Systems designer Zach Gage talks about how he used dice rolling as a game mechanic to make probability more visible in a game about surviving impossible odds. …
THQ Nordic has purchased all of NovaLogic's franchises, and pledges to continue the developer's first-person tactical shooters.
Reinhard Pollice, business and product development director at THQ Nordic said, "NovaLogic pioneered military simulations and military-themed multiplayer shooters with vehicular combat and also clearly targeted at an adult audience. We are extremely satisfied with the new additions to our portfolio, and also very thrilled about how to continue some of said franchises, we are open for talks in this regard if any developer approaches us with a concept for a potential sequel to any IP."
THQ Nordic has not announced any immediate plans for the acquired series.
The acquisition includes:
- Delta Force Series
- Comanche Series
- Joint Operations Series
- Armored Fist Series
- Tachyon: The Fringe
- F-22 Series
- F-16 Series
- NovaLogic Trademark
- and more…
Pollice's statement indicates signing new developers for any future NovaLogic projects, but I wonder if re-releases are also in the mix. Any you'd like to see? Also, a slight word of warning: While THQ Nordic – formerly Nordic Games – acquired a number of THQ and other company's properties through the years, many have not been seen releases since being purchased. Hopefully, however, NovaLogic fans get to see their favorite franchises ride again.
Hidetaka Suehiro (AKA Swery 65) a popular developer associated with cult games like Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die, has announced he's retiring from his studio Access Games. Swery made the announcement on Twitter last night:
Day 360, Unfortunately I retired from Access Games after all. However Don't worry, because my health condition is getting be fine. Love you! pic.twitter.com/xBaLRVApqE
— SWERY (Swery65) (@Swery65) October 31, 2016
Swery took a break last year from developing games due to reactive hypoglycemia. He had hoped to return to games development after a short break. Sadly, it looks like that won't be the case though he reports his health is improving. It's worth noting that the tweet here explicitly says "Access Games," and not the games industry as a whole so there might be a chance he returns to development outside of Access Games one day.
For a look at Swery's work, be sure to check out our Chronicles of Deadly Premonition.
Whatever you may think of Swery's games, they are bizarre and their own kinds of beasts, something you can't say about most video games. We hope that Swery's health continues to improve and that maybe we'll see more games spring from his delightful mind one day.
Maybe trick-or-treating isn’t your thing, but you still want to do something fun with friends to celebrate the spookiest time of the year. Might I suggest a dedicated Halloween board game night? A few candles and a spooky background soundtrack can get you well on your way, but the most important ingredient is the right game. I’m here to help, with eight of my favorite games for a Halloween gaming get-together.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Designer: Nate French, Matthew Newman
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a whole column looking at a great horror game called Mansions of Madness, an ambitious app-driven game for up to five players. If you want to tap that Lovecraftian horror vibe, but you’re playing with just a single friend or partner, you might consider Fantasy Flight’s new Arkham Horror card game. Based on the excellent board game of the same name, this new release is an ongoing story-driven cooperative adventure for one or two players (or up to four with two copies of the base game). The game allows for extensive customization of your personal card deck, and the card-based interactions are fast and streamlined, keeping the focus on the ongoing story. This is also one of Fantasy Flight’s living card games, so subsequent expansions allow you to continue the story with set cards in each release, rather than a randomized collection. This one is a great choice for small groups or couples who still want a full-featured game complete with creepy narrative elements.
Dead of Winter
Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Isaac Vega
Publisher: Plaid Hat Games
If you’re not afraid of confronting some disturbing and adult scenarios in your board gaming adventures, you can hardly go wrong with 2014’s Dead of Winter. Much like in the wildly popular The Walking Dead stories, this survival game finds the players in control of a group of survivors, desperately trying to survive after a zombie apocalypse. Sometimes conflicting victory goals for the different players can lead to morally complex conflicts, and might even see one of the players exiled from the settlement. The game demands constant, often painful decisions, and regularly results in fascinating options for emergent storytelling. The game also can be found as a separate standalone expansion, called Dead of Winter: The Long Night, all about a shady pharmaceutical corporation and its horrific experiments.
Designer: Stefano Castelli, Andrea Crespi, Lorenzo Silva
Maybe your Halloween game night needs to steer a little more toward family-friendly options? I’m a big fan of this great new release that’s all about crafting concoctions as young witches and wizards and trying to pass your final exam in potions class. The game is built around a cleverly constructed marble dispenser, which drops multi-colored marbles in random orders into several orderly columns. If you pull a marble ingredient and two new marbles of the same color touch, you get those ingredients as well. Once you have the correct ingredients for your potion, you can then use that potion for advantages in later rounds of play. Potion Explosion is tactile, easy to understand, and great fun for a family gaming group with a shared love for the wizarding world.
The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow
Designer: Philippe des Pallieres, Hervé Marly
There are numerous variations on the familiar Werewolf formula, but I’m personally partial to Miller’s Hollow. No matter the variation you choose for you and your friends, the basic idea is roughly the same. Role cards dictate whether each player is a villager, a werewolf, or one of a small number of characters with special powers, like the fortune teller, hunter, or witch – all of whom have special abilities that also might paint a target on their back if anyone figures out who they are. One additional player takes on the role of the moderator and dictates the flow of the game. Each “night” the werewolves kill one of the players, and in the “morning” everyone debates who might be the monsters. Built to be played with 8-20 players, this riotous party game encourages lying, critical thinking, and careful listening. A typical full game round plays in just 15-20 minutes, so everyone has a good shot at getting to be both a good guy and a bad guy by the end of the evening.
Next Page: Conduct a séance to uncover a grisly murder, or confront hordes of zombies and necromancers as knights and wizards
Tokuro Fujiwara didn’t play video games; he didn’t even know that Konami was a game developer when he walked into the studio to apply for a product planner job he’d heard about through a college recruiter. However, Fujiwara excelled at game development. After breaking into the industry at Konami, Fujiwara moved over to Capcom, where he created Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Bionic Commando before working on other 8-bit classics such as Strider, DuckTales, and Mega Man 2.
Fujiwara’s most significant contribution to the gaming industry, however, might be an often-overlooked RPG for Nintendo’s first console that never officially released outside Japan. Entitled Sweet Home, Fujiwara’s project sounds like a game bound for obscurity; it was an adaptation of a low-budget Japanese horror film that served as an early experiment in video game horror. In spite of all this, Sweet Home became a cult hit and went on to inspire the Resident Evil franchise as well as the entire survival horror genre.
At some point in the late ‘80s, Capcom began talking with Japanese film company Itami Productions about making a game based on the then-upcoming film Sweet Home. The gory horror flick centered on a small crew of documentarians who break into the abandoned country home of a famous artist named Ichirō Mamiya. According to legend, 30 years previously Ichirō hid several precious frescos somewhere inside his home, and the fictional film crew hope to uncover these lost treasures for a documentary. Unfortunately, a mysterious ghost traps the crew inside the late artist’s house, kicking off a series of paranormal events ultimately leading to their demise.
Before the film’s theatrical debut, Capcom sent Fujiwara to walk through the set and talk with the film’s director. Fujiwara and his team used reference materials from this visit to create many of the objects and environments in the game. When it came to the script, however, Fujiwara took several liberties, often elaborating on story elements that were only hinted at in the film.
For example, at one point in the movie, the fictional documentarians stumble upon a small grave. The crew then discovers that the grave belonged to Ichirō’s infant son, who had died tragically after accidentally falling into a furnace. Devastated by this event, Ichirō’s wife kills herself and begins haunting their home.
This plot point isn’t developed further in the film, but in the game, Fujiwara added a series of collectable diary entries that expand on the narrative. These diaries explain how Ichirō’s wife was driven crazy after the death of her child, and how she proceeded to lure other young children to their deaths so her son would have playmates in the afterlife. Thronging with premature souls, Ichirō’s house eventually becomes a hotspot of paranormal activity.
It was unprecedented in the late ‘80s for a video game to expand on a film’s narrative in this way. Most games of the era were lucky if they could accurately communicate the main beats of the film they were adapting, let alone embellish the narrative. Fujiwara, on the other hand, knew games were capable of doing more than was expected of them, and this push to explore the limits of the gaming medium can be seen in every element of Sweet Home’s design.
Since Fujiwara’s game was based on a movie, developing its story was
relatively easy. However, Fujiwara had few reference points when it came
to designing Sweet Home’s gameplay. A few early PC titles had played
around with horror themes, such as Nostromo and 3D Monster Maze, but
games rarely delivered the kind of oppressive atmosphere Fujiwara
wanted. In 2003, Fujiwara told the Japanese gaming magazine Continue he
wanted Sweet Home’s gameplay to be an interesting mix of unconventional
concepts and an attempt to do something the industry hadn’t seen before.
|Black Market Release
In 2000, two groups of ROM hackers called Gaijin Productions and
Many of Sweet Home’s gameplay concepts still sound fresh even by today’s standards. Players control five different heroes as they explore Ichirō’s mansion and participate in random turn-based RPG encounters. Unlike most RPGs, however, monsters didn’t drop money or items. Instead, Fujiwara thought it would be more interesting if players collected important story items in the world and then used those items to open up new areas – a gameplay system that would later become a staple of the survival horror genre.
Players could also group their heroes into teams of up to three, but that meant one team was always short by at least one member. Characters also had special items that gave them unique abilities. For example, one character had a lighter that could burn away ropes blocking corridors and doorways, while another character had a first-aid pack that could neutralize status ailments. The difficulty ramped up significantly if party members started to die thanks to a permadeath system. However, Sweet Home remembered those who sacrificed themselves for the greater good and delivered one of five different endings based on players’ actions throughout the game.
One of Sweet Home’s most impressive features was successfully selling the horror experience on Nintendo’s 8-bit console. As players explored the mansion, furniture would suddenly move to attack them, ghosts could be seen fluttering down the hall out of the corner of the screen, and distorted animal’s sounds would be heard echoing though the mansion’s blood-scrawled walls. Sweet Home’s graphics seem crude by today’s standards, but when players first got their hands on the game two-and-a-half decades ago, many of them were too scared to play in the dark. Fujiwara had accomplished his goal: No one had ever seen anything like Sweet Home before.
A Reign Of Terror
Sweet Home released in Japan in 1989 for Nintendo’s Famicom, and received generally favorable reviews. The film’s official trailer actually helped promote the game, and many reviewers thought the game was the better product.
Unfortunately, RPGs had an unproven track record in the U.S. at the time, and Nintendo of America’s stringent release guidelines showed preference for kid-friendly content, so Capcom decided against localizing the game for the NES in Western markets. Despite that decision, Sweet Home’s legacy would be felt worldwide.
Years later, after the release of Sony’s first PlayStation console, Fujiwara was still fond of his work on Sweet Home. Now a producer at Capcom, Fujiwara felt like it was time for the company to remake Sweet Home as a new franchise using updated console technology. He handed the project to a creative young director named Shinji Mikami.
Resident Evil – as it would come to be called – was groundbreaking for a lot of reasons and deserves its spot in gaming’s hall of fame. However, many of Resident Evil’s most iconic elements, including the mansion setting, multiple protagonists with specialized items, environmental puzzles, telling a story though scattered notes, item management with a limited inventory, and even the door loading screen are all on display in Sweet Home. Resident Evil – and the entire horror genre – owe a blood debt to this long-forgotten 8-bit game that had no right to be as good as it was.
It’s a familiar experience: you start up a new game, and something feels weird. Actions aren’t happening at the right time or the right speed. Something’s off with the way your character turns. The controls just feel bad.
"Bad controls" usually mean we’re not getting feedback that matches what we’re seeing or doing. Games have developed an established control language over the years, which most gamers have already internalized. Spacebar means jump, the right trigger means shoot. When a game doesn’t follow these unwritten rules, it’s jarring and difficult to readapt.
Dark Souls felt bizarre and unfriendly in my hands when I first picked it up, and my initial steps through that game were all the more frightening because of how alien the control scheme was. I inched my way forward, in part because I quickly learned that Dark Souls enjoys hiding enemies behind blind corners, but mostly because I wasn’t sure I’d react properly when I got attacked.
The game had made me anxious and unsure of myself, just by mapping my controller inputs in an unfamiliar way. That was, I think, done on purpose. Sometimes feelings of uncertainty and tension are exactly what a game needs.
Take the first Resident Evil game. Originally released in 1996, it featured polygonal characters exploring a blighted mansion with pre-rendered 2D backgrounds. As you moved from scene to scene, the camera angles changed dramatically. This led the developers to use so-called tank controls, which keep you moving forward as long as you press up on the stick, but require you to rotate, rather than strafe, using left and right. Tension is built into this control scheme – if something is chasing you, you have to stop and then watch as your character slowly turns around to face the threat. It evokes that nightmare of running away from something, but finding that your legs don’t work properly.
Resident Evil almost single-handedly created the survival horror genre (the term was coined by Capcom for the game’s marketing), and the army of clones it inspired frequently used the tank control scheme. This made sense while everyone was still using the limited processing power available during the original PlayStation era, but survival horror games continued to use tank controls even when new hardware allowed games to use fully-rendered 3D scenery with cameras that followed the player. Capcom even opted to use an adapted version of these original tank controls for Resident Evil 4, one of the Game Informer's top 25 horror games of all time, even though players had begun to expect the ability to strafe, shoot, and turn on demand.
Why? Because horror is scarier when you have to struggle, and the clunky control scheme means you’ve got to physically struggle (albeit, with your fingertips) to accomplish time-sensitive tasks in-game.
Technical limitations in 1996 led to the development of a control scheme for Resident Evil that enhanced the tension and (arguably) the overall horror experience. Compare this to Ridley Scott’s masterful 1979 film Alien. Because of budget constraints, Scott’s team was unable to make a fully-articulated, working Xenomorph that looked convincing on camera. But by surrounding small, manageable parts of the alien with darkness, they forced viewers’ imaginations to fill in the blanks. What we came up with in our minds was far scarier than anything they could have put on the screen.
By the time Alien: Isolation came out in 2014, the Xenomorph was a well-established pop culture icon. There’s nothing to hide on the creature now that we’ve repeatedly seen the whole thing thanks to modern CG. Creative Assembly had to find other ways to evoke the dread and terror of the original film, and one way they accomplished this was by making some of the player’s important interactions with the game inherently frustrating. Player-character Amanda Ripley must physically reach out and manipulate each button or lever to interact with them, and in the retro-future setting of Sevastopol station this takes in-game time. Even saving your game is done by painstakingly interacting with the environment. That’s time during which you can be horribly killed by the alien that’s stalking you, and it’s excruciating. You’ve been trained to expect instant feedback when interacting with game environments, and Alien: Isolation preys on that expectation. It creates a tension reminiscent of the final moments in Alien, where Ellen Ripley races to disarm her ship’s self-destruct sequence. This is different from what’s usually considered “bad controls;” Alien: Isolation’s controls work fine. But a save system that deliberately creates this kind of player discomfort has a lot in common with Resident Evil 4’s awkward shooting controls. Both games want you to empathize with the character you’re playing on a physiological level.
It certainly worked on me. After one late-night, multi-hour session of Alien: Isolation, I hit a save point and decided to call it a night. As I exited the game and went to stand up from my desk, I became aware of how tense the muscles in my legs were. The color was starting to return to the whitened knuckles of my right hand, which had been clenched around the mouse.
Dying Light is another game that uses its control scheme and feedback in order to create added tension. As Brian Shea wrote in his review, combat at the game’s outset is usually not worth the effort, especially if there are more than a couple zombies around. Clumsy and awkward in the early hours, Dying Light’s combat system evokes the kind of stress and haplessness that characters in Dawn of the Dead or The Walking Dead might actually experience. Getting into scraps in the streets as you start out is usually a terrible idea, as it’s exhausting and likely to attract the attention of the more dangerous "virals." As in classic zombie fiction, you generally want to avoid fighting zombies.
This pushes the player toward the game's parkour system, which has its own weird control scheme. To jump and grab ledges, you press the right bumper. This allows you to always keep your thumbs on the control sticks, but it can be a disorienting button mapping when you start playing the game. My hands felt weird holding the controller like this, almost the way they did with Dark Souls, and that never completely went away. That physical weirdness makes sense in the context of what’s happening in the game. As Kyle Crane, you’re dropped into the foreign country of Harran to help survivors of the zombie outbreak. Unlike Faith in Mirror’s Edge, Crane doesn’t start as a parkour master. You’re learning parkour from the characters you meet and from practice. He’s new to the city and new to parkour, so he can’t see the right paths to take the way Faith can through her vibrant "runner vision." Making a big jump in Dying Light always feels at least a bit risky to me, and in the back of my head I can’t help but wonder "Can I make this?" Here again, "bad" controls are helping communicate something important to the player; in this case, it’s the inherent danger of real parkour.
While each of these games – Resident Evil, Alien: Isolation, and Dying Light – has a tense theme and controls that reinforce it, it’s far from settled whether these control schemes were deliberately designed to accomplish that, or whether it’s the best possible approach in a particular game’s design. Critics and players alike have (justifiably) complained about the control schemes in these titles, and even though I’ve had my own frustrations with them, I think that might have been the point all along. It’s true that countless games have crummy control schemes that make them less fun to play without adding anything meaningful. But it’s also possible to design tension into control schemes well. Grand Theft Auto V’s driving proves that point – imagine how absurd and meaningless the garbage truck mission would feel if the vehicle handled as well as a sports car. Another great non-horror example of this is Papers, Please, which has you shuffling papers around a cramped workspace in order to reinforce the sensation of working under an autocratic bureaucracy.
Building discomfort into entertainment isn’t a new idea. Making audiences feel uncomfortable is something art has been doing for a long time. Ghost stories and horror movies poke at our fears of the unknown and our fight-or-flight instincts just enough to push us out of our comfort zones, and at least for fans of the genre, that’s what keeps us coming back. What games bring to the table is interactivity, and the point of interaction is usually the controller, the joystick, or the keyboard and mouse. Smart designers have recognized that these can be used alongside games’ audio and video, and their stories and characters, to enhance themes of fright and tension by allowing the players themselves share in those experiences.
Fig, the platform that funded both Psychonauts 2 and Wasteland 3, has just posted its latest video game-related project, a top down action adventure game set in the zombie apocalypse called Jazon and the Dead. The game's gorgeous visuals do a good job of making it stand out in what some might call an overcrowded genre.
The developer behind the project, 2nd Studio, also has a list up that details some of the game's proposed features:
- Player-driven story where you must weigh the consequences of your choices. The story is divided into acts, each with bridging cinematic scenes that focus on different aspects of human nature.
- Fight your way through hordes of zombies with a heavy gun or bloody fist. Ammunition is scarce so you need to make every shot count! Dash and push zombies out of your way to survive through close combat.
- Explore a world inspired by 80’s sci-fi B-movies with chunky old technology and lots of blood and gore. Your journey takes you through deserts, abandoned towns, underground caves, surviving cities and military facilities.
- Puzzle your way out of tense situations before the slow, brain devouring creatures reach you. Work cleverly with corpses in the world — as weights or to stand on to reach your destination.
- Groovy 80's inspired soundtrack. Nothing less will do it.
You can watch the Fig trailer for the game here:
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To meet its funding goal, Jazon and The Dead must raise $ 65,000 by December 1. As with other Fig projects, those who support the project are considered investors and might stand to make back some money on their investment, though such a notion should be taken with grain of salt.
You can check out the game's campaign here.
Agent 47 is taking a trip to Hokkaido, Japan today for the season finale of Hitman. Players will explore a hospital reserved for the ultra rich to take down a target getting a life-saving surgery.
Missions will follow the same structure as before, so players will explore a vast locale while mapping their target's moves.
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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition has been out in the wild for a few days now, giving us a chance to experience its snowy fantasy world all over again – but how improved is the game?
One way to try and answer this question is to literally place two versions of the game side by side. We played through the first 25 minutes of the game on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, trying to sync them up to the best of our ability. The framerate is definitely improved, but as the video shows, the visuals were pretty dang good on the previous generation of consoles. There is definitely some improvement there, but it's maybe not as drastic as we hoped it might be.
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