Mario Odyssey Update: Luigi’s Balloon World!

(image from https://www.polygon.com/2018/1/11/16878088/mario-odyssey-dlc-outfits-trailer-release-date-luigi-balloon-world)

Super Mario Odyssey is one of Nintendo’s latest and most successful additions to the classic Mario Brothers game series. The game received The Game Award for Best Family Game in 2017, sold more than two million copies within four days after release, and was given a rating of 10/10 from IGN. Needless to say, that’s pretty damn impressive. The only feature that holders of the game thought was missing was online multiplayer functionality. But Nintendo has reached out to their community, and recently announced a solution to be released in early February.

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Take a Step Into Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has started becoming more and more well-known in the gaming industry. It adds much more immersive and engaging qualities to a game, and now that it has been around for awhile, inventors are coming up with new ways it can be integrated into games.

The Japanese firm, known as Cerevo, has come out with Taclim. Taclim is a set of virtual reality shoes. As you have probably already guessed, the purpose behind this is to allow users to feel the virtual world through their feet. Each shoe has 3 sensors, two on the bottom of the shoe (one at the front and one at the rear), and the other is located a top of the foot. While wearing the shoes, a person can feel water splashing, a wooden floor creaking, snow crunching, and even soft sand beneath their feet.

Imagine fighting someone or something in a game and kicking them. With Taclim, you would easily be able to feel the difference between kicking your opponent, or kicking his/her shield. This is exactly what Cerevo is going for.

This newest addition to the virtual reality world is certainly a positive one. However, there are some downfalls. The lucky people who were able to try this out said it felt awkward, and the shoes were quite big and clunky. They felt uncomfortable doing a kicking motion, because the shoes felt like they were going to fall off. They also felt odd to walk in. They were instructed to stand in place and shuffle their feet in order to experience the different “textures”. While doing this not only did they feel awkward, but the shoes were heavy on their feet. Obviously, with every new invention, there will be positive and negative feedback.

Taclim is worth somewhere between $1000 – $1500, and will be available in late 2017. So far it is only compatible with Google VR, which explains why it’s so pricey. Hopefully it will become compatible with more than just Google, because otherwise it might not sell too well.

So the question is would you buy this? Or is this just another silly gimmick that the gaming industry has come up with. With the release date being sometime this year, we will have to patiently wait.

The Art of Oxenfree

As a gamer, and designer, one of the things that catches my eye and draws my attention to a game is the style in which it is done. Now, just because a game has an appealing art style doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing that matters. The story matters too! However, there are games in which the style of the rendering(s)/art helps portray the mood and feel of the game as you play. “Oxenfree”, a recently released single player supernatural adventure game developed by Night School Studio, is a great example of such instances.

Starting out as a simple, innocent trip to an island with friends, Alex (the main character) and her friends soon get more than what they bargained for. After tuning into a strange radio frequency inside a cave, everybody gets split up and things evolve from there. With strange occurrences such as on-screen glitch effects, to time loops, and weird visions, your stay on the island becomes less fun and more… foreboding. The style of the game (both artistically and musically) doesn’t give you much respite either. 

The art style is hard to describe, and it is quite pretty. But when looking at the in-game scenery, I can’t help but wonder what will go wrong. It’s an interesting mix of 3D rendered characters (stylized in a way that reminds me a little bit of Playdead’s “Inside”), and layered 2 dimensional art with unique textures to create depth and an uneasy sort of ambiance. When watching online play-throughs, or simply looking at the art itself, it’s easy for me to see that the developer knows exactly what they are doing. It’s not all nail biting and uneasiness though. There’s nice moments. Little snapshots where nothing is wrong and they are all having a good time, enjoying each-other’s company and not having a care in the world. These snapshots step away from the 3D render stylization, and into 2D territory in a way that perfectly fits with the rest of the game’s art style. Oxenfree is incredibly unique through and through, and has already inspired quite a bit of fan-made art for having released so recently. Personally I find such unique stylization in a video game today incredibly refreshing.

 

For more information, and a better insight into the game, you can follow this link: http://nightschoolstudio.com/oxenfree/

Or for a look at the music within “Oxenfree”, you can go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgjEymUAgaQ&list=PLzC-9vfwuEe7anLjq_NM2sjb1Gg_WVfo0

R.E : Biohazard – A Fresh Perspective

*Possible spoilers below!*

Capcom’s “Resident Evil : Biohazard” just dropped, and already it’s clear that it has not only gone back closer to it’s roots, but also does a much better job of building atmosphere, keeping people on edge and hyped up, as well as provides a fresh perspective in a variety of ways. We quite literally are provided with a new perspective in the franchise with the game utilizing a first person view, much like “Outlast”.

As I started following the story, it was quite apparent that Capcom is using this view to it’s full potential. They aren’t afraid to get up in your face (literally), showing off their extremely detailed renderings, and making you just a little uncomfortable with how close the tip of that knife appears to be in relation to your face. From small items and blurred view for when something is too close to your face, to characters and whole environments, realism is ever-present as a focus. Now, of course how good the game looks also depends on whatever system you are using and it’s capabilities, so that experience is of course going to differ based on that as well. But for the platforms that can handle it? It’s impeccable. If you look closely, you can see minor details such as the tiny hairs on the character’s hands and arms.

 

So, how did they accomplish this? Well, Capcom used a photogrammerty technique to tackle the development. If you are unclear about what photogrammerty is, it is essentially a facial capture technique. All 3D models, at least character wise as far as I have found, were built using the following process:

  • 3D-scan, processed with Agisoft Photoscan
  • Cleaned up, retopologized, and detailed in zBrush
  • Hair created with Ornatrix for 3DSMax
  • Rendered in Octane Render

In order to capture facial motions, they used a special headset to which allowed them to capture expressions without having to use markers. To see some more character models, or to see a demonstration of Photogrammerty, you can follow this link: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/6eXV0 .

With believable detail and depth, this new take on the series is an exciting story to follow as it ensures that you are not sitting comfortably for very long. Whether it’s a plethora of spiders jumping at you, a cockroach crawling over your hand, or a “Saw” like problem you need to solve to escape, Biohazard perfectly fits the horror genre.

DLC – The Good & The Bad

 

It is rare nowadays to find games that are fully released and do not need DLC. Now, as a gamer myself, I do not think that DLC is necessarily bad. However, there’s a right and wrong way to go about additional downloadable content for games.

Halo”, “Dragon Age”, “Mass Effect”… all of these could be considered good examples of the correct approach of DLC. You have the whole story when you first purchase the games, and the DLC only consists of content that are simply extra tidbits (ie: extra maps you can use in custom games, small side-stories, etc).  Even Capcom’s “Dragon’s Dogma”, though I feel the DLC could have been implemented a bit differently, tackled the concept of DLC in a way that makes sense. The game had a complete, fulfilling story all on it’s own, ending on a cliffhanger as a perfect set-up for an all new game. The “Bitterblack Isle” DLC they implemented, which is admittedly a bit different than a map package for “Halo” considering it’s vastness, acted like a sequel to the game. The DLC added a large amount of primary story to add onto the story of the main game, as well as a side-story on a whole new and unique area, a plethora of new items and quests, and even fixes that enhanced certain features.

The incorrect approach is best represented by the ever infamous “Destiny“, created by Bungie in partnership with Activision. Following the game’s development since the beginning, what was expected was pretty incredible and held a lot of promise. But what released, if we are to use the “hamburger metaphor”, may as well have only been the bottom part of the bun. A vast majority of the story was cut out, only to be sold later on as DLC with a vast majority of said DLC taking place in the same locations you have already been to time and time again. The DLCs were admittedly getting better, with the first having been very dry and only containing a few missions. But there’s still a sense of being cheated. To make matters worse, the newest DLC is only for new generation consoles despite the game being for both generations.

It can be good for business, but DLC should enhance the game. Not /be/ the game. And it needs to be done properly.

Thoughts? Do you think the “empty hamburger” trend for games will continue?

 

Sony Hitches onto the Free-to-play Bandwagon.

Since the early 2000’s, Free-to-play games have been thrown into the market with a new security measure in mind. Lower the rate of pirating by making the games free, and perhaps sell in game content that is much harder to obtain by an illegal attempt. Free-to-play started (primarily) on PCs across the globe.

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Within the past few years, this revolutionary concept has made its way onto mobile devices and even consoles. Sony Online Entertainment saw the potential FTP could bring to the console world, and has received great success from DC Universe Online for PS3/4. 76% of the hours put onto the game are actually from console gamers.

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Console gamers are used to paying 60 dollars for a game on disc. They are now spending 3.5 times that than PC gamers in regards to in-game micro transactions. Sony has previously released games such as planetside, and planetside 2, available for PC only. Planetside 2 will be making its debut on the PS3/4 this month.

 

Looking into Newzoo (Video game research firm), they predict that the free-to-play market will generate 14.4 Billion in global sales by the end of 2015. North America alone will only account for 1.8 billion (12.5%) of the total.

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It’s apparent that the MMO industry, as a whole, will be dominated by free to play. Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft”, however, will stay top dog for many years to come. Their recent expansion “Warlords of Draenor”, has sold 3.3 million copies in 24 hours upon release, and has increased the company’s subscription base to 10 million players. Blizzard has created an obstacle FTP game devs will find hard to compete with.

 

Even the best FTP games shall come in second place, but that doesn’t mean the format doesn’t work. Free-to-play games have made a great financial strategy for now and in the future that will eventually chin up with WoW. Everyone can sign up and play said game in its entirety, with optional items that make the game more enjoyable. Path of exile makes a good example here, being completely free to play, and not abusing their own system by selling only cosmetic items and extra storage.

 

Sony, like many others, has made a wise decision, as far as the general opinion goes. It will be interesting to see their turnout with planetside, future projects, and impact on the gaming world, as it will be a strong one.