Mortal Kombat X – Interview with Hans Lo

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The last time I saw and played Mortal Kombat X was back in August at Gamescom. Then we had a great little sneak peek and play with new character Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. Last week, more was announced as the story mode revealed multiple characters in a story set 25 years after the events of 2011’s Mortal Kombat. We sent Sean down to London to chat with Hans Lo, Senior Producer of the series form NetherRealm Studios, and asked why they’ve decided to leap in to the future…

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I think it was part of the creative freedom [of the series]. It was part of discussion within the group, everyone was talking about next-gen hardware, next-gen this, next-gen that, and it kind of stuck in our head: “Next-Gen… Next-Gen…” So we started making up next-gen characters and obviously if we do that we have to ask how far in the future do we want to go? A few years? A lot of years? A hundred years? So we kind of played around with that, tried to figure out what would be the most compelling story around that idea. In the end we said 25 years, you’ve got a bunch of young kids who think they know everything and have the out-to-conquer-the-world mentality. But it’s not so far out in the future that the original warriors aren’t going to be these decrepit old guys saying “Back in may day we used to do an uppercut”, we didn’t want any of that. So it seemed the best way, the easiest way to keep the iconic characters around whilst introducing new characters.

With the new generation and new characters, are you hoping that a lot of people that haven’t played the game for a while that now have these newer consoles will look at this and go “oooh I used to like that!”

I think that’s always a plus. We do have classic characters for the hardcore fans who really like those characters, but at the same time we wanted to do something fresh and new and that’s something we always do. Looking back, what have we done in the past, what works with mobile, what can we build upon, what can we improve upon. So adding a new set of characters seemed like the right thing to do, bring a bit of fresh air to the story.

But of course they keep their roots in the previous iterations of the story. Are the characters move sets of dictated by their backgrounds?

They’re influenced; they’re not to the point where they’re completely cloned. It’s not “I’ve seen Johnny Cage do this and it’s exactly the same move” it’s more like it’s themed and flavoured. But at the same time they’re going that have their own unique moves. It’s not going to be a literal – half the move sets for Cassie come from Johnny and the other from Sonya. It’s more like there’s two or three here that are reminiscent but the move set is wholly unique to her. We definitely want to make each character stand out. Creating characters that have personalities of their own and have moves that match with those personalities.

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Moving on to the game, everything’s there that the hardcore MK fans like, from new executions, new locations, etc. How do you bring the new stuff in to the game and the story so it compliments each other?

Obviously the characters is part of it and some of the environments are introduced in the story. But then at the same time we’ve done a couple of stories now in our games and one of the thing’s we’ve learned is that chapters based on characters seem to work really well. One is that it gives you a chance to learn about the characters back story and it gives you world experience with who they are, where they come from and what their personalities are like. The second it also gives you a chance to play characters that you normally wouldn’t have picked on your own. It exposes you to the different characters and different abilities those characters have. What we’ve also done this time around is add the interactive cinematic experience which means as you’re playing through the game, watching the story, there’s going to be times where you’ll have to get involved, act and guide the story and personalise it a bit to how you want to play the game.

When playing through the first chapter I caught on too late and missed a few buttons, but it didn’t ruin my gameplay or reset me to an earlier point. The game leads you in the same point in the story so the cinematic interactivity didn’t impact the result. I asked why?

We don’t want to penalize you for missing these things either but if you want to go back and play again and say “ok so I’m going to fail this one but pass this one just to see how it plays out.

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The characters in Mortal Kombat X will have three different styles of play. Before a match you can select what kind of style you want  to play, whether you’re a blockbuster move kind of person, a movement blocker, and so on. The game adapts the style and moves to how you play based on your choice. Is this just for the single player vs modes against the AI/People and online or is there more?

You’ll be exposed to some of it in the story. It’s not going to be a situation where you get to a fight and you can choose what you want because it fits best. But outside of the story you’ll be able to choose what best fits you, against the computer or friends. At that point you can decide which variation is best for you, that’ll match your style of play.

This year sees the introduction of the Living Towers. The towers, formerly the challenge tower, will update regularly as to what matches are available on either an hourly, daily or weekly basis. So you’re doing these challenge themed events that will be different each time randomised and planned. Why have you decided to invigorate that area of the game?

Well this is the evolution of our challenge tower that you’ve seen in the previous games. That was a very big tower, very long and while we got a lot of great feedback from people enjoying it, we found out a lot of people couldn’t make it all the way through, some people found it was a little intimidating. So we thought maybe we’d do these smaller towers and to keep them fresh we’ll make them living towers so they update with challenges from time to time like the hourly ones will be very quick easy challenges, the daily ones will be a little longer and take a little more work and the weekly event ones will be more difficult. No one is required to do these but if they want to they can and if they want to come back a little later there’ll be a new challenge for them.

The biggest thing, with mobile coming as well, is the faction system. The games kind of interweave the impact on each other. Tell us a little bit how you decided to make that interconnectivity part of Mortal Kombat X.

Well we wanted to make it more social and that’s kind of what the driving force behind the whole faction idea was. The idea of being part of a group. Because people like to be part of a group, contributing to part of it. So that’s the attitude we had when creating the factions. You can contribute however you want to contribute. If you want to play mobile and achieve points that way. If you want to play online matches, you can achieve points that way. If you want to play offline on console, you can achieve points that way. Contribute how you want, play how you want. The fact that mobile opens up more combat that you can play anywhere, anytime, you’re no longer restricted to “Oh I’ve got to be home at four so I can play the game” but more “… I’ve got some time to kill.” Take out your mobile device, kick back and play. It’s all tied to your WB Play ID so as long as you’re using the same ID on whatever device, the points will all add to your faction.

And you’ll be able unlock characters and bonuses on both the console and mobile versions of the game this way?

You’ll get these challenges that pop up from time to time and you’ll unlock the character if you complete them. It’s a way to keep rewarding the players and engage them.

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[author]

Interview – War For The Overworld

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War For The Overworld is a new isometric, real time dungeon strategy game by Subterranean Games. A Kickstarter funded project, the game may seem like a very familiar one but this group of super fans are working to make a new game that is better than the one that drew them towards the project in the first place. Sean spoke with Josh Bishop, the CEO and Creative Director of Subterranean Games in Shoreditch, London to find out more.

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How hard is it going to be for people not to call it Dungeon Keeper HD? You’ve got a lot of inspiration from a lot previous games that are very good and you seem to have brought that well in to this game. How have you come about that?

To be perfectly honest, that’s what we set out to do. We started as a group of fans of Dungeon Keeper on a Dungeon Keeper fan site and there hadn’t been a Dungeon Keeper game released in 10 or so years when we first wanted to do this. We liked it so we thought let’s do this.

[It's hard to tell if it's a dungeon or a night club. They're the same thing though... Right?]

[It’s hard to tell if it’s a dungeon or a night club. They’re the same thing though… Right?]

A lot of people say things like “holes in the market” but there hasn’t really been any dungeon games or building games in this vein for a while. That must have been quite an attractive proposition for the community when you started your Kickstarter and getting everything together.

Kickstarter certainly has seen a big surge in games like this. In the past two or three years there’s been a lot in those genres that hasn’t really existed for the past ten years and suddenly it’s all come back. Which is cool because we love those games. So we’re happy.

And you’re managing to do it on a PC platform rather than having to bastardise it for any kind of mobile platform or anything else. Which must be quite good as a programmer.

Yes. It is nice. PC first always. PC, Mac and Linux.

How did you go in to the design process for this because obviously you had a pretty good inspirational template?

We’ve all been playing Dungeon Keeper for a very long time. We know what we like about it and what we don’t like about it. We’ve played plenty of other games that are similar to it, other God games and other RTS games. So for the longest time we’ve thought” Dungeon Keeper would be so much better if… this.” And that’s where we started. We use that as our ground work and we went through and anything we felt could be improved upon, we improved upon it. We didn’t start somewhere else, we started there and we didn’t want to change things for the sake of changing things. We wanted to improve.

It’s going to be very hard for people to disassociate the two games as they are very similar, despite the time difference, but this is a very different that’s almost an homage. You’ve got Richard Ridings for the voice narrator, you’ve got the stylistic choices in the way the game operates and in the humour… How difficult was it for you to separate and create your game?

It wasn’t too difficult. We wanted to build on the gameplay that had been laid out. We weren’t really looking to copy from a stylistic standpoint, legally and because it’s dated. From an artistic standpoint we started with the gameplay and followed from there from the ground up. So the visuals more than anything is where we differentiate at face value. The deeper you go, there are quite a few mechanical differences like the tech tree.

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn't order the "Flaming Prince"]

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn’t order the “Flaming Prince”]

A lot of God games can give you those kind of options on a plate, so the tech tree allows more strategy to be involved.

That’s because we wanted it to work in multiplayer. Traditionally God games aren’t multiplayer things so it’s kind of ok to just give people everything in a sandbox. But we wanted to bring that RTS angle in to it so there’s some sort of strategic choice and so it can work in multiplayer.

Quick fire questions. Favourite Minion:

The Chunder

Favourite room:

The Arena, that’s pretty cool. The Crypt also looks pretty cool.

I just saw The Archive and that looked cool. Especially close up when you’ve possessed someone, looking at the book and the writing on it. How much attention to detail do you pay to the little quirks and humours touches that people may not necessarily notice?

Quite a lot, the thing with this over other RTS and other top down games, is that they don’t have a first person view. We do. So we have to design everything from a birds eye and a first person perspective. We’ve had to keep things relatively efficient so the character models aren’t as high poly as you might see in other things but we scale that quite a lot. But the texture are made at a high resolution so if your PC can handle that then you can go and look at how cool it is. We did have a play with an Oculous Rift just to try it. It isn’t in the game and isn’t supported, but it did look really nice when we played around with it.

So when you’re in your remote offices, what do you do to get to your inner evil designing mode? Do you put on some thrash metal and sacrifice goats at an alter?

We all have cats on spinning chairs so we can turn around with crazy laughter.

[In the Tavern you'll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

[In the Tavern you’ll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

You have to have a sense of humour to work on a game like this though, right?

I guess it’s different from person to person. I know our writer can zone out for days before he comes back. Sometimes people communicate a lot, it’s quite a varied bunch of people we have. I don’t know if there are any teams that operate entirely remotely that are our size. There’s 15 of us from Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, to Europe and the US, all the way around the world.

So that goes to show that there is a worldwide desire and demand for games like these?

Especially in Germany. Germany is such a huge market for this type of game.

Where do you see yourself post-release with the game, as you’re all community based so you know what kind of things the community would expect?

There’s a couple of things we’re already planning. Firstly there’s the early adopter bonus so anyone who buys it in the first month of release will get the first DLC for free. We’re doing that as an alternative to pre-order bonuses as we still want people to buy the game early and at full price but we don’t want people to commit to it without seeing a review or whatever. And we don’t want to feel like there’s content being held back for people who don’t pre-order the game. We’re hoping that’ll be out in June but we aren’t great with deadlines. The second is the flex goal content. So during the Kickstarter campaign we had our milestones and for every one after our main goals, we were going to allow our backers to vote on what content they wanted. That vote is still going so we’ll see what content will be next.

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War For The Overworld is due to be released on April 2nd 2015 for PC, Mac and Linux.

[author]

How Video Games Tackle My Misanthropy

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The closest words I could find to describe myself in regards to this article was ‘misanthrope’ and ‘nihilistic’, and yet that’s still not entirely accurate. Technology has progressed to a level that can propagate genuine fear in the human psyche. Not the ‘50s sci-fi death robots or the ‘70s Bond movie machines-of-destruction fear, but the Phillip K. Dick-esque psychological fears. The warnings of a futuristic society broken by humanity, like those played out visually in Charlie Brooker’s inspired dark satire, Black Mirror. Which is why when I see the Microsoft Hololens that was announced a few weeks back, I can’t help but imagine then bad things that it could do. The kind of salacious things that someone like Paul Veerhoven would put in a movie as an aside like a virtual, holographic erotic dancer, being viewed by a Dad of three at breakfast – living the subterfuge of the happy families lie.

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It’s not that I don’t trust the technology, but I don’t trust the operator. Which is why you could call me a misanthrope. But my opinion is that the human species are survivors and work to create the best things under the pressures of extinction and unity. In an age where I can walk 300 yards and pick up a box of Strawberries in mid-January, I feel more removed from any kind of human condition than I suspect I ever would have in previous generations. Which is why there is an escapism that I practice in video games. The escapism of the open-world dystopian/fantasy role-playing game or the escapism of a destroyed earth that you must walk to survive. Heading from realm to realm regardless of if its fiction is magical or futuristic.

If I were to list my favourite games of all time I would be sure to add Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Halo to that mix. Halo has a futuristic science-fiction world that borrows from many of the genres greatest tropes and presents them in a way that, while militaristic and brimming with bravado, creates the impression that there is more out there. The impression that there is more history to uncover, more secrets to be known and things more important than just throwing our DNA out to every planet with an excess of oxygen. Red Dead Redemption places itself in a changing world that operates like a Cormac McCarthy book. Its turn of the century gentrification and modernisation of the Wild West puts in to perspective how the elements of human greed and corruption have created such fallout that to live a simple, rewarding life is no longer possible and to survive in the 20th Century, some elements of the past must be destroyed to forge that.

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It’s this kind of connection I make to these games that makes me invest in the character I’m playing. Not because of divine or fatalistic consequence but because a situation has made this person rediscover what it means to be a human in some way. With Skyrim the free nature of how you can create your own story, whether it is through emergent gameplay or in an intertextual way through the game’s fiction, completely places you in that world. It’s a world at war with political allegiances astray all over, the threat of large creatures destroying everything and ancient history restoring or upsetting the balance by placing you at the centre of it. The same can be said for the way that Fallout 3 operates within its own fictional world.

To bring this in to a more recent context, the same can also be said for the Dragon Age series and the latest title, Dragon Age Inquisition. Dragon Age allows you to create someone who is fatalistically placed in the centre of a predicament but the way you make choices in this world is a lot purer, if you will, than your modern day life or even many similar games. When you make choices to peruse a relationship with another character in the game, it isn’t because their dowry will be rather large or because moving in together will save a lot more money in rent. It’s because you’ve decided that particular person is someone you want to get to know, to invest in, to discover. Like love and the forging of relationships should be. When you make the decision of which members of your party should come with you, it’s because they bring the best chance of survival and the best talents to that situation.

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It’s much more meaningful and dramatic compared to working on a PowerPoint as a team which you end up having to cover 75% of anyway. This is why so many people have replayed all of these games. Especially Skyrim and Dragon Age. Because there is the submission to playing the role presented before you that allows you to rise above the day-to-day postmodern nihilism that we live in. It’s the same reason people read books or view masses of DVD box sets and Netflix series. It’s even the same reason that people follow, attend and submit themselves to sports and the vast arenas they are played in; to be part of something bigger.

This is obviously escapism but because I write about games and have a passion for them, much like people do for movies, music, and other hobbies (for lack of a better word), I feel I have a much larger investment intellectually in them. So that I can see what parallels they have to our current human condition, or more to the point how the evolution of that condition has robbed us of the simpler, more honest notions in life. This misanthropy may be borne out fear but in the current context of cyber crime, viral news cycles, click bait and the anti-humanistic oppression that interconnectivity can bring, it is video games I turn to in order to remind myself of what humanity truly can be at its best and sometimes its worst. I think that is something we all need, even if video games aren’t the way you get it. Books, drama, theatre, however you remind yourself, anything is equally valid as long as you take away something human from it.

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[author]

TheGameJar Awards: 2014 – YOU DECIDE!

TGJ AWARDS 2014

The title says it all ladies and gentlemen. Through two weeks of messaging, talking and editorial brain churning, TheGameJar crew have narrowed down their choices for TheGameJar Awards 2014.

There are ten categories and this includes the obvious and the not so obvious choices. You may disagree with some of them. Please feel free to debate this on Facebook or on Twitter. In fact we encourage it.

Normally we decide ourselves on what we think has been best for us for the year. But this year, we decided it was time to let you, our faithful, beautiful, kind, excellent readers have a bite at the award giving cherry.

For the first time on TheGameJar, you get to decide who wins EVERY AWARD. Yes we’ve shortlisted it but the power is in YOUR HANDS. It’s like The X-Factor for games except less hair gel, less pay-to-win fixing and less Dermot O’ Leary having to keep a straight face.

A few things you need to know, everything is completely anonymous, it’s one entry per computer and the closing date for this is Midnight on January 1st 2015. So you have eleven days to cast your votes!

Below you’ll find the survey embedded in to the page, or if you can’t see it, CLICK HERE!

Choose wisely and good luck to everything we’ve shortlisted. Their fate is in your hands.

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What’s Next For Resident Evil?

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Resident Evil has been mentioned quite a lot recently. In the normal run up to Halloween and when any survival horror game is released, the game of PlayStations past is invoked as if grand royalty has entered this panicky jump-ridden realm. It has also come up because of The Evil Within, a game that our writer Andy reviewed most positively, as Resident Evil creator/director Shinji Mikami was at the helm of that production.

But we have two new Resident Evil releases that are due early next year, thankfully not movie franchise releases that have been ruined by Paul W.S. Anderson, although one is coming apparently. You know if you look at the movies in his repertoire, you might not be shocked to see how bad that series of films are. But the guy did Event Horizon, I mean how much more intensely atmospheric do you want to get? You’d think Resident Evil would be in safe hands… I’ve digressed.

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We will be receiving the next generation spin off Resident Evil: Revelations 2 in 2015 along with the remake of the remake. The GameCube’s remaster of the original Resident Evil game is getting yet another remaster to bring it up to next generation standard. On Halloween, the lovely guys at Capcom invited us to their offices to try the games out and see what we thought. Bribes were only provided in the form of fizzy drinks and seasonal Krispy Kreme’s.

Firstly, let’s tackle the remaster. You’d be forgiven for asking why this is happening. It seems like games publishers are torn between what us as gamers want and what us as gamers want… Bear with me here. On the one hand, despite our critical moaning about a lack of creativity in big game producers to come up with new ideas, we do like to see the games we love brought up to date and given a new lease of life. We want be able to show them off to our current significant others as to why this was a life changing game for us and not get laughed out of our relationship because of the now very dated graphics and hilarious FMV cutscenes. So this edition of Resident Evil kind of satiates that itch.

The game plays exactly the same way as the GameCube version does with an upped resolution although the textures and general artistic design are basically a complete port with some shine on them. If you’re looking for a new look and angle for the game you love, this probably isn’t it. Unless of course you never played the GameCube version, in which case, this is definitely for you. The thing is of course that nothing’s changed, but ultimately you don’t want that much change. There is the option to go full retro controls, or “WHERE’S MY F**KING ANALOGUE STICKS???” controls as I like to call them. Which is actually quite a nice reminder of how much better and more patient you used to be at playing video games. You can of course update it to use the sticks and that makes for an interesting experience. The stick controls highlight how the newer technology is adapted to the older games control and movement methods, which is rather strange as they suit the turning and running but the rest of the controls don’t exactly compliment them. It’s something you get used to of course but is a learning curve to start with.

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The option to have the original FMV sequences is there although you should probably only do that if you’re the kind of person that regularly searches their TV’s channel guide function for the worst that SyFy, Horror and Movies For Men has to offer on a lonely Tuesday with a 2 for 1 pizza offer in the wings. The game is a great reminder of how games were and how the mechanics they used would scare the crap out of you.

In fact, it’s a great experience in seeing how good the original game was in inventory management, atmospherics (although it does feel a tad too bright for me) and how to navigate complex controls under panicked stress. It will certainly bring back good memories and if you’ve missed it before, and it looks worthy of being added to your collection.

On the other hand, there’s those of us that love the genre and what the franchise can bring, and so we want to see new things. More new ideas, more new environments, puzzles and games. NEW, we tell you, NEW! And so we have Resident Evil Revelations 2, the sequel to 2012’s Revelations. We’re in to the realms of all things third person now which is great because that naturally goes very well with survival horror. But it does make me lament for the sometimes obstructive but much more terrifyingly voyeuristic cameras that the original game has. This game has moved away from 2012’s nod to the Resident Evil lore and becomes a bit more of its own entity.

No more Jill and Chris in the demo we played. This time we get Claire Redfield and Moira. Moira’s gift with the more colourful expressions of the English language make this game hilarious at times, and undoubtedly will involve many different versions of certain lines having to be used. In all the new generation glamour of dirty abandoned places being wonderfully sharp in resolution, you can enter a new world of hunting for ammo and supplies, crafting magical herbs that heal you and, more importantly, seamless swapping between characters to your advantage. The way you move between your two protagonists to solve puzzles AND give yourself more inventory space is excellent. It’s like Skyrim’s companion but much more useful. She’ll find things with her torch skills and run distractions for you as you take on headshot duty.

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The enemies kind of move between your traditional slow moving big powerful zombie and super fast crazy psycho zombies, the ones you don’t want in real life. But fighting them makes you think about your ammo usage. You can’t just unload your gun in to one guy and then pick up more ammo. No this resource is scarce and more enemies will come, so you have to think about how to use your tools and your environment to your advantage. Especially where there are traps that can be used and different enemy weaknesses.

The demo we were thrown in to made us feel like it was some crazy Saw-like adventure. You have no idea what was happening and whilst your character remains quite resolute under this pressure (less so than Moira) you begin to get intrigued as to why you are here and what the hell is happening.

It’s this more contemporary take on the survival horror tropes that make Revelations 2 quite intriguing. You’ve got the quality and design hallmarks of Resident Evil but you’ve also got the inspirations from other successes like The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. The series has moved on a lot from the Romero inspired house of horror that the original, and the remake, and the aforementioned remake of the remake, provide. It almost feels that a different branch of the universe, one that doesn’t have to be stuck in the lore of the other games and characters, is begging to emerge and mature. Whilst it is tied by name and situation, it appears to be quite free. The only thing I’m finding is that there is potential for it to get a bit long in the tooth. There’s a very strange lock picking mechanic that I’ve never seen used before and, quite honestly, I can see why. It’s not awful and once you’ve done it a few times you’ll get the hang of using both analogue sticks to find an unlock point and tapping R1 to activate it, but it certainly could be more user friendly. The controls come in that weird backward option where X is back and Square is confirm (although I’m sure that will change for western audiences) and eventually it will become second nature to you rather than you screaming “What in the Cock is that?” in early game frustration.

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Both games should be out in 2015 and the last part of this year has raised the horror genre into interesting territory. The Evil Within has given us more of the same updated for a new generation and Alien Isolation has given us the ultimate in terror, crafting and very little action whilst still delivering an atmospheric game. There’s said to be a new Alone in the Dark in the works and newer first person games like Outlast and Daylight have taken the genre to a different area.

But Resident Evil looks safe and appears to be satisfying both of the fans demands. Bear in mind that we are now around 22 games in to this franchise so you could forgive it for getting a little stale or similar. However Revelations 2 should be an interesting experiment in to where the series should go next and Resident Evil’s release will certainly nod us in the direction of the series forefathers and make us want to experience the new.

[author]

Are too many games broken on release? Discuss!

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Broken games aren’t anything new, although it does seem that we have had a glut of them in recent months. Assassin’s Creed Unity looks set to join the post-development woe befalling Halo’s Master Chief Collection and DriveClub. But has it always been this way for games to be released with problems?

In a word, yes. Sadly the game medium and the ease publishing downloadable updates to consoles have seen game publishers rigidly stick to their release dates in order to fill their quarterly reports, at the expense of bad press and consumer dissatisfaction. It feels all too apparent in recent times though. Here are a few reminders of the last 12-18 months of game release failures. [divider]

SimCity

brokengame1 Those who recall the long wait for a £60 pound persistent online game only to find that they were only persistently trying to connect to EA’s servers will lament this well. It was made even worse for Mac users who had to not only wait an age for their release but for the problems to be solved as well. Was the game broken? Well there were parts of it that were, and certainly still are. A new engine and new AI was being patched quite a lot in the end to stop itself from doing silly things but for the most part (apart from the always online design flaw and small development areas) the game was fine. But the release of the game turned into a complete farce for EA.

Given that the game was “always online” and there was no offline mode, it was the lack of servers that surprisingly foiled EA’s release. The back end infrastructure they had in place couldn’t handle the amount of people who were wanting to play, nor the data it was supposed to store, leading to a long process of issues, apologies and modifications. EA had to give away a free game, Maxis had a tail between their legs and had to release certain things for free that would have made good DLC and they had to implement an offline mode after the mod community showed how easy it was to implement. Never one to be bested by such setbacks, EA did exactly the same thing six months later…

 

Battlefield 4

brokengame2 The release of Battlefield 4 actually started a lawsuit against people who appeared to be raising the game’s praise to shareholders erroneously in order to generate satisfactory financial reports. But us gamers don’t care about all that suit nonsense, we care that once again, EA’s servers were not up to the task of online play. Bugs galore as people could run around with no health and kill you, the promise of big destructible landscapes and buildings were hard to find, lots of graphical glitches and all this was only an issue if you could even connect to a server in the first place to play the game.

Personally, I found Battlefield 4 quite uninspiring as a single player game although I enjoyed the online play as by the time I’d got to it, the multitude of patches and fixes had been implemented and the multiplayer game was playable. But around its launch, very public and very damning issues beset it. Exactly who is to blame here is tricky as there seems to be quite the administrative level fallout over this, but EA once again were at the centre of the storm and directly addressing it calling the situation “unacceptable”. Two bad online releases in a year is obviously the button pusher in the EA head offices. Speaking of fallout…

 

Fallout: New Vegas

brokengame3Ok, so this game goes further than the 18 months but still, it’s worth putting in here. This game was bugged from release. I know this, which is why it’s on my gaming rack still in its cellophane wrapping. As gamers, we tend to forgive Bethesda’s mistakes in game development because of all the things they get right in their games, but this game makes my little reminisce due to it being the most bugged of them all. Fallout 3 was not without its issues and PS3 Skyrim players will recall the game breaking memory issues and save deletions.

Fallout New Vegas also had the same issues and was prone to a multitude of crashes, textures not loading properly, framerate issues, characters running away, item and character clipping, characters heads doing strange things, incorrect gender character noises, to name but a few. There’s a big old list of all the bugs on the wikia page for the game and you could summise that this is why we’re waiting a long time for another Fallout game, or a proper Elder Scrolls successor. The engine definitely needs a lot of work to be up to the scrutiny of a new generation of consoles and maybe that’s why Bethesda are being quiet about it. But that hasn’t stopped them, oh no…

 

The Evil Within

brokengame4 Bethesda’s most recent release is a fine game. It looks excellent and has only the minimal of bugs, like the headless character bug pictured. It’s a survival horror treat that is worth the time and the day one patch. If you don’t have the day one patch however, the game is a completely different story. Digital Foundry did some snooping after a couple of reports of bad frame rates, but that was just the start of the horror. The out-of-the-box version of the game is a mess. The resolution of the game is a heavily upscaled resolution that is nowhere near the 1080p or 900p it’s supposed to be for the PS4 and Xbox One respectively and is stretched to fill the screen. It also suffers from massive framerate drops, the likes of which you’ve probably only seen on a heavily overworked Minecraft server.

The patch completely changes this to a playable game. But what gets me is that the developers had time to fix this for the release edition until the game’s release was brought forward a week (presumably to cash in before Alien Isolation came out). The patch, given how much it fixes, is a monumental effort by developer Tango Gameworks. It’s definitely worth checking out the videos that Digital Foundry put up as it really does highlight the issues the retail version of the game has. To release a game in that condition is simply just not cricket…

 

Ashes Cricket 2013

brokengame5 Yes these links are getting worse. But no worse than the only game in this piece that was actually removed from sale. It even made national news due to its failure. Ashes Cricket 2013 is probably the reason that you won’t see a cricket game for quite a long while. 505 apologised and issued refunds, Steam pulled the game from sale and the console versions didn’t even appear. Why? Because the AI was awful, the character models were missing key things (such as an animation for catching the ball) and the players ambled around in such a manner that Tecmo Bowl looked superior in playability.

Everything about this game was poor although the development was just as sketcky, moving to the Unity engine and then back again, being delayed twice and only released to try and cash in with its titular sporting series in Australia back in November 2013. All in all the story of this game is quite tragic really and just a cacophony of errors that will probably see Cricket languish in video game development hell, much like Rugby has for the most part in the past decade.

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The thing is that all games release with bugs and as console gamers, we probably feel a bit precious about it given that we expect for our £50-60 outlay a satisfactory and, above all else, a ready product. And releasing games into a retail environment (that includes all the digital stores too) that are effectively broken or heavily bugged, just to make the demands of agreed times and publisher’s quarterly estimates, is quite abhorrent. That maybe a slightly cynical viewpoint though as PC gamers of all ages will know that games can be and are regularly patched to combat these problems. They always have been and they always will be. But the fact that we’ve had quite a few big name problems within the space of a week is quite damming.

brokengame6 Of course Microsoft have always had this date due to the nature of its anniversary package for Halo and the game in all honesty is intended to be a much needed unit shifter for the Xbox One. In fairness to them, the single player element of the game is fine there are just a lot of teething issues for quite a vast and probably the largest options of a multiplayer experience to date. Assassin’s Creed Unity is suffering from a number of graphical glitches in character models as well as world clipping issues. The game has already irked some due to its drop from 1080p to 900p in what is perceived to be cross platform parity. But the game has quite the demanding and technically difficult task of simultaneously processing 10,000 AI controller non-playable characters so that the experience of the crowd is more real and genuine. It’s no small matter given the processing power needed for that and what the consoles can achieve at present with how new the technology is for developers. DriveClub’s issues just seem to be poor choices that have been made at a management level to the game’s infrastructure and, if we’re honest, just a complete shambles from pre-launch to now, which is a shame for Evolution Studios.

While these bugs are certainly taking away from the game experience, and do invalidate our confidence in a publisher to develop a complete package for our hard earned electronic wealth numbers, do they constitute such a breach of trust between the consumer (us) and the developer/publisher (them) that we should be up in arms, or should we just back off a bit? After all this is all new ground for everyone, right?

Please feel free to leave comments, post on Facebook or tweet @TheGameJar and let’s talk about this.

[author]

The Game Jar’s Scariest Gaming Moments

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We don’t get scared. None of us do… Ok, well we might actually get a bit scared, especially when it comes to video games. So, given that it is Halloween, we’ve asked out writers to give us a moment of their gaming life when they experienced their scariest moment in video games. There’s no red rings of death or end level crashes here. No, we’re talking about the atmospheric, jumping, heart in mouth moments that only the immersive nature of video games can provide you. So here are our team of delicate souls that we call writers who have spilled their honest guts about how they’ve had to check their undergarments thanks to the scariness of video games. Feel free to tell us your scariest moments and memories too on Twitter and Facebook.

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Paul

When Sean first asked me to write about my scariest moment in video games. One thought sprung to mind – Duke Nukem Forever. However after taking my medication to help resolve the mental state recalling such a monstrous memory. Sean explained that it was meant to be a horror game – and then threatened to unleash the devils horde upon me for not complying. (*cracks whip*- Ed)

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With such encouragement I have been able to think of another scary moment. One that did indeed occur from a horror game and for the right reasons. I’m not normally one for horror games. I confess I’m not that big into horror what so ever, but there was one stand out moment for me though. One that made me jump from my chair and cry into my pillow at night.

The game in question was Dead Space. The moment was when I first heard the necromorph scurrying above my head in the ventilation system. The game was full of atmosphere, with its dark art style, clever shading and shadow work made you flinch at the slightest sound. I could hear the thing above me… I knew it was hunting me.

I felt the panic reaching out from the bottom of my stomach. I tensed, awaiting the inevitable fight that was to occur.
I was so captivated by the sounds of these alien monsters scurrying above me, I forgot to look around. When I did I fricking jumped! There was one of the monsters heading straight for me. I cut it down and then I heard a massive clang behind me. It was there right behind me. I nearly screamed with fright. Dead Space I salute you. You have been one of the few games that has scared the hell out of me and made me enjoy it!

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Tim

I, like many of you, have suffered through many a jump scare or an eerie moment. The sound of chainsaws and angry Spanish. The sudden appearance of Alma on the top of a ladder. James Sunderland sticking his hand into a toilet.

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But my scariest moment is a bit more of an existential dread: the first time I saw my dad playing Doom. Now, readers of this site surely know how deep and all-encompassing my love for Doom and its associated series is. It wasn’t always like that, dear reader.

My dad’s work always required him to have pretty good computers at home, and like any PC owner worth his salt he was always looking for the newest and most system-demanding games to test their mettle on. In 1992 (when I was, oh, five or six) there was no better game to test a PC with than Doom. He called some of his friends over and even let me stay up a little late to watch him play it, which I gladly did.

At first. This was clearly a BIG SCARY GAME FOR GROWN-UPS and I couldn’t deal with it. None of the monsters were cute! You used “real guns”! Everything bled! And the worst part was that it was in first-person, which terrified me in ways I couldn’t elaborate for years. In every other game I’d ever played up until that point, you could see the character. It wasn’t ME getting shot by robots, it was Mega Man, he just needed my help. Mario was the one going down pipes, not me.

Not so in Doom. All of that was happening to ME. Those monsters wanted ME dead. I pretended to not be scared until my mom told me to go to bed, and I didn’t sleep for days. I gradually forgave Doom, and it’s now my favorite game of all time. Partly in spite of how I was originally exposed to it.

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Andy

I should have known. The minute I walked in, the atmosphere became even more oppressive than it had been already.

Dark became darker. Unease became panic. Dead became undead.

I knew that those bodies – strewn all over the area and seemingly lifeless – would soon rise, but it was still a horrifying moment when it happened, exacerbated by the fact that the only weapon I had wasn’t really meant to be a weapon at all. Hell, I’d been using it to play basketball, no more than 30 minutes beforehand.

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Not only was I going to have to fight my way through, but I was going to have to do it through sheer improvisation. I quickly scanned the room for anything that could be used. All I found were circular saw blades and gas canisters. Far from ideal, but better than nothing.

I heard that first familiar moan and instinctively picked up a saw blade, blindly firing it. Got lucky. Took the head off first time, but that was only the beginning. Soon, several more surrounded me. I began picking up anything in close proximity. Blades, canisters, broken bits of wood. I gradually navigated my way through the area, and I could see my goal. A large elevator that would take me to safety.

So, of course, it wasn’t going to be that easy. Between me and that elevator lay several more of them. To be honest though, I was starting to feel a little confident. I strode forward with purpose.
And that’s when they came. Holy s**t, what the hell were they? Why were they moving so quickly? I ran as fast as I could to the elevator. In it was a single flammable barrel. I picked it up, swung round and fired in one fluid motion.

Only, one of them was right in front of me as I did. It wasn’t the only thing to die.

And that’s why we don’t go to Ravenholm…

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Alex

I’d like to preface this by admitting that I’m a coward. I don’t watch horror films, I rarely touch horror games. Please bear that in mind when I say that my scariest game moment came when playing TimeSplitters 2. Y’know, the cartoonish, silly, fast-paced PS2 classic which nobody else found even remotely scary? Yeah, that one. To a kid not well-versed in horror, even trope-filled horror spoofs can be terrifying.

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The first level was set in a Siberian dam, the mission deliberately giving off a James Bond kind of vibe. The opening cutscene hinted at the impending zombie menace, but I was brave, right? I could handle it. I settled in, sneaking around the base, offing masked guards and taking out security cameras with my silenced pistol. Twelve year old me was beginning to feel like a badass. And then it all went wrong. I take out all of the guards in an operating theatre, easy enough. The doors lock, the lights go out and all the guards get up and come after me. Except this time they want to eat my face. To finish the level, I have to head underground into zombie infested tunnels. Tame as this undoubtedly was to veterans of Resident Evil, Silent Hill and other, genuinely scary games, I was really, really uncomfortable. Something about the shambling gait, the stumble to avoid your panicked shotgun blast, the unexpectedly fast lunge towards you scared the hell out of me.

It didn’t help that at that time I had a propensity for getting lost in games and wandering around to try and find what mission trigger I had missed. Roaming around lost, with my fear of more zombies jumping out at me made me end up skipping that mission altogether, using a cheat code to get to the next level. Which, as it turns out, was even creepier and packed with more ghouls. I like to think that I’ve got tough since then. I can handle the first 5 minutes of Outlast, no sweat. Just don’t ask me to play any longer than that.

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Chris

I begin this tale of fear and heavy metal shame in a similar manner to some of the other writers here; I’m too cowardly for horror games. Because of this I avoid them, throw a little sci-fi in the mix and I might be forced to give it a look. Chances are, though, I’m going to avoid your game/film/tv series/slam poetry evening if it’s going to make me jump. Now pop on this Halloween themed hat I bought you, sit down listen to my tale. Don’t tell anyone, though, this is just us talking here, as friends.

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So there I was, 17 years old, I’ve got long hair and mostly wear t-shirts that let you know what metal band I like the most (it was generally Strapping Young Lad). I wear steel toe capped work boots that are black, because that’s more metal and bad ass than trainers. Obviously, due to how metal it was, I bought Doom 3 when it came out for the original Xbox. I also decided that playing it with my equally long haired, heavy as a really heavy thing, metal loving buddy was a good idea. What a dope.

I feared imps and cyborg pig things but little did I know it was the very things that wanted to help which would be my undoing. I don’t even think I thought anything when I moved towards the item box, what a little idiot I was. “BONK!” the game shouted. I exclaimed “OH!” in a manner only acceptable from Princess Peach. As it fell out of my mouth time slowed and shame jumped out of a wormhole to consume me. My friend laughed. “That’s enough of you!” I said and turned the Xbox off, attempting to own my shame. The laughter continued. I traded Doom 3 in and never let horror darken my door again.

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Sean

I’ve been reliably informed that my previous scary moment in gaming, that of the Face-Hugger from the original Alien Vs Predator game, isn’t the fright that it once was. So I’ve been having to wrack my brain for something more scary than the jumpy, hardly seen, alien insemination creature jumping out at you.

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So my first port of call was to look at Doom 3 where the tales of people, including myself, playing the game in the dark and having the trousers almost literally ripped off them was unavoidable. But my first scares actually came from a now well know game series called Alone in the Dark. I was around 8 or 9 at the time and the games that you had weren’t realistic… At all. So in a strange way I think you immersed yourself more in to the game, into the story and in to the atmosphere. As Edward Carnby drove up to that spooky mansion and the midi soundtrack increased with fear, you went on edge a little. As you entered and the door slammed shut behind you and your character looks around, that was it. I was already scared. By the time you get to the attic and the monsters start trying to get through the trapdoor, banging at the blocked entrance (if you blocked it), that’s it. You’ve gone to get the toilet roll.

I’m not that much of a scary game player in so much as I’m not easily scared. No masculinity propping here, I just think it’s down to these early experiences. I still jump when Slender comes at you, when the girl in the bathroom in P.T. appears, when a head crab comes out of nowhere in Half Life, a creeper hissing behind you, and even occasionally when people do quiet memes that end with the screaming girl from The Ring (what a game that could have made). But if it wasn’t for Infogrames and their moody trilogy of games that undoubtedly inspired Resident Evil, then I would be cowering in the corner as soon as a Dragar jumped out at me in a Skyrim dungeon.

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LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Interview with Matt Ellison

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On this day of DC Universe fun, we got a second interview in as many months with TT Games about LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. This time, Sean got some extended time to sit down with producer Matt Ellison from TT Games to talk about all the new things we’ve seen.

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We’ve just seen a lovely demo of the game, including London looking spectacularly small, Paris looking spectacularly small and Pisa looking very straight. What inspired you to go away from America and in to Europe with these levels?

It was always designed to be Europe actually. We do have Gotham as well so that’s American-ish. But it was an opportunity to show different things and different sights. It was really cool to be able to put London in there because we’re a UK developer and it was something we really wanted to do. Obviously Paris is very iconic and Piza with the leaning tower is very iconic and some of the other sites. It’s all things that are very cool that people recognise from a very young age.

As you say it allows you to have fun with those landscapes, like the Battersea Power Station having a load of toxic waste in it.

Yeah, stuff like that and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, it’s very cool to be able to show these things that people recognise because it gives you a different attachment to it.

lb3p2 You’ve got a very extensive character and sub-character list. As there’s so many, how have you managed to nail down which ones you wanted to do?

There are a few different things that go in to how we come up with the list that we ended up with. The first thing is the story, so the story governs which characters are going to be front and centre. Then we have the LEGO side of things. LEGO make their playsets and we always try to include all of the playset characters in to the game so if someone sees it in the game they can buy the toys. Then there are the ones we wanted to include. Some of the most famous ones, some of the more obscure ones, some of the more colourful ones, quirky ones and then we talk to DC to find out what’s coming up, who’s big right now, who should we be including. And they send us all the reference for the character outfits so that we can make sure they’re accurate and representative of what they should be. On this game more than any other we’ve been listening to the public. Throughout the game development cycle, we’ve been asking what characters people wanted to see and a couple of those have been added fairly late to the roster, but there’s so many people asking for them, we’ve kind of snuck them in.

There are so many different suit and sub character options across all the characters, how do you limit yourselves to stopping getting an OP character.

Five of the characters have 8 suits; Joker, Lex, Batman Robin and Cyborg have those eight suits you can cycle in between. But they have all these different mechanics and visuals and the visual representation of what you have to do in the puzzles remains consistent. So there are different characters you’ll have access to who’ll be able to do different things and as you unlock them, you’ll notice which abilities you’ve got and what you’ll be able to work through. It’s traditional with the LEGO games so people should know what they need and when with the characters and we’ll give them as many abilities as we possibly can. But they are all accurate as to what powers they can do and what they should have.

It’s quite a good position for the DC Universe especially with 3 TV shows based off it and as you announced at the weekend, the Arrow DLC pack is coming too based on the TV show with Stephen Amell.

It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to include this kind of add on content, which is totally outside of the game. But there is a way in which we can do something on it, so we can have a level, we can have these characters and find a way to include them into this and be part of this experience. Arrow was announced at the weekend and there’s The Dark Knight/Man Of Steel and you don’t normally get those kinds of opportunities – no one has done a Nolan Batman game before. So that’s the first time that’ll be able to be seen and we’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to get the chance to do it.

You’ve been lucky as well to use different things from different studios and franchises, including the soundtrack, from Danny Elfman to John Williams. It must be quite good to have that freedom?

The Danny Elfman music we’ve used on previous LEGO Batman’s as well and it’s sort of tied to our Batman now, it’s part of his identity. But, as you hear that, it’s great that we have the relationship with that and it’s good that people are starting to relate it to our Batman. The John Williams theme from Superman is a must from LEGO Batman 2, that was fantastic and we had to include that again. Being able to add that to Wonder Woman as well is quite cool and again it’s something that people remember, especially that older audience we have. The younger kids probably aren’t going to know that so it’ll be something that the parents will recognise and be able to educate them a little bit about the history behind it. lb3p6

There’s a lot of artistic freedom with the game because you’ve gone outside of the confines of Gotham. How do you approach the new world that’s not as obvious on the page of the comics? 

It is slightly different. We knew we wanted to make this game when we were doing LEGO Batman 2 so at the end of it we teased it by having Braniac say that he’s located the Green Lantern’s power ring. So we knew that we wanted to go in that direction. The Lantern worlds have so much stuff in them, the planets are so unique all with different vibes to them, lots of different enemies to encounter – visually they all look very different which works very well in a LEGO game having all these different colours and all the Lantern Rings, it was quite effective to replicate visually. So it’s just a great opportunity to be able to explore the wider reaches of it all. You’ve got the Watch town and the Hall of Justice as well so there’s lots of places for people to enjoy.

You’re all big fans of the DC Universe in the studio, what’s been your favourite parts?

I like the characterisation of some of the characters we have in this game. Solomon Grundy is probably my favourite addition of the new ones. The way he’s animated is just fantastic, walking around like he’s a zombie – he’s very funny. Just being able to include more of these characters I think is the best thing because we’ve got 3 times the characters we had in LEGO Batman 2, there’s just so many of them in there. Like Polka Dot Man, Condiment King, they seem so random but in a LEGO game they just add to the humour and add to the fun of it.

With the voice acting talent you’ve got Troy Baker back as Batman so you’ve got quite the talent behind the characters as well. 

LEGO Batman 2 was the first LEGO game to have voice acting in it, we brought Troy Baker back for this because he’s fantastic, it’s a bit of a no brainer. The voice acting is something we’re really pushing so we want to make it as good as it can possibly be. So there’s much more script, we’ve got Josh Keaton doing Green Lantern, Scott Porter doing Aqua Man and even Adam West doing voice overs for the game, it all adds to the authenticity of the game and adds to the weight behind it when you’ve got guys that really know what they’re doing.

Especially with Adam West it must be good for his amazing alliterative, totally tantalising dialogue that he’s got going on during this. And his era is replicated even down to the comic book “Kapow!” phrases and noises from the 60s Batman.

The 60s stuff is brilliant and is by far the most in depth bonus level we’ve ever done. That was really something we went all out on. Again it is just an amazing opportunity and was always on the wish list to try and do. So to suddenly have it happen is just fantastic for us because it’s the origins of Batman from the mainstream platforms. And it’s just fantastic having him voice it, having those “Kapow!’s”, having the Batusi dance… It all adds to it and people who know that Batman will love it and even those who don’t, it will still be bright and colourful and brilliant for them to enjoy.

lb3p5 The game is coming out in November, how much do you think you’ve left out from what you wanted to put in?

I don’t think there’s anything possibly left out. By far this game got bigger and bigger and bigger the more we got in to it. The original concept of what this game was and where we ended up is far bigger than what it was originally going to be. Because these opportunities present themselves as you’re going through it. You know you think “wouldn’t it be great to add this” and you just do it. It just builds and builds and builds and we’re so pleased we’ve got a massive game at the end of it.

I want to ask about Batcow, because that is very, very, very, very niche. So, why Batcow?

I believe the story goes: One of the designers said “We should put Batcow in the game.” And everyone said, “Who’s Batcow?” and then he showed a comic that had Batcow in and Batcow got put in to the game. I think it is almost that simple but it is a genuine thing that exists and it’s part of the humour that we have in LEGO games that we can do things that are obscure, chuck these things and widen the scope of the DC Universe in this game and it’s a very funny thing to be able to do. We’ve got lots of obscure characters in there but there are all the ones that people expect as well.

I’m guessing many other characters came about the same way.

Well, sometimes. We’ve got Manchester Black in this game because he has Manchester in his name and apparently comes from Manchester. So it varies and some of them DC said “these would be cool to include” and others people have been asking for them and we like to give people what they want. There are more than 150 characters in the DC Universe but the ones we’ve got we’re happy to have in this game.

Well if you used them all, you wouldn’t have a LEGO Batman 4.

[Laughs] Yeah, I dread to think where we can there.

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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be available on November 14th for Xboxb 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC and WiiU

[author]

The Rising Cost of Add-Ons and DLC

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Somewhere along the line, we lost faith as gamers that we were getting all that we paid for. Downloadable Content (DLC) has become a sticking point for many consumers who believe part of the game they paid for has been held back so the publisher/developer can milk some more heard earned coin from your digital pocket. This is regardless of the price, although this in itself has become more of a sticking point since the Next Generation consoles and game development costs have pushed the price of games up significantly in the past 24 months.

It also seems the higher costs appear to be based around publishers Activision and EA over most other publishers. How do I get that? Well I could have done some very deep research but the truth is that I didn’t have to. Here’s a list of Season Passes on the PS3 Playstation Store… Yes, there’s a dedicated section for them:

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  • Call of Duty Ghosts – £34.99
  • Alien Isolation – £24.99
  • Defiance – £24.99 (It is worth noting that Defiance is now a free-to-play game)
  • Sniper Elite 3 – £24.99
  • Destiny – £34.99
  • Battlefield 4 Premium – £39.99
  • GRID Autosport – £24.99
  • Assassins Creed 3 – £25.99
  • Assassins Creed 4 Black Flag – £15.99
  • Little Big Planet 2 DC Comics – £19.99
  • Borderlands 2 – £19.99

 

I’ve only selected some here. There are a lot that are free or that have dropped in price like The Last of Us. But it is easy to see why people are beginning to get angry when they are paying arguably the cost of a new game (based on internet retail prices) for DLC. This is a new area for retail where the availability of internet speed has basically made the retail space redundant for them to sell this extra content and they can price it as accordingly as they want.

Why do I mention the retail space? Because before DLC was the done thing, it was Add-Ons. In some cases they are still called that but the distinction for me in the current gaming industry vernacular would suggest that Add-Ons are physical copies of this extra content. This is something that has been in gaming for many, many years. Sonic and Knuckles was one of the first physical game add-ons although this was also a game in itself. Westwood had several different releases for the Command & Conquer series. Heroes of Might and Magic, Grand Theft Auto: London 1969, Half-Life… The list can go on and on.

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The biggest cash cow for this is undoubtedly the one that completely changed the market. It didn’t give the game much extra other than things to use in the game, and some extra spaces but that didn’t stop its rise to being one of the most profitable franchises in gaming history. The Sims had seven expansion packs which roughly retailed around $24.99/£19.99 from what I remember (I am looking for confirmation on prices and will update the article if they come). The Sims 2 had eight expansion packs and ten extra content packs. Although these all did add things to the games, if you had them all you would have spent well over $300 on getting them all. It’s hardly EA’s fault really. They had a product that people were willing to throw monumental amounts of money at and they said “fair enough”, and provided them with ways to do that. Regardless of your thoughts on EA, it was good business. And if the cost of their packages had an effect on the industry and kept prices stable then it would have been great. I suppose you could argue that historically, additional content for a game in the form of an expansion pack, or more common nowadays a season pass, has roughly been around half or 2/3 of the original game’s retail price.

That is possibly the problem though. There doesn’t seem to be any industry standard as to what a recommend retail price for add-ons or DLC should be. Partially because the content can vary so much as to what you get and partially because the publishers have to decide on the offset of profit versus development cost recovery. That’s sadly just business, any business. Regardless if us as gamers want to hear it, we should know that behind the art we love is a business that needs to survive under the insurmountable pressure of rising costs and international market difficulties. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for an argument or defending any one company here, but it needs to be said that there is a business behind us being provided with this entertainment.

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The problem with that business is that the regulation on it appears to be quite sketchy. PS Store, Wii Store, Xbox Live are all digital retail spaces. Physical retail stores (supermarkets, specialist retailers, etc) will also sell this content by code card. So there must be some portion of this that has to be compliant with fair pricing across the board. But the consumer does seem to get a bum deal out of all of this. When you buy Battlefield and Call of Duty (the latter arguably having the possibility to have the best selling game of the year, as it always does), you are paying around $44.99/£38.99 on average for the retail game and now with the next generation, that’s more like $64.99/£59.99. You expect to pay some money for some extra content but the amount of content that these games are providing, with mostly extra maps and gameplay modes (which the game must be ready to support at launch otherwise it’d be a major code rewrite), can cost a massive amount of money to the consumer in total. That’s not to say that you don’t get a lot of extra stuff though. In the case of Call of Duty Ghosts from Activision, the Onslaught, Devastation, Invasion and Nemesis packs (the Dynasty map is pictured), gives you 16 extra maps and some extra weapons along with episodic content for the Extinction series. In the case of Battlefield 4 from EA there are five extra packs, China Rising, Second Assault, Naval Strike, Dragon’s Teeth and Final Stand, making an additional 20 maps, three new game types and a load of extra weapons.

So much is available that the season passes seems to be the obvious way to get it all for a cheaper price. In the case of those two games (you can see the prices above on the Playstation Store list for the most recent releases) the season passes are nearly the price of another game. These are all for extra maps which you have no idea if you’d enjoy and in a way are forced to buy in order to continue your full enjoyment of the game. Why? Because someone WILL buy them and so will many others and if that stops your online enjoyment with everyone playing the new stuff you haven’t got then you either buy it or ditch the game. In the case of Xbox and Call of Duty, and Playstation with Destiny, these expansions are mostly exclusive to that console and the expansions are the selling point. Which when you think about it is a completely ridiculous concept when you just want to buy a game and could arguably be damaging to the industry. But again that is just business. Look at how television handles exclusivity of certain shows/licences to get subscribers to their packages or advertisers to their viewers, and how that’s damaged the public broadcasting sector.

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The price of those season passes you could argue is roughly in line with the price idea I made earlier and that the model is still fairly accurate; Half or 2/3’s of the original game’s retail price. But in the case of these games, like Destiny, we have no idea what we are getting for these season passes and if they quantify the amount of money we’re spending on them for the entertainment value we receive, regardless of work being put in. The two Destiny add-ons that are coming don’t appear to give us new planets or places to visit, but additional missions and story in the existing worlds. In fact we know so little about them that our cynicism is being unintentionally qualified. Watch_Dogs was another example of not knowing what the game will give us. We have a few extra modes for the in-game mini-games and now a new single player story add-on. But how much content is there that takes the developer more money than was already spent on the game at launch? How much money are these companies looking to make from the post-launch additional content? And how justified is it to market your game or your console’s exclusivity based on these maps/modes/skins/extras? Our cynicism is based around a game already having the additional content spaces ready and that the content we buy is merely assets for it, updates for it or just a patch that unlocks it. Before when this content was physically brought, we were kind of assured that there must be more than we had before otherwise what would be the point in having a new disk for it?

The rising cost of Add-Ons and DLC can partially be paired to the rising cost of games in general. But as the internet and journalism has begun to open the debate on this, and the gaming consumer becomes like any other consumer in a tricky economic climate, that being incredibly savvy and questioning, the conversation is only just beginning. Also with certain games being re-released with everything included some 12-18 months later for the same price as the original game, or with updated graphics for the new generation as well, this will add more focus on what makes good sense to a consumer. With the Christmas period around the corner and the publishers needs to release games on a yearly basis to maximise profit, we’ll see how this new generation handles the consumer when we feel that we are not getting enough for what we’re shelling out. I predict that some games will be guilty of doing less with their content in this regard and we can probably make predictions as to who will be more guilty than others. But in the next 12 months we’ll see how people will react to paying nearly 75% of the cost of the game for extra in that game, and I’m sure we’ll find out how much of that could have been included at launch.

[author]

Destiny – Two Weeks On

 

It’s been two weeks since Destiny burst forth into our lives and a week since the scores of reviews had their say on its confusing story and absolute beauty. So how have we all got on since we took our critical hats off and got down to playing the game for ourselves?

Well, frankly, excellently frustrating. That would be my two word comment. I got very lucky not long after our review was published and I got a legendary weapon drop. A Grim Citizen III auto rifle. This thing has been a fantastic help for all the missions I’ve played due to its power and I achieved level 24 very quickly… That’s when it stopped. Of course it can be done, as demonstrated by Twitch streamer N3AC3Y who not long ago became the first person to achieve level 30. But the road to light and legendary gear is filled with the grind of death.

Personally, this isn’t a terribly bad thing once you do something. This is something that you really need to let go of in order to actually accept the game’s MMO properties, and that is to realise that it isn’t Halo. It may feel like Halo, there may be sounds you recognise like the health bar regenerating and its low health alarm noise. There are even nods to Bungie’s former goliath on Mars with a Master Chief helmet shaped outpost (By the way, kudos to the person who found the Destiny easter egg in Halo 3: ODST. That made me grin a very large satisfying grin). But it isn’t Halo and you soon realise that, to coin phrases I hear on YouTube videos, the grind is real.

The reason I say that it isn’t a bad thing is because, compared to my experiences on World of Warcraft, EVE Online and other MMO’s, I’m actually having quite a lot of fun for the most part shooting the crap out of many heads/bodies/eyeballs in order to collect my bounties. The problem has come from how many times I’ve had to do the same missions to collect these on various difficulties. In fact around half of the strike missions now can be easily traversed within 10-15 minutes if you’ve got a good team. But the frequency of the drops of legendary gear, or higher light level armour at the least, is incredibly frustrating. Games like WoW have so much wikipedia presence that you could probably take a good guess at the available loot in a dungeon and what it will do to help you progress further, therefore choosing your experience to help you level how you want to or need to. Destiny does not have that.

There have been farming points noted by people, like the cave in the Skywatch area of the Cosmodrome which is a glorious alcove of drops, and doing the strike playlists help you to get those Vanguard Marks so you can buy the gear. But for the most part, it can be a long and repetitive struggle to up your level to a point where you can now do a raid… I haven’t yet been able to do a raid. There are lots of cool things that Bungie are doing though to keep our interest. The new Queen’s Wrath bounties (her of the strange Rift throne and jerk brother) give you another different way to collect tailored legendary loot outside of the crucible factions. There’s the now traditional “kill the devs” multiplayer fun which will earn you specific emblem kudos. My friend got an Exotic bounty randomly which will grant him a legendary or exotic item upon completion. So there are things there but personally, having been stuck at level 24 for nearly a week, the lack of progression is frustrating.

Which is why I think I’d have liked better rewards for finding the Golden Chests that are scattered about the four playable planets. Some are easier than others to find but more often than not, the loot is only a slight bit better than if you found normal chests. Another issue is the lack of anything in vast swathes of the Venus and Mars maps. Bungie have been excellent at utilising the space in other games to hide different things and, even though you can find the Ghosts for Grimoire rewards, there is a lot of places where sneaky and useful things could have been hidden. This is made all the more frustrating by the repetitive nature of the strike playlists at times. There’s only so many ways you can play the Summoning Pits on the Moon for only level 16 decoherent engrams when you’re a high level on a high level difficulty. Speaking of maps, I’ve found the lack of in-play maps to be quite frustrating too. Just to know generally where you are on a map, or where you’d like to go would be quite the addition. It’s a bit of a personal niggle because I enjoy looking at where I am when free roaming a world but the only accessible map is the tower map and that’s in the tower. I think we could do with some of the planets too.

Destiny’s patch updates have nerfed some of the difficulty in removing some ultras from the game. I’ll be honest, when I was starting at a lower level I agree that this probably needed to happen. And if my fireteam suddenly becomes two people instead of three then it does make quite large portions of high level strike missions incredibly difficult. But it is a bit sad because when you do have a challenge and your team pull together and create some kind of unspoken unity and tactics, even without voice chat and via random matchmaking, it feels very satisfying. So to lose those harder people is a bit sad. It’s a shame the game couldn’t just adapt its own difficulty dependent on the amount of people playing as well as their level but I’m guessing that’s a super technical thing to do so if nerfing is the answer then so be it.

Another thing that I have needed yet seem unable to find in drops is the Ascendant Energy needed to upgrade my super cool gun. I’ve got the high level drop of Ascendent Shards coming out of my ears but unless I find a random public event and get a daily reward, I seem unable to get them. I don’t know if this is because my level is too high so the game drops it less due to it being a lower level item, or if I’m not playing on the right difficulty level to get it. But suffice to say I’ve been six days into the final upgrades to my weapon without the energy I need and, whilst it shouldn’t be easy, it shouldn’t be this hard either.

I think when I’m playing Destiny with my friends and talking about it over our fireteam chat, the one thing that stands out is its potential. Whilst we have all these little niggles to what we feel is an excellent shooting game when we’re playing it, we still see the large areas where cool things could happen. Not where it could improve or where things could be nerfed. In fact the frequency of higher level drops is the only real gaming niggle at this stage that I really have. For all our moaning about the story, or to be more precise the lack of it, the game is more enjoyable to play at this stage because there isn’t any story in the narrative sense and you don’t even care about it anymore. If someone had just got this game, I’d say complete the story. Grind it out a little bit just to up your level and get the “things you have to do” element of it done as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Yes it’s a confusing story but in the scheme of Destiny’s later game, the one you’ll ultimately spend the most time doing, it is of practically no consequence and for your level, you’ll get a cool gun at the end. That maybe a slightly strange bit of advice when coming to a game, especially a Bungie one, but in a way the lack of narrative keeps the end game so open that we don’t really get closure and feel like we want stop playing. I have no idea if that is what was intended but in my case, that’s what they’ve achieved.

The game is still beautiful though so I’d recommend it purely for that and, two weeks on, I still want to play. I still want to max out my two subclasses, I’m still hunting trophies and despite the grind and the lack of drops for me. But that fact that I’ve managed to sink nearly two and a half days of total play in to Destiny, I can see myself staying for a long time. And if you have a group of friends that you can play with, or you have some fun experiences with a small randomly matched team and complete various missions, that is when Destiny is at its best. Because after all, there’s nothing better than having a dance off at the tower or between your friends after a successful strike.