Escape Dead Island interview with Anthony Cardahi

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Escape Dead Island is coming soon and Sean managed to grab some words at EGX with Anthony Cardahi, a creative producer at Deep Silver, and talk about the game.

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Escape Dead Island. Very very different. It’s a very different choice of game for the Dead Island franchise. How did you come about that process?

So it’s a mixture of several elements that blended in together. One of them was that part of us wanted to deliver a game experience that was kind of related to those early trailers that had such a nice reception from audiences. And the other side that was just a desire to give a bit more background information as to what the Dead Island universe was about. That really convey the idea that there was a bigger picture that we aren’t just putting out zombie games without a link between them. Dead Island has its lore and we wanted to find a format that would be appropriate for delivering this information. It came also from some personal taste in terms of games and movies that just all blended in and gave birth to what Escape is now.

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Did cel shading feel like the natural choice?

Yeah, on several sides it was a logical art style to go for. Just going with a more narrative and story driven kind of game, that we wanted to be able to marry to the player in an impactful way, we knew we wanted those comic cutscenes that are useful to the story. So it made sense for the game itself to be in a comic style approach so you get a more wholesome feel to it and more expressiveness. Later on we realised that it was a lucky pick because it allows us to differentiate from the main Dead Island franchise, give no confusion to the players and make it look and feel like a spin off of the main series.

I suppose it also helps with the implied psychosis that your main protagonist has during the game?

Definitely. The madness that Cliff will be gonig through as he progresses through the story just begged for a visual style that would allow us to bend reality and all the crazy things that we have in the game. It helps to convey all the various faucets of this and make it much more visual and direct in to the players face.

Following the preview, the game reminded me a lot of the Keanu Reeves movie A Scanner Darkly which was a Phillip K Dick story, which was partially animated. Where did you guys draw your inspirations from?

Everyone who’s worked on the project from Deep Silver and Fat Shark. Being a Swedish developer means they have a very fine artistic side to them, so lots of different influences came from everyone. We had some strong influences from Groundhog Day, Memento and Lost. Inspirations more for tonal idea and atmosphereic impressions we wanted to make during the game. And these mixed up with the fact that we all really enjoy comics and are very knowledgeable about them. So it’s cool that we can mix these things with the key ingredients of what makes up a Dead Island game. Even after 10 seconds, you still know it’s a Dead Island game, which is really unique. So blending all this togehter gave us this result, which I don’t think anyone could have seen at the conception stage. It’s a nice process to watch unfold.

It is very different, so how do you think the fans of the franchise will receive this expansion of the artistic nature of the game compared to the previous entries to it?

I’m guessing it will depend on what type of player the fan is and what drew him/her in to the Dead Island games first. For those who have any kind of curiosity about what our world is and what the events transpiring there are, they will probably be intrigued with us giving information that relates to bothe the past games and the upcoming ones and create a kind of bridge. Also I’m guessing a lot of people might just come due to sheer curiosity with the fact its a different take but it still has the the whole “paradise turning really bloody” vibe that the main series has. So the art style might make people more curious and we have those key elements like the emphasis on melee combat, survival approach, the zombies. If you like Dead Island as you play the immune superhero, you might like the new approach to be on the other side as a regular guy and be a lot more careful and defensive.

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Where did Cliff come from because he’s a beautifully flawed character?

Yeah it was really fun trying to reach the point where we had our protagonist. We didn’t want him to be a cliche of heroic guy shows up saves the world kind of thing. Working on him and the way to bring about the regular dude venerability of the character ended up inspiring him. He’s a flawed guy, you’ve probably seen him in a lot of college comedies, or you might know someone like that like “you know he’s a cool guy but sometimes he acts like a douche.” Which is referred to quite a number of times in the game. This kind of dual dimension and his prescence there I think also helps to explain all what he’s going to go through. He’s showing up on this island wanting to be the new Vice, [thinking] “I’m going to film this documentary that’ll prove to the world what’s happening here, I’ve got to unveil the truth.” He’s really enthusiastic but ultimately disconeccted from reality, never achieving anything in his life, in his fathers shadow and wanting to prove himself. Daddy issues to some extent which is a driver, but also a component of what Cliff’s going to be going through during his adventure, or misadventure.

So why haven’t you gone to next gen with this game?

Well the majority of our audience is on the past generation consoles, plus Dead Island 2 being the flagship title for next generation, we thought we’d stick to that. But we’re keeping our fingers crossed and hope it does well.

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Escape Dead Island will be available on 21st November for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. You can see our preview from GamesCom here!

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Lords of the Fallen – Hands on Preview

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The last time we saw Lords of the Fallen was back in April. At that time, we got to see a big demonstration of a level by executive producer, Tomaz Gop, and had a few words with him. This time, he gave us the game for an hour and personally guided us through our play through! Which was nice, seeing the developer enjoying you playing and noticing how you play. So I apologise if I inadvertently nerfed anything. Given my last impressions, there were a few things that were worrying me, but with time spent playing the game these fears have definitely been addressed. Although the news broke just after I played that the Xbox One version will run at a lower resolution than the PS4 version, there is time to find some extra memory to ramp it up which I’m sure Microsoft will insist on.

The joys of having a game that shares similarities with other RPG titles like Dark Souls and The Witcher (the latter especially given Gop’s previous involvent with the series) does help you pick up and play the game, even though he admits the controls can be very tricky without the use of a tutorial. Whilst you get the basic idea very quickly there are a lot of nuances to the controls and your approach to the game that are best picked up in action. However the choice you make before you even start playing also dictates the style of game you play along with the controls you’ll be using.

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It’s not terribly over the top, you’ll have three classes to choose from. But the options after that and how you unlock things and progress later on in the game are all dictated by this choice. In this way the accumulation of spells, disciplines, armour class choices and the like owe a lot more to table top RPG gaming like Dungeons & Dragons. The way you can bank your experience is very useful. You aren’t set against just having enough XP for a level up. You can pick and choose how much you want to use towards each upgrade and slowly build it up without having to blow it all on one point upgrade at a time. It’s quite a nice system so that you can feel your progression and feel that you’re using your XP in the best way for you. The art style both, in game and in menus, is given a full on fantasy role playing vibe. Much like Magic the Gathering in the way a card system is used to help the character profile screens. You can still be over encumbered and things your character can’t use are still available, like boss drops. It all adds to how you handle the role playing element which doesn’t punish your smashing bad guys element of the game too much to be completely infuriating. Instead it compliments it well and visa versa. Which as a fan of fantasy but a hater of complex inventory/XP systems I very much approve of.

I started as a guy with medium armour which meant I was dead within a few shots but could move with enough agility to avoid most of the damage and time my attacks. There’s a lot of dodging but also the option for stealth which, especially when you get a few blind enemies around you, allows you to pick and choose your battles. The levels are very dynamic as well. It isn’t just enemy after enemy after enemy followed by boss. There’s lots of hidden places you can explore and extras you can get if you keep your eyes open. Hidden passages and the like can be found along with scrolls that open up a audio note style story nuggets, like Bioshock. Which is nice and it doesn’t move you out of the game. One thing with the controls though, especially given that they can be tricky to start, is how unobtrusive everything is to the in game screen. Everything is a nice size to allow you to see the world and spot all those nooks and crannies. If you change your weapon or magic for example, you’ll have a small notification of what it has changed to.

The thing is with this game is that you can play it how you want to. I’m not a stealthy guy. I’m a very smash and move kind of guy or I’ll pick people off from afar. Unless I know a lot about the world, I won’t care too much about the sheer volume of consumables and objects that can encumber you. In fact the size of Skyrim and everything you can get is one of the things I occasionally dislike about that game. But Lords of the Fallen has this very fluid, very easy to pick up feel about it which, once you acclimatise yourself to it, rewards you greatly. Its screens and options for objects, items and upgradable parts aren’t too overwhelming enough to detract you from playing the game.

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Additions to your weapons this way feel smooth and you really adapt them to how you play with them. When I switched to my second character with his dual daggers, but lighter more death inviting armour, it was a style I was not accustomed to and I found it harder. But with my starter character, I would have progressed him and made him better for my style of play. Lords allows you to do that very easily. The magic options are also very cool if you go down that route. There was a gauntlet which gave me a poison grenade launcher and a magic missile. It’s fun and adds more tactical elements to how you attract and damage enemies. My favourite magic has to be one that mimics your every move for a short time, including attacks, effectively doubling your attack for that time. It’s all very cool.

There are several little things that make me like this game a bit more than the onslaught that Dark Souls brings. Firstly, the lockable camera allows you to keep your focus in battle on a specific target and is easily switched. That’s a great help for the amount of times you duck and roll and keeps you in the fight rather than bouncing off the environment and getting one-hit-smashed to oblivion. You’ll find special challenges throughout the map that are dimensional portals. When you die the ghost of you remains, like Dark Souls. Except, this can be an advantage as your ghost gives you a health buff while you’re in the vicinity of it. I used it, once I died to a boss, as a health regeneration point and kept it there so I could fight the boss around this buff. You won’t get the XP straight away but it’s a nice tactical approach that can aid you. Strike combos make you feel like you’re achieving some awesome damage, much like a Dynasty Warriors game would. The influences from other games are very noticeable but that isn’t to the detriment of Lords, in fact it accentuates its positives.

Those positives are that the game is very easy to play, the control mapping isn’t all over the place and uses held buttons rather than complex D-Pad selections. In fact you can select and deselect your favourite consumable options to make the D-pad essentially your healing potion button. The art is visually stunning and each area feels as atmospheric as Dark Souls and the enemies are just as nasty looking as those in Doom and other horror/fantasy games. The demonic mini-boss I faced reminded me of the devil from Dungeon Keeper which has always looked incredibly cool. The game is tricky and challenging but not in the constant death way of Dark Souls. You don’t get that sense of frustration that sometimes Souls gives you. The game gives you the right amount of options to be able to carve your own Harkyn and your own style of play. The bosses do different things during their battles and it makes fighting them more challenging than just noticing their attack and vunerability cycle. The extras are nice to find and don’t completely obscure you playing the game and keep you in the world more so than the Elder Scrolls games do.

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Back in April I was excited for Lords of the Fallen but a little bit worried it’d be too much like other games or slightly tepid or more focused on the visuals to create a game worth playing. Now I’ve played it, my opinion has completely changed. It’s a game I can’t wait to play, I can’t wait to see speed runs for and I can’t wait to talk about. The next generation hardware was always going to give us good benchmarks for future games. There’s lots of fantasy RPG’s coming out with Shadows of Mordor and Dragon Age. But I think Lords will keep a very good and dedicated audience happy and set a bench mark for other RPG’s to aspire to in the coming years.

Lords of the Fallen is due for release on 31st October for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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Dragon Age Inquisition interview with Neil Thompson

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Dragon Age Inquisition is the new offering from Bioware in the franchise that has very quickly become a fantasy icon in video gaming. Sean got to sit down at EGX with Bioware’s Director of art and animation, Neil Thompson, and have a few words about it.

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It’s a very interesting art style compared to other Dragon Age games, especially with the Frostbite 3 engine. How did that come about?

Well the interesting answer is the adoption of Frostbite. We did the previous two Dragon Age games on a Bioware engine called Eclipse and I think it’s safe to say it was starting to show its age. We wanted to take Dragon Age Inquisition on to the new hardware and new generation. What does that mean? Well a lush, diverse and complex experience and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to us like everyone else. We’d already seen what Frostbite was capable of with Battlefield and we wanted a piece of that.

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How has that approached how you create the game? Before the previous Dragon Age’s single player experiences very much in the Bioware theme and the characters and now it’s multiplayer and more open.

Multiplayer is one aspect of the game but the single player and multiplayer are still two different things. The single player experience is still an immense priority for us. We wanted to extend that single player experience, larger worlds, and better combat. You don’t allow the paradigm of the hardware or the engine to dictate what we wanted to achieve with the franchise. We wanted push the pillars of Dragon Age with a more open world experience, a larger or more diverse world. That’s what we wanted to use for the game because we felt it would be a better experience for the player.

The advent of the new generation consoles has come along at the right time for you to embellish that as well?

We are on all five consoles with presents a challenge in itself. But the move to the next gen has made the older generation versions better because of it. We try to satisfy the needs of the players across all platforms. We don’t want the last generation console owners to get less of an experience than the other console owners.

The art style has changed, partly because of the Frostbite 3 engine and you’ve been able to put new features in to the game like the tactical view. Tell us a little bit about how that came about.

Well it’s the result, not really of Frostbite option, but between the team and the creative director that they wanted that RPG experience. Origins and many of our games have that dynamic and I think it really enhances the combat. You can play the game with the traditional third person way and its fine. But if the challenge becomes too much you can always pause and think about it more strategically and from a party perspective. Rather than just playing from the one view.

Where did the inspirations of that mode come from and for it to be as seamless as it is, because you can see comparisons to MOBA’s and Warcraft?

Well I think Bioware’s inspiration goes back further to Baldur’s Gate and those top down RPG’s.

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The game is the third in the franchise, so you’re fairly well established with Dragon Age and what you do. There’s a lot of other games as well coming around at the same time with competition like Lords of the Fallen, Shadows of Morder, Elder Scrolls Online. How will your game go in that kind of market as it is very different and unique compared to what is there?

It is and what I think is good and that is positive for the Fantasy space market is that it is possible to sustain multiple franchises. And it just encourages strength across the board. Fantasy has had something of a revival in recent years with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and stuff which is fantastic, a positive environment for fantasy and the games that inhabit it. So I think it’s great for everyone.

You say fantasy is having a bit of a revival, I’d say role-playing as well is having a renaissance. Dungeon’s and Dragons is back again with new rules, simplified. There’s a lot more indie gaming that’s using the mechanics. How do you keep things accessible when there’s a lot of other options and different things about?

It is challenging. I think you can’t be stuck in the position where you’re trying to please everybody. You end up diluting the experience so what we’ve tried to do is allow you to play Dragon Age the way you want to play it. If you want to get more in depth and in to the tactical side of things then you can absolutely do that. But if you are a more casual player and if you want to go through the narrative without getting as deep in to the ability trees then you can. What we’d like to see, if you are a more casual player, is that you get introduced to it and you just dip your toe in the more complex systems and if they enjoy it then they do.

With art & design, you’ve probably seen enough concept sketches to keep DeviantArt running for years to come. What kind of artistic inspiration do you take, how do you get that world created?

We try to go as broad as possible. We’re keen to have a broad palette for our artists, not just from the genre of games but from film, TV, architecture, fine art, contemporary art, sculpture, writing. You name it people are passionate about it and it provides the spark of creativity then it’s a wonderful thing. So we look very broadly with our inspirations.

There’s a lot of things that come from the games characters, how much of the classic Bioware character driven style is still in the game, given all the changes? 

It’s still incredibly core to the experience. You start with the narrative perspective, get the story outline, introduce the characters. Their personalities are explored and evolve right from the concept artist even before the 3D side of things. It is still absolutely part of it. Dragon Age Inquisition is a game about a vast and threatening diverse world and the people in that all have needs and desires and that’s key to the experience.

DAIINT4I suppose it might be a new thing for a Dragon Age game where you’re going in to an online world where the key is community. Destiny has shown already how many people, even on consoles, will form groups, discuss the game, play the game, etc. How do you see Dragon Age being received by the community like that, as the genre leans very heavily towards that kind of community?

I think Dragon Age and Bioware itself already has a very vibrant community. There’s no shortage of passion for the franchise. I hope Dragon Age will get people more involved and more emotionally interested in these characters and drive further conversation and further collaboration between fans and Bioware.

So what’s been your favourite thing so far in developing the game and what have we got to look forward to?

It’s hard to say, there’ve been so many things. It’s been a challenging development. Anything like this is difficult to achieve. I look at the final game now and I see how the design and the art has gelled in to the experience and I feel very satisfied and I and the rest of the team are very proud of it. We’re always working on new ideas and Dragon Age has always got more stories to tell. So there’s a lot more to come.

How about getting the Xbox One version up to spec with the PS4?

Game development is challenging, it’s always difficult. I think the key is trying to give the same level of satisfaction and experience across all the platforms so we hope to achieve that.

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Dragon Age Inquisition is due out on November 21st on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.

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