games quarterly Q1 - 2011
reviews & features
ÂŁ3.50 Issue 10
letter from the ed In this issue, we explore the phenomena of the ‘indie’ developer - teams of people dedicated to the development of video games that often break the rules of established, ‘pop’ game design. As such, we’re exploring almost every facet of amateur or ‘limited’ developers. What makes them tick? Can a team of just a handful hit upon riches and success? And,, what most people might want know - how do I get into the game’s industry? Whether under the guise of a publisher or an independent studio, timeafter-time small groups of inexperienced, yet highly driven and incredibly intelligent people have reached a stage of financial and critical success without the backing of a major publisher or investor. As you’ll see in the content to come, all it takes is a good idea, some technical know-how, and the willingness to be wrong. And as, with some, such as Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded’s creators, you don’t even need a base of operations - just a headset and some hard work. To celebrate, Games Quarterly’s website, gamesquarterly.com, will be host to a series of virtual video game design seminars that allows you, the reader, to collaborate on the creation of a video game. We also take a look at the progress of Final Fantasy XIV, after its director and producer were removed from the project following a flagging user-base. Has it ripened with age?
Q1-2011 Issue #10 4
The Progress Report: Final Fantasy XIV
The thing about survival horror
The Final Fantasy Retrospective
Game Design Seminar
Profile: Scott Mather
Portal 2 Review
Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review
Duke Reloaded Lead Interview
What in the biohazard hapened H to survival horror?
orror isn’t quite what it used to be. What was once an approach that enabled the human mind to cannibalize its own sense of safety, horror has become infected by a breed of protagonist far too adjusted to the situation they’re in. In brief: horror simply isn’t scary anymore. Resident Evil captured – though inadvertently, some might argue – a player’s startling level of incompetency. Cumbersome controls, awkward camera angles and limited inventory made even the simplest affairs the most tiring. And whilst some may be quick to lambast these particular limitations, the difficulty they instilled reflected a person’s own inability and maladjustment to the situation at hand. There’s not a chance in Raccoon City that I’d be able to effortlessly fire a weapon or navigate a seemingly endless maze of corridors infested by the undead and I’d-like-them-to-be-dead alike. This is what made Resident Evil truly horrific – it accurately reflected disabling shortcomings in dealing with such an ordeal. This, to me, is one of the staples of horror: its ability to make you doubt your own ability to survive. Imbue Jill Valentine with infinite health and ammo, and anything resembling ‘scary’ will dissipate faster than a zombies rotting flesh. Chris Redfield, Sheva Alomar and Isaac Clarke – perhaps owed to their ‘second-person’ perspectives – manage to retain perfect aim in-spite of an immense pressure to survive. Resident Evil 5 and Dead Space are hosts to varieties of hulking colossi. Yet, during their respective encounters, our heroes never betrayed even a trace of fear. If, just for a second, they could convey a genuine sense of horror, it would be a significant step to help me understand why I should be scared, too. It’s not necessarily about gigantically gruesome foes, either. Again, if you’re adequately equipped to defeat them – say, with a rocket launcher – they immediately cease to be a threat. In stark contrast, was barely playable for minutes at a time. Its atmosphere handed my mind the tools it needed to scare itself. Despite not seeing a single creature in the game’s opening moments, to continue felt like a genuine ordeal. A third-person “action-shooter” perspective doesn’t take away from a sense of horror anymore than a character’s inability to simultaneously move and shoot contributes to it. Horror, in my experience, is about exploiting the physical, mental and emotional vulnerability of the story’s protagonist in respect to their desire to stay alive. Moreover, the moment they become physically infallible action heroes, it immediately removes them from this human vulnerability. And the second a protagonist’s ability to survive becomes a given, it becomes difficult to be scared of something that provides little threat. Horror, then, isn’t quite what it used to be.
“There’s not a chance in Racoon City that I’d be able to effortlessly fire a weapon or navigate a seemingly endless maze of corridors infested by the undead and I’d like them to be dead.”
The Progress Report: Final Fantasy XIV F by Adam Meadows
ive months after release, Square’s latest massively multiplayer online-role playing game, Final Fantasy XIV, still feels like an antiquated mess. It ostensibly abandons design elements that lifted the genre from the depths of mouse-clicking obscurity to the realms of pop culture ridicule, leaving Square’s efforts to invite players to ask “why?” at almost every turn. It indulges in design choices that often seem arbitrary, counter-intuitive and, ultimately, detrimental. Naturally, one might be inclined to assume that an unwieldy interface is simply the by-product of a deep, complex and rewarding system. Here, however, this simply isn’t the case – Final Fantasy XIV is perhaps so obsessed with distinguishing itself from its contemporaries that it forgets what makes them work in the first place. And here, still, it forgets accessibility and convenience. There’s little doubt that the omission of spoonfed, screen-spanning tutorials is a valiant attempt to retain the integrity of those “oh, wow!” moments – those moments of discovery: a new ability, a new region, or a new friend. But it often left me to wonder if I had a missed something; it seemingly assumed that I had an intimate knowledge of the games’ systems. Even as somebody familiar to the genre – and a Final Fantasy XI Paladin of four years – Final Fantasy XIV could be an incredibly confusing and infuriating experience in its opening hours. Although “why?” was certainly at the forefront, XIV will prompt you to constantly question the game’s intentions. Limsa Lominsa - one of the game’s landmark cities - for example, is largely a collection of wonderfully constructed pixels with little life to inhabit them. To encounter another player on its vast and wide walkways is an extraordinarily rare and unexciting occurrence – at present, they may as well be ‘non-playable characters’. To this end, Final Fantasy XIV is largely an empty, desolate dead-zone. If you’re looking to venture into the realm of Eorzea alone, you’re looking a long, arduous and lonely pilgrimage - and not the epic Endeavour you might expect. Final Fantasy XIV is, at first glance, an antiquated mess. Its ability to evoke frustration is only matched by its ability to crush its promising ideas under the weight of its own stupidity. And in a genre that demands and rewards the world’s inhabitants with a level immersion matched virtually by no other, Enix’s flagship, just an hour or so in, is making it difficult to care.
“Final Fantasy XIV is, at first glance, an antiquiated mess”
“To this end, Final Fantasy XIV is largely an empty, desolate dead-zone”
A Retrospective: Final Fantasy the dawn of a new era n the verge of succumbing to financial oblivion after a spate of unsuccessful endeavours, Square had little choice but embark on a new adventure. Dedicated to painting a setting far grander than its eight-bit palette could ever hope to convey, the Japanese company turned to director and planner, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Assisted by a team of just six – a paltry number compared today’s teams of hundreds – Sakaguchi set out to portray a tale of magic, monsters, victors and villains. It was called “Final Fantasy”. Released in 1987 on Nintendo’s Famicom in Japan, Final Fantasy secured Sakaguchi’s place in the annals of video game culture. Shifting over 400,000 units, the designer’s brain-child proved itself popular with critics and consumers despite a torrent of technical troubles. More than two decades later, the franchise, of which is now on its fourteenth entry, has sold over 100 million units. Lead by Sakaguchi, the team consisted of programmer Nasir Gebelli, logo designer Yoshi-
by Adam Meadows
“61,440 pixels, 4 channels of sound and 16 colours” 6
taka Amano, writer Kenji Terada and designers Hiromichi Tanaka, Akitoshi Kawaz Koichi Ishii. Nowfamed industry composer Nubuo Uetmatsu contributed his musical talents to the title - a contribution that warranted the release of its own album.
The four warriors of light
Set in a world where the wealth and prosperity of its people relies on four crystals – fire, water, a role within the game’s combative earth and wind – Final Fantasy’s paradigm. Mages - Red, White and story details the actions of the four Black - could casts a variety of warriors of light – the forthcoming offensive and defensive spells. The of four heroes destined to restore Thief, Warrior and Monk, on the balance to the world, as each crysother hand, would deal and defend tal mysteriously loses its power. from physical damage. Although development A year after its Japanese tools and technology imbues Sal Romano - EIC, Scrawlfx.com release, Final Fantasy, after a today’s developers with an almost questionable translation and heavy untold level of polygonal pupRomano localisation – many ofSal game’s reli- - E petry, Sakaguchi and his team had gious references has to be changed 61440 pixels, 4 channels of sound to avoid the wraths of an American and 16 colours in which to portray audience – was unleashed on US the developer’s fantastical vision. audiences with relative success. For Text, too, was limited. The names a fantasy that was said to be “final”, of the game’s protagonists couldn’t Square’s endeavour had proved to exceed a four-letter limit. be a fruitful and life-saving one. Each character could adopt
left to right: red mage monk fighter thief white mage black mage
An endless dream
More than 23 years later, Square’s ressurection continues to cast a spell across a multitude of platforms, including the PlayStation 3, and, most recently, Apple’s popular platform, the iPad. And these aren’t ports, EIC, Scrawlfx.com either. The Japanese publisher’s subsequent efforts to re-introduce the world to the series’ debut meant that every pixel was re-drawn, every sound, re-smapled. Despite Sakaguchi’s departure in 2001, Square - now ‘Square Enix’ as a result of a
merger will rival publisher, Enix - continues to pay its respects to the game to which it owes its very existence. Even today, critics describe Final Fantasy “as an institution”, though agree that many of its aspects are “anarchic”. Random battles, a system in which a game’s heroes are attacked quite literally out of thin-air, where rampant in Final Fantasy. Although this was merely a technical limitation of its 8-bit birthplace, this mechanic is thought by many to
be outdated and frustrating. In this regard, Final Fantasy takes its place as a founding father of an entire genre, by which its continued existence continues to highlight the leaps and bounds made in design standard by forever providing a template and a benchmark on which to compare, contrast and improve. Few could have predicated the profound popularity of Sakaguchi’s ambitions. With notable entries from the series’ soundtrack played in concerts and taught to Japanese school children, there’s no doubt that the words ‘Final’ and ‘Fantasy’ have left an indelible mark on the culture of a nation. As the series continues to grow beyond the bounds of its original creators creative control, little is certain. Though one thing is set in stone, Final Fantasy is and always will be a testament to creative ambition and self-belief - the strive to overcome creative and career-ending odds.
“Few could’ve predicted the profound popularity of Sakaguchi’s ambitions” 7
Game Design Seminar #1 H ave you ever felt as though video game design was beyond your intellectual reach? Is it your fantasy to finally finish that incomplete design document? Have you ever felt it was your duty to answer the call of those needlessly completing terrible video games? If so, you’re in luck. We’re going to design a video game. In a series of video game design seminars, you, the reader, will produce a video game design document. You, the GQ readership, will decide everything – the mechanics, the narrative, and the style. Every week on gamesquarterly.co.uk, a ‘seminar’ will be posted. You’ll be expected to contribute the seminar. You propose an idea, we approve it, and add it to the body of the next week’s post. Of course, just because an idea is carried forward doesn’t mean it’s immune to criticism. If you have an issue with one of the ideas, say so — we’ll amend the idea if we deem it to be a valid point. We’ll do our utmost to keep the process as transparent as possible. Whilst we hold little doubt about your creative talents, ideas will be carefully and impartially moderated. Only the most developed submissions will make it to the next seminar. So, the more considered and articulate the concept is, the more likely it is to migrate into the final document. If the design progresses to a substantial stage, GQ will consider submitting it to a publisher with your approval. Any profit – no matter how insubstantial – derived from these ideas will be donated to a charity. Which, we don’t know. Again, you decide. And because the first seminar may need a ‘warm-up’ period, there will be a two-week interval until the next is posted. This week, we’ll need to establish the game’s ‘focus’. Will our player be shooting things? Collecting items? Jumping platforms? Imagine the blank page before you is your canvas -- use it.
Get into the game
Get into the game
GQ learns about Asylum Lead Dev, Scott Mather Scott Mather wasn’t born with the ability to program. Nor, unsurprisingly, was he born with ability to co-ordinate, manage, and support an online network - with an apparent emphasis on safety and parent control. With a combination of determination, ambition and persistence, he had to learn these skills. Now, he’s now the Lead Developer at London-based video game development studio, Asylum Entertainment. As a child, Mather’s ambitions differed substantially from his current position: “When I was little I wanted to be an animator, but I didn’t really have any artistic talent,” he continued, “So, I decided - through hundreds of hours playing Lego - that I wanted to be an architect.” He proclaimed that he “always liked the idea of being to design and create” his “own environments”. Obviously undeterred by his self-proclaimed lack of artist ability, and driven by his desire to build things, the programmer understood that there’s more to developing a video game than pencils, paper and pixels. Still keen to enter the industry, Mather found another door into witch he could wedge his foot, programming. “When I started college, I started a programming course and I soon found myself being able to create so much more, virtually,” he said. From that point onwards Mather drastically shifted his studies, focusing on code and number crunching: “I switched all of my academic studies to computing and mathematics. I ended up studying a degree in Computing Graphics at Sheffield Hallam University where I graduated with a first”. Whilst the course’s title, ‘Computing Graphics’, might invite people to assume that its content was primarily focused on artistry, Mather clarified that it was quite the opposite. He said that the course was intended to teach a combination of programming and mathematic, allowing students to manipulate graphics on a computer screen using computer code. During his degree studies, the Manchester-born programmer landed work placement at Asylum Entertainment situated in London - the very same studio that he works at today. Now, though, Mather’s responsibilities have evolved from what he described as ’simple work’ into ’bigger projects’. He was later promoted to the position of Lead Developer at just 23, a title of which - although on a different project - he still retains. Beyond his duties at the studio, the programmer focuses on sideprojects - a hobby, he said, vital for those looking to enter the industry: “I’m always working on projects outside of work - I’ll get an idea that I want to create a small game or application, or I’ll want to play with a new piece of software/hardware like the iPhone”, he went on, “I’ve found that if you want to break into the games industry it’s very essential to have a portfolio of work to show what you can do.”
by Adam Meadows 9
Portal 2 Review
by Adam Meadows
ortal 2’s biggest problem is that it must inevitably come to an end. Valve’s return to the realm of the wacky and the wonderful is a considerably more refined experience than that of its predecessor’s. No longer is the developer’s physics-fiddling intellectual property relegated to the leagues of a glorified tech demo. On its second outing, Portal has matured into product worthy of a shelf-space price tag - it’s just a shame that its incredibly addictive gameplay ensures that its offerings never feel like an adequate length. A concept originally developed by a small team of game design students at the prestigious Digipen technology institute, Portal’s premise is simple: navigate and conquer a series of physics-based puzzles. Although each can ultimately be reduced to ‘get to the other side’, it’s the cornucopia of limitations - and the tools provided to overcome them - placed upon the player that encourages genuinely creative thinking. It’s the constant chase of these ‘eureka!’ moments that will propel you chamber to chamber in near sadistic fashion. This isn’t the science found in your typical high school physics class. For those uninitiated to Aperture Science’s testing procedures, Portal 2’s opening moments, though simplified, may prove incredibly intimidating. Newcomers will have to worry about velocity, portalcompatible surfaces, force fields, to name but a few of its trinkets, tricks and tools.
“Portal 2 will tug on your nostalgic nerve for its predecessor” Once you’ve grasped a basic understanding of its vocabulary, though, Portal 2 becomes a game of almost infinite possibilities - you’ll likely conjure a vast variety of complex solutions that, in the end, you’ll likely never need to use. For those more familiar with portal’s paradoxes - namely, veterans of the original - Portal 2’s opening hours, although hilarious, are incredibly simplistic - they’re ostensibly designed to handhold initiates. Though this is entirely understandable, and Valve does an admirable job of guiding you to increasingly more complex tests, you’re inevitable addiction to those light-bulb moments will put you on the path of demanding ridiculously difficult challenges. At the end of the campaign, you’ll be wishing that the final puzzle was start, not the end. Thankfully, then, Portal 2 further exploits its central concept via co-operative play. Equipped with four portals, trials are inherently more complex, each requiring tight co-operation and precise timing. Like its single-player counterpart, the co-operative campaign gradually intro-
duces more tools to exploit. Repulser gel, for example, can be used to convert almost any surface into a spring-pad, allowing you to reach greater heights, or to build-up velocity before jumping into a portal. Anything written about the game’s narrative risks treading on its sense of wonder - its sense of exploring a world that’s been irrevocably changed by the passage time and absence of human attention. In that regard, Portal 2 will tug on your nostalgic nerve for its predecessor at almost every given opportunity. And in that regard, a particularly murderous ro-
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 &
botic test administrator has returned, with comical dialogue to boot. In an industry that’s increasingly obsessed with gratuitous portrayals of violence, Portal 2’s light-hearted writing, whimsical characters and unpredictable plot provide a refreshing take on the ubiquitous ‘shoot stuff’ mechanic. There’s still a gun in your hand, naturally. But with not a spec of blood in site - and not to mention the fact that it dispenses portals, not projectiles - Valve’s latest efforts can literally be recommended to everybody.
“Valve’s latest efforts can literally be recommended to everybody”
Amnesia: The Dark Descent Review Independent developer Frictional Games understands horror. Little do they rely on a cast of creatures recruited from natural selection’s pile of shame, nor are they overly dependent on predictable “peek-a-boo” style moments. Indeed, Amnesia’s power lies in its presentation - specifically, the ostensible traces of humanity found in its antagonists. After obtaining an artifact from Egypt, Daniel finds himself haunted by an intangible presence. His colleagues, friends and loved ones fall prey to inexplicably gruesome murders. Invited to Brennenberg Castle by Alexander - a man entangled in the vines of a similar presence - the archaeologist is compelled to extreme measures to elude his stalker, measures that he inevitably regrets. Unable to cope with the horrendous nature of his acts, Daniel induces amnesia. He awakens in Brennenberg Castle, now littered with letters written by himself, for himself. As you make the the dark descent into the bowls of the colossal building, you soon discover the true nature of Daniel’s character, or, at least, the man he was before, through letters, diary notes and the corpses of those he left behind. Equipped with nothing more than a flashlight powered by a scarce
amount of oil, and tinder boxes to bring light to the surrounding environment, Amnesia, at least in its more basic form, is about resource management. Every second of lantern oil spent on lighting an empty hallway could be later spent on navigating the complexities of a puzzle, or finding the best route of escape from an impending foe. And if you fail to find that route, death will inevitably follow. As an unarmed archaeologist, Daniel is literally unable to fend off danger. Instead, you’re forced to think on your feet. You may decide to flee to the nearest door, hide in a dark corner, or, perhaps most effectively, cuddle within the confines a one of the castle’s many wardrobes - evil has no use for clothes, it seems. Amnesia’s melding of the mundane and the monstrous - and the ability to intersect the latter with the former - lends its narrative a pace often unexplored by its contemporaries. Brennenburg Castle’s dark, desolate hallways and once-occupied rooms paint a near-perfect picture of abandonment. It’s this pervasive atmosphere only serves to emphasise the horror evoked by your otherworldly, yet very human, foes. Frictional hasn’t been afraid to abandon the guardian angel ubiquitous to the genre - it’s you, your lantern and your
survival instincts. Its puritanical, hands-off approach isn’t without its downfalls. Ironically, Amnesia’s semi-open world will often leave you at a loss as to how you might complete your next objective. It won’t be immediately obvious as to how to find the parts need to construct a particular item, or in what way exactly said item is intended to be used. It’s this very aspect, though, that instills you with a true sense of isolation. A feeling, in fact, that might make it an unpalatable experience after extended periods of play. To describe Amnesia: The Dark Descent as a ‘computer game’ deals Frictional’s efforts a gross injustice. Moreover, it’ll likely deter those reluctant to engage with the medium further from a title that simply doesn’t deserve such a label. It’s not about ‘winning’, it’s not about collecting all the coins, or killing all the bad guys - it’s about immersing yourself within its death-ridden world.
A day with the duke of nukem With ever increasing demands, budgets and technical specifications, video game development has become an expensive business. One team, however, is going back to basics. Funded only by their own time, motivation and effort, Interceptor Entertainment is bridging a generational gap -- the fledging development team is re-making the 1996 classic ‘Duke Nukem 3D’. Games Quarterly talks to the project’s lead and instigator, Frederik Schreiber.
What is your role on the project? What do your day-to-day tasks involve?
The original name was actually something I came up with in a minute or so. Just to have a name attached to the project. Designer Hans Kleinenberg came up with the idea of getting a name change for a re-brand of the project, and the community was invited to come up with suggestions for the name. We ultimately decided to go with the name “Duke Nukem 3D: Reloaded”, since it stays true to “Duke Nukem 3D” and symbolises a new vision for the game. We’re all pretty happy with it.
How did you settle on the name Duke Nukem 3D: Reloded?
Have any problems appeared that didn’t you didn’t expect?
I’m the Lead Manager behind the project. My day-to-day tasks are making sure that everyone is working on the stuff they are supposed to. I have Skype meetings with the different directors of the project, such as the art director and the tech director. We discuss the general direction of the game, the team members, etc. I also spend a lot of time with the level design and level design document, since I’m also in the position of being the lead level designer.
Yeah. The time is takes to get people hired, going through more than 300 applications, and getting people to work on the right things. Some people not getting along has also been quite a challenge, which I feel like producer Galo and I have handled as good as we could. But that’s the nature of things. Not everyone agrees on the same things - an But the project has a “general direction” which the team members need to follow.
Of all the games to remake, why choose Duke nukem 3D? And what made you do it?
Duke Nukem 3D is one of my favourite games of all time, but the true reason is Duke Nukem Forever. I have waited for Duke Nukem Forever for 13 years of my life. I even pre-ordered it, and remember standing in the local computer shop with two pre-order receipts in 2000. One for Duke and one for Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun. According to the store, they were supposed to be released on the same day.
How did you go about getting permission from its owners, Gearbox Software? When Gearbox got the legal rights for the Duke Nukem intellectual property, my interest was re-sparked. I did a few test maps to show them what the project would look like. Apparently they were very interested, and gave me a personal license to Duke Nukem. And here we are - in full production. While thinking it looked cool, it wasn’t up to them -- it was up to Take-Two. Knowing that 3D Realms didn’t have the best connection to Take-Two, I wrote an email to one of Gearbox’s PR people, Adam Fletcher. I sold my soul to the guy, coming up with all kinds of reasons for why this was a great idea.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far? The biggest challenge has been to be “realistic”. I don’t want this project to become another Black Mesa Source. I want results in a reasonable timeframe, and I want to show people something amazing. That’s why we’ve decided to do a one map multiplayer test, with limited weapons and characters. To get the “frame” of the game finished and making sure it works before we get into the single-player component.