February 28th, 2010
Ages ago, I was asked to write a series of questions for an interview with Radical Entertainment for Pixel Hunt (yeah, yeah, I know) which unfortunately never eventuated. This was part of a cover feature scrapped at the last minute because of unresponsive PR people, hence the awkward promise of an interview on the front cover.
Radical Entertainment are the developers behind Prototype, the open world PS3/360 adventure released last year. In case you need a reminder, here’s a trailer:
I’m a huge fan of their sleeper hit Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and at the same time was very cynical towards the mindless violence and brutality which seemed to frontline Prototype. The opportunity fell into my lap and as you can imagine, I was pretty ecstatic. Talking directly to the developers, sharing commentaries and analysis is frankly a dream for me. So rather than settle for the standard template which’d allow the developers to act as pseudo PR folk, spruiking their wares (“Tell me about this patented mechanic..”, “How will this patented mechanic make your game better than similarly derrivative titles?”, “Will you be taking it to ‘the next level’“?), I wrote a list of questions which I felt would benefit the readers as much as possible.
You can find the questions below, for your perusal. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get some answers.
On the Prototype universe/Trans-media Franchising
Video games and comic books have had a rather fruitful history together. Prototype‘s protagonist Alex Mercer and his story seems like something taken right out of a comic book. In fact much like Dead Space, Prototype has its own comic book series in production. What do you think of the merging of these two mediums, and how do you think Prototype will continue to expand this relationship?
On the comic book, the first issue is already available, does this make Prototype a video game adaption? How do you guys handle both of these properties?
With both the comic and video game, in a sense it seems like you’re creating a universe, rather than say a conventional game property. Do you think the Prototype universe will continue once the game is released?
Downloadable content is all the rage these days, are the team interested in exploring this option and do you think it’s likely Prototype will feature any?
On Radical Entertainment
Radical Entertainment has produced several successful open-world titles in recent years such as The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Scarface: The World is Yours, how does the team go about finding new ground to cover in the open-world genre?
As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Hulk:UD, I was pleasantly surprised to see how similar the two titles are, particularly in terms of ability sets. This is by no means a negative criticism, Hulk was fantastic, but how do you balance new and borrowed gameplay mechanics?
On the game itself
What I personally enjoyed about Hulk:UD was how the game empowered the player, you felt like you were this green wrecking ball of destruction. Prototype carries the same bad-ass mantra. How do you give the player such a strong sense of empowerment and how will Prototype elevate this feeling from Hulk?
Prototype is the first Radical Entertainment title made exclusively for the next-gen systems. What sort of features are we going to see in Prototype that couldn’t have been done on previous systems?
Interactivity and destruction is a trade mark quality of your titles, how much of Prototype‘s world will be destructible?
In the recent story trailer, executive producer Tim Bennison said that the “web of intrigue” narrative system, where players obtain past memories through taking the form of NPCs, plays well to the strengths of interactivity in games. Can you elaborate on this?
In the same trailer, I noticed that the game had this sudden injection of colour, particularly green and red. The original trailers had a very limited colour palette, mostly greys, was this change a conscious design choice or hadn’t we just seen those parts of the game yet?
Prototype is obviously a very violent, mature-themed title, as developers of adult games are you ever concerned about the implications of markets that haven’t yet adopted an R18+ classification, such as Australia?
On an online podcast, several reporters were airing their concerns about the way Prototype depicts violence and how the people showcasing the game were proud of the glorification of violence. Several of the reporters found it rather distasteful, how do you walk a fine line between cool/disgusting or tasteful/distasteful violence?
Prototype has been compared to inFamous (PS3) by Sucker Punch. Coincidentally they’re two open-world, comic-book-inspired titles with parkour elements being released in extremely close proximity. The comparison obviously isn’t fair for either company, but what do you make of their efforts?
Do I make a good interviewer folks? >_<
February 25th, 2010
Geeze, it’s been roughly 6 months since the last Play Impressions article. You can hardly call it a regular feature anymore, can you?
The quality of a 2D Sonic game hinges largely on the level design. Controllability and presentation tend not to really matter since the games follow an established template. Level design, on the other hand, is a huge point of contention. The main reason why we still crawl back to our Megadrives (/console of choice) to play the original Sonic the Hedgehog is because the levels are so richly layered with branching paths. Each level was seemingly intended to be enjoyed multiple times over, offering players a great deal of replayability. Furthermore, Sega motivated players to explore by 1) distinguishing alternative paths from the main route and providing a fair window of opportunity/sufficient scaffolding to reach them 2) occasionally slowing down the pace (in cramped areas, for example), giving players room to mine for secrets. Exploration gave Sonic shape and dimension, and is ultimately what propelled him up with the likes of the Mario series.
Sonic Rush is perhaps closer to a series reboot than anything else, since it largely forgoes the exploration elements in replace of high speed spills and thrills. Alright, alright, I lied. Exploration is still present, however it plays the role of rewarding macho, elite players who enjoy rote learning the stages, more than anything else. Sonic Rush is a much faster game than the original Sonic, and unfortunately the means to exploration haven’t been adjusted to match. There are fewer slower-paced exploratory moments in Sonic Rush and the prompts to branching paths (springs boards, jumps, and the race track construction as a whole) zoom by before you even notice them, offering minimal opportunity to diverge. On top of this, the number of huge leaps and dual-screen drops rule out any possibility of backtracking, and the number of branching paths have decreased too. Overall, the frequency and means to exploration are made so narrow, that the point is almost moot and, as a result, Sonic’s original sophistication has been cut to a single dimension (the run fast and be cool one). You see, this Sonic Rush is exclusively about speed, which means that most levels play out like roller coasters, where the best method to success is to hold right on the d-pad and watch the fireworks go off. There are some new moves adapted from the 3D titles as well as mid-air tricks, however, for most holding right and jumping occasionally will prove suffice.
When it’s all done and dusted, this new Sonic is fine, it’s just kinda shallow, I guess. Fans could rightly argue that the new move set replaces the exploration elements and rightly sustains the sophistication, and maybe they’re right. However, there’s only one instance in the game where the new moves are mandatory (World 2, Stage 2) and not enough leg room elsewhere for them to be all that useful, honestly. Actually, I didn’t even realise that these moves existed on my first play through and had no problems, so the mechanics are superfluous in my mind. In anycase, Sonic Rush only validates my comparison to Unirally, by heading further in that direction, and that ain’t half bad.
We Love Katamari
Rolling up a snowball of commodity items to wacky Japanese music certainly has its charm, yet I wonder, how long it’d take before the magic runs dry? Fortunately, we don’t ever get to find out in We Love Katamari as it’s surprisingly varied throughout. This variety in the mission-per-mission gameplay and the overworld of quirky characters wrapping it all together keeps the concept feeling suitably fresh. It’s ironic then that such a repetitive game can feel so new and exciting. I mean, every level requires the player to partake in what is fundamentally the same activity (push giant sticky ball to roll up random objects), yet there’s enough spin on the parameters and gameworld itself that each level, mission, you might say, is prevented from feeling overly familiar. In this regard, Katamari reminds me of Burnout Revenge, where each track/level is re-used multiple times over, sometimes reversed, sometimes with different parameters or objectives, and sometimes you’ll just venture down one of the track’s different routes/shortcuts. The same content is repeatedly farmed for gameplay and you’re primarily doing the same thing, it’s just that the individual approach of each “mission” gives the game a continually new angle.
What bugs me about Katamari is the king and his delusional legion of fans. After almost every level, the king and whoever he has on his shoulder will complain that you didn’t roll a larger katamari. I could deal with this criticism, if not for the fact that it doesn’t necessarily require more skill to roll up more items, just the luck of being in the right place at the right time. Most “skill”, the kind the game is dissing me over, one would think, would come from rote memorisation of the areas most densely populated with roll-upable (?!) goods. In which case, it feels like Katamari is taking cheap shots, which works against the relaxed nature of the game.
Irrelevant question on stylisation: if I shorted a title (ie. the original Sonic, Katamari), do I still italise it? :$
February 23rd, 2010
It’s seems the harder I squint at GTA’s, please excuse me, f**king terrible storytelling, the more abhorrent and offensive it becomes. There’s a consistent theme though, where your regular, fair-dinkum crook climbs the criminal hierarchy by sucking off his scummy superiors. Perhaps it’s a lesson in power and the people whose inheritance of capital grants them power. In this way, the GTA games could be seen as an allegory for capitalist culture, after all, the radio stations are keen to critique American culture, so it would make logical sense for the narrative to participate also.
In GTA, drugs are the main form of capital. Drugs translate into money which can then be used to buy/facilitate the purchase of more drugs, so basically whoever runs the best drug racket runs the city. You’re goal, beginning from the bottom is to reach the top of the criminal hierarchy. Because GTA’s world is market-driven, you take missions which involve obtaining and securing your capital. Of course, being a game of capitalism, GTA is all about subordination since the weight of power in a capitalist system is akin to a pyramid, where power is held by as fewest people as possible. So, you’re not really obtaining and securing your capital, but the capital of your wanker superiors. (And as an aside, its the flamboyance of these characters which is the bane of my frustration).
Your correspondence between these gate keepers also mimics the capitalist system. You begin as a lowly hitman and climb the ranks, switching to people of continually significant power, until you’re granted a little bit of capital yourself. It’s often at this point where some form of manager steps in to assist in your affairs and the game approaches the final chapters as your connections grant you quick gains.
The most interesting part of GTA’s representation of a capitalist system is the endgame. The GTA narratives conclude only after the protagonist has climbed to the top of the ladder, thereon completing the “game of life”. Toni Cipriani doesn’t simply carry on as a contented hitman or chauffeur. Part of the decision to conclude the narrative at the top of the system is inherent. Games, as programmed creations need an absolute ends, and it’s much easier to justify a position of “maximum” power as the conclusion, rather than simply the contentment of the avatar which the player themselves co-authors.
GTA offers no alternatives to capitalism either, the narrative begins with the protagonist’s submission to a gang leader, the representation of the player’s newfound place at the bottom of the food chain.
Along the way the player is introduced to heroes and victims of the system. The heroes are the drug lords and gang leaders who commission the trade of capital and become the eventual lower rungs. The victims are the rival gangs and syndicates who succumb to the power struggle and the deceased which pave your way forward. It would be remiss of me to forget the real victims, the citizens who become caught up in and around and player’s activities. Most curiously, from my experience—and no, I haven’t played GTA IV—the only time the player’s narrative intersects with the people’s is in Louise Cassidy-Williams subplot in Vice City Stories.
So maybe all of that squinting had resulted in something after all.