[Another postmortem from the vaults. I've actually got a lot of these - about twenty. For a couple of years on PC Format, I did one a month for them. The idea was simply to chat to a developer about one of their previous games for a couple of pages, in kind of a more casual, laid back version of the sort of thing Gamasutra do so well. I'll be sticking them up here, one every Friday, until I run out. With the announcement of Empire: Total War, I thought it a good idea to start with Mike Simpson of Creative Assembly looking back at Shogun. This was a fun one - Simpson was completely self deprecating at all times, even in the face of the most ludicrous flattery.]
Shogun was an epic game that changed everything, rejuvenating the real-time strategy game at a time when it seemed that it was just going to be a tank rushing eternally down a game-design cul-de-sac. With its unique, atmospheric setting and its groundbreaking marriage of mass-scale battle scenes and high-level Risk-style strategic management, you presume that it was always destined for greatness. After all, this sort of thing couldn’t just happen without a plan. And you’d be wrong.
“It actually started when I joined the company,” reveals Creative Assembly’s Creative Director Mike Simpson, “Then there were five people, doing a sports game. A rugby game. We were looking at setting up a second team, and wanted to find something which was relatively safe and not very challenging, unsurprisingly. At that point, Command and Conquer clones had come out. Things like Kill Krush and Destroy. We looked at them and thought “These are easy to do!”. It’s fairly formulaic and you can’t really go wrong. And they’re selling bucketloads.”
But this is very funny.
Quite literally yesterday's news for anyone paying attention, but seeing as the franchise has a bit of a bad rep these days and everyone's currently playing that game, thought I'd point out that a Settlers 6 demo has been released.
Yes, Settlers. No, honestly, it's alright.
Developer Bluebyte showed me Rise of an Empire (for that is its wholly unnecessary subtitle) a couple of months ago, and I was pretty impressed. Few I told believed me, as it's been a series in constant decline since around the third game, a lineage with fine origins that most games hacks now sneer at. Having played some preview code recently I'm not totally sure the game's going to be quite as delightful as I thought from the hands-off look, but there is some really cute stuff in there. Most of all, it seems to have nailed to some extent that traditional Settlers joy of sitting back and watching your custom community go about its business. It aslo has ferrets in it.
THE ULTIMATE PC BATTLE
[This is a particularly long piece on The Sims which was written for a project that was canceled at the last minute a couple of years back. Which is a shame, but at least I got paid for it, eh? It's sat around ever since, but since it really is particularly long, it's hard to work out a home. And I'm a little bit precious over it. So rather than cut it to something smaller, I'd rather present it here. Hope you enjoy it.]
It was the phone calls that made me certain. The Sims was going to cross over, one way or another.
I worked in a cramped games magazine office for just shy of five years. There were only three times that we really knew the eye of a media mini-storm was circling somewhere above us. We knew we were being watched at those moments, because every time we answered the phone the same questions came from different missionaries from the Real World Media. The first and biggest spike in calls was part of the fallout of 9/11 when every journalist in the world needed to ask us whether Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear or Microsoft Flight Simulator could be used to train terrorists to take over commercial airliners. Majestic, prompting the second and smallest peak, was publisher Electronic Arts’ great failure – a reality-blurring attempt to commercialise the alternate-reality game before anyone really knew what an alternate-reality game was, which bombed in the States and was never released in Europe. The third was sparked by The Sims, Electronic Arts’ great success and one of the most popular and groundbreaking games of recent times.
As much as an article has an origin, it is in one of those calls. It was from a freelancer from help-the-homeless-help-themselves magazine The Big Issue, which wanted to run a feature on The Sims’ runaway success. He was, essentially, looking for a quote saying that it was played by those with no social life to indulge in a surrogate fictional one. He wasn’t interested in the truth – he admitted he’d been provided an angle by his Editor and was working to fulfil it. So I just informed him that, actually, The Sims was actually already receiving a snobbish backlash from actual hardcore gamers, and its fans were in fact non-typical players. Normal people were digging it, not just crazed obsessives. All the while, of course, I was thinking that I should point out that phoning me and asking for that sort of quote was a little like me phoning him and asking him to say that all the homeless are work-shy layabouts who stink of piss.
He’d got it entirely wrong. His wasn’t the answer. But what was? It got my thoughts rolling, and eventually those thoughts coalesced to a single point.
Steam are still claiming that pre-purchasing BioShock via their system will allow you to
"play the moment it's released."
Which is not true. What they mean is,
This is an interesting piece of futurologist chin-strokery. Yes, it's fairly redundant posturing about the horrendously over-exposed but under-subscribed Second Life (an abberation of a marketing tool on which there's something of a moratorium on RPS) beyond the introductory paragraph, but that first statement - soon there will be more avatars than real people - is a fascinating concept.
" Gartner research indicates that in four years' time 80% of internet users will have avatars - virtual replicas of themselves - working or playing online. Given the pace of internet adoption, and the fact that people often have more than one avatar, there will soon be more avatars than humans, at least in the industrialised world." - Victor Keegan, The Guardian
It's people creating fake shells for themselves, idealised versions to be discarded once they're bored, or once something with superior technology comes along. Of course it happens - there's any number of MMOs I've abandoned - but the fact that it's happening with so many people now... It's means there's all these digital spectres, partial identities existing only as numbers on a server. They can't be killed, not yet, because there's a principle - what if someday I want to go back? I can't help but imagine a ghost world of floating orcs and wizards and space marines and large-breasted strippers and spaceships - personalities cast adrift, but left in limbo forever.
SpinTop Games (who are yet another of these companies that seem to mystifyingly sell PopCap games without mentioning PopCap at any point) have released their own puzzly obscurity, madly called Mystery P.I. - Find The Missing The Lottery Ticket.
It is, in fact, a puzzle game in which you are given a list of about ten objects to find in a screen crammed with hundreds of the things. Click on them to find them, collect enough to unlock the end-of-level picture pairs challenge, and gain another piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
Click on the pic to play along at home, kids!
You can download it from here, at the princely size of 1.3gb. Word on the street (well, in the pub at least) is that this is a pretty good iteration of the soldier series, at least offering some competition for the mighty Call of Duty games. Airborne contains lots of hot parachuting action, violence against Nazis, and broad levels to allow you some shooting freedom in an otherwise linear action game. Huff huff, or whatever it is American soldiers say.
Jumping out of a plane: Manly.
Woo - my big box o'Bioshock just arrived. Circumstances have conspired to ensure I won't actually get to play the game until the weekend (I was going to take a quick look-see this morning anyway, but the activation servers are down, infuriatingly. It's HL2 release day all over again) but what I can do is review the various junk in the Collector's Edition. When I say 'review' I do, of course, mean 'complain.'
Firstly, the soundtrack. I was quite excited about this, given the atmospheric gramophone music heard throughout the demo. Turns out it's just three tracks, all of which are by Moby. Moby. So instead of Bobby Darin's stately take on Beyond the Sea, we get a hideous mobile phone advert-style plinky-plonky boom-boom-boom remix. Franky, if you told any DJ to remix Beyond the Sea but they only had 20 minutes to do it in, it would sound just like this. The other two tracks sound like lazy Orbital b-sides, and contain what I'm guessing is voice samples from the game. [Edit - I'm snidely informed that the second track, God Bless The Child, is quite well known, making it one of my many cultural blindspots. If I'd managed to listen to all of it without clicking next in disgust, it's possible I'd have recognised the original song Moby's slaughtered]. This EP (only referred to as such once you get to the disc itself - the packaging refers to it throughout as 'soundtrack CD') is a real missed opportunity. Ken Levine's list of Irrational's creative inspirations for Bioshock states under music simply "1950s-era jazz." That would have pleased me enormously. That would have made me think 'Bioshock.' The three awful pieces of irrelevant lift music I've actually got make me eye the nice metal box the game comes in with distaste.
Flicking quickly through the 40-minute Making Of DVD (which I don't want to watch properly until I've finished the game), it seems rather more interesting, though seems to predominantly consist of sniggering, poorly-shaven men badly superimposed onto Rapture backgrounds. It's all talking heads stuff - there's no look into earlier art or the tools used to build the game. It does expand on Ken Levine's claims that the Little Sisters were initially insectoid - apparently they were formerly slugs that you could stomp on. There was also talk of including a 'squirrel-man', a dog in a wheelchair and monkeys at some point. Personally, I'd have gone for a squirrel-man in wheelchair being pushed around by a monkey. The video certainly isn't anything that requires a seperate DVD, as opposed to a 100Mb DIVX file on the game disc, anyway. Pah.
It's almost as if we planned it. In the week where we look back at Yves Grolet's previous work on Outcast (Which remains perhaps the finest game ever starring a man in an orange sweater), his new game gets announced from 10tacle. It's called Totem and it's a third-person superhero platform game with fisticuffs. Yes.
Meet a chap its filename calls "Monkey Avatar". Say Hello, Monkey Avatar.
Superhero platform game. Not a bad idea at all. Totem is riffing off Le Parkour, which remains one of my favourite things in the world, and as anyone who's ever played City of Heroes knows, how superheroes move is one of the best things about them. While CoH-veterans tend to obsess over the joys of the high level travel powers - leaping from tall building to tall building, soaring between skyscrapers, whining that they bought the teleport power - at low level, patrolling around the city, just clearing a fence and moving onwards ever onwards is a fluid tribute to the modern world. The Press release is low on detail but includes a fine piece of tech-gibberish in describing its self-proclaimed innovative "Semantic Environment Sensing System (SESS)" which allows you to use the environment in a fancy way. This may be posh for "you can climb and jump and swing and shit".
More cinematic winks to camera from Valve's trailer department:
Well, there's got to be someone out there who isn't planning on going through Bioshock this weekend. I'm among you, actually. I'm instead going to be spending my time playing Guild Wars, as they're having a preview weekend for their forthcoming Eye of The North Expansion.
While the game proper goes live on August 31st, they're giving people who've pre-ordered the game 72 hours of running around and generally trying to power their way through as much content as possible from the 24th to the 26th. And, most importantly, all progress and achievements will be absolutely valid when the game goes properly on, so you're not wasting your time. Clearly, this is an attempt to get as many pre-orders as possible, but that's just a fine mutually reciprocal relationship. Arenanet get lovely, lovely money. You get to wander around the newbie zones on August 31st and wave your magical equipment at them braggingly.
That said, for Eye of the North, it's worth nothing that the newbies won't be newbies. This is the first of the Guild Wars games that is a genuine expansion - in that you need a level 20 character to access it. If you don't... well, you should. Guild Wars is excellent, and if you haven't already, I'd recommend you start at Nightfall. But if you don't, there's always that Defcon weekend. Or some other game.
I love things like this. I've got into some of my favourite things via creators of things I've loved recommending them - following the trails to interesting places. Because if they've inspired something you've loved, they've got to be pretty good, yeah? That thought process has lead me to everything from Vonnegut to the Buzzcocks to Nethack.
Anyway, Gametap asked Ken Levine for his list of works which kept the Irrational team's creative engines fully stoked up. For example...
Animal Farm: (Book, 1945) "You really only need to read this one book to understand power and what it does to people; it's the ultimate story of what happens when ideals slam into less than ideal people."
Edutainment seems to have reached a new plateau of electronical achievement when Minnesota Zoo announce they are releasing an online wolf simulator. Wolfquest allows y'all to pretend to be wolves, either online or offline, learning realistic wolf behaviour like catching sick elk and howling.
Is this really what we want from our videogames? The slightly scary child featured in the video has clearly reverted to a feral state, like a keyboard-bound Mowgli... I jest of course: there aren't enough wild-animal simulators, and I look forward to the day we can all play a bumblebee MMO.
This depicts the wolf urination menu.
While the UK impatiently awaits Bioshock (just got a message saying my ultra-geek edition has now been dispatched, so I'm praying for my Big Daddy figurine to turn up tomorrow), the US have got their internationally-favoured hands on it already.
And, um, it's not going as well as could be hoped. More than the average number of whingers have reported crashes, lockups and loading problems. My own PC froze during the demo, requiring a hard reboot, but my RPS fellows sniffily informed me it was fine for them, so I shrugged it off as Microsoftian chance.
"I lucked out. I was able to play for about 2 hrs with intermittent crashes (yeah, I call that "lucking out" at this point). A lot of people can't even load it. Now I can't progress any further because of the reboot crash." - John C. DisappointedBioshockPurchaser
Surprise! Well, not really - though Medieval II: Total War was yer bona fide critical and commercial smash hit, most of the flak it did take was for being too similar to its forerunners and being a bit crap at boats. The smart money, then, was on the next Total War including fully-realised naval combat and gunpowder. And it does - Empire: Total War is its name, and magazines across the globe will currently be trying to think up gags abut Napoleon for their preview features on it. Us? Not tonight.
Click above for stupidly large, ISP-upsetting full version.
We've actually known about this for a little while, but we're supposed to be a fun blog, not one that mercilessly stabs our friends in the back, as we would have been had we chosen to scoop PC Gamer's exclusive feature on it. Perhaps in time we'll grow that cold, but for now RPS is everyone's chum. Yes, even you, you rude man.
Codies have announced Operation Flashpoint 2's full name: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising.
This is the official sequel developed internally by Codemasters, rather than the unofficial sequel, Armed Assault, from original developers Bohemia. (This is only made furtherly confusing by there having been a Bohemia developed Op Flash 2 for Codies in 2003, set in the 1970s, that never was).
There's a new site, and promises of a teaser trailer video for all to enjoy. Except of course the moment you try to download it, you're asked to enter your "Code M" details, or register to their special club.
Pretend children! And not deliberately!
I can't honestly remember if I heard of Los Disneys when it was first released over a decade ago. I won't be forgetting it for a while, though. There aren't many games that immediately present you with a loaded gun and an African-American kid wearing a Mickey Mouse hat, after all.
More after the jump - including robot pirates! (Crap robot pirates).
Originally written for the UK's resplendent Edge magazine, this look at action adventure masterwork Outcast features a handful of retrospective comments from one of the key developers from the project, Yves Grolet. Mr Grolet was one of the founders of
FrenchBelgian development house Appeal, and was one of the key proponents of third-dimension bearing pixel, the voxel. Grolet is now a senior games bloke at the dubiously named 10Tacle Studios.
I've given the original text a spruce up by replaying Outcast, and erasing almost everything I originally submitted... Because there's nothing quite like rewriting history. Read the entire thing by clinking that the link, down there. Yep.
If you're the sort of person who goes on excitedly about how brilliant the end of Mafia was, and how it was the most mature take on the GTA-style game the world has ever seen, then you have a reason to celebrate. Its creators, Illusion Softworks, are working on a sequel, called, in a flash of inspiration, Mafia 2.
To be honest, I'm not among them - I thought it good, but far from Great and it always felt a little barren in terms of interactivity. That I played it before you were able to skip the early, murderously difficult, circuit racing mission which blocked progress in a way akin to the hilarious and infinitely infuriating driving-test section at the start of Driver. Anyway - enough 'orrible whining. Little else to say. Details are sparse at the moment; there's a press release whose meaning can be boiled down to "There will be a sequel to Mafia. It'll come out on some formats, one of which will be the PC".
However, it does look pretty. For more pretty, go to its (particularly bare) site here where there are four other examples of pretty. Yes.
Glance to your right, down a bit, down a bit more, no, up a little, and there. You'll see we've a few more pages, some of which pertain to you, the perfectly-proportioned reader, and how you can help RPS and the community we hope to build here. Have a read, why not?
Also, we've a fancy new random-image header to the site, but in some browsers it requires pressing Ctrl+F5 to do a complete refresh, or it'll stick with whatever the last image you saw was until you empty out your browser cache. Which you should do regularly anyway, or the wife (or husband - Ed) will find out about your thing for female bodybuilders (or non-gender-specific, mixed-race, vertically-challenged 8-stone weaklings - Ed). We'll be adding new headers over time, and I guess you can submit your own should you feel so inclined- a 643x293 image of something awesome would do it, ideally with some space around the top left for us to slap our logo onto. Super-splendid ones will go into our banner rotate-o-tron.
A semi (well, mostly) re-post of my 10 observations upon the Xbox 360 demo, now updated to reflect my thoughts on the PC one. The original post one is now gone - don't cry for it, it's at peace now. Contains mild spoilers and speculation, but honestly, anything written below is based only on the demo, as I have yet to play the full game, nor have I let Kieron tell me much about it. I also haven't done anywhere near the level of reading around the subject that others have done, as I want to come to it as clear-headed as possible, hence have yet to form arguments about its take on Objectivism and the like. Given the game's now out in the US, there's every chance you'll find I've said something that turns out to be completely off-base. Please resist the urge to let your anger/mockery mean you spoil anything should you post a comment though. I'll be correcting myself as required in a future post.
OK. Click to read on. Unless RSS skullduggery means you've come straight to the full post anyway, in which case there won't be a friendly clicky any second now and I'll just appear to be speaking nonsense.
UPDATE: Kieron also plays the demo and adds some comments from the perspective of someone who's played the full game on the considerable differences.
A game that almost vanished.
My earlier post about story reminds me of a piece I wrote for PC Gamer a few years back, looking at The Longest Journey, and its lasting effect on me. There was never room for my full thoughts then, and the full length 'director's cut' version has sat on my hard drive since. Clearly Dreamfall has been released since, telling us more about April Ryan, and another retrospective is due for that. Meanwhile, here's the full-length version of the original piece.
“Mystery is important. To know everything, to know the whole truth, is dull. There is no magic in that. Magic is not knowing, magic is wondering about what and how and where.”
The Longest Journey almost vanished away unnoticed, another obscurity ranted about by a few, but never reaching any acclaim. In the mire of pre-millennial adventure gaming, it could so easily have been drowned by the density of its peers, ignored by pessimism, never given the chance it so strongly deserved. How it was joyously liberated from this fate is mysterious. And in mystery, there is magic. In The Longest Journey, there is magic.
As a point and click adventure, The Longest Journey already defied conventions, ignoring the genre’s desperately floundering attempts at “catching up”. Developer and writer Ragnar Tørnquist and his team at Funcom understood that “catching up” was meaningless – they had a story to tell, and a world in which it needed to be told, and so this was the game they made. The natural instinct to say how it recaptured the adventure’s previous glory is strong, but this just simply isn’t true. Adventure gaming had never been as glorious as The Longest Journey – it hadn’t ever even come close.
This is an odd one. I haven't seen it linked in any of the other blogs - it's possible I just haven't been paying attention to the right places though - but I found it when researching something.
(That is, entering random Bioshock related phrases into google.)
Basically, Andrew Russel, an objectivist gentleman drops Mr Levine an e-mail. And Mr Levine replies, and talks candidly about his beliefs regarding objectivism and world politics and hints at his intentions with Bioshock. And then Andrew posts the replies to the objectivist forums he frequents. To briefly set the stage - and it's worth doing so, as in the UK, Objectivism and Ayn Rand are a lot less known than they are in the States - Bioshock's setting of the isolated city of genius founded by one Andrew Ryan is clearly a riff off Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and not necessarily a complimentary one. You may have seen Objectvists turn up in some Bioshock comments threads, voicing concerns (at best) and voicing anger (at worst).
As Andrew puts it...
What I am hoping is that BioShock treats the theory of individualism with proper respect. It would be very disheartening if BioShock were to equate individualism with an endless desire to prove oneself superior to others (this being a form of conformist parasitism Rand referred to as Second-Handing), free-market capitalism with making profit as an end-in-itself, or advocate the fallacious notion that laissez-faire is a zero-sum game. As you are obviously aware, Objectivism is often assumed to be wrong, evil, or an engine of societal collapse and disintegration, regardless of the historical evidence in favor of many Objectivist-approved principles.
Ken replies at length, but a couple of bits stick out. Firstly answering Andrew's questions regarding Shock 2...
GCDC provides another interesting debate, this time on the subject of story in games. Specifically, that games shouldn't even try to make them more complex, as they're simply no good at it. Say the writers of stories in games.
Bethesda's Ken Rolston and adventure veteran (and man responsible for the frattish Spellcasting series in the early 90s), Bob Bates, both agreed that, "our inability to pay off on all the choices that there should be available. It’s so difficult to make a genuinely complex dramatic choice," in the words of Rolston. Which is, essentially, an argument against non-linearity in games. Which I strongly argue is a good thing.
In the world of storytelling, non-linearity has only ever existed as a novelty, perhaps a choose-your-own-adventure, or idiotic stunt on the BBC to let viewers call in and "decide" what happens next. But books, television and film have always survived rather well without letting the consumer dictate the story for them. Frankly, if you've got a story worth telling, the last thing you should be doing is letting anyone else get in the way. Games find themselves in a more awkward position, as progression becomes rather dependent on the player interacting in some way. And for most elements of a game, from killing to constructing, this interaction is necessary. But leave the story in the hands of the storyteller.
When Ken Levine, the main man behind Bioshock and System Shock 2, drops you a line asking if you want to do an interview, you say "yes."
Levine's a fascinating figure – articulate, driven, passionate. And, no, I don't want to have sex with him. (Denial’s not pretty – Ed) It's worth stressing how this interview came about. Levine – a major developer – mailed me for no other reason than that he wanted to talk. No-one does that. He's played the PR machine on Bioshock enormously hard, clearly very aware of the enormous stakes he's playing for. And he is, in a real, fundamental way. Levine sold the company he co-founded in order to get this game done. Irrational no longer exist in name thanks to selling it to 2K, but without their money Bioshock wouldn't have been made in a recognisable way. It was only possible because of the Faustian deal, and he needs to make the best of it. It has to do what none of its peers and precursors (The Thiefs, The System Shocks, The Deus Exes) have done – become not just a hit, but a enormous HIT. If Bioshock does anything short of changing our world, he's failed.
So, yes, he likes to talk. As he should.
Anyway – Bits of the interview end up being cannibalised for features in PC Gamer UK, Wired and Edge. If they come online, clearly, I'll be linking to them – the PC Gamer one has lots of stuff on designers’ ethics and needs, while the Edge one is a making-of look at System Shock 2 (The Wired one's up now, and you've just wandered past its link. And I've edited the PCG one in now too - Ed). However, even with all that, there were still several thousand words of interesting material left spare. In the days leading up to Bioshock's release, Rock Paper Shotgun seems the perfect place to share them. I've included narrative bridges for the bits which have gone into the other pieces to give context. Oh – and this feature was written before I'd played the finished game, having only experienced the first couple of levels in preview.
We start at a fairly obvious point, but I was fishing for quotes for the more general-readership Wired feature. Bear with us, and read on for Ken's thoughts on the legacy of System Shock, how Little Sisters were formerly insects, the nature of superheroes, objectivism and, of course, much more.
Okay, so, a crash course in css coding means I've given the site a bit of a much-needed makeover, plus it should now look as intended in IE6 (though if you're using that as your browser, frankly you're too insane to possibly care what this blog looks like). If you do stumble across any appearance/layout problems, please don't toddle off elsewhere on the internet in disgust: we're still fine-tuning. Instead, please let me know about the problem and I'll attempt to fix it.