Awesome: Dan Houser on making a sci-fi Grand Theft Auto

OXM has an interesting story covering an interview with key Rockstar figure Dan Houser about the possibility of making a science-fiction themed Grand Theft Auto:

Science fiction Grand Theft Auto is “very tempting”, says Rockstar boss

We will do it the very second we have an idea,” Houser replied, when asked whether the franchise would ultimately transcend the present day. “One of our strengths is the consistency of the game world. We’re not necessarily the best writers in the world, but we how to write a video game.

When we decided to make a Western, it was because we knew we had something to say,” he went on. “We have no interest in going into science fiction for the sake of flying cars and laser guns. The best science fiction stories are those that speak about the human condition. So while this idea is very tempting and, by definition, anything’s possible in a videogame, we lack the essential thing for the moment: a good reason.

It’s good to know Houser recognises that a good story is at the heart of quality SF instead of just “flying cars and laser guns”. As each GTA seems to get bigger in both scale and ambition, I wonder if the shift into the coming next generation of consoles will finally see this dream realised. A space-based GTA? I’d be there in an instant.

It does, however, beg the question of what is happening with Prey 2. The enthusiasm based on the amazing trailer soon fizzled away as it got repeatedly postponed, then troubling stories emerged of the developers being on strike. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappear completely – an open-world space bounty hunter game would certainly get my interest.

Awesome: LucasFilm delays 3D rerelease of prequels to focus on Episode VII

20130128-180022.jpg

From StarWars.com:

Lucasfilm has decided to postpone this fall’s scheduled release of Star Wars Episodes II and III in 3D. Given the recent development that we are moving forward with a new Star Wars trilogy, we will now focus 100 percent of our efforts on Star Wars: Episode VII in order to ensure the best possible experience for our fans. We will post further information about our 3D release plans at a later date.

Yet another win. I’m sure they’ll keep milking existing Star Wars to death but for now they’ve decided to make something new before they do it. Hopefully Episode VII turns out good enough that when they inevitably milk it to death I’ll be ok with it.

[source: starwars.com]

Awesome: JJ Abrams still involved with Star Trek, Mission: Impossible

JJ Abrams

When it was announced that JJ Abrams had been signed to direct the new Star Wars there’s been on big question: does this mean he’s not doing any more Star Trek?

Gina McIntyre at the LA Times:

According to Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore, Abrams — who directed both 2009′s “Star Trek” and the upcoming sequel “Star Trek Into Darkness” — will still be involved in some capacity with a possible third “Trek” movie, at the minimum as a producer, if not also directing the film.

Moore also pointed out that Abrams will continue to play a role in another of the studio’s most valuable franchises, “Mission: Impossible.”

“J.J. will continue to develop projects for us including a new ‘Mission: Impossible,’ and he is committed to produce another ‘Star Trek,’” Moore said Friday afternoon.

I’m taking this as good news. I still have mixed feelings on the whole affair, no small part of which is that I’m not really sure that its right to have one guy at the helm of three major franchises (two of which are completely beloved).

That said, power to him. That much high profile work must be a good problem to have.

[source: LA Times Hero Complex]

Awesome: Searching for the Heart of Bungie

Russ Pitts writing for Polygon:

Two things become clear as we sink deeper into [Pete] Parsons’ canned presentation. The first is that it really isn’t canned; Parsons knows every intimate detail — the memories are ingrained, not memorized. The second thing we discover is that Parsons’ affection for the Bungie Pentathlon trophy wasn’t a punt after all; of all of his company’s many accomplishments, crafting the perfect, nearly-insoluble team is the one of which he is absolutely most proud.

He describes how he meets with employees on their first day, then again, a month or so later. He describes the indoctrination, the counseling, the nurturing. He uses the world “family” — a lot, and sincerely. He tells the story of how he finally conceded the studio needed an IT department after he became too busy to troubleshoot computers and lay cables himself. He lovingly describes every feature of the studio building — custom built from the ruins of a defunct bowling alley (downstairs) and movie theater (upstairs) — not in the way of someone describing their new mansion in the Hollywood Hills, but rather the way a librarian might describe a new reading room. As if it’s not a monument to his own largesse, but rather a construction for the benefit of others.

He describes the intensive security measures: key-card coded front door; the beefy, menacing guards at the front desk; the cameras; the second set of doors guarding the stairway to the production floor and the third set of doors at the top of those stairs. And then he ushers us behind those layers of security to see what few have seen before.

Be sure to check out the embedded video as well. It’s always awesome to get a good behind the scenes look at a group doing work that you love.

[source: Polygon]

Awesome Daily – X-Men, JJ Abrams and Jurassic Park – 27th Jan 2012

Kitty Pryde, Iceman and Rogue all back for X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer announced Saturday via the twitters that Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin will all be returning to the franchise in the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past film:

This is going to be interesting. Days of Future Past is a crazy time travel story which is how we have the First Class cast and the X1, X2 and Last Stand casts all together. I’m looking forward to seeing how they tie the 60s versions of the characters together with the present versions of the characters if only because of the few very subtle things that made me consider them to be different time lines. – Matt

Star Trek fan talks about JJ Abrams taking the job directing Star Wars

Jordan Hoffman at Badass Digest:

Know this: I love Star Wars. Star Trek is a key part of my life, but the other, lesser franchise is still a great deal of fun. You wanna grab beers and yap about IG-88 or Midi-chlorian counts or the lesser known works of the Mon Calamari Ballet Company? I’m down. But the thing is that Star Wars, at least for people in my age group, was something that was accepted – it was never not cool. Star Trek only became cool very, very recently. And J.J. Abrams, for better or worse, had something to do with that.
The basic gist, as Mashable quoted me, is this: I feel like J.J. Abrams took me out to the prom but left with the hotter girl.

The whole thing is definitely worth a read. He’s more upset than I am, but it does mirror my feelings on the situation pretty well.

[link]- Matt

Jurassic Park 3D Blu-Ray gets a release date

Jurassic Park is coming to theatres in 3D in April, and then it’s coming to 3D Blu-Ray. Mark April 23rd on your calendars if you want to pick it up.

If you don’t care about 3D you can get all three movies on regular blu-ray on the 26th of March.

[source: The Verge] – Matt

Awesome Daily – 26th Jan 2013

Hello! Welcome to the first Awesome Daily.

So many little things happen during the day that Matt and I want to share, but often they’re little snippets or redirects and not really suitable for a full-blown article. We’ve started putting them on our Facebook page (LIIIKE USSSSS sorry) but want to make them available to everyone. So, we’re going to try and make a single daily post of all the little bits and bobs we think are cool from the day. It could be the announcement of a new film from our favourite director, a quick iPhone recommendation or just a reaction to something we’ve heard – a quick and easily digestible slice of the day’s cool news. Let us know what you think.

Ready Steady Bang, Free game for iOS

So, let’s get started with my new favourite thing – Ready Steady Bang on iOS. It’s a free single press quickdraw game that is all about fast reactions. The single, multi and online player modes, combined with a deliciously simple graphic style, has already made this essential. Grab your gun and start taking down those pesky outlaws.

[iTunes link] – Simon

JJ Abrams Confirmed to Direct Star Wars Episode VII

It’s official folks. Press Release from StarWars.com

After a bevy of emails and phone calls, the formalities have been wrapped up, and at long last everyone can exhale and properly share the word with an excited Internet. Yes, J.J. Abrams will direct Star Wars: Episode VII, the first of a new series of Star Wars films to come from Lucasfilm under the leadership of Kathleen Kennedy. Abrams will be directing and Academy Award-winning writer Michael Arndt will write the screenplay.

“It’s very exciting to have J.J. aboard leading the charge as we set off to make a new Star Wars movie,” said Kennedy. “J.J. is the perfect director to helm this. Beyond having such great instincts as a filmmaker, he has an intuitive understanding of this franchise. He understands the essence of the Star Wars experience, and will bring that talent to create an unforgettable motion picture.”

George Lucas went on to say “I’ve consistently been impressed with J.J. as a filmmaker and storyteller.” He’s an ideal choice to direct the new Star Wars film and the legacy couldn’t be in better hands.”

To me this is good news. I’ve found his films good but, uh, safe. What I will say is that while I like what he and his team with with Star Trek, the storytelling style is likely much better suited to Star Wars which is more Science Fantasy that Science Fiction. Not that it really matters, you know I’m going to be there on opening day. – Matt

LOL: Everything Wrong With Avatar in 4 Minutes or Less

CinemaSins released the latest in their Everything Wrong With… series.

Some of these are a bit of a stretch if you ask me but its still funny.

[YouTube Link]- Matt

Far Cry 3: Playing Outside The Box

Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3

The alternative subheader for this article was “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Radio Tower”. In a way, it would have been more fitting (along with providing me with personal amusement). I lost sight of what Far Cry 3 wanted from a very early stage, and the resulting few hours were a revelation.

That’s not to say it doesn’t try to capture your attention. Starting with a POV cutscene with you and your brother being sneered at by bad man Vaas behind the bars of a bamboo cage, your subsequent escape is a suitable launchpad for some open-world vengeance. It’s also worth noting that the voice acting and mo-cap is truly exceptional, raising the pirate leader above clichéd baddie tropes into something genuinely unsettling. Being spat headlong into the jungles of Rook Island with your brother’s gruesome death still ringing in your ears would be an obvious point where you grab all the guns you can carry and fight back along leafy linear forest corridors.

The designers of Far Cry 3 had different ideas though, and this deviation in structure is the first clue as to how the next few hours might play out. Your character is quickly taken under the wing of a local community leader who suitably outlines the Quest for the Hero and places the first gun – a pistol, of course – firmly in your hand. Once an initial test is passed (which might as well be referred to “THE TUTORIAL” by everyone involved), your new leader points you towards the house of a doctor where you can meet one of your friends. There’s also some mention of hunting and collecting and crafting but it all gets filed away behind the predicted promise of bullets and bloodlust.

It’s at this point I tried to stock up on weapons – buy what I could, note prices for upgrades, gear up for the road ahead – but soon found that I just couldn’t carry anything. Almost literally. The space in your pockets makes way for one gun, a couple of syringes (read: health packs) and flowers, but that’s it. All the things I would take for granted in an FPS such as weapon slots and ammo pouches were held back, each instead showing requirements based on one vital ingredient: animal skins. Pigs, goats, tapirs, dogs, sharks…it was a menu that demanded I go off and get lost, explore, kill, skin, and craft. I could absolutely head to the next mission marker, but it soon became apparent that I would need to expand in order to succeed.

Jason, your character in the game, is established very early on as Just Some American College Douchbag. Does this make him more relatable than a grizzled super soldier? I’m not so sure, but I was certainly maintaining this naive inexperience in my first few attempts at hunting. Shooting at pigs wildly as they scurry away doesn’t exactly carry Bear Gryllis levels of success, especially when you find yourself running directly into an enemy encampment, stabbing some guy through the neck in a panic before leaping off a cliff to escape his comrades. The Monty Python style of predatory strategy. Finally running out of bullets, I resorted to throwing a remote charge in the path of a deer before removing his skin with fire and flame. Overkill? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.

This need for skin of various types led me to a wider use of the map, searching for their silhouetted shapes in various habitats. Much of this is obscured by blackout, a result of the radio jammers similar to the one you briefly visit in the tutorials. These towers are styled very much like the high structures in another Ubisoft title, Assassin’s Creed. Once you ascend and pull out the important wires from a red box, the camera completes a wide pan and the area is added to your map. The map, once cleared, becomes either the green of free movement or red to show that an enemy camp controls the area. Often these camps are placed between you and the next radar tower, meaning their removal becomes a logical next move, and they invariably consist of small compounds with a selection of enemy types that you conveniently identify and track constantly, even through rocks and foliage. The icons that appear magically stuck above their heads tell you of their predisposed attack routine – snipers, grunts, chargers, armoured heavies; dangers that are immediately recognisable by anyone who’s ever played another FPS. These patterns become a puzzle, your attack strategy forming on the basis of how they will each react.

And so this pattern emerges, of movement, analysis, exposure, and attack. A radio tower exposes the position of an enemy camp which, when cleared, leaves a quick-travel location close to the next tower, and so on. The odd hang-glider – kindly deposited on every mountain edge by a militia group obviously into their airborne pleasure trips – merely amplifies this idea of moving against the scripted tide that normally sweeps you towards the campaign markers. As you discover more towers, it’s quickly obvious that their collective order has a combined difficulty curve. Ubisoft rightly holds back from making it too tricky (few things are more frustrating than poorly designed first-person platforming sequences) but the sequence of moves required takes on a maze-like quality that actually reminds me of Portal. The enemy camps also become harder, with alarm boxes, animal cages and spread-out enemy types calling for a carefully planned sequence of attack. Of course, there is your growing arsenal as assistance for when this all goes wrong and you have reinforcements snapping at your hells whilst being chased by a tiger, but it doesn’t give you the same sense of freedom and accomplishment.

It was after a night of just going through this pattern that I realised how well Far Cry 3 fits being played purely as a spacial puzzle. The layout of the towers and camps directly reflects their complexity and it’s very easy to fall into the trap of “just one more”. It also helps that death is totally meaningless, with a liberal checkpoint system dumping you back either at your most recent fast travel location or just outside an enemy camp in the seconds before your first shot. However, where FPS puzzles hold your attention by changing the rules after carefully setting them up, Far Cry 3 eventually falls into the trap of repetition. The island is detailed and expansive, but it starts to feel that you are completing the same actions in every scenario, albeit in a different order. It doesn’t help that Jason is apparently a “normal guy” yet can yield a sniper rifle with pinpoint precision. Even with the numerous Alice In Wonderland references pointing to the whole game being a childish fantasy, there is never any chance to connect with a protagonist who is such a superficial cypher.

The obvious move is to head back to the campaign, but this only serves to exacerbate the emerging issues. Each mission is tightly scripted and suitably bombastic, but they ultimately feel frustrating and restrictive after many hours of roaming. Unfortunately, it’s at this point where the free movement around the island reveals itself to just be smoke that conceals the cast-iron linear structure of the game’s heart. With no reason to push on solving the puzzles and no compulsion to guide your sudden action hero through his paces, Far Cry 3 becomes more about what might have been.

For the latter hours of the game I was unable to stop myself comparing it to Just Cause 2, wishing that it could somehow absorb that game’s amazing sense of freedom and exploration. Along with Crackdown, JC2 used its game world to lure players into fun endeavours that had nothing to do with the story but existed purely to have fun. It allowed us to journey outside of the usual structure of following a set path and gave us the sense of adventure so absent from many games today. I would not be able to tell you how many hours I spent in JC2 attempting to carry an enemy to a remote mountain peak with a helicopter, or line up the perfect jump in Crackdown.

Far Cry 3 shows you down a path of humid jungles and creaking towers before bringing you back and saying, hey, there’s a way you need to play this game. It’s a shame as there’s so much potential for it to become the free fantasy it constantly teases. I wanted to get lost and have an adventure in the tangled secrets of Rook Island, but in the end, the game kept finding me and bringing me back.

Genuinely Great Xbox Live Indie Game Alert: Grid Space Shooter

GSS

 

I’ve always been addicted to Geometry Wars in all its forms and hold up Retro Evolved 2 as my favourite twin-stick shooter. Bizarre Creations showed how to get the perfect mix, with tight controls, enemy variety and lip-bitingly tight spaces to squeeze your ship through. It’s fair to say that every GW clone that has been released since then has each fallen wide of the mark. Whether it was the pace of movement, the connection between finger, stick and ship or the design of the fighters, there’s never been a similarly-designed game that’s been able to replicate the raw thrill of Geometry Wars.

I was therefore ready to be disappointed with Grid Space Shooter. Xbox Live Indie Games have been a real mixed bag – with a few notable exceptions, it’s not been the hive of quality that was promised at the beginning. There have been a fair number of moves to cover GW’s bases, neon lines attempting to hide the lack of inspiration in design. My expectations were low.

What a beautiful surprise, then, to wade into Grid Space Shooter only to find it’s tight, frenetic and beautiful. After a gentle tutorial to cover the basics – ship choices, special weapons, controls – it’s into the first level of a series that quickly ups the ante. Enemy ship designs are distinct and varied, each having an unique look that quickly becomes synonymous with their movements and quirks. From tiny pulsing globes to giant motherships (and even something that looks like Ghostbusters’ Slimer with a shield and sword), it’s a real treat to see so many enemies on screen without performance taking any kind of hit. As the levels unfold, new weapons and power-ups appear (both for you and your enemies), until the screen is a bleeding tangle of lasers and danger.

The barrage of weapons is where Grid Space Shooter makes itself distinct from all the twin-stick shooters that have come before, even from Geometry Wars. It’s clear that bullet hell games such as Ikaruga have had an equal impact in design, as the higher levels need pixel-perfect manoeuvring skills to stay alive. It’s a testament to GSS that this never feels unfair or unresponsive, with control of your ship feeling incredibly tight yet free and glossy. Weapons come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, each with a tangible impact as they hit. My favourite is the Microwave gun. Oh yes.

Alongside the regular mode is an Arcade option that is purely about highscores on a table, perfect for a friendly rivalry. However, past the one-upmanship there’s even a two-player co-op option in the main game, screen split down the middle for maximum destruction. It’s all such an attractive package and, for just 80MSP, it’s an absolute steal.

Highly recommended, then. It doesn’t carry the immediacy of Geometry Wars’ shorter, more focused gameplay, but Grid Space Shooter brings to the table enough variety, style and prolonged excitement to actually threaten the template. Fire up the Xbox, treat yourself, and go find the Microwave gun.

 

webboxart   Grid Space Shooter, Xbox Live Indie Games, 80MSP –

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Grid-Space-Shooter/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550c8c?cid=RSS

 

New Game Plus – Hundreds and Repulze

I bought some games! Feels really good to be able to do that again. Incidentally the whole story of my gameless year is coming very soon.

So, the first game I’ve bought with my own money since December 2011 is an iOS game called Hundreds. Developed by the minds behind Canabalt and Solipskier (two of my favourite iPhone titles), Hundreds has a clean aesthetic to match its simple core. By touching the circles on screen, their numerical value increases rapidly, and the stage is complete when you reach a combined total of 100. The circles change from grey to red as they inflate and, if you touch anything else in this red state, it’s immediate failure. The simple beginning stages ramp up in difficulty rapidly, drip-feeding new dangers like spinning blades, requirements for simultaneous touches and all manner of obstacles. Luckily, I haven’t come across any time restrictions yet, so it seems to promote a peaceful, patient approach that soothes as much as excites. The downsides I’m experiencing could be due to iPhone screen space – some levels need you to move your touch with the circles and it can be hard to maintain focus on the game screen when your fingers are covering so much of it. Also, I can’t see the point of the occasional word puzzles that invite decoding, but maybe their role will become more apparent.

That said, these negatives are mostly outweighed by the crisp design and cunning puzzles so Hundreds still comes highly recommended, especially if you’re playing on an iPad. It’s on sale until the 10th, so now’s a good time to grab it.

Hundreds

Hundreds, iOS App Store, $2.99 – https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hundreds/id493536432?mt=8

 

The second game I bought was a complete impulse buy – its introductory price of 99c is always hard to pass up – and I’m very glad I took the chance. Repulze is basically, unbelievably, WipEout running on my iPhone. Well, it’s not the full experience of the Playstation hover-racing classic, but it’s still entirely disconcerting that it runs and controls so well. It’s purely about lap times – there are no weapons, which is actually a very smart move – and the pace of the racing is dizzying. An element that the developers have added is the way boosts are awarded. As you race around the track, you have the option to pass through red or green energy gates. Go through three that match your current polarity, and you can then boost by tapping the centre of the screen. The polarity of your ship flips with every boost, so it keeps you constantly analysing the track ahead for the perfect line.

Control wise, it’s taken the approach of reducing everything down to two buttons, and the default sensitivity feels perfect. Your craft constantly accelerates, so it’s just up to you to navigate your way through the twirling, spinning future tracks by pressing left or right. However, it’s not for the faint-hearted – the difficulty level is high from the off and the badges required to unlock the next track can sometimes feel near impossible. However, it’s the kind of difficult that makes me want to improve rather than quit, so if you’re already a future racing fan, I can’t recommend Repulze highly enough.

Repulze

Repulze, iOS App Store, 99c – https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/repulze/id573934243?mt=8