Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam – Interview

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Christopher Brookmyre’s Bedlam is now out on PC, Xbox One and PS4. You can read Andy’s review of it here, but Sean has keenly followed the game’s progress over the past year and enjoyed his time with the game and its concept. He also a massive book nerd, so we got him to chat with the author of the book and the game, Christopher Brookmyre and ask him a few questions.

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Sean Cleaver: So how did this novel turn in to a game, and how did you decide to change the protagonist’s dynamic in both forms, book and game?

Christopher Brookmyre: A lot of it was assisted by the fact it was conceived of as one thing, when I was writing the novel I’d already written the outline for the game. So I was picturing a first person perspective, which is what you do when you’re writing a novel. You genuinely are picturing how the world looks to one character at a time. But when it came to adapting it for the game, it’s all about the dialogue at that point, because you can only describe so much. Obviously the level designers bring that to life so it was all about telling the story through the things characters were going to overhear and I think it’s quite satisfying to the player instead of them being held up and forced to watch a CGI cutscene, no matter how impressive the CGI cutscene is, you still feel like this is the bit where you’re no longer interacting with the game. You’re just watching something. I think it’s far more satisfying to the player if they are overhearing things. And not everything they overhear is necessarily relevant. I think that’s sometimes the trick, to give texture and detail to the dialogue to create characters but really kind of drip feed the clues as to what’s going on. The fun part with that was creating a character like Heather (Athena) and making her vulnerable and yet confident in herself at times. So it was a great vehicle for creative swearing, very, very well brought to life by Kirsty Strain.

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SC: That’s another interesting dynamic as you’ve got some of the cast of comedy show Burnistoun to voice the characters in the game, adding this very Scottish nuance to the vocal performances. How did that come about and how did you decide to change the lead character from the book in Ross Baker, to Athena in the game?

CB: I suppose the first stage was having decided to have a new protagonist. Having quite early on in the development we discussed how we didn’t want you to play as Ross Baker because I think if you’re playing as a character who’s story has already been told effectively, I think that kind of takes you out of it a wee bit, you like to think it’s you doing it. The point of reference we had very early on was how exciting it was when you played Half Life’s Opposing Force expansion pack when you occasional catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman who you played as before but you see that he’s still out there. And we thought that would be exciting for anyone who read the book to be in the same universe as the book and that Ross Baker would be in there too and you’d be trying to catch up to him. We thought it would be better if you felt like you were telling your own story. And I didn’t want to just create a whole new character, because I thought that would essentially be creating Ross Baker with a different name, so that’s why I thought I’d make it a woman and that will give me as a writer a whole new impetuous. The novel and the game is an affectionate pastiche of tropes and conventions of video games. So to make it from a female point of view gave it a whole new dimension for me. So I wrote it all out and I had great fun with it but at that point, I didn’t know who was going to play the character.

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I’d done some stuff on stage with Rob Florence. he was creating a section of the Glasgow film festival and he did a video game event with guests on stage, and we talked about the game. And every so often he’d get in touch and ask how it was going and how it was developing. It was one of those lightbulb moments and I thought “why don’t I ask him if he wants to do the voice?” And then when I thought about that, I thought what about Kirsty Strain? The thing that struck me was that these were people that did Sketch Comedy and in that you have to create many different characters. So I thought they’d be ideal for doing Bedlam because they might have to voice a few characters. As it happened they didn’t so much. Kirsty does a few other voices in there, but when you’ve got characters that you’re going to hear a lot of, you don’t want them to do too many voices.

We had a fantastic time doing it because it was one long day in a studio in Glasgow. Kirsty wasn’t quite as well versed in gaming so I would sometimes have to explain what it was that her character was reacting to or why she was saying it in the way she was saying it, but she just brought such qualities of vulnerability and charm to it that she nailed her lines. And in the afternoon that day when Robert was in we absolutely battered through that recording, and he at one point stopped me and said “are you not going to give me any direction?”, but because he’s so well versed in games culture he knew exactly what he was doing with every line, he was nailing every line first time. But that was a fantastic experience for me and almost every other voice in the game apart from those two is me, because we obviously didn’t have the budget for a massive cast. One of the god like voices you hear at some point in the Real Time Strategy world in the story is voiced by Harvey Summers who did the music and sound design for the game. But almost everyone else is me with various clever sound effects so it doesn’t all sound like me.

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SC: Of course the biggest thing in this is that you’re a gamer, so what kind of games are you playing now?

CB: The whole project was like a big love letter to games down the years. I can’t lay claim to being such a big gamer now in recent years, I know it sounds terribly grown up but I’ve just been so busy doing various novels and actually working on the game and everything that goes with it. But my son’s a big gamer so most of my gaming is done vicariously over his shoulder. Which means I do stay up to date with what’s going on but I don’t get to play as much. But I was hugely involved in the early, what I regard as pioneering, days of online gaming culture in the UK. I played in clans for Quake 2 and Quake 3. I’ve written about it quite a bit and what really appealed to me as a project was that I could really just write about the things I love. That’s something I’ve tried to do with lots of my books, is write something I’m passionate about.

I’m getting to see it but my son has his PC in the same room as mine. So I see what he’s playing but I’m really not getting to play much at all these days. Every so often there will be a gap in the schedule so I get to play something. So I played Alien Isolation, or cupboard simulator as I started to think of it, and that was terrifying. I think my glory days are brought out in the novel. Anyone who knows games will be able to see there’s a point at which whoever wrote this has ceased to evolve. Which is why there is very much an emphasis on the late 90s and early 2000s shooters in there. But I’m fascinated by what I do see and how much more sophisticated the games are able to get, and in that I suppose I’m talking about open-world games and RPGs. What amuses me about the FPS, as Bedlam is very much about the evolution of the FPS and it’s evolved in a lot of ways but there’s a lot of ways that it hasn’t evolved at all. I mean the gameplay dynamic of Doom is still in there and whatever FPS comes out next.

SC: So now you’ve seen it all brought to virtual life, what’s your favourite level in the game?

CB: Oh!, Well… I played a lot of the early levels far more because of how the early access structure allowed me to go through them. But for me the one I like the most is the Planetfire, the second of the Planetfire levels was kind of up in the clouds, because I like if anything for me it sums up what we were trying to do with the game, it’s that you’re in this quite modern looking, quite comparatively polished in terms of the graphics, and I loved the level design but most importantly, you’re being strafed by a sort of voxellated, pixellated 3D version of a 2D arcade game Defender type ship. So that to me is what we were trying to do, it’s as if something escaped from one game in to another. So being strafed by this Defender 2D thing whilst running around in a far more futuristic looking shooter, that I think there’s something quite elegant about that level so I really kind of like it.

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Battleborn – Interview with Randy Varnell

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Back at Gamescom, Sean got to check out Battleborn, the new first person shooter from Gearbox that marries elements of online play and the MOBA character style with their unique design and vision. He was recently invited to check out how the game has moved along since then and also got a chance to sit down with Randy Varnell, the  Creative Director of Battleborn, and talk about the game.

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Sean Cleaver: I played this at Gamescom and at this stage it feels like it has a lot more of its own identity. At Gamescom it was good but it still felt like it was Borderlands. Since then, we’ve had the videos of the 25 characters, it’s moved on and it feels like it’s become its own thing now. Does that feel the same developing it as well?

Randy Varnell: Yeah I think so. I started this right on the heels of Borderlands 2, I was one of the six that rolled right on to this project and very early prototypes were using Maya and little miniature Axtons as the dwarf. We did that for some reason, but we prototyped a lot, we had some similarities in gameplay like the action skills. So we did some things and had some rapid changes to the engine, just to try and prove out the concept. There was a time we were even using psycho midgets instead of robots for the minions. There was a point where it really started to deviate and it takes so long for us as developers, we use proxy models and prototypes for so long, and then all of sudden you’ve got enough characters and enough art in.

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Honestly, it was Wrath that did it for me. The very first time we had a full on melee character implemented in to the game. He was our first and the one where experimented a lot of different ways. How do you make melee work in a first person game? How do you balance it, and balance it against ranged players? He was our character that we learned on and he got in at one point with almost a Zelda-esque melee combos. Almost like Zelda and a fighting game rhythm combat and it started to really satisfy us.

It took a while and you guys are now beginning to see it. I mean we were competitive for so long so when layered a campaign back on top of it, we got some really cool and weird characters to fill out the roster. Marketing has its own plans and wanted to emphasize campaign for all the right reasons, it’s one of the things that is unique about our game. I’m glad that you can finally see enough parts that it’s something new and expanded from Borderlands.

Three years we’ve had this and it’s been playable for tow. August/September 2012 was right around the time Borderlands launched. By the time that it did I’d already been working with this for two or three months so we were already putting the first touches on. I think we had a playable rough prototype as early as October/November 2012. I mean it was really rough, and it was pretty quick. It took six months for us to be comfortable with the game and then another for the big art stuff to come in. We were still working on other games at Gearbox, Borderlands DLC, and other things.

About February or March 2013 we had enough to do a Gearbox wide play test, with some folks at 2K and this was the first time that we knew we had a game. There’s been some changes since then but, it’s been a while.

SC: One of the things being Creative Director and coming from Borderlands in to this. I think a lot of people are interested in how the brain goes to the screen, from the writing and everything how it gets from the brain to what you see. What kind of processes happen?

RV: Well there’s a lot o different ways and, to give you a bit of an overview, those first few months Randy Pitchford was very instrumental. He sat down and helped us with the overall game vision. He helped come up with the concept of the fiction. The whole “last star” idea, it’s not been done a lot in sci-fi. That’s an extreme epic and that was a big moment, deciding that we wanted to express our characters through factions and taking some inspirations. We always loved what Game of Thrones did. There’s always fighting but sometimes people need to ally together and we wanted that kind of vehicle.

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When you get the art and start working on the character, I mean very early on it was gameplay first. We knew we wanted a melee guy, we wanted a ranged guy and we wanted a support. We started with those first. Thorne, Wrath and Miko and to an degree Montana was one of our early characters too. We called him the big guy, but was also playing with his size. In a first person game size makes a huge difference so when you have a big guy like Montana you balance him differently than you do a little scrawny character like Origi, who is tiny and thin and jumping about so much that he’s really hard to hit. So you have to do things with the speed, the health and the hitboxes to get through all of that.

Then you get to the art and go through a process of what we want the game to look like. We have our art director, Scott Kester who was one of the guys who was very intrumental for the Borderlands franchise. He came on for Borderlands 1 and was one of the guys that helped that visual style change of Borderlands, if you remember earlier the earlier screenshots from that game. So this is, I think his first full project as art director and honestly, I love Scott so much.

We said “This is a big vibrant sci-fi colorful game, what do you want to do?” so in that case I gave Scott an open ring and said “do something.” So he got a couple of concept artists and they went through a process of doing this and trying that and make the big art sheets and bring them all together. He started some stylistic treatments and some environment concepts and very early on he developed the language, he said “I’m going for Pixar meets Anime.” He wants that clean line kind of smooth rendered Pixar character, almost like the 3D model, but also the edginess and the maturity of anime. It still needed an edge to it, it’s not a kids game. I mean a lot of people are going to be able to play, but anime has that great maturity, it has a certain style elements that really exaggerate character features. And when he got the first few models, the first one we hated, the second one we loved. And then we started with the concept artists and started to go wide and explore.

One of the things I think is reflected in the art and playing the game is the tone, I suppose you’d call it a trademark Gearbox tone of “We’re not being completely serious, take it with some humor,” you know with things like Butt tactics which is one of the character’s videos.

You know quite early on with the heavy stakes of the last star in the entire universe, we were contemplating what the sky looked like. Well it’s black, there’s no stars. We actually contemplated for several months right at the beginning trying to be a bit more serious and dynamic, thinking this was going to be our sci-fi franchise. And I think it was Oscar Mike, our standard assault soldier who was originally named Chuck Abrahams. It was also the name of the developer who was making the character so it was weird and when someone suggested that, because he was a caricature of a soldier we should just call him Oscar Mike, like the military language for “On Mission,” it changed. And then he was the first VO test for the game and our writer Aaron Linney came in and started playing with that and writing, he’d have some dumb lines like “I’m going to air strike a pizza party” or something. And when he explained that he’s not really a caricature, he’s just very earnest. It became “Airstrikes are bad ass” and everything he said is in that tone of voice and acted in that way and we said “that’s really funny, oh we’re going to make a funny game again aren’t we?”

And then you get Montana and you start to go there and then you just go from there. I think it’s a great thing for us, we don’t get too dire or two serious on topic. I think we come out somewhere between Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who, in the way that our tone and our humor works in there and it’s quite a unique place.

SC: What would you like to see really come out of the game between now and the February release date?

RV: I’ve worked on several big games now and one of the things that’s the most important thing is polish. You know I think you’re already feeling some of the promise on content. People are playing five or six or seven games and they’re not even able to play all of the fifteen characters we have on display today. So that’s not even a quarter of what we’re revealing that’s been played today. But polish is the thing that really goes from making it a pretty good game to a great game. And that’s a lot of things, like really telegraphing that you’ve been hit, adding that hit feedback, the messages, the sound and so on. And with having so many characters and being able to go back and see that it’s there really makes a difference between “that was pretty good” and “this experience was amazing.” There are times where we’ve got the effects and colour, we’ve got a who was an artist on The Iron Giant and that kind of Don Blume 2D animation style who came in and sat with our effects team and took the 2D hand drawn effects and mapped them on to 3D objects like the explosions and again, that’s another touch of stylistic effect and art on that.

And then we’ve loved it so much but there are times were there’s so much colour and you can’t see what’s going on so you have to expand and pull back, expand and pull back, and polish is all of those things, and those touches. And I think more than anything else it’s about having the time to go back and tune and polish and balance. We need to create the content and get it out there and make it as cool and satisfying as what you’ve seen tonight and I think the polish is what’s going to make it a really awesome game.

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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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Project Cars interview with Andy Tudor

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Project Cars is the new offering from Slightly Mad Studios. Sean got to sit down and chat with Creative Director Andy Tudor about the game at EGX.

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Project Cars is a very big, graphically awesome simulation. Simulation is the key word here I suppose compared to everything else that’s out there.

Yeah, I think the word simulation or simulator kind of gives people the impression that it’s hard, or difficult and challenging. But actually, all it means is simulating real life so it’s accurate, realistic. But compared to the competition there is out there, we said from day one planting our flag in the sand, we were going to be a competitor for Forza and Gran Tourismo. Compared to the other guys that are in that arcade space. So if you’re looking for that Forza/Gran Tourismo kind of game with a bunch of features that have never been in those games but have been on the PC sims, just not on console, the Project Cars is just that.

I’m a child of the Geoff Crammond years so I love the… I say simulation aspect but I probably mean the more technical tweaking aspects of it. And there’s a lot of things in Project Cars in driving that you won’t normally feel in other games because of those options. Just tell us a little bit of how you managed to recreate that experience so realistically especially on tracks like Brands Hatch.

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With Brands Hatch we used a laser scan. So we have the mathematical data of it, we know the elevation changes and all that stuff. Next the track team go out there and take gigabytes of data so we know visually what its like. The third thing is getting the guys out there to try it out themselves. So if you were watching a race at Brands Hatch on TV, you would see the cars flying around the track and they’d look perfectly smooth. Get in there, get in to a Formula Brands/Formula 4 kind of car, and go down the main pit straight, the engine the right behind you 6 inches away from your head, the car is screaming, the wing mirrors are vibrating so much and you’re making all these micro little movements. When you’re braking the car is trying to get away from you and you’re hearing the tinkle of gravel, tarmac and bits of rubber underneath the car… That kind of stuff you never see on TV or hear about it in a press briefing afterwards from the drivers, you don’t see it in the grandstand. You only get to experience that when you’re doing it yourself. That’s the key to it. The mathematical data is there, there visual data is there but the emotional bit is the thing that we bring to the table.

You’ve had a lot of input from racing drivers across different disciplines. How’s their involvement in the game helped?

It’s kind of come full circle. Usually when you hear about racing drivers giving their input in to games it’s usually at the end where there’s marketing pushes. But we’ve had those guys from day one so it’s a different angle. Ben Collins, the former Top Gear Stig, we hired because he doesn’t like racing games so he’d give us completely honest feedback. Nicholas Hamilton (brother of Formala One world champion Lewis Hamilton) has been playing sim racing games on PC for years. So he gives valuable insight on the expectations of that community, what the games get wrong and how Project Cars can do it right. Ollie Webb is a test driver for BAC Mono. He’s a European Le Mans driver so he’s driven 75% of the tracks in our game as well. So he can give us incredible insight on the car on a one to one basis and give us a direct comparison and he can say “oh I was just at Monza and they’ve changed the rumble strips.”. So much so [is the games realism from driver input] that real drivers are using it for training for the real thing. It was completely out of the blue that Rene Rast, a German GT driver, showed up on YouTube with a video of him driving Project Cars on the Le Mans track and was within one tenth of his real life lap time. He was using it because the game is so accurate that when he’d go to do the real thing, he’d have the sense of training you can’t get on a multi million pound Formula One simulator.

I noticed racing on Brands Hatch, something that most racing games don’t achieve is how thin the start finish straight is and how claustrophobic it feels.

Brands has got great elevation. Your eyes have a certain field of view. In games you have a different field of view. So you need to do things to make sure you get the same as you get in real life. [At Brands] You can’t see the peak of the hill from the cockpit. So it’s little things like that .

There’s been a lot of feedback from the manufacturers. Who have you had involved?

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We’re an independent developer but we’ve been doing games for 10 years so we have a relationship with a lot of manufacturers and a lot of track licencees as well. So there are certain cases, those guys are coming to us saying “We loved what you did in Shift 2 or GT-R and we’ve heard you’re doing something new, we’d love to have our cars in the game.” They’ve been absolutely great. The cars are 1:1 recreations, we get CAD data, the technical data, the lap-time information, plug it in to our engine. The guys make the cars from million of photo references from the manufacturers. We make sure the liveries are all painted effectively. We make sure the paint schemes are all perfect as well. We make sure all the interiors are done; every car has a full cockpit with functional dashboard as well. And then we have to give it back to the manufacturers so that they can approve it. So they have to be accurate. Graphics wise, we have got to the point where we can make everything photo real. The next generation consoles are quite capable of achieving photo realisim with glass and metal which makes up about 95% of a car. So they are a 1:1 recreation.

Racing games create massive communities, people who share their set-ups, form clubs and clans. There’s already quite a big community and interest around Project Cars. 

Absolutely and it’s always in our intention to not be hypocritical and support our community after launch. Which is why we have the Driver Network. Your profile is your licence and your stats, showing your what you need to improve. Your favorite cars and tracks, tracking your reputation online, how much you cause yellow flags, etc. The other big area is sharing. Steam has the screenshot gallery, you can stream by twitch, you’ve got the Xbox One Upload studio, you’ve got the share button on PS4, and YouTube. If you go to our Driver Network Flikr pages and YouTube playlist, we’re showcasing all the best bits from the community. Some people live on different time zones and even if you aren’t, the chances of you being online at the same time as a friend is a lot slimmer than before. With Project Cars you can do time trials against each other by downloading the ghost of a friend or anyone on the leader board. So you can see how people get those amazing time. And finally you have the Driver Network Community events. These are regularly scheduled events happening all the time, and everyone loves bragging rights.

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What has the feedback from players and the community been like so far?

Honestly if it was terrible, I’d tell you. But it’s been really good. There’s so much feedback from people who are playing and what they want. Graphically it looks great, gameplay is great. We’ve got a FAQ’s on our page but everyone wants to know about what cars are coming, what tracks, Oculus Rift support, wanting to set up their driver clubs and clans. So it’s been great but we are an independent studio and it’s taken a long time. Project Cars is ambitious but it’s worked. The PS4 version is already there and Xbox One version will be 1080p and 60fps at launch. We’ve always been honest about getting there and we have.

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Project Cars will be available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on November 18th US and November 21st in the EU, with SteamOS and WiiU versions to follow in 2015.

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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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Dead Island 2 Interview with Isaac Ashdown

DI2INTFT

Sean has been at EGX all this week. Here’s one of the many interviews he got, talking to Isaac Ashdown who’s a Gameplay Programmer at Yager for Dead Island 2!

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It must be really exciting to work on seeing how the well the community received the Dead Island games along with some of the critics.

Yeah, it’s certainly a great opportunity for myself, I was a big fan, and for Yager as well. It’s a really great game to be able to take to the next step by making the sequel.

Do you feel, because this is a different development team to the first Dead Island games, you need to do something slightly different, or get a good enough spin on it yourself to establish yourself in the franchise? 

We certainly aren’t letting ourselves be held back by anything in particular, taking it in the direction we want to make our own, and the next gen consoles give us a lot of opportunities to pull out the stops. We’ve got the seamless 8 player connectable co-op where you drop in and drop out of. We hope that will help bring the game to a more emergent level of gameplay.

I’ve played the build of the game, so lets talk about killing things!

Ok!

There’s a lot of death and we had a lot of competitions between the people who played for the highest death count. How much fun is it to programme that complete melee of destruction of zombies and that humorous tone of everything else about it? 

It’s a lot of fun. I’ve worked pretty extensively on the melee systems and the weapon systems in general. So our goals there are really take it in a direction that maintains the visceral nature of the first game, because melee combat was a lot of fun. We’ve expanded on it in a lot of ways, for a number of reasons. Because we’ve got an 8 player co-op, the number of zombies you’re fighting at any one time is a lot more than before. If you’re with a group of your buddies we’ve tried to keep the combat fun even with the amount so it’s been a lot of fun to do.

I got from playing the preview that there’s a very devil may care attitude about the story and everything in the game. There’s the bit with the Peter Fonda “we want to get loaded” speech on the radio. Obviously that’s very different to the original game so how do you see this fun element keeping people in and keeping the co-op going?

The story tone is a little different to the first game. It’s set in California and you’re one of the heroes that’s decided to stay in the state, even though its kind of been compounded by the government. And there’s also all the other guys there who are there for the same reasons but aren’t necessarily new like you are. But they’ve seen it as a new opportunity to build a life for themselves in a way that it wasn’t possible before in modern day life. So that kind of set up is what we’re going for with the whole combat tone as well. So you’re there to have a good time, basically, and embrace the lighter side of the apocalypse.

So the first game has given a lot of stylistic and artistic impressions to the franchise, but what are Yager’s inspirations for their take on the franchise?

It’s certainly a lot of fun to make such a colourful game. Taking this kind of paradise gone to hell and putting in a real world location like California, it’s a place I’ve been to a few times and have family there, so it’s fun to see a place I’m familiar with that’s been turned in to this zombie playground and still is recogniseable as a real place.

You’ve taken quite a lot of inspiration from the real life California and Los Angeles and how that city operates.

As Europeans, it’s not a place that we can really have a kind of claim to, it’s something that’s such an iconic location in popular culture and Hollywood has done a good job of presenting itself to the outside world. So it’s good as an outsider to be able to run with it, like a fantasy California. Like if the world of Hollywood was presented in this fantasy way, populated by these people who may be anarchistic or want to party, but not taking themselves too serious because… It’s LA.

We’ll see this in Spring 2015, so how’s the development all going?

The demo here we shipped for GamesCom a few months ago has come a long way. We’ve started playtests with the whole world with seamless 8 player. It’s fun to get in to the office, jump in the game and have other people also jump on your server. You’ll be playing and doing your own thing and then your buddy in the next room will jump in and you’ll team up, so it’s been great.

So the next gen tech much have really helped coming along when it did to give you more possibilities and scope?

For sure, the consoles themselves are much more powerful so you can do this open world and we’re using Microsoft’s cloud compute to run our servers so we can do a lot more than the traditional infrastructure of having a bunch of servers in a room somewhere in the world. Being able to spool up servers as you need them, being able to connect people with their friends, all that stuff makes the seamless 8 player co-op possible.

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Dead Island 2 will be released on PS4, Xbox One and PC in Spring 2015. You can check out Sean’s preview from GamesCom here!

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Lego Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Interview

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While we were at Gamescom, we got to have a look at Lego Batman 3 Beyond Gotham. The next instalment in the DC universe from TT Games and Warner Bros does exactly what the name suggests, goes beyond Gotham City. You will be travelling in to space to save the Earth from Brainiac and visiting far flung planets along the way to add new and interesting environments to the normally dark gothic concrete palette of Gotham. I managed to have a chat with Philip Ring, an executive producer with TT Games and talk about the upcoming chapter in the DC Lego universe.


 

The universe is greatly expanding with the introduction of space flight missions, reminiscent of the Star Wars franchise, and a whole host of new characters, which is what Philip says they were trying to achieve.

“We really wanted to big on the DC content this time around, add a whole host of new characters, new locations, new gameplay styles even with the space combat and VR missions. Just really cram this game with as much content as we can.”


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The content is indeed huge with over 115 characters including Beast Boy, Plastic Man, Catwoman, Bat Cow accompanying the traditional set of our caped crusaders and, my personal favourite, a complete remaining of the 1960s television Batman with levels, characters and Adam West voicing the titular character! TO THE BATCAVE! I asked how good it’s been to have been given the freedom of so many great franchises.

“It’s been absolutely fantastic. We’ve been so privileged to work with the franchises that we have and to go back and really dig in to the DC world. We started off with the Batman story arc and DC have been fantastic that we’ve got that freedom to do things like the 1960s level and the bonus content that comes with that like the speech, Adam West giving a voice over for it, and the modern universe too.”


 

Of course this isn’t just the television universe or the movie universe in the game, this time it’s going deep in to the lore of the DC universe.

“We have massive DC fans in the office so as soon as the design team start looking at what to include, everyone comes out with “I love this character, I want to include this” and so we’ve got everyone chipping in with the kind of content we’d like to include. And we listen to what the fans like to see. So when Blue Beetle and Beast Boy gets the kind of reaction from what the people want to see, we want to include that in this big DC experience.”


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The release date is close but there’s no sign of the development of the game stopping until the very last minute. Not because it’s not ready, but because TT keep finding things they want to put in the game.

“We’re really still putting stuff in and we really want to make it the best experience it can possibly be. So the whole team is still working and people are still coming up with ideas which you think ‘That’s too cool not to include’ so we’re constantly revisiting and adapting to make it really special.”

 

So does that mean there will be DLC if they run out of time to get it all in to the main game?

“Who knows? We’re really focusing on making sure the game is the best it possible can be. If there was something we wish we could of included or that didn’t really fit in to the main game then maybe we will do it further down the line.”


 

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be released on PS3, PS4, PSVita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, WiiU, 3DS, Mobile and PC on 14th November in the UK and three days earlier in the US.

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