Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The shortcomings of Makeb

I’m not sure what I was expecting. Initially concepted as a content patch when Star Wars: The Old Republic was still using the subscription model, Rise of the Hutt Cartel released on April 14 and I’m already finished. I’m not level 55 though; I’m only about half way through level 52, but I’m done with Makeb. What seemed like a full, fleshed-out planet turned out to not even last 10% of length of the base game. Instead of something like Tatooine or Corellia, I got Quesh.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

LucasArts closing its doors

Disney announced today the closing of recently acquired LucasArts, publisher of games such as the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and all Star Wars video games.

In a statement to Game Informer, Disney said, “After evaluating our position in the games market, we've decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company's risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we've had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.”

The shift from internal development to licensing means more studios will have opportunities to work on previously LucasArts owned titles, most notably Star Wars games. The most recent LucasArts-developed game was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in 2008, and the last published game was last year’s Kinect Star Wars, developed by Terminal Reality.

Star Wars 1313, unveiled at E3 2012, along with the recently uncovered downloadable shooter, Star Wars: First Assault, are still up in the air whether they will see release. A Disney representative did note, “There's always a possibility that it [Star Wars 1313] can still come out via licensing,” but with the recent cancelling of The Clone Wars TV series, it seems Disney and Lucasfilm are focusing all their efforts on post-Return of the Jedi content.

When Disney acquired LucasArts back in October as part of the $4.05 billion deal for Lucasfilm, Disney CEO Bob Iger noted, “We're likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console. We'll look opportunistically at console, most likely in licensing rather than publishing, but we think that given the nature of these characters and how well known they are, and the storytelling, that they lend themselves quite nicely, as they've already demonstrated on other platforms.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The first Thief reboot trailer

Square Enix unveiled the first trailer for the recently re-announced Thief game. Previously slated as Thief 4 back when it was first announced back in 2009, it's now positioned as a reboot, taking Garret back into the industrial metropolis known simply as the City to take anything and everything. For those unaware of the lineage of the Thief series, there are sure to be comparison to last year’s Dishonored, which the trailer doesn’t try to sidestep. Thief is due to hit PC, PlayStation 4, and other next generation platforms sometime in 2014.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Defining atmosphere through BioShock

Games tell stories through dialogue, narration, and cutscenes, but it’s environmental storytelling, often referred to as atmosphere, that usually tells the most about a character or setting. One of the first things they teach in film study classes is the phrase, Mise en scène, translated from French meaning placing on stage. It means nothing in a scene is there by accident, everything is meticulously placed and serves a purpose.

Most games set up their environments effectively, but BioShock is one of the few games in recent years to do it eloquently, making the underwater city of Rapture feel not only natural, but real. From its art direction, taking on a retro 50s era aesthetic, to its inclusion of timely music from that era, BioShock created a unique place that, despite its dead and abandoned nature, felt alive and left its mark on players.

What makes up the atmosphere is a combination of art direction, sound design, and environmental details. The clip above encapsulates all these with the corpse of a Big Daddy sitting in the middle of the room, the wooden beam breaking from his dead weight, and the blood stains against the far wall, probably from the struggle between the Big Daddy and its attacker. But it’s the sound design that relies most heavily in this moment.

If you listen to the clip above and with your eyes closed, it’s amazing what you can interpret through just the audio. The voice of Dr. Tenenbaum realizing where her hatred is rooted from, the flooded area sways with the sound of water, the creaking of walls as water pressure pushes against them, the moan of the Big Daddy draws dread with each clamoring footstep, the mutterings of a splicer just outside the room looking for you. All of that is illustrated just with sound.

No matter how fantastic or unrealistic a premise might be, small details like stumbling uponwhat looks like a lived-in bedroom, rather than just a sterile room, helps create the sense of place. It’s one thing to find a crate lying around lifelessly that has no connection or context to it, it’s another to come across a half-played game of pool with bags of potato chips and bottles of liquor strewed about unfinished. It conjures narrative questions like, who was here, and what happened to them?