Eurogamer Expo 2010

Crysis 2 (PC):

Rushing through the show floor, the first station that was open was Crysis 2. I think Crytek does incredible work with their engines, but as far as storytelling goes their efforts have left me a bit cold. The playable demo was running at Nvidia’s booth on PC hardware. My nanotech-suited hero was rushing around on a city level, while heavily augmented humanoid aliens with squid-like heads sprinted around, taking pot shots at me. The level seemed incredibly detailed and the effects were obviously dialled up to the max, with particles flying around and I can’t put my finger on it, but everything looked really crisp and smooth. It felt like there was a fine level of detail everywhere. The HUD and all of the effects were extremely slick and I find myself, despite having gotten bored with the singleplayer storyline of the original (I never even got to the flying squid aliens bit), I found myself reasonably engaged. I did notice some stuttering when swinging my view around quickly (perhaps it was having trouble rendering the motion blur post processing on top of all the other effects), but the game is still actively in development.  The HUD lead me to a set piece where I was flung through  a window, a building was detonated in a very showy and impressive cut scene, and then a bus collided with the alien soldier who was about to pulverise me, opening up a new part of the level. Other than that, it’s a standard shooter with nice graphics-- something to slot into a niche, as far as I’m concerned. There will always be a place for games that are simply fun, or fill a niche, but I think the days of just cranking out soulless but pretty shooters and expecting them to rise to the top is nearly over. 

Hunted: the Demon’s Forge (360):

I spent some time playing this co-op third person action game from inXile Entertainment, the company founded by Interplay founder Brian Fargo. The bald warrior type my companion was playing looked like fairly standard high fantasy faire, but I did like the character design of the hot elf lady type I was in control of. We faced off against various evildoers, most of which were skeletons. My hot lady elf seemed to wield the bow expertly (with a solid cover-based mechanic we’ve come to expect), presumably so expertly that her wooden arrows easily dispatched many of the skeleton enemies-- something that makes very little physical sense.  Both characters could switch from three attack modes: melee, missile weapons and magic. My elf was flinging bolts of electricity and the dev pointed out that by holding down a button at the appropriate time, I could “charge up” my companion, thereby making him stronger and do more damage.  We fought our way to some kind of idol which when we both touched it, caused us to switch bodies. The controls didn’t seem completely smooth, and I couldn’t figure out if there was a way to sprint, but in general I spent more time than I expected to. I thought the HUD needed work, however, it was difficult to tell how much “mana” I had left to cast spells, and some of the bars on the screen seemed arcane.

Peter Molyneux Developer Session

Next up was Peter Molyneux’s talk, which served as a retrospective of the Fable series. It’s understandable that he seemed to want to give a ceremonious air to his talk, given that it would probably be the last conference before the game is actually released. Mr. Molyneux felt it was important to show the series’ roots and after a slightly embarrassing bit of swordplay by two (presumably local) actors, he kicked it off by saying that it was important that Albion be a place that could exist and was more believable than other RPGs of the time. A clip of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow appeared on the screen. Molyneux said that the look of the film was something they very much wanted to emulate in the Fable series. He also said that he loved the idea of a fantasy world that was not too far away from reality. He wanted Albion to be the kind of place where the dark fantasy tales of Old English legend could grow and thrive. Speaking of ancient legends, Molyneux listed King Arthur amongst one of his most influential stories when creating Fable . The idea of Excalibur resonated with him and he wanted the hero (or archvillain) of Albion to carry a magical weapon and have a great destiny bestowed upon him. The next clip, from the Albert Lewin directed version of the film The Picture of Dorian Gray, helped to illustrate where Lionhead got the idea of a character who morphs to reflect the evil (or purity) within. This genuinely novel idea, to represent alignment and the choices the player has made by visually changing the appearance of the avatar, had been used previously in Black & White .
He then moved on to Fable 2 , which he began by showing concept art of the young boy hero; Molyneux felt that the coming of age story dovetailed nicely with the increase in ability and agency within an RPG. The story takes place 500 years after the events of the first game, and Molyneux mentioned that they strived to lessen the prevalence of magic to make it more unique and something that only the player would be able to use. The next film to flash upon the the screen was Mad Max 2 , and Molyneux described that the scrappy dog companion was the inspiration for the dog in Fable 2. He felt that it was important to make it as “dog-like” as possible (initially the design started to change into more of an anthropomorphic canine, with human-like facial expressions), and that the player would be more invested in a character who was indistinguishable as possible from man’s best friend. A scene in which Uma Thurman from Tarantino’s Kill Bill appeared next. Molyneux explained that the battle with the Crazy 88 and later Lucy Liu as O-Ren, was a big influence on the kind of combat they were trying to achieve. He said they wanted to empower the player and let them pull off all sorts of acrobatic feats in melee, but at the same time make the controls for performing such manoeuvres be no more complicated than a single button press. He finished while showing a clip from Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood , demonstrating the inspiration for the look they were trying to emulate for Fable 2.
The story of Robin Hood also syncretised nicely with the concepts underlying Fable 3: a story of a revolutionary who in this instance would eventually become king himself. Continuing the “low Fantasy” world established in Fable 2 , the third game in the series takes place 50 years later.  Molyneux teased that, like in Fable 2 , a tough, momentous moral choice would be needed to be decided, this time much earlier in the story. Footage from Team Ico’s titular release which showed the young protagonist Ico, were an inspiration for Lionhead, according to Molyneux. He said that they felt that the mechanics presented in the game, particularly leading the helpless character of Yorda by hand, were highly original and defied genre conventions, a refreshing change for players. A clip of Perfume: Story of a Murderer came next, and Molyneux says it’s this visual style, of Paris in the 18th Century, which greatly excited the team’s imagination when styling Albion in Fable 3 . This, combined with the classic Dickens story Oliver Twist completed the look and feel they were aspiring to when crafting Albion. Molyneux ended by teasing that a major plot twist will rear its head once the player becomes a monarch in Albion.

It was clear to see that Peter Molyneux is greatly influenced by cinema and many of his choices resonated strongly with me. Unfortunately I didn’t find time to actually play the game on the show floor, but what little I saw watching over someone’s shoulder had me intrigued, particularly in light of the thoughts and many sources of inspiration he had layed bare.

Spending some time in the “Indie games arcade”, I got a chance to try out several titles in the up-and-coming game designers arena.
Joshua Nuernberger’s   Gemini Rue first caught my attention. Blade Runner is one of my all-time favourite films (if not the favourite), and the retro style graphics depicting a rain-soaked futuristic city drew my gaze immediately. It seemed like a point-and-click adventure in the most classic (and best) sense, and the presentation and intentionally pixelly graphics reminded me of my recent play through of the iPhone version of Beneath a Steel Sky . Although I hadn’t started the game from the title screen, the game did a superb job of outlining the situation and what goal I would need to proceed toward next. I was particularly intrigued by the references to the fact that despite looking more near future than far future, I appeared not to be on Earth and there were references to space travel and being an investigator from “Off-World”.
I had a quick play of Tiny and Big from Black Pants Studios. The game was a polygonal (we would have said “3D” in years past) and although it had an interesting monochromatic, pseudo  cel-shaded style, I couldn’t help but feel it had the look of a source engine mod. The gameplay was where it was at, however, with the player having several tools to navigate the physics-based gameplay, the impetus of which is that you are trying to retrieve your stolen pants. Right-clicking would cause dotted lines to be drawn on objects in the environment, upon releasing the button, the little guy would start cutting the stone blocks with his raygun. He also had access to a rocket which could be fired into the architecture, then ignited to knock sections over, etc. The gameplay seemed inventive and fairly original.
Fractal was a nice looking puzzler, whereby the player aims to make “blooms” by using a set number of moves called pushes. Each push causes the hexagonal piece to expand in the direction of the push, with a push in the centre creating five new pieces or tokens. Pushes along the edge of the puzzle were useless, so obviously some strategy was necessary.
Next up was B.U.T.T.O.N. , or Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now, or something along those lines. I liked the wacky character stylings (they reminded me of the weird cartoon mascots from the Cranium board game), the gameplay in the chaos of the show floor was completely incomprehensible to me. There were four xbox 360 controllers hooked up to the demo station, and my friend and I couldn’t exactly how to work out how to just add two players to the game. At one point it said to put down the controllers, step back seven paces and then a strange instruction would appear on the screen, like “do twenty press-ups”, or ”hold hands with the person to your left” and then followed by another instruction to interact (or not) with the game… such as “Any player whose button is pressed loses” or “press the button exactly 14 times to win”. As I said, it was extremely weird, but it was clear that it was meant as a goofy party game (and one that perhaps would benefit from being intoxicated).

Moving around to the other side of the arcade, we both had a brief play of Scoregasm , which appeared to be a twin-stick shooter in the vein of Geometry Wars.
The graphics of Piece of Pie Studios’ Swimming Under Clouds caught my eye, and definitely had that “painterly” style that we all know and (sometimes) love. It was a platformer, where the player controls a little fish inside a bubble of water, jumping and sliding through hazardous but beautiful environments.
I spent some time with Mark Essen’s Karateka-esque Nidhogg , a  side scrolling fencing game. I couldn’t really get a handle on the controls myself, but some of the other players seemed to be having enormous fun executing one another with outlandish sliding and jumping attacks.
Next I played Haunted Temple Studios’ Skulls of the Shogun , which was explained to me as a turn-based strategy title, where you manoeuvre your armies of undead samurai against one another; haunting rice paddies for resources. I loved the art style of the units, which were cavalry, archers, and the like, pleasantly cartoony ghosts and skeletons floating about.
I probably spent the most time with Puppygames’ Revenge of the Titans . The retro 8-bit but somehow modern style (gradients deployed!) appealed to me immediately. And although it was a tower defence game (which many in the industry understandably seem to be turning their noses up toward of late), I loved the visuals and the unlockables. Challenge is fairly high, mostly because the game by default does nothing automatically. Resources, once harvested, must be collected by manually clicking on the harvester, and towers, once exhausted, must be reloaded with ammunition in a similar way. Also, the fact that money gained from missions must also be used to build as well as researching new tech in between means that if you don’t spend efficiently, you can cripple yourself in later missions. Still, I had a great time with it and am looking forward to the full release.
There were a few other titles that I was vaguely aware of but didn’t get to play, like Mode 7’s Frozen Synapse . The “blueprint” style reminds me of Darwinia developer Introversion’s Subversion , mixed with an old Macintosh game that I think was called Robot Wars , where each player takes turns planning a course through an arena, then the results of both sides are “played back” and depending on how and when they encounter one another, combat may ensue.
Honeyslug’s Hohokum looked really pretty, although I couldn’t work out the gameplay from the small slice that I saw, and visually it had a lot in common with Rolando creator Handcircus’ game Okabu , which was also on display at the show.

Jonathan Jacques Jacques-Belletete Deus Ex: Human Revolution Developer Session

Sitting through an Nvidia 3D presentation, which did little to impress me, I was quite excited by the Deux Ex presentation. Let me first say that although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a die hard fan of the series (I never did finish the first game in the saga), I have become a recent convert since the release of the trailers for Human Revolution . Despite the fact that the genre has largely fallen by the wayside, I’m still a fanboy of the noir-ish near future milieu and I think the art design of the latest Deus Ex has really captured all the great aspects of Ghost in the Shell , Neuromancer , System Shock , Cyberpunk 2020 , etc. Even though the series creator Warren Spector has moved on to become a Disney shill, I can’t help but feel that the developers are really building upon what was created in the original game while still making it palatable to a modern audience. The playable demo (which was labelled E3 2010) started out with some beautiful and stunning visuals, all rendered in-engine. A futuristic VTOL vehicle that Jacques-Belletete described as a helicopter drops the character off on a two-tiered island city near Shanghai in Deus Ex’s year of 2027. The city was every bit as impressive as Neo Tokyo from Akira , or Ghost in the Shell’s New Port City.  It also seemed to share some factors in common with Midgar from Final Fantasy VII , in that the city exists on two parallel levels, one a massive construct above the other.
Stepping from the “flier” you get a brief glimpse of your pilot as she warns you about the area, before wishing you luck, the door folding inward on her compartment like an anime mecha. The whole thing was extremely slick and looked like something straight out of Ghost in the Shell . The demonstrator then moved your character, Adam Jensen, down from the helipad and I was immediately struck by how populous the place was. The level design really gave me a sense that it was a real place in China and Jacques-Belletete mentioned that all of the NPCs wandering around could be conversed  or interacted with. The demonstrator walked up to a man loitering on the stairway and pointed his gun at him—the man reacted by throwing his hands up and pleading in chinese. Walking through the populated areas, I was struck once again by the visuals—the looming “upper level” of the city above, the futuristic signs and buildings ripped right out of a set from Blade Runner . Eventually, he made his way to the club called The Hive your character was tasked with finding. In search of a hacker who has “gone to ground” and with only a name to go by, the demonstrator managed to blag his way into the club. Jacques-Belletete mentioned at this point that it being a Deus Ex game, there were many avenues by which the player could gain entrance to the club, some involving out-and-out force, others stealth, etc.  He further elaborated by listing the four-pillars which the game has been founded upon, Stealth, Combat, Hacking and Social. Once inside, the character moved through the very detailed environment, and I was reminded somewhat of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (well, the good parts). Jacques-Belletete had the demonstrator show off some stealth elements, and it was then that we got a glimpse of Adam Jensen in his urban gear, as they showed off the cover mechanic, which moves the view from 1st to 3rd person. He showed one of the signature “take downs”, which has been glimpsed in some of the trailers, as Jensen took out a patrolling guard. Eventually they moved on to the Social interaction, which again felt like what Troika was trying to achieve in Bloodlines . The game moved seamlessly into conversation mode when the character, who was obviously someone of import with a birthmark that looked like a bad rash and a prominent cybernetic arm. The conversation system was reminiscent of Mass Effect or Bloodlines , where by you have three different demeanours of dialogue, and the player needs to gauge which is most appropriate by the visual reactions of the NPC.
The gameplay demo eventually moved on to the “commando” section of the demonstration, as Jacques-Belletete called it, where we got to see Jensen in his assault/infiltration gear. More third person cover-based gameplay was shown as he navigated the dock warehouse, at one point using his strength enhancement to move a large crate aside, then later to move a crate next to a window so he could slip in to a security office quietly. Jacques-Belletete touched on the various upgrades that were available, one that enabled Jensen to do a vicious double takedown later on in the demo. He also mentioned that hacking was important, although they didn’t show it as Jensen was accessing a terminal which had already been “unlocked” by a security guard who had been silently dispatched a moment before. Then they moved from being stealthy to all out assault, the demonstrator switching Jensen from the silenced pistol to, as Jacques-Belletete described it, the combat rifle. The reports from the weapon were loud and satisfyingly lethal-sounding as he took security guards. We have seen it before in the trailer, the demonstrator executed a multi-man takedown manoeuvre which saw Adam shooting out tiny mines or grenades of some kind in a spiral all around him.
They were definitely riffing on Ghost in the Shell during the combat which followed, whereupon a “box” is dropped by a flier through the covered glass ceiling of the warehouse. The ”box” then goes through a radical transformation to become a missile firing vehicular robot. I heard myself openly gasping during this firefight, as Adam Jensen leapt coolly over and behind cover to avoid the missile and autogun fire from the mechanical monstrosity. The sense of empowerment and agency, even though someone else was controlling the game, was fantastic and I was truly blown away.
Once dispatching the thing with a conveniently-located rocket launcher, Jensen eventually finds himself face to face with some kind of biotech augmented nemesis who towers over him. I was once again encouraged by the fact that this signature character seemed to bridge the gap of the dreaded “Uncanny Valley” of characters, at least more than many of the more robotic denizens of other games.
The demo concluded with a look at the extended version of the trailer they have been showing since the game’s announcement. I left the hall excited by the promise of this game, which should be with us by early next year.

Sucker Punch inFamous 2 Developer Session

The developers from Sucker Punch started off by showing off the final design of Cole, the hero from the first inFamous game, a return to the original style after fan outcry when Cole was changed into a “pretty boy”. They touched on the fact that Cole’s “athleticism” has been emphasized and he has adopted more of a “boxer pose”: shooting quickly with one hand (as jabs) and throwing powerful attacks like the “kinetic pulse” with the off hand. I was a little disappointed that most of what they showed were canned, pre-recorded videos, but they did have a brief live gameplay demonstration toward the end. They showed off the two different types of enemies: the Militia-- militant religious types who looked and acted like the Reapers from the first game, and the Corrupted-- strange beastly mutants with Tyranid-like deformities. The new locale of New Marais looked like a southern “bayou” town , along the lines of New Orleans. Empire City, the setting of the original game, confined the player by using island drop offs; in the sequel, the layout of the city will be punctuated by shallow lakes and watercourses, which the electrified Cole will obviously not be able to traverse. The developers indicated that it gave them some more variety in where enemies could be spawned and changed the formula somewhat, making it less of a walled garden of the original. They also tried to improve the traversal overall-- the grind wires were such good fun that they put them everwhere-- even horizontally across and vertically up buildings. The biggest and most impressive change, however, was the destructible environment-- the demo driver picked up a car and threw it at a lookout tower, which exploded into hundreds of pieces-- very satisfying. The demonstration finished with Cole facing off against a boss (or “Elite”, in inFamous’ parlance) that I think was called “the beast” which burrowed back and forth. I enjoyed the original, but honestly I’m not sure I was completely blown away by what they showed of the sequel. During the Q&A session that followed, the developers confirmed that the Karma system would be back in some form, but it was not showed during the gameplay. They also said that the city of New Marais would be about the same size as Empire City, and that side missions are back and would be more engaging and relevant. When asked, they would not confirm if there would be branching storylines or Ice powers (as they had leaked before), but they did say that electricity is Cole’s thing so that’s still the focus.

Tim Willits, id Software Rage Developer Session

I should start by saying that when I sat down to see the much-lauded Rage , id Software’s next flagship release and main benefactor from their new “id Tech 5” Engine, I was expecting quite a lot. I remember hearing that what was shown behind closed doors at E3 seemed to wow everyone, and GameTrailers gave it “best game of show” of their E3 2010 awards.
id CEO Tim Willits started off by saying that they wanted to do something post-apocalyptic, but didn’t want to use any of the hackneyed premises that have gone before. So they decided upon a interstellar collision—an asteroid has destroyed society as we know it and your character plays the sole survivor, emerging from a facility called the Ark. The Arks were created by an initiative known as the Eden Project, humanity’s last effort to survive in the face of the oncoming disaster. By some fluke, everyone else in your “ark” has died and you are the only one to emerge to the remnants of society still on the surface.
Okay so by now, if you’re a gamer of any stripe, much of this is probably sounding a tad familiar. Two games that were released last year were very similar in premise, in particular Fallout 3 , and Borderlands . This is probably an unfortunate coincidence for id, as it has stolen their thunder somewhat, but I have to say even though it seems a bit cliché, I still like the premise, even though on the surface it doesn’t seem to have diverged much from the idea presented in the original release of Interplay’s Fallout many years ago.
Mr. Willits then spoke about “the Authority”, what goes for an overarching militaristic and governing presence in Rage. The town of Wellspring was beautifully constructed and looked and felt like top notch level design-- elements of it felt like a real place. They moved on to a waterworks where they showed off some of the different weapons, including the electrobolt-- an electrified ammunition upgrade for the crossbow. The demo driver preceded to electrocute the enemies which were loitering about in pools of water-- honestly it’s not anything we haven’t seen in other games like Bioshock so I was far from impressed. The one fun moment, which conjured up shades of Doom 3 , was when the demonstrator whipped out the spider bot-- reminiscent of the drone from id’s last major title. As far as I can recall, there were a couple of different versions of the bot, but all were lethal and looked fun to use. Another idea “stolen” by a soon-to-be-released game was the RC Car bomb-- something that that Treyarch has already put in Call of Duty: Black Ops . Most of the enemies encountered in the demo were from the “ghost clan” of survivors, a subterranean tribal faction that flipped, jumped and scaled objects to get to the player. If they were working together as a coordinated team, I couldn’t tell, as most of the enemies seemed to be outclassed by the player, armed as they were with melee weapons. Some of their animations were fluid and weren’t obviously canned, but on the whole their movements did little to impress me and I came away from the whole thing slightly disappointed. The demo wrapped up with the player facing off against a really big mutant type creature, presumably another enemy from the ghost clan, in a “canyon” of fallen skyscrapers. After handily despatching it, however, the ground started to shake, and an impressively huge humanoid, on the scale of a building or more, came stomping around the corner to roar at the player before the screen faded to black. It was impressive and almost made up for the rest of the somewhat ho-hum demo. To be fair, my expectations were probably a bit high, and I feel bad that id has had the good luck to be trumped by other games which have already been released, but at the same time, they’re not really doing anything revolutionary here in terms of gameplay. The company seems to focus on graphics and that they certainly have in spades with Rage . After the session, I had a chance to ask Mr. Willits where the title of the game came from, and his answer was similarly disappointing. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said, “because it sounds good, and it’s a one-syllable title like all our other games”. A sad trombone echoed in my mind.

Dead Space 2

I spent some time watching this played by some other players-- I really enjoyed the original game for what it was; monster-closet fest or not, they had some great atmosphere in the game. The sequel seems to be doing exactly what they should be, continuing the story from where they left off. In one part of the demo, there was a huge, menacing gyro spinning in the middle of a chamber. It looked like something right out of Event Horizon , a film which no doubt has inspired Visceral in the creation of the series.

Dead Nation

I also got to spend a few minutes with Dead Nation , a PSN title due out later this year. It was a top down zombiefest shooter in the style of Left4Dead. One thing I noticed about the controls were that once the zombies were right next to you, it was hard to shoot-- you had to elbow them away or, as someone over my shoulder suggested, throw flares or grenades to lure the zombies away from you en masse. I’m a big fan of DLC titles these days so despite the fact that the gore was a little goofy looking, I’m still keeping this one on my radar.

Gears of War 3

For the fans of the series, my report comes on the heels of the sad news of the game’s further delay, to possibly more than a year from now. The demo stations they had on the show floor had the “Beast” mode running-- oddly, though, most of the stations were only single player. I must admit I felt extremely outmatched, having not played GoW since the first game, so it took me a while to remember how to sprint and use cover. I didn’t expect to be blown away by what I saw, but it kept my interest for a few minutes before I got tired of getting smoked by the AI and I moved on to something else.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

I spent a few minutes playing the multiplayer in Brotherhood and came away intrigued and hankering for more. The game assigns you another target (and perhaps oddly, if you’ve been following the storyline, they called the other assassins “Templars”), in a “Circle of Death” style scenario, much like in “Killer” games of less politically correct and the relatively safer times of my childhood. Player A is assigned to take out Player B, Player B to take out Player C and Player C to take out Player A, completing the circle. There were tons of AI characters walking around the level, some running, climbing rooftops, etc. though hidden in the crowd were my fellow players. The idea was to follow a little radial dial at the bottom of the screen which showed a rough direction and proximity to your target. You couldn’t see your target’s identity until they were within physical sight of your avatar, but once they did come into range, the game would warn you not to run or otherwise give yourself away to your target. While queuing to play, the guy before me didn’t seem to understand what was going on and was continually getting murdered by the competition. When I finally sat down to play, I got to test out some of the special abilities; each character receives two of them, and I chose hidden gun and disguise. There were also throwing knives, smoke bombs and some kind of “morph” option, among a handful of others. I managed to dispatch a couple of targets without revealing myself, but someone else had already climbed to the top of the leaderboard by the time I had to leave the demo station. In all it was a fun and largely unique experience.

Wrap up

There were loads more games at the show that I would have liked to have tried, but the queues were too long and truthfully I spent most of my time at the Developer Sessions. Brink seemed extremely popular, and I kicked myself for not trying it first when the queues were still relatively light. Both Playstation Move and Microsoft Kinect games were there, along with Rock Band 3 , Dance Central and a good showing of Wii games, but I didn’t notice very many handheld demo stations. Nintendo is obviously ramping up for the 3DS release, and the PSP is dying a slow death. There was absolutely nothing in the way of iOS or other mobile games, most likely due to space and cost considerations. Speaking of 3D, it seemed to be a fairly big facet for some games, particularly the prominent Killzone 3 which was playable on the show floor. By the day’s close, I was exhausted and although there does’t look to be many tentpole releases slated for this year (at least none that are really of interest to me), it was worth the effort for the look at Deus Ex: Human Revolution at least.
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