Fable series and I'm curious if there will be any in Fable 3?
You know, we're not fans of armor. It's just about weapons in Fable, and you know, your clothing is important too. As a king, if you don't walk out in some sort of disguise people will mob you, but no armor--we're just not fans of it. For me, armor is just like...it just doesn't make sense, in a way. It's just another confusion in combat.



As the interview wrapped up I informed Peter that my wife is a HUGE Fable fan and was bursting at the seams to read this interview. It was at this point Peter smiled, put his arm over my shoulders and informed me that I could get her name into Fable 3 through a pre-order program they're working on.

Charming and whimsical.

6/25/10

E3 Interview - Deus Ex: Human Revolution

After seeing a particularly impressive 20 minute demonstration of Deus Ex: Human Revolution at this years E3 I was given the opportunity to sit down for about 15 minutes and interview two gentlemen from Eidos-Montreal--the Producer David Anfossi and Lead Game Designer Jean-Francois Dugas. I think it went well and fans of the series will be pleased with most of their answers. First I would like to comment briefly on what I saw in the demonstration.


If Eidos-Monteal continues to head in the direction they're headed right now with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, then I think there is a good chance we're going to get a real sequel/prequel to the original games. It looked and sounded like a Deus Ex game. The only real issue I had with it was that some of the character models looked a bit antiquated, and they were animated poorly. In contrast, some of the others characters looked great--so I don't know if some of the work was perhaps placeholder art, but I've got to speak to what I saw and how it looked. I'll let you decide if you're going to faith in the studio. We were told that the build we saw was pre-alpha, so it's obvious that the game has a ways to go in term of development.

...anyway, let's get on with the interview!



Let's being with the RPG aspects of the game. How deep can we expect the game to go?
So the RPG component is very important to us because this is where you control the flow of the game. It's not only about the features but it's also about making sure that the player has the right tools to play the game one way or another. If he wants to use brute force and be very aggressive then he has the tools to do that, if he wants to be very sneaky and low key then he has the tools to do that too.

But in terms of the component obviously you can talk to people and try to convince them of certain things, and you can try to buy some stuff as well.

In terms of the economy we have two layers. We have the money system that allows you to buy equipment, weapon upgrades or even to modify confrontations. We also have the economy of the experience points that you can earn from stealth, fighting or hacking and stuff like that. Basically with the augmentations that you buy, you can unlock the ability with those augmentations and XP points. So all those elements together help create the character that suits your play style.

Also we have a lot of choices that have consequences as you play through the game.  You will meet characters, and depending on how you deal with them, there might be some consequences later on in the game. Things like that.



I know it's a stretch to ask but can you elaborate a little bit on the plot? There was some discussion in the demo about how Human Revolution is being developed on a more "human level". Also, how effective will these choices be? Can they effect things on a global level?
Well we don't want to spoil anything at this point but I will say that you play as Adam Jensen who works for a Detroit-based biotech company called Sarif Industries. Early on in the game you have no augmentations at all. During a course of events you're badly injured and forced to use augmentations to save your life. As Adam comes back from the grave he begins to investigate those events, who might have been involved and also the reasons behind the attack.
In terms of what we meant by "human level", we're trying to build a game where you meet characters that have--including your own--shade of grey. There are no characters that are super-good or super-evil. It's more about "why do these people do what they do?" We're trying to explore the motivations and the actions of the character as opposed to just saying "oh, we're against this or against that". We want to know where they're coming from and things like that. This is why we say it plays out more on a human level, because it touches on themes that we can relate.



How do some of the moral choices, like killing characters, effect the game?
This is part of the roleplaying aspect of the game. We want the players to question who Adam Jensen is and leave it up to the player to discover those things. We want to give the player freedom of discovery. As you play the game, a lot of things you do will have some kind of effect and will even change the ending.



Are there plans to have a multiplayer component?
Deus Ex Human Revolution is a single player game. That's the tradition of the franchise. When we brought the game back from the dead--and it's not an easy task--we didn't want to split the team up and have them working all over the place. We don't want to make a game with average components. We want to make sure we're recreating the single-player experience the best way that we can. We decided to focus everything we've got on the single-player experience. Now speaking in terms of future plans for online stuff and DLC--we're not talking about that right now. Let me say this: We want to make sure the the Deus Ex name stays alive!



Is the game going to resemble the experience of Deus Ex 1 where you can complete the entire game without killing someone?
Yes...well, mostly. There're exceptions with the boss battles. You must kill those characters for the story to progress. For the rest of the game you can go from the beginning of the levels all the way to the end without killing someone. You might stun some people, sneak around them or you just might pretend you're John Rambo! *big laugh*



...so you have to kill the bosses? There isn't an option to incapacitate them or something along those lines?
You have to kill them.




Can you talk about the characters (NPCs) you will encounter in the game?
In terms of main characters there actually are quit a few. I think we're currently sitting somewhere around 12? I don't want to get too much into those numbers because things of course may change, but
there're quite a lot of characters that you're going to meet.

What's important to us is that they all feel natural, useful and are interesting for the player to interact with. Some of these characters might have a secret that you're interested in, some of them might open an alternate paths for you to go down, or some might even be a
blackmarket dealers--those kinds of people. We want your experience with the NPCs
to be rewarding and meaningful.




Can you talk about the game world? There appears to be product brands that have been created for the game, for instance in the bar there is the number 6. I noticed that there were hexagons in several places too, including on Adams forehead. Can you elaborate on this?
What's so funny to us is that there are some things we do in the game that are done on purpose, and then there are things that are basically just random. The fans, like you, sometimes notice things and go crazy with it all. They come up with all these deep explanations and they honestly have no correlation to our original design and we're just like "Yeah! That's awesome!" 



See, when we started building this game, in terms of the art direction, we really wanted to come up with our own flavor. So when we started our research we discovered a lot of sketches from Leonardo Davinci and it inspired us to jump back to the renaissance era. We started to look at all his work and we realized that it was a really momentous time for human beings. People were discovering these amazing things about the human body. I mean, people were dying from the black death and doing these really strange things to their bodies, and I think it was a time when we really questioned ourselves.

So with the technology of today, we're starting to see computers integrated into our body. So the transformation is already happening and we think it's the next big step in our evolution. It's not happening in 2027, it's happening today in 2010.

So, basically we saw all these geometrical form and patterns so we decided to integrate them into the game. You'll see them in the advertisements, the architecture, floor designs and many other aspects of the game.




Are there going to be different Ammo types in the game?
Yes there will be different ammo types, but it's not going to be different per weapon though.




In terms of Eidos-Montreals design philosophy for the game, I would like to be very clear here for the sake of the fans: In Human Revolution you're going to be put in a gigantic box--the level--and then you're going to be given a start and end point, where there will be several different routes to get to that end point, correct?
Absolutely! In the demo we showed you today there were five different ways to get through that particular level. For all of maps in Human Revolution, the ability to have multiple solutions are at the heart of the experience. Everywhere you go there are at least two ways, and more to progress…always always always.



Now, no one has mention the Playstation Move or other motion control devices yet. Since this is a big theme at the show this year I have to ask--are there plans to incorporate this kind of technology into the game?
We have 130 people working on the game today and we're too far along into production to even consider that kind of technology. This is a really big game when you consider all the side quests, perhaps somewhere around 30 hours of
gameplay, and we just don't have the resources to incorporate those kinds of things at this point.




You have all these paths and multiple endings, and considering Deus Ex Human Revolution is a prequel, I'm curious how you can have multiple endings when the story has already been told?We see Human Revolution as a sort of reboot of the franchise, so we're essentially approaching it as a new IP. It's a series that is appreciated by a very strong but small group of people, but really a lot of people don't even know what Deus Ex is these days. So we're really trying to develop a new protagonist along with a bunch of new characters. You won't have to be familiar with the original games to appreciate Human Revolution, but there are going to be some connections in there for those that are familiar with the lore.



Are there going to be any characters from any of the previous Deus Ex games that will appear in Human Revolutions?
I'm so sorry, I don't speak
english anymore!  



Will Sheldon Pacotti, the writer from Deus Ex 1, be involved with Human Revolution in any capacity?
Yes! We have 4 writers on the team right now and Sheldon has been a consultant. He's there to make sure everything is lining up correctly.


Can you talk a little bit about inspirations for the team in terms of developing the future in Human Revolutions and its aesthetic?
Yes! So, obviously Blade Runner is an inspiration. We're not hiding that or any of the other inspirations because they're just so...awesome. You will see them in there, but we're trying to create our own feel along with it. 
We wanted to make you see things you've ever seen before. There are places in the game that have these old looking buildings, but then they will have some technological device attached to it. We tried to imagine and anticipate what Detroit might look like in the future. So with the double-decker city you can see we went a little crazy with the design, but I think it's a game that's instantly fun because of that. We want it to sit in reality, but also in fantasy too. For us we also wanted to have fun making it all--that's important to the team. 



Are we looking at releases for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3?
That is correct.



Did you have to make any concessions between any of the platforms?

None.



Is the PC version of the game going to be mouse-driven?
Absolutely!



Positively?
Yes. Unless something happens that I cannot predict.



Will there be gamepad support in the PC release?
I'm sure there will be. When we did the initial control layout we planned on including
gamepad support.



There has been some controversy about a particular screenshot that was released which includes a poster in it saying "Wanted For Mass Murder" and it had a picture of George Bush. This was in fun, I'm sure?
That was concept art that was meant to be viewed internally at our studio only, but unfortunately it was released publicly. Sometimes the artists go crazy and have fun with their concept art and it's meant to amuse us--you know, just to have fun. It's hard to manage everything when you're working with such a large group and sometimes things slip through. It was, in no way, meant to be a political statement!



Thanks for your time guys and good luck!

Thanks!

6/23/10

I.Shoot.Games.

I have this wonderfully talented crony who goes by the name of Kate. Not only does she share my passion for video games, but additionally she is a very gifted photographer. So this year I invited her to attended E3 with me to capture some shots from the showroom floor for my coverage. Once she was turned loose she managing to not only capture the essence of the show, but frankly I think she's done it on an artistic level that no one else has (this includes professional outlets like IGN or 1UP.)

Though her composition is obviously strong, to me it boils down to the way she captured the shows broad use of colors. More than anything it really drives home the feeling of E3. It's interesting because when I was at the show I was in a state of sensory overload, from the larger than life visuals, thunderous sounds (hello EA!) and even the sometimes awful smell. But it wasn't until I was in the comfort of my office looking at her photos that I was struck with how vibrate the showroom floor was.

So head on over to I.Shoot.Games to see the rest of the 79 glorious photos in a larger format.



6/18/10

E3: I Ate Lots'o Games


Yes this is definitive proof that I completely geeked out when Peter Molyneux gave me a demonstration of Fable 3. Can you blame me? Who can deny the guys whimsical charm? Clearly not I. :)


The real reason for this update is to let you know that I've returned from E3 and was fortunate enough to see and play some really great (and awful) games. The list includes Portal 2, Golden Eye 007, Legend of Zelda: The Skyward Sword, Rage, Fallout: New Vegas, Brink, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, The First Templar, Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar, Rune Factory 3: A Fantasy Harvest Moon, Dungeon Siege 3, Conduit 2, Vanquish, Fable 3, Gears of War 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Final Fantasy XIV, Rock Band 3, Pixeljunk Shooter 2, XCOM, Mafia 2, a bunch of Kintect games and more.


Since I'm just one dude it's going to take me some time, so I'll be posting my impressions of some of my favorites over the next couple of days so be sure to check back!

5/18/10

Review: Alan Wake


Long ago Alan Wake was supposed to show up and be a star on the Xbox 360--but it didn’t arrived and we all moved on. Years later most were still mystified by its premise. Hell, the day I sat down and pressed the start button I still didn’t know what to expect. I presumed it was going to be an open-world, survival-horror game with an investigative spin to it.


I was wrong.


It turns out Alan Wake, at its core, is a very compelling third-person horror shooter coupled with very little adventure or investigative components to it—who knew? Yes there are some very minor puzzle elements to it like seeking out power generators to safely light paths or pushing aside large obstructing objects but that’s about as far as it goes. Missing are the strangely inaccessible door puzzles or inscrutable artifacts tucked behind false walls. It seems to take pride in achieving this, and with style, more than anything else.


The Alan Wake experience is actually very focused on funneling you through a very specific and well crafted experience. This became readily apparent as I began the game navigating through the beautiful and intricately constructed town of Bright Falls. As night fell, I was abruptly introduced to the main antagonist—the “Taken.” As they crept towards me their shadowy armor fiercely protected them forcing me to use a light source to defuse it. Once exposed, I still needed to finish them off with my firearm. The Taken (who usually emit a sinister howl deep within the woods before appearing) eerily stalked me like some kind of demon zombie but unfortunately without much variety. At hour 6 you might find yourself growing a bit tired of fending off the same creatures over and over. Ultimately it hurts the game a bit.


The combat system initially felt refreshingly unique to me. I think Remedy did a tremendous job of amassing a system that created intense action while raising tension. By design the flashlight shines everywhere you look—that is to say—its direction is tied directly to your right analog stick (and cleverly creates your reticule too) with two methods of operation. Standard mode (used to illuminate your path without draining its battery) does very little damage to the Takens shadow armor. The second mode is more focally penetrating and does drain the battery while boosting intensity. This mode slows the pace of the Taken drastically while burning off their armor at a much faster rate.


Alan Wake’s interesting--and slightly confusing--narrative untangles at a nice pace through several episodes—much like a TV show. The beginning of each episode starts with a “previously on Alan Wake” montage that really helps keep the important details in for the player. I found myself reminded of things I had forgotten. The plot finds a nice balance between exploration and action. They’re poised between pieces of a manuscript that are littered throughout the game world, encounters with the Taken and pre-rendered cut scenes.


Unfortunately, it’s the pre-rendered cut scenes that are the most damaging to the experience. Not only are they muddied by a low resolution but they also appear to be constructed of assets from an earlier build. Lip synching is so far off it looks conceivably like a completely different team constructed it. They look antiquated compared to the spectacularly scripted in-game sequences. I don’t understand why Remedy insisted on using them to unravel the games mostly interesting story bits. My only guess is that they ran out of time or money or both.


There has been some discussion amongst the community about the technical limitations of Alan Wake, but I’m here to say that--in the end--it’s a gorgeous game. Remedy has constructed environments that are filled with an eerie personality woven through an environment similar to the Twin Peaks series. So compelling are the environments that it is difficult not to stop every once in a while to admire their work.

Nighttime is when you really get a sense that this game becomes what it should—creepy. As darkness encroaches, when the fog begin to roll in, as the wind howls through the dancing tress it’ll hit you--the forest just might be alive and coming for you. The stage is set for the real star of the game to make an appearance--the lighting system. The lighting in Alan Wake is absolutely stunning and is comparable to the water in Bioshock. That is to say--it's a character in the game.


Once I finished my experience in Bright Falls I sat back and reflected, “this just might be what it would be like if Valve made a third-person horror shooter?” Sure, that might be a bit hyperbolic of me to say but I just really love this game! I think it's an experience most should have.

If you’re a fan of a high quality single-player experience that lasts roughly 10 hours with no multiplayer experience to speak of then get this game.

5/6/10

Halo Reach Picture Contest: Make Me Laugh!

Last week Microsoft graciously offered me some Halo Reach Multiplayer codes to participate in the beta. I highly considered offering them to friends and family (as the Microsoft's Program title intended) but I decided to give them out to a certain group of people who I knew would appreciate them more--my followers on Twitter. Most of the codes were given out via general video game trivia, however three of those codes were given away through a photo contest.

The requirements were simple enough--be goofy, make me laugh and have "I.Eat.Games." visibly written on a piece of paper to prove authenticity. I gave the gang 4 hours so there was enough time for the creative types.

The results were unexpectedly spectacular and incredibly hilarious. When submissions rolled in I had no idea that so many people would literally put to use my blogs name--I.Eat.Games..

The following three pictures are the winners. They made me laugh more than the others and were rewarded with a Reach beta code.


I found this submission hilarious because he was willing to publicly bathe in a bird bath of humiliation, but also the look of shame on his face locked it in for me. All for a video game. He later informed me that he actually managed to break the bird bath immediately after taking the photo. It was worth it.

I found this submission adorably amusing because the subject's sense of humor center around one whom I'm a fan of--Groucho Marx.

This submission made me laugh more than any other, and I love the addition "and they hurt".


Here are the rest of the submissions--enjoy!


























What did you think? Leave me a post here letting me know. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

3/1/10

Interview: Steve Caterson, Sr Producer of God of War 3

Last Wednesday Sony invited me to attend a God of War 3 event down in LA where I was given the opportunity to interview Senior Producer Steve Caterson and then sit down with the game.

To be clear, I plan on writing up my impressions of the game very soon, but in essence—it looks phenomenal! It’s safe to say that it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before in the genre. I did compare notes with some of the others attending the event and there was much discussion on whether it rivals the visuals of Uncharted 2 and to be honest--it's a completely subjective call. Do you prefer a greek mythological or Indiana Jones-type theme? Personally, I lean a little more towards the greek theatre and prefer the visuals of God of War 3--but more on that later.

In this interview I ask Steve: How many endings does the game have? Does it run at 720P or 1080P? What comprises most of the 35GB on the Blu-Ray disk? Will the God of Wat 3 engine be licensed out? When will we see DLC? Has work begun on the next God of War trilogy? Enjoy!

Note: All pictures were masterfully taken by my zombie-killing friend Kate.




Can you tell us what role you played in the development of God of War 3?
I’m the senior producer, so I’m the guy who is responsible for the entire production of the game. It’s a 120 member team so I kind of oversee them with a lot of help from a lot of talented people. At the end of the day it’s ultimately my responsibility to make sure the game is made and is as good as can be.


Are you rested?
NO! I won’t be that for a while.


What was the day like at Santa Monica Studios when the game went gold?
It went gold Thursday night of last week (02/18/10) and it was a good day! I found out about it Thursday night via email and then the team found out about it Friday afternoon. Unfortunately I was not able to be there because my wife and child were both sick so I was at home, which is fine because they both sacrificed an incredible amount just for me to be there. Everyone was just kind of dazed.



I spoke with Todd Papy (Combat Director) in regards to the God of War 3 tech and he said that the development of it began along side God of War 2. How early did this happen?
It began sort of in the middle.


Tonight Stig Assmussen (Project Lead) said the game had been in development for 3 years, but it sort of seems that it might actually be longer than that. Is that correct?
When we say the tech has been in development since a certain time it really kind of varies. What I mean by varies is that the tech was being developed by one or two guys tootling around with stuff. Towards the end of GoW2 we had, maybe, four or five people total (including an artist) saying ‘ok, we need to get shaders , normal maps and lighting figured out” and those kinds of things. So they basically had a baseline of those kinds of things taken care of before GoW2 was done so that we had a kind of template level to see what it was going to look like. It was essentially like a prototype and then we went from there.

All the tech for all the GoW products have been built upon each other. GoW2 was built on the GoW1 engine, and now GoW3 has been built on the GoW2 engine. See what happened is our tech guys ported the GoW2 engine over to the Playstation 3 right off the bat…

Ah! This is how the God of War Collection happened?

Sort of, yes! But they did that so we had a working engine and then the level designers were able to get right to work. We had Kratos running and jumping at speed, doing all the things he was doing in GoW2, so we were able to say ‘alright, this is a good baseline, let’s get to work’. Our programmers worked hand-in-hand with us and said ‘Ok in 6 months we’ll pull out the PS2 particle system and replace it with the PS3 particle system,and then a few months later we’ll pull out the PS2 collision system and replace it with the PS3 collision system.’




So it was modular in its design so they could pull out parts of the engine?
Yea--well, as much as we hoped! It was the only way to go for us. Due to the scale of the game we had to hit the ground running. We needed all the time possible to make the game, and it was the first PS3 game that our studio was doing. We weren’t given the luxury of doing it in 10 years.


What was the greatest challenge in the development of God of War 3?
Oh man there were so many! The colorful answer is titan gameplay. From a technical, artistic and design standpoint getting all 3 of those to come together to make sure they were all hitting on all cylinders was tough. From a production standpoint is would have to be communication. We went from 50 people working on GoW1, to 80 on GoW2 and then to 120 plus working on GoW3. The communication got exponentially harder.


Where would you say—as you picked up 40 people—most of the people landed? Were the majority of them going to the art depts or were they sprinkled throughout the studio?
You know, they were sort of sprinkled throughout. I would say that the Art department grew the most. We no longer had a model with a texture, but now a model with a texture with a normal map and a shader and lighting. It was more like eight things on a model instead of just one. Our code department also grew some along with animation, cinematics and design but Art grew the most.


Is the game running at 60 frames per second?
The game is running at a variable framerate. It rarely goes below 30 and it tops out at 60.


Is V-sync enabled?
Yes.


Is it 720P or 1080P?
720P native that can scale up to 1080i.


Tearing has become a hot topic in this generation of consoles. Did this affect your approach in the design of the game?
It’s interesting; God of War 2 had some tearing going on with it, but with GoW3 there shouldn’t be any tearing at all and the variable frame rate helps us out with that. We’ve also got some good code in place--that you can’t tell is working--which helps to make sure frame rate drops are gracefully executed. By graceful I mean that you won’t see any tearing.

In some respects—and I know I’m going to get shredded on the boards for saying this—we intentionally slow things down. We want to show you what’s going on in some scenes. A good example is this one huge creature who grabs Kratos and, if we showed that at speed, you would just never even see him. So we say, ‘ok slow the camera down, zoom in—there he is! Doesn’t he look cool?!’ and then we ramp the speed back up and put you back into the action. It’s a pacing thing.

Also, there are some small pauses in the combat that some people thought were slowdown because there were so many guys on screen but it’s intentionally there because it makes the hits feel more impactful.


What’s zipper-tech and what does it do?
It involves a high number of joints and the ability to have them and the vertices remain in sync over all kinds of animations and then to separate accordingly.

For instance, technically, the belly of the centaur is actually split open all the time, but you just can’t tell because everything is nicely tied together and moving along until the animation hits and tells the joints to split.


The God of War 3 Blu-Ray disk is 35GB in size. What’s asset comprises the most space?
Oh gosh that’s a tough one! I think the accurate answer would be the textures. I mean, realistically the documentary is on there and that’s about 2 hours of HD video, but as far as game assets go it’s the textures and then the audio.



Are there any pre-rendered cutscenes in the game?
There are pre-rendered cutscenes but in saying that--they’re made in the game engine.

I would like to make sure people understand the difference here: So there’s real-time where I have control of Kratos and there’s all this stuff happening around me--that’s how we define real-time. We define pre-rendered in that we take the game engine with game assets and put them in a scene. We then shoot the animation through the render (like the trailer we’ve all seen) and then the game spits out frames that we then put together as an mpeg. We don’t have the hi-res CGI videos like the first two games.


Is the God of War 3 engine going to be licensed out or used in other areas by Sony?
It will probably be used internally by Santa Monica Studio, but it comes down to support. If you license the engine out to someone else then it takes the whole team to provide that support--that takes up some serious bandwidth! The only way we would do it is if it was a fire-and-forget (no support) situation.

Also, in my experience in games, people don’t like using other peoples stuff.

Why is that?


I don’t know. It’s very frustrating. I don’t know if it’s a pride thing or people just not being familiar with it. I have an art background and did some level work in the past and after working on something I would hand it off to someone to finish and 3 weeks later I’d come back and would find that they rebuilt the whole thing! I’d ask ‘why’ and they would say something along the lines of “because it’s a piece of crap!” It happens 100% of the time. It’s strange, but it’s rampant.


In regards to the development of GoW3, how did the team come up with the overall vision?
Three years! I think one of the things our studio strives for is to bite off more than we can chew. That’s all everyone did in every department during the first year of development, saying ‘what can I work on tomorrow that’s crazier than what I did today?’ and from a production standpoint its scary as shit! After that year and a half of production it just kind of came down to finishing the project.


What about the moving levels? Was this something that the studio wanted to do earlier in the series but was limited by the technology of the PS2?
A little bit. On God of War 2 we touched on it, but then we ended it saying ‘well, we’re really going to have to do it now’. So when we got to the PS3 we were excited! Right out of the gate we started on the design work. We actually had a prototype called “The Blockman” who literally had blocks for arms and legs and Kratos was running on them.


Each GoW game has had a different director and each one has brought a different vision. What kind of affects has this had on the game?
Oh it’s awesome! I think it’s one of the best ways we could have done it. I don’t want to draw direct comparisons to this, but one of my favorite series of all times was Band of Brothers. I love that series! Each episode is set in the same period with the same characters in the same events, but there were different directors for each episode. When you watch the whole thing and reflect back its like ‘wow, ok so it is a little different’. It’s the same with the GoW series—each guy provided a different perspective.



Does this mean you’re going to become the next director on the series? No Way!


What can we expect in regards to DLC?
We’re working that out now. There are no definitive plans but we’re still experimenting. We’ve got some bandwidth and if Sony tells us to go ahead with it then we will. We’ve got some ideas bouncing around.


Can we expect anything for free? Like arenas?
I hope so! We’ve got some fun ideas that we’re kicking around.


Has work begun on the next God of War trilogy?
Hrm. No. Weeeeeell—hrm, no. We’ve just come off of a huge run and the guys are just happy that I’m not calling them.


It’s been almost 3 years since God of War 2 was released and the genre hasn’t move forward much in terms of gameplay? What is God of War 3 going to do to push things forward?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t know if our goal was to necessarily push the genre forward really.


What about Titan gameplay? Is that a push forward?
Yes but I could just take the counter point and say Shadow of Colossus did it too, right? I think our goal was just to do things better than what we had ever done before in the past. That’s really what our goal was. We wanted to top the other two entries in the series and end it on a big note. We wanted the trilogy to wrap up this kind of grand story arc and all the challenges up against it. In the end we just wanted to create a fun product.

I’m honestly not trying to dance around the question, but I don’t recall there ever being discussions about it.


Were there any games you played during the development that helped influence any particular parts of GoW3?
You know you can probably see that there are a lot once you play the game, just like when you played the first one. I think one of the things we did try to do is end the trilogy and harkens back to the first one and its style.


What exactly does that mean?
Well in the first one we got into Krato’s head and saw his past and his torment, but the second one wasn’t so much about Kratos as it was about his environment and how he was just fucking it up. It was just more about the things happening around Kratos.

On GoW3 we tried to go back to the roots of the first one and make it more about Kratos—to get more into his head, more into his motivations and just finish his story.


Is there one ending to the game?
Yes, there is one ending.


Thanks for your time and congratulations!
Thank you very much!

2/12/10

BioShock 2: Letting Go So We Can Move Forward


BioShock 2 is an interesting game isn't it? It arrives in a very difficult position as it follows in the footsteps of--what some consider to be the best first-person shooters in years--the original BioShock. What's curious though is the group of gamers that heartily embraced the original, wearing it as a shining badge, mightily exclaimed to the world "See! This is what we can have when we marry a compelling narrative with artisan game design!", are now the ones turning their backs to it's sequel. Some are even outright unwilling to listen to the story it wishes to tell.

On the other hand, who can blame them right?

After all how can it be possible for a BioShock sequel to create an equally fascinating experience--that rests in such a unique space--when we've already visited? Truth be told I'm a little bit of a hypocrite as I initially found myself pushing out my chest along side them.

But after putting some thought into my reasoning I soon realized I wasn't giving the game its fair chance--I might be missing out on something! Well I'm happy to say that I come away from completing Bioshock 2 (roughly 12 hours) feeling fulfilled. Certainly I'm a traitor now, right? :) Listen, all I plan to do is write what I feel and hope you get something beneficial out of it.

In short, I've come to the conclusion that BioShock 2 is--through a series of unfortunate missteps--a really good game.


Hold your tomatoes please!

To keep things completely spoiler free I won't go into any of the plot or gameplay revelations, but what I will do is tell you confidently that I found the narrative--and its unraveling--interesting enough to keep me slogging forward. I wanted to know more. It probably goes without saying that I think it's not nearly as interesting as the original though.

By now everyone knows you take control of the very first prototyped Big Daddy, and from that initial moment the game makes it incredibly apparent how massive and powerful you really are. Movement is accented with the pounding of your elephantine feet as you lumber about the corridors. The stoutly swoop of your massive melee attacks as they thud a splicer across the face, or even the deep-chested grunts you let loose when you're attacked in return. It all comes together to help sink in the notion that you're truly a massive beast of sorts.

This doesn't mean you're not susceptible to damage though, or that your perform things any more slowly than other protagonist you might play in other game. What it does do is highlights the greatness of his design. Your colossal heaviness is implied completely by sound and never by tactile feedback. Somewhere in that design comes a certain melancholy with the implication of how cumbersome and confused your life is in Rapture.
For me, the very first hour of the game was slightly awkward and confusing as I walked around. I tried to digest everything Rapture was trying to convey but it proved to be more disturbing. I was in a rut. The musky environments--though of the same in essence of my first experience in Rapture--had changed quite a bit due to the 10 year that had lapsed. There were writings scrawled across the walls that just didn't make sense. Everything was coming together to push me towards feeling claustrophobic (when, in reality, I'm not.)

After a few minutes I realize that perhaps what I was experiencing was completely organic. Were these feelings elicited intentionally by design? Perhaps not, but for me it did slightly augment my experience as it connected me to the protagonist a bit more as I imagine it was likely he was experiencing the same emotions.

As I got my bearings I found the gameplay to be more intense and more enjoyable than the original, and this (pleasantly) surprised me. I think the ability to duel wield plasmids and weapons heightened the intensity of the action to a new level. In addition there appeared to be even more splicer attacks coupled with thicker skin and more powerful weapons. Fun!

I really began to feel at home when I mastered the Hypnotize plasmid. At first it has the ability to turns other foes against one another--which in itself is extremely entertaining to watch--but eventually it upgrades to a point where you can recruit splicers by your side for a few minutes--even the bigger guys! At several points in the game I found myself surrounded by two hacked drones and one of my favorite victims--the teleporting, explosive-throwing Houdini Splicers. Sending that party into a room full of splicers and watching the AI try to figure out how to kill itself was so incredibly entertaining!

But what Bioshock 2 doesn't have, unfortunately, is the same quality of architectural level design as the first. The magic that it retained throughout the entire experience just isn't at the same level. Bioshock 1 is defined by two things--it's areas and the characters that inhabit them. Many sections of the game had incredibly unique architectural designs and aesthetics making every section memorable with fascinating points of interest. I fondly look back on certain areas like the Medical Pavilion run by the demented and insane Dr Steinman, Neptune's Bounty, the Farmers Market, or how about Rapture's entertainment center Fort Frolic?

For me, BioShock 2 really only has one area that runs along the same line as those and that's Ryan Amusements. I'll hold off on the details as to why it's so interesting, but let's just say it's a pivotal moment in the game's narrative that truly reveals how arrogant and messed up Ryans practices were, but conjugated by brilliant design.

Unfortunately most of the other levels--including Siren Alley (the Red Light District), which I feel was a sadly missed opportunity--are much too similar in terms of aesthetic and architectural design.

I must point out that this is not to say that the levels are badly designed or even a bore to play through--they're not--but it just brings to light that they're not on par with the original. That whimsical, melancholy of the BioShock spirit is missing.

In terms of plot, once I found out where the narrative was going towards the end of the game--and yes it's revealed why you're a Big Daddy who's as weak and vulnerable as he is--I was hooked. It's certainly not as interesting or inspired as the original game, but I found it really interesting none-the-less.

BioShock 2 is a really fun game, but I think that in order for us hardcore to enjoy what the crafted experience has to offer then we need to come back down to earth a little. We need to realize that BioShock 2 isn't going to have the very best part of BioShock 1--which is the glorious first exposure to Rapture where we bewilderingly travel through it. What BioShock 2 is, though, is an unpretentious attempt to expand on Rapture lore, and you know what? I respect and enjoy it for nicely progressing in the complexity of Rapture. Most importantly I respect it for, overall, being a fun video game to play--because that's what it does best.

1/11/10

Review: Assassin's Creed 2


From an artistic standpoint, Assassin's Creed 2s architectural structures and the character models that fill them are incredibly well crafted. In my travels to 16th century (virtual) Italy I found the non-organic items were the most eye-catching, and at times they stopped me dead in my tracks so I could admire their beauty. The voice work is performed very naturally by the actors, helping the dialog along to its lofty goal of frequent but tolerable chatter.

The textures and overall graphical fidelity are some of the best this generation of gaming has to offer.

The scope and variation in gameplay is certainly impressive. Like any well made open-world game it allows you to control where you want to go at what pace you desire. AC2, in particular, really encourage you to wander off into its world very early on to collect Feathers in honor of your brother, perform assassinations for additional cash or even find treasure chests that are littered around the cities--it's a lot to take on. In fact, the extra offerings reach almost ludicrous proportions to the point where I would be hard pressed to find a game with more stuff to do (that wasnt developed by Bethesda).

This stuff is all well and good, and there are many reviews out there praising this incredible game from top to bottom. In the end, though, Assassin's Creed 2 has flaws that I feel are worth discussing by the gaming community.

Let’s start with the controls.

I don’t recall the last time I became so boiled over with frustration--and as many times as I did--with a video game's movement mechanic. The running-jumping-climbing automation has become a staple of the Assassin's Creed series and it's a lot of fun--when it works. I love how exhilarating Ubisoft has made the scaling of buildings and the traversing of rooftops—it’s like playing Need For Speed: 16th Century Rooftop Edition! It's fun right? But it's the protagonists (Ezio) inadvertent habit of haphazardly jumping in directions other than the one I point him in. I would usually end up shaking my fist in the air as it lead to my untimely death on the cobblestone streets below (or attracting the attention of unwanted guards who seem to be able to climb as well as I do while dressed in full armor!)

Also, there were more times than I care to remember where Ezio would be climbing up the side of a building and he would suddenly halt--hitting some kind of a virtual wall--when there was clearly a ledge within his grasp. No move, no matter how advanced, would force him to grab these ledges. Eventually I would most likely end up scolding him says "Get your ASS up there"! Yea yea, it's Irrational behavior I know.

Though the game now has an economy I feel that it's, unfortunately, broken. I'm not pretentious enough to consider myself to be any more skilled than your average hardcore gamer, so I don't think I was doing anything unusual here, but I was buying just about everything I wanted and whenever pleased! Whenever I entered a newly discovered city I was able to buy 90% of the items (paintings, weapons, armor) as soon as they became available. Other things were acquired, generally, within an hours time. This is probably due to the massive amounts of side-missions that are available with huge monetary rewards.

But I ask, shouldn’t those rewards have been considerated when items were being priced? I love the fact that all these items are available, but the rewards in particular were too great and too soon (or these powerful items were too cheap--you pick.) It made me realize how much I missed a well paced a game. Pacing that creates a feeling of anticipation for more powerful items. World of Warcraft does the “Carrot-on-a-stick” thing perfectly.


--Slight Spoilers Follow--

I remember when I first discovered I was going to be able to rule over this small town in this game. Oh man, I got very excited jus thinking of all the possibilities. Oh the possibilities people! In the end the ruling consisted of mostly trivial tasks and rewards. Yes there was a small benefit like discounted items in stores, but in the ended it's trivial at best. I really only utilized the perks once or twice because I ended up buying most of my items in other cities since it was more convenient. I felt like the player should be given the option to go even farther with the acquisition of the town.

Imagine if the effects of building and upgrading structures affected the mood of your population. How about funding some kind of annual festival to bring happiness and a sense of community to the town? Perhaps it could have just do something simple like reduce the crime/poverty rates. Though I realize that that's heading down a path of a sim--which is definitely not what AC is about—I think, if implemented casually, could increase the players interest in the town without over complicating things. Keeping it simple, you know? Add a few meters here and there to the already existing city overview UI.

When arriving back in the city after being gone for a few days I initially thought I would have the opportunity to make some important choices in regards politics. Perhaps I would have to determine what to do with someone who was caught stealing from someones home, or even settling a dispute amid two families that cause a new set of missions to open up. Heck, I though for certain I would have to deal with more personal issues like finding a suitable man for the younger sister (I mean, what happened with that story, right?)

--Slight spoilers end--


Despite what I've said here, I want to stress that I really enjoyed Assassin's Creed overall--quite a bit actually! I just don’t seem to adore it like most of the general gaming community and critics.

Yes, "driving" Ezio around the beautiful Italian cities is, at times, as relaxing as my favorite Sunday drive with my lovely wife. Up the California coast we go admiring the gorgeous landscapes, soaking up the sunset in my RX-7...but in this game it's with wobbly tires.