Monthly Archives: February 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn: The world of Aloy in pictures

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Horizon Zero Dawn is out tomorrow on PS4 – and it’s good. Very good.

I’ve played for a few hours in the Nora shoes of main character Aloy, an outcast who must save the people who abandoned her from a robotic evil, and the game looks stunning. It’s probably one of the most visually arresting games I’ve played on a console.

So, to make the most of those sumptuous visuals, developer Guerrilla have included a rather neat photo mode that lets you tweak a whole lot of settings so you can get that perfect screenshot (including determining the time of day, moving the camera up or down as if on a crane and, nicely, an option to remove the HUD and characters from the scene).

I’ve played around with the photo mode so thought I’d post a few of the images I’ve captured so far. Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that makes you want to stop and take screenshots.

Enjoy.

Thanks to PlayStation for the review copy of Horizon Zero Dawn.

 

Halo Wars 2: RTS returns to Xbox

Note, this is a review of Halo Wars 2’s campaign. I haven’t had a chance to look at the multiplayer or the new Blitz mode, which melds RTS elements with a collectible card game, yet. I’ll give my thoughts on those when I get the chance. Enjoy.

halo-wars-2-campaign-crossings   Halo Wars 2 is proving that real-time strategy games aren’t just the domain of the PC.

And it does a pretty damn good job, actually, showing that an RTS game can be played with a controller pretty well, despite the controls not being as tight as if you were using a mouse and keyboard.

This isn’t the first time a Halo RTS games has appeared on a console, though: The original Halo Wars launched on the Xbox360. The game feels unmistakably Halo, with all the sounds, effects and characters you’d expect. It feels like a part of the Halo universe.

The story opens  with Captain Cutter and the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire being woken from cryosleep after the ship starts orbiting the Ark, the place where the rings from Halo are made. Unfortunately, it seems the Ark has been invaded by a disgruntled band of the Covenant called The Banished, led by a brute called Atriox.

Coming from the new wardens of the Halo franchise, 343 Industries the company handed the game making duties over to acclaimed RTS specialists, Creative Assembly, and fans of the genre will find much to like with Halo Wars. Missions are a good length and generally involve things like hold this position until help arrives or take out these objectives but it does little to move the genre forward. The story feels a little well trod, too, seeing as it’s essentially a disgruntled alien that wants to destroy humanity.

halo-wars-2-multiplayer-battle-fogThe game is beautifully presented graphically, with the level of detail on units and structures just wonderful. I never got tired of seeing a base being constructed, UNSC Pelican’s dropping in with resources before swooping off for the next section of the base. Like all RTS game, resource collection and management is key here:  Collect enough resources and you’ll continue building units. It’s that simple.

halo-wars-2-multiplayer-defend-the-baseControlling and selecting units is made simple using the Xbox One’s controller: Use the left stick on the controller to sweep the units you want to select then press the A button, while a double tap on the right bumper highlights every unit on the battlefield. Your troops are competent as well, attacking enemies without prompting.

If I’m being completely honest, I spent most of my time playing Halo Wars on my PC just because, for me, the mouse and keyboard will always be king when it comes to role-playing games and the control is just more precise than an Xbox One controller, especially if things turn pear-shaped and you have to quickly get your view back to a base that is under attack.

Sure, Halo Wars 2 suffers a little from the limitations of being on a console and it doesn’t reinvent the RTS rules, but overall, it’s a solid addition to the Halo franchise.

Thanks to Xbox NZ for providing a downloadable copy of Halo Wars 2 for review.

Horizon Zero Dawn developer interview: Making a world full of robotic dinosaurs

Senior producer on Horizon Zero Dawn Joel Eschler.

Senior producer on Horizon Zero Dawn Joel Eschler.

Joel Eschler, a senior producer on Horizon Zero Dawn, the PlayStation 4-exclusive third-person action RPG from Dutch video game developer Guerrilla, readily admits he’s a control freak but it’s a trait that he believes helps make better games.

On Horizon Zero Dawn, Joel oversaw the game’s environment art which included managing the teams responsible for the game world, lighting and the creation of assets for the game. “My general day-to-day is managing the team at large and managing our goals and making sure we’re shipping the game on time and having it looking awesome. He joined Guerrilla at the beginning of 2016, having worked for 2K in Australia.

Joel says he’s a naturally organised person and a “control freak so a lot of what I do in my day-to-day sort of comes from that OCD side of you that something’s not being done in the best way and you need to correct that. I mean, that’s the most basic level of my job.”

Aloy confronts a watcher.

Aloy confronts a watcher.

Before starting work as a tester with 2K 10 years ago, Joel was studying astrophysics in Sydney. He agrees that it was quite the career shift. “Yeah, I guess it goes to show that when you’re growing up as a kid and you think you know what you want to be that you have no idea. I always grew up playing and loving games but never really thought about having a career in them. I always thought I wanted to study the universe but I had a gap year in university and started work as a tester at 2K and I kind of got sucked in and it’s 10 years later, still going and enjoying it more and more.”

Joel thanks his astrophysics background for helping in his game industry career.

“I think that logical way of thinking and being organised and driven towards certain goals and looking at things as a puzzle to solve maybe, and also being able to recognise patterns, if you drill mathematics down to its basic looking for patterns , I think it has helped. Making games you need to be creative and passionate but you also need someone to be organised. When you kind of put all those things together, a game comes out.

herd_1434425337Asked if making a game like Horizon Zero Dawn was a big risk for Guerrilla, a developer more known for its first-person shooter Killzone series, Joel agrees, adding it was a huge risk for the Dutch development company.

“Not only for the scope of the project, but there was also an existing risk of playing it safe as well. I don’t know what the size of the studio was when HZD started but I think if you make the same kind of game, even if you layer on new features and make it look better and everything, sometimes, I think, people start to look elsewhere for bigger changes and differences so  I think there was difficult for the studio staying on the same track but at the same time the pitch for HZD was so huge and open world.”

Joel says while Killzone Shadowfall added a lot of colour to that universe that the previous ones didn’t have, Horizon Zero Dawn was on a “whole different level, going from that muted pallette to the huge amounts of colour”.

“I think it sparked that interest and that passion within the team really early on and when the pitch was made, I think people really wanted to make it happen. It had all the risks [technically] but it was managed really well with the planning and hiring externally with people who had experience with chained quests and open-world story  building.”

Making the game wasn’t without its challenges, says Joel.

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Aloy and Rost from Horizon Zero Dawn.

” I think Guerrilla had skills in building tactical games but it was all very linear and you knew what to expect:  If you had the player come around this corner, you could have this event happen but going from that to building a world where the player can almost do anything and everything, and to make it fun, I think that was definitely a challenge for the designers. ”

As the game progressed, Joel says the development team had to build a system that took into account the way the ecology was in the world, how the machines moved around, the skills that Aloy had in it.

“That was a challenge and I think that’s been solved by a number of different systems interacting together. On the technical side, there were a lot of challenges, especially the building of a world of this size and populating it with foliage and interesting landmarks. We didn’t have time to hand place every tree and every bush so they had to build a procedural system that would interact with the location in the world, that would determine what the weather would be, that would tell them what type of trees and bushes would be there. The programmers had a real field day testing themselves and coming up with systems that could build a world that didn’t need any hands to touch it. I thought that was really cool.”

scouts_1434425345So, why robot dinosaurs in Guerrilla’s new game?

“I think in its simplest form the original pitch for HZD given within the studio was the post-apocalyptic world which had been overgrown by nature. Aloy and the machines, and the concept art, that was enough for people to start think ‘Why wasn’t society around anymore?’,  ‘Who is this character?’, ‘What happened – and what the hell are these machines?’  It all sparked from there, with people speculating about the world narrative. It was a snowball that kept on growing.”

Guerrilla games hasn’t been know in the past for its ground-breaking narratives so with Horizon Zero Dawn the development team pulled out all the stops, recruiting John Gonzales, the writer who penned the story for Fallout New Vegas, to head the narrative team.

” Aloy’s story was one that was worked on really hard and Guerrilla did a big recruitment drive to expand out the narrative team. We have John Gonzales, who is our narrative director, and we recruited other people as well who had experience doing immersive narratives within open-worlds. The approach to the narrative was kind of two-fold: There was the world building, which was the tribes that are around Horizon’s worlds, their history, their beliefs, their political structure, that sort of thing, and then there is Aloy’s story, and then on top of that the more personal stories of the inhabitants of the world. So there was definitely a huge focus on building the narrative.”

aloy_village_logo_1465873567Joel says the game’s lead female character, Aloy, was part of the game since inception and the narrative was written as a coming of age story with her having to discover the world and her purpose in it. “I really hope when people get the game that they really latch on to her. We’re really happy with the by-product of having Aloy as a character and showing that anyone can be a hero, that anyone can be interesting and you don’t have to limit yourself to bold, space marines.

“We tried to create this living, breathing world and  think about how they would see their place within it and Aloy is our hero in the traditional video game sense but really as you start out the game she’s actually an outcast from society as a child and you find out pretty early on in the game how that happened so it’s more her trying to prove to herself and prove to the world that she’s living in that she is worthwhile she works on making herself invaluable in the world.”

Now that the game is almost in shops, Joel says the team has lived up to their expectations. ” People were leaving other studios to come and work at Guerrilla. A lot of team are really happy and having a chance to play the game at length for the first time. They’re talking about machines that they ran into on the world that they didn’t know we created, and quests that they didn’t know were there.”

Horizon Zero Dawn is out on the PlayStation 4 on March 1. I’ll get a review up as soon as humanly possible.

Impact Winter: Survival in a winter wonderland

I can’t say Impact Winter was really on my games radar until an email dropped in my inbox today with a new trailer and a date for the PC version.

The survival game lands on PC in digital format on April 12 and its isometric view has really piqued my interest. It’s art style is pretty neat, too. The game is coming to coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this year.

Here, watch this latest trailer to see for yourself.

Here’s the skinny from publisher Bandai Namco on what the game is about: “An asteroid has collided with Earth, and the world we once knew is now nothing more than a snow-covered wasteland. Almost everyone and everything perished in the harsh, sub-zero temperatures. But you didn’t. And you received a radio transmission that has filled you with hope and the will to survive the next 30 days.

“Take on The Void as Jacob Solomon, a lone survivor wandering around the frozen wilderness when he stumbles upon a snow-buried church sheltering four other survivors and their robot, Ako-light. Each with their own unique field of expertise, they’ll form a makeshift team, hunting and scavenging to stay alive despite the weather conditions and slumping morale, while furiously focusing on lowering the Rescue Timer.”

Apart from the blurb above, I know very little else about Impact Winter: Whether there are enemies that try to get you while you wait for a rescue; Whether you can die if you don’t scavenge enough food or resources; How exactly can you lower the Rescue Timer?;

So many questions, so little answers. Here are some images to look at.

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