TIME Video Games

6 Interns’ Amazing Journey to Make a PlayStation Game

In front of thousands of spectators, six recent college graduates debuted their first game during PlayStation’s lavish, high-spectacle E3 presentation. The small independent team, named Pixelopous, was on stage rubbing shoulders with industry professionals showcasing their multi-million dollar projects to the world. Not only that, but their game, Entwined, came as a complete surprise to the thousands of spectators at the press conference; a true testament to secrecy in an industry plagued with insider leaks.

“So [for] all of us, [it's] our first game after college … and to announce a launch at the same time as E3 is such a dream come true for us,” Entwined designer Jing Li said.

But where did this secretive game come from in the first place?

Sony has built a reputation for itself as always looking out for the little guys, and Entwined is just the latest example of that philosophy. The game and the Pixelopus studio are both products of Sony’s PlayStation incubation program; an initiative that looks to foster young talent in the gaming industry. The program started in 2006 when Allan Becker, now head of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Japan, struck up a relationship between Sony’s Santa Monica studio and the University of Southern California. That endeavor lead to the creation of ThatGameCompany, the studio responsible for Flower, a title that many critics cite to argue that gaming is an art form.

Jump forward six years to the budding game program at Carnegie Mellon University, of which Sony is a sponsor. The sharpest students from that first graduating class were brought on as interns in Sony’s San Mateo Studio in California. Three months later, six of them were hired and formed the Pixelopous team responsible for Entwined.

As a group in Sony’s incubation program, the Pixelopus team received unprecedented access to professional support and were given considerable freedom to dream up something fresh and new.

“We would have never dreamed up Entwined,” said Scott Rohde, PlayStation’s head of product development. “This came out of a group that hasn’t been working on third-person action adventure games for the last eight years. It’s a fresh perspective.”

Sony then added two industry veterans to the Pixelopus team, art director Jeff Sangalli and Creative Director Dominic Robilliard, to give the team’s dreams a sense of direction.

Now that Entwined has released on the PlayStation 4, the Pixelopus team will begin working on their next project while remaining in the incubation program.

“We’ll probably go back to prototyping, see what sticks around with us … and then make that into a full game,” Entwined Programmer Jitesh Mulchandani said.

The San Mateo incubation program is just one of the many that PlayStation is setting up around the world. Sony opened up an a program in Singapore in 2007, and now it’s also doing the same in Latin America. All of this is a part of Sony’s larger goal to be the center of a gaming community that extends beyond the big Triple-A titles. So expect to be surprised by more incubation projects in the future from teams across the world.

TIME Video Games

Now You Can Be ‘Frankenstein’s Monster': Evolve Inside Scoop

Gamers can finally understand what Frankenstein's creation felt as the angry and armed mob hunted it down

Developer Turtle Rock, Creator of Left 4 Dead, will soon launch a new multiplayer experience, Evolve. The game is set in a futuristic frontier-like galaxy, where Humanity has colonized a planet called Shear. That’s when the monsters come in. A group of hunters are enlisted as a last ditch effort to save the planet’s colonists. On paper Evolve is a simple concept — four player-controlled hunters versus one player-controlled monster — but from this simple idea for a gaming mechanic, something novel and complex has been created.

“Even prior to creating Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios was keenly interested in the idea of a team of players fighting a giant boss battle, but with the boss being controlled by another player,” said Michael J. Boccieri, Senior Producer at 2K. “Compared to a standard boss battle, this 4v1 multiplayer results in unique gameplay every single match due to the human mind controlling the monster, so no match ever plays out the same way…[Turtle Rock] then drew inspiration from other mediums including film, comic books, literature and more, which was a core driving component to a lot of the aesthetics that make Evolve what it is today.”

The notion of playing as the monster in a game isn’t new, but never before have developers embraced the idea of giving players control quite like this. In Shelly’s Frankenstein (as well as its film adaptations), Frankenstein’s creation is always on the defensive, despite its impressive power. The creature, misunderstood and unmoored, is hunted by an angry village mob, which views it as an implicit threat. But in games, players haven’t really experienced the persecuted monster’s point of view.

Though developers have occasional embraced a “monster” as a narrative’s lead, but those instances are few and far between. In these cases, the game is usually constructed in either two ways:

1) The monster is the protagonist in an anti-hero role, who is tasked with fighting a worse evil, or it is empowered by the developers to hunt and slay others. This can be seen in titles such as Altered Beast, Splatterhouse, Overlord, Demon’s Crest, Alien Vs Predator 2, and more.

2) The monster is just a stock character in a gameplay centric title within either the Fighting or Sidescrollling genres, like Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee or Rampage World Tour.

In all of these titles the developers empower the player to be on the offensive, hunting and killing with minimal regard for the protagonist’s life beyond the threat of restarting a level. Players are rarely, if ever, given an experience where they can inhabit the mind of a monster who is being hunted by an an overwhelming force. That’s where Evolve steps in.

During this year’s E3 gaming expo, the game’s publisher 2K gave TIME the opportunity to competitively play the game. I took control of a monster named Kraken. During my match, I finally understood what Frankenstein’s creation felt like as the angry and armed mob hunted it down. Because Evolve a strategic competitive multiplayer title, I was able to feel the fear of being hunted. At the onset of each match the monster is weak and vulnerable. I was forced to avoid confrontation and scavenge on local wildlife, and in doing so, I could “evolve” (three evolutionary stages in total). With each subsequent evolution I was granted more abilities, and gained the strength necessary to push back my attackers.

“Certainly when you start a match as the monster at Stage One, you are underpowered compared to the hunter team; a savvy hunter team knows this, and will attempt to corral, contain and destroy the monster as quickly as possible,” said Boccieri. “Much as Frankenstein’s creation comes into his own over the course of the novel, so too does the monster player over the course of a match as they feed on the wildlife and evolve, growing more and more powerful. By Stage Two the monster is equal to the hunters, and by the time the monster reaches Stage Three, the hunters actually become the hunted. It’s an interesting parallel to the plot of the novel — by the time we are at the ice flows at the novel’s conclusion, we wonder whether Dr. Frankenstein is hunting the monster, or he himself is the hunted?”

But in those early moments of the game, I was overwhelmed by paranoia. Every move and action I made could be used by the hunters to track me down: my footsteps, birds that had been startled or dead animal carcasses my character left behind. Each time I stopped to eat wildlife, I feared that just beyond my field of vision — the hunters lay in waiting. And that is what’s so unique about Evolve. That perspective flop that gamers rarely have the opportunity to enjoy.

TIME Video Games

The Hollywood Cinematographer Has a New Job Path: Video Games

Lights. Camera. Press start.

Video game developer Ready at Dawn has been working on The Order 1886 since 2010, and it’s tentatively scheduled for a 2015 release. The Order drops players into an alternate Victorian-Era reality torn apart by a vicious war between mankind and a subset of humans: the “Half-breeds.” The game recasts the familiar humanity versus ‘other’ story with a steampunk twist, though what sets this game apart is the development team’s film-style ambitions.

“We wanted to show gamers what the next-generation of gaming would be like,” said Ru Weerasuriya, the CEO and Creative Director at Ready at Dawn. “So, for us, it not only meant cool gameplay, but it also meant that we needed to build a new experience. And what we’ve done with this game is what we coin as filmic … We’ve used [techniques] that are very movie-like … to build the game.”

Film has had over a century to develop as an art-form, while video games have had a mere four decades. Early filmmakers and film theorists experimented to understand the psychology of editing and the subconscious effects of cinematography. Take Lev Kuleshov’s famous experiments with the “cutaway,” for instance (as seen below). In the 1920s, Kuleshov alternated various shots of objects (a bowl of soup, a baby doll), and intercut them with the same shot of an emotionless actor’s face. Each time audiences believed that the actor’s emotional expression had changed, even though it hadn’t. Now, video game designers are looking to build off these pre-existing film techniques to slash the medium’s maturation time in half.

It’s no secret that video games have always aspired to be similar to film. We’ve seen games add complex narratives to gameplay mechanics, the addition of long and intricate GGI driven cutscenes, and the implementation of Hollywood motion capture to bring actors like Ellen Page and Kevin Spacey to life inside games. The Order, however, looks to experiment with an aspect of motion pictures that is much more subtle and impactful: Cinematography.

“We decided to replicate the attributes of physical lenses used in photography and cinematography in our game engine, such as a lens’ specific depth of field or focus,” Weerasuriya said. “This also meant that we had to recreate the “imperfections” found in physical lenses that we often take for granted. Lens curvature, chromatic aberration, vignette and lens dirt are just a few examples. In games, we often have the tendency to see everything through a perfect window, which is very much unlike what people have been accustomed to seeing in other visual media through the lens of a camera.”

If the final product is anything like the demonstrations shown by developer Ready at Dawn at E3, then this could be another pivotal step in the medium’s maturity. Many video games have been a sterile CGI representation of life, but by borrowing from the art of cinematography the medium can begin aspiring to be more.

Cinematography is all about the art of subconscious manipulation and subversion. By design, audiences are meant to be oblivious to the techniques that are manipulating them to feel sad, angry, or excited during a film. The audience may feel that the antagonist is powerful, without realizing that it is the camera’s upward angle, the telephoto lens implemented by the cinematographer, and the red splash of light on the character’s shoulders put there that made them feel as such. The Order 1886 is delving into this art of subconscious manipulation in hopes of providing a more realistic experience.

“The strange thing is that although many people might not be able to pinpoint the technicalities of everything they see through a regular lens, once we remove the attributes and imperfections that make a certain shot feel ‘real,’ they will automatically know that something is off with the shot,” Weerasuriya said. “Replicating the correct glass and the imperfections that come with it, as well as the lighting and other film techniques we use, are what make our visuals feel familiar and grounded in reality.​”

Realism is not the intent of all video games, of course. Gamers and critics alike have expressed worries that bringing Hollywood aesthetics to games can be confining, criticizing the use of passive cinematic cutscenes in an interactive medium. The development team claims this isn’t The Order’s filmic ambitions, however. Cutscenes actually flow smoothly between exposition and gameplay without jarring shifts from one graphically polished reality, to another that looks visually mismatched. With any luck, The Order’s cinematic roots will make for a more consistent experience — one that doesn’t periodically jolt you out of the game world.

For more of the inside scoop with Ready at Dawn’s CEO and Creative Director Ru Weerasuriya, check out the video above.

TIME e3 2014

The New Alien Is Exactly What Horror Should Be Like

Calling all Horror Junkies: Your new fix is not on the silver-screen, but rather under the thumb of a joystick.

Fans of the original Alien might be jaded by news of alien game tie-ins: since 1982 there have been over 30 Alien video games on everything from the Commodore 64 to the current generation of gaming consoles. SEGA’s last adaptation, Alien: Colonial Marines, was released just a year ago to poor reviews. The game was filled with bugs, and failed to capture the terror of the original film.

Despite all of that, SEGA’s next release, Alien: Isolation, is of a different breed then its predecessors. Rather than relying on the worn genre of the first-person shooter, this Alien is pure survival-horror. Set 15 years after the first movie you take control of the protagonist Amanda Ripley, who uses her wits to survive to against just one Xenomorph.

The most visceral horror, whether it be a motion picture or interactive entertainment, is subtle and uses different techniques to put the player at unease. Based on SEGA’s E3 demos, the game’s developers seem to understand this.

“Sometimes a huge part of horror is actually not being able to see to see the thing that is hunting you,” lead designer, Gary Napper, said.

With any luck, we’ll finally have an Alien game worth playing when Alien: Isolation releases on October 7th. Though, fans of the franchise have all the right to continue staying skeptical. For more of the inside scoop on the game from Lead Designer Gary Napper, check out the video above.

TIME

Re-Live the French Revolution: Assassin’s Creed – Unity the Inside Scoop

Try not to lose your head, Assassin's Creed Unity puts players in the midst of revolutionary France.

Assassins’s Creed is the Da Vinci Code for video games; steeped in mystery, lush with the tales of secret societies, and fueled by a search for mysterious artifacts. On October 28th, 2014, the world of Assassin’s Creed is coming out with another piece to the puzzle of its long and tangled alternate universe: Assassin’s Creed – Unity. Set during the French Revolution in the late 1700’s you take control of the character Arno Dorian, following his journey from a child to becoming another instrument of war in a centuries long battle between the Templars and the Assassins.

This latest entry in the franchise was designed completely from the ground up for the current generation of consoles, unlike the last iteration Assassin’s Creed – Black Flag, which was a multi-generational title. That means that this game won’t be limited by the horsepower of 9-year-old consoles – It’s truly ‘Next-gen.’ For more of the inside scoop, watch the video above.

TIME e3 2014

Activision’s Eric Hirshberg Explains Why His Company Is Disruptive

CEO Eric Hirshberg sat down with TIME at E3 to discuss how Activision has grown since he arrived four years ago and what's next on its gaming lineup

Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg is at ease in the spotlight, four years after leaving ad company Deutsch LA to fill then-resigning Activision CEO Mike Griffith’s shoes. Hirshberg’s arrival at one of the largest publishers in the gaming industry came on the heels of sudden departures and legal brouhaha between Activision and esteemed members of its rainmaking Infinity Ward Call of Duty development studio. Many at the time worried Call of Duty, absent two of its studio founders and dozens of others, was in deep franchise-threatening trouble.

But since then, Activision—founded in 1979 by a bunch of ex-Atari programmers and responsible for some of the industry’s most recognized games—has grown by leaps and bounds, its stock price more than doubling since Hirshberg started. The Call of Duty series alone has become one of the top 10 game franchises with more than 120 million units sold worldwide, and the Skylanders toy-game series surpassed the $2 billion sales mark earlier this year, moving 175 million tiny plastic figurines (and seven games: three for iOS/Android, one for web and three going on a fourth this October for consoles) since launching just over two years ago.

At the end of the summer, Activision will ship one of 2014’s most anticipated games, Destiny, from the makers of Halo. Bungie’s sci-fi multiplayer-angled opus will ship for last- as well as current-generation consoles on Sept. 9. In early May, Reuters reported that the development and marketing expenditures for Destiny alone would top $500 million—another Hollywood-stomping record. If Hirshberg has his way, the returns (he’s anticipating revenue in the billions) will dwarf that investment.

Suggest that the company’s stifling its competition or leaning too heavily on safe moneymaking bets, and Hirshberg will claim otherwise. He may have a point: Of the company’s top three tentpole games at E3 2014—Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Skylanders: Trap Team and Destiny—one of those franchises didn’t exist three years ago and the other has yet to appear on stage.

For more on Activision’s lineup, take a look at the video above.

TIME e3 2014

The Witness at E3: A Tranquil Island in a Sea of Chaos

The Witness

Jonathan Blow won’t admit to this, but the experience of meeting him to see The Witness at E3 was kind of like playing the game itself.

Per Sony’s instructions, I arrive at a private meeting room away from the show floor. Only there’s no sign outside the door, and no customary PR people or security guards to keep out uninvited guests. The door is propped open with a narrow trash bin–the only indication that there’s anything happening inside.

I poke my head in and discover a spacious room with an unmanned reception table by the door. At the far end of the room, someone’s sitting on an L-shaped couch, her back turned as she plays a game. It’s quiet from where I’m standing, so I walk in a little further.

Around the corner, dressed casually and sitting at a long table, is the only other person in the room. I hear him mumble my name and publication as he stands up, coming closer and extending a hand in my direction. That’s when I realize it’s Blow, and — contrary to the excessive staffing and hand-holding at every other appointment I’ve had this week — he’s running this entire preview by himself. He hands me a PlayStation 4 controller, asks how much time I have, and says he’ll be back later to talk.

Like Braid, Blow’s runaway indie hit from 2008, The Witness doesn’t spoon-feed its players. You’ll never see any signposts, explicit tutorials or hints to ensure your smooth progress. In fact, both Braid and The Witness skip the formalities of a “Press Start” screen or opening cutscene, and begin with you staring at something motionless — in The Witness’ case, the light at the end of a tunnel. As you stare at the screen, there’s this magic moment in which you nudge the thumbstick forward out of confusion, and realize the game actually began several seconds ago.

I’m feeling a little anxious as I move along the game’s path, out of the tunnel and into a walled garden. In the past, Blow has discouraged players from seeking answers to his games’ puzzles, and bristled at explaining the meanings behind his work. Braid was no cakewalk, and I only have about half hour to spend with The Witness. What’s going to happen if I get stuck or can’t figure out what’s going on?

Fortunately, the walls of this garden are easy enough to escape. Scattered throughout are some small panels with a maze-like pattern etched onto them. You can engage with these panels and trace a line on them with the thumbstick, the goal being to find an unobstructed path from start to finish. They’re no more difficult than the mazes you’d find on the back of a cereal box, so I complete a few of them, which in turn reveal a final panel to open the exit door.

From here, the game opens up into a colorful, tree-lined world, spreading far beyond what I can see. There’s an obvious path to walk down, but I cut left through some shrubbery, and discover a narrow trail that leads back along the outside of the starting outpost, next to a vast body of water. It’s blocked by a door with yet another panel, connected to a ribbon that leads back over the wall and into the garden. I spend some time exploring the grounds, figuring out how to open the door and moving along the hidden path, which only leads to another door I can’t manage to open.

That last sentence might as well describe the rest of my time with The Witness. Outside the garden, the maze-like puzzles become much more complex, with new rules to decipher. I solve a few of them, but otherwise spend the demo getting lost in the architecture, in which my character is completely alone. I’m poking around in a hedge maze when Blow returns from another interview, eager to see how I did. Maybe I’m projecting, but I sensed some disappointment. He spends a couple of minutes explaining some of the other things I could have done.

I intend to ask Blow how he’d feel about someone looking up the solutions to The Witness’ puzzles online, but he seems to anticipate the question, explaining that it’s okay to get stuck.

“We’re always trying to give people a lot of choice about where they want to go, and if they get stuck on something that they don’t understand, they can go somewhere else,” Blow says. “And if they don’t understand that, they can just keep bouncing around, and eventually something will stick, and from there that might give people ideas about earlier areas where they were that they didn’t understand at the time.”

It’s for this reason that Blow also doesn’t mind people having different interpretations of the game’s story, told through recordings scattered around the island. These weren’t present in the E3 demo, but the idea is that players can find them in any order, because the entire island is open for exploration from the beginning.

“The story has to be designed to encounter it in different orders and still be interesting, so that by itself is an interesting challenge,” Blow says. “But then we get to play interesting games, like might you have a different interpretation of what’s going on if you heard some part first and then a different part, versus if you heard those in the opposite order … or not at all?”

So how would Blow feel about cheating, even for just a few puzzles? “In this game,” he says, “that would be so unrewarding that I don’t think people will do it very much.”

The Witness is coming to PlayStation 4 later this year, and is also due to launch at some point on PC and iOS.

TIME e3 2014

This Is What Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto Thinks of Virtual Reality

Shigeru Miyamoto plays Project Giant Robot, using the GamePad's motion control sensors to move the robot's torso. Nintendo

The creator of Donkey Kong and Mario says he has "a little bit of uneasiness" at the prospect of gamers putting on goggles and playing by themselves.

Last week, the first half of my interview with Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto touched on a pair of experimental new Wii U GamePad-centered games, as well as the company’s new Star Fox shooter for Wii U with its unique combinative control scheme.

After we spoke of those projects, I had a chance to ask Miyamoto several more broadly ranging questions, including one about virtual reality, the current industry interface-paramour. As always, his responses were playful, self-effacing, articulate and revelatory.

What are your thoughts on virtual reality today, and is Nintendo doing or thinking about anything in this space? Are we at the right point, technology-wise, to see this become more than a novelty peripheral?

We’ve been doing our own experiments with virtual reality dating back to the Virtual Boy. And even to some degree, the 3DS was designed with a little bit of this in mind with its stereoscopic 3D. So we’re always looking at hardware and assessing what’s possible.

And of course we understand that the hardware and technology have begun to drop in price. It’s still not at a cost basis that makes it easy for everyone to purchase as a mass-market product. But certainly it’s dropped somewhat.

As game designers, we at Nintendo are interested in VR technology and what it can do, but at the same time what we’re trying to do with Wii U is to create games for everyone in the living room. We want the Wii U to be a game system that brings video gamers into the living room. As as I explained last night [Sunday, June 8], it’s intended to be fun not only for the person who’s playing, but also for the people who are watching.

When you think about what virtual reality is, which is one person putting on some goggles and playing by themselves kind of over in a corner, or maybe they go into a separate room and they spend all their time alone playing in that virtual reality, that’s in direct contrast with what it is we’re trying to achieve with Wii U. And so I have a little bit of uneasiness with whether or not that’s the best way for people to play.

So from Nintendo’s perspective, there’s interest in the technology, but we think it might be better suited to some sort of attraction style of entertainment, say something at a video game arcade or things like that, rather than something that one person plays alone.

When we spoke a year ago, you said the Wii U’s development environment was a lot more complex than the Wii’s, which was impacting the rate of game completion and resulting in a lot of games being delayed. What are developers saying about the Wii U at this point?

It’s improved quite a bit from about a year ago, because we introduced Unity [a cross-platform game development engine] for Wii U. That’s actually enabled teams, even small teams, to be able to leverage that Unity development library to build games on Wii U. And so that’s changed the situation.

We’ve also finished really training our in-house designers and developers. Now we’re able with our internal teams to develop at a fairly quick pace as well.

How do you feel in 2014 — with such a flourishing games market, revenue-wise, and so many people in the business and so many copycat games — about game design? Is it harder for you now in that crowded market-space, or is it easier because of all the new design toolset possibilities to come up with novel gameplay ideas?

If you look at something like Project Guard, that was something that because the hardware itself is more capable now, and the processing power is better, we’ve been able to go back to an old idea and bring it to life on a new system. So there’s those types of examples.

And then you have other examples, such as the Louvre audio guide that we did on 3DS for the Louvre museum. That’s an example of taking something that existed in another medium previously, but because of the processing power and capabilities of gaming hardware, we were able to bring that to life in a new way that was interactive and created a new experience for users.

I think that where the games industry has come now, there’s more and more potential for us to look at those types of other mediums, where there may be something that exists in an original state, and by bringing that into an interactive state, we can do a lot of new and different things with it.

So I think there’s quite a bit of potential within the industry right now. But where I think there isn’t potential is in looking at what other people have done and simply copying games that already exist and trying to create your own version of that.

You’ve indicated that the conversation in game design should be about design, not power. And yet there’s the counterargument that greater processing power is like giving a painter more colors to paint with (even if painters only choose to employ a handful of them). Does Nintendo need to be more concerned with thinking not just about innovating on the interface side, but in terms of processing versatility as well?

I think that there’s a lot of different ways you can surprise an audience. Certainly some of those can be just with the graphics, or the characters and things like that. But I also think that there’s the ability to surprise people without those high specs using things like innovation and uniqueness and surprise within the gameplay.

For me, where I often struggle is when you present an idea and then it takes you a very long time to bring that idea to fruition because of the amount of work that goes into creating all the details necessary. So I tend to look for something that allows me to create my ideas in a way that doesn’t require as much work. I think that that’s able to bring us closer to what makes the game fun and interesting.

I also think that what’s important is timing within the entertainment industry; the timing with which you’re releasing these games. And so being able to create the games and bring them out in a way that you’re timing it right and surprising people with what’s in the game is also very important.

You told me last year that the Wii U was the most suitable device for the living room, given the uniqueness of the Wii U GamePad as a TV. Do you believe that’s true today, at least in the U.S., given the proliferation of less expensive devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV? Why would people want the Wii U as a TV interface device given the rising popularity of those others?

When we first started designing Wii U, we had two ideas in mind.

One was that we wanted to design Wii U so you could start it up and play it even if you didn’t have access to the TV screen. That’s why we gave the Wii U its own independent screen with the GamePad.

The second thing we wanted to do was we wanted everyone to feel that Wii U was a devic — or set-top box or whatever you want to call it — that would be most convenient for everyone to have connected to their TV because of the way you’re able to interact with the screen and control the TV.

When we designed the Wii U, we designed it in a way that would allow you to do a lot of different things with your TV. For example, when you’re watching YouTube, people tend to watch YouTube alone, but we thought it’d be more fun for everyone to watch YouTube together. But when you do that, you then have to wait for someone to find the next thing to watch. We designed it so that while everyone’s watching YouTube on the TV, someone can be choosing what they want to watch next.

The same thing goes for streaming services. And then we also have in Japan a karaoke service where the whole family can be in front of the TV and singing karaoke, and while you’re waiting for your turn, you can be choosing what you’re going to sing next. We designed Wii U from the beginning to take advantage of that ability and give you new ways to use the TV, to be a device that gives the TV a lot of different uses in a convenient way.

What’s different between Wii U and other set-top streaming boxes is those boxes cost just $100 and all they do is send content to the TV. But with Wii U, it not only sends content to the TV, it also takes the content that can be on your TV and gives you instant access to that content by sending it all to the Wii U GamePad as well. You’re able to interact with it very easily and simply, and you get all of this in a box that only costs $300. We feel that for what Wii U is capable of doing, it’s a very versatile system and good value. But I think a lot of people look at it as just a gaming machine, they look at that $300 as the price for a game machine and they don’t get a sense for how good that value is.

That strikes me as one of your biggest challenges. I don’t know anyone, really, who uses their Wii U as a TV device.

It’s an important message, but the challenge for me is that if I start talking about those uses of Wii U, everybody starts asking me, “Well, what about the games?” But yes, what I hope is that everyone will start to understand and start telling each other that Wii U is a great thing to have connected to your TV because of everything it can do.

You mentioned at the pre-brief that you yourself had been working on the Wii U system update that dropped recently and added a quick start menu. Can you tell us anything about other future updates you’re planning for the system?

Yes, we’re definitely working on additional system updates. But the challenge is that any time you do an update that big, it requires quite a bit of testing. We can’t do those very frequently, but I can say that we’re already working on the next system update.

Some years ago, you said you were handing the reins to Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong and such off to your teams because you felt the teams were ready and you wanted to work on smaller projects. Do you miss working on those games at all today? Or do you like finally being able to experience them as a player, having had someone else design them?

[Laughs] It’s not that I’m completely uninvolved in those games. I do spend a lot of time giving my teams feedback on overall direction, but then the other thing I do is, as they’re developing the game, they’ll bring it to me and I’ll play it and I’ll be the representative of the first-time user. I’ll say things like, “Man, this isn’t the way I want this thing to play.” So I’ll give them a lot of direction on where to go from there.

TIME e3 2014

WATCH: The New Game That Lets You Ride Elephants – FarCry 4 Insider Interview

Far Cry 4 will have rideable elephants!

Since their first game’s release in 2004, the Far Cry series has steadily improved with each new iteration. The next installment of the franchise focuses on the fictional region Kyrat, set in the Himalayas, and a protagonist named “Ajay Ghale,” who gets caught up in a war between a self-appointed king named “Pagan Min” and the country’s rebels.

Unlike some games that might start with a plot idea and build from there, Far Cry 4 began with a very specific gameplay element.

“So our game director was like, okay look — here’s what I want: I want to be able to get on-top of an elephant, and I want to be able to smash through the walls of an outpost that’s actually an fortress that could also fight back and I want to do that in co-op so if there’s two elephants you can do that too,” Executive Producer Dan Hays told Gamespot. “And we were like okay, lets do that.”

For more of the inside scoop, check out the video above. Far Cry 4 releases on November 18th, 2014.

TIME e3 2014

E3 Hidden Gems: Our Sleeper Picks for 2014

Sometimes, E3’s biggest delights are unexpected. They’re not the subject of endless looping video trailers, or massive billboards on the convention center’s outer walls. Some of them aren’t even on the show floor. Here are eight of our favorite hidden gems from 2014’s show:

CounterSpy

Jared: Do I detect a hint of Rolling Thunder in this spy noir, platform shooter? Like that old arcade gem, CounterSpy combines lanky, comic-style characters, cover-based shooting and plenty of vertical movement between platforms. But it also throws in a dash of stealth combat, a soundtrack full of twangy guitars and a tone that vaguely mocks the Cold War–enough to look like the game Rolling Thunder might have become if it hadn’t been forgotten.

You play a secret agent trying to maintain the balance between two rival superpowers–not exactly the United States and Soviet Union, but close enough–by playing both sides against the middle. This involves all the usual secret agent stuff: infiltrating compounds, stealing documents and securing launch codes. Is CounterSpy breaking barriers in gaming? Probably not, but it looks like a blast anyway.

PS3, PS4, PS Vita / 2014

Dying Light

Jared: Though I’m pretty sure the world would be okay without any new zombie games, Dying Light makes the case for having just one more. By giving players parkour-like climbing abilities, the emphasis here is on sticking to the rooftops and avoiding the hordes below. At least that’s the case until you’ve managed to craft some more powerful weapons, or a grappling hook to help you scurry along. There’s an air of The Walking Dead here as well, as players will deal with both friendly and hostile humans along the way.

PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC / February 2015

Entwined

Matt: After the spectacle of Sony’s press event, my first chance to sample Pixelopus’ Entwined — a game about separated lovers you’re tasked with bring together — was at Sony’s press booth. At first blush, it reminded me a little of Tempest (the look I mean, not the gameplay).

In Tempest, you roll a claw-like ship around a 360-degree field made up of vector graphic segments. In Entwined, you roll paper mache-like representations of a bird and fish, each guided with one of the gamepad’s thumbsticks simultaneously, around a 360-degree moving tunnel (each creature gets half, or 180 degrees) as you attempt to align them with vector graphic patterns or glowing orbs. Pull off enough of these in a level and the creatures will merge, transforming into a dragon (and the game into a meditative free-roaming exercise, until you’re ready to split them apart and take on the next lifetime).

I’m probably selling the visual design short: The playing field resembles more the shimmering, kaleidoscopic time-tunnel Doctor Who’s TARDIS hurtles through, only here that tunnel’s filled with obstacles that grow in complexity and race by at increasing speeds. It’s the sort of experience you might reflect on using words like hypnotic, contemplative, uplifting and so forth. And yet there was nothing pretentious about it: artfulness without a trace of ostentation.

PS3, PS4, PS Vita / Available Now

Get Even

Jared: Tucked into a private presentation on indie games for Xbox, Get Even is so ambitious that it could either be an unexpected triumph or a total disaster. You play a detective who must explore his memories–many of them based on gritty locales in real-life Poland–to alter the future.

In one sequence, the player identifies a shooting victim with the help of facial recognition smartphone software, then returns to an earlier point in the memory with a rifle to attack the assailants. Moving in slow motion, he finally finds the victim staring at the end of a gun, and takes the victim’s place in front of the fatal bullet. Players will also get to choose between alternate story lines and, in a nod to Dark Souls, encounter other players in parallel dimensions. There’s a lot going on here, but at the very least it’s not the risk-averse fare that dominates the show floor.

PC and Xbox One / 2015

Murasaki Baby

Matt: Finally, a developer that knows what the PS Vita’s rear touchpad is for. In Murasaki Baby, a game about guiding a frightened child through a nightmare-scape by way of Tim Burton and H.P. Lovecraft, you cycle through eerie backgrounds on-the-fly using the Vita’s rear touchpad. Only here those backgrounds harbor gameplay devices, each designed to help provide — or hinder — solutions to environment-related puzzles.

Cycle in a purplish, storm-filled background, for instance, and the resultant rain can fill a reservoir to lift a low-lying object. Cycle in an orangish background sporting a windmill and you’ll unleash a gale force that blows enemies (like flying safety pins) away. The demo suggested an only mildly difficult game, action-wise, but then the emphasis seemed to be on synchronizing background and foreground, wielding gameplay elements that set (and reset) the narrative tone on the fly.

PS Vita / 2014

Ori and the Blind Forest

Matt: If Level 5 and Studio Ghibli’s Ni No Kuni was a paean to filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s whimsical moods, Ori and the Blind Forest — a puzzle-platformer from Moon Studios — looks more like a hat tip to the kodama forest sequences in Princess Mononoke.

At this point we know relatively little about the game itself. You’re a tiny, nimble, glowing creature — your own source of light. You collect energy cells to boost some kind of internal power source that lets you spawn save points. You’ll accrue points that let you unlock new abilities. And there’s a lot of Metroidvania back-and-forth leaping, plummeting and spelunking as you plumb the game’s dark fantasy depths.

For the record, Ori seems nothing like Ubisoft’s Child of Light, which wed a narrative told in poetic verse to a platformer in which hostile encounters triggered turn-based battles. Battles in Ori are in real time, and the coming-of-age exposition looks to be relayed through straightforward encounters, not rhymed narration.

Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC / 2014

The Talos Principle

Jared: Yes, it’s another entrant in the “puzzle game with a deeply philosophical storyline” genre, but I’m intrigued by how The Talos Principle introduces a tug-of-war between a godlike entity and a computer program. In between rounds of brain-teasers, the player must decide how to interact with these two forces, in turn shaping the game’s outcome. This is a pretty big departure for Croteam, best known for its frantic first-person shooter Serious Sam, and it’s brought in writer Tom Jubert (The Swapper) to help the company indulge its artistic side. Here’s hoping it turns out well.

PC / Q3 2014

The Witness

Jared: Jon Blow’s next indie masterwork has been five years in the making, and it’s now at a point where the entire world is open to explore. Sadly, a 30-minute demo wasn’t nearly enough to cover it all, as The Witness’ obtuse puzzles were mostly impenetrable to my E3-addled brain.

And yet, the grounds offered enough interesting architecture–a hedge maze here, an abandoned foundry there–that I was happy to just poke around for a while. The fact that all of this happened in a quiet room, away from the show floor and devoid of over-attentive PR representatives, couldn’t have hurt. I’m still thinking about how I’ll nail those puzzles eventually.

PS4, PC and iOS / 2014

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