Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst

Is the glass half empty or half full?  If you choose the latter then it sounds like you're a pessimist, but if you choose the former you sound like an optimist.  Regardless of which you choose though, the reality is most of us fall somewhere in the middle.  I find myself often torn between what I hope a game will be while simultaneously trying to hedge my expectations.  Three titles currently in development have been on my mind of late; one nearing completion, one in the process of being crowd funded, and the last has yet to get underway.  Are they half full or half empty?  Let's find out.

Half Full:  Finally an Alien themed game that's not just another bug hunt.  A relatively helpless player, only one xenomorph, and a poorly lit claustrophobic retro-future's like a sci-fi version of Amnesia: The Dark Decent (but not Soma because that would be redundant).  Driven by a complex AI, the Alien itself promises to threaten the player dynamically rather than a forced reliance on scripted events.  Outmatched, the player must depend on a motion tracker, welder, hiding places, and possibly an incinerator unit to survive.  Based on what I've seen it looks absolutely terrifying in a good way, of course.  The time frame is set between the first and second films, which gives the story line some interesting opportunities to introduce new characters and locals.  Perhaps we will learn more about the enigmatic race of space engineers too.

Half Empty:  Two words about the development team - Creative Assembly.  I've talked about these guys in the past (link), but in case you aren't aware their track record isn't exactly stellar. In all likelihood we're looking at something that will be a buggy mess with so many issues, flaws and janky bits it will hardly be playable.  Expect months and months of patches to get it into a properly polished state.  Not that anyone will really care because the story will be some terrible piece of fanfic with a total playtime of about two hours.  Don't worry though, they'll still charge you full price for it.  Also, the Alien will get stuck on the level geometry and make a lot of generic animal noises for some reason.

Half Full:  Currently gathering funds on Kickstarter, this tactical RPG is the brainchild of Yasumi Matsuno (creator of Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy: Tactics, Vagrant Story and more recently Crimson Shroud.  He's one of my favorite Japanese game designers in no small part because his games resonate with real medieval history, rather than typical JRPG trappings taken from the J-Pop scene or story beats better suited to some paint-by-the-numbers TV Drama.  Better still, it looks like a bunch of ex-Sega "gaijin" are on the development team which means this particular title could be a fusion of the best that east and west game design philosophies have to offer.  Provided they can get enough cash together the talented composer, Itoshi Sakamoto and two veteran translators are going to join the team as well.  Overall it seams to be a very promising title for fans of strategy games.

Half Empty:  The Kickstarter will fail to reach a worthy goal.  Or worse still, it will greatly exceed the goal only to founder afterward resulting in vaporware.  Mr. Matsuno isn't exactly the most mentally stable individual either.  I understand that it's a fine line between genius and insanity, but initial flip-flopping on twitter about his degree of involvement with the project isn't exactly encouraging.  Worst of all though is the lack of any proof of concept.  The game thus far is nothing more than some hand drawn artwork of landscapes which isn't very helpful when you consider that the game is supposed to use a 3D engine to render environments (as opposed to flat backdrops).  The Kickstarter could really benefit from a vertical slice or something (anything really) to show what the design team is going for.

Half Full:  First off, if you haven't seen the teaser trailer for this game go check it out on the official website here.  Personally, I really dig the art style.  The use of negative spaces really coveys the perfect kind of atmosphere for a horror themed RPG.  The idea of characters having to struggle with both mental and physical threats in a dynamic way is a relatively unexplored concept when it comes to electronic entertainment.  Also, fantasy themed video games are so ubiquitous these days it's refreshing to see a title that sets itself apart from the pack with unique mechanics, character archetypes, foes and overall style.  It doesn't hurt if you're a huge fan of old-school Dungeons and Dragons or the H.P. Lovecraft Mythos either.

Half Empty:  The problem with trying something new and untested when it comes to video games is the danger of becoming trapped in development hell.  Mechanics that looked fun on paper turn out not to be in play, or else end up being incredibly difficult to achieve due to unforeseen complexities of their design.  The "affliction mechanics" could very well be overly simplistic or more annoying than fun in practice.  Worse still the game could be the kernel of a revolutionary new aspect of video game design which ends up being marred or scrapped entirely because the creators lack the resources or confidence to see their idea through to the finish.

To the three development teams of these games, I wish you luck, but all the same make sure to watch your step.  The road ahead is filled with perils.  Choose wisely though and even greater glories await you.

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