Working with the community is a very important part of developing and popularising your game, here’s how the Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf devs handle theirs. …
With the Skyrim: Special Edition out this week, fans of Bethesda's critically-acclaimed RPG have been able to enjoy the game's sweeping vistas at a higher resolution, since much of the game's look has been reworked for modern consoles. Unfortunately, the same can't currently be said for the game's audio.
Reddit user LasurArkinshade has found that the PC and Xbox one versions of the Special Edition feature drastically compressed audio, sounding more muddled than the game's original 2011 release. At first they though the more muddled sound may have been their ears betraying them, but after extracting the files from the remastered version of the game, they were able to confirm their fear. "The vanilla game has sound assets (other than music and voiceover) in uncompressed .wav format," they wrote in their post. "The Special Edition has the sound assets all in (very aggressively compressed) .xwm format, which is a compressed sound format designed for games. This isn't so bad, necessarily – it's possible to compress audio to .xwm without significant quality degradation unless you crank the compression way up to insane levels. What did Bethesda do? They cranked the compression way up to insane levels."
LasurArkinshade has gone as far as posting an audio comparison between the original and remastered versions of the game, which you can find here.
Meanwhile, the PlayStation 4 version features higher quality than that of any other version of the game, which lead LasurArkinshade to conclude that the lower quality on the other two versions of the Special Edition was in fact an oversight.
Shortly after the post was made, Bethesda responded, saying "We’re currently testing a fix and hope to have an update out next week.”
If, as LasurArkinshade assumes, the issue was a simple oversight of someone not inserting the right files in the right place, it's an interesting case of how QA might have its pitfalls. I would say that it should have been found by someone during testing, but unless you put the two samples side by side and gave me a good enough pair of headphones, I wouldn't have been able to tell you which version is better. But hey, at least this issue could be all patched up as early as next week. Which is good, because I probably won't have time to play Skyrim again until sometime next year.
Cory Davis and horror go way back. Since he was a child, he’s been fascinated with the way horror can elicit emotions other genres can’t. “Horror’s a place where you can have a big influence and impact on the emotions that someone is feeling.” After being surprised by how well Davis’ most recent game, Here They Lie, managed to use the realm of VR to craft a powerful horror experience, I caught up with Davis to talk about his history with the genre, working on different kinds of horror, and some of the difficulties of creating a horror game in VR.
Of Dodgeball And F.E.A.R.
In his younger years, Davis immersed himself in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Stanley Kubrick, obsessing over their freakish monsters and unreal, twisted locations. But even at that early stage, Davis understood Lovecraft’s best scares had little to do with physical monsters; the philosophical questions those stories posed consistently inspired his creativity. “That’s where I always went when I wanted to have an experience and question something in my life. Horror was always the place that I went to.”
Along with a love of horror, Davis also had a healthy fascination with video games, but it didn’t strike Davis to combine those two interests until his plan A lost its appeal. “I was studying architecture at Texas Tech University,” says Davis. ”There was some discussion with my professors there about the viability of architecture as a profession at the time.” His professors encouraged Davis to do what he loved instead of get into architecture, so he began working on level mods for Counter-Strike and Half-Life, using inspiration from the way Kubrick films like The Shining manipulated their audience. “It’s really strange how that film is constructed, because it’s built to make you feel unsettled, even about the spaces and the architecture where it’s filmed. There’s a lot of tricks going on that play with you.”
Davis’ first big project was the Dodgeball mod for the original Half-Life, which became popular enough to port over to Valve’s Source engine for Half-Life 2 years later. The mod was good enough to get Davis’ foot in the door at Monolith, which gave him his first professional gig as a junior level designer on the Extraction Point expansion for F.E.A.R., and later as a level designer on Condemned 2: Bloodshot. These were Davis’ first chances to implement the techniques he’d absorbed over the years by watching and reading horror fiction, as well as the fundamental aspects of design he’d learned from building mods.
Considering his background, working on horror titles came naturally to Davis. “I love the idea of inconsistent geometry, players losing their mind, things you can almost only have in a game. Watching someone else go crazy isn’t the same thing as being in a room, [then watching as] it starts to have some interesting change as you’re standing in it.”
A Different Kind Of Horror
Seeking to implement more of his surreal and darker ideas on a larger scale, Davis left Monolith in 2008 to become the creative director on Spec Ops: The Line. After wrapping up work on Condemned 2, Davis vacationed in Mexico, where he first spoke with developer Yager and publisher 2K Games about joining the project. Here, Davis’ history of working on horror games proved a useful asset. “At the start of the project, 2K had a bunch of creative directors who were really behind taking the old Spec Ops series and doing dark and gritty with it, and I was on the exact same page with them.”
Many of the initial conversations Davis had with Yager and 2K touched on horror, as well as some of the darker aspects of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the latter of which Davis counts among his favorite films of all time. 2K wanted a dark game about the atrocities of war, and to have the chance to work on a game inspired by a film he loved was a huge opportunity for Davis.
In order to work on the game, Davis and his wife had to relocate to Berlin, but the project was ambitious enough to merit the move. Although Spec Ops is bereft of ghosts, monsters, or hallways lined with blood, Davis considers it a horror game, which “drifted into a really interesting place that’s a lot harder to define than that” as Yager worked on the game over the course of several years. Much of the game emphasized the role the player takes in a video game, and many of its “horrors” have to do with the acts humans bring themselves to do (either by force or voluntarily) when the usual rules of society no longer apply. It was a horror story which drew from the more philosophical aspects of the Lovecraftian fiction Davis read as a young teenager.
Because of the game’s unique direction, 2K had a hard time trying to sell it. “There was some discussion about how to market the game after it had been in development for a while, and that’s when marketing began pushing back, trying to get it more in line with conventional shooters,” says Davis. The company even considered delaying the game to align make changes it thought might help Spec Ops sell better. Davis understood the publisher’s desire to make the game successful, but wanted to keep the game’s tone and inspiration intact. “There were strong battles towards the end of the project,” he says.
While finishing up Spec Ops, Davis had a son in Berlin, and he and his wife began looking for a way to move to Los Angeles. Davis was able to get in contact with Toby Gard, one of the people behind the Tomb Raider series who was then a creative lead at Spark Unlimited. The two talked about working on a collaboration with Keiji Inafune’s studio, Comcept, on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.
Although Yaiba was met with mixed-to-negative reaction from critics and fans alike (garnering an average Metacritic score of 47 across all platforms), Davis is glad to have worked on the game. “Yaiba was a really cool experience for me because that’s where I got back in hands-on level design,” says Davis. It allowed him to move away from the trappings of horror and work on a lighter, more action-oriented title. It also let him become more familiar with the Unreal Engine, which proved useful down the line.
Davis felt the environment during Yaiba’s development constricted his potential (and that of his team), but it provided him two very important things: examples of what not to do after he left the project, and the opportunity to meet Rich Smith and John Garcia-Shelton, who, along with Davis and Gard, eventually went on to form their current studio, Tangentlemen.
On page two, we speak to Davis about the influences and practicalities of his latest title, Here They Lie.
California-based startup Mobcrush, best known for building apps for livestreaming games on iOS and Android, has managed to raise $ 20 million from investors in its latest round of funding. …
Of all the superhero action movies this year, Deadpool might be the most surprising. It managed to deftly translate the source comics' style to film effortlessly, becoming a financial and critical success.
Unfortunately, one of the people behind the film's success, director Tim Miller, will not be around for the sequel. According to a report from Deadline, Miller will not direct the film after "creative differences" between him and Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds emerged. Miller will be working on the film adaptation of Influx, a film adaption of a David Suarez novel.
We don't know what the creative differences could have been over, so it's hard to know if this will benefit or hurt the film in the long run. All we can hope for is that this doesn't lead to another X-Men Origins: Wolverine situation.
In 2011, Comedy Central aired a documentary called 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park. The documentary was a showcase for how South Park comes together every week and detailed the presumed impossible process of conceiving, writing, and animating a television show in six days. It proved the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, are brilliant, hard-working, fast, and maybe a little bit insane.
Fractured But Whole is not being made in six days. The game has been in development for years, but that does not mean Trey and Matt are abandoning their fast pace or penchant for last-second changes. We spoke with Ubisoft San Francisco about what it’s like to work with the award-winning duo, and how it is translating their work ethic into a video game.
Trey and Matt enjoyed their time finishing up Stick of Truth with Ubisoft, preferring that process to their earlier work on Stick of Truth, which helped them make the decision to pursue a second game. “From the first brainstorming meeting we asked, ‘What story do you want to tell? What game mechanics were you unhappy with in the last game? What things do we look at from the last game that were definitely successes, but where do we want to iterate?’” senior producer Jason Schroeder says.
The answers to those questions were outlined, and Trey and Matt went off to start the design process, while Ubisoft started making decisions about the technical side of development. For Stick of Truth, Obsidian essentially translated all of South Park’s animation into its engine by re-animating it. For Fractured, Ubisoft adapted its Snowdrop engine (which was used to build The Division) so that it could take the art assets directly from South Park’s animators and artists and insert them into the game with little to no need for adaptation.
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Senior producer Jason Schroeder and director of design Paul Cross discuss working with Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
From there, the game started to take shape. In the early stages, Schroeder and select team members would visit South Park Studios for a few days twice a month and have frequent video conference calls. Schroeder describes seeing Trey pace around the table in these meetings, just as he does in 6 Days To Air, outlining what he would want to see in the game, while Schroeder would outline the feasibility of his ideas.
The script for the game arrives from Trey and Matt, and it’s written just as they write the show. “They work in Movie Magic Screenwriter. It’s old as hell. It’s like the precursor to Final Draft,” narrative designer Jolie Menzel says. “I guarantee you they started using it in college and just never stopped.” Outside of the dialogue, those scripts have stage directions in them, which are translated to gameplay.
Ubisoft makes changes in those scripts as necessary, but recognizes their technical role in the process. “We are kind of the straight man,” Menzel says, “They’re going to handle all the big jokes. They’re going to handle the big punchlines. A lot of what we do is support them. We set up the shot so they can slam it in.
Schroeder would be the one to tell Trey and Matt no when necessary. “You want them to be happy. You want to please them, and have them be proud of what they’re working on, so there is a level of that – wanting to impress them,” Schroeder says. “But at the same time, I think that if I was coming at it purely as a pleaser, they’d go, ‘You’re not going to get s*** done from me. I need someone who is going to get things done.’”
With the show, Trey and Matt know the limits of both the medium, and their self-imposed time constraints, and after completing one game, they’re well on their way to learning the constraints of this different, interactive medium. “When their creativity runs up against a constraint, that’s when they hit another, ‘Oh, we can make fun of that.’” The game’s original title was less subtle, and when they were told you can’t release a game with the word butthole in the title, Trey and Matt worked within those constraints in order to arrive at the game’s current title, as an example of recognizing boundaries.
In this later portion of development, Trey and Matt play frequent builds of the game, giving feedback and making changes where necessary. They will even write out changes on their whiteboard during these video conference play sessions, and Ubisoft points its cameras at the board to better understand what needs to change. “I know [Trey] well enough at this point where we jump onto a call and if he’s like, ‘How much is it going to bum you out…’ I’m like, ‘Dammit. Here it comes,’” Schroeder says. Sometimes those changes are large, but often they are small. Schroeder has the wider, full game experience in his head, which works in tandem with Trey and Matt’s decisions.
When South Park is on the air, the dynamic changes, but not dramatically. “I become slightly less demanding,” Schroeder says when Trey and Matt are working on the show. They don’t disappear, however. After 20 seasons of television, Trey and Matt know exactly what their availability will be and continue to work on the game. The meetings are fewer, but they are still happening. Schroeder knows he can’t ask for that extra 15 minutes he might get when the show is not airing, but the communication channels are still open. “Bill Hader is in the building and he’s like, ‘Hey. Get out of here.’” Schroeder jokes that Hader is the muscle making sure Trey and Matt stay focused on the show when the season is happening.
“They’re not horrible tyrants. They’re always happy to compromise with us,” Menzel says. “It’s not as tumultuous as you might think it is. We have a few people who work on the show who also work on the game, and they have it a lot worse than we do in the show.” Trey and Matt still work very fast, but the game is less compressed. They have more time to create the game than they do their show, and for the most part, Menzel says things are mostly all set, but changes will come, and Ubisoft is ready for them.
“Our ending is actually very gelled. There was this one weekend where Trey was like, ‘I got it!’” Menzel says. In regard to those all-important last second jokes, Schroeder says, “If it doesn’t mess with our age rating? It shouldn’t be a problem.”
For more on South Park: The Fractured But Whole, click the banner for more from our month of coverage.
During the Oculus Connect 3 keynote, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talked about a new wireless VR headset that the company is working on. Zuckerberg didn't reveal any details beyond that the headset was meant to exist as an option between low-budget headsets like Gear VR and computer-based headsets like the Oculus Rift, and that it's intended to be a mid-tier, affordable option.
A short video showcased someone wearing the headset, which looked a good bit like the Gear VR headset, but we didn't see what they were seeing. We'll have to wait to get more details about this headset, which is currently being prototyped, but few would argue against the notion that more affordable options is something that virtual reality needs to get a stronger foothold with consumers.
For all things VR, be sure to check our our virtual reality hub by clicking on the banner below.
YouTube powerhouse Felix Kjellberg, better known as “PewDiePie,” has struck up a multi-game deal with Goat Simulator designer, Armin Ibrisagic. …
Virtual reality tech startup Quark VR announced today that it is “extremely close” to debuting a “wireless HTC Vive prototype” that it has been working on for some time with help from Valve personnel. …
21.9 percent of the 500 VR/AR professionals surveyed for the debut VR/AR Innovation Report say they’re working on platform-exclusive projects. You can learn more in the full (free) report! …