I took the executive decision to stay in my hotel room until 11am and therefore skip the inevitable massive queue that would have been present if I had gone early. As such I was able to walk straight in to Day Two of the Expo without getting stuck in the usual massive queue.
My first port of call was to pick up a show guide so I actually knew what time the developer sessions were and where everything is. I have to say that thanks to the presence of Sony and Microsoft with their new machines the show is bigger than ever. The indie games have a nice large area near the very costly Pizza Express while the 18+ games have been shunted upstairs which has really freed things up on the main floor. In recent years the 18+ section has been down on the main floor with the side effect of totally breaking up the flow of movement. I heartily approve of the segregation.
After walking through a busy Nintendo area, definitely somewhere I need to head back to, I took a trip around to the Oculus Rift stand. After a few minutes of waiting in the queue for this, I flicked through the show guide and realised there was a developer session from Media Molecule coming up. They were showing off Tearaway, and I knew that anything that was coming from the guys behind Little Big Planet was worth checking out. My thoughts on the session and game from my hands on will appear later.
Immediately after the session from Media Molecule was a chance to see David Cage talk about Beyond: Two Souls and show off some videos of the game. There were loads of people in the line for this session so I decided to jump straight in ignoring the pangs of hunger.
I’ve never played his previous game, Heavy Rain despite my sister talking it up a hell of a lot. And, I have to admit that I haven’t taken much notice of Beyond apart from the fact that Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are in it.
I was prepared to come away not planning to touch the game at all fearing a QTE obsessed mess. Instead I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by what I saw. It certainly isn’t anything like a lot of games that were out on the show floor, rather this definitely looks like, as Cage described it “an emotional journey into the life of someone.”
After three years of development, and the implementation of an all new engine to replace what powered Heavy Rain, this title certainly looks to be dripping with gloss and high production values. Cage showed off a video of the motion-capturing process with the actors which he described as being an entirely alien experience to them. In the warehouse where they recorded the actors’ movements there wasn’t one single camera to work towards, rather they were surrounded by around 20 cameras to pick up the multitudinous little balls over their bodies to pickup their motion. According to Cage this allowed them to let loose by really investing in their characters and the acting. It looks to have come across in-game really well based on the picture-in-picture shots.
I like Cage’s comments on story being involved within the interactivity of the game rather then being told through cut-scenes which are punctuated by massive gun battles (looking at Call of Duty there). He also showed some footage of how the interaction works describing it as being entirely contextual with the right analogue stick being the way you interact beyond directional movement. White globes appear on the screen when an object appears for you to do something with, you just move the right stick towards this to interact. Combat works in a similar way with Cage saying that no fight will ever be the same as another.
Interestingly he also said that during development he looked at some of the techniques available on the PlayStation 4 and had managed to incorporate them in a lesser way in Beyond. Of further note was the revelation that you can play the entire game using the accompanying smart-phone/tablet app if you don’t want to use a DualShock controller. This is definitely a way to get those who don’t normally play games involved and is a great idea.
Am I now looking forward to Beyond? I most certainly am, but where will I find the time to play it? I might have to get my girlfriend to play it with me, though I am sure she will find some parts of the game too freaky to really enjoy.
After that I met up for some pizza with Miles Jolliffe from VGToday.net and we had a go on Tearaway itself. After that we decided to check out another developer session which was headed by Sony’s indie developer liaison, Shahid Ahmad. This session was initially meant to be about Drive Club, but I am sure that Shahid’s session was more informative and interesting. He opened with the following quote from Steven Pressfield:
The highest treason a crab can commit is to make a leap for the rim of the bucket.
Shahid went on to deliver a really interesting presentation about indie games and how Sony has opened the doors to them in recent years. This is my third year of attending the Expo, and Shahid was undoubtedly one of the most interesting people I’ve seen talk, not to say others have been bad, but Shahid captured my attention in a way few others have done. I don’t want to surmise what he said as there were some really valid points about the publishing cycle and some anecdotes that I wouldn’t do justice by writing out. I would just recommend you watch the talk in this video below. A must watch if you are an indie developer.
After this I went upstairs to check out the new Obliteration game mode for Battlefield 4. This mode sees the two teams fight to control a bomb and plant it in the opponents target areas. After the best part of an hour in a queue I got my first taste of the Xbox One and immediately thought that the controller wasn’t quite right. It just didn’t feel right, especially the top shoulder buttons which don’t feel like triggers yet don’t feel like traditional shoulder buttons. It didn’t fill me with the same level of confidence that the PlaySation 4 control did yesterday.
The game then, well I do like the new and improved menus which are much more user friendly when selecting loadouts and spawn points than in Battlefield 3. Some people might scorn at talking about this, but it adds another layer of polish to the experience. When I started to spawn I was in a parachute and coming down between the trees felt like a next-gen experience, it was a stunning entry to the map, one which had a feel of Daqing Oilfields for those who remember Battlefield 2. However after a little bit of running I was plagued with some frame-rate issues and other minor but annoying graphical twitches. Early build yes, but I would have hoped that the Xbox One would have handled it without a problem.
Besides that though, it was much the same Battlefield with some fun gun battles, vehicles waging war (when people remembered to use them) and buildings getting blown to smithereens. Really, fifteen minutes isn’t long enough to get a real sense of the game, but I will probably pick it up and invest some time in the multiplayer.
All that was left after that was some time with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified which I am certainly going to have to pick up from Steam when I get home. I’ve never been into the XCOM games before, something has always stopped me from playing them. This one though really caught my attention. It looked great, I enjoyed the third-person tactical combat and I managed to spend 45 minutes completing the demo mission. How have I missed this one until now? I had great fun, I know that some of the reviews have been so-so, but if this falls into the AA category of games that Shahid was talking about, it certainly will be a shame to see this type of game disappear. I definitely want to check it out some more, and that is the great thing about a show like this, you can come across some games you might never have thought to try out before and really fall in love.
That was my day at show, I had planned to check out Watch Dogs, but Miles informed me that the stand in the 18+ area was just some Ubisoft people playing the game for the crowd without any hands-on opportunities. There is a developer session for it tomorrow which I will endeavour to attend.
Elsewhere, having played Battlefield once, I think I will wait until the Beta is released before trying it again. Titanfall is something I want to see, but I have heard the queues for that have been dreadful. I might check out the dedicated PlaySation 4 or Xbox One stands, but it is more likely I will check out Batman or The Elder Scrolls Online while also attempting to get some time on a Wii U and a visit to the indie section. A busy day ahead.