Not Too Long From Now, in a Galaxy Very Very Close

4 05 2016

Really excited to announce that our studio is working on a new project in the Star Wars universe. Check out the full posting here on our new official website:

http://www.respawn.com/stig-blog/





Overwatch Beta Impressions

23 11 2015

Over the years, Blizzard has made unexpected but successful forays into various genres outside of their historic areas of expertise starting off with the MMO space with World of Warcraft, then the digital TCG space with Hearthstone. The success of both products speak for themselves cementing the assertion that Blizzard can do a lot more than isometric strategy/adventure games and even do it better than anyone else. Despite their previous successes into new genres their venture into the team FPS game space is still a fairly bold move considering the highly competitive market for such games, dominated by giants like Halo and Call of Duty.

overwatchtracer

The immediate comparison one would draw upon seeing Overwatch is to other role-based shooters, primarily Team Fortress 2. 6-person teams go head to head in objective-based maps with each player picking a character that fulfills a role such as a sniper or support class to function and fight effectively as a unit. While there is no mistaking that Overwatch is inspired by such games, it has a lot of fresh approaches and concepts cherry-picked from other genres that make it a refreshingly unique but intuitive experience.

The biggest point of separation from conventional class-based team shooters is that you choose a character rather than a role. While the characters are categorized into different broad categories such as offense, defense, tank, and support, individually they fill niches that can’t be defined so cleanly and offer drastically different approaches and play styles towards being an effective combatant for their team. For example within the “offense” category of characters there is Pharah who is a straightforward character that uses flight in combination with her rocket launcher to pound the enemy in direct confrontations, and then there is Reaper who prefers to avoid head-on fights and uses teleportation and an invulnerable “wraith form” to infiltrate into the midst of enemy teams and ambush high-value targets. The characters have a handful of abilities which all complement each other nicely towards enacting their game plan and can also be used in creative unorthodox ways allowing them flexibility to apply themselves outside of what would appear to be their primary role. Even more intriguing is that the characters’ different abilities can synergize in interesting ways with their comrades that makes you consider the roster of your team and come up with powerful combinations. The slow and powerful Reinhardt becomes suddenly more threatening when paired with Lucio’s speed boost, and Bastion’s turret mode becomes a tremendous threat when paired with Mercy’s damage boosting abilities. As an additional aside, the cast of characters are instantly more interesting than their skill sets; they are a motley crew of actual characters with inspired designs, personalities, and histories, ranging from the intelligent gorilla scientist to the cybernetic ascetic monk. There’s not a single dud amongst the current cast of 21 playable characters with each feeling effective, special, and cool.

Each character also has an ultimate ability that slowly charges over the course of the match. These powerful abilities, such as resurrecting dead teammates or transforming into a literal battle tank, have the potential to shift the momentum of a match and are another point of divergence from traditional team-based shooters. Knowing when and where to utilize your ultimate ability in coordination with the actions of your team give Overwatch a lot of tactical depth, more akin to a MOBA style game such as Heroes Of The Storm.

A final point towards the roster of characters adding a huge element of strategy to the game is that you can switch your character between lives during a match. This introduces an important metagame aspect in which you are able to counter the enemy team’s composition and tactics (sometimes preemptively) by altering your own team’s lineup on the fly. Learning and anticipating the counters to a particular situation will undoubtedly become a huge facet of competitive play as knowledge of the game evolves and expands.

Differences aside, the game is grounded in solid FPS conventions that make it familiar and intuitive as well. The control scheme is simplified and streamlined compared to other modern FPS games which frees up a lot of your thinking to concentrate on your handful of abilities and how best to apply them to the given situation. The maps and arenas are expertly crafted around singular objectives, which funnels the action to particular points and leaves no question as to what you should be trying to do at a given moment while also encouraging team fights which is at the core of the design of the game. One of the subtle things about the game that I recognize and appreciate is its “readability” or transparency. There are a lot of details and clues that give you a greater understanding and awareness of what is happening amidst the chaos of a confrontation including the visual language of the game in terms of characters and their abilities and also the various audio cues such as the sharp gasp that your character emits when they are badly wounded or the distinctive battle cry that they call out when they unleash an ultimate ability. The end result is that everything seems to make sense when things go very right or very wrong rather than you sitting there confused as to what just happened and as a result a player is able to learn the game organically simply from playing matches and encountering new situations.

With a fresh and appealing new IP, Blizzard is poised for another knockout hit. Blizzard has never failed to prove that they can do anything that they want and make it work, and Overwatch is no exception. If you weren’t fortunate enough to make it into the beta period, definitely keep an eye out for this title’s official launch in 2016.





Name Dropped In Game Industry Article About Respawn Entertainment And Santa Monica Studio

18 12 2014

http://www.dualshockers.com/2014/12/16/sony-santa-monicas-lead-concept-artist-joins-respawn-titanfalls-studio-now-has-18-devs-from-ssm/

It is still always very surreal to see my name show up in places where I didn’t personally write it, particularly when stumbling across instances from sources close to my professional/personal interests. I’ve been doing the games thing for almost 6 years now so it is kind of cool to be a living part of a shifting industry that someone finds worth monitoring and taking notice of.

Of course, the article is actually primarily about Jung Park, our amazing new artist that has come aboard who I also have had the opportunity to meet and work with twice in the past on God of War III and God of War: Ascension, and he joins many familiar faces here at Respawn that came over from Sony Santa Monica. What the real take away of the article for me was is a kind of truth I’ve come to recognize in the industry: That at the end of the day, teams are made of people. The credit and pedigree is not intrinsic to a branding, IP, or studio name but to the actual individuals and developers that pour their hearts and souls into their work, of all departments and disciplines. Over the course of time people come and go, and when we talk about how good or prestigious a given studio is, we’re really talking about a snapshot of a certain moment in time of all of the people that comprised that studio and what they were/are capable of. Given the mix of developers from many different backgrounds, I am really excited for whatever comes next at Respawn.

Speaking of showing up in places I didn’t expect, this reminded me of an anecdote from a little while ago where surreal took a turn for the creepy. Check this out:

http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,433087/

Moby Games is something like an IMDB for the game industry. I do not know who operates or curates it, and I had no knowledge of my own page until last year (2013). What’s more, check out the accompanying photo that is on my Moby Games page:

kf2009

This image is from the behind-the-scenes bonus footage on disc for God of War III in 2009. I did not provide this image. This means that somebody took the time and trouble to play through the bonus footage, capture a still of me during this excerpt presumably with some kind of capture hardware/software from PS3 to the computer, crop it, upload it, and submit it to this page before even I was aware of its existence.

Whoever you are that did all this, I admire your dedication from a respectful distance. (I’m just joking, it was just kind of weird to see a profile page for me that I had no hand in creating)





E3 2013

23 06 2013

I was able to attend the show on Wednesday the 12th to get a preview of some of the exciting things on the horizon of the gamesphere. This is a particularly important E3 since it is the first look at the newly revealed 8th generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft, in the form of the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Here are some of the things I had the opportunity to look at during the show:

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U): A new generation of Nintendo consoles brings with it many guarantees: one of those things is a new Mario Kart game. The biggest addition and gimmick of this new entry is karts that morph to different terrain to take advantage of a greater variety of terrain. For example, racers might speed down a long and narrow canyon straightaway but at certain junctures, be able to transition to driving on the wall while others continue down the traditional route, then morph into hang-gliders to descend from an air. The utilization of different terrain in the courses and also divergent paths is an interesting idea. Optional motion control makes a return along with different vehicle types, but there was a noticeable lack of crazy items and power weapons flying around compared to the previous console entry, even with 12 drivers per race. Throughout 3 race courses I never saw a blue shell or lightning bolt, so this aspect of the game may have been toned down which is both good and bad; on one hand the game is much less random and frustrating without the constant barrage of “kill the leader” items but at the same time some of the personality and wackiness of the game is lost.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U): One of my floor-playable favorites of the year, Bayonetta 2 feels and plays nearly identical to its predecessor which is an all-around good thing. The ante has been upped in terms of the ridiculous spectacle of the game, featuring new features such as “Umbran Climax” that temporarily powers-up every normal attack to a massively destructive weave-enhanced move as well as even crazier action sequences and set-pieces, such as a fight that takes place on top of a fighter jet soaring through an urban cityscape. I remain mystified on why this title became a Wii U console exclusive but I can’t deny that it is a tempting draw.

The Wonderful 101 (Wii U): A 5-player party brawler where players control superheroes that rally hordes of civilians to fight heroically, reminiscent of Pikmin. The main mechanic of the game is that the player is able to form various weapons from his mass of followers such as a gigantic fist, hand cannon, or hammer by drawing its corresponding shape. It had a quaint aesthetic but the gameplay itself seems like it would thrive with a full complement of players but would be somewhat underwhelming as a solo experience.

2012 Wii U Pro controller: I made a point of getting some hands-on time with the Wii U Pro controller since it will likely be many players’ go-to for the upcoming Smash Bros. title on the Wii U. Aesthetically and ergonomically, the Pro controller emulates the 360 controller, but the baffling positioning of the face buttons–where the right analog stick would be on a 360 controller–makes for an awkward configuration. Hopefully it will be a simple matter of acclimation to get over this difference but right now it has me worried about the usability.

Dragon’s Crown (PS3): I was only marginally interested in this downloadable title until I was actually able to try it and see it up close. It retains Vanillaware’s visual pedigree; every screen is stunning and mesmerizing to look at, even the world map/level select has more effort put into it than some games have in a full level of the game. Aside from the gorgeous art direction, the gameplay itself is also a satisfying dungeon-brawler derivative with a few interesting twists on the conventional character classes and side-scrolling beat-em-up gameplay. The game became a buy when we encountered a black sabretooth tiger and a velociraptor in one dungeon and made both into rideable player mounts.

Ray’s the Dead (PS4): One of the featured indie games that will be coming to the PS4 as an incentive for the PS+ subscription, in this game you play as Ray, a bumbling zombie with the ability to resurrect and control a swarm of followers as you roam about the outskirts of a dim suburban town. The gameplay takes ques from Pikmin and Katamari Damacy, in that you have certain specialized zombies that you can control and direct, and that the main goal of each section is to uncover and recruit as many zombies as possible to meet a certain threshold to continue past a barrier. The build I played had a few bugs here and there but looks to be a quirky and fun experience when it is available along with various other indie games on the PS4 this fall.

PS4 Dualshock 4 controller: One of the important things for me at the show that I made a point of was to be able to try the controllers of the next-generation consoles. The PS4 felt different from a simple perspective of shape, the handles are thinner and the palm of the hand wraps around them more fully, and the weight of the controller is comparable to that of the current-gen Dualshock 3. The face buttons are about where you would expect them to be. The one thing that threw me off the most was the shoulder buttons: the L1/R1 buttons are more ellipse shaped and have less give, felt like clicking a mouse instead of depressing a button. The triggers are also of an unusual recurve shape that will prevent fingers from slipping off and have about the same springiness and depression depth as the Dualshock 3. I can see myself getting used to the new design after some time but after 3 long generations of predecessor controllers sharing the same basic design, holding this new shape just somehow felt “wrong.”

Beyond: Two Souls (PS3): Quantic Dream’s greatly anticipated new offering looks and plays much like its acclaimed predecessor Heavy Rain. For the demo players assumed control of Ellen Page’s character, who’s name I can’t remember. We are dropped in to the middle of the action in an urban warzone in Africa with Page’s character assuming the role of some special forces badass, that she unfortunately isn’t entirely convincing in. The gameplay consists mostly of QTEs and “think fast” button presses with some embellishments from what we have seen in previous entries. The most prevalent addition are action sequences which have no prompt but feature a time-dilation effect indicating the player must press the right analog stick in the correct direction following the character’s path of movement in order to execute the dodge/attack/lunge successfully. Alas these interactions can be very ambiguous, as sometimes the character is moving their body away, other times they are moving one of their limbs for a parry/intercept, and sometimes they appear to be doing both and it is very difficult to read. I don’t believe this demo did much of a service for this upcoming title, but then again I do not think Quantic Dreams games in general owe themselves to demo playthroughs since they are driven by the intrigue of the story rather than segments of action gameplay.

Killer Instinct (XOne): One of the surprises of the show was the resurrection of the Killer Instinct franchise as an Xbox One exclusive. The build playable at the show featured only two classic characters, Jago and Sabrewulf, with updated looks and gameplay. I personally didn’t particularly like either character’s next-gen makeover but the game itself looks quite gorgeous with a crisp frame rate and absolutely absurd particle effects and cascading sparkstorms when the combatants strike each other. The fighting system itself has received an overhaul but retains some of the recognizable flavors of the games of old, namely extensive multi-hit combos and combo breakers. In the new combo system, the normal attacks chain from light to heavy as one might expect from a conventional fighting system, however at the end of the normal string a character can perform a “linker” special move to reset the string of normal attacks and continue the combo repeatedly. The opponent receiving the pummeling can try to utilize the new combo breaker system to stop the assault by pressing both light, medium, or heavy attack buttons at the same time in anticipation of the offender’s move that is hitting you at the time, but if you guess wrong, your breakers are disabled for about 2 seconds while the opponent shreds you with their attacks. Several other conventional fighting game mechanics have surfaced in KI including meter management, EX moves, and an “Ultra” comeback mechanic. But what may be the most interesting is KI’s pursuit of a free-to-play model in which players can use Jago online for free but additional characters can be purchased individually.

Lost Planet 3 (PS3): It’s unfortunate but every show has it’s stinker and this year it was Capcom’s latest entry into their Lost Planet shooter series. Almost everything that could be wrong was wrong with the demo I played on the Playstation 3, from clunky controls, blocky graphics, uninspired run-and-gun, encounters that last a tad too long, and mediocre sound design. It was the only game that I walked away from before I finished, and there was no line behind me. Disappointing.

Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (PS3): An unexpected new entry into the Ninja Gaiden series was revealed in the form of Yaiba. The twist is that this time you play as a resurrected half-cyborg ninja on a quest for vengeance against Ryu Hayabusa, the protagonist of the main line of games. Although the game takes place in the Ninja Gaiden world, there are some obvious differences to the casual observer. The game features a vibrant cel-shaded visual style with a more comic-booky feel to it. The game also adheres to a much more unapologetically raunchy and juvenile tone, with fuckwords, not-so-subtle innuendos and violent dismemberments spread throughout. Despite all this Yaiba manages to be appealing and likable in his over-the-top crudeness, and the overall aesthetic and spirit of the game is reminiscent of Madworld. The gameplay itself is similar to conventional current-gen Ninja Gaiden games, featuring oversized bosses, and hordes of swarming zombie mooks that Yaiba flattens by the dozen. Yaiba has most of the basic ninja moves but also has some surpises like a rocket-powered punching arm, a detachable chain hand for grappling, and the ability to use the severed limbs of his victims as improvised weapons to wreak carnage and destruction on those that remain. This game has some kinks but has potential to be a cult-classic or sleeper hit which I think is precisely the territory that it is trying to carve for itself.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3): I endured a two-hour line to get a glimpse of this upcoming entry into the Arkham series. I was apprehensive about this game because for this entry the esteemed Rocksteady Studios was ditched in favor of Warner Bros.’ 1st party Montreal studio. Fortunately, after seeing this 10-minute gameplay walkthrough, my fears were dissuaded; the game looks great. At it’s core Arkham Origins looks mostly to be Arkham City 2. The demo began featuring Batman grappling and gliding his way through a snowy Gotham cityscape, notably less distressed and dystopian as the one we saw in Arkham City; Arkham Origins is a prequel to the first two games featuring a slightly younger Batman encountering some of his most dangerous adversaries for the first time, the main contenders this time around being the likes of Bane, Black Mask, Deadshot, and Deathstroke. The parts of the game shown were very reminiscent of the gameplay of Arkham City which is not at all a bad thing, but with expansions on certain features and concepts. For instance, there are a few new enemy types such as the “martial artist” that figure into a little more back-and-forth flow of combat pertaining to Batman’s combat counter system. But perhaps the most interesting feature they showcased was Batman’s enhancements to his detective mode. The new system features a virtual re-enactment of the scene of investigation interpolated from the various pieces of evidence that Batman scans in through his cowl sensor that is projected onto the scene of the crime and can be played forwards and backwards in real time to piece together what actually occurred at the site. Overall Arkham Origins was one of the most exciting new games showcased at the show and the best part is that it will be out in just about 4 months.

These were the titles that I was able to look at up close during the show. I only had but a single day, so I couldn’t cover everything, but some other highlights of the show were Bungie’s Destiny, Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall, and Nintendo’s new Super Smash Bros. entry.





Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm

31 10 2012

Big news the other day, and you probably already heard about it. But if not, it is what it sounds like: Lucasfilm was purchased by the Walt Disney co. for 4.5 billion dollars. As one of my friends pointed out this makes Princess Leia officially a Disney Princess, and I was quick to also observe that she’s the only Disney princess to have killed people in deadly blaster gunfights. But it means a lot of other things too.

Disney was always a powerhouse in the entertainment industry but now that it has assimilated both Marvel and Lucasfilm in can safely be called a leader in the multimedia industry, who also now owns Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic. It means new Star Wars themed attractions and even full parks (!), which is a natural transition from the revered Star Tours that Disney currently operates. But what does it mean for the fate of Star Wars itself?

One of the more notable mentions is not one, but several new movies which represent Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, a continuation of the original trilogy.

This is an earth-shaking announcement that has stirred up a lot of discussion and speculation, but it is undeniably a very exciting turn of events and already has people counting the days until 2015 when the first of the movies is tentatively scheduled to release. I have some thoughts on the implications of the information we currently have on this:

-The Star Wars saga already has a continuation storyline in the various novels that have been around for years, and are considered to be canon for the series.

For better or worse, there is already a plethora of fiction in the form of novels and comic books that represent the continuation of the plotline after Episode VI, the entirety of which is even larger than the events of the original trilogy itself. The characters are further explored and developed, some themes and iconography are retread, and many new characters come and go spanning several decades of stories continuing in the universe. Moreover, this body of fiction is officially considered to be canon to the Star Wars universe, which presents both vast potential to draw from but also a creative dilemma for the new films.

-The new Star Wars movies were implied to be live action.

When the acquisition was announced people’s heads were probably instantly flooded with glorious visions of new films given the prestigious Pixar treatment but if you listen to the conference call announcement, you could infer that the new movies are intended to be part of Disney’s live-action lineup. Anyone could point out that live action movies are really not Disney’s strongest suit and is already a worrisome point as it stands. But to refer back to the previous point this presents another complication:

-The original actors are now too old to reprise their roles as represented in the canonical storyline.

The continuation stories take place in a range of 1-30 years after Episode VI, but with the original core cast still very much in fighting shape. This unfortunately cannot be said of the actors themselves; Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, et al. are all far past their prime years and would not be able to assume the role of their characters as represented in the established fiction immediately following Episode VI. Because of this there are 3 possibilities that could occur: The established fiction will be respected but use replacement actors,  the new films will diverge and ignore the canonical storyline, or Episode VII will jump to a further point past the time of Luke and the others. All of these possibilities have their individual potentials and pitfalls, and where Disney will ultimately go with this remains to be seen…

I have high hopes for the future of Lucasfilm, especially with regards to the way Disney has handled their Marvel IP thus far. I will be looking forward to seeing what comes of this.