PAX Prime 2010 – Day 3: The end of a saga
PAX is over! Before I left though I made sure to take a look at the things I didn’t get a chance to during the first few days. I got in a whole bunch of new interviews for games including Brink, Solace, Dead Space 2, Fire Fall and Monaco, so I assure you, even though the last day was a short one, I packed it with as much stuff as I could for you guys. We’ll get those interviews out for you guys later. For now, here’s my rundown on the games of day 3:
Dead Space 2:
Might as well start with a big one. The first thing I noticed with Dead Space 2 was how amazing it looked. The lighting in this game is incredibly moody and beautiful in a scary way. It really emphasizes the tension in the game. Now, I haven’t played part 1, so I can’t really compare the game to its predecessor, but I’ll tell you what I saw.
I started in what looked to be a cryostasis holding area. Tubes were lining the walls and the broken ones were filling the room with frost. I walked passed one that burst with a stream of cold air. My character and I both flinched. This is something I’m sure I discussed on the podcast at some point, but I get the impression that if the player’s character doesn’t show enough emotion, it creates a subconscious disconnect between the player and the game. I’m happy to see this game allows the player’s character to appear just as scared as the player is. I’m willing to say that this will help bring the player into the scares in a deeper way.
The weapon set is nothing new, but still effective. Enemies started bursting out of the tubes and I did my best to drop them by severing their limbs. Sometimes, the enemies on the ground would fall limp, only to suddenly come back to life when I least expected it. I like that the spawning of the enemies didn’t feel like full waves, but were rather rolled out gradually. It created a feeling of uneasiness because I was always uncertain whether or not I had cleared out the room. In the instances when they did come back to life the fully incapacitated enemies around them retained their physics. There was something very unsettling about watching an enemy crawl through a pile of bodies, plowing them to either side as he came after you. I was never quite certain which ones were dead and which were coming after me.
From there I entered the gravity room. There was a puzzle sequence here designed to cut the power of the gravity generator, a nice break from the tense shooting sequence before it. Here I got to play the zero-g section. The controls in zero-g are very similar to walking controls, but forward is always forward in the direction you are looking. As the player looks around, the center of the screen is always the direction of forward movement. It really worked quite well, though sometimes I wished for an ability to move straight up, but that’s a moot point. When you moved close enough to a walkable platform, a marker appeared, indicating your ability to land. From here you can trigger your magnetic boots and walk along the surface, wherever it might be.
Then I experienced what can only be described as a boss battle. The majority of the fight, I had no control of the character. This entire sequence was far from a quick time event though. The character was being thrown around by a giant creature, so the player only regained aiming control when the character got enough footing to control himself, and it worked perfectly. I only had a limited amount of time before the creature bit my head off to aim at the weak spot and fight him off. Watching the character fight off the boss, getting pinned, then having a quick moment to shoot the weak spot beats the hell out of a “press X to not die” sequence.
Dead Space 1 is the next game on my queue, so I’m really looking forward to see what the differences are between the two. Guillaume Voghel, the producer of Dead Space 2, during our interview confirmed the presence of a multiplayer mode, but wasn’t able to comment on the details. Hopefully in a few weeks we’ll be able to find out more. Overall, Dead Space 2 is looking great. From what I’ve seen here, I believe that if you’re a fan of the Dead Space series or of horror action games, you’re gonna find a good time with this one.
Dragon Age 2:
I didn’t actually get any hands-on time with this game, but I got to stand by and watch a play through happen. The game had running versions on PS3 and Xbox 360. The visuals are still early, but it was already looking great. The kill strikes were far bloodier than Dragon Age Origins, though they’ve decided to lighten the amount of splash blood that appears on your character. It’s basically reserved for the blade instead of the character now.
It’s hard to describe something like Dragon Age 2 because most of its value comes from the story experience and the joy of making decisions, so the best I can do here is describe to you the advances in the structure of this game versus the first.
One difference is that there’s a Mass Effect like conversation wheel. Within the wheel, there’s an icon that appears to clarify the mood of the statement that you’re about to speak, which now has voice over. Some will be of an evil mood, friendly, sympathetic or others. The point is to give the player greater clarity on their involvement in the character’s conversation decisions.
The combat looks to be basically the same. There are six slots to assign actions to. The health bars have been moved to the bottom left side of the screen which I think provides greater visibility at a glance. The character animations during the fights were great as well. I noticed the mage character holding their staff much like a bo staff, performing end over end spin moves, shooting fireballs alternating between the ends of the weapon. It was actually pretty entertaining to watch.
Later we’ll post my interview with David Gaider, the lead writer, about some of the other differences and advances in Dragon Age 2. For now we’ll move on to the next game I saw.
This is an indie title designed and created by one man, Andy Schatz. It’s a very unique looking game because, while it’s top down, the player can only see in real time what is in the character’s line of sight. Anything outside the line of sight is grayed out. The whole game has an 8 bit aesthetic to it which adds to the charm, though I wouldn’t be sad to see some extra detail in the characters and environment in future editions.
Monaco is in line with an Ocean’s 11 type heist movie. You have a squad of up to four players, local or online, with different classes and specialties. Each character, along with some passive abilities, have a single class specific move which become active when you collect enough diamond icons. The controls are very streamlined. There’s only one button and the joystick, that’s it. The specialty moves range from C4 which can blow up walls, to EMP bombs which disable electronics and security for a limited time to using a welding torch, to seal the doors closed. There are a number of classes that are unlockable as the game continues which I wasn’t able to try.
All the rest of the functions involved interacting with the items in the environment. The player does this by walking into the item and pressing the joystick towards it. When the action meter fills up, the action completes. It compounds depending on how many people are pressing into it. This makes coordinating efforts important when you’re trying to make a quick getaway.
The mission consists of traveling to the floor where the trophy is, retrieving it, then getting out. During my first time through, it was difficult to really understand what was going on with 4 players doing their own actions, but I can see the potential for some really simple and fun team tactics. If you die, other players need to stand over you to regenerate your health. If you die completely you can respawn, though I don’t know if there’s a penalty for it.
I occasionally had trouble locating my character at a glance because the lighting effect sometimes tints the color of your character to something else. If the characters overlapped in an area link this, I would get a bit confused finding my character again. By the time I finished playing, I felt like I had a much better grasp of what to do and how to play. I’d love to sit down again and play it more. That’s always a good sign.
I have an interview with Andy which I will post later. There’s no confirmed console version, but he’s aiming to get the game onto at least one of the big consoles as well as the PC.
Solace is another indie game, this time created by Robert Francis, Jordan Hemenway, Daniel Rosas and Jami Lukins. It’s a very unique bullet hell shmup that creates its soundtrack randomly through on screen actions and events. Each level has a mood based on a different emotion. The level I saw was “anger” which utilized reds, hard movements and strong bass chords from the player character. I have to say, the soundtrack didn’t sound like it was unscripted, it was that good.
Now, I could tell you more about the game, but I won’t. It’s pointless. The game was created under DigiPen Institute of Technology restrictions and cannot be sold, so it has been released for free. Instead of you reading my reaction about it lets switch things up. You download it and tell me your reaction on it. I’m serious, download it right now and play it. It looks great and sounds great.
Why read a review when you can play it now. You can play it with an Xbox controller if you want. While it’s downloading and installing, read on.
This is one of the many Playstation Move games which has yet again proved to me the dominance of the Move controller in the motion controller war. The game, while I’m skeptical of its ability to hold my interest for very long, provides a good workout with responsive controls.
The Fight is a third person boxing game, the controllers representing the fists of the character you portray. There are general sway controls to fine tune the positioning of your character, but for the most part, your character automatically keeps himself in front of your opponent. The problem I found is that the camera places itself behind your character in such a way that it blocks a great deal of your view of the opponent. I had a King Kong Bundy sized fighter against a Bruce Lee style fighter and I could barely see him around myself.
Regardless, the controllers in combination with the Playstation Eye quickly and accurately relay your physical movements to the game. I was throwing quick combinations in short and broad movements and it didn’t drop a single punch, nor create that feeling of muddy punching that Wii Boxing or Kinect Boxing can create. This was just straight up fighting and it was fun.
I ran into aiming issues again as I did in my Day 2 reactions to Sports Champions. I figure this is just a learning curve in the gameplay and it didn’t take long to re-adjust myself to where the enemy was, so for now this is more an observation than a criticism. We’ll see if the problem is universal or chronic in time.
I don’t know anything more about the character progression or the leveling and so on, but this game strikes me as the type that a lot of people are really going to get behind for its raw gameplay. The raw gameplay works, so at this point I just want to know what else there is to it. That information will come in due time I’m sure. Right now, I’m probably more likely to pick up a copy of Kung Fu Live over The Fight, but I also imagine there being a lot of people who prefer The Fight over Kung Fu Live. If you ever have the chance and you’re looking for a high energy work out game, I highly recommend you give both a try.
I finally got a chance to get my hands on Bethesda’s “Hunted,” and it was pretty fun. It didn’t blow me away, but it definitely proved itself to be a solid cooperative game. I’m not sure what type of story the game is going to provide and my only real strike against the game for the time being is not knowing what it’s about.
There are two characters, a man and a woman. Each are balance more towards combat and ranged attacks respectively, though both have the ability to do both. The woman’s arrows are faster than the man’s and the man’s strikes are more powerful than the woman’s. And you fight skeletons. I don’t know why yet, but there are a lot of skeletons that want to stop you from doing whatever it is you’re doing.
The game has a certain “Gears of War” likeness to it, but with an ancient tribal civilization aesthetic. The game is still in alpha right now, but it’s already looking great.
The elements in the game that improve upon the traditional cooperative gameplay include being able to throw health items across the map to revive your friend, and being able to switch characters at certain points so that no player is stuck playing as one character for the length of the session. Both characters retain a strong sense of providing a support role while still being individually strong. There is a magic boost that empowers the other character, but neither character has the ability to use it on themselves. It must be triggered from one character to the other which quickly increases the need for communication if someone finds themselves in a tough spot.
Other than that, the game is a bit too early on to really be able to assess further, but overall it looks and feels right. The enemies, while not varied yet, had solid AI. The cooperative elements add some good twists on the traditional cooperative gameplay and gives advantages to those players who are willing to really work together and communicate. All of these sound like the elements needed for a quality cooperative game to me.
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood:
I was really curious about how the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer was going to work, so made sure I got a chance to check it out while I was at PAX. It actually works really well, though I hope there are other modes in addition to the one they had on display. They had a contest going on for a pair A30 headphones. If you got first place in the match, you were entered and I got the best Kill / Death ratio. I didn’t come in first though. This will give you a glimpse of just how different priorities are in Assassin’s Creed multiplayer versus what we’re traditionally used to.
The basic setup is this: You and 7 others are walking around the town. You are not allowed to repeat characters, so every player character is different. All the pedestrians are the same eight models as the eight players, walking around the environment. You are presented with a player character target and a radar pointing towards their location in a general way. When you are close to your target, you are instructed to be more subtle. Now comes the most interesting part to me.
I mentioned before that, despite my Kill / Death ratio was the best of the match, I didn’t get first place. The player is rewarded for being flashy or stealthy or acrobatic and so on. I’m used to fast paced action games where if you’re not running, you’re dead. Here, you need to stop and walk, blend in with the crowd. When you know you’re in range of your target, it’s in your best interest to watch. Look through the crowd and as soon as you spot the person you think is the player character, you can place a marker on them making them easier to track. Then, you make your move. Either be subtle or creative, just don’t run up to them and kill them outright. Even though you’re usually being hunted yourself, there’s still great advantage to slowing down. That concept alone is amazing to me. The suspense it creates to walk calmly through the town despite the fact you know you’re being pursued by one or more people adds a level of tension I’ve never seen in any other multiplayer game.
Once you’ve made your kill, you become more visible, so you must escape to regain your anonymity. There are gates you can run through that close behind you to try to shake your tail, special pulley systems that you can utilize to make a quick jump to a roof top and the traditional hay stacks to jump off a high place.
When you start the match, you’re also provided with move sets which you can switch between after death that range from smoke bombs, to projecting a decoy, to morphing into another character model. The point is to use the environment, the break of line of sight, and use deception to get away from your pursuer.
These points all make the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer unlike any other multiplayer I’ve ever played, and I have to say, it works really well. The problem with why I didn’t love it as much the first time I played was because I was playing it wrong. I held the sprint button constantly, found and killed my target, then moved to the next. There was no pacing, suspense or tactic. Because of this I got 5th. As soon as I finished and understood this, I wanted to play again even more than I had originally wanted to play at the outset. The more I write about it, the more I want to go back and play it right now. I want to work on my strategy, blending into the crowd, sitting on a bench waiting for my mark to turn his back and surprise him.
I still have no idea what the single player game is like, but just judging the multiplayer, I’d have to say the game is off to a great start. Keep this one on your radar, cause I have a feeling the break from the traditional style of deathmatch will greatly help even out your gaming library.
I talked about the demonstration in Day 1’s recap, so I won’t talk about it too much here, but I have some things to add. I originally said this was an MMO which the founder of the company says it isn’t. It’s really a single player game that has hundreds of other people walking around at the same time. I still think it’s basically an MMO, but it’s smaller in the number of people in play and it’s very low commitment. It’s an MMO in the same way that MAG is an MMO, but with a single consistent map. All other players are always present and visible, you are able to talk to them, but you’re still rather an independent force in the game world.
Oh, and it’s free to play. Free. It’s FREE. There are things you can buy for real money within the game, but it’s free to play. I’m telling you that you need to download this when it comes out in 2011 on the PC. I have the interview with Mark Kern coming on a later post, so you can hear all sorts of things about it then.
There have been a few multiplayer games during the show so far that I’ve been impressed with for their innovations, and Brink is yet another one. Brink is a squad based single player game that has no line separating it from the multiplayer game. There is a full story line and chapter system. You pick your character, customize him and enter him into the next chapter of your adventure (though you actually have the option to play any chapter in any order). When you start the match, you are placed in a squad with 8 other people in your allegiance. Depending on player availability, the game will provide you with AI controlled or player controlled characters alongside you in the squad.
The idea is there is a civil war on this floating city, the last known civilization in the world. Resources are running out and two sides are forming, those who want to protect the city and those who want to escape it. Your first task in the game is to pick your side. Point of view is incredibly important in this game, because whichever side you pick, your goal is justified. The Resistance believes that the city will die without venturing out into the world to find new land. The Security wants to see the city remain safe and must stop the infighting. There are conspiracies happening on both sides that test the player’s confidence in their allegiance throughout the game, but still, it’s the brink of civil war and both sides are committed to the fight.
Your squad is one of the sides, the other squad is the rival side, all can be human players following the opposite plotline. Regardless of your allegiance, the cutscenes you get and the storytelling you experience is specific to your place in the story and your role in the war. In actuality, this game is the first multiplayer versus game I’ve ever seen with a full storyline.
As for the game, it’s a basic FPS with squad and class based gameplay. You can be medic, engineer, soldier, etc. I was impressed with how advantageous each class is to have. You can actually go to a console at your base and take a look at how many players are what type of class so that you can strategically change your class mid battle. You gain experience points to level up abilities in the class of your choice for your character, but YOU gain the experience instead of the character. Let me explain.
Instead of the character you’re playing gaining the experience, you gain the experience and apply it to the characters you choose. This way if you have a maxed level (the game maxes at level 20) engineer and you want to develop a medic, you can put the experience you earn as the engineer towards the medic so that you can wait until they’re more powerful before you use them. You can have a whole range of characters to switch between freely before each chapter depending on how you feel like playing at the time.
There’s also a bit of an acrobatic element to the movement. There are some characters that can do wall vaulting, slides and so on, but the efficiency is based on skill. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be skilled to maneuver the environment. There’s a “SMART” system to the movement that will assist the player in performing specialty movements. Using this system will result in a slower execution of the move. It’s always advantageous to become good at the moves, but it’s not impossible to perform the move without it. I didn’t get to see as much of the movement abilities as I would have liked to, but what I did see worked well enough.
All these elements are explained in greater depth during my interview with Richard Ham, the creative director, so when it’s posted, you can find out the finer details of Brink.
End of Show.
That was it. After I put down the controller of Brink, I called it a day. I walked out the door, checked out of my hotel and drove off into the night (it was day, but night is more dramatic to write). I have to say, it took a lot out of me to cover the show by myself. I don’t think I’d recommend covering an event like that to anyone without back up, but I’m really happy that I was able to deliver the goods to you guys and give you my reactions and assessments of the games on the horizon, as well as the inside word from the movers and shakers of the game development world. If you like the coverage, pass it around to your friends. If you don’t, blame Rob. Take care.