LEGO Dimensions – Preview

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So it’s no secret that I’ve been a tad critical of the LEGO games as of late. I’ve found that maybe the formula had gotten a little stale and that, whilst nostalgia of the title kept my interest, they’d become a bit repetitive. Whilst I was at Gamescom, LEGO Dimensions proved me utterly wrong.

We all know and have heard the basic idea of LEGO Dimensions. Buoyed on by the success of franchises like Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Nintendo’s Amiibo range, it’s hardly surprising that a toy manufacturer who is already in the video game market noticed an opportunity. And it would have been so easy to see it like that, as an opportunity for profit using toys in games. But thankfully TT Games is at the helm and if there’s one thing that the years of producing LEGO games has given them, it’s that they know how to hit us gamers in the nostalgia bones and give us something with love.

Firstly, the game requires a LEGO Toy Pad and a Gateway which the start pack of LEGO Dimensions comes with. You’ve seen it no doubt, the little plastic pad you put your LEGO figures on and something that looks like the Goa’uld from Stargate would use to invade many worlds. And as the announcement video starring Joe McHale of Community showed, it you build it yourself using actual LEGO. All of the LEGO is actually playable and indistinguishable LEGO, from the Batmobile included and the three figures of Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle. Having a LEGO game with actual tactile LEGO is quite a fun novelty really. Building stuff for yourself is always fun, and during the game you will get the opportunity to reconstruct some things in order to solve various puzzles, with onscreen building instructions. Very awesome.

The game sees you going through the LEGO Multiverse trying to stop Lord Vortech from being the dastardly overlord who controls it. So you set out to stop him from taking the foundational elements and achieving this domination. Of course, you will have friends that join you along the way and you can even bring your own by getting the various packs that have been announced. But enough of the exposition, how does it actually play?

Incredibly well of course. TT Games has a very good pedigree in excellent, easy to pick up gameplay. LEGO Dimensions is no exception to that with the same look, style, controls and mechanics of any LEGO game. It is something that has translated perfectly to every franchise it has graced and it works just as well with multiple franchises. The demo that we played saw us walk down the Yellow Brick Road from the Wizard of Oz. Of course, not as the Oz characters, who were up ahead of us, but as our starter trio. Upon the road were some flowers that could not be passed by our intrepid trio. And so the toy pad came in to play.

We placed the Batmobile on the pad and a dimensional wormhole opens up and pops the vehicle in to the world. Batman jumps on it and we mow down the pesky flora from the yellow bricks of Oz’s M1. Our driving only went so far until we stumbled across one of the characters aiding Lord Vortech, The Wicked Witch of the West, who then started defying gravity* in order to attack our cross-series fellowship. It’s amazing that through all of this, nothing looks out of place. You suspend disbelief that these characters and vehicles don’t belong in the worlds your seeing because, quite frankly, it’s really, really cool.

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This cool crossover of franchises doesn’t just end with the main game. The recently announced Adventure worlds are separate worlds, much like you’d see in a normal LEGO game between the missions except that they’re all based on a particular franchise. We had a little go around in the LEGO Movie world because we had Wyldstyle but other areas will be accessible with the relevant figures selected. So you’ll have to have the various level or character packs in order to access these mini worlds. We’ve already seen clips of Middle Earth, Springfield, Hill Valley and Aperture Science lab inspired worlds and there’s fourteen in total (so far) so collecting these expansion packs isn’t just going to be cool to look at or use in game, there’s decent amounts of extra content as well.

Those extra characters all come with perks too. Scooby Doo for example can swim underwater, which is great for exploration and underwater racing. Much like the free-play elements of most LEGO games, every world and level has the same kind of task appropriate character and vehicle. There’s lots of cool little nods to all of the franchises as well including some slight cel shading for the Scooby Doo levels, Wyldstyle moves like she’s in some stop-frame animation. Every vehicle can be rebuilt in three different ways and can help with different tasks like pulling things down with a winch, or flying like the DeLorean from back to the future… Or spinning wildly out of control like the TARDIS.

Yes it’s taken me 850 words to get to a point where I can talk about one of my favourite parts of the game, and as a massive Doctor Who fan (who has had a TARDIS on every desk I’ve ever written on and a fairly full DVD/VHS collection), I am incredibly biased by this part of the game. Which is why you can imagine how high my expectations are and that after playing the Doctor Who elements of the game, the poor young lady who was helping to show me the various minifigures couldn’t stop laughing at how open my mouth was in shock.

Firstly, there’s The Doctor. With all of Peter Capaldi’s swagger and vocal officiousness. Capaldi voices the dialogue which has been specially recorded but every Doctor also speaks thanks to some clever raiding of the BBC and Doctor Who archives. And yes, I said EVERY DOCTOR. Just the one minfigure gives you thirteen unique Doctors that you could regenerate in to which all have their own little quirks and personalities. Yes even the oft forgotten eighth Doctor and the following John Hurt War Doctor. If you die in the game as The Doctor then you’ll regenerate in to one of the other thirteen randomly with a nice little animation. Then there’s the TARDIS. Jump in in and you can take off, spin around and fly with reckless abandon through worlds like only a 12ft tall oblong wooden box can.

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But then you hold down the entry button a little more and find yourself IN the TARDIS. The control room is fully explorable with all it’s pomp, flashing lights, incredible decor, time rotator column, round things and control panel. The far right control panel will allow you to change the music to whichever show theme you want, the middle one takes you to the relevant level pack and the left one allows you to choose any of the Doctors and have a little regeneration scene. So I went to my Doctor, the Seventh – Sylvester McCoy with his little hat and swinging an umbrella, and left the TARDIS. But then the poor young lady told me to go back inside the TARDIS. So I did.

The console room had changed. It was now the 1983-1987 console room occupied by the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. It will change to whichever console room is relevant for which Doctor, including the first two having a black and white filter for ultimate TV authenticity. At this point I became speechless and started rambling about how much this meant to me as a fan of the show and as a four year old watching McCoy’s Doctor for the first time and the last for many years, and how strong my nostalgic connection was to this era… It came as no surprise that my time was up. But this is seriously the best job of Doctor Who anyone has ever done in a video game and this can only bring hope for further licensed stuff between LEGO and the BBC.

After my fanboy blubbering I was forced to conclude that, whilst this is going to cost me a lot of money to have everything, LEGO Dimensions is ultimately going to be worth it thanks to how unique every pack will be, how every level will have something special and how every character has their own life to them. I know parents will be asking how they can justify buying this and everything when they’re already knee deep in Skylanders, Disney Infinity and Amiibo statues and I say this to them – Buy it for you, because your kids won’t understand why this is so marvellous… Treat yourself.

LEGO Dimensions is due out on September 27th 2015 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and WiiU.

*Yes I like musicals and made a Wicked pun… Bite me.

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Project Cars – Preview

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Project Cars is responsible for a first in my life, my first 4K gaming experience. In an era where open world driving games seem to be the more successful of the four wheeled genre, Project Cars has gone to a very traditional route. One that games like Gran Turismo has treaded and arguably worn out over many years.

Photo-realism in both environments and cars is not just possible but also essential. Manufactures get the final say on the cars they’ve licensed as well as track owners and sponsors having to clear their input as well. We’ve said before, in an interview with Project Cars Creative Director Andy Tudor, that photo realistic driving games should not only be the norm but are practically the only option. The technology is there, the capability is there and the requirement to produce games like this demands it.

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However, pulling off the technical excellence is one thing. Giving a game a feel and a character on top of that is another thing entirely. It’s something we felt DriveClub was lacking. It’s something I find personally with the later Gran Turismo’s. Something about them feels a bit nebulous in the cars and the driving itself. You could argue that I’m being a tad pious but simulations and arcade games should be able to define the cars ability much clearer in these times. Especially when a game like Assetto Corsa is doing it independently of big publishers and money.

So where does Project Cars sit in this? I have to say, especially to a console audience, it sits at the top of the pile. There are many things that games like Forza Horizon 2 and DriveClub have done well independently like great lighting, dynamic weather, day/night cycles and car customization. Project Cars does it all, excellently, from the get go.

Firstly when tackling the selection of cars, this is very much a racing game, not a streetcar racing game. These are the kind of cars you’d see at a weekend at Brands Hatch, Silverstone or Nurburgring. Not just your big DTM, LMPG supercars, McLaren’s and Pagani’s but the other classes and manufactures closer to the street like Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. The interesting thing is that the vintage cars are well represented here too. From my guilty pleasure of a Ford Capri to my non-guilty pleasure of old Lotus F1 cars, everything is not only perfectly reproduced but the way the cars drive are all unique and challenging in themselves. This is a game for people who know names like Jason Plato, Alain Menu and Jim Clark as well as names like Andre Lotterer and Tom Kristensen.

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The tracks range from actual circuits like the ones listed above and including many others across the globe like Australia’s Bathurst and California’s Laguna Seca with its infamous Corkscrew turn. But it also stretches to real albeit less licensed areas like the Cote d’Azur or Monaco, as we all know it. There are even some nice fictional road trip areas to the region, as well as the California area, to give you that off-the-track feel.

The real magic of this game is its dynamic environment system. The game has settings that can change the weather randomly or by design, everything from clear days to rain and thunderstorms. The date and time is also customizable with an option to speed up the progression of time so that you can literally experience four seasons in one day… One full day, that is, with night included. You can also historically set the date and time of a race so that it takes historic weather data to produce what was actually happening at the time. June 3rd 1984 at Cote d’Azur would certainly be one of my recommendations.

All of this works perfectly well straight from the off and whilst there are still a few bugs in the preview we played, these are mostly fine-tuning of cars handling and collision dynamics. Make no mistake about it, this is a game that will be enjoyed by the virtual petrol heads, as well as the more casual intrigued racer, but it will take some mastering, as it should do. If playing Gran Turismo has taught me one thing it’s that repetition is key to driving. Project Cars however makes that just a bit more fun than previous genre titles. This is definitely helped by the immersive graphics. These look great on the PS4 preview build we played and it has all the traditional views you’d expect, including the more immersive helmet cam.

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This is where my first 4K gaming experience came in to play however. I was lucky enough to play the game on a PC at 4K, 30fps (the game can handle 60fps, but the TV we were using couldn’t) and with a wheel. At this point the game really blooms. Things that you might not notice so much on the console really shine. For example I went around Cote d’Azur circuit in a generic pre-hybrid Formula 1 car in the helmet cam view. Firstly the things you notice are the things that racing drivers actually do.

Your view naturally turns to look at the corner but your virtual head barely turns. What it does is focus on the corner, which completely alters the depth of field you have to your dashboard and the surrounding environment. It’s a subtle touch that naturally happens anyway if you drive and might even pass you by because it is that natural. Secondly, the lighting changes and the shadows move around the inside of your helmet as you go around a track. It’s when you notice that the game is doing this everywhere that it really begins to impress you. With the future of Oculous Rift support, this game’s immersive racing will be a massive cut above other PC options and definitely a rival to the independent games currently available.

Driving with the wheel certainly left my arm a little sore thanks to force feedback and occasional collisions. But what was certain was that it was far easier and much more fun than using the controller. That deftness of throttle control is hard to achieve any other way and the game certainly rewards you for using this method. Having used a wheel for other games, this game is definitely worth the sacrifice of savings to get a good wheel and seat combo.

The game has had a few delays, which is understandable once you play it and see the work that has gone in to it. Mid-March is the current estimate but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went a bit further back just to perfect it. Because that is something this game prides itself on, its perfection. With a 30fps cap*, the PS4 handles the game well and I would presume that the Xbox One does the same thanks to the newer SDK’s giving more memory usage. Although the release is planned to be 60fps. How the Wii U version will turn out is anyone’s guess. But if you are the kind of person who has the time and money to build a phenomenal PC and can support 4K gaming, then start saving now.

*This cap refers to the experience of the preview build on PS4 that we played. Not the final product.

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This preview is based on a preview build, played on a PS4 and a PC.

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LEGO Annouce Dinosaurs and Superheros (Jurassic World)

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It’s not often we cover news, but this one was certainly too big for me to miss posting about.

Warner Bros Interactive have announced the TT Games/LEGO line up for 2015. These include another Marvel tie in with LEGO: Marvel’s Avengers, new LEGO Ninjago game: Shadow of Ronin and iOS releases of The Lego Movie videogame and Lego Batman: Beyond Gotham (the 3 has been dropped).

But the big news is that we’ll get more Chris Pratt, along with Sam Neill, Richard Attenborough and a double helping of Jeff Goldblum. If you’ve worked it out already (without looking at the obvious title), clever girl. Some of the more astute of you who have played and competed LEGO Batman 3 might have noticed this pictured dinosaur in the credits, along with John Williams’s famous score. Personally I blinked and missed the connection. But finally dinosaurs are coming to LEGO.

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LEGO: Jurassic World is a tie in to the upcoming 2015 movie reboot of the series also titled Jurassic World. But it will also include parts of the first three movies: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park: The Lost World (Dino-Godzilla) and Jurassic Park 3 (Island+Dinosaurs+Sam Neill=Cash). In traditional LEGO game style all of these movie tie-in games will be available for every console (360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, PC, Wii U, 3DS) along with LEGO Ninjago: Shadow of Ronin being 3DS and PS Vita only.

So a few things we’re looking forward to? Well obviously being able to repeatedly punch Dennis Nedry and the kid from the first movie who got himself electrocuted. We’re looking forward to dinosaur consultant Phil Tippett being brought in and turning TT Games area of Manchester in to a crazy Velociraptor party. But mostly, we’re intrigued as to what LEGO: Marvel’s Avengers is actually going to do.

LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes was already a fairly big game that had bits of the cinematic universe lore from phase one and two of the movie collection, along with comic book versions of properties Disney don’t have the movie licences for. It does seem like it’ll be a tie in to Age of Ultron, wgich is due out later this year, but it promises to include the previous Avengers movie as well (and presumably some more of the recently and soon to be expanded universe).

But I’ll leave you with this fun fact. A Samuel L Jackson character will now have been in three LEGO games. Mace Windu (Star Wars), Nick Fury (Marvel Super Heroes) and now John Raymond Arnold (Jurassic Park). It seems we shall indeed know his name when he rains his blocky virtual self upon our gaming systems.

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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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