Archive for February, 2011

Ninja Theory on Enslaved’s world, sales, and voice acting

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2011 by HeavenlyNariko

“I think relationships are what makes us who we are. It’s relationships that drive us to do amazing, or terrible, things. I think it’s a brilliant subject to explore,” Nina Kristensen told me. We’re talking about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, one of my favorite games of last year, and the second game from Ninja Theory that focused on a relationship between two very different characters. The first game, Heavenly Sword, was one of the PlayStation 3’s early hits.

Kristensen holds the title of “Chief Development Ninja,” which is rather brilliant thing to be as an adult. After talking to her and Mike Ball, the “Chief Technology Ninja,” it’s clear that Ninja Theory is not like most developers in terms of tone and personality. This is a very good thing for the future of the Devil May Cry franchise.

The world was mapped out

The world of Enslaved looked like a painting, but one that was filled with sleeping technological terrors that came to life and fought you as you crossed the landscape. I asked how much of this world they had mapped out, and how much they knew about its history before development began.

“Masses!” Kristensen explained. “We did a complete history of the world, all sorts of plagues and financial crises, massive wars. We made up all sorts of stuff just to give us a back story. There are different types of mechs, some from wars that happened 50 years ago, some from wars that happened 100 years ago, there’s an evolution of those things sitting in the world.” She likens it to a beautiful landscape that has been filled with landmines, hinting at the social commentary under the surface of the title.

“Landmines currently maim or kill 10,000 people every year long after the wars that spawned them,” Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades told Eurogamer in a 2009 interview. “In places like Afghanistan, where I originally come from, millions of colorful ‘butterfly’ landmines dropped by the Soviet forces continue to maim and kill children who mistake them for toys. Today we are witnessing the advent of drone warfare, the rise of despot nuclear nations and the possibilities of large-scale casualties in bio-terrorism. In the comfort of our privileged Western world, post-apocalypse equates to fantasy. In places like Afghanistan, people are living day-to-day in a post-apocalyptic nightmare.”

The story’s undercurrents and subtexts are interesting, and they help to explain the game’s grip on those that have played it. But the characters are what is truly exceptional, and that was due to how the game was put together.

Acting in person

The game was written by Alex Garland, the novelist who wrote The Beach, as well as the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine. It was brought to life by the actor Andy Serkis, who is perhaps best known for the voice and physical performance behind Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. When Hollywood and gaming mix, the results can be terrible; in this case, both men used their talents for the good of the medium.

“When you look at a lot of projects, you can tell the few that got the actors together to work, there are relatively few that do that,” Mike Ball told me, pointing out that Serkis also has a long history in theater. All the scenes in the game were workshopped with all the actors together in one room, and then shot that way. The performances were just that: performances.

This resulted in nuanced acting that is rare in the world of adventure games. In many games, the voice actors never meet each other, much less get to act together directly. It pays off.

The ending was also a major left turn, and I won’t ruin it for those that have yet to play the game—which should definitely be on your to-do list if you haven’t already. Kristensen said that they batted around a number of ideas on what should happen at the end. “As satisfying as a Hollywood ending can be, it’s only satisfying in that moment, it doesn’t give you anything to think about,” she told Ars. “The best movies have a somewhat ambiguous ending.”

Some people hated the ending, others loved it, but it was definitely something people discussed. It was also a major departure from the expected major boss encounter followed by the game wrapping itself up in a tight bow.

I asked if they were happy with the game’s sales performance. “Obviously not,” Kristensen said.

“I think the timing wasn’t awesome for a brand new IP, if you think about everything that came out in the last quarter of last year, we were up against every other big gun,” she explained. “Launching a big IP is hard, and you need it to be in the public’s eye and so forth, and you need a big push to get what you have out to people. I think getting lost in the mix was a bit of a shame.”

Enslaved is out now, and Ninja Theory is now hard at work on the Devil May Cry reboot.

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Poor Enslaved Sales Blamed On Timing, Sequel Not Ruled Out

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2011 by HeavenlyNariko

When Ninja Theory’s multi-platform title Enslaved was released, it failed to make a real impact on the sales charts, despite high review scores. To date, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West has sold a little more than 460,000 copies, falling short of the publisher’s expectations. The sales performance of the action-adventure game has been blamed on the game’s release timing, according to Marketing VP Carlson Choi of Namco Bandai.

Talking to Siliconera, Choi stated that he thought it was a mistake to release Enslaved back in October last year due to the holiday season being filled with stellar titles. Choi said:

It really didn’t do what we anticipated. To be perfectly frank, I think as a company prior to us reforming this organisation, going to market, I think the game went to market at a very busy season. It launched in the midst of a busy holiday season. Last year, there were like 4000+ games for consoles. We didn’t do a good job finding the right time for it because when you look at the quality of the game it speaks for itself. An 80+ rated game is guaranteed a hit. We got DLC that came out that got 10 out of 10. Ultimately, I think that game had the quality needed to address the gamers.

Choi then promised:

I think it’s a matter of getting into the market at the right time, which is something you will see us do much better.

Despite the relatively low commercial success of Enslaved, the publisher had not ruled out a possibility of a sequel:

You tell me. Do you think gamers want more? I can assure you, a title like Enslaved, and every title we’ve worked on in the past, we’re going to re-examine them and say what is the potential for the game? We’ve been doing a lot of studies, consumer engagement, and community engagement… let’s put it this way one of these days stay tuned there will be more news to come.

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Enslaved Sales Fail To Reach 500k!

Posted in Enslaved with tags , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2011 by HeavenlyNariko

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West has sold just shy of 500,000 copies worldwide, Namco Bandai’s revealed. In total, the game has moved 460,000 units; much lower than Namco Bandai had originally expected.

Regardless of sales, Namco Bandai’s still interested in expanding the franchise. The company is “very proud” of its reception by fans and media, and sees it as a “great catalog title going forward.”

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