Tag Archives: gaming

Sam Barlow on visionary indie game Her Story

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In the past Sam Barlow had made a name for himself working on titles in the Silent Hill series, including Silent Hill Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The latter title was particularly influenced by psychology, with much of the game being set in a psychiatrist’s office. This focus on a formal setting combined with an intimate discussion of a person’s history was something that would be carried over into Barlow’s more recent work, the critically acclaimed Her Story.

“Once I had decided that I wanted to go make an indie game, I was kind of trying to figure out what that game should be,” Barlow begins. “The easiest thing for me to go out and make would have been an exploratory, atmospheric horror game, with some clever narrative twist to it. There’s that whole kind of genre that, I think, has become quite prevalent amongst indies. Dropping a player into a dark atmospheric environment with a flashlight is quite easy to do, but that almost felt too easy.”

Inspired by Simogo games and their unwavering creative vision, Barlow set out to build a police procedural game, a concept he had previously struggled to get off the ground when working with publishers. This became Her Story, an interactive videogame, where players piece together the details of a single case using found archived interview footage on an ageing police computer. “I’d pitched publishers the idea of doing a detective game many times over the years,” says Barlow. “It just always seemed to me like an obvious thing. If you look at movies, TV, books, half of this stuff is police shows or murder mysteries or serial killer shows. It’s such a big thing, but games have kind of struggled with it. I wanted to make a police procedural and in my head I had kind of zoomed in on the idea of the interview route. It felt that that was the kind of thing to do, because I was reducing scope. If this is a game that’s taking place in the interview room then I don’t need car chases, lots of locations, and tons of characters, so that would be a sensible thing to do.

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Here’s the Problem With Amiibo

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It’s hard to hate Nintendo. After all, they are behind many beloved franchises, including The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and the Metroid series. But their latest venture, the Wii U and 3DS compatible amiibo, has managed to antagonize a large number of its consumers. This is as a direct result of shortages in stock, and Nintendo’s subsequent failure to act on their promises to improve supply.

When amiibo were first released to coincide with Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Super Smash Bros. 3DS, they quickly became the must-have peripheral for gaming fans. The only problem was that demand for the items greatly outweighed the supply. This meant certain figures were almost impossible to find in stores and online. These included the likes of Marth, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager, which sold out almost immediately upon being released.

It soon emerged that scalpers, intending to sell the figures for inflated prices, had somehow managed to buy these items in bulk. This meant that fans were to be deprived of the digital content associated with the amiibo, unless they were willing and able to part with extortionate amounts of cash.

Another option available to consumers was to wait for a restock. Though this method did not guarantee that they would eventually secure the amiibo of their choice, given the fierce competition for the items. The above also meant that younger gamers, without the disposable income or the means of store hopping, would go without.

At one point, the demand for the items was so high that Amazon and other online stores were giving specific order times to consumers, so as to grant them even the slightest chance of getting their hands on the rare figures.

The second and third waves of amiibo were faced with very much the same problems as the first. Rare figurines once again found their way onto eBay, selling way above their standard retail price. In addition, some areas saw counterfeiters begin to profit from deliberately misleading desperate customers with inferior goods.

Replying to the shortages, Nintendo gave customers the excuse that they did not anticipate the demand for the product. This would perhaps be an acceptable justification, if it weren’t for the problems associated with the previous waves of amiibo and the marketing campaign they undertook to entice even greater interest in the product. From the aforementioned reasons, it can be suggested that Nintendo knew amiibo were going to be in high demand, and simply failed to produce an adequate enough supply to retailers.

Many have even begun to accuse Nintendo of limiting supply deliberately in order to drum up interest in amiibo, something they have been accused of before in relation to the Nintendo Entertainment System and Wii consoles. If this proved true, it would be a contemptuous practice on behalf of the company, considering the growing necessity of amiibo to unlock additional in-game content. One such example of this is with the Splatoon amiibo, which grants access to additional gear and challenges in the game. In this case, the rarity of said items has meant that players are being denied content that should have been available to all upon release, and not just to the privileged few.

Nintendo have since commented again on the amiibo shortages in an exchange published on Game Informer. In their response, a Nintendo service agent blames retailers for the lack of amiibo on store shelves, rather than taking responsibility for their own mistakes regarding the production and distribution of the figures.

Given the events surrounding the release and sale of amiibo, it’s getting increasingly hard to be enthused about a new batch of characters being introduced. This is because there is no guarantee that players will actually get their hands on the product once they have officially been released. Hopefully Nintendo will soon make amends for this. Though, at the moment, the outlook is poor.

Why Glitches Are an Important Part of Gaming Culture

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Glitches are often seen as a negative presence in a game. They can break a title or even prevent the progression of a player. Nevertheless, they remain a beloved aspect of gaming culture. Part of the reason for this is that they have informed everything from let’s plays to speedruns.

Even today, I can remember seeing my first glitch in a game. My brother burst into the front room clutching the Gameboy in his hands. Excitedly, he thrust the dimly lit screen under my gaze. There was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, for the original Gameboy. I stared closely as he edged his character towards the side of the screen, and pressed down on the control pad and the select button simultaneously. The screen panned across as normal, but the protagonist was now positioned in the far wall, out of bounds.

The screen warp, as it would come to be called, could be performed to beat the game in record time, skipping key portions of the game by clipping through different obstacles. It could also be used to cause some interesting events to occur. For example, you could use it to get the shield early when retrieving the sword at the start of the game, and recruit Marin, typically a side character, as a constant companion on your quest. Neither of these had any real effect on the story, but they were fun to perform. It gave us an exciting new past time, allowing the player to experiment to see what they could find. It also showed us that game developers were human and could make mistakes just like everybody else. Being young, it was hard to associate the prepackaged box and its contents bought from a shop shelf with the game’s creators on the other side of the world. Glitches were a meaningful human imprint that helped us to make that connection.

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Simulating Success: How Simulation Games Brought The Joy

Screen-Shot-2014-07-09-at-17.44.09 There was once a time when simulation games were more often found in the bargain bin section of your local gaming store. The genre was considered stale and cheap, paling in comparison to its all-guns-blazing, big budget competition. Covering specialized, ultra-niche topics, such as farming and trucking, they failed to captivate a mass audience in quite the same way as they had in times gone by.

However, more recently this has changed to some degree, with a new breed of simulation games becoming popular with players – one that, although based in reality, still entertains ideas of the absurd for comedic effect. This subgenre includes massively popular titles like Surgeon Simulator, Goat Simulator, and I Am Bread, as well as other lesser-known titles such as Bear Simulator, Viscera Cleanup Detail and Tea Party Simulator.

The first of these to gain success was Surgeon Simulator, which was developed by Bossa Studios. Created as part of a 48-hour game jam, this title puts the player in the role of a surgeon performing operations, albeit with limited dexterity. Luke Williams, one of the creators, comments on the reasoning behind making the game. “Surgeon Simulator was born at a global game jam,” he explains. “The theme for that game jam was the sound of a heartbeat, and we kind of went literal with it. We knew we would have to be awake for 48 hours, so we wanted to make something that was going to make us laugh. We thought, ‘well, we’ll make it a stupid, funny game about a heart transplant with a hand you can’t really control’. So that’s how we settled on the idea.“

To begin with, the developers had no plans of it being labelled as a simulation. In fact, the game’s original title was A & E: Accident and Emergency. It was only as they approached the end of production that they settled on its finished title when they realized it shared many common features with medical simulators. This similarity included making players simulate the action of performing surgery, right down to the surgeon’s finger movements. Taking inspiration from the ambitious-but-incredibly flawed Jurassic Park game Trespasser, Surgeon Simulator’s controls would offer a difficult learning curve for players to experience.

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A Walk In The Park: Revisiting Jurassic Park For The Super Nintendo Entertainment System

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As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved Jurassic Park. Like all kids growing up in the 90s, Spielberg’s blockbuster hit captured my imagination, sparking a lifelong fascination with the source material. I expressed my enthusiasm any way that I could. This mostly consisted of writing terrible fan fiction in scrawled English, and acting out my own adventures with a box of mismatched dinosaur toys.

At approximately the same time, I was in the process of discovering something else that would prove influential on my life: videogames. I had finally started to experiment with my brother’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and his collection of games. To my astonishment, whilst digging through the countless cartridges and crumpled cardboard boxes, I discovered something incredible; my two loves had been combined. There it was: Jurassic Park the game by Ocean Software. Finally, I could live the movie.

I placed the cart into the machine. Pressing the switch forward on the SNES, the title menu flickered and appeared. My excitement was at its peak.

Dropping the player into the middle of Isla Nublar, Jurassic Park the game allows players to take on the role of Alan Grant, the renowned Paleontologist from the film. Your task is simple: find a way to escape from the failed island attraction and avoid its biggest predators. Beyond that, very little prompt is given. You must collect ammunition and whatever else in order to stay alive.

Echoing the opening of Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the player is given no real clue on where to head first after beginning the game, but is instead encouraged to explore and collect. This gives the game a sense of vastness, as players take their time to navigate the different environments populated by various species of dinosaur. Along the way, you will encounter Dilophosaurus, Compys, and Gallimimus in the wild, as well as rampaging Triceratops, raptors, and a ferocious T-Rex.

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Roaming around the sandy plains and open fields, the player’s movements are accompanied by a diverse electronic soundtrack by British composer Jonathan Dunn. Lacking the rights to the celebrated John Williams score, the game definitely succeeds in reaching an interesting compromise that helps to set the tone magnificently for each particular area. This makes it arguably one of the best soundtracks the SNES has to offer.

One example is the perfectly executed visitor centre scenes that feature a Doom-like first-person perspective with an ominous synth soundtrack. Walking from room to room, players are constantly kept on edge, as they have to avoid dinosaurs that have infiltrated the base. These areas were nerve-wracking as a child to play, and today still manage to make me jump and shout stuff that would make even the hardiest soul blush.

Criticized at the time for its open-ended play style and an over emphasis on exploration, the game has defied its detractors by remaining one of the most authentic experiences to be based on its intellectual property. Taking elements from the successful videogame franchises of the day, it evoked a mixture of adventure and terror in a way that other Jurassic Park titles have since failed to emulate.

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The one major flaw the game does have is its lack of a save function. Considering the size of the game, the inability to log progress hinders the experience to some extent, appearing as an oversight on the behalf of the developers. This does have a positive side effect however, as it contributes to a heightened sense of urgency during each individual play session.

Growing up in an age when videogame adaptations of films were notoriously bad, Jurassic Park the game remained a beacon of hope. It showed that you could create a compelling experience based on a movie that didn’t necessarily have to follow the plot beat for beat.

The existence of this game helped broaden my appreciation for the world created by Michael Crichton that was realized onscreen by Spielberg, rather than simply exploiting it. The developers could have slapped the Jurassic Park label on an inferior product, standing on the shoulders of geniuses. Instead, they created a complimentary experience.

There have been plenty of other great Jurassic Park games since the original game on the SNES. These include the game’s sequel Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues, the Xbox game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, and the excellent The Lost World arcade game. But Jurassic Park on Super Nintendo was where it all started, at least for me.

With the release of the TT games adventure Lego Jurassic World, spanning all four films, let’s hope the popular brick-based franchise can capture the magic of its source material. From what we’ve seen so far, it certainly does look like a fun spin on the popular series.

Shovel Knight: Digging Up The Past

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Over the last few years, retro gaming has seen a surge in interest, with HD remasters and remakes of games becoming incredibly common amongst developers and studios. Even Nintendo have got in on the act via their wonderful Virtual Console service, where they have begun republishing old titles such as the Legend of Zelda games on their brand new machines.

The huge advantage of this is that it provides younger players with the chance to experience previously hard-to-find games; the disadvantage is that it also demonstrates how far the games industry has come in terms of gameplay over the last twenty-five years, with many such games retaining the same flaws as when they were originally released. In 2011, a group of former employees from Wayforward Technologies, including its previous director Sean Velasco, established Yacht Club Games. Their goal was to create a game in the style of their beloved NES titles, but for a modern audience and with the advantage of hindsight. The result was the hit title Shovel Knight, an incredible 2D platformer that combines excellent storytelling with intuitive gameplay modeled for today’s gamer.

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Interview with game developer Chris Seavor

Conker's Bad Fur Day

Lewd, rude, and excessively vulgar – these are all expressions that can be used to describe Conker’s Bad Fur Day, the 3D platformer released by Rare in 2001.

With its overt references to sex, scatological humour, and excessive cursing, the game has become a cult classic amongst mature gamers, whilst simultaneously earning the scorn of parents the world over. But the game hadn’t always been this way.

Originally the game was being produced as a more child-friendly adventure, featuring the cute and harmless character Conker from an earlier Rare release, Diddy Kong Racing. The game was being developed under the working title Twelve Tales, and instead revolved around the character collecting acorns and other items in a style reminiscent of later Rare platformers Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64.

Chris Seavor, director and voice artist on Conker’s Bad Fur Day, states: “After finishing Killer Instinct (Arcade) I started work on the N64 version, whilst in the meantime other people started work on the next original game we were to work on. That was what eventually (after a few iterations) what became Twelve Tales.”

“Rare was very much about the team, i.e. we weren’t just a bunch of resources to be moved around like chess pieces. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and management knew better than to ruin the ‘black magic’ that held good teams together. So as a team, we all moved onto Twelve Tales simply because of the great job we’d proven we could do on Killer Instinct.”

The Killer Instinct team worked tirelessly on Twelve Tales, before gradually becoming disillusioned with the project due to its similarity to other Rare titles. Needing a new ideas and direction, Chris Seavor was appointed the leader of the development team. It was his decision to retool the title into a more mature release that saved the project from obscurity. Around this time, the game was renamed to its official title, Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

He argues: “We were always going to be playing second fiddle to Banjo…it’s just the way it was. It made sense to pull it away from the safe bets, so that’s exactly what I did. Amazingly everyone agreed and off we went. If there were any reservations it wouldn’t have been from people with any clout…”

Upon its release, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was met by a significant amount of controversy due to its mature content. But, despite this and its disappointing sales, the game still managed to garner a loyal following, and high acclaim from critics. Amongst the aspects praised were its tremendous graphics, outrageous humour, and incredible character animation.

Since the game’s release, Chris Seavor has worked on a few other projects for Rare. These include appearances as characters in Grabbed By The Ghoulies, and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, as well as work on a Conker remake for the original Xbox, Conker: Live and Reloaded. These would be the last few Rare games he would contribute to, before eventually leaving the company in January 2011.

A year later, in 2012, Seavor created his own videogame studio called Gory Detail. His intention with the studio was to create mobile games, before moving on to larger and more ambitious projects.

Regarding his newfound independence, he states: “I’ve never felt more liberated! Not to say there aren’t problems, in fact they’re a legion, but the freedom afforded can’t be expressed by mere words. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more soul destroying than trying to sell an idea to people who just aren’t interested, and in more recent years not actually qualified to judge. That’s not a problem anymore.”

Gory Detail’s first release was the game “Parashoot Stan” on IOS and Android – a title where the player has to avoid obstacles and collect items in order to beat an antagonist named Baron Bully. The studio is currently working on its second release, a more ambitious game called The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, to be published on the Wii U and 3DS sometime next year.

“The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup is actually our second game. So, Gory Detail was set up about a year after leaving Rare, with a view to do mobile games, which we did. However, our long term goal was always more ambitious, and Rusty is the next step (after Parashoot Stan) in that plan

“The inspiration for Rusty stems from my love of films like City of Lost Children, Labyrinth and more recently Hugo: all things clockwork, not to mention endless opportunity for game mechanics and luxurious visuals. There seems to be a trend these days for that ‘retro’ pixel art look, especially on mobile, but I’ve always preferred a more literal, detailed richness to the world created. It’s a lot more work, but I think it’s worth it.”

At the moment details on Rusty Pup are pretty scarce, with only a few tech demos having been shown to the public. But the game definitely looks set to become one of the more interesting titles to be released on the Wii U and 3DS eShop.

The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup

Referring to the game’s tone, Seavor explains: “[Rusty Pup] definitely has dark themes. However it also has very light hearted moments, if not exactly laugh out loud ones, I do hope a little wry smile is occasionally painted on player’s faces. Conker, however, it certainly is not.

“Nor, I hasten to add is it one of those ‘narrative only’ experiences where the story is the focus rather than gameplay. Everything is important, but blended in measure lest you become what I playfully like to refer to as ‘un-game’: neither a game, nor not a game. Gameplay, as ever, is King, and long life to that!”

In spite of this exciting new chapter in his career, however, Seavor hasn’t completely disassociated himself from his previous work. At E3 2014, he appeared once again as the voice of Conker in the promo for Project Spark – the new videogame creating software from Microsoft, which will feature Conker as a useable character.

The inclusion of the squirrel will allow players of the Microsoft title to create their own Conker sequel, with the finished version being playable to both friends and strangers alike via the game’s online functionality.

“About a week before E3, believe it or not, Ken Lobb gave me a call out of the blue and asked if I’d voice Conker for the promo. I think everyone else at Microsoft were probably too scared I’d give them a tirade of abuse.

“I was quite happy to do it, and that subsequently involved a little bit of abuse on twitter for selling out, as they put it which is rubbish, as I did it as a favor.”

Asked what he believes makes Conker suitable for the project, he jokingly replies: “I guess people can build what they want, which is handy as Microsoft will never get sued by irate parents who bought it for their kids by mistake. Microsoft can simply say…‘But Mrs. Brown, I think you need to look closer to home…that giant nob made from poo, the one squirting its milk on that kitten’s head, IS WHAT YOUR LITTLE BILLY MADE!’”

Beyond Project Spark, very little is known as to the future of Conker the squirrel. Even Chris Seavor is unsure as to the fate of the character he once helped catapult to fame.

“It’s really out of my hands. I honestly have no idea what they have planned for Conker, or any other classic Rare IP, but it seems increasingly likely that they do have some plans. There’s a definite change in the wind going on all things Rare. I can feel it in my old bones!”

Instead, Seavor is focused on developing new worlds and characters for players to enjoy, independent from larger studios. This will continue with The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, due out in 2015.

Written By: Jack Yarwood