img src=";loc=300;key=key1+key2+key3+key4;grp=[group]" border="0" width="160" height="600"> The inner ramblings of a videogamer: September 2013

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

How the publisher imposed status quo and gamer ignorance helps deprive the industry of growth.

Every one of us has our preferences when it comes to certain videogame genres, sub genres and artistic styles, but it seems these days many gamers out there are under the mistaken delusion, that certain games (especially games that they dislike) are somehow inferior to popular AAA releases and/or games that they happen to find enjoyment in playing. This mistaken perception can end up causing many gamers to miss out on a great many fantastic but lesser known titles, the attitude many have towards videogames developed with a lower budget only helps lend to further stagnate the industry. Far too many gamers are narrow minded and unwilling to try out new and different types of videogame genres, leading to the the publishers themselves not being prepared to risk development on games that they feel consumers aren't interested in.

In the age of huge western AAA franchises that offer us Hollywood style storytelling, giant set-pieces, earth shattering explosions and the like, it's easy to see why more humble videogames end up getting over looked or ignored, but are these seemingly "lesser games" actually inferior? or is the only thing that's really holding them back simply that they are lacking in all that glitz and glimmer, that many seem to think is a prerequisite in order for game to be considered "worth playing"? Take a look at your videogame library for a moment, now ask yourself this; How many of those games aren't big budget, AAA releases that have received huge ad campaigns and/or scored over 8/10 from mainstream reviewers? And how many of them have gone on to spawn two or three sequels or a couple of spin offs? Chances are the majority of games you find yourself playing regularly are from big "dependable" publishers, who have spent a huge amount of time and money moulding their major IPs into AAA franchise material. The thing is, there are some games out there that have the potential to be just as good, if not better than any current AAA developed game, but they simply don't have a chance due to gamers passing them over for their more pretty, big budget counter-parts.

Now sticking with a genre or franchise you enjoy is a smart move, especially if you lack the funds to do otherwise, but what about all the great lesser known games you may be missing out on? Believe me when I tell you that there are a great many games that may even have the potential to rival current AAA franchises, even games that you consider to be the best of the best this gen, but are being held back, because gamers today refuse to step outside of their comfort zone by playing a game that looks to be below their standards.

These days too many gamers tend to play a handful of choice franchises all year round, completely ignoring anything else unless it causes a big enough stir in the mainstream to be considered a "must play" title. Personally I just couldn't do that, first of all I don't believe that many current mainstream videogame journalist and reviewers have a better idea than actual gamers as to what's worth playing, and secondly there are far too many fantastic games from big companies and small companies alike, that sticking to just one franchise, heck just one genre for that matter, would mean that I'd have missed out on a great many of my all time favourite games, games I still own today and refuse to sell or trade in because they are simply too good to let go.

Take for example Japanese developed games, many Japanese games (especially JRPG's) are often over looked or out right avoided, by the majority of mainstream gamers due to them having certain recurring tropes and themes that some people find off putting, such as the representation of female characters, the story being too convoluted, the sometimes overly used childish, idealistic notion that love, friendship and hope will see the protagonists through safely to the end, even the anime-esque art style is enough to put some people off almost immediately. Personally I happen to find most of these predictable tropes and themes quite charming, if implemented well and not just used to follow a tired, predictable, tried and true formula.

Atelier Rorona, a wonderful turn based JRPG that I'm sure has been passed over by many
due primarily to it's anime themed art style and female protagonist

Of course this is not to say that only Japanese games rely on a tried and true formula, in fact many western games have a formulaic structure to them , AAA games especially. The formulaic brand of Hollywood-esque story telling, style over substance gameplay, the childish gratuitous use of explosive cutscenes, profanity, gore, sex, violence and a black and white approach to good and evil to name a few. That's not to say this is a bad thing though, many of these themes are recurring purely because they have significant entertainment value. Obviously it's not the case for all western AAA videogames, but I'm sure you can understand where I'm coming from when I say that western games have their own tried and true formulas, which appeal to most of us because they are developed with a western audience in mind, there's no culture barrier needed to be overcome unlike with certain Japanese games.

The Call Of Duty franchise relies heavaly on high octane shoot-outs, huge set pieces, explosive cutscenes and fast paced gameplay. You may not be a fan but it's easy to see where the appeal stems from.

Unfortunately it's not just gamers who seem to refuse to acknowledge certain "lesser" genres and sub genres, it seems the videogames industry itself refuses to develop for less popular genres these days. This gen many big publishers severely limited their output (apart from sequels to their already popular IP's) to focus primarily on FPS's, TPS's and open world games. Sure those are some fun genres which have brought us many popular games/franchises, such as COD, Gears of War and GTA to name just a few, but don't we already have more than enough games currently covering these genres? I mean aren't we always hearing how the market is "over oversaturated" with shooters and open world games right now? Sadly, as it stands now next gen seems like it may be more of the same... I suppose it wouldn't really be such an issue if a great many games from these genres weren't severely lacking in comparison to those they are trying to replicate. It's just that, well to me anyway, many of them feel as if they've been pushed out the door half backed in an attempt to capitalise on the past success of the games that helped popularise these genres to begin with.

Honestly, if I've learnt anything from purchasing both AAA games and lesser known games, it's that the AAA label is certainly no longer a mark of a games quality, in fact it's really just a reminder to us all of the insane amount of cash that's gone into developing a AAA game, making the fact that so many of them tend to lead to flop or lead to disappointment, or perform poorly in regards to sales (if you consider a game earning a company upwards of $7,million, performing poorly) that much more depressing.

The Tomb Raider reboot was a fantastic game selling far better than many other reboots (Team Ninja's DmC: Devil May Cry for example) but according to Square Enix the company suffered an "extraordinary loss" due to lower than expected sales.

There's another thing I hear a lot of gamers say these days, and that's "I don't buy second hand games" well that's all well and good I suppose, I mean if you want to support a company, then the best way to do so is to purchase their games new if you can afford to. But refusing to buy "any" game second hand means you've very likely missed out on some truly great gems, games that probably got over shadowed during the release of more popular AAA games, and seeing as most "less popular" games tend to get a smaller number of units sent out compared to their popular AAA counterparts, it means that the chances of finding any great lesser known games on the shelf brand new, is highly unlikely. So, if you consider yourself a "gamer" then you really owe it to yourself to purchase a lesser known game second hand, there's probably some game you've heard about, either from a friend or reliable reviewer, that you've considered picking up, so if you happen to see that game second hand somewhere, why not pick it up there? It'll probably be pretty cheap too, and if you enjoy it then you may go on to purchase it's sequel new if the game sold well enough for it to be sequalised.

It's safe to say that many of us have grown increasingly weary of the constant slew of generic, cookie-cuter, made for the masses releases that have saturated this current console generation. How fortunate for us then, that Indie gaming have taken the industry by storm, and have proven what many, many gamers have been saying for years now, and that is; A game needn't have a bloated AAA budget, fancy graphics and mass appeal behind it, to be entertaining and sell well. In fact a smaller budget often means that indie games are required to be innovative and original in order to stick out from the competition.

Journey proved that offering consumers immersive gameplay and gorgeous graphics
needn't cost the developers an arm and a leg.

We can only hope now, given the success of Indie games, that more original and innovative IPs will be announced from mainstream developers and publishers in the near future. But the thing I feel must be mentioned here is, there have already been plenty of original and innovative IPs to released throughout this gen, but sadly a lot of then have been ignored in favour of the more popular AAA franchises many of us have become accustomed too, but continue to complain about. It does the industry no good if we continue to support companies we feel are only further stagnating the industry, and go about ignoring those companies who are trying to make the next step forward. However I can't say that we gamers are entirely to blame for this, the mainstream media and videogame journalist play a part in this too, by constantly shoving popular AAA franchises in our faces and announcing how "mind blowing" and "must have" they are, without ever mentioning smaller more modest IPs that are also worth checking out.

If we ever want the videogames industry to get out of it's current rut, then we as consumers we need to be more vigilant in regards to our purchases. Obviously we need to support the companies we know and trust, but we should also make the effort to support innovative lesser know titles. The more consumer focus is turned away from games that are stagnating the industry by creating generic, made for the masses, cookie cutter content, and turned towards those games that offer originality and innovation, then naturally the industry will have to change it's approach in order to keep in line with consumer demand.

Gamers have a lot more pull than I honestly think we realise, but our continued ignorance has only helped maintane the status quo, helping line publisher pockets while depriving the industry of growth and diversity. It's not the publishers or the mainstream media who dictate industry trends, it's all of us, and right now we need to be putting this pull to a positive use by supporting companies who place the further advancement and betterment of videogaming in general, above that of personal gain, satisfying their investors and maintaining the publisher imposed status quo.

Thanks for reading my blog, if you'd like to add anything or disagree with any of my points, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Capcom failing: Shelved IPs and wasted potential.

As most of you are likely already well aware, recently news has come about that Capcom are in a bit of trouble financially, it's nothing too desperate right now but the news of their less than desirable situation was enough to cause many to question the companies future in the games industry. So how did Capcom, a company with a great many IPs under it's belt get into such a mess? Well hopefully by the end of this I'll have helped to answer that question.

It's public knowledge that Capcom for a while now, have been struggling to say the least. Earlier this year it was reported that Capcom's profits dropped 37%, that's rather hefty loss, apparently they stated the cause for this was the competition posed by the sheer amount of AAA games released from other companies around the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, that were supposedly over shadowing their seemingly less appealing games. As well as Capcom themselves openly admitting that their attempts at "outsourcing" popular IPs to the West (such as Resident Evil and Devil May Cry) had yielded less than satisfactory results.

But honestly, what kind of excuse is that for a company like Capcom? With all their blatant miss use of DLC, on disk DLC, microinstructions, and the milking of their popular franchises, not to mention a company that owns many, many popular games and franchises, but chooses only to either cancel them, outsource them, or just sit on them while they drive their most popular franchises like Resident Evil into the ground while nickel and diming consumers by piecemealing their content. With all this penny pinching how can Capcom honestly be doing bad financially? Or is all this penny pinching purely due to their desperate circumstances?

As far as I'm concerned part of Capcoms reason for it's current financial situation is easily explainable, and it's something that's led to the gradual degradation of many popular Japanese videogame developers, and that is this obsession with appealing to the West. Capcom was at their best back when they were developing fun, innovative and enjoyable games, instead of trying to replicate western games in order to appeal to a wider audience. Appealing to the west isn't a bad thing in and of itself, heck eastern and western video game developers could probably learn a lot from one another going by the different ways they each approach certain genres, but the problem we see all too often is that many Japanese games lose the originality that made them appealing to begin with, casting off their charm purely in order to appeal to a demographic they were never meant to appeal too.

Look at the state of Resident Evil today for example, RE was always supposed to be a survival horror game, but now it's a pure action game with Zombies (if you can even call them "Zombies" anymore) void of any genuine chills, scares or the tense atmosphere that made the franchise the huge success it once was, and what for? To appeal to a wider demographic. Well maybe that might have been worth selling the franchise out if Capcom had realistic sales expectations, instead a ridiculous figure for units sold like "7 million" Resident Evil 6 apparently sold around 4.9 million copies around may of this year, leading Capcom to believe the game was a failure... 4.9 million copies sold is a failure now? And why? Because Call of Duty sold $1 billion copies suddenly every other company expects to make similar sales?... It's madness, COD wouldn't be the best selling franchise if every company could pull of similar figures.

Now I've already done a review for DmC: Devil May Cry where I gave it an over all decent score, so I'm not about to go back on that here, but this needs to be said. It may have sounded like a smart move on paper to outsource Devil May Cry to a western studio, but honestly could Capcom have handled the decision much worse than when they decided on choosing Ninja Theory... Now look, I like Ninja Theory, I'm a huge fan of Heavenly Sword, but everything they've done since then have both been pretty average... I'm not sure if Capcom had this planned out from the start in hopes of gaining more publicity for their now Western developed game, but the controversy that came about during the early teaser trailer for DmC: Devil May Cry, and plagued the game all the way through it's extended development, due to Ninja Theory's rather outspoken and negative attitude to core fans of the original franchise, did little good for what was a niche franchise to begin with, if anything the game gained a lot of publicity due to fans voicing their anger at what Ninja Theory had done to their beloved franchise, while many argued back defending Ninja Theory and their new approach to the franchise. in the end what we ended up with was a half decent hack 'n slash which probably would have done better sales wise had it not carried the title of "Devil may Cry" What needs to be learnt from this is that outsourcing very rarely ever works out well, but if you're going to attempt it make sure the company you're outsourcing to respects the core fans and doesn't add any unnecessary weight to the inevitable controversy. But I digress.

As I stated above, one issue is that Capcom keeps attempting to appeal to the west by copying popular western games, while ignoring the fact that it was their originality that made them such a success to begin with. Another problem is the wasted potential posed by many, many IPs Capcom have chosen to just sit on for oh, over 10 years or so now collecting dust, while they continue to butcher their most popular franchise with each new iteration. How about a new Ghouls and Ghosts, Or Power Stone, Dino Crisis, Mega Man, Breath of Fire, Rival Schools or Darkstalkers? the list goes on and on... But no, instead of Capcom developing new iterations for these popular IPs (well popular at the one time) IPs that many have been asking for, for quite some time and putting them out there to make some cash, they choose instead to sit on them letting their potential waste away. I honestly can't stress this enough, if you actually look at all the great games Capcom own and could be developing on right now, it seems utterly absurd for them to be doing absolutely nothing with them.

Capcom has so many great IPs, they're why they were such a great company after all, but now it almost seems as if they're a shadow of their former selves... Capcom's brand new IP, Deep Down, while looking interesting is anything but original, seeming to blend both Assassin Creed's virtual reality story element with Dark Souls gameplay mechanics, it's certainly an interesting premise and without a doubt I'll be checking the games out ASAP, but unless Capcom can pull it off, and offer an IP that can rival both Assassins Creed and Dark Souls, then what future is there for a game that appears to be only a carbon copy of the best of both popular IPs? Saying that though, being an online only game with randomly generated dungeons and enemies, and offering cooperative play is certainly cause for intrigue, but for now we'll jut have to wait and see how it all comes together, especially considering how lackluster Capcoms recent projects have turned out to be.

I am Sorry if I'm coming off a little critical of Capcom, but understand this, the only reason I'm am being critical of them is because I know what they are capable of. Some of my favourite franchises have come from Capcom, like Resident Evil, Ace Combat, Onimusha Warlords, Rival Schools, Street Fighter, and Power Stone to name a few, and believe me I could go on and on. This is why it pains me so to see Capcom become such a mess, I don't know if it's because they've lost much of the original talent behind their games and franchises, or are just struggling to keep up in the age of AAA franchises, and everything or nothing game development, but something needs to change at Capcom or else they may well find themselves being brought out in the not so distant future.

Of course this doesn't just go for Capcom, Square Enix have been responsible for a great many similar activities. The latest Tomb Raider reboot apparently failed to meet predicted sales made evident when the company announced they had made a “extraordinary loss” on the project, leading to major reforms and restructuring efforts for the company. The Final Fantasy IIIX series of games continues to divide fans due to Square Enix's continued attempts to appeal to the West, Sleeping Dogs, (essentially GTA in a eastern setting) seemed to have come and gone without so much as a whimper. So, is this what is to be expected when eastern videogame companies try to replicate western videogames in hopes of finding similar success? I don't think so.

Attempting to replicate the success of another without fully understanding how that success came about in the first place, obviously leads to ruin eventually. To say that Japanese
companies that attempt to appeal to the west are destined to fail from the start, is overlooking the real issue. Many of these games being developed to appeal to the west are just an attempt at cashing in on the success of another. It's those who understand where the success comes from, or better yet, it's the companies who understand exactly why a consumer enjoys a game, and then develops their game to cater to the consumers interests, who will succeed in the end.

Really it's no secret as to why big companies like Activision, EA, Ubisoft, and Naughty Dog find success in the west while many big Japanese developers struggle. Western companies are just more in tune with what western consumers want, if western developers were to attempt to appeal to Japanese consumers I imagine they would have just as much of an issue appealing to them, as many Japanese developers have appealing to western consumers. Japanese devs have it a lot tougher now than they did in the past, that's why I admire any Japanese company who continues staying true to themselves and their ideals, instead of attempting to appeal to western consumers purely for financial gain. That's not to say Japanese devs shouldn't develop western styled games, not at all, what I mean is that any developer, (eastern or western) needs to create content they understand instead of trying to replicate the success of others without understanding exactly where that success came from.

Anyway, I think I'll end it here before I ramble on any further.

Thanks for reading my blog and as always if you want to add anything or disagree with any of the points I've made, please feel free to leave a comment

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Enemy obstacles and player progression.

Enemy obstacles and player progression.
Throughout videogame history, the player being required to kill enemies in order to make progress has been a popular and recurring gameplay mechanic, since videogames were first popularised sometime in the late 80's, and is still being used in the vast majority of modern day videogames till this day. Throughout this blog I will be referring to this gameplay mechanic as the (Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic) Basically, this a term I've created in order to reference a recurring gameplay mechanic that's purpose is to offer an obstacle between the player and their goal, in the form of an "enemy" or "boss" which must be killed/defeated before the player can progress.
Even though the morality of killing in videogames has been called into question quite a bit in recent years, and many games have come about lately that avoid having the player directly kill an enemy at all, I still believe it to be a very important and necessary gameplay mechanic for certain games/genres, so important in fact that many games we know and love would simply not have existed, or would have been vastly different without it.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to narrow down precisely which was the first videogame to require players to "kill" enemies in order to make progress, although I assume the practice first came about with the advent of early PC games and especially at videogame arcades, where the idea was to use enemies as a means to kill the player over and over again in order to extract as much of their pocket money as possible. If in fact this is the case, then it's likely that popular videogames such as Pacman and Space Invaders were the originators of the this gameplay mechanic we see used so often throughout gaming history. "The stakes are never higher than when a life is on the line" after all (even if it's only a virtual life) so to allow the player to kill or be killed by enemies, made progressing more entertaining, tense and challenging. The increased difficulty after each level or enemy wave also lent to making progressing later levels extremely challenging and made getting that "high score" more rewarding.

PC games such as Wolfenstain and Doom, as well as arcade games such as Pacman and Space invaders, all used this "Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic" (which as I stated above is still in popular use well over 20 years after it was first implemented) this very simple but fun, addictive and challenging gameplay mechanic, kept gamers coming back for more. Those oldchool PC and arcade games that used enemies as a means to impede player progress by killing them off (in order siphon as much cash as they could from their player base at the arcades) all while offering unparalleled interactive entertainment for the time, laid the foundation for many games that would follow on the next popular platform, console gaming.

During the late 80's early 90's, the platformer (arguably the bread and butter of early console gaming) was the next popular stage to host the this particle gameplay mechanic. Platformer games typically required the player to progress from one side of the level to the other avoiding such hazards as pitfalls and/or enemies, with the enemies soul purpose being to impede player progress by moving back and forth, up and down or by remaining stationary. Even though the enemies at the time had very basic AI (if any at all) the level structure, their placements on the map and/or their numbers helped make up for their lack of tactical options and intelligence, creating some truly challenging platform games. The NES classic Super Mario Bro's happens to be the very first game that I played which utilised this "Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic" This simple platform popularised the platforming genre leading to the creation of Mario's direct competition (and rival at the time) Sonic the hedgehog (as well as many others) which unsurprisingly made use of very similar gameplay mechanics but was of course a much more fast paced game.

As I stated earlier, this gameplay mechanic can be found not only in early Arcade games, PC games and console platformers, but in just about every videogame genre. Such as the incredibly popular side scrolling beat 'em up & shoot 'em up genres, which brought us such classics as, Black Manta, Streets of rage, Contra, Parodius, R-Type, Gunstar Heroes, TMNT: Turtles in time, Guardian Heroes, Metal Slug and many, many more, they all utilised the "Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic" Of course the gameplay mechanic itself exists purely to create an enemy obstacle between the player and their goal, which must be defeated in order to progress. So the way in which this gameply mechanic is utilised can vary greatly from game to game and genre to genre. The Fighting game genre for example, which brought us some incredible games and franchises such as, Street fighter, Mortal Kombat, King of fighters, Samurai shodown, Tekken and Guilty Gear, amongst many others, all offered one on one fights and also utilised the "Killing in the name of progression gameply mechanic" requiring players to "KO" and sometimes Kill their opponent in order to progress to the next stage. The RPG Genre, which offered such classics as Chrono trigger, Final Fantasy, Grandia, Breath of fire and Secret of Mana, also all utilised this it, but instead placed you in a turn based battle system, sure you could choose to run from battles but chances are you'll need to fight in order gain Levels and defeat bosses. As you can see, the vast majority of retro games utilised the this gameply mechanic by creating enemy obstacles to impede player progress. Regardless of what the enemy was intended for, purely placing the enemy in the game for the player to defeat, creates an obstacle for the player to overcome in order to progress.

It wasn't until later on, as videogames began entering the mainstream and new genres and sub genres began appearing, that we started seeing the "Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic" undergoing a few changes. This is partly because technology had gotten to the point where videogames were capable of allowing for new mechanics to be implemented, but mostly because the pursuit for realism in gaming had created an unforeseen problem. You see as videogames become more representative of reality then arguably so too should the portrayal of killing and death, however as you are all most likely aware, the portrayal of violence in videogames has been cause for many heated debates for generations, with many in the mainstream media arguing that videogames are a contributing factor to violence in the real world. I'm not about to debate that here, but I will say that videogame violence on its own doesn't contribute to real world violence, or at least no more so than violence in movies and television.

So, instead of portraying violence realistically many games are forced to show a more "fantastical" side of violence, leading to videogame violence appearing to be over "glorified" this too led many to question whether or not killing in videogames should be removed from certain games completely. Eventually the ability to perform non lethal takedowns on enemies was introduced, this inclusion avoids the real issue of how videogame violence should be portrayed somewhat, but arguably it does enough to allow gamers to continue playing how they have been while offering another method for progressing when faced with enemy obstacles.

As it stands today, the "Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic" that helped popularise videogaming in the early days, is still very much in popular use. Just look at games like Assassins creed, Killzone, Devil May Cry, God of War, COD, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and The Last of Us, you can see that just like the games of old, many modern videogames still use enemies as obstacles that must be defeated by the player in order to progress, the difference being now is that there are many more gameplay mechanics that allow for the player to use either non lethal takedowns, or stealth to avoid the enemy all together, at least until a boss shows up.

Personally, I find it very interesting to see how a gameplay mechanic, such as the "Killing in the name of progression gameplay mechanic" that has been in use since gaming first became popular, is still very much in popular use today. Even though the industry has been through a great many changes and offered us a myriad of additional gameplay mechanics and tactical choices, how enemies are used as obstacles for the player to overcome in order to progress, is still as popular a gameplay mechanic as ever. It really just goes to show that with all the progress videogames have made over the years, that the basic foundation for fun, engaging and most importantly, entertaining gameplay, is still present.

Anyway, I think I'll rap up here.

Thanks for reading my blog and as always if you want to add anything or disagree with any of the points I've made, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Next gen: Here we go again.

Here we go again!

So here we are again, another "next gen". I'll apologise right now if I don't seem very excited at the prospect of another decade of pointless bickering between various factions over which is the most technologically advanced plastic box, or whose faceless company they've pledged their alleigance to is the least out of touch, monopolative and money hungry.

The thing is I guess, is that I can still remember when the videogames industry was about just that, "videogames" and not all about trying to appeal to the masses, creating cookie-cutter content that's guaranteed to sell well but further stagnates the industry, incorporating social-media applications, providing TV and other popular media services, all for the sake of having an "all in one multimedia entertainment device". So while Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have each now presented to us all their brand new "next gen consoles" the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U respectively, the devices with which we will be experiencing a brand new generation of "gaming" amongst other things I'm sure. I'm left asking the question. What's so next gen about them? Or better yet. Other than the fact I won't be able experience the next generation of watered down, casualised, made for the masses videogame entertainment, why exactly should I purchase a next gen console?

This isn't to say that I don't like videogames anymore, on the contrary, it's precisely because I like videogames so much that I'm a little disappointed with what "next gen" is offering this time around.

Maybe I should back up a little and explain exactly where I'm coming from. You see last gen saw some incredible games, there's no denying that, but each console suffered, they suffered either due to poor design resulting in a higher than acceptable failure rate, complex architecture which resulted in shoddy ports, a blatant lack of creativity and the rise of cookie-cutter game design due to needlessly bloated budgets, yearly sequelisation which offered little variation and improvements over the originals, a lack of 3rd party support due to inferior architecture, shodilly implemented motion sensor gaming, and the further disconnect between the player and the game by way of hand holding and/or movie-esque cinematic gameplay. So what concerns me here is, will these issues rise up again in the 8th generation? Even though each company has aknoweldged certain issues they had last gen and rectified one or two of them for the new generation, the fact is that there is nothing to say that this new generation won't be plagued by more of the same that ailed the previous. For example, instead of acknowledging how they intend to get gaming out of it's current rut, it almost seems as if they would all rather ignore the fact that their even is a problem, and instead are carrying on as they have been into next gen.

These new features such as access to social-media websites, TV and content sharing, aren't going to make gaming any better that's for sure, and if you ask me it almost seems as if these companies are very well aware of this, and have brought about these new features purely in order to take our attention away from those issues that really do need our attention. The cost of game development for this new generation is only going to increase, with development budgets already being as blotted as they are, and with publishers being more interested in style over substance and the spectacle over palatability, things are only going to get worse before the get better. Let me be frank, many publishers and developers haven't realised yet, that constantly trying to create a cutting edge game by throwing tons of money at it is the wrong way to go about game design, at least in the sense where games function relatively bug free, they may look great but pretty much everything does these days, I'd be happy to see a game with inferior graphics if it functioned properly from day one and felt like a full game. But no, apparently these companies feel that the next obvious step forward, instead of creating content that functions properly, is to complicate matters further by implementing such features as sharing content, accessing your TV and social-media aps, along with the rest I mentioned above.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not against these additional features, Im just not convinced that gaming is ready for them. The PS4 share button, Kinect 2, watching TV and accessing social-media sites through my console. None of them interest me personally because none of them are what I buy a console for, now I don't intend to speak for everyone but who here was asking for such features to begin with? Because none of them are anything that I feel gamers have been asking for, they might be nice little features, and heck nobody dislikes convenient aps, but what about the games? What improvements are being made to gaming that aren't just a continuation of the narrow minded, everything for everyone, design by committee mentality that plagued all of last gen?

Asking myself this question it eventually occurred to me just why the actual "games" side of the videogames industry, doesn't appear to be undergoing any new, generation defining changes. You see videogame development as it stands now is extremely expensive, or better yet, insanely expensive, but also extremely lucrative, so when we consider the fact that videogames have been around for well over 25 years and still suffer from very similar issues faced from around 10 years ago, it leads one to wonder whether or not that's all just a coincidence. The reason I feel that the approach to videogames hasn't changed much going into this new generation is because it's still very profitable in it's current form, now Microsoft did try to implement new policies in order to increase profitability going into this new and inevitably more costly next gen, but had their new policies shot down due to how damaging they would have been if they were to have become the industry norm. While both Sony and Nintendo appear to be carrying on the "status quo" so to speak, obviously they have implemented a few positive changes here and there, but nothing that I believe will greatly contribute to the betterment of gaming.

However this is not to say that there are no positive reasons to buy a next gen console, like I mentioned above the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U are going to be taking on board many well established franchises and brand new IP's, so with popular games and franchises like Assassins creed, Infamous, Metal Gear Solid, The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and interesting new IP's like Watch_Dog, Titan Fall and Deep Down, each console has something going for it in terms of videogame content. The thing that concerns me though is whether or not these new games won't just be prettier looking but hollow versions of games we've played before.

Few developers took chances last gen and it showed, never in a generation before have I seen so much wasted opportunity, we had some great games I'll give you that, but far too many companies were afraid to try something new due to just how costly game development has become, instead choosing to milk the one franchise that had offered them success for all that it's worth, I've got nothing against sequalisation, but last gen more than any other, sequels became more about creating a game that sells rather than creating a game worth playing.

So I ask to you Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and any other Triple-A publishers and developers who are reliant on such business models and practices. What will you be doing in this new generation that will address the needlessly bloated budgets that are apparently required in order to develop Triple A titles? the ever increasing cost of videogames brought on due to the insane cost of development, the continued misuse of DLC due to greedy money hungry publishers, or the industry stagnation that's occurred due to cookie-cutter game design and mass-market appeal? Are these issues really something that can be allowed to continue whilst we're all distracted with social-media aps, TV and sharing content? or are we to assume that all these issues are just going to disappear in a new generation that seems tailor made to depend on them?

Before I rap up I just want to say one last thing, to all those who are announcing why they think a particular console has won next gen already, let me just remind you all that companies change, their policies change, the content they provide changes. Basically, it's far too early in the game (pardon the pun)  for anyone to decide who'll be "wearing the crown" so to speak, this coming gen. As always you're far better off getting the next gen console that you feel you will get the most enjoyment from rather than relying on others to make decisions for you.

Thanks for reading my blog and as always if you want to add anything or disagree with any of the points I've made, please feel free to leave a comment.

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Thursday, 5 September 2013

Modern Videogames: The Reality Complex And Fantasy Fall Out.

Realism VS Fantasy
For over 25 years now videogames have offered all of us an escape from what can often be considered, a boring, dreary and mundane existence (aka "reality") So then, why is it that so many of us care so much about videogames being realistic? I mean what's so special about "realism when videogames have the potential to offer us a world of infinite possibilities beyond the limits of our reality?

You needn't look much further than the current popular/up and coming triple-A titles/franchises to see what I'm getting at, such as Dead Space, Assassins Creed, The Last Of  US, Watch_Dog and GTA V, heck, even many games that are based pretty much entirely on fiction are being bound by the rules of "reality" to a certain extent. So then, is the videogame industry's obsession with realism one of the reasons why so many games tend to look and feel "samey" these days? Personally I would say that it's certainly a contributing factor.

But how did realism become such a huge part of gaming to begin with? Well, I guess you could argue that the more technologically advanced gaming became, the more developers naturally wanted to try and replicate reality to provide experiences similar to what the real world offers, but which most of us couldn't actually experience in our everyday lives. Also realism equals "fun" everyone knows realism ads to the immersion factor, right? I mean if a world is believable then we are more likely to enjoy it and loose ourselves in it.

Well maybe so but does that mean we can't enjoy games that completely ignore the shackles of reality just as much? I personally don't ever remember thinking "Gee, If only Mario looked like a real middle aged, fat plumber in a mushroom filled land, running round squashing turtles, I'd be enjoying this game sooooo much more" But of course what a game is about is a huge factor in deciding as to whether or not it should look, and feel realistic, if a game is based in a modern, war torn battle field (or world war one or two) then it makes a lot of sense for that game to look realistic. However if it's a fantasy setting then why not break the confines of our reality and create a believable but also original world.

It's strange how so many games based in fantasy settings still choose to impose many of the rules of our reality on the populous of their fantasy world. Also, I do find It funny how "fantasy" (especially in the case of Western MMO's) seems to already have pre-existing rules and expectations attached to it, such as the need for elves, dwarves, dragons and the like. One would think that given the opportunity to create "anything" we would be seeing a lot more originality, especially in the mainstream.

So then, is the shear amount of games that focus on closely replicating reality an indication that we as gamers prefer "realistic games" as apposed to "fantasy games, or is it simply the case that creating worlds bound by the rules of reality is just a simpler task for Triple-A developers to undertake these days. Or at least more so than having them create a world with brand new rules, brand new worlds and possibilities?

Let's try comparing two incredibly well made games that are very similar but also very different, The Last Of Us and Bioshock infinite, now if you want my personal opinion I feel that these two games stand together as equals. It's really only when we go about creating a narrow and specific criteria for what makes a for a "better game" that either of these two games can be considered superior. Naturally if we say that a better game is one that offers a realistic world, as close to our own as possible (The world after the viral outbreak in TLO is certainly one of the most plausible) then The Last Of Us then becomes the better game. However if we say that a great game is one that offers a fantasy world, one that is set far enough apart from reality to offer unique events that are beyond those that we could ever experience in our reality, then Bioshock: Infinite would be considered the better game.

Do you see what I mean? The very fact that we measure how well a game represents our reality as a defining factor in how much better it is than another game, is limiting our experiences from a medium that is capable of offering us pretty much "anything".

There as many positives in making a fantasy game as there is for making a game grounded mostly in reality, maybe more so. So then, I'll say it again, why exactly is it that we seem to get so many more games being developed that are going for the realism approach? Is it a fad? Is it just the industry looking to push their tech further, so naturally replicating reality is a great way to test how far we've come? Another possibility for why many of us enjoy games based in a world similar to reality, is that we can experience events and emotions that we would not otherwise have been able to experience.

Silent Hill is a game franchise that places us in the real word, but then goes about morphing it into a nightmare in order for us to feel anxiety and fear the likes we would not otherwise have had the chance to feel (for better or worse depending on how easily you scare) so there's also something to be said for games that are based in reality but also offer us experiences, events and characters the likes we could not meet in reality, Metal Gear Solid is another game franchise I feel embodies this type of game, while MGS is grounded mostly in reality it contains many characters and events that are simply too far-fetched to actually exist or occur in the real world.

Honestly, I believe that games created in a fantasy world and a world that closely portrays our reality both have their merits, and when they are done exceptionally well they can both stand as equals. Games based closely in reality seem to be the more popular of the two right now, but so long as the games industry doesn't allow that fact to influence the kinds of games that get created, then I'm certain we'll be seeing plenty of fantasy games that could rival even The Last Of Us in terms of story telling, characterisation and immersion.

I recently played a PSP game called "Danganronpa" which has an incredibly well crafted story, likeable characters who you can sympathise with and some crazy goings on, it's also set in the real world and most of the characters are hyper stereotypes, but even so I still felt incredibly immersed in the world, it didn't matter to me that the game had an anime theme in fact that actually lended very well to the experience. I guess what I'm trying to say is, if Danganronpa had realistic graphics and more believable characters then it would have been a lesser game because of it.

In short. A game doesn't need a world that looks real in order for us to feel "immersed" get "invested" or have "fun" it just needs either a great story, interesting characters and/or a solid set of game mechanics. If you need convincing then just look to games like Super Mario, Starfox 64, The Legend of Zelda Windwaker, Jack and Daxter, Bastion, Journey, Blazblue, Persona, Final Fantasy, Pokemon and Disgaea.

All of these games I mentioned above are based in a fantasy setting, and all of them are fun, immersive, and allow for you to get invested in the world and characters. Realism does not make for a "better" game, it just makes it easier for us to empathise more with characters and their situation. Where as fantasy games often offer a fantastical situation and group of characters that is more difficult for some of us to get invested n.

Anyway, I hope I made my point clear. Thanks for reading my blog, and if you'd like to add anything or disagree with any of my points, please feel free to leave a comment

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Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Danganronpa review (PSP)

Despair has never been so fun!.

This is a review of the exclusive Japanese PSP version of Danganronpa, the game will be released on PS Vita in North America and Europe sometime early 2014.

Danganronpa is a PSP game from the talented Japanese developers "Spike" it is described as a "High Speed Detective Action Game" it's also extremely difficult to pin with a specific genre tag.

The game follows the story of high school student "Makoto Naegi" We first meet Naegi as he is standing at the front gates of "Kibougamine Academy" (literally Hope's Peak Academy) on enrolment day. A fantastical high school for incredibly talented and gifted individuals, the high school itself is looked upon as a bastion of hope by the whole country. It is said that whomever attends Kibougamine Academy is "guaranteed success in life" however there are two requirements one must meet to be eligible for enrolment. Firstly you must be at the top of your class in every subject, and secondly you must be attending a high school.

However Naegi himself is just an average student, with average grades and average interests (as he points out numerous times himself) so how did he find himself at the front gates of Kibougamine Academy on enrolment day? Well pot-luck actually, he was selected randomly as part of a lottery to allow a average student the privilege of attending the Academy of hope, thus earning him the title of the "Super Duper High School Luckster".

All that I have mentioned above is just part of the prologue, the actual game itself however is full of trust, betrayal, hope, despair, life and death. For Kibougamine Academy is not all that it appears to be.

So without any major "spoilers" Naegi finds himself sealed within the confines of Kibougamine Academy, along with 14 other high school students, all of which have only just met one another for the first time that day. Though unlike Naegi they are anything but average, everyone of them are gifted and or talented in one way or another, such as "Sayaka Maizono" the "Super Duper High School Idol" "Celestia Ludenberg" the "Super Duper High School Gambler" and "Byakuya Togami" the "Super Duper High School Scion". The person keeping all of the students trapped within the academy is none other than the one calling themselves "The headmaster" of this "high school of despair" he is known as Monokuma, who appears as a small black and white teddy bear with a menacing red eye on the the left side of it's face. Monokuma explains to everyone that they are not only trapped within Kibougamine academy, but perpetually so, and the only way for them to leave is to "graduate" however in order for a student to graduate they must murder a fellow student.

Needless to say all of the students are put on edge by this sudden despairingly desperate development, the situation they have found themselves caught up in is seemingly "hopeless".

This is where Danganronpa shows its true colours. Over the course of the game you will be able to explore Kibougamine Academy in first person view, where you'll be able to "examine" objects and people in the environment in order to gain information about them and talk to your fellow students (as well as finding hidden "Monokuma coins" that can then be used to purchase "presents" that you can then give to your class-mates) It is essentially the core gameplay mechanic for making progress, the player is encouraged to talk with the other students in order to get to know them and gain "skill points" as well as special "skills" for use later on.

As the story unfolds Monokuma will provide certain "incentives" as well as coming up with various other methods as to encourage the students to commit a murder, despite each students best efforts, eventually the first murder occurs. Shortly after a body is discovered Monokuma will present to you all an item called the "Monokuma file" basically it is information provided by Monokuma himself to help you with the investigation. This then leads to the "investigation phase" where you, along with your fellow class-mates go about investigating the crime-scene, and other significant areas of the academy, as well as questioning one another in order to find motives and establish alibi's, all in order to procure evidence reffered to as "Ammunition" ascertaining to the real culprit, or as they are referred to in game, the real "Villain".

Once the investigation is over Monokuma will call for a "class trial" to be held, this is where the game shifts yet again. During class trials you will use "evidence" and "testimonies" you've gathered during the investigation phase in order to work out which one of you committed the murder. The class trials are typically made up of four "main" events, three of which reoccur during the class trial, the first is called "Non-Stop Discussion" which is done in real time, where each student will make either accusations, assumptions, contradictions and/or misinformation. These discussions are fully voice acted (although currently only in Japanese) but there is also written text flying by, so by using the evidence gained during the investigation phase you can "fire off" evidence in the form of written text that will break the weak point in a persons argument, use the wrong evidence however and you'll loose points, loosing all of your points will lead everyone to suspect you, leading to a game over.

The second event is called "Epiphany Anagram" Basically you are given a word with missing letters, your task is to shoot the correct letters that appear floating on the screen in order to complete the word. Simple enough but miss or hit the wrong letter and you will loose points.

The third event is called "Machine gun talk battle" which is essentially a "rhythm game" While matching the rhythm displayed by circles going from one side of the screen to the other, you'll press the triangle button in time with the rhythm so you can lock on to your suspects attempts to shift the blame, and/or undermine your credibility, then by pressing the X button in time with the rhythm you can than obliterate their statements, wearing them down until you can fire of your final piece of evidence that will mark them without a shadow of a doubt, as the real villain.

Then comes the 4th and final event "Climax Logic" here you'll be given a manga-esque reconstruction of how the murder actually played out, your task is to fill in the missing images with those provided to you at the bottom of the screen. Correctly piece together the events of the murder as it happened and then sit back and watch the whole thing play out in manga form, make a mistake however and you'll loose points.

If successful you'll have pieced together exactly how the murder was committed along with who committed it, resulting in the real villain receiving their "punishment" in the form of a over the top, tailor made execution performed in a 3D mini cutscene. A little much maybe, but the villain is always well aware of the consequences for their actions. If however you fail to finger the real villain, then not only will they be allowed to leave the academy but you, along with all the other students will be executed.

Now that's what I call some serious incentive.

Danganronpa manages to stay fresh and interesting by introducing new rules, gameplay elements and places to search, as well as having enough plot twists and character revelations to rival popular anime such as Death Note, Code Geass and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Not to mention the many Anime pop culture references found scattered about throughout the story, it's truly a game that pretty much any anime fan would enjoy, and is certainly worth being played by anyone looking to try something new and interesting.


-Interesting, entertaining plot and likeable characters.
Great music and atmosphere, with a story that should not be missed.
Fun and engaging, with enough variety thrown in to keep things interesting.


-The game may feel too slow and repetitive for some.
If you dislike Anime you're probably better off steering clear.

-Being a Japanese game the 2D characters and artwork are naturally very well done, the characters themselves don't have animations so much as they cycle through various illustrations showing off different emotions. The 3D environments look dated but is to be expected considering It's on the PSP.


-The sound is fantastic. Danganronpa has one of the best soundtracks of any game to date, which helps set the mood very well throughout the whole game.


-The gameplay I feel is going to divide opinion, where as I found it to be fun and engaging many people may find it to be slow and repetitive. But this is my review so.

Fun factor

-The game does a great job of pacing itself, maintaining intrigue, and spoon feeding you the plot leaving you wanting more and more. It also mixes up the gameplay in order to keep it fresh, no two trials are ever the same nor are they ever as straight forward as they appear.

-No online function present. (on the PSP version at least) 

Overall Score


I don't say this about a game very often, but Danganronpa may be one of the best games I have ever played. It's certainly one of the best on the PSP, and now that it's headed to the west the PS Vita may very well be getting that much needed "killer app".

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

The inner ramblings of a video gamer interviews indie developer Kitatus Studios about their up and coming horror game Shadow Peak.

"Kitatus Studios plan to put the Video back into video-gaming with the announcement of
Shadow Peak."

Recently I had the privilege of conducting an exclusive, in depth interview with UK based indie developer Kitatus Studios, where I was offered a sneak peak into the world of their up and coming Horror videogame Shadow Peak. The game is the companies first project upon forming but many of their members have prior experience in videogame development, Shadow Peak is (among many other things) an attempt at reviving the long forgotten, and in many cases often looked down upon FMV (Full Motion Video) point and click genre, that was first popularised in the late 80's early 90's. By using modern day technology coupled with innovative techniques they hope to bring the FMV genre into the 21'st century.

Prior to the interview I had an extensive conversation with "Ryan" one of the lead developers at Kitatos Studios, where he let me in on a few of the secrets surrounding Shadow Peak. Without revealing any "spoilers" I can tell you that the game has a lot of real world history woven into it, and that has a great deal to do with how the town of Shadow Peak became the way it is.

Check out the interview below, along with some exclusive Shadow Peak artwork and soundtracks.
Artwork of Shadow Peak protagonist "Frank Dawkins"

Artwork of "Skye" aka Frank Dawkins fiance.

Shadow Peak soundtrack: Creepy Atmosphere.mp3

Shadow Peak soundtrack: Ominous ambience.mp3

Shadow Peak soundtrack: Tidy Tension.mp3

Shadow Peak soundtrack: Waiting room.mp3

(This Interview was conducted over Skype chat.)

TIR: Hello.

KS: Hello there.

TIR: So, I'm speaking with Ryan of "Kitatus Studios" is that correct?

KS: Yes, but obviously because I have more of a London accent I pronounce the (ta) in "Kitatus" as tay.

TIR: Oh right.

KS: Yeah, that's how it's pronounced (Laughs)

TIR: (Laughs)

TIR: So first off, tell me a little about your company Kitatus Studios, and the people involved in creating Shadow Peak?

KS: I started college doing networking in IT - which was fun - and I met people there which had been gamers all their life like myself, we've always said "one day we'll make a videogame" I went on to learn animation at university just to learn how animation works, and it came to the point were I came home from university for about a couple of months, and I was thinking "I think that I could make something that people would enjoy" I used to be a writer and that was all about writing for the "people" but the games we play today, a lot of them are games for the "gamers" there's nothing made recently from the people themselves, for themselves, and for the people to see. The only game I know of recently is from Team Meat who worked on Super Meat Boy, and you can see themselves in that game and Braid as well, which are all indie games.

KS: I started off making games with Flash, at about 12 or 13 years old, and they were only little games but I gained more knowledge, I learnt Unity, UDK, developing my skills until I thought I was ready to make videogames. But obviously you can't make them by yourself , so I was very, very lucky to have friends that were all dedicated to creating videogames one day. And about a year ago I was throwing around ideas of actually making the jump at creating videogames, I dropped out of University and started a full time job to help fund making videogames, and about April time this year we began work on Shadow Peak - which was fun - and it manifested so much that about a month ago I had to quit my job, which was a huge risk, in order to bring the game to life.

It was at that time when I quit my job that I realised "this was really happening" so I got all my friends together that said "one day we'll get together and make a videogame" and we were throwing names around for the company, I think the original name was "Impulse entertainment" but now we've settled on "Kitatus" which is Latin for fast, fun and creative.

TIR: I was going to ask where you got that name from, it sounded Japanese to me at first. I had no idea it was Latin.

KS: Yeah, well in Latin Kitatus is spelt with a C "Citatus" and I thought that was too random sounding, so like with most cool things we whacked a K on it, not to sound as if "were cool" but it just sounds more "unique" it fits us as a development team so to speak.

TIR: So, moving on. The FMV point and click genre has been somewhat absent from videogaming for a while now, why is it that you chose to develop an FMV point and click game over a more popular gameplay style?

KS: When I was a lot younger I used to play Full Motion Videogames, like "Under A Killing Moon" "The 7th Guest" and "Dark Seed", it's something about Full Motion Videogames that hasn't been used in many years. It's just, you have nothing but the actors performance to work off, I mean you have games now like "LA Noire" But the characters walk around like robots, and for the story of Shadow Peak it's all about how you would feel about a character, I mean you could do it in 3D, you could do it in a cartoon style, but it wouldn't feel as real as it does with actual actor using Full Motion Video. Something that hasn't been done in years, but using it now obviously sets our game apart from games like Super Meat Boy, it sets us apart from Call Of Duty, it gives a unique style and atmosphere to the game. As soon as you play a Full Motion Video game you can see, you feel the atmosphere even if it's not a scary Full Motion Videogame, an FMV with a creepy atmosphere and the actors performances would just be perfect today. But back in the day obviously they had inferior technology,  I mean they pulled it off but most FMV games have not aged well at all, where as with the technology that even Youtube channels have today, like the literary Youtube channels, the lighting, the cameras, the crews, you can make an amazing looking Full Motion Videogame even with next to no budget, something that years ago would have cost thousands if not millions to do.

TIR: Could you tell me a little about the plot and story of Shadow Peak?

KS: Well in Shadow Peak you play a guy called Frank Dawkins, who's just a middle aged writer, nothing too special about him, I mean he's had problems but he deals with them as best he can. Anyway he gets a phone call from his long distance fiance Skye (They've been having troubles at the time) about her brother who's been murdered, so obviously she's in bits and she'd like Frank to come to Shadow Peak where her brother had lived before being murdered, so he can survey the body. Frank hasn't visited the town in many, many years. The reasons aren't explained at the beginning of the plot but as the story unfolds you begin to figure out why this is.

TIR: So there's a bit of intrigue there as to why Frank hasn't visited the town of Shadow Peak until now?

KS: Exactly, and as soon as he gets there, Skye - his fiance that is - is missing, and being set in the early 90's there's no cellphones like today that are in popular circulation, so there's no way for him to get hold of her, so he is left to his own devices while searching the town of Shadow Peak. This is when he starts to realise that something's up, it's a kind of a mystery as to what's going on in the town at first but Frank passes it off as just bad dreams, bad things happening. But then the towns folk start to kind of reject him, they start to view him as a kind of outcast even though they seemed to accept him when he first arrived there, so he's trying to make sense of everything and trying to find his fiance at the same time. Also, something happens that I can't say right now...

TIR: Ah, a bit of mystery?

KS: Exactly, which throws the world Frank knows into this kind of constant world of danger., no matter where he is or what he's doing he is in constant danger, so he starts to get extremely scared for his life and not knowing where his fiance is, is adding to the tension, until... I can't say anymore, but "something" happens.

TIR: OK, that all sounds very interesting. So moving on again, are there any videogames or movies in particular that helped inspire the creation of Shadow Peak?

KS: There are a few actually,  I mean when you first play the game you'll know straight away that there's a lot of Silent Hill in there, it's kind of a hybrid of Silent Hill meets Twin Peaks, but we do have a littering of things such as the terrible Disney move "Haunted Mansion" and even music. We reference a lot of music in the world, music has shaped what Shadow Peak has become, I mean we're hoping to name a hotel "Hotel California" just as a little nod to one of the inspirations to the project, because hearing that song really triggered Shadow Peak to become what it is now, it is a big part of the inspiration.

TIR: So the song Hotel California offered a lot of inspiration then?

KS: Definitely, I would say the main inspiration would be Hotel California and obviously Twin Peaks which is in the name, just as an isolated town in the middle of nowhere, where everything is not really as it seems.

TIR: It's funny because I've spoken to a few people I know about Shadow Peak, and upon hearing the name they often immediately jumped to thinking, Silent Hill.

KS: Which is perfect, it's what we want because with Silent Hill as soon as you hear the name you think creepy, isolated, alone, kind of a messed up town. Which is what Shadow Peak is, under the skin, but going into it (if you've never played Silent Hill) you won't expect it which is a good thing, or you'll go into it expecting exactly what you think would happen, which is what we're hoping because if you go in expecting Silent Hill you're in for an interesting surprise.

TIR: I see, that sounds very interesting.

TIR: OK, next question. Ambiance is a very important factor in creating a horror game, in what ways will you be going about creating the atmosphere and tension needed to put your audience on edge?

KS: Well, we've got the upper hand with being a Full Motion Videogame, so straight away when you look at Shadow Peak you'll feel as if something's not right, but you can't make a game just on looks so taking into account FMV and the decor of the town, it immediately feels off, and taking both into account we sprinkle a very, very subtle soundtrack over the top which makes you feel uneasy, which makes you feel like you don't want to be where you are right now, so you'll be constantly hunting for areas that have a much lighter soundtrack.

TIR: That seems like an intriguing element..

KS: Yeah, definitely. I mean it's like you've got a tool to control the player without making them feel like they're being controlled, why not use it? With the soundtrack as well we hope to, not direct players on what to feel, we hope to do the opposite, but not in  cases where you'll walk into somewhere with a really happy song, but more in the sense that for example, somebody is talking and you can feel the tension building even though there's no need for the tension to be there, just to keep the audience on edge. Also, like where you're running for your life and there's nothing, no soundtrack, as apposed to what most other games do and have the soundtrack come in when you're being chased, just to show that something isn't right and that you're in danger because of the lack of noise beforehand.

KS: Also we've got other elements such as the NPC's (Non player characters) playing into the atmosphere,  we've got your stereotypical townsfolk, but then we've got people that don't originally seem right but more reason than one. It's really hard to explain without spoiling everything, but people that you encounter have a different side to them that isn't necessarily good or bad.

TIR: So a lot of the characters have extra layers?

KS: Definitely, and these extra layers help to put the player on edge because you never know what layer you're dealing with when talking to them., which sounds mysterious right now.

TIR: It sure does, I'm looking forward to finding out what you mean by that.

KS: Fantastic. And once the player has explored the town and gotten closer and closer to uncovering it's secrets, it will make complete sense.

TIR: Why is it that you chose to use real actors as apposed to sprites or 3D models?

KS: That's simply because they can't give us the performance we want. I know people say this all the time but you really can't get the same performance of real actors from 3D models, you can do motion capture but it gives a robotic feel to everything, I mean when all the acting is in the face then you can do something like LA Noire, where you get the perfect face but get a robotic body, that's really jarring. Where as if you use actors as apposed to sprites you're getting "true acting" It's what they do, they act, and you get the true performance in the face. I mean you could draw a sprite but that doesn't convey the emotion behind it as easily as real actors, it doesn't have the movement like a real actors because you have to emulate the movement. Where as with an actor it's real movement, you get the pure unfiltered movement and emotions, and that's something that helps bring the creepy side of the town out and the realistic side, it grounds it in reality enough to make it a kind of believable story.

TIR: So you chose to use real actors because you feel they can convey emotions and feelings better than you could get with 3D models or 2D sprites?.

KS: Exactly, yes.

TIR: That makes sense in terms of what you're trying to achieve.

TIR: All right, so moving on. Are you incorporating any new gameplay mechanics or video capturing and rendering techniques in your game?

KS: Obviously compared to old FMV games, we've got so much, so much technology these days. I mean Red Cameras aren't nearly as expensive as they were back in the day, lighting is a fraction of the cost of what it used to be too, actors as well. Performance is no longer doing cheesy, waving your arms to get someone's attention, or making a huge movement with your head just to wink, it's all about subtlety now because it's become so precise. Games like The 7th Guest where the resolution used to be, I think 640/480 which is the tiniest screen if you think about it, when you blow it up that is so pixelated, where as now we can shoot at  4K resolution and scale it down if we have to, as apposed to upscaling everything.

KS: At this time we're not ready to announce our gameplay mechanics, we have so many secrets up our sleeves and really don't want to spoil the surprise.

TIR: Fair enough. So moving on again, who are your intended target demographic? For example are you aiming to appeal to old-school fans of the FMV point and click genre, or are you hoping to appeal to as wide an audience as possible?

KS: Well, we're obviously aiming towards the FMV audience of old, but we're not solely aiming for them, I mean it would be nice for old-school FMV fans to see a new product incorporating their favourite genre, but we want to kind of bring it into reality and at the same time bring in people who want a  deep story, but also fun gameplay, it's such a delicate balance between the two and a lot of games get it right but a lot more games get it wrong. We believe we've got a nice balance that will attract people that normally wouldn't tread the waters of games such as Full Motion Videogames, but by seeing the world and the creepiness of  Shadow Peak, they will be drawn to the concept and then find themselves fans of the FMV genre. Hopefully.

TIR: Yeah, hopefully. I mean your game Shadow Peak, if successful may actually open up an entire new genre or at the very least revitalise the FMV genre for the current gen.

KS: Exactly, and that's what we're hoping to do, we're hoping to bring it back to be honest. It's a good genre, but in it's original run it was hit by so many hurdles and barriers that it became a genre that a lot of people look down on, where as now we've got the technology, we've got the minds to create the FMV's as they should have been, and why not?

TIR: Why not indeed. In the games industry today there's still so much left untapped, yet so many genres and sub genres, why not bring back a classic like the FMV point and click genre.

KS: Exactly, and do it right too because, well I'm not gonna lie there are so many FPS's these days that you literally only have to search for a short while on the Internet to find a brand new one, it's the same for a lot of indie games too, they create really good experiences but they have this art style that I've noticed that makes many of them look, well they look like they're becoming carbon copies of themselves. It's only little hints at the moment but that's how it starts, it's like with Braid if you look at the art style it's very unique, very drawing, but you start to get hints of the same animation styles, and the same art style appearing in other indie games. Because it's successful other people like to emulate it.

TIR: That's true, if something's popular people will often think "we can earn money by offering a similar product".

KS: Exactly. And so we thought we've got an idea for a game, we could make it a platformer, we could make it whatever we want, but nothing would draw a new audience in more than a completely new looking game from a genre that hasn't been around for years and years. We want to bring new audiences and old audiences together, to experience something that wasn't possible back in the day, something that really shows how far we've come in the world. That a group of wannabe indie developers have been working hard just to bring this one project to life, a project which seems impossible for even triple-A developers purely because they can't be bothered to spend time or take risks on Full Motion Videogames.

TIR: There is a big issue in the games industry today where we see a lot of "cookie cutter" videogames being released.

KS: Yeah, it's kind of like why cookie cut? I mean it makes money yeah, and that keeps the triple-A studios happy, but we're starting to see indie games "cookie cut" each other now, and that completely undermines the point of what indie gaming is, the indie game is about expressing yourself, it's about pushing the boundaries, it's about creating something that nobody would have experienced if you didn't exist. So if you're copying each other it's just missing the point.

TIR: On what platforms are you planning on making Shadow Peak available?

KS: At the moment the planned platforms are PC, Mac and Linux. We are planning later down the line, if the reception is good and if we think it would makes sense, to port Shadow Peak over to the iPhone, iPad, Window's phone and  Android phone, that's on the cards but still very much up in the air at the moment, it's not on the table because we're still very unsure if FMV games would work well on mobile devices. So we're looking at it but we're just not ready to make the jump yet.

TIR: So then, if Shadow Peak is successful you may be willing to port it to other platforms such as mobile devices?

KS: Yeah, so as to expand our audience. People who might not have touched a computer in years, will be able to - on their phone - relive memories of the FMV games of old, and for people who are sitting in bed bored they can jump into the world of Shadow Peak. Basically we want to make it an alternative to reading a book before you go to sleep, or watching a movie, you can play Shadow Peak, get sucked in and before you know it it's  6:00 am in the morning.

TIR/KS (Laughs)

TIR: That sounds like a good book (Laughs)

KS: Tell me about it, a lot of words.

TIR: And finally, is there anything else you as the developer would like to say about your project, that I might not have asked already?

KS: At the moment a lot of people have been gaining interest in the project, but they haven't actually seen anything of it yet. A lot of people have been circulating screenshots for the game "Night trap" which is nice of them, but... This game isn't Night trap (Laughs)

TIR: So you're saying there's some misinformation that's come about due to those screenshots?

KS: Definitely, and I just wanna clear that up. At the moment we haven't released any concept art or anything apart from those that hopefully we'll be releasing on your blog, which is the exclusive place for the concept art, there is nowhere else you'll see it unless someone copies it from your blog.

KS: Night trap is not Shadow Peak, Shadow Peak is as different to Night trap as possible, it's just using the same ideas behind Full Motion Video. Shadow Peak is not even anything close to Night trap, it's been nice that people have been associating it with Night trap but it's not ideal. If you want to check out games like Shadow Peak I would play Dark Seed II, or Phantasmagoria, and even Silent Hill just to get a feel for the game. Night trap was Cheesy as anything and Shadow Peak is the complete opposite. (Laughs)

KS: We're not going for "Cheesy" like old FMV games, we're going for a real story with real people in a messed up world. FMV games won't be Cheesy anymore hopefully, we hope to get rid of this whole stereotype and bring the genre into the 21'st century, I mean every genre of games has pretty much grown up now but FMV's have been left behind for some reason, so we want to be the ones to heard it into the modern age. We want to one day, hopefully bring these games back because they were really good, just so flawed.

TIR: That was an issue for quite a few games back in the day, where they had a lot of potential but technically they just weren't there yet, it just wasn't possible to do the original idea justice.

KS: Exactly, for some reason when it came to genres like FPS's they were good, they were flawed but people kept working on them so now they're really good, platformer games they were good, they were hardly flawed but people kept working on them too so now their freaking amazing like today. And you've got so many other genres, the Puzzle genre has grown so much, the Beat 'em up genre also and fighting games whoa! Then you've got FMV games just left to gather dust, because they weren't done right, they weren't done as well as they could have been back in the day and nobody bothers touching them now. Which is why we want to smoother our hands all over it and and sculpt something amazing for everyone. (Laughs)

TIR: Would you say that FMV games were left in the dust so to speak, because of all the technical limitations at that time?

KS: Definitely, and I think the technical limitations at the time put a great many people off.  I think a lot of people thought that once we are technologically advanced enough to create a fantastic story, a great game, and the perfect game for the FMV genre, then they'll do it. But what happened I believe is, everyone's just saying "yeah a couple more years and we'll do it, a couple more years and we'll do it" not realising that the technology is here now, we're in the future it can be done, so we want to do our best to create that perfect FMV game. We'll try our hardest, we've already shed loads of blood sweat and tears and we'll shed a hell of a lot more to bring this world to life, and hopefully bring the FMV genre back.

TIR: Well, thank you very much for that exclusive look into Shadow Peak and the company behind it.

KS: Thank you.

TIR: I think that'll conclude our interview, it's been a pleasure talking to you.

(This concludes the interview with Kitatus Studios)

And there you have it, Kitatus Studios Shadow Peak certainly sounds very interesting if not only for it being one the first original FMV games to come about in quite some time, but also for the company to be attempting such a genre that many others have simply left to wither away with the passing of time. And having said that, the industry could sure do with more variety and originality even in the indie scene.

So can Kitatus Studios help usher the FMV genre into the 21'st century? well we'll just have to wait and see.

If you are interested in finding out more about Shadow Peak, head over to Kitatus Studios official Facebook page @kitatus_studios_facebook and Twitter page @kitatus_studios_twitter to keep updated with their up and coming project.

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