GDC & Gamescom ‘09

Last year it was time for the annual GDC & Gamescom ‘09, both of which I attended. Monday and Tuesday marked the days of the Game Developers Conference, where I was presenting my company and our game to a whole crowd of other game developers and media. Even though I no longer work for that company, I hope I can visit GDC in Germany again later this year.

Last year we basically had a booth with a large TV screen that showed the trailer of our game over and over again. People would see this and stand there for a while, at which point they usually expect you to start talking with them I suppose. Rambling through the same speech continuously gets quite repetitive, but thankfully the people were interested enough so that you could mix it up a bit with some decent game development conversation.

Other than that there were some great lectures about topics such as visual art in games, programming and game design. The most memorable lecture for me was Remedy’s Max Payne to Alan Wake, which gave us some exclusive footage of Alan Wake to boot!

Wednesday was the day for the large Gamescom event. You could think about it as a European E3 but a whole lot smaller with less announcements. Being able to be there on Wednesday meant that there would be no consumers attending yet; other developers, media and spokespersons where filling the halls. The coolest part was being able to play a lot of unreleased games such as Diablo III, Starcraft 2, Final Fantasy XIV Online, Dark Void, Lost Planet 2 and many more.

The biggest let down for me was not being able to meet up with Hideo Kojima. While I was able to meet many awesome people like Brian Crecente, Adam Boyes and developers working at my favorite game studios, made many new friends and ran in to some old ones, Mr. Kojima was a difficult man to meet up with. All in all, good times though! If your ever planning on attending GDC & Gamescom, just do it, you won’t regret it.

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Beating Haze

So what’s up with Haze you might ask, I’m not sure. To be honest, I really loved the story! The game puts up a front that I’ve never seen before in a game, with a genuine original story line that kept me going through the entire game. Sadly, the story demanded some intricate gameplay elements which weren’t executed all too well. Haze puts you in the shoes of a Mantel Corporation soldier, together with your buddies you receive the most high-end equipment and hourly doses of Nectar (a performance enhancing and anti-depressant drug substance).

Your orders are quite simple, fall in and attack. All under the mindset of ethnic cleansing a country from its rebellious population. Your buddies make you feel as if your on top of the world, everything is cool and the doses of Nectar give you the rush you need. War feels like a child’s game.

During one of your early missions however, the system in your suit that delivers your doses of Nectar fails, making you see the world as it actually is. Suddenly you start to see the bodies of regular people that weren’t there before, the very people you’ve been killing. There is blood on your hands, and everything seems quite darker and grittier. This is what I loved about Haze, the juxtaposition between being on the Nectar drug and seeing the real world as it is. The game uses this premise well to give you a story line to feel involved with.

The rest of the game feels pretty generic however, movements are quite clunky and weapons don’t feel very great. Environments are bland and the AI is quite literally dumb (who can blame them with all that Nectar running through their veins I guess).
 
I enjoyed playing through the game, yet I’m glad I got it over with in a single afternoon.

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Miyazaki's Spirited Away

I have a passion for games which are styled as a Japanese animation. Titles that come to mind are games such as "Eternal Sonata", "Valkyria Chronicles", "Persona 4", "Blue Dragon" and many more. For the longest of times I've wanted to see a game which features the art, style and atmosphere of Miyazaki.

One of the first Japanese animated movies I ever saw was Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki, this must have been somewhere back in 2002. Needless to say, it made a very big impression on me and quickly became one of my favorite movies of all time. A few weeks ago I began ordering the entire Studio Ghibli collection on DVD, as several of the Ghibli movies actually belong to being my favorites. With the inclusion of bonus features such as interviews with the charming Hayao Miyazaki himself and with insight and development footage of these masterpieces, its definitely been worth the purchase. Now that I’ve been watching through the entire collection again, last weekend it was finally time for Miyazaki’s Spirited Away once again.

I can honestly say that I still enjoyed every single minute of it. From story to animation, characters to voice acting and with a beautiful soundtrack; everything was perfect. Have you seen this movie before?

Another big favorite of mine is Miyazaki’s Whisper of The Heart. While its not nearly as popular as Spirited Away, Whisper of The Heart delivers the same depth and story as one would expect from a Ghibli movie. Somehow I feel that I can relate to the main character in many ways as well. Perhaps that’s the reason why I really love this movie, while others don’t care for it so much? Je ne sais pas.

The entire Studio Ghibli Collection currently consists out of 15 movies, and while some of them might not be perfect, all of them are still very enjoyable to watch. Studio Ghibli is often referred to as the Disney of the East after all. So what are you waiting for? Go buy them already!

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Valkyria Madness

My first blog post on Giant Bomb. Let's see what we can talk about here! Even though I still haven’t been able to play Valkyria Chronicles, it certainly has my attention. Developed by Sega and the same studio responsible for titles such as Skies of Arcadia, Valkyria Chronicles is a tactical role-playing game set during World War 2 exclusive for the PlayStation 3. What sets this game apart from the Japanese tactical RPG crowd is its unique water color visuals powered by Sega’s Canvas engine. Everything feels as if it was being drawn real-time by an artist telling his story. Have you played this game before?

I’m quite sure that its style combined with the innovative gameplay mechanics has made Valkyria Chronicles so popular amongst it fans, although its a shame the game hasn’t been selling well. Its said that poor marketing is to blame for this, which resulted in a lot of hardcore role-playing gamers not even being aware of its existence when the game was released. Sega remains faithful in their title however, as Valkyria Chronicles is giving birth to a whole line-up of new products.

Soon after the game was released, a visual novel, art book and even its own exclusive animation show followed in Japan. Which makes Valkyria Chronicles seem as if its is turning into an entire franchise. Producer Ryutaro Nonaka has expressed interest in making another title during interviews. While this isn’t a confirmation of a sequel coming any time soon, the producer admitted that he didn’t want to stop at just one title.

The two visual novels (or manga) were both released in November of 2008 and are entirely based on the game. The animation made its debut earlier this month and is directed by Yasutaka Yamamoto with music composed by Michiko Yokote. I’ve watched the beginning of the first episode and was thoroughly impressed. I’m not sure how close it will stay to the game, though.

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