Archive for August, 2010

More Enslaved UK Pre-Order Deals Detailed

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on August 31, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Namco Bandai has revealed a variety of UK Enslaved: Odyssey to the West pre-order deals.

HMV scooped the game’s soundtrack as well as the Tesseract book by Alex Garland (co-writer of the game).

GAME grabbed a China-inspired costume for hero Monkey, which doubles his melee damage, plus a Marvel comic that sheds light on our heroes’ background.

Play meanwhile, has a Sexy Robot costume for Trip that doubles the duration of all stun attacks, including Monkey’s.

Amazon has a ninja suit for Monkey that offers unlimited amounts of stun and plasma staff ammo.

Finally, Gamestop in Ireland has a hard-backed Enslaved art book.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is being developed by Ninja Theory for PS3 and Xbox 360. The game will be released on 8th October.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West European Collectors Edition

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

(Note: Sadly not available in the UK or France)

Comes with artbook and game soundtrack.

Heavenly Odyssey: A Short Word With Ninja Theory’s Chief Development Ninja

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

GameAxis: How did Sony enter into the picture when it came to Heavenly Sword?

Nina Kristensen: At the time while we’re under the Just Add Monsters moniker, the PS3 and Xbox 360 weren’t out. It was very hard for publishers to understand what they were looking at; whether it was appropriate for something to be considered “next-gen” or not. We showed it to a lot of publisher, but it was Sony who wounded up digging it. A major contribution to that was because Sony knew what the PS3 was. They were looking at Heavenly Sword and they went “Yeah, that’s what our console should be like.”

It was really hard. If I said that we’ll be doing these amazing things in our game, publishers would go “Well….I don’t know if that’s viable”. There’s really nothing to compare it against at the time.

GAX: Being a professional in the business, creating a new IP is very risky. Heavenly Sword did pretty well for itself. What helped raise it above that stigma?

NK: A lot of the success came from a deep passion from within Ninja Theory. In our desire to form what we have, we manage to form great collaborations. Andy Serkis is certainly a huge example of that, and apart from directing the dramatic scenes, he also hooked us up with people from Weta Workshop and instrumental in casting. And he cared deeply about the game; those collaborations raised the calibre of the game.

And for us going forward, we’ve retained that relationship with Andy. We’ve also kept in contact with composer Nitin Sawhney (The Namesake, Living Goddess). Our foley house is in New York; we found them while we’re working on Heavenly Sword. I think all of these collaborations helped raise the quality of our game, as well as bring them into our industry.

GAX: Looking back, were there any things you wished to change about the game at all?

NK: We know that the game’s not perfect. The game’s never going to be perfect; there’s always something you can do better. If you think you’ve made a perfect thing, you’d probably stop bothering. Obviously, people wanted Heavenly Sword to be longer. I certainly would give the players more, but I wouldn’t want to pad the game out with rubbish. I’d rather have the experience shorter and better. On a personal level, I’d appreciate a short game because I get to finish it. But I appreciate the people’s thoughts on value over money when it comes to the length of a game.

GAX: How about the future of Heavenly Sword’s world and story? Will there be a future for Heavenly Sword after your next project?

NK: The Heavenly Sword IP is still with Sony, so we’re now moving on to new things.

GAX: Let’s move on to Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. Which came first? The cyber-adaptation of Journey To The West or the post apocalyptic world?

NK: Journey To The West came first. Monkey actually first appeared in Kung Fu Chaos. We’ve always loved the character and we grew up with the 70s TV series. Ask anyone in UK or Australia about it, and there’s a huge chance they’ll know what you’re talking about.

I read the actual novel six or seven years ago. Our creative director for the project, Tameem Antoniade, also loved the novel. The story is rich and thick; each character in the book have their own dynamic. It’s playful yet complex at the same time, which makes it all interesting in the long run. The world itself is fantastical yet grounded with some logic. To sum it up, the story’s cool and has fun and deep characters. Tameem decided that Ninja Theory should make a game about this, except set in the future.

GAX: Why pick the game’s “green over metal” art style?

NK: That’s the choice of our visual art director, Alex. He loves color; we all love color. There’s no reason in the world why a post-apocalyptic world should be grey or brown. When you see nature reclaiming buildings and rubble, it’s beautiful in its own way. There’s really no reason not to make it lush.

We always make games with color and beauty. If you think about what would genuinely happen in the very long run, plants and trees would grow back and would be reclaimed by nature. We thought about a possible future where a cataclysm could wipe out the majority of humanity. War, swine flu, or even robots fighting each other to death. The world of Enslaved is dangerous because you’ve got landmines scattered around, and inactive war robots that can be triggered accidentally. At the same time, you’ve got all of this beauty of nature climbing up onto the world.

GAX: Describe the tag-team system of the game, and the dynamics between Monkey and Trip.

NK: Monkey and Trip are interesting because each of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Monkey himself is overtly powerful. He can fight robots and he’s got key pieces of technology like his staff and “cloud” that transport him over otherwise inaccessible pits.

Trip has her own set of skills. She can draw fire away from other enemies and distract them. She can also help upgrade Monkey’s weapons provided that he has the necessary number of orbs collected throughout the game. Being tech-savvy, she can hack enemies to find their weaknesses and hack through doors and open them. The whole dynamic between them is working out who’s going to be doing what in a particular scenario. It makes the game a lot more tactical and collaborative.

GAX: You said during your talk that Ninja Theory’s working on another project alongside the development of Enslaved. Can you give us a hint on what it is?

NK: No, but I can say that since Ninja Theory’s expanded to about a hundred employees, a quarter of that is currently working on that unannounced project.

GAX: Right now, what’s the one game that you play while in-between Enslaved’s development?

NK: Can I pick two (laughs)? So there’s a game on my phone called Gridrunners. It’s awesome. My score’s very high; I’m very good at it. In terms of bigger console games, I’m playing Alan Wake. I’m loving it.

It’s just a really nice and well-presented story; I’m always interested in what’s going on. I want to find out what happens; I think I’m about 80% through the game. It’s got some nice mechanics; I’m not that hardcore with the shooter genre (especially with FPSs), but with Alan Wake, I’m aware of my surroundings more and can see what’s around me. It’s also properly creepy.

GAX: On a final note, what do you wish to say to our readers and forumites about your upcoming game?

NK: Enslaved tells a story about two characters that encounter each other in a difficult situation, and it’s all about how they grow and change through the course of the story. I hope it’s something [GameAxis readers and forum users] will engage with and get swept along with the story and action.

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Ninja Theory’s Co-Founder Speaks About Her Creative Processes

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

This morning was held in high regard as Ninja Theory’s “Chief Development Ninja” Nina Kristensen graced the Theatre of The Arts Hall at Nanyang Polytechnic. Eager attendants from all walks of the game industry business (students, developers, what have you) listened to what knowledge and advice she has to share.

Company History

She talked a bit about her history starting work in the game industry business in Millenium Interactive Ltd. (or SCE Studio Cambridge), with her first title being MediEvil on the PS1 back in 1998. After becoming an Art Manager for the Cambridge studio, she felt that she needed to branch out and form her own studio. Thus, she collaborated with two of her colleagues, Tameem Antoniades and Mike Ball (from SCE Studio Cambridge), and formed Just Add Monsters. The road was rocky; half the time the entire development for the then-upcoming Xbox exclusive Kung Fu Chaos was done in a room as small as a cubicle while looking for investments to no avail. The company’s funds were limited to a point where they sold Kung Fu Chaos to Microsoft, even under publisher Argonaut Games. Nina stated that they hoped to make their mark with their made-for-next-gen title, Heavenly Sword.

Unfortunately in 2004, publisher Argonaut got into a bit of financial trouble; so much so that the developers had to reform under a new moniker after a management buy-out. With 22 people in tow, Ninja Theory was then born. They were still working on Heavenly Sword at the time; it was hard to pitch something next-gen when there aren’t any consoles being planned so far advanced. Well, every other company except Sony. They understood Ninja Theory’s vision since they have already been working on the PS3 since then. Three years later, we now have Heavenly Sword. Now with Enslaved: Odyssey To The West still being wrapped up for an early October release, Nina states that she’s excited to be doing a cross-platform title for the first time in the company’s history.

Using Animation To Get Your Point Across

As an animation student back then, her approach to conveying game design ideas goes side-by-side with her animation work. For example, one way she highlighted her game idea is through the Rip-O-Matic video, which is a short video consisting of mash-ups and footage that’s meant to show what your game is about. For Kung Fu Chaos’ Rip-O-Matic, it was a montage of 70s martial art flicks with yellow captions highlighting the game’s features. An advantage to making a Rip-O-Matic is that it’s quick and easy to convey to anyone, even stockholders who aren’t game-savvy. Best of all, it makes it easier for other people in the team to get the idea and picture the game’s vision without difficulty.

Another technique to convey your game idea is through concept videos. This video will show how the game will look like; it does not use a specific engine but it’s a way to establish a look. As an example, she showed off a very early video of Heavenly Sword where the person who would eventually become Nariko does some high-flying fantasy acrobatics and fighting. Compared to the final product, the theme of a tragic story and Asian fantasy influences are still prevalent, but the overall look and visual style are very different from one another.

Pre-visualization is another technique that helps get your vision across, especially when it came to portraying the cinematic combat of Heavenly Sword. Since placeholder animations did not cut it, Ninja Theory went all-out and did full animations (keys, in-betweens, and all) with low-res models. From the fatal counters (including one where Nariko stabs someone in the family jewels) to Superstyle attacks, each of them were fully-made just so that they can get a reaction and approval from those watching it.

Another version of this technique was also shown through style tests, which are short videos defining each and every game character’s style and movement. She brought a recent example using style tests from Enslaved. These range from main character Monkey’s movement to the berserker robot’s pose and walking animation. She also showed off the style test Monkey’s friend Pigsey for comic relief. He’s portrayed as a clumsy oaf who’s handy with cover fire using his trusty sniper rifle.

Concerning the main character Monkey, Nina felt that his actions should feel grounded to reality, even if it’s set in a post-apocalyptic future. At first, he was suppose to be this heavily-armored warrior, but as concepts pass and go, he was somehow stripped of that concept and was painted white at one point. In the end, the developers retained Monkey’s white hair and made him as human as possible, only with an exaggerated shoulder and a few muscles here and there. The concept artists played around with the typical human bone structure so that they can make Monkey more like a person coming out of the wild. His tattoos are also a nice touch; they happen to be war scars that he draws onto himself whenever he dispatches a huge robot from his past adventures.

That Hollywood Touch

It also helps to bring in people from outside the game industry to input new ideas into your project. She brought up the story on how renowned actor Andy Serkis collaborated with Ninja Theory on Heavenly Sword. It just so happens that his mortgage advisor is Tameem Antoniades’ brother. After seeing an early video of Heavenly Sword, Andy Serkis liked it and was hundred-percent on-board. Together with the team’s collaboration with Weta Workshop, an unorthodox-yet-effective technique of animation in the videogame industry was born; performance capture.

Not only were the bodies captured, the face and recreations of each scene were fully captured. Since it was tough to translate the motion-capture dots on the wetsuit to character models, they had to hire a mathematician to do proper calculations on making it possible. At one point, the mathematician had to make Andy Serkis recite a lot of nonsensical lines to get a huge amount of facial expressions for capturing. While not new in the film industry, this technique was groundbreaking in the field of gaming where production values can skyrocket to astronomical heights.

To highlight the effectiveness of the technique, Nina showed an in-game clip of Enslaved and the performance capture clip side-by-side (it’s the one scene with the dragonfly straight out of this year’s Gamescom, in case you’re curious). Nina says that it’s hard to find people comfortable acting out scenes wearing a wetsuit with balls attached. She and her team has to help make actors feel comfortable and safe; at the very least, Andy Serkis is a veteran in the industry in that regard. And yes, he’s also helping out with the direction and performance capture for Enslaved, as well as Monkey’s motion capture animation. Judging from the look of things, Enslaved seems to be living up to the high standards Ninja Theory set for themselves.

End Game

Because of all the big projects they’re doing, Ninja Theory has become so big at this point in time that it now has about a 100 employees, each of them specialized in different sections of the creative process. Be it modelling, lighting, texturing, and even fragments of a particular stage or level, Nina believes that putting an employee into a specialized position helps determine the person’s strength and help develop that specific skill in the long run. She also does not believe in having her employees multi-tasking ala Naughty Dogs for Uncharted 2, nor does she believe in branching out Ninja Theory into different companies. The former is because it’s better for said employee to just develop their talent further, while the latter is because she wishes to keep Ninja Theory as a personal and intimate company. If it were segmented, part of the company’s personality will get lost due to separation and management.

And of course, when asked about Heavenly Sword’s comparison with the God of War series, she’s happy that her game is held in high regard being compared to one of Sony’s biggest franchises.

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New Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Boxart

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West Updated Impressions

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

We’ve seen Ninja Theory’s latest project a few times now, but it continues to entertain.

A ways into Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, there’s a character you encounter who goes by the name Pigsy. He’s a squat, almost perfectly round fellow with an off-putting mustache, a belt buckle in the shape of red lips, and the word “sexy” tattooed on his knuckles. Pigsy is the type of character whose bizarre looks, in most games, would draw your attention like an industrial strength magnet. In Enslaved, though, he’s just one more face in a game that’s bursting at the seams with visual character.

That’s the first thing you notice when you lay eyes on this action-adventure game from the developer behind Heavenly Sword. It is, by most any measure, a looker. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where lush vegetation has sprung forth from the crumbling ruins of mankind, there’s no shortage of vivid colors on the screen at any given moment. That’s been a consistent theme every time we’ve seen Enslaved, starting with our first look at the game early in the year right on through our most recent impressions from E3.

What’s required a bit more guesswork is figuring out what sort of gameplay to expect out of Enslaved. It’s a game that seems intent on mixing up the pacing and style of play at every turn. At one point, you’ll have protagonist Monkey and his companion Trip–the pair whose tense relationship forms the heart of the story–spend time slowly exploring the game world, climbing through ruined buildings and swinging across dangerous gaps in the demolished . Other times you’re solving a puzzle, or engaged in melee combat with the slavers and robots that act as the game’s antagonists.

The new demo of Enslaved we saw today at Gamescom 2010 threw yet a few more ingredients into that mix. A brief demo broke up into three distinct sections, it started off with a shooting gallery of a mission where Monkey had to quickly run through an old scrap yard using his staff (this being the future, it can naturally fire plasma shots) to do away with robotic enemies perched atop high lookouts with every desire to shoot him dead. Unlike earlier levels where ammo is scarce, encouraging more hand-to-hand combat, this area was littered with ammunition.

Shortly after that, Monkey makes his way to a boss battle alongside Trip and good old Pigsy. This fight requires you to avoid a giant metallic beast called the Rhino by zipping around on the cloud, Monkey’s own personal version of a hover board. What just felt like a third-person shooter five minutes ago now almost feels like a boss battle on a skateboard, as you’re cruising around trying to trick the Rhino into damaging itself by either smashing into walls or over bombs that Pigsy tosses your way from up high. Then, after the boss fight seems as if it’s over, the Rhino snatches Trip and makes off with her, forcing you into a high-speed chase scene through a canyon filled with speed boosts and towers crumbling in the Rhino’s wake.

Add to all this some genuinely entertaining cut scenes and the result is a game that we’re beginning to grow more optimistic about. You can expect to see Enslaved released on October 8.

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GC 10: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West impressions

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2010 by HeavenlyNariko

We just came from showing of Enslaved: Odyssey To The West at Namco/Bandai where they demoed a 25-minute playthrough. We saw Chapter 11, which was at 2/3rd of the game, and the intro cutscene to Chapter 12. What we shown off was impressive, to say the least.

By now you probably already know that Enslaved has you playing as Monkey, a warrior who gets bound to the woman Trip after they both escape a slave ship. Monkey has to protect Trip on a voyage to her people’s city in the west, as she controls the hacked Slaver headband that Monkey is wearing.

Chapter 11 (“The Old Battlefield”) is set in the overgrown graveyard of the war that ravaged Earth years ago. Pigsy, a fat engineer with a metal pig’s nose, has joined Monkey and Trip on their merry quest. He serves as a ranged combat support character who can also use his grappling hook to reach places Monkey and Trip can’t get to. Pigsy is also a bit of a comic relief character, jealous of Monkey always hanging around Trip. While Monkey and Pigsy might be rivals in a way, they share commons goals. Pigsy won’t murder Monkey or anything, but making snarky and sarcastic remarks about him isn’t out of the question. He is also a trader with a flying minivan who used to deal with Trip’s father when she was but a child, making his affections for her a bit creepy.

Enslaved will feature a mix of combat, exploration, and puzzles to mix up the gameplay with about a third of the game being devoted to each. As the trio enters the graveyard, it’s time for combat. Robotic enemies, leftovers from the great war, attack the team and it’s your job as Monkey to protect Trip. That means distracting ranged enemies who might target her, or standing between her and melee attackers. In this chapter, Monkey can not only use his staff for melee, but can also use two types of attacks with his staff — a blue stun bolt that destroys shields, and a red damage blast. I noticed that you don’t have a lot of ammo for both types of ranged attacks (which did seem to be very powerful) but ammo containers litter the level and entice you to progress forwards.

Running around is really fast and fluid, with the camera dropping to an over-the-shoulder view when aiming and shooting; it zooms in and around a bit during acrobatic melee attacks and combo-finishers. Running to cover will also make Monkey automatically enter cover without the need to press any buttons. Walk away and you exit cover. Blocking provides a little energy shield that looks like it could be shattered if you keep on blocking for too long. Trip, on the other hand, will always stay behind cover to protect her fragile little ass. She can project holograms to distract enemies, as well, so she is not useless. Pigsy tends to use his grappling hook to reach the high ground, from where he can blast enemies with his rifle. All the combat looked really frantic and fast paced; it looks a blast to play.

Even though it was a graveyard, time has made sure that it doesn’t fall in the “next-gen brown” territory. Nature has already partly reclaimed the area with green grass and trees. Ammo comes in the form of red and blue containers, which further add to the color palette. After dispatching with their metallic enemies, the team spot a Slaver ship flying in the distance. Apparently, the Slavers are collecting scrap to build something bad.

The trio pursues the airship across what appears to be a bridge leading to a platform with five strange looking angled pillars. As the camera zooms out, we see that the “bridge” is actually a huge, overgrown robotic arm and the platform is a hand with five enormous fingers. Reaching the platform, the level’s first boss, Rhino, attacks you. Rhino is a huge robot that can quickly roll around the circular platform. It isn’t really evil, but it is just following its original programming from all those years ago.

During this boss battle Monkey can hop on a “Cloud,” an energy disc that acts like a hoverboard. It’s being called the Cloud because in old pictures of Sun Wukong, Monkey — in the classic Chinese literary work Journey to the West that Enslaved is heavily based on — he is often depicted as flying on a cloud. While evading Rhino’s roll attacks on the Cloud, Trip, and Pigsy attack him from high cover. After evading and countering with attacks, some of the scenery is affected by the battle and Monkey does some Heavenly Sword-like platforming to reach the top of one of the large ancient robotic fingers and does some stuff to finish the boss.

What followed was a race sequence where Monkey has to hit blue orbs to boost his way through a canyon. The showing ended with the introduction cutscene to Chapter 12: The Dam. It seemed the Slavers are building something at the Hoover Dam and after shooting down Pigsy’s flying van, the demo ended.

While the gameplay looked really fun and the graphics look amazing and vibrant, that wasn’t the only thing that made Enslaved a really impressive game. The story seemed to be a really good adaptation of Journey to the West and should be really interesting to watch unfold. While Monk, the character Trip is based on, is actually a man in the original book, Ninja Theory co-founder and lead designer Tameem Antoniades told us that he grew up watching the 1978 tv show Monkey where Monk is also a woman. Antoniades seemed to be a real expert on the book so if you were wondering how much the game will be inspired by that source material then rest assured: it looks like it is in good hands.

The characters are also fantastic and the interaction between them during gameplay and cutscenes is a blast to watch. You can really see the benefit of having Alex Garland (28 Days Later, Halo movie screenplay) on board to write the dialogue. Monkey is great; no surprise as Andy Serkis voices him. Trip is equally impressive and voiced by — and based upon the appearance of — Lindsey Shaw (10 Things I Hate About You) who was 19-years-old at the time of recording the dialogue. Antoniades mentioned how they actually planted the microphones on the foreheads of the voice actors so they could talk and yell while running around a room.

I came away from Enslaved being impressed, but it was already pretty clear that it was going to be a special game to keep an eye on. After this, it is a day one purchase. The only concern I have is how long it will be, especially after Heavenly Sword. Doing the math of the time it took to clear Chapter 11, the full game should run at around seven to 10 hours. Then again, it was being played by a guy who sat there all day playing that exact same level over and over again. Whatever, give it to me now!

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