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Escalator Pitch photo
Escalator Pitch

Escalator Pitch: Funktronic Labs sells me on some all-time classics


These guys have good taste
Mar 13
// Brett Makedonski
It may not be as enthralling (or wacky) as a cat cafe timeshare, but Funktronic Labs has something it wants to sell me.  You see, these two guys heard I was wandering around GDC last week with a satchel full of money, j...

Let Ashes of the Singularity change your notion of large-scale RTS

Mar 13 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288981:57764:0[/embed] While the demo we were shown wasn't playable, it was a real-time simulation of a game. The developer could pull the camera out until the various troops were nothing more than barely-visible dots. The size of everything was simply enormous. I was told that it was one of the smaller maps. If controlling 10,000 of anything sounds unwieldy to you, you're probably right. Each unit can be controlled directly, but Ashes of the Singularity gives the player to group various troops into meta-units. Meta-units are made up of any arrangement of troops the player desires. They function as a cohesive whole that are much more manageable in theory. The example given to me was that of a meta-unit consisting of tanks and artillery mortars. Without player input, that make-up will automatically put the tanks in front to provide defense, allowing the mortars to lob artillery shells from the safe cover. The player can tinker with that on an individual basis, which offers a nice sense of customization. However, it wouldn't make much sense to, given that a single unit out of thousands is the equivalent to a proverbial drop of water in a bucket. In all honesty, the demo seemed more like a boasting session for Nitrous than it did a glimpse at Ashes. Maybe, given that it's the first title on the engine, they'll become synonymous in a sense. But, it's impossible to not be impressed by the infrastructure. Thousands of units individually tracked, and creating unique shots and explosions is a solid framework for any game. However, that doesn't mean Ashes of the Singularity will necessarily be good. We have to wait a bit longer to find that out. Oxide Games and Stardock are going the Early Access route with this one, taking feedback into consideration to mold a better final product. Ashes of the Singularity will hit Early Access in the summer, and it's shooting for a proper retail release later this year. Even if we don't know how it'll ultimately turn out, we know for certain that its strength lies in its numbers.
Ashes of the Singularity photo
Strength in numbers
Real-time strategy titles often feel large-scale by design. There are a whole bunch of units on the battlefield, and the player's tasked with directing them all simultaneously. Even if there aren't that many actual parts in t...

Terraria: Otherworld photo
Terraria: Otherworld

Terraria: Otherworld's GDC trailer drops more hints about its alternate universe


Crystal defender
Mar 12
// Darren Nakamura
When Terraria: Otherworld was announced, it was difficult to tell from the trailer what makes it stand apart from its big brother Terraria or futuristic half-cousin Starbound. Developer Re-Logic's description gave some insig...

Mortal Kombat X brings back some familiar faces for Story Mode

Mar 12 // Alessandro Fillari
Mortal Kombat X (PC, PS4 [previewed], PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)Developer: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentRelease date: April 14, 2015 I think we were all pretty shocked by the culling of the majority of the Mortal Kombat roster in the last game. Many of the central characters that have been with the series for the long haul were killed off unceremoniously during the story, which was crazy because it was permanent. And although descendants and new variations of the characters are set to return, the cull was about giving Mortal Kombat a fresh roster for its next installment. During our hour spent with MKX, we saw quite a bit of the game's content, and even a few surprises that we can't share at this point. But I'll let Abel explain his thoughts on the future of MK. Abel: So let's get the big news out of the way: Johnny Cage is back! NetherRealm hasn't lost its touch with Story Mode. Like Mortal Kombat before it, Mortal Kombat X breaks its story into chapters, each following a specific character. It's absolutely the best storytelling in the genre, allowing you to play with most of the roster while delivering a cohesive narrative. We've come a long way from beating arcade modes with every fighter and trying to piece together the events. During our preview, we only got our hands on chapter one starring Johnny Cage. It was a great chapter though, packed with character reveals -- we got to fight against Scorpion, zombie Jax, and Sub Zero, as well as Shinnok. Oh, and Fujin is back, tearing armies up with his bestie Raiden. If I had to pick a gripe though, I was not a fan of all the choreographed fights in this chapter, some of which dragged on to the point of annoyance. I'm all for kicking back and watching Johnny Cage beat the stuffing out of Scorpion as a helicopter goes down, but there came a point where these scenes would drag on so long as to actively annoy me that the real fight hadn't started yet. The quick-time events didn't help much either, especially considering that success or failure in them had no bearing on the real fight, like they did in Injustice. Here's to hoping Johnny's chapter is the only one like this. [embed]288771:57744:0[/embed] Alessandro: I was a big fan of the previous MK's Story Mode, so it was exciting to see them continue on with that. What surprised me most was that chapter one with Johnny Cage essentially served as the epilogue for what happened in the ending with Shinnok and Quan-Chi in MK9.  It only takes place about a year or so after that story, and by the chapter's end it seemed to have the MK9 storyline wrapped up for the most part, which will lead the way for MKX's central story (which is set over the course of 25 years). But I suppose this goes along with this game being a somewhat clean break from the mythos into something new.  Abel: A new mythos will definitely be welcome, and from the recent story trailer and what we've played, it seems headed firmly in that direction. If I had one fear before playing Story Mode, it's that MKX would retread the stories of MK4 through Deception, the same way MK9 covered MK1-3. Alessandro: After Deadly Alliance, I felt that the series maybe got a bit too away from itself, and just went for a more 'kitchen-sink' approach. As in they threw in everyone from past and present into the story at once. A lot of the content and characters felt like filler, and catered more to the ridiculous side of Mortal Kombat. That's not necessarily bad, but I appreciate that the series is going for a more leaner and refined approach now. MK9 did a lot to help bring it back, and I'm really pleased with MKX following suit with its gameplay. Abel: HEY!!! I liked Chess Kombat, but you're right, combat is king in MKX. This was my third time playing MKX, and what struck me most was how comfortable the combat felt. None of the combos you spent time mastering in MK9 will translate, but familiarity with those games will be a leg up. With returning characters, a lot of the special moves either have the same input as MK9 or a similar logic. Down-back-something for a teleport, down-forward-something for a projectile, etc. What has changed the most though are projectiles and teleports, both of which feel much more punishable. Projectiles in generally all feel much slower than MK9, with lots of telegraphing to boot. Make the mistake of missing with your opponent nearby, and you're open for a big punish. Same goes for teleports which, when thrown out in a pinch, more often than not led to me and Alessandro trading hits.  Alessandro: I basically stuck with my favorites, Sub-Zero and Ermac. The variations system made them feel familiar, but still pretty fresh. I think this system will add a lot of nuance for the characters, as each style will completely change their modus operandi. Interestingly enough, the variations were locked during Story Mode, so it seems like they'll switch between the styles during the chapter's narrative for specific moments. I also really dug the fact that it's taking cues from Injustice for the meta-leveling system. You got experience and koins for completing matches in Story Mode, which could be invested towards factions and other rewards. I appreciate that it's all connected together. Abel: Speaking of connectivity (SEGUE!), NetherRealm announced a Mortal Kombat X iOS version, not unlike what was done for Injustice. By "not unlike" I really just mean "the exact same thing." Combat is the same tap for light attacks, swipe for heavy attacks, then build up meter to unleash a super move or X-Ray attack. Characters all come as cards and fight in teams of three with bronze, silver, and gold variations of each. You upgrade your cards, improve their stats, and fight your way up increasingly difficult ladders. Again, it's exactly the same. The monetization plan is the same too, offering a store to purchase new characters cards or energy to fight. The most interesting thing are the unlocks you can get by linking your WBID to your app and full game. The Batman Beyond suit in Injustice was amazing, so here's to hoping MKX will have similarly cool rewards. ----- Our time with the MKX came to a close after our hands-on with the mobile devices. We definitely wanted to give the versus mode another shot, as we obviously only scratched the surface of the game's content, but it's probably best we left at that point. Thankfully, the game is not too far off. I'm hoping that NetherRealm keeps a tight lid on what's in store for Mortal Kombat X till release. With new characters being shown off so often, I worry they're likely giving away too much. Regardless, we're plenty excited about what MKX has to offer. Abel totally geeked when Fujin appeared with Raiden to fight off Quan-Chi's forces, and I can tell that there will be plenty of those fan-service moments that diehard MK players will enjoy. For me, Story Mode in MK9 was the best the fighting game genre has ever had, and with the upcoming game pushing that even further, it's looking like we're in for something really special next month.
Mortal Kombat X photo
Heeeerrre's Johnny!
It's been less than a year since its reveal, and we're already rapidly approaching the release of Mortal Kombat X. After its predecessor essentially rebooted the franchise with a return to 2D-style combat, many fans got a new...

Xbox to indie devs: There's a place for your game on Windows 10, no matter the size

Mar 11 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288897:57724:0[/embed] According to Charla, that's the program's ultimate goal. "The most important thing to us is to make sure that when someone turns on their Xbox One or their Windows 10 device, they have access to a really broad array of videogames," he said. "The nice thing about that is that for us at ID@Xbox, it creates a really easy, kind of north-star central goal that we align ourselves to every day which is 'Let’s make life really easy for developers.' The easier we make life for developers, the more we reduce friction to get onto our platforms, the more we make Xbox and Windows 10 a great sustainable ecosystem." That's where Windows 10 comes in, at least in the gaming space. If Microsoft wants consumers playing games on any Windows 10 device, it starts with convincing developers to put their titles on those platforms. But, Charla deals solely with indies -- a demographic that's not known for their extensive resources. Would this mean that some independent developers might be averse to the idea of over-extending themselves to too many platforms at once? Charla doesn't think so. He commented "We’re not about trying to put requirements on developers; we’re about providing options for developers. The thing with Windows 10 is that it has a huge, broad reach. That doesn’t mean you have to make your game work on phone on Windows 10, and on PC on Windows 10, and on HoloLens on Windows 10. You should make your games for the platforms, endpoints, or devices that you think it’ll succeed on. We think that including Xbox Live needs to be pretty straight-forward, and for the developers who have done it so far, it’s been pretty straight-forward. And, they’re not the biggest developers in the world, right? We think it enables developers to offer their players an interesting addition to the game." It will make for an interesting option for developers, but it's also Microsoft's vision of the future (at least for now). It's reasonable to assume that Xbox and Microsoft have a vested interest in getting as many developers as possible to philosophically buy into the program. Given that ID@Xbox helps indies publish their games, maybe Xbox will offer extra incentive to developers that release across multiple platforms. It's easy to see a scenario where these studios are offered some sort of preferential treatment, whether it be in the form of extra support or funding. However, Charla denies that this is the case. He insisted that while ID@Xbox is dedicated to decreasing the burden on developers, it's not sweetening the pot for some that are willing to help this new ecosystem thrive. Instead, that assistance is being distributed unilaterally in the form of services such as speeding up the certification process or holding showcases for the games in the program. And, now it's about giving developers options. But, one option that still won't be available is XNA. XNA is a free toolset that's aimed at developing games across several Microsoft platforms. Some notable examples of titles created with it are Dust: An Elysian Tail, Bastion, Fez, and Charlie Murder. There's talk within the development community that it'll make a return, and this new emphasis on unifying games on Windows 10 seems like the perfect time. When asked point-blank if XNA is coming back, Charla responded with a definitive "No." He elaborated "But, I think that when you think about what XNA was for, a lot of that spirit is still at Microsoft in the desire to make sure that anyone can create games for Microsoft devices, whether they’re a 150 team at a major publisher or a teenager who’s just learning how to code. We want to make sure that the Microsoft ecosystem is a place where you can make games and learn. In that spirit, XNA was a solution design for the technology that was available at the time. It was a program that was created to foster the creative spirit. We’ve always said that we want Xbox One – and by extension, Windows 10 – to be a place that isn’t just a place to enjoy great content; it's a place to create great content." Really, that's step one when it comes to creating a platform for games: make sure people want to create there. That's what ID@Xbox is dedicated to doing. Charla wrapped up the interview by saying "But, it’s important to us to support developers and to make their lives easy, and to support the spirit that anyone can make a game." By most accounts, ID@Xbox has been doing that all along. Now, Windows 10 just makes it so developers have a few more options.
Xbox interview photo
'We're about providing options for developers'
Microsoft announced last week at GDC in San Francisco that it was introducing cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 devices. That opens a world of possibility in ways for developers to deliver games to their audience. So...

Hiveswap GDC photo
Hiveswap GDC

The Homestuck videogame isn't as dense as the comic


But then again, what is?
Mar 10
// Mike Cosimano
You know where you stand when it comes to Homestuck. Even if you don’t know what Homestuck is, you’ve already taken a side. The infamously dense webcomic has more than its fair share of rabid fans, avid haters, an...

Heat Signature is the best game I saw at GDC

Mar 10 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288833:57687:0[/embed] Heat Signature (PC)Developer: Suspicious DevelopmentsPublisher: Suspicious DevelopmentsRelease Date: When it "feels ready" If you look at Heat Signature, it’s not difficult to see a through-line between this game and Gunpoint. There’s a lot of opportunity for emergent gameplay in both titles, with an emphasis on improvisation. I often found myself cracking up whenever something went wrong. Rebounding from a mistake never felt impossible. Here, you play a little dude in a little ship. That’s all I know for sure; there’s currently no story attached to the game. Francis is dedicated to feature locking before he starts writing a story around the mechanics, but there will be some form of narrative component in the final product. Your ship is designed for boarding, so your only form of interacting with other ships is smashing into their airlock and hopping aboard. The build of the game I played had three different kinds of missions: steal an item, assassinate a crew member, or hijack a ship and fly it back to a certain spot. They’re simple enough on their own, but the missions take on a whole new life when things start going wrong. For example, I accidentally blew up part of a ship during a mission. I had to kill a target in a different part of the ship, but the corridor I was supposed to take was in pieces, floating through space. So I docked my ship in the blown-out part of the mining vessel, creating a new airlock, only to find a locked door. The only option? Spawn more explosives and make an even bigger mess. I never actually got to my target, but I could have hijacked a nearby ship with actual weapons and blown my target to smithereens, if I were so inclined. So many games claim to offer open problem solving, but Heat Signature actually delivers (much like Gunpoint). For example, in the build I played, it’s possible for your breaching ship to be destroyed. So, in lieu of a breaching ship, you can launch yourself out of an airlock towards another ship’s airlock, steering yourself with a gun. Even the death state feels exciting and improvisational. If you get killed while on a ship, you have to remote control your ship in your direction before you bleed to death. Since your ship has realistic thrusters (e.g: the only way to slow down is to thrust in the other direction) as opposed to being able to turn on a dime, you’re forced to master the controls if you want to keep a particularly lucrative run going. This also factors into the game’s title. Running your engines heats up your ship, which causes your *ahem* heat signature to become visible to enemies. I often ran my thrusters at full blast for a second, launching me across the galaxy but keeping my ship cold. However, this often caused me to slam against the hull of the enemy ship, causing me to careen off in the opposite direction. Closing the distance between you and your quarry -- a simple mechanical loop in any other game -- feels like an adventure unto itself. And that’s Heat Signature in a word. It feels adventurous. It feels big. It captures the imagination. Maybe it’s unprofessional to express this level of enthusiasm, but I’m not going to sit here and lie to you about how I feel. This game is awesome. I can’t wait to play the full thing.
Heat Signature GDC photo
What's cooler than being cool?
Gunpoint ultimately had very little to do with guns. It was a smartly designed puzzler with an immensely satisfying core set of mechanics and witty dialogue. But the title never came into play; pointing guns at people always ...

GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

Final GDC DLC launches with massive bugs, Mountain Dew shotgunning


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 10
// Steven Hansen
Destructoid has launched its fifth and final GDC Daily Lunch Chronicles and interim cameraman Mike Cosimano again screwed up the sound. Instead of letting him get cute with ragtime music and title cards like last time, we're...
Escalator Pitch photo
Escalator Pitch

Escalator Pitch: Armello dev goes all in on escalator etiquette


Pitching on the idea of international escalator law
Mar 10
// Steven Hansen
Indie developers make some cool as heck games, but they're not always so great at selling them. We want to them work on their pitch game until they're at Bumgarner levels and we want to take advantage of the the horrib...

3D Realms: Bombshell is the only one who could kick Duke Nukem's ass

Mar 10 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]288478:57688:0[/embed] So, much like Bombshell herself, 3D Realms rebuilt the game. A lot of the grit and edge was suppressed. Her steely, crude mechanical arm was traded in for one that looked technologically useful. Her exposed midriff was exchanged for a functional suit of armor. And, what was once a half-shaved head is now a full head of hair. Most importantly, Bombshell looks like a significantly better game than we were led to believe almost a full year ago. Even if it may not seem like much variation for most studios, Interceptor and 3D Realms are spreading their wings with Bombshell. This isn't a first-person shooter. It's an action RPG with an isometric view. Again, it's an attempt to differentiate from Duke. 3D Realms acknowledged that when you specialize in a single genre, you become too comfortable. When you move outside of that comfort zone, you're able to look at everything from a different point of view. Actually, "different point of view" also extends to long-time 3D Realms fans, as it perfectly describes what they'll find most jarring about Bombshell. This has an isometric view, a top-down camera that gives a clear look at everything in the near vicinity. There's also a jump mechanic to go alongside some light platforming that may or may not prove frustrating. The role-playing aspect may be 3D Realms' greatest trick. Bombshell features two different currencies that are used for upgrading passive stats and weapons. This forces the player to figure out what they want their strengths to be, and to adjust gameplay accordingly. When you think about it, that's so wonderfully not 3D Realms. But, where 3D Realms doesn't stray too far from its tried-and-true roots is that Bombshell asks the player to kill everything in sight. It doesn't matter how it's done -- simple shooting, blowing things straight to hell, or even detaching Knuckles (her mechanical arm) to serve as a temporary turret. Just know that there will be foes, and they will ultimately die. Those enemies come in the form of three different races of aliens. In an unlikely twist, they're all working together. Predictably, 3D Realms wasn't too eager to talk about the story. What it was willing to say is that there's something valuable on Earth that the aliens want. Also, they've captured the President of the United States. Where Bombshell comes in is a "just one last job" sort of plot device. Her backstory is that she was the leader of the Global Defense Force, and her career came to an end during something called "The Washington Incident" -- a mission gone wrong in which she lost her arm and her crew. With the President abducted, they rebuilt her stronger than ever. Okay, admittedly, this story eschews all semblance of nuance or subtlety thus far. The dialogue's equally gruff, with Bombshell usually spouting off exactly what you'd expect Generic '90s Action Hero to say. Of course, 3D Realms promises that there's lots of plot to discover along the way. Hopefully it serves as a way to introduce Bombshell as a deep and interesting character -- not just a less crude, female Duke. Maybe the biggest uncertainty -- and there are a fair number -- is just how seriously 3D Realms takes itself with Bombshell. Is a lot of this tongue-in-cheek? Is it completely straight-faced and lacking self-awareness? Will it somehow shape up to be less ridiculous (and that's in no way a slight against the game) than during my 30-minute demo? The tone is a giant question mark, but then again, maybe it doesn't really matter. '90s clichés will come off as entertaining and badass, regardless of Interceptor's and 3D Realms' true intentions. Whatever the answer may be, we won't have to wait too long to find out. Bombshell has its sights set on on a summer release for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It remains to see whether it's enjoyably explosive or a dud. But, rest assured that it's definitely not the Bombshell you knew a year ago.
Bombshell preview photo
She's got the arsenal to do it
3D Realms is keenly aware of what players know it for. Sure, there are plenty of titles in the publisher's history that should stand out, but for all intents and purposes, the company might as well re-name itself The Duke Nuk...

Escalator Pitch photo
Escalator Pitch

Escalator Pitch: Ska Studios talked me into a cat cafe timeshare


The most adorable mis-investment
Mar 09
// Brett Makedonski
I have proven time and time again that when I have money, I do dumb things. I think that Ska Studios knew that this, combined with my strong affection for kittens, made me an easy target. Looking back, they probably couldn't...

Windows 10 makes it even easier for gameplay videos to go viral

Mar 09 // Brett Makedonski
In our demo, the presenter chose to record footage of Goat Simulator running on Steam. Goat Simulator was selected because "[It] shipped on Steam about this time last year. The developers haven't really touched its base functionality since it shipped. It has no knowledge of Xbox One, or Game DVR and Windows 10. But, Game DVR is a feature of the Windows 10 operating system, and it's available to any game played." After just a bit of nonsense in Goat Simulator (which isn't difficult to accomplish), he recorded the clip and showed how Windows 10 saves it. "No smoke and mirrors, no magic, no special file formats. They're just 1080p .mp4s sitting in my videos folder." From there, users can either use the Xbox app on their computer to select start and end points, or they can use any video editing software to make more nuanced edits. Once the clip's suited to their liking, it can be uploaded anywhere, just like any other video. When we asked whether users will find this feature to be resource intensive for Game DVR to always be recording in the background, Microsoft responded by saying "We're working on what the performance profiles of different hardware configurations are. You're going to have best experiences with modern GPUs, but you're still going to be able to use it if you have an older system. We're going to be very upfront about whether it's on or off by default because of the performance profile of your system." But, limitations of your system aren't the only way to turn Game DVR off if it isn't to your liking. The presenter elaborated "We want to put that flexibility in the user's hands. If they say 'frame-rate is unequivocally the most important thing; I don't care how tricked out my rig is.' If they want to turn it off because that's what they want to optimize for, they're going to be able to." A decent chunk of today's gaming space is occupied by sharing unique gameplay videos on sites like reddit. Some personalities thrive on it; others are just normal players that had something wacky happen to them. Whatever the case may be, Windows 10 will make it easier than ever to get those special moments out in front of a crowd.
Windows 10 photo
'No smoke and mirrors'
The latest generation in gaming has brought with it an emphasis on sharing. Screenshots and gameplay videos can be relatively easily captured and uploaded for anyone's audience to see. It's a smart way to drive interaction --...

Firewatch has topless teens, meaty hands, and mystery

Mar 09 // Steven Hansen
Henry clambers up rocks in the Wyoming wilderness with some effort. When I walked towards a little broken bridge, the distance between the side was so small that I felt, in other games, I might be able to walk right over it without jumping. For Henry, it required a little wind up, a jump, and a moment to steady himself on the other side. This mundane pace isn't a slog, it's an important part of Henry's characterization. And, so far, it is there without feeling "unfun," if that's a worry for you. It is restrained, but not patience taxing, and you're constantly engaged in radio dialogue while milling about (atypical in narrative/dialogue heavy games that have you focused on text or choices at the expense of movement). It is Henry's first day on the job as a park lookout. On the other end of his radio is his supervisor, Delilah. They are surprisingly glib for being recently acquainted, especially given their professional dynamic, but otherwise the dialogue felt natural. Except for Henry's bumbled, "p-p-p-p-p-p-panties." [embed]280443:55506:0[/embed] Tasked with investigating some fireworks, Henry finds an abandoned camp with fireworks and booze strewn about. I opted to hang onto the still full whisky bottle, which Henry assured me was a good brand. After kicking out the fire, you can follow a trail of undress all the way to the lake. Delilah is unfazed by reports of bras and underwear, and maybe even chastised Henry's bumbling use of the word "panties," which, c'mon, "underwear" is fine. Down at the lake the two nude swimmers in the distance are illegible against the sun and real creeped out by the weird old guy wandering around. You can yell at them (or ask nicely) to quit with the fireworks, or just throw their boombox into the lake and kill their tunes. They also issue Henry a sick burn in the form of a Sizzler buffet joke. I am pro Sizzler jokes forever. More intrigue abounds as day gives way to a brilliant blue night. A mysterious figure in the distance that Delilah assures you is just a hiker becomes more ominous when you find your lookout tower broken into. What Firewatch has done right in this piece of the game so far, removed from the overall narrative, is provide enough grounding detail to its gorgeous world. That and use the radio mechanic to weave "choose a response" style dialogue divergence a bit more neatly into walk-and-talk play.
Firewatch hands-on photo
Firewatch with me
I've been firewatching out for Campo Santo's new 'exploration mystery' since hearing about the talent behind it. Artist Olly Moss, Mark of the Ninja designer Nels Anderson, and season one The Walking Dead ...

Hands-on with Cuphead: Equal parts charming and challenging

Mar 09 // Steven Hansen
[embed]288823:57676:0[/embed] While the old-school difficulty (three hits and you're dead) is just reflective of developers' design inspirations, it does feel fitting that something this labor intensive to make won't be easily beaten. In fact, piratical ship helm Captain Silver remained unbeaten as long as I stayed at the event, despite a (joking) $2,000 reward. I was able to dispatch the first boss after running across the overworld to a vegetable patch. A grumpy potato pops out of the ground and begins spitting balls at you, every third one or so a pink ball that Cuphead can straw slap (pressing jump while in the air) to charge a super meter. The hit box and timing window for straw slapping pink bits is tight and after the first boss, the bits get real small, so straw slapping instead of straight dodging is risk reward. Again, three hits and you're out. After shooting up the potato enough -- it is adorable that Cuphead's gun is just cute little pew pew beams out of a a pointed finger and raised thumb -- a creepy carrot emerged in the center of the stage. It had red eyes circle in opposite directions and would rub deeply at its temples while bringing homing missiles down. I missed a super to its face, but was able to beat it. [embed]288823:57678:0[/embed] From there I skipped some of other fights I'd seen others play and went straight for the white whale (of the demo) Captain Silver. Silver stands atop his boat on the right side of the screen, occasionally shooting you with pink pellets. The best way to blast him it to get right on under him, but a pesky barrel that drops from the sky screws things up for you. Silver has a couple other cronies he'll whistle to call, too. From the front (right), a series of four tiny sharks with dog collars will plop on deck and slide left, chomping all the way. You can jump over them or crouch and shoot them, but you may also be dealing with Silver gunning for you and that barrel drop at the same time. Like any good classic boss fight, managing screen space is key. Same goes for the big great white Silver calls. It crashes in from the back (left), filling up much of the dock and forcing you forward, which can be extra troublesome late stage when the ship's mouth opens up and starts spitting cannonballs at you. There's also a squid who comes up with a wry smile shaking ink from an old-school ink pot, muddying the screen, which I found hilarious. Cuphead's two-player co-op wasn't playable in the demo and there wasn't much of the overworld, sidequesting, or platforming bits to mess with, but these boss fights are on point, it feels good, and it's charming as hell.
Cuphead hands-on photo
The holy grail
Cuphead has existed in a state of unreality to me since its E3 reveal. Despite seeing footage of the game, it remained in my mind a concept. One that I was in love with, mind. 1930s style animation. A character whose head is ...

GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

Escalator Pitch: Would you invest in Majora's Mask?


Would you fund The Legend of Zelda?
Mar 09
// Steven Hansen
We're back with more Escalator Pitches from last week at GDC! Expect to GDsee more of them going up throughout the week. Indie developers make some cool as heck games, but they're not always so great at selling them. We wan...
GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

GDC 15 DLC #4: Pita wraps, damn good fries and ragtime


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 08
// Steven Hansen
We didn't have usual cameraman Kenny Redublo during our fourth lunch of GDC (see us dining with Dale here) and things went a bit awry. Our substitute cameraman Mike Cosimano had some fun with it, though, with some silent mov...
GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

GDC 15 DLC #3: Japanese katsu curry with Dale


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 08
// Steven Hansen
Look on ye hungry and despair. Familiar face Dale North joined us for the third Daily Lunch Chronicles (watch the last one here). Back behind the camera, Kenny managed to empty his plate before both of us while shooting, but...

Skyworld takes unique advantage of Valve's new virtual reality tech

Mar 06 // Alessandro Fillari
For our demo, the developers led me into a closed-off room which housed Valve's virtual reality hardware. Around the room were two cameras that tracked movement and set the boundaries of the VR environment by scanning the dimensions of the room. They then handed me the headset, which still looked as if it was in the prototype phase. Wires to the headset were numerous, which required a belt around my waist to hold all of them down. Honestly, it felt like I was wearing something from '90s cyberpunk like Ghost in the Shell or Johnny Mnemonic. It was weighty, but had a number of devices working at once. I actually almost tripped over one of the wires before our demo even started. But any apprehension I had for the device soon faded once I tried out the interface and witnessed it in action. With the headset on, I was in a home menu showing a number of games and applications. The controllers they gave me, which were also connected with wires, were two wand-like devices that were somewhat like a mix between the Sony Move and Wii Remote. Similar to the headset, they were in early form. Using trackpads on the controllers allowed me to cycle through options. And just for fun, pressing down the trackpad caused a balloon to inflate from the controller in the digital space, which was amusing. It felt intuitive, and surprisingly accurate. I could look around to see the menu system with its grey, almost minimalistic background, but the Valve engineer instructed me to look towards the floor. On the floor was a box, which represented the center of the space. Once I started walking forward outside the box, I made it a few steps before a grid popped up in front of me. This grid represented the physical wall that I was about to walk into, which the camera picked up and visualized within the VR space. It was pretty cool stuff, and I felt that I could've spent plenty of time exploring the home menu, but of course, they had a game to show. [embed]288675:57632:0[/embed] Last year, the developers of World of Diving showed off an impressive demonstration for their underwater-exploration sim. The use of the Oculus Rift was well designed and featured impressive depth and range. With the success and buzz they generated with that title, they attracted the attention of Valve, leading to a partnership. But the new VR technology they were presented meant having to design something a bit different. "When they asked to work together with us to make a demo for the GDC announcement, the first thing that came to mind was that we should do something like World of Diving," said creative director Richard Stitselaar. "But that title was designed around the first Oculus, and then the DK2 came along, we had to ramp it up to seventy-five frames per second, then Valve came along and said 'guys, it needs 90 frames per second.' So we had to do a lot of optimization on the game, and we figured we should use our knowledge with VR and apply it to a new game instead." Skyworld is totally different from World of Diving. Set on a floating island that houses a small civilization, you play as an omnipotent ruler that must wage war on the opposing side. As a quasi tabletop turn-based strategy title, players use both Steam controllers as wands in game to conjure up creatures and interact with the world. Over time, you'll build your defenses and expand your resources, which will allow you to send infantry and even dragons to attack your enemies. With the left controller, I was able to pull up a magic book, which housed unit info and spells to cast. Using the right controller allowed me to interact with the elements on the table. Whether picking up units to reposition them or interacting with blacksmiths or dragons, each controller had its own separate uses that complemented the other. "First we had this interaction model where you would look at something as this dot in the middle and then select it," said Stitselaar. "It feels natural to have something in your hand that could enhance the world itself." When you think of VR, you're probably thinking of something that's a bit action-y or fast-paced, and likely not a turn-based strategy title. But Skyworld definitely makes great use of the technology. I was able to view all aspects of the environment with clarity, as zooming simply meant stepping closer. Of course, I had to let go of some very basic certainties when playing with the demo. For instance, we all know that if there's an object in front of you, then you'll likely have to move if you want to get around it. I spent much of the demo walking around the 'table,' never thinking to actually walk up to whatever object I wanted. Eventually, the engineers from Valve and Vertigo Games instructed me that it was okay to walk through the table -- it wasn't real. After attacking enemy installations and moving my infantry around, my time with the demo ended. It was fairly brief, and I felt I only scratched the surface of what I could do. Valve's technology was easily the most impressive use of virtual reality I've seen in a long time, though. Moreover, Vertigo Games' work impressed. I was pleasantly surprised to experience a title that used VR in an original way. While the technology has a ways to go before it will get in the hands of consumers, I'm excited about what the future of VR holds.
Valve VR photo
Vertigo Games talks the future of VR
We got a big shock at the beginning of the week when Valve announced its partnership with HTC to produce a new virtual reality headset. We all knew the company had ambitions to enter the console market with Steam Machines, bu...

Soul Axiom is a cross between Journey and Tron

Mar 06 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288643:57628:0[/embed] Soul AxiomDeveloper: Wales InteractivePublisher: Wales InteractiveRelease date: Q3/Q4 2015  Soul Axiom takes place inside Elysia, a social network-type system that allows users to upload their memories and experiences, creating a sort of virtual self. You play as one such agent, sans memories. It was hard to glean any sort of plot from a hands-off demo without sound, but there seems to be something quite sinister happening inside Elysia. Over the course of my demo, I spotted a shadowy figure dragging away a coffin, and a shark attacked the player character towards the end of my time with the game. Unlike Master Reboot, which had a psychological horror bent, Soul Axiom will be more like a thriller. The game will still have a few scares, but Soul Axiom is not designed for spooks. It seemed too ethereal for that, for one thing. The game’s story will be delivered environmentally, similar to the excellent Gone Home. As you learn about the character you’re playing as, you’ll also learn about other people who have used Elysia. According to Wales Interactive co-founder David ‘Dai’ Banner, the team wants to communicate the story without resorting to infodumps. "We’ve got a story to tell, and we want to tell it," Banner said. In order to better understand the story they’ve written, Wales Interactive looks to focus groups. But they aren’t trying to appeal to a wider audience, as is so often the case when a developer uses focus groups. Banner was very adamant that the team wasn’t looking to make a "realistic" game. Soul Axiom is the game they wanted to make, even with the changes that come from playtesting. "We don’t want [Soul Axiom] to be so polished that it loses all personality," Banner said. Instead, the team is asking their focus groups what they thought was happening in the story, tweaking things based on the responses. This mindset is the primary reason behind Soul Axiom’s Early Access release. Unlike most Early Access games, this isn’t an unfinished beta. You aren’t paying for the privilege of bug testing. Banner is okay with tweaking the puzzles, if that means players will reach the end of their story. "We want everybody to see the whole game," he said. The game’s puzzles revolve around powers the player gains access to, like a 'phase' ability that lets players bring objects in and out of existence. Although most of the puzzles I saw were fairly simple (the first level is a linear tutorial), there were a few clear examples of Portal-esque environmental puzzles. It’s hard to not see shades of The Talos Principle in the game’s Egyptian level, so if either of those games are your bag, this might be also your bag! Please come pick up your bag. Soul Axiom was being shown off at the Xbox lounge, but it will be released simultaneously on Xbox One, PS4, and Wii U once the Steam version has been fully playtested. The team is aiming for a six month release window, with their worst case scenario a Q4 2015 release.  
Soul Axiom Preview photo
This Ain't Axiom Nexus
Everything you could say about Soul Axiom feels reductive. It looks like Journey mixed with Tron, except when it looks like Tron mixed with Tron. It’s a puzzler that evokes The Ta...

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection shines in some spots, has problems in others

Mar 05 // Brett Makedonski
Having demoed both games in The Handsome Collection, The Pre-Sequel came off as simply unimpressive. Moving it to current consoles and harnessing the increased power of the PS4 isn't enough to make the four-player local co-op consistently work. Requiring the game to render everything four times over took a noticeable toll on game performance. Despite playing a level that was relatively unpopulated, the frame-rate dropped an annoying amount. It's likely that this won't be the case with fewer users, and there's always the possibility it'll be patched out through optimization in the coming weeks. Another niggling spot in The Pre-Sequel was the menu interface. It's oddly zoomed in by default, and the player needs to zoom out to see the full picture. Although it didn't present much of a problem in our brief demo with a throwaway character, players who actually care about their character builds and weapons will be in and out of those menus with great frequency. [embed]286397:56948:0[/embed] For as much as The Pre-Sequel didn't impress, Borderlands 2 absolutely did. Playing the Tiny Tina add-on, our group of four made our way through extremely busy sections with no dip in performance. That's where Handsome Collection players who look forward to local co-op are going to be most pleased with this package. Apart from those impressions, these are basically identical to the two games as they were on legacy consoles. Gearbox confirmed that nothing's been changed with regard to any overarching systems such as drop rate. It's the Borderlands you already know and (maybe) love. Actually, as far as The Handsome Collection goes, you might be better off not knowing Borderlands yet. It seems like it's a nice introductory package for those that held off on exposure to the series. Anyone that has an extensive history with it will welcome the ability to import characters from legacy consoles (including level, Badass Rank, and campaign progress), but nothing shown marks much of an improvement from what's already been played. Aside from four-player local co-op, it probably doesn't offer enough incentive to most people to convince them to re-invest.
Borderlands preview photo
Borderlands 2 impressed, The Pre-Sequel did not
Traditionally, Game Developers Conference is a very busy show. After what seems like a three-month hibernation, the game industry slowly creaks back awake and GDC is the first time everything's in full gear again. As always, ...

Elite: Dangerous has bold plans for the future

Mar 05 // Alessandro Fillari
"It's always brilliant to see how many people were supportive of the game," said lead designer David Braben as he reflected on the initial debut of Elite. "So many people helped us do that, and one of the great things about Kickstarter is that it brings together a crowd of people who all have very similar goal. So it's worked overall very, very well for us -- I'm actually very proud of what we've done. And another thing, we've not only shipped the game, but we've continued support of the game." As one of the early Kickstarter success stories, Elite: Dangerous grabbed a lot of attention for its vision as a space-exploration title across a massive and ever-growing universe. As a sequel to the '90s space sim Frontier, many fans of the genre yearned for a return, which they got in Frontier Developments' crowdfunded title. Despite its scope and breadth of content so far, the creators already have much of the development mapped out for the next few years. [embed]288572:57606:0[/embed] "I see [the vision] for a very, very long time growing, and it'll keep us occupied. We said there would be paid updates, and some of the things we said you could do in those is going down to planet surfaces, get up out of your chair and explore the cockpit, boarding other ships, big-game hunting, driving other types of vehicles on the surface to explore cities; but designing each one is like a whole new type of game. We have to be careful, but to me those are the perfect types of game experiences." With the success of previous updates and expansions, such as patch 1.1, the developers fully plan continue support with new patches and paid content packs in the future. With the Wings update, which seeks to add more PvP content, co-op play, and other enhancements to matchmaking, there is a sizeable amount of content on the horizon. "We've had amazing dedication from a lot of players, many players have played a significant amount of time -- more than a thousand hours. We're listening to a lot of players and quite a few of the people who've played that length of time are saying 'oh, I've seen everything now,' and they actually haven't. The great thing with this model is that we can add content continually, such as the Wings update and the community events. We've only been out for around three months, and people are already sinking so much time into it." The most surprising announcement from this week was that Elite would be making its way to consoles. Though the space sim genre is somewhat notorious for its complexity and dense gameplay, the developers were adamant that the title would not only feature all the content released thus far, but also that it would not be watered down for consoles. "I don't want to dumb it down," said Braben rather bluntly. "I'm an Xbox gamer, and I love games on my Xbox, but there are some games I feel that have been dumbed down a bit [for console port]. I get sick of tutorials, that are giving you very obvious instructions. So overall, I'm very excited about the console. It'll offer a different feel for players where you're sitting back on a comfortable chair or siting up close to a desk." Of course, with the recent trends seeing virtual reality as the future of games, the developers wanted to get ahead of that by being among the first to officially support the device. Which certainly plaid off, as it's one of the most used games for the Oculus Rift headset. As more companies are announcing devices, Braben is optimistic about the potential VR has for gaming. "[Working with VR] has been a good experience," he said. "The great thing about being independent is when we first released [a beta] in 2013, there was Oculus Rift support five or six days later, which we added. We were always excited abut it, and we thought our game would make great use of it. What's good to see now is that the number of new head-mounted displays coming out, and I think that's exciting -- what's interesting is that I think there aren't any other triple-A titles like Elite: Dangerous that are officially supporting it right out of the box. We see lots of demos, but it's surprising to see there isn't a consumer release VR headset." It's great to see that a hardcore space sim has been so widely accepted by fans. And as the game grows every few months with its updates, players will have plenty of content to dive into. The future looks bright for Elite: Dangerous, and with the console releases on the horizon, the barrier for entry is much lower now for those looking to dive into interstellar exploration.
Elite: Dangerous photo
The developers talk content updates and VR
Things have been going well for Frontier Developments. With the success of Elite: Dangerous, which features a sizeable and passionate community of space explorers, and having won the prestigious Audience Award from the 2015 G...

GDC scoop photo
GDC scoop

Call of Duty developer Activision showing off Fun at GDC


I make fun, too
Mar 05
// Steven Hansen
We are very busy at the Game Developer Conference eating hamburgers and erecting edifices, but between those activities we are hunting for hot scoops. Ducking behind corners of the Moscone Center's corporate labyrinth, we stu...

Dyscourse is a survival game that's light on survival

Mar 05 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288640:57626:0[/embed] DyscourseDeveloper: Owlchemy LabsPublisher: Owlchemy LabsRelease date: March 25, 2015  "[Dyscourse] is a story that happens to be about survival," Schwartz clarified. In Dyscourse, you play as Rita, an artist turned barista who has crash landed on a deserted island with a motley crew of "useless tourists." By virtue of being the player character, Rita will determine the group’s focus, be it escape attempts or long-term survival plans. Is your time better spent gathering water or building a giant SOS out of driftwood? It’s a very basic risk/reward system, but what sets the game apart is just how different each playthrough will be. There are no superficial choices. When a character is injured or insulted, that will affect how effective they will be. There’s even unique character models for exhaustion, described by Schwartz as multiple levels of "dishevelment." Since each in-game day contains multiple opportunities for physical exertion and mental exhaustion, there's a good chance you could end a day with a dead survivor, or at least a very incapacitated one. Post-day conversations allow you to potentially mend broken bridges. However, broken bones are another story. According to Schwartz, the game contains an enormous amount of content. “There are about 80,000 English words in the game,” Schwartz said. “So if an American novel is about 100,000, our writer basically wrote a full novel.” A standard playthrough will only see around 15% of that 80,000. It also seems like the team at Owlchemy has succeeded in making their characters feel memorable. Schwartz recounted an anecdote from earlier in the week where a GDC attendee was praising a survivor’s competence, when a total stranger who had demoed the game earlier in the week stopped to accost the attendee. In the other person’s mind, that survivor was bringing the whole group down. I played Dyscourse on an Xbox One controller hooked up to a PC running a “near-final” build of the game. It played quite well, leading me to ask whether the game was headed to consoles. According to Schwartz, they’re “talking to everybody” about bringing the game to other platforms, but right now they’re focusing on the Steam version. They have to be focused; the game comes out in just under three weeks. I’ll certainly be giving Dyscourse a look when it comes out. The game’s sense of humor really works for me and the art style is memorable. There’s also a free expansion planned, starring a host of indie developers (Tim Schafer, Rami Ismail, and more) who get stranded on the island on their way to GDC. In my mind, that’s the real reason to pick up the game. The branching stories and clever dialogue seems like a nice bonus.
Dyscourse preview photo
It's also not Early Access
Owchemy Labs’ Alex Schwartz is one of the bravest men I know. In the midst of GDC, perhaps the most inside baseball-heavy of all conventions, he told a member of the press that Dyscourse was a "survival game." Of c...

Volume is a more thoughtful approach to Metal Gear Solid VR Mission-like stealth

Mar 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]288637:57627:0[/embed] You do move around in real time, somersaulting over low walls and sticking to others for cover, but Volume isn't about hunting, human-like AI (especially not with the standard pawns). If you're spotted and cut enough corners to get away or duck into a locker, guards will simply reposition and you'll have another chance to get past them correctly. Thanks to plentiful checkpoints, each level -- there will be 100 -- acts as a series of connected stealth puzzles that tasks you with getting all the little blips and getting out.  Locksley will also be outfitted with gadgets picked up on the scene. You can hold one at a time and they add to the mind teasing. The Oddity will attract the undivided attention of any guard in sight, Figment sends a ghost clone running in a line, Mute will silence your footsteps so you can run, and so on. One other nice thing about the checkpoint system is that every time you die and get sent back, the stage timer reverts to whatever time it was at when you first activated the checkpoint. That way one screw up won't kill a leader board run or require you to replay the entire level from start. While I was enjoying sneaking about and feeling out how Volume plays, there is some story here as a, "near future retelling of the Robin Hood legend" starring the voice talents of Andy Serkis (Lords of the Rings, Enslaved) and Jim Sterling (Destructoid). There will also be hefty map-making and customization options to play with.
Volume preview photo
From the creator of Thomas Was Alone
Volume is a fitting name for a polygonal, Metal Gear Solid VR Missions-looking stealth game with enough rectangles to feed a geometry class for the entire year. In the case of Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone follow-up, howeve...

GDC VIDEO photo
GDC VIDEO

GDC 15 DLC #2: Oily hamburgers and Cranberries


Daily Lunch Chronicles
Mar 05
// Steven Hansen
The second lunch of GDC was much messier than the first, which you can watch here. Today (well, two days ago, actually) we went with an American staple, the "Hammed Burger," so named for the first woman who ever went totally...
IGF winners photo
IGF winners

These are the 2015 Independent Games Festival winners


Space exploration game Outer Wilds takes grand prize
Mar 05
// Jordan Devore
The winners of the 17th Annual Independent Games Festival were revealed last night in San Francisco and, my goodness, I've got names to Google today. I hardly recognize any of these! Excellence in Visual Art ($3,000) - Metam...

Rock Band 4 is coming, and it's bringing the party back

Mar 05 // Brett Makedonski
While it's important to look forward, fans also can't help but look back. After all, there are some pretty hefty investments there -- both with regard to instrument peripherals and downloadable tracks. Harmonix acknowledges this and is doing its best to make sure that there's continuity across the Rock Band brand, even if it has jumped to new consoles. With regard to instruments, Sussman says that the team's doing its best to ensure that legacy peripherals will be compatible with Rock Band 4. He couldn't definitively say that it'd happen, but Harmonix is working with Sony and Microsoft to try to work something out. Sussman said that he was confident in the chances those conversations would yield positive results. The other big concern, previously purchased downloadable songs, has an even better outlook. Harmonix is tackling the engineering issue, something that Sony and Microsoft are fully supporting. The only problem is that it'll require a lot of man-hours to essentially recreate every song in the library. It's going to eventually happen, but Harmonix can't say how long it'll take to get there. But, players definitely aren't going to be required to buy tracks a second time or anything in that vein. Of course, alongside Rock Band 4's release will be a set of brand new instruments manufactured by Mad Catz. However, that's not the extent of its involvement. Mad Catz is cooperatively publishing the game with Harmonix. This'll likely mark the largest software publishing deal in Mad Catz's history. [embed]288538:57603:0[/embed] Despite Mad Catz's involvement, Rock Band 4 won't release with a flurry of optional equipment like Rock Band 3 did. Because Harmonix is putting focus on the social aspect, it's mostly doing away with Pro mode. Drums will still be supported because the base instrument is all that's needed. Gone are Pro Guitar and Pro Bass. Also nixed are all forms of keyboard. Sussman said that through data collection, Harmonix saw that keys were played a very small percentage of the time relative to other instruments. Although this is the first time in a half-decade that Rock Band's making a return, there's also the well-founded rumor that Guitar Hero will throw its hat back into the ring this year. When asked if the studio was at all disappointed that it'd face immediate competition, Sussman seemed upbeat about Rock Band 4's chances against Activision's property. "We're focused on things we can control. However, I think our pedigree speaks for itself," he said. He's right; Harmonix has a history that's rooted in quality. However, maybe none of that really matters if the general audience just isn't ready to go back to Rock Band. When we pressed Sussman about the idea that most people from his audience seven years ago are likely in very different places in life now, he was unflinching. "While I realize that people move on, a love for music is all that's needed for Rock Band to be appealing to you. That's something that no one grows out of," he commented. Again, Sussman's right. Even if Harmonix stayed mum on a lot about Rock Band 4, it tipped its hand on what might be the most important facet: the game's tone. Rock Band 4 is all about the unique social experience that comes from playing music together. It wants to be a party, a constant source of good times. Basically, Harmonix is doing everything it can to make sure you want to get the band back together.
Rock Band 4 photo
Releasing in 2015, coming to PS4 and Xbox One
Five years after the latest installment in the seminal music/rhythm franchise, Harmonix is going on a proverbial reunion tour. Rock Band 4 is in development for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and it's currently scheduled fo...

GDC rumor photo
GDC rumor

Rumor: Phil Harrison taking his talents elsewhere


Goodbye Microsoft, he hardly knew ya
Mar 04
// Robert Summa
News from GDC has it that the one-time Sony exec and now Microsoft executive Phil Harrison is planning to leave his position with the company. Sources have confirmed with GamesIndustry.biz that he is stepping away after being...
GDC photo
GDC

Seen at GDC: Game development is for whites only


Diversity (or lack thereof) gets the stink finger
Mar 04
// Robert Summa
Spotted around the happenings of this year's Game Developers Conference was a sticker that tells us game development is for whites only. Diversity in game development (especially amongst the sexes) continues to be a hot-butto...
GDC photo
GDC

Creative Assembly reveals inital pitch video for Alien: Isolation


See the never before shown video that started development
Mar 04
// Alessandro Fillari
Alien: Isolation was one of my biggest surprises of last year. As huge fan of the film series, I always wanted to play a title that emulated the original movie's tone and style. Though the action of the James Cameron-he...

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