Behind the scenes of Team Fortress 2′s Demoman

Team Fortress 2 Demoman Concept ArtValve’s Team Fortress 2 blog is becoming a rather interesting hotpot of reading material, frequently posting tidbits about how they approach all sorts of development issues such as character design, creating a new map theme (as seen in the latest patch’s new maps), and various other things.

Today’s interesting article concerns the Demoman, and how exactly they came up with his final look. Included are nine pieces of concept art showing how he could have ended up looking, all of which are still pretty awesome. You can kind of see TF2′s other characters in the faces of some of them, making it obvious why these mock-ups were scrapped.

I personally love these behind-the-scenes type things, especially when it’s about a game I love as much as TF2. I really hope Valve publishes more of these for the other characters and whatnot, because over the game’s nine or so years of development there must be an absolute mountain of juicy concept art and such.  Heck, they have whole versions of the game that were just abandoned!

In unrelated news, I’m currently finishing off a little project that I’ve been postponing for absolutely ages. I’ve been resisting working on any other stuff (ie: this blog’s long overdue redesign) as an incentive to sort it out, but clearly that didn’t work too well! Still, about done now — just in time to cover the continuation of the horrific abandonment of the game in question by Activision Blizzard.

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Brutal Legend loses publisher, game’s future uncertain

Double Fine’s Brutal Legend, designed by Tim SchaferThose who’ve been following Double Fine since their inception towards the beginning of the millennium are no doubt familiar with the tremulous development of their first critically acclaimed game, Psychonauts. After hitting the later end of development, Double Fine’s seemingly secure publisher — Microsoft — pulled out and left the game in development limbo. The game’s future lay uncertain for quite some time, but fortunately there was a happy ending as a smaller publisher, Majesco, took the game on. It came out after plenty of delays, and most of us loved it.

Looks like fate is being a particularly cruel bitch at the moment, because would you believe that after having a seemingly rock solid publishing agreement Vivendi have just gone and pulled out? Kind of, anyway. Activision and Vivendi recently merged, producing Activision Blizzard. This ‘new’ company has been doing all sorts of restructuring, including canning all but five of their big games. Those five games do not include Brutal Legend.

It’s too early to speculate, but hopefully things aren’t as bad as they seem. It’s worth bearing in mind that other seriously weighty titles such as 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand, World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, and Ghostbusters are amongst those abandoned by Activision. I’m guessing they’re going to be aggressively trying to sell these games and licenses considering how far into development they are and how much hype they’ve received. Some of them are pretty much cash cows.

I’m sure we’ll have some more details soon. Hopefully they won’t make us cry.

Update: While not much in the way of details, some new information has some from the head honcho of Double Fine himself, Tim Schafer. To quote: “Brutal Legend is fine”. So there you have it! Hopefully the specifics will be along shortly.

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Wallace and Gromit game coming from Telltale

Wallace and Gromit Game from Telltale GamesIf you fit into any of the following categories:

… then I have some excellent news for you. Telltale Games is making a Wallace and Gromit game!

If you’re not familiar with Telltale, I’d say they’re without a doubt the best crew for the job of turning Wallace and Gromit into the best gaming experience it could possibly be. Telltale is well known for releasing episodic games, beginning with Bone — the second episode of which I reviewed back in 2006. They then moved onto bringing the much-loved Sam & Max back to life, and will soon be releasing a Strong Bad game.

With staff comprised of developers of LucasArts’ old adventure favourites and fans from the community that grew up with those games, everything Telltale’s been putting out since their formation in 2004 has been pretty sweet. There’s every reason to believe that this game will be great, and one of the few film/tv-to-game transitions that’s worth a damn.

There’s not much beyond the announcement and the screenshot above, but this is definitely exciting news that I had to share. I’m certainly excited, anyway!

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Beyond Good and Evil 2 confirmed!

Beyond Good and Evil 2 ScreenshotUpdate: Hot damn! It looks like the rumours were entirely accurate. The sequel has now been officially announced, and comes complete with screenshots (one of which is to the right) and a trailer — check out Joystiq’s full report. This is now very much one of my most anticipated games ever.

Original Post:

This isn’t the first time I’ve written a post like this, but it looks like a fresh rumour of an in-development Beyond Good and Evil 2 has hit the web — this time originating from a French magazine that interviewed Michel Ancel, the designer of Beyond Good and Evil.

Beyond Good and Evil ArtAccording to Kotaku, a dozen staff have been working on a Beyond Good and Evil sequel’s preproduction for a year. Unfortunately, Ubisoft hasn’t officially given the game the go-ahead — and thus the funding — for full-scale development. It’s unknown why exactly Ubisoft is relunctant to green-light the project despite allowing a lengthy preproduction phase, but at least a sequel is a genuine possibility, right?

If you haven’t actually played Beyond Good and Evil, I’m going to take yet another opportunity to encourage you to do so. It’s regarded as one of the best games ever made by the majority of people who’ve played it, and I’d personally put it right up there with the greats such as Grim Fandango and Psychonauts. Watch the trailer, and then go buy it — preferably for a console.

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First in-game shots of Banjo-Kazooie 3 (Threeie)

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and BoltsBeing a bit of a Banjo-Kazooie fan, I’ve naturally been keeping my eye on the development of the upcoming trilogy-forming sequel. It certainly sounds like it’s shaping up well, with the majority of the original Banjo-Kazooie team running the show and the humour supposedly stepped up a notch to ensure those who’ve grown up since playing the originals aren’t left out.

And now, a bunch of leaked screenshots have hit the web. I have to admit that many of them leave me a little underwhelmed, lacking the bright, happy feel that the original game had (despite the deeply twisted slant). The environments also seem a bit clean to me, lacking much of the rich texture the previous games had. I do really like the two screenshots I included in this post though, so clearly it’s not a lost cause.

My main concern is that Rare seem to be unsure about what art direction they want to take. One of the best things about Banjo-Kazooie is that it was largely a cartoon-like game, with bright, blue skies and beautifully textured areas. Some of these new screenshots — this one in particular — seem to be an awkward blend of photo-realistic textures and cartoon styling; and the lighting is very cold, painting harsh shadows on everything. It just doesn’t sit right on my eyes.

Still, it’s important to remember that the game is a long way from release, that not all the screenshots look unappealing, and that the original Banjo team — who also developed the eye candy that was Viva Piñata — are at the helm, so things could change a lot visually.

Guess we’ll see! You can check out Shacknews’s image gallery for all 17 shots.

Update: OK, I’m significantly more worried about this game now. Some video footage has been unveiled, along with a stack of new information — including the new title of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts. The game’s Wikipedia article has been appropriately fleshed out, incorporating these new details.

The most startling bits of information are the revelations that only “20% of the game retains traditional platforming elements”, and that all the moves (including those seen in Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie) have been scrapped. Instead the emphasis is now on building vehicles to do stuff, with over 1,600 available parts. So clearly there’s going to be a heavy puzzle/construction element.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and BoltsNow, while it does sound like Rare is trying to do something new here and coming up with inventive gameplay as they did in the N64 days, with Banjo-Kazooie 3 I kind of wanted something more conventional and iterative. If they wanted to produce a game totally detached from the series’ history, they should have produced a new world to go along with it. All this technology and focus on building stuff just doesn’t seem like it fits in with the old Banjo-Kazooie world, which had quite a fantastical, fairy tale tone to it. But then as I mentioned originally, these screenshots don’t really convey that old atmosphere anyway.

So I’ll admit that I’m disappointed, but I do think a good game is still likely to come out of this. The team responsible for it is good, as shown with Viva Piñata. And this isn’t the first time Rare’s mixed up two genres, with the Nintendo 64′s Blast Corps fusing action and puzzles to almost perfection — another game that’s dying for a current-gen sequel.

Perhaps Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts’ mixture of traditional platforming, construction, and puzzles will turn out to be great. However, it’s going to be a far cry from the sequel that many fans of the series were expecting, and I suspect that initial shock will frighten many people away; the very average Kameo and sequel to the legendary Perfect Dark have caused people to have significantly less faith in Rare.

Update #2: The head of design for Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts has been interviewed by Games Radar, and I have to admit that it has made me a little more confident about this game being good. A lot of the changes I was initially surprised by are justified somewhat, so it’s well worth reading if you’re an old Banjo fan like myself.

Update #3: There’s now a mondo-size interview with the Rare chaps about the game available on the Rare Witch Project. It goes further towards pacifying me and making me look forward to the game, for sure.

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Team Fortress 2: Meet the Scout

Team Fortress 2: Meet the ScoutWell, Valve’s done it again! Following the superb Meet the Heavy, Meet the Soldier, Meet the Engineer, and Meet the Demoman (My favourite!), the latest treat gives you a glimpse into the personality of the ever-annoying Scout. As usual, the timing and general cinematic quality is excellent.

The Scout has always been my most disliked character in Team Fortress 2. There’s just something about the way he looks, sounds, and taunts that can really get on your nerves when he manages to slip past your personal defences and leaves you as a pile of mushy flesh. This video really doesn’t do much to change that! I felt sorry for the poor Heavy at the end.

Valve’s videos are always worth watching, so be sure to check it out.

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Mario Kart Wii — my impressions

Mario Kart WiiWith Mario Kart Wii having arrived today, I’ve spent some time going through the four (of eight) cups available to you at the beginning and have come to some conclusions. To put it simply, I don’t think I’m going to spend much time with it.

While my recent countless hours spent on the PlayStation 3 will be a big influence, one of the predominant factors constantly getting on my nerves is just how dated the game looks. I’m not going to sugarcoat the reality: Mario Kart Wii looks almost technologically identical to Mario Kart: Double Dash, which is quite underwhelming when you recall that Double Dash was released five years ago.

What makes it even more underwhelming is that the vast majority of the play mechanics are also the same. Half of the 32 maps are directly lifted from past Mario Kart games, which I’ve played a billion times before. The remaining half are new, but don’t really innovate much beyond what we’ve seen before. Map elements that were once impressive such as the big barrel that launches you up the mountain return, but are actually executed less impressively and just fall flat. Moments that made me go “Wow!” and smile in Double Dash entirely fail this time around.

Mario Kart WiiThere only seems to be one new item added to the series too, which is the thundercloud (not to be confused with the lightning strike). Otherwise it’s the same items, half the same maps, and the same general racing mechanics. There’s almost nothing that significantly drives the series forward, with the changes that have been made — such as the addition of motorbikes — feeling very insignificant.

I realise this is sounding very critical, so I’ll clarify: Mario Kart Wii is not a bad game. Instead, it’s one that rests far too heavily on its laurels and fails to innovate. While Mario Kart and even Nintendo games in general do often reuse past elements and we’re normally fine with it, in this case it just doesn’t work. I’m not excited by the game at all, with a constant feeling of “I’ve seen this before” creeping around in my head.

The only thing that actually makes the game feel different to Double Dash is the steering wheel, which is admittedly very well done. Everything else is so derivative that I just cannot genuinely enjoy the game, despite me really, really wanting to. I suppose someone who’s never really played Mario Kart before will have a lot of fun with this, but for series veterans it brings little to the table. It almost looks like they directly imported the animations and whatnot from Double Dash when it comes to many of the items (bananas, shells, bombs, etc); they look and behave exactly the same.

Mario Kart WiiI guess a lot of the blame lies on the Wii itself, though. The developers were clearly limited by the technology, which has allowed them to do little in the way of fancy environment physics (a huge part of modern racing games) and core graphical beauty. The only real distinction between the graphics in Mario Kart Wii and Double Dash is the addition of a bloom lighting effect, which does little to help the game escape looking like a last-generation relic on today’s high-definition televisions.

Perhaps those who’re more serious about their Mario Kart will get more mileage out of Mario Kart Wii than me, but I for one am really disappointed. Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash felt like they really pushed the series forward, but Mario Kart Wii simply doesn’t. Even Double Dash didn’t introduce that much new stuff, but due to its graphics and course complexity being far beyond Mario Kart 64′s it still felt very different and new. I have a hard time seeing how anyone could get the same thrill from Mario Kart Wii that they felt when they tried Mario Kart 64 or Double Dash for the first time.

One final thing worth noting is the online play: it’s pretty good. The execution is much better than Mario Kart DS’s online component, although the core online play experience hasn’t changed much. Still, it’s a feature that may enable you to look past all the shortcomings mentioned above if you’ve never really experienced Mario Kart online before.

In short: this is the best Mario Kart game yet, but may not bring enough to the table to impress you as much as its predecessors did. If you’re new to Mario Kart then definitely pick it up, but if not I recommend trying it out before buying.

Update: I’ve bought this month’s copy of Edge and it looks like they share a lot of my discomfort with the game, awarding it 6/10 and clearly picking up on the same “I’ve seen this before” vibe. Their chief complaint seemed to be the tracks themselves, which are much wider than in past Mario Kart games. Nintendo were obviously trying to cater for the new maximum of 12 carts, but in the process removed much of the furious bashing and overtaking that was present in the past. They also disapprove of the removal of normal balloon battle mode, and the way that trying to mix the feel of online/offline play has resulted in both being not as good as they could have been (tracks too big for a few people, AI ruining online games, etc).

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