Pre-vision: Blackmore

Blackmore London

Blackmore concept art

Before Metal Gear Solid ascended to eminence, one game quantified Hideo Kojima’s design philosophy. Like MGS it was heavily interspersed with film and manga references, from; Blade Runner to The Terminator, from Wicked city to Akira.

Snatcher; for devotees is the highlight in Kojima’s extensive body of work; a graphic novel that created an omnipotent sense of place through a simplistic yet engaging interface. A different kind of storytelling was introduced to the genre, one that personified an outsiders view of Japan, its traditions, its nuances and of course; Japan’s inherent quality to resemble a cyberpunk future.

To localise an English version of Snatcher would be futile; a mind just as meticulous as Kojima’s would be needed. Direct translation of the dialogue word for word would have left a chasm of ambiguity in the story. The subtleties of tonal pronunciation in the Japanese language would be lost; where emphasis is placed on ‘how’ something is said as much as ‘what’ is said. To convey sentiments accurately would be almost impossible, but I did in fact sample those details that Kojima obsessed over. Miraculously, the western release of Snatcher somehow communicates all of those intricacies, carefully and painstakingly ruminated by one man…Jeremy Blaustein.

Blackmore London

Blackmore concept art

Translator, writer, voice director and magician amongst other things, his portfolio has included seminal works such as; Shenmue, Silent Hill 2, Castlevania; symphony of the night, Phoenix Wright, Dark Cloud 2, Suikoden 2 and Valkyrie profile. If that list of games were loved because of a man demanding perfection in himself for somebody else’s work, imagine if that was channelled into his own game. That vision will be realised through his first game; Blackmore; currently seeking Kickstarter funding. Blaustein’s name is enough to warrant backing alone but amalgamated with the team he has assembled, transcends into something even more prodigious.

·         Satoshi Yoshioka; Character design for Snatcher and its spiritual successor; Policenauts

·         Motoaki Furukawa; Composer for Snatcher, Policenauts, Gradius, Super smash Bros

·         David Hayter; Voice of Snake in MGS, screenwriter for Watchmen and X-men

·         Donna Burke; Voice actor for Silent Hill and singer for MGS and Final Fantasy

The graphic adventure is about a woman named Emma Blackmore who inhabits a technologically advanced 1888 London. The time of the Whitechapel murders when the streets were bloodied by the Leather Apron, more commonly known as…Jack the Ripper. She becomes involved in the investigation of the murders with the help of her robot assistant Descartes, all presented in an intricate 2.5D.

Below is an interview with Jeremy about the concept of his vision. Speculation regarding the details of the Blackmore family and the murders are firmly coveted. The only way to uncover the Rippers identity will be to help fund the project and discover for ourselves.

Please back the kickstarter here.

Blackmore character design

Blackmore character design

What design choices are you making by using an isometric view in regards to narrative and puzzle mechanics? Will the scenes be static backgrounds or will they use 3D elements similar to Westwood’s ’97 Blade Runner graphic adventure?

The scenes will not be static backgrounds. I am not familiar with the Blade Runner graphic adventure, but the game will be made in 3D, so you can expect a degree of freedom to zoom and rotate in certain areas. The isometric view will really be used for the main game view but when the player interacts with the environment or with other characters, it will be a much closer view.

Will the ‘Ripper’s’ motivations for murder be historically accurate or refreshed for this new vision of London? If so will the murderer/murders implement the same technology that Emma uses?

 Ha, nice try, but you’re not going to trick me into revealing ANY details of the Ripper murders! I applaud you for your clever investigation tactics though!

Blackmore Prototype

Blackmore Prototype

Are Emma’s family tensions integral to story development or do they just serve as a back story?

Wow, you are good. Emma’s family tensions are an important part of her story and the player will see them played out in the game. That’s all I really want to say at this time.

Is Descartes programmed independent, to be loyal to Emma only or to the Blackmore family as a whole?

You have a real talent for asking tough questions that, unfortunately, I have to duck in order to not reveal things that I think would be more interesting to discover while playing the game. Sorry again.

Blackmore Prototype

Blackmore Prototype

1888 was a year of great innovations; will the atmosphere of Blackmore hint at greater technological advances and how would you execute that when a cyberpunk London would feel new anyway?

Yes, this is an alternative universe London and the technological advances are a bit more impressive than we actually saw in our own 1888. You can expect to see a lot of interesting applications of technology that was theorized at the time. Technology really makes possible anything that can be imagined and in the steampunk world of Blackmore, there was an earlier wave of “internationalization” that sparked a lot of creative technology.

How linear will Blackmore be? Both Snatcher and Policenauts gave the impression of a much larger world outside of the objects you clicked on, Snatchers computer database for instance created this illusion.

Yes, the JORDAN computer was something I was a very big fan of. Of course a game of this type can’t really have “freedom” but I don’t think that’s actually what people want in a game of this type. Rather I think they want to be lost and submerged within the narrative of the story. Having said that, you can expect that wrong turns in the game will lead to different ending and results so it will not be completely linear

 

Neo Kobe Pizza was a tiny detail that made Snatcher much more immersive. Do you plan to modify local nuances of Blackmore’s time period; the quartern loaf or staple meats such as Pheasant or Rabbit into a cyberpunk vision?

Please expect lots of juicy and fun details!

Kojima san stated that “The idea of an open world in 3D is very good, and I would love to do something like Snatcher, but I do not have the time or the means to do so. But if anyone else would like to develop it, I would love it.” Did you ever have ambitions to work on a sequel or a 3D remake like Ash 712 is building? 

Sure I would have loved to be involved with a sequel and for many years I hoped that Mr Kojima would make one. Yes, I am aware of the work that Ash 712 is doing and think it’s fantastic. It’s a testimony to just how deeply Snatcher got into people, isn’t it? That is real evidence for me about a game’s impact on people –how long it stays with them.

I see a similar thing with Silent Hill 2, the game that I was perhaps most closely and intimately involved in the making of. Starting from pre-discussions with R&D to the very thorough process of localization hand-in-hand with Mr Owaku and finally the directing of the actors in the mo-cap and recording studios. Now when I look at the continuing impact and fan devotion, I am blown away.

 

LA Game Space: Inaugural experiments

Daniel Rehn and Adam Robezzoli are poised to change the future of videogames.

The doors are not yet open to their cultural hub for art, design and research but LA Game space is already a seminal venture for neoteric thinking. Their Kickstarter campaign was the epitome of benevolence; securing backers with the creation of 30 never before seen games by coveted developers. Incredulously, a $15 pledge would capture original work by the designers of Hotline Miami (Cactus), Mirror Moon EP (Santa Ragione), Katamari Damacy (Keita Takahashi), The Unfinished Swan (Ben Esposito) and Canabalt (Adam Saltsman) amongst other established creatives. Higher pledging tiers included work by Adventure Time’s creator; Pendleton Ward, Capy’s; Vic Nguyen and pixel artist Eboy.

Sony and Microsoft have both recently embraced indie developers in a bid to capitalise on more protean experiences. Such mainstream exposure is extremely positive but their success will largely be determined by an open-minded consumer, who dares to support ideas outside of the typical AAA space.

image image image

LA/GS is certainly equipped to bridge the familiar and the empirical. The inaugural release of backer dividends has just been delivered and the results are astonishing. The types of experiments offered here are inventive and divergent, imbued with a creative freedom not found in most games. If this is a reflection of what we can expect from the space then we are witnessing an important revelation in the advancement of the videogame.

This venture was always conceived to sustain a global conversation (events will be streamed and archived for free online), The conversation is not only integral to pursue innovation but also to demand a metanoia towards experimentalism. There is always an expectancy that ‘next gen’ games will resemble skyscrapers, that tower over the previous, but that is habitually reserved for graphics, not necessarily theme or content. Polished facades can usurp the promise of a new console turning an investment in the future into a tool for re-visiting (and re-purchasing) the past.

image image update25-coureur_des_bois

LA/GS will stand with a firm commitment to modernism and the credentials of its benefactors galvanize this; Adam Robezzoli lionized games both as an events organizer and as a designer. The presiding founder of Attract mode has also collaborated with illustrator Angie Wang on Wake up! which will appear in a later game pack.

Daniel Rehn is an authority in digital archaeology and preservation, the restless MacArthur award winner also fluctuates between editor of WWWTXT, ANI GIF, Z/Z/Z/, and Playpower. Rehn further extends himself by sharing an art space with Sarah Caluag; X me + Sarah, collaborating with live visuals and real world installations. Sarah’s contribution to LA/GS is understated; working behind the scenes as an advisor but possibly as a third (shadow) partner in the venture? Triforce or not, together they are an influence in exploratory thinking, showcasing demiurgic minds and contemporary visions.

update25-alphabet image image

The advisory board for LA/GS solidifies a discerning reputation. A provident ensemble of mentors; from the amiable Venus Patrol and IGF luminary Brandon Boyer, to the accomplished jinsoo An; curator, researcher and ‘experience’ architect for myriad blue chip companies. They lead a meticulously thought out counsel that will bring lucidity to the creative output.

In an ideal world, the critical and commercial success of a game would not be determined by how accurately it repeats what has been made before, but in its ability to amaze through the courage of originality. The work created here is a bold example of thinking rather than reveling in plagiarism. Hopefully these types of ideas will inspire or amalgamate with the big budget monoliths, so future investments can be based on imagination rather than the tried and tested.

image image image

For now though there is a clear distinction; the next construct of AAA architecture will have us gazing up, amazed by their splendour. I am confident however that LA Game Space will prompt us to look in all directions, and that is more exciting and much more important to advance the medium.

The experimental game pack can be purchased here for a limited time.

image image image

.

Vision: TRIP (PC/Mac)

If you could walk through the mind of an artist would you need distractions to validate that exploration?

Quests, stories and collectibles prompt our journeying and ultimately sustain our desire to ‘win’, but what if there were no pursuits or anecdotes and what if the feat of collecting didn’t return any tangible assets? The foundations of traditional games rely on the inputs of interactivity; jump, push, pull, hit etc. and there is a tendency to disdain visions that do not tick these boxes. But if the obstacle courses and challenges are removed, why would you need them? If we reduce interactivity to a minimum would we still label the work as a game?

TRIP is the projected mind of an artist named Axel Shokk, and it explodes through the screen in aesthetic delirium. The creativity Shokk has explicated on-screen is startling and officiously stands atypical next to other games. Riotous hues punctuate the senses with geometric spikes and impossible stellations, even blades of grass are composed of bar charts that sway gently in the wind. These visuals demand your attention by force feeding you colour and Shokk emphasises this through a pared down interface. Your sole interaction is movement in first person, there are no quests or challenges. You have to look at TRIP because that is all there is to accomplish, but more importantly, that is all you want to do.

LSD Dream emulator, Myst and Journey inspired to deconstruct the controls, leaving only the chromatics and audio to play with. “If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t have been bold enough to strip all gameplay mechanics, games like those pave the way for creative individuals to try new things. I’m just one of those guys trying out something new just for the sake of experimentation.”

There is a creative resonance here with the experimentation of early ZX Spectrum games; like the obtuse forms found in Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner. TRIP features familiar yet Ineffable characters with unique personalities. I question if a lot of this creativity has been lost in the pursuit of realism? “There was a creativity drought in the industry not too long ago, thanks to the recent explosion of indie gaming I see a lot more creative and fresh ideas being tested. These are very exciting times in the world of video games.”

Shokk has stated that Trip is more of an art piece to be observed rather than a game with traditional gameplay. But as developers such as Tale of Tales and The Chinese Room have proven; observation can be a powerful form of interaction, and isn’t the act of discovery a gameplay element in itself? “I strongly believe so, however the audience is still hung up on what constitutes a game. One of the reasons I created TRIP was to shake that ground and bring up the question, at what point can something be considered a game? I’m trying to open boundaries for other developers to get crazy without worrying about backlash, I feel games created in a ‘fuck it’ mentality speak most to me. I don’t think that these games will ever have a broad appeal, but I would rather make one person extremely satisfied than to mildly amuse a hundred.”

In a medium that does not have any real limitations it is hard to comprehend that imagination would not have a broad appeal. The landscape in TRIP inspires curiosity and exploration and there is a fervent desire to see what is around the next abstraction. From caverns and mountains to the brilliant sea of words, TRIP is a cohesive view of the familiar wrapped up in arbitrary geometries. There are sparse collectibles but Shokk states they serve no purpose, even though reaching them inadvertently offers a reward; a new view of the landscape.

If there is one thing missing it is the ability to see the whole of the terrain in its entirety, no matter how high you climb there is a desire to see more, the central mechanic of souvenir would serve the game well if only to accomplish this. Shokk had various ideas he wanted to incorporate to accomplish this; “I actually wanted several mechanics in TRIP like NPCs taking you places and showing you things, I was very limited by my complete lack of programming so I had to improvise. A lot. I’m slowly teaching myself programming so hopefully at some point I will be able to provide a much more interactive experience.”

This also expands into making TRIP open to user-generated content. “Oh how I’d love to, but I’m not sure how moddable Unity engine games are. If my dream of having a development team comes true I’ll definitely make the majority of my games open for user-generated content. I got into game development by making unreal maps and half-life mods.” As an incentive for a succesful kickstarter bid, Shock offered to create an area in-game under the backers specifications. It would be interesting to see various parts of other people’s minds amalgamated together.

The glue that binds this world together is the soundtrack, it is quite buoyant and upbeat but manages to deliver an ominous feeling over the abstract imagery. “My good friend Benjamin created the soundtrack, he suggested to create a melody that would be cohesive throughout the whole game. I told him to go for it, when he started the game world was kinda bare so I sketched up sound waves and gave him a list of key words that would inspire what each song would sound like. For example the city area I sent Ben images of sewers, metal, industrial areas, and gave him keywords like clanging, banging, clicking and to imagine an oppressive sound of steel and machinery.
When he showed me each track I was blown away at how well it fit the game world. He’s a real talented individual, and I’m not just saying that because I’m his friend!”

Critics have been trying to shoehorn TRIP into the appropriate mould and the difficulties with the term ‘game’ rears its head again; “The response has been mixed; thankfully most critics seem to praise the visuals. They find that TRIP works better as a piece of digital art than as a game.” I can’t help feeling that Digital art is misplaced, if only because traditional ‘game players’ might brush TRIP aside incredulously . We are familiar with all of the elements present here; the viewpoint, the type of landscape, spectrums of colour… so the only non-game like component is structured activity. As I said at the beginning, do we need distractions to validate exploration, TRIP is an opportunity to traverse the mind of an artist, does it need to be anything else?

What can we expect in the future From Axel Shokk? “My next project is Kat Attack, an action-oriented visual novel. I want it to be like an interactive motion-comic. It’s not nearly as experimental as TRIP is but I’ll be putting my storytelling and cartooning skills to the test, you’ll see a lot of my illustrative work in this comic which is something I’ve been meaning to show. Hopefully proving that the visual novel is a medium with a lot of potential.
Kat Attack takes place in a dystopian future as a space rock opera, centered around Kat – a space pirate wielding a guitar cannon which she also uses to surf through space with.
I will try to get this project kickstarted sometime August so keep an eye out!”

Check out Kat Attack’s development blog.

Prevision: Among the sleep

20120630-185205.jpg

In Hamar Norway, Krillbite studio quietly works on evolving the first person space. Among the sleep is a unique vision that ventures into the hallucinatory depths of the imagination. Touching on Achluophobia (fear of the dark) and hinting at Automatonophobia (fear of anything that falsely represents a sentient being) Krillbite wants to bring you to your hands and knees. Literally; because Among the sleep is entirely viewed through the eyes of a two-year old child; from the struggles of scaling household obstacles to the manifestations of childhood fears.

Adrian Tingstad Husby vehemently discusses why it is important to challenge conventions. He and the team at Krillbite stand poised to offer something we genuinely have not experienced before.

20120630-185554.jpg

Among the sleep delivers a great hypothesis especially next to traditional First person experiences. How are you approaching user interaction, will the environment generate emotional content similar to what Dear Esther did?

The environment will definitely follow the surreal nature of dreams and imagination, constantly mixing the real world with mental elements. But our interaction is more similar to Amnesia for example rather than Dear Esther, because we want people to interact with the environment not only analytically, but also very physically – with actions like push, pull, climbing, open and closing doors and drawers. We really want to get players immersed and feel part of the world, so we are working hard at optimizing all these mechanics so they don’t break immersion.

20120630-190238.jpg

How will the child’s perception manifest into something unsettling? Will it be through the unseen or through everyday objects that exhibit sinister nuances?

A combination of both! You will definitely encounter familiar objects that take an unsettling form, as well as creatures and environments where the imagination has twisted it into something completely unrecognizable. Some things will be clearly visible, and others might depend on you to fill in some gaps.

20120630-191337.jpg

Everyone has these ambiguous memories of being scared when they were a child, but are any of the team parents? As a father I had this paternalistic feeling when I watched the gameplay trailer.

Unfortunately, no one on the team has their own children yet, so our firsthand experience is mainly with our nieces and nephews. But we are consulting people with both academic and practical competence on the field of young children’s development and psychology, which we hope will provide some valuable insight into these topics. I guess the paternalistic feeling is inevitable in many cases, but we hope most players will be able to fully immerse themselves and think “I should avoid this danger” as opposed to “I should help the child to avoid this danger”.

20120701-144137.jpg

How significant is the teddy bear as a gameplay element or is it more of a companion?

Teddy will have a significant role as a story-driving companion, mostly hanging on your back and occasionally talking. But at times he will also factor into the gameplay to a certain degree. We are still playing around with these elements though, so we don’t want to be too specific on this point yet.

20120701-144349.jpg

Please talk about your design philosophy. Why is this medium important to you and why are you exploring ideas unfamiliar to the conversant?

I’ll speak for me personally, but I think most of this reflects the rest of the team as well.

We all grew up glorifying the entertainment video games provided, and over the years it became an important and really substantial part of our childhood and personality. If we ask our parents about their childhood they light up, and I think it might be hard for many to imagine us having the same feelings towards video games. Strangely though, because I find it the most interesting form of communication ever devised by humans. Action is our basis, and the interactive nature of video games really has the potential to reflect the human mind. In other words, if I think I have something important to say, if I want to drive a change in attitude, if I want to inspire and engage, and in the end (at the risk of sounding pompous) if I want to change the world – games is an important and effective place to be!

Unfortunately, a lot is sacrificed on the altar of the industry mindset. Future civilisations will analyse our culture to decipher what we were thinking about, what was important to us, and what problems we faced – what will they find? 600 versions of Medal of Dutyfield and Angry’ville?

20120701-150413.jpg

I think it is easy to rebuke mainstream developers for their lack of innovation. Do you feel that maybe it is the consumers who should have a responsibility to support iconoclastic ideas, after all, isn’t the mainstream just supplying consumer demands? How can we enlighten them?

I think this is kind of a “chicken and the egg” problem. The responsibility comes with power, and it’s debatable who’s got the most power in a consumer/business relationship. If consumers organized in groups with a potential for substantial impact, we could absolutely be able to change a few things. We’ve seen a number of fascinating examples of this recently, especially regarding the symbiosis of social networks and financial alternatives like Kickstarter. But big business possesses great power as well, and should not be able to cynically disclaim all responsibility without resistance. The people screaming the loudest while milking their annual cash-ins will probably continue to reach their market. But as long as the diversity of games continue to grow I’m satisfied, and we are already starting to see signs of the indie scene influencing the direction of the mainstream.

The team at Krillbite are passionate about creating for the advancement of the medium. Please follow their blog to see how they intend to do it.

For further insight into Among the sleep view some of the early concept images

;Follow my blog with Bloglovin;