All posts by James Harpum

I love games, like really love them. On numerous occasions I have lied to family and friends to play games instead of being with them. I'd do it again. I regret nothing.

Interview: Andrew Bennison from Prospect games

I got a chance to speak with Andrew Bennison from Prospect games, the lead designer behind unbox, about his experience as an indie developer he was a very interesting person to speak to with some insights into working in the world of indie games and what to expect from Unbox a newbies adventure

Hi Andrew, thanks for talking with This is Xbox so, Unbox. You have been working on it for some time and now has just released on Xbox?

So we launched just ‘Unbox’ last September on steam, it went well enough to keep us in business so we have brought a slightly optimised and enriched version called ‘Unbox Newbie’s Adventure’ to Xbox One, released July 26th. We also have a Switch version coming later this year.

You guys have been working on this since 2014, right?

We came up with the initial concept at a Game Jam, a Christmas Game Jam, hosted by Epic Games in December of 2014, the theme was what’s in the box so you can see and draw a line between there and where we are now and then we jumped into full development around the 4th-5th of January 2015. So, it’s taken about a year and a half to make the game and then about half a year more to get it working on all the various platforms.

You have been working on it for two years, in Manchester as an indie developer, Prospect Games, what do you see as being the next step for you now Unbox is out?

Really we gotta assess based on how well the console launch goes, we kind of have a price tag attached to each of the ‘plans’ of how we move forward, you know? If we do alright we can do one thing, if we do amazing we can do another. It’s really down to how well the launch goes and later on this year with the Switch. Are we going to make a sequel to Unbox? Are we going to make a completely different game or do both of those things at the same time? It’s really all down to performance at launch.

Would you say then that as an Indie developer that’s one of the biggest challenges between you and the big ‘AAA’ developers who can plan their pipeline, where as for you it is tied up with each game that you produce and the revenue it makes?

Yeah, I think that no matter what scale your company is at you have that same issue of how much is in reserves, how much is available in resources, do you have enough internally for other projects. Ideally you’d have projects running alongside each other so that you are able to do two, three product launches a year. That would be excellent. On the flip side of that there is a lot more pressure and responsibility attached to that and just because you are a bigger company able to do more but with the extra pressure added. However we are a small developer and if the launch doesn’t go well that could be us out of business, although if it goes exceptionally well then it opens up prospects for us that we aren’t currently even thinking about at this point.

Obviously it’s very different being an indie developer to someone who might develop for a bigger game company, you mentioned before about attending Game Jam, but what made you go indie instead of applying to be part of a bigger company?

Well, as a teenager I wanted to be a film director and on a media studies course we had a big project about making a film. Well I didn’t have any equipment and the equipment there was crap, oh and this was the time when Machinima wasn’t really a channel, it was a way to describe films made in games, so I said ‘can I make a film in Halo 2?’ And they said ‘ok, that’s weird but go for it if you want, give it a shot’ and in the process of making that piece of content I got more of an insight into games and I thought I’m playing a lot of games, but this made me really think about the design of them and how they pull all sorts of themes together.

So I went onto a university course, where I studied games design and met the two guys who helped me start Prospect, which effectively started as a modding group with Left 4 Dead mods, then we tried mobile development in the evenings and some ad hock work and after a while we had saved up the cash and we hadn’t had any success in getting into the ‘AAA’ market plus I’m awful at being told what to do so we thought, ‘Well we did this great at uni let’s see if we can make it into something sustainable, and here we are.

If I was sat at home and I wanted to get into developing as an indie developer, from your experience what do you think is the best route for someone coming out of uni wanting to do it for themselves?

That’s a tough one, the market is so much more brutal now than when we started up. I’d start by saying don’t go to uni first! The last thing you want to do is saddle yourself with debt and none of the courses are as good as actually getting down to doing some work and dedicating yourself entirely to it and as much as academia might try, being forced to do essays and course work and other things that just don’t exist in the real world. I mean, when I look at someone’s CV, I don’t care if they have a BSc or a PHD, I look to see if they have worked on products or stuff that’s been released etc.

I would advise if you are going to go down the indie route, do you want to make games for fun? Or do you want something more sustainable? Like make it your career. Because you can be an indie developer in your bedroom in the evenings after a 9-5 job and that way you can focus on being critically well received without the necessity of it being commercially well received to put food on the table.

It’s a really tough market with almost nobody making money on PC and then with the console halfway through their lifetime they already are very competitive markets, the Switch is still lacking in content but that will change after a few hundred titles have come out on it. I would say, it’s a really tough time to become an indie developer at the moment.

Very interesting to hear your point of view, direct from someone who has been working in it for the last two years, and what you have been working on is Unbox, out now, I’m going to sit down and have a play with it now, any tips? Any secrets you want to give me before I start?

Er, well don’t skip the tutorial it really sets you up with the mechanics to get through the game, make sure you use the D-pad in-game, which will point you towards critical characters and missions. If you get stuck, hit the back button and it will bring up your progress to give you an idea of where you are, something people seem to miss but it’s very useful in getting you through the game.

Thanks Andrew, great to speak with you and your experiences as an indie developer,

Unbox; Newbies Adventure is out now for Xbox One, check out our review of the game.

E3 2016 – Ubisoft shows us the wild side

E3 continues and the conference’s keep on coming, this time it was Ubisoft and one of the titles they made time to talk about was the new Ghost Recon game Wildlands. Frankly, it looks spectacular. A huge open world map with strategic freedom to approach a mission as you wish.

ghost-recon-wildlands

You can play solo or co-op with four players as you make your way through the landscape taking down a cartel’s cocaine operation. As well as an explanation of more of what’s to come there was also a spot of gameplay to watch. Ghost Recon; Wildlands will come to Xbox One on March 7th 2017

 

 

E3 2016 – Gears of War 4 Elite controller

As well as bringing us more news and gameplay of the new Gears of War 4, Microsoft showed a short at the E3 conference of a gears of war special edition Elite controller. The controller has a Gears themed paintjob complete with icons on the d-pad, just in case you forget where the chainsaw is in those clutch moments.

It looks great and if the current Elite controller is anything to go by it will be a great addition for any serious Gears fan. Along with the controller you will also get in game items and gear packs.The gameplay in conference showed some new enemy and the terrain of the new world in which it is based, there was also a surprise visit from and old favourite of the series which will surely be sparking more questions about the new story.

gears_controller

E3 2016 – Bethesda conference round up

Bethesda are back at E3 for the second time and they have landed with a bang (albeit after a slight delay on the start time). A whole host of really exciting news has come out of the conference, here’s a quick round-up for you of the highlights.

Elder Scrolls

  • Skyrim re-mastered for current gen consoles, yes the rumours where true. Skyrim is coming back in a fully remastered version.
  • Two additions for Elder Scrolls Online, the first is the Dark Brotherhood DLC out this week on Tuesday (14th of June) the second is One Tamriel, a level free mode where the whole world is open to you free from level restrictions, you can party with who you like and go where you want. Coming in fall this year.
  • Elder Scrolls Legends – a new game, this is a strategy card game for mobile devices.

Fallout 4

  • Some more dlc coming in a variety of forms. The first named Contraptions adds machinery and more workshop options. A build your own vault and Nuka world, which looked like it may be a theme park of sorts, but we will have to see.
  • In conjunction with the work being done on Bethesda VR Fallout 4 will be released in 2017 on the HTC vive.

Doom

  • Snap map update with logic options single player additions and lots more.
  • 2 new multiplayer modes, Exodus (a 1 flag CTF style game) and Sector a multi zone capture game
  • Unto the evil – the first premium dlc with 3 new multiplayer maps called Offering, Cataclysm and Ritual. A new playable demon called Harvester and a new gun, as well as new taunts and armour sets.

Also

  • Dishonoured 2 announced with a big gameplay reveal and a release date of November 11th 2016, special edition collectors are available with some toys and additions for the big time fan, for a short time pre-orders will also get you a copy of the first game.
  • A reboot of Prey, set on a spaceship with a psychologically thriller twist, a very impressive trailer was shown but not what looked like in game footage#
  • Quake Champions – arena shooter coming to PC
  • fallout shelter – new enemy battle and more content and will be available to play on PC

Loads more conferences and news to come! Can’t wait to see what else comes up

 

 

Snapshot – 5 minutes with Charles Barker

I wonder how many of the people involved in other gaming films actually session them? I don’t mean “oh yeah, I’ve played Call of Duty, its my favourite.” big grin, smile to camera. I’m talking about “Ha ha. Yes I’ve played Call of Duty… till my eyes bled at 4 am“. dead pan stare into the abyss. Well, maybe that’s a bit too far but I’m sure you get what I mean. I got to see The Call Up recently, a new film and first time feature from Charles Barker. He has a screenwriting award, Brit list winner in 2011, and a host of film awards from ‘Most original idea’ to ‘Overall winner’ from international film festivals. He has also worked on game development and plays games, especially first person shooters, himself. So, as I enjoyed the film, I took up the opportunity to have Charles answer a few questions. Below are his answers and as I read through them I now understand why I enjoyed the film, the first hand experience shows through.

TiX – Are you a gamer yourself?

Charles – Very much so, although I have children now which tends to curtail my gaming time. An alluring, unplayed Doom sits on the coffee table, quietly mocking my life choices.

TiX – Where did the concept of the film come from?

Charles – Playing COD into the early hours I’d start to think that if this was real I’d be some super solider, taking on all comers. Then I wondered what I’d actually be like in a combat situation, with my life really at stake. I’d probably be rubbish. Rocking back and forth in a corner, praying for it to stop. The Call Up is about that gap between what a gamer thinks they’d be like and what they’d really be like when put to the test. I started to think about how someone would devise a VR/AR game like this and came up with helmets and suits that could give this amazing, life-like, immersive experience – and would also be a deadly trap.

TiX – What games, if any, had an influence on the film?

Charles – Again COD – I was also a huge fan of Medal of Honor back in the day. The rules of the game within my film should be immediately recognisable to anyone who’s played this kind of thing. If you get shot you can heal yourself with a medipac, enemies and their arsenal of weaponry become increasingly fiendish as the game progresses. There was a great opportunity to play with recognisable shooter tropes and hopefully this brings a sense of fun to the film. But of course it’s a balance and I had to restrain my inner gamer so a wider audience could also enjoy this film.

TiX – I know you have done some short films and picked up some awards along the way but how was it working on your first feature film?

Charles – It was both tough and incredibly exciting, nothing really prepared me for it. It was a 5-week shoot, which was hugely ambitious for a high-concept film like this. But I had an amazingly talented team who really got behind the project. And somehow by working long hours and a six-day weeks we got through it. I had no idea action (shooting and blowing stuff up) takes so long to shoot and then is on the screen for such a short time!

TiX – Having worked on a game in development and now a feature film, how much difference is there working on the mediums to get your story across?

Charles – The obvious difference is that games are participatory while films are passive. But the cinema I write is all about set pieces and revealing character through action. This is a certain kind of storytelling that has elements it shares with gaming. That said, films tend to have one individual who writes the story, while the concept and story for games tend to be created in house by a team of developers. Developers have a much better understanding about what will create a great gameplay experience. And then, as a screenwriter, I help flesh out the story and characters so that the player has more empathy and ultimately a more immersive experience. The projects I’ve worked on are very much story-based and are still in development so I can’t go into too much detail here. But think The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. For me those games show how you can combine the best of both the storytelling of film and the intense participatory nature of gaming to create a magical hybrid.

Disclaimer: I am making sweeping generalizations of both the film and game industry to try and give a simple answer!

I’m pretty sure that I’d be right in saying the majority of people who play first person shooters have had the ‘What would I really be like in this situation?” thought, I know I have. Its this sort of thinking, his experiences in gaming, that I can relate to that really sold the film. The concept is very cool and I’m on-board with that but its all the little bits that make it. In Gamer (major spoiler – its the only good bit) there is the one moment a player tea-bags another, and you laugh because its real and you’ve almost certainly experienced yourself or done it online. In The Call Up the whole film is littered with little moments like that.

Thank you Charles for your time

THE CALL UP is in UK cinemas from 20th May and on DVD & Digital 23rd May

DVD Hyperlink: http://amzn.to/1qq6HNn

Cinema hyperlink: https://www.ourscreen.com/film/The-Call-Up

 

The Call Up: Cinematic Trailer released

‘The Call Up’ is a film about a group of Elite Gamers who win the ultimate prize, a group event in top of the range virtual reality the likes of which has never been seen. However all is not quite as it should be, what is supposed to be a dream come true turns into a nightmare as they must face down, for them ‘virtual’ reality couldn’t be more real.

It stars Parker Sawyers of ‘Southside With You’, Max Deacon of ‘Into the Storm’, and Morfydd Clark of ‘Pride and Prejudice Zombies’. It is directed and written by Charles Barker.

THE CALL UP is in UK cinemas from 20th May and on DVD & Digital 23rd May. 

THE CALL UP - POSTER

Video Games – Culturally significant and historically awesome.

A quest awaits this intrepid explorer. One must brave through the dark sub-lairs of an evil city filled with Rogues and thieves into the crypts of a collection institute to survey the antiquities and report back to the leader. . . .Or IRL, my editor asked me to go to see a new video game display at a museum. The Museum of London in fact, where I learned that video games are being looked at in an entirely new way.

I met with Laura Jackson, the media officer for the MoL, who walked me through the museum towards the new display they have. As we walked she told me how video games are a bit of a hot topic in the museum world and that a debate has been going on about the inescapable, and now somewhat substantial, world of gaming. How the games are being viewed as collectable acquisitions that are now culturally significant. She then introduced me to the digital curator, Foteini Aravani, who was stood down by the display, a small section with the physical copy’s of the games and information on them and the development and a section of four retro titles being run on emulators. I was very interested by what they both had to say on the subject and found it eye opening that the games world was now being viewed from a historical and cultural viewpoint, not just you and your buddies discussing the best games of all time, but a scholar in a museum saying, yes these are a significant part of our social history and need to be recorded as such and not just a footnote in life, but a whole subjection in human history. Brilliant. Who would have guessed that from the humble beginnings of ‘Pong’ or ‘Zork’ would come record breaking developments that top the world entertainment industries for profit and growth. Deadpool is the biggest ‘R’ rated film in American film history with 135 million Dollars in a three day weekend. Big whoop, GTA V made over 800 million in 24 hours. Some significance there, for sure.

 

defintely not to be confused with 'Streets of Rage'...vastly different.
Definitely not to be confused with ‘Streets of Rage’…vastly different.

 

Here is my chat with Foteini about the display now on at the museum of London, it is in the Showspace temporary display and is there until the 28th of April. The London Games festival runs until the 10th of April across venues in London.

TIX –  Hello and thank you for meeting with me Foteini, I was wondering if you could tell me about the display and collection?

Foteini – Yes. This is a new collecting area for the museum and its part of the digital collections. Digital collections are a new area that we started collecting a couple of years ago and encompass all new media. Like digital recordings, films, video’s, social media, photographs and now video games. This area, as every collection in the museum, documents London and tells the story of London in a different way. We wanted to find a more interactive and engaging way to do that, to tell the story, and we thought the immersion value that video games provide is the best way to capture the fluidity of the city. As the city evolves day by day, its a great way to show how the depictions of London change from the very early text based adventures, no visuals or pictures to the very advanced 3D renderings of the city. At the same time we wanted to capture the contribution of Londoners in video game development. So, in this collection we wanted to show the beginnings of games made by Londoners , the 16 year olds in their PJ’s in their bedrooms having just bought the first ZX spectrum and they started programming and where we are today.

TiX – How did the display come about?

Foteini – Showspace, this area here, is a temporary display area where we showcase new acquisitions. This new collecting area is very different in terms of what we are collecting in the museum. Video games have been in the spotlight the last few years when MoMA (Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan) and they began a huge debate in the museum world if video games can be in the same collection as a Picasso or a Monet. Since then the debate has gone on between curators, what are video games? Are they art? Are they not art?  Are they a museum object or artefacts? What are they.

Here at the museum of London, video games are part of the social history collection and is seen as another way to document the history of London. We treat video games as museum objects, we acquire we collect the physical item that becomes part of the collection. As well as this we have started  a research project on the digital preservation of the old video games. How best to preserve a medium that is dying or bout to die. How to we can preserve that in the long term. We are currently experimenting with emulation a lot, using Raspberry Pi’s to run older games and of course, how to display all of this.

werewolves of London, one of the four playable games on show through Raspberry Pi Emulators
Werewolves of London, one of the four playable games on show through Raspberry Pi Emulators

Tix – That’s really interesting to hear from a gamers perspective that video games are now being viewed as a wider and more significant part of society..

Foteini – I have to admit I am not a gamer myself, so I see video games from a completely different perspective and I am really interested in the point of view of the gamer. In my mind and as a cultural institution the museum wants to ensure that the preservation of something which has a very limited life span is done properly. You have to be careful to see what is significant and what isn’t from a cultural perspective, you have two articles which have the same life span, but one may be a hugely significant piece and one may not. For that the perspective of the game players is very important to reflect on the correct collection.

TiX – Is the timing of the display any thing to do with the upcoming London games festival?

Foteini – Yes, (laughs) definitely. The Major of London has announced a three year project on video games. It has a business side to it and a cultural side, every year for the next three years there is to be a London games festival and we at the museum here are part of this. We are hosting and helping organise a cultural summit on video games it takes place here on the 8th of April which we will be speaking at as well. We wanted to bring together cultural institutions to see what they are doing around collecting video games.

We wanted this display to correspond with the festival and we wanted to showcase the new acquisitions alongside. It is also to say ‘this is the beginning’ the real work on the collections from us has been in the last 8 months or so, so its very new to us and is an ongoing collective project within the criteria for us, which is depictions of London and Londoners.

TiX – It really is great to see the recognition of video games from a historical perspective. I’ve had a look around and think the interactive section is my favourite bit, what do enjoy most out of the display?

Foteini –  Well, again, I’m not a gamer but what intrigues me the most is the text based adventure games in the interactive section. They mesmerise me. My favourite is ‘Hampstead’, it was published in 1984 and is in the subject matter of the game is basically a social critique of Thatcherism and the 80’s in England. The point of the game is to climb up the social ladder and attain ‘Hampstead’ which is the well to-do area of the time, the peak of London living. To do it you have to find a good job, find nice clothes marry the right person all in your quest to be accepted and attain Hampstead living. Its interesting historically as the view of Hampstead then and now hasn’t changed much so the social views of the time are reflected in the game. I love the fact that there are no visuals and or images of London, but using your imagination, much like reading a book, this really triggers about this city just through text. It’s also very political and has commentary in the game which is another reflection of the attitudes of the time. Its all very British.

Four classic games for you to try out, i liked werewolves in London, the music was ... Intense in a way only 8 bit sound can be.
Four classic games for you to try out, I liked werewolves in London, the music was … Intense in a way only 8 bit sound can be.

As I mentioned above, I very much enjoyed the talk and to hear about the new perspective on games from the museum. I also had great fun playing on the emulators that they had for the four titles in the display, if you like retro games or just want to know more about London’s contributions and history in game you should pop down, the display is small but nicely put together and the emulators can keep you there for a while. I will now be looking out for the digital collections of other museums to see who and where will also be making a show of video games and there significance. Well, the culture was nice and the people are lovely but ‘The Division’ calls to me and I’m not quite at DZ rank 50 yet, so….. bye.

Oh yeah, Happy gaming!

Interview: Paul Coleman at the DiRT Rally showcase

DiRT Rally released today and I was lucky enough to be in South bank, London, where they held a launch event to celebrate this brilliant Rally game. The square at the South bank centre was covered with Rally cars from the Subaru Impreza to the classic Audi Quattro it was a good collection.

As well as the awesome Rally icons, they had consoles running the game for anyone to play and a simulator running a time-trial stage. The simulator had a 280 degree surround screen and a hydraulic chair fitted with racing seat, pedals and a flappy-paddle gearbox. For the quickest time of the day the prize was a Crazykart in DiRT Rally livery. It was all pretty cool and the game looked stunning, especially on the surround screen, I watched someone sit down to have their turn, taking in the game stage as they made a strong run on the time-trial… until he clipped a tree on a jump and flipped into the woods, game over buddy.

This chap had a flying start, so flying in fact a trip to the tree's ended his run.
This chap had a flying start, so flying in fact a trip to the tree’s ended his run.

I happened to get lucky and the Chief games designer, Paul Coleman, was on hand. He had a bit of time and we had a chat, turns out he is very interesting bloke. Not only has he led a team to release a brilliant game but he happens to actually co-drive Rally cars too. As anyone who plays FORZA knows, personal experience goes a long way when making a realistic driving game. So, as per the norm with my little chats I have laid it out below for you to scan over, Ignore my waffle, it’s Paul who has the interesting things to say.

TiX – Hey Paul, we are here at South bank, you’ve got the game out now, must feel pretty good to see it finished?

Paul – Yeah, its been a long road. We started in 2012 to get the prototype out and then into early access and stuff in early ’15 and then went from there. But in terms of it as a notion floating through my head, it’s what I got into the games industry to do, to make the best Rally game ever made and I genuinely think we’ve achieved that with DiRT Rally, although as a perfectionist there is plenty more I’d like to do in the future! but, yeah, I feel like I’ve finally made that game that I’d set out to make, so yeah. It’s been a long road but we have done some pretty ground breaking stuff with the way we simulate the cars and it’s laid a pretty good foundation for the future.

TiX – A career passion achieved, can I ask what’s so ground breaking about it in comparison to any other Rally game I’ve played?

Paul – so I think the key difference is the way we have simulated the surface, a lot of other racing games out there, they don’t need to worry about the surfaces at all and when you look at competitors out there they have quite a primitive approach to the surface simulation. We’ve actually studied a lot of university papers on fluid dynamics and then simplified that down to something that will run in real time on consoles, but ultimately we simulate the way the tyre cuts into the surface, when you spin the wheels or when you slide the car, and then find the grip underneath. That’s why you see Rally drivers throw the car around, it’s to find that grip under the surface. So there are hundreds of surfaces you get in Rally stages around the world and we can get a very close rendition of what those surfaces are like to drive on. Then we’ve done all the extra stuff required to simulate the car on top of that. You know, for a Rally game it’s very important to get the surface right and that’s why, I think, that we ‘feel’ different to other Rally games out there.

TiX – Very impressive, I had no idea that you went into so much level of research. I’ve been a long time Rally fan and Rally game fan, Colin McRae was my first. . .

(Paul – Yeah, me too)

TiX – … And I’ve always been a fan of the DiRT games, but what I loved most was the straight Rally, not the Rallycross, but the straight Rally, after the last title did you want to make this a pure Rally game?

Paul – Well, no, what we wanted to do was focus on the authentic side of the sport, but Rally sport in general, and Rally is obviously the primary aspect of that. We know a lot of our fans spend their time playing that, we knew that from the telemetry we got out of our previous games, but the way that we represented Rallycross was quite fictional in our previous games. That’s why it was really important for us to work with the FIA world Rally Cross Championship. To get the authentic side of the sport across, So, the circuits we have now are real circuits, the cars that we have now are real cars, there’s noting made up about it. it’s why we went to Pikes Peak for hill climb, which had traditionally been trailblazer in DiRT series because, again, that’s the authentic rendition of that form of the sport. I guess, I would have probably made a full on Rally game with nothing else in there but I think it was important to have that extra colour in there to make a more rounded experience. If we had given players just Rally, Rally, Rally it might have felt pretty channelled.

TiX – Now I spotted Liam Doran’s car outside as well as a few others, where you working with him on the game from a drivers perspective?

Paul – So, Liam has worked with us in the past, we started working with him on DiRT 2 actually, and that came about from working getting his dad’s cars into the game, his dad said ‘well, my son is just starting out in the sport but he could be in it’ then he won his first x-games gold medal and in DiRT 3 we worked with him more heavily. He then helped give us some feedback on the very early prototype work. The majority of the prototyping we did was with our new simulation programmers and we had John Tucker, the guy that drives the Rally car that I co-drive in, he came in and worked as a project manager for us for a year. So, we had that constant bouncing between prototype to test driver and back. That’s how we arrived at what we have now. Since then we have had validation with other drivers, like Liam and Kevin Abbring from Hyundai WRC try our game and really enjoy it. There are a number of drivers out there using DiRT Rally in the off season and that’s what really validates what we did with John in the studio. It’s that sense that these guys actually appreciate what we’ve done to the point they are willing to use it as a training tool.

TiX – Er, couldn’t help but notice you dropped in that you co-drive a Rally car? that’s pretty cool. is that where the need to create the best ever Rally game comes from? did you want to capture what you feel when you’re in the car?

Paul – I’ve been making Rally games since 2003 and was doing it as an armchair enthusiast, someone who loved the sport but it was always from the spectators angle then in 2011 I Got the opportunity to co-drive in a Rally car for real. It was quite an amateur spec but it was still a Subaru Impreza so it was quick. The forces you feel in the car, the preparation you have to do before an event, doing the fuel charts and map prep and all of that kind of stuff, the chats in the bar after with the other drivers who ‘could’ve won’ if it wasn’t for that pesky whatever. The first hand experience of the sport. it opened my eyes to stuff we hadn’t been doing in previous games that was very simple for us to do, lots of little things and then things we had been doing in previous games that was completely superfluous to the authenticity of the sport. So, I had this role as lead game designer where I was making decisions as to what was important in the game and what wasn’t and I could bring in my first hand experience and fuse it with our work. so I could represent it not just from the gaming perspective but from the sport perspective as well and it made a huge difference. There are a few things that I take for granted now but actually were key in making DiRT Rally differential from what we did before. So yeah, in short it did have a real impact on what we where doing.

TiX – Very cool to see someone very involved in both sides of this project not general practice is it?

Paul – No, I think the only other is Gran Turismo, he goes out and drives all the cars, but not anything from the Rally genre. It’s weird, as a games designer I already have a cool job.

TiX – yes, you do…

Paul – then I get back to my desk after a weekend of Rally and i’m like ‘aw man, i’m bored’. A reality check can be needed.

TiX – Well, your game is out today so time to relax or is it time do some more driving?

Paul – well, interestingly one of community members has just started Rally driving based on having played the game in early access, so I reached out to him and said if you need a co-driver then let me know. He came back and said ‘yeah, that would be really cool’ so I’m actually going to start co-driving for him. It’s been a community driven game through early access and the passion and drive they have shown us, to open their hearts and minds to us and we have really listened this time and I think that’s shown in the way the game has been received. We used to get great critic scores but the player score lagged behind a bit and that never sat right with me, but now we have a user score that’s equal to, if not better, than our metacritic score.

wonder if he won in the ended?
wonder if he won in the end

I said my thanks and wandered off back through the showcase towards the tube, stopping to look again at the simulator with the almost endless queue of people waiting patiently for that ultimate Rally experience. As I went through the crowds it struck me that I had just met a driven individual, clearly very passionate about his hobby and it shows in the work from Codemasters. DiRT Rally is available now from the xbox store and retailers, I give it a strong recommendation after playing today and will be buying a copy for myself – especially after checking out what our own Rich Berry had to say on it in his review.

Happy gaming everyone

DOOM open beta incoming

Another open beta from Bethesda and ID announced via the DOOM twitter this morning. For the DOOM mulitplayer this follows on from the closed beta at the wekend. It’s great to see them opening up these beta’s, as someone who has longed for this game every taste I get is good. Each day we step closer to release and the portal to Hell opening up once more. I am seriously looking forward to this, its very faced paced action and it harks back to classic shooters, whilst implimenting some of the more modern mechanics that go into new shooters. I Already love it!

Unbox Preview & Interview

I left my fortress of solitude (one bedroom flat) and ventured into the light and real world today. It was grey and drizzly and about as real as London gets, sweaty commuter tubes (that’s the underground train or ‘subway’ for anyone across the pond) and blank faces of people who are about as animated as an NPC from GTA 3. I’m making this journey because I have been invited up to town for a hands on with Unbox, the upcoming title from Prospect Games, and a chat with the lead developer Andrew Bennison.

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Unbox is a charming and fun little physics platformer (physics fun as described by Prospect games. In which you control a box. (that’s right, a box. trust me. its way more fun than it initially sounds) You’re a sentient box from GPS, the global post service, which has self delivering boxes. Except they’re all a bit dumb and so you are the first ‘smart’ sentient box being tested for delivery capabilites. Then off you tootle, rolling and bouncing off on your travels as the first of a new bread. Its an open world explorer with a story line through it. You get different things to deliver to different places and it has puzzles, challenges and collectables along the way. I didn’t get to do any of the story line really, (Andrew talked me through some of it as we played) but what I did do was immensely fun. Who knew? But bouncing a box around on a desert island making deliveries whilst occasionally shooting fireworks at other boxes is a lot of fun.

We sat down to play and I have to say I quite liked the game from the beginning, it reminded me of old classics like Kula world and Crash Bandicoot with very bright and colourful graphics. Its quite a simple game in premise and control, but has its challenges and was fun to play. Andrew talks of big boss fights to come at the end of each of the worlds through the story mode. As I go through the tutorial he guides me up over a hill that looks over the first game world, I was pleasantly surprised, the view from the top looked over a sprawling collection of islands all of which where part of the open world. Its the first world of four, set in an island paradise. He keeps a few details to his chest about the later worlds, only saying that the 2nd world is high up on the mountain tops. All in all its pretty good fun.

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We sat for around an hour, tinkering with the tutorials, bouncing around the beautiful island paradise with calypso music in the background. There are customisations for your box, hats and designs to add your own touch. As we played we talked over the game, where its been and where its going. Below is a breakdown of our conversation, put into order. My excitement in playing the game left me a bit all over the place with my questions, but we got the bases covered. When we finished he showed me a video of the multi-player to come (I was secretly hoping to play some of the multi-player, but I guess some things are better left to a touch of mystery) it looks like a great party game, one you can play with 4 people sat on a sofa, cursing each other out as you race and battle in game modes not too dissimilar from the likes of Mario Kart. Its clear the sort of game they are looking to emulate, in my opinion they have done a good job especially considering its still in its Alpha stages. I, for one, am excited to see the final result. Whilst hesitant to get nailed down to a release date or release quarter, the publicist seemed positive for a 2016 release.

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TIX – ‘Hi Andrew, thanks for meeting with Thisisxbox and giving us some hands on with your game Unbox. can you tell me about it and what we’re going to play today?’

Andrew – ‘Sure, Unbox is about the ultimate postal service, self delivering cardboard boxes, its a comedy physics game with a big single player component. A sort of ‘Mario’ style system. You’re jumping through worlds, beating enemies defeating bosses and then on the flip side, a local multi-player which is a sort of a throwback to nineties game-play, split screen where your battling each other and racing each other. We’re going to be focusing on the former today More of the single player worlds.’

Tix – ‘Sounds great, I noticed you made a point of saying local multi-player. With a major push towards on-line multi-player in most games was that a conscious decision?

Andrew – Yes, for several reasons really. The primary reason for us going into development was the fact that this is, kinda of, a love letter to all the games we played in the nineties. We wanted to make a local multi-player game because we noticed those experiences are slipping away. If you look on forums and read on line about the responses to certain games removing local multi-player it was negative. that’s where people are being pushed too. That’s where the mega money is. That leaves a space for us, we can’t do massive online multi-player. We can do local multi-player.

So, then we started to get the game out to more events we realised kids and familys became the core market. We’ve made this game originally for 25-35’s, because it reminds us of what we played when we were kids, but we realised kids today don’t know these kinds of games. There aren’t so many local multi-player games like this and they loved it. The parents loved it, playing together for fun. There’s no online leader boards. no connectivity with the outside world. When you play it, it’s just you and you’re friends. We just don’t think online is important for this game.

TIX – OK. The single player story, how long are we talking in terms of length?

Andrew – in terms of straight gameplay, 5-8 for the core storyline. but if you want to find the hours of extra content, thats something we leave the players up to. The idea is all the worlds are quite outlandish places where deliveries are difficult, testing the new box to see if it is up to the task. Whilst doing this you will come up against the ‘bad guys’ (styled like little greasers from the 50’s, but still animated boxes themselves) they have a big boss leader who you will fight in ‘boss fights’ each time you fight him he changes in his style. For example in the first world, it’s just him as a giant enemy, but in the second he has his own helicopter that he fly’s about in. There are loads of challenges, puzzles and collectables to go after and we are trying to hide stuff all over the place, I would love it if in twenty years, someone jumped up said ‘hey, I’ve found this thing hidden over here’

TIX – (laughs) you’ll do well to keep something hidden for twenty years. Sounds great fun. From what I’ve played so far it looks brilliant, what’s the game built on?

Andrew – The Unreal engine, which is a bit different in itself. Most people associate the unreal engine with twitch style shooters, online mulitplayer play and maybe more drab and dreary environments suited to those games. the first thing we did was turn up all the contrasts and colours making it as vibrant and colourful as possible. It’s been fun to use and we where all experienced with the engine anyway so it made sense to us.

TIX – on the development, have you seen many ups and downs with the production?

Andrew – I think, probably, the biggest down was that original single player, that we worked on for quite a while and it just didnt really captivate or engage we had to very rapidly change, In fact I basically had a eureka moment, in about June where it was like, wait! this game could be like a Mario world system and when we made that switch the whole team was asking ‘Andrew, do you really want to make that kind of switch this late in the game?’ I said yes, because its going to pay off. After two months of very very focused work we ended up at the bright colorful version we see now, instead of the drab grey box we started off with. So from a design standpoint that was a low point cause we didn’t know if it was going to work But we ended up being validated in our decision through the events we got to go to and show off the new design and changes. At minecon the story was getting 30 seconds of look in, at EGX people where playing it for an hour. so we got that ‘Yes, ok that was right’.

TIX – In today’s gaming industry we see a lot of DLC and micro-transactions, what’s the model your using for this when its released?

Andrew – Oh, very traditional, you buy the game, you get the content. simple as that. we had some discussions over maybe doing some accessory packs, as you’ve seen there are customisations for your box. But we have no grand plans. If people like it and are asking for multi-player maps over anything else, then we can build some. but we haven’t got anything worked on now that won’t be in the game at release its not a big overarching plan of development. if anything it’ll be reactive. if people want more hats will give them hats. (hats are on of the custom options for you box. I had a crown)

TIX – so I think I’ve run out of time now, but as one last question. If GPS was a real life postal service what would its tag lag line be.

Andrew – The best postal service in the world . . . .Mostly.

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So, that was my time with Unbox and chat with Andrew. He is keen and knowledgeable over his game and very passionate about it. That’s all very clear when he is talking about it, we discussed a lot more but I am limited by space so have left you with the core of the conversation. I genuinely liked his charming little game, I’ll be looking forward to more information on it and a potential release date, look out for Prospect Games and Unbox you can check out the game at the website http://www.unboxgame.com/  I’m back off to my dark dingy room to remould my ass grove on the chair, I’ve been out of it for at least three hours now and I’m getting too accustomed to actual reality.

Till the next time. Happy Gaming Everyone