Archive for June, 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West First Hands-On

Posted in Enslaved, Ninja Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Ninja Theory’s latest has plenty of adventure and a good deal of heart, and we’ve got the first hands-on look at the E3 demo.

The powerful Monkey and the resourceful Trip are a team, thrown together by fate, not choice. Their adventures and evolving relationship make up the core of Ninja Theory’s upcoming Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, an action adventure game set on the remains of an Earth torn apart by a long-forgotten war. Yesterday we spent some time with the E3 demo of Enslaved, and while there was a great deal of fun to be had playing as the physically imposing Monkey, the game’s more subtle enjoyment comes when you aren’t climbing walls and smashing enemy mechs. It’s found in the relationship between the two main characters, who are doing their best to survive in a world set against them.

Early on in the game, Trip–a resourceful hacker–and Monkey find themselves on a slave ship heading for an unknown destination in the West. Both manage to escape, and Trip, recognizing Monkey as her only means of survival in the great unknown wilderness, traps him by placing a device on his head. Their connection is immediate and simple: If Monkey tries to escape from Trip, she can cause him physical pain through this device, and if Trip dies by accident or otherwise, Monkey will also perish. It’s the makings of an uncomfortable friendship in the game’s early goings, but as we saw in the E3 demo, that relationship seems to deepen as the plot continues.

In the demo level being shown at E3–which takes place early on in the game’s second level–the pair is searching for the crashed slave ship upon which they met. The ship has crashed in the remains of an abandoned city. As the pair head out, it isn’t long before they’re met by mech enemies who have remained dormant for years, only to be awakened by Trip and Monkey’s presence. A frightened Trip is reluctant to follow Monkey’s orders to move out of harm’s way, so, as Monkey, you must take out the mechs using your formidable staff.

Combat controls are simple: On the Xbox 360 controller, X is normal attack and Y is strong attack. You can perform a charged attack by holding down the X button. Holding down the X and A buttons will perform a sweeping clearing attack that will knock enemies back, and holding down Y and B together will perform powerful focused attacks. Monkey is often outnumbered by mechs, and a color-coded feature called “combat awareness” will help you identify which enemy is primed for attack. When an enemy glows red, it’s attacking; blue means it’s defending; and yellow indicates when the enemy is open for an attack. Paying close attention to this system will let you better navigate your way through multiple enemies–in addition, you can use certain attacks (such as the charged attack) to temporarily stun your opponent before finishing things.

With the first wave of enemies defeated, Monkey and Trip come to an understanding via a brief cutscene. Trip might have a headset that controls Monkey, but when it comes to dealing with the mechs and keeping each of them alive, when Monkey gives an order, he expects Trip to follow it. Trip dependence on Monkey is clear but, as the demo continues, it becomes quickly apparent that while she might not be Monkey’s equivalent in combat, Trip isn’t completely helpless. For example, after being grabbed by a mech, Trip sets off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that stuns nearby enemies.

More importantly, Trip is resourceful–a technology expert who can hack long-locked doors and improvise with the remnants of the tech that surrounds them. During one sequence in the demo, you create a commotion to distract nearby gun-wielding mechs so Trip can make her way across an open building segment. Later on, it will be Trip who creates a similar distraction (one of several commands you’ll be able to give Trip with the LB button and a radial menu) using one of her gadgets.

Mixed in with all the mech-busting combat is a good deal of platforming. The agile Monkey can leap great distances and climb with ease, and during these sequences, you’ll never need anything more than the left stick and the A button to get around. There’s an element of timing when stringing together multiple leaps in a row with Monkey, but these platforming elements don’t seem to be very punishing–you can’t fall to your death in the majority of the platform sections (though you are open to enemy fire if you…ahem…hang around for too long).

The game’s platform elements were best displayed in the demo during a sequence where Trip and Monkey, facing a section of the city that has been overrun with mines, are forced to improvise a solution. Trip asks Monkey to fetch a mechanical dragonfly, which they spot nearby, and Monkey takes to the rafters and nearby trees to chase down the speedy dragonfly, all the while with Trip in his ear, surveying his progress. Eventually he catches the dragonfly and hands it over to Trip, who, after a bit of tinkering, manages to turn the mechanical insect into a makeshift sensor of sorts. She links the dragonfly sensor into the visual relay in Monkey’s headband, giving him the ability to see the sensor radius of any nearby mines. The two make it through the first wave of mines with little trouble, before encountering an open expanse of city that looks to be overrun with mines, mechs, and other dangers. It’s on this foreboding note that the E3 demo of Enslaved ends.

As the game progresses, both Trip and Monkey will grow in terms of their abilities. For Monkey, that means new combat abilities, focused attacks, and ranged attack capabilities. In the case of Trip, it will mean new commands you’ll be able to issue and improved scanning that will give you a tactical advantage over the mechs that will hound you throughout the game. For instance, Trip will be able to identify mech weaknesses and identify which mech in a larger group would be the best to take out first.

In terms of both its gameplay and its narrative, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is all about teamwork. Add to that a vivid settings, plenty of action-packed set pieces, and two likable main characters (complete with some fine voice work and character animation), and Enslaved continues to intrigue us. The game is due for release this fall, but we expect to see some additional new content at E3, so stay tuned for our coverage next week from Los Angeles.

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Enslaved “is the symbol of the future of Namco Bandai”

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Seriously. Namco Bandai and Ninja Theory’s upcoming collaboration known as Enslaved: Odyssey to the West really has the weight of the world on its shoulders, as Namco Bandai has expressed their belief that “it is the symbol of the future of [Namco Bandai].”

“Enslaved is much more than a product, it is the symbol of the future of this company,” Namco Bandai Partners VP of Sales, Marketing, and Publishing Oliver Comte told MCV. “The game looks incredible, the studio is well-known and everything is on track.

“It’s important for consumers to play Enslaved because it could be the benchmark of what we have to make as a company.

“In five years Enslaved should be the most important franchise for Namco Bandai. Enslaved 2 and 3 should be our equivalent of Gran Turismo 5 or Uncharted.”

Woah. Those are some big franchises that Comte hopes Enslaved can reach. Apparently, Enslaved is just one part of their plan to become a top world publisher. Other parts of that plan involve developing more western titles, rather than Japanese.

“We want to be a Top Five publisher in the games industry worldwide,” Comte said. “To be one of the key publishers in the future, we need to develop Western, non-Japanese games.”

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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West E3 2010 Trailer

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , on June 7, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Enslaved’s Graphical Influences Revealed

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , on June 5, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Promising adventure game, Enslaved’s similarities to genre champ Uncharted happened by coincidence, developer Ninja Theory has suggested.

The Heavenly Sword dev’s beautiful adventure game mixes Andy Serkis-acted cinematics, visceral combat and very Nathan Drake-esque platforming for a final product that looks very impressive indeed.

But Ninja Theory boss Tameem Antoniades says Naughty Dog’s game came too late to draw inspiration:

“We were working on the game for two years and then Uncharted came out, so it’s not like we could make a massive course direction based on what Uncharted was doing,” he told CVG.

“I think it’s one of those things where if you’re trying to make a cinematic action adventure you end up coming up with similar kinds of themes.”

He added: “We started by looking at everything we did right in Heavenly Sword and what we wanted to improve upon. The art style was influenced by a lot of things that we grew up with; Miyazaki movies, comic books… things that have a very colourful art style.”

He added: “Heavenly Sword was all pure combat so we wanted to make a more rounded experience with clambering and stuff. Clambering for example was inspired by Tarzan cartoons.”

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Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Interview

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

IncGamers Interview With Tameem Antoniades

Tameem Antoniades On Enslaved

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Hooked Gamers: Hi, and thanks for participating in our interview. Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little something about what you do on the team?

Tameem Antoniades: Hi, my name is Tameem Antoniades and I am the Creative Director at Ninja Theory and also one of the co-founders of the company. My role is similar to that of Director in a movie. So day to day, I work with the immense talent both in the studio and outside of the studio to achieve a cohesive vision for the game. Basically I help steer the creative side of things.

Hooked Gamers: The game is loosely based on the old Chinese epic novel Journey to the West written over 400 years ago, which features four characters travelling from the east (China) to the west (India) in order to retrieve important Buddhist religious texts.
The main character in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is called Monkey, based on the novel’s character, Sun Wukong, who is a monkey born from a stone nourished by the Five Elements.

Apart from the name and the journey in a western direction, what are the similarities between the story of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and the book: Journey to the West?

Tameem Antoniades: The game is very loosely based on the book. The book has been adapted very many times in such diverse ways in comics, books, TV series, films and theatre. So we wanted to put our own spin on things. We set the game in the somewhat near future, making Monkey a man, replacing magic with technology, the demons with mechs, and representing Tripitaka the monk as a woman.

You don’t need to know anything about the book to enjoy the game but if you are familiar with the story, there will be lots of little nods towards it.

Hooked Gamers: Having a complete stranger attach a mind-controlling, self-destructing headband on you and then force you to do her bidding must create a very hostile work environment. At least it did the last time it happened to me.
The relationship between Monkey and Trip plays a key role in this game. She must live or he will die and that forces the player to think about keeping her safe as well as pummelling the bad guys. Some videogames have fallen into the trap of making the sidekick character more of a nuisance than an asset.
What steps have you taken to steer clear of that trap?

Tameem Antoniades: Trip doesn’t do anything dumb like run into danger unnecessarily, so you don’t have to micro-manage her. And although she cannot fight, she can scan for dangers with her robotic dragonfly, she can upgrade your equipment, administer health, detect weaknesses in enemy mechs and can decoy enemies for you. In short, you can’t survive without her anymore than she can without you. If she is forced into danger, she can activate a last resort EMP blast that will stun enemies and give you 10-15 seconds to defeat them and save her.

Hooked Gamers: Trip is Monkey’s travelling companion and follows him with a handy flying CCTV camera which she can use to scout for enemies ahead. Monkey’s main weapon is his staff, which also serves as a ranged weapon. It has been stated that the player will be able to choose whether to tear an enemies weapon off and use it against him as a finishing move, or simply stomp him to death.
What other gadgets and weapons will the couple have at their disposal during their journey?

Tameem Antoniades: Monkey’s main weapon is his staff. You can use it for combat but also it can act like a rifle if you collect ammo. There are two types of ammo: plasma which damages enemies and stun which will disable them for a few seconds and destroy any shields they may have. Monkey also has a force-field generated through his gloves that will protect him against bullet fire.

Trip’s main ability is hacking so she uses this to find weaknesses in enemies, hack security systems and control machinery to help solve puzzles. When she detects a weakness in an enemy, Monkey can attack that enemy and initiate a take-down. A take-down varies per enemy type. Some will just finish them off, one will let you hijack their gun, another will stun all surrounding enemies and another turns them into a ticking time-bomb which you can shove into other enemies.

Hooked Gamers: Most forms of entertainment, be it literature, film or videogames, have traditionally portrayed the post-apocalyptic earth as a barren wasteland devoid of all life.
Why have you chosen to make the end of mankind so gorgeous?

Tameem Antoniades: Because everyone has got it wrong! Without people in the world, nature would very quickly reclaim our cities and the world would look overgrown… I think it also gives the game a bitter-sweet aesthetic. On the one hand, it looks gorgeous but on the other, it’s very disturbing and uneasy to us. It suits the mood of the game well.

Hooked Gamers: It is our tradition to give the developers a chance to say something about their game that they desperately want to get out.
Is there something burning on your lips?

Tameem Antoniades: It’s much longer than Heavenly Sword! Better in many ways too.

Hooked Gamers: Thank you for your time.

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Enslaved: Odyssey To The West Interview

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

IncGamers recently got the opportunity to chat to Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades, designer of forthcoming third-person action-adventure Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Read on for info on the game’s inspirations, visual style, combat, and the potential for a franchise.

How did you approach Enslaved, initially?

From the beginning of the project, what we wanted to do was look at everything we did on Heavenly Sword, look at the things we did really well – like the facial technology; the things worked really well – and the things that didn’t work well, or that we wanted to build upon. So we’ve kind of listened to a lot of the criticisms of Heavenly Sword and I believe we’ve improved in every aspect, in terms of game length, in terms of the variety of gameplay, and we’ve really worked well with people like Andy Serkis, Nitin Sawhney, Alex Garland, and everyone’s in it for one reason, and that’s to make it an emotive experience that matters to you when you play it.

Enslaved has a very striking visual style. How did that come about?

I guess a lot of it’s from our influences – things we like. Like, for example, we like colour. [Laughs] That’s why Heavenly Sword was so colourful, and that’s what Enslaved is colourful. But how do you make post-apocalyptic colourful? We watched a programme called Life After People, which imagined “What would the world be like if people disappeared today?” And it’s amazing how fast nature reclaims our cities, and it’s amazing how quickly the things that we think are permanent in civilization just crumble and go away. And what that gives you is an opportunity to make amazingly beautiful landscapes, full of colour – like Miyazaki movies – with a lot of nature in there, but then there’s the threat of all these old machines left from wars long-forgotten that are still deadly. If you trip them, they wake up, and they kill you. Going on a journey across these landscapes is kind of bittersweet; it’s kind of like, “What are we to the world?” in a way. There’s no big ecological message to it, there’s just a nice contrast.

The feeling of nature and humanity and industrial machinery and stuff – there’s just something about it. There’s more of a mood that I take out of it rather than the specific stories. For this game, the story’s based on Journey to the West, which is a 400-year old classic Chinese novel. It’s been adapted into Monkey, the TV series in the 80s, and all kinds of Damon Albarn operas. There’s something enduring about that story, and those characters in that story, so we just wanted to add our own twist to it – our own interpretation.

How did your work on Heavenly Sword inform the decisions you made about the combat in Enslaved?

The combat system is very different from Heavenly Sword. Heavenly Sword was all combat – the whole game was built around it, and in this game, it’s a component. So there’s a lot of clambering and platforming, a lot of puzzle solving with Trip, and there’s combat, so it’s about a third of the game.

We wanted to make it accessible, and accessible doesn’t mean making it easy. It means not focusing on having hundreds of combos that you memorise, but making every move simple to pull off. You’ve got your normal attacks, your heavy damage attacks, blocks, counters, evades, you’ve got a stun attack so you can stun some enemies and incapacitate them while you take out others, wide attacks so that if you’re surrounded you knock away all the enemies apart from the one you’re targeting. And then you’ve also got the takedowns. Trip can scan enemies for weaknesses, and if an enemy has a certain weakness, you can try and get to them first. Instead of going all-guns-blazing and taking on four or five guys at the same time, why not clamber around the back to that one guy who’s got a weakness where you can rip off his gun, use that to then mow down the others, and be more efficient about it? Or get Trip to cause a distraction, flank the enemies… So at the base level there’s a good core combat system, and on top of that there’s a more tactical element. I think games should be as much about mental agility as much as they are about physical dexterity.

Can you tell us a bit about the world of Enslaved – the setting, the characters, the story?

You’ve found yourself in this world that’s about 150 years in the future. There’s been lots of disasters that have happened. We don’t dwell on them – we just know that it’s about 50 years since the last big war was fought, and Monkey and Trip have no memory, at this point, of what happened. They have no understanding of what civilization was like. What they do know is that the world’s a dangerous place and they both deal with it in different ways. Monkey’s like a loner; he’s like Rambo. He stays out of trouble, he stays out in the wild. When push comes to shove and he’s cornered by these dangerous mechs, he will fight back. He’s got the staff and he’s got these big metal fists that also protect him as a shield. So he’s violent; he’s rough and ready. Trip comes from a community that her father set up, and there’s a few hundred people in that community. They grow their own food, they filter their own water, they have their own schools – they’re like a commune. They reappropriate and reprogram old technology to give energy. They’re educated and very resourceful.

They’re under constant threat – everyone in this world is under constant threat with these slave ships that pick up people, capture them, slap on these mind-controlling slave headbands, and ship them out west, and nobody knows why that is. But Monkey and Trip both find themselves on a slave ship at the beginning of the game. They don’t know each other, and they both escape, but they do it in different ways. She’s resourceful and uses her hacking ability; he uses his violent brute force, punching and thrashing and climbing his way out of the ship, and way the slave ship crashes into New York, she takes an opportunity to – while he’s unconscious – get one of these slave headbands, stick it on his head, reprogram it so it operates under her voice command, and she rigs it so that if she dies, he’ll die. She does it not because she’s evil – she does it because she’s scared. She knows that she’s not going to survive on her own and she’s seen how tough he is, and she thinks he can get her home.

The journey west is across North America, so you start in New York. New York is used because it gives you a point of reference that everyone knows about in the real world. As you go through the landscapes, it does become a bit weirder, so you might go across like a graveyard of giant robots that once fought in this big battle. You go through them, and they’re not alive, although some might be twitching, and it’s a very eerie moment. Or you’ll get to Trip’s village and it’s a totally beautiful landscape in the mountains. But you don’t go off the planet, or anything – as much as possible, we wanted to keep it plausible.

Does that mean that there’s room to expand on the IP and possibly continue the story?

One of the things that Alex Garland taught me is that you have to treat every project as your last. Make sure that there’s a beginning, middle, and ending, and any cool ideas you have, you put into that project. You don’t hold back. So as far as we’re concerned, Monkey is its own story. If it’s successful, there is room for more, but it’s designed to work as its own story.

How about DLC? Could we see multiplayer?

We’ve got a plan for DLC which hasn’t been announced yet, and I don’t think it’s going to be announced for a little while yet, but it’s definitely something that’s not going to be like multiplayer. It’s not that kind of DLC. It’ll probably be story focused.

So there’s not going to be any co-op in the game? This is just a pure single-player game?

Yeah, this is a pure single-player game.

Finally: on the whole, how’s the project shaping up? How are you feeling about it, now that it’s been in development for a while?

It’s actually been pretty good. We’ve managed to keep a fairly low profile, which suits us just fine, and I’d rather actually be kind of the underdog, under the radar, and come out with something cool. I think Heavenly Sword was totally the opposite, and right now I feel quite comfortable with how things are going.

Tameem, thank you very much!

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