TIME Video Games

There’s a New Underworld Game in Town, but It’s Not an Ultima

OtherSide Entertainment

Paul Neurath co-founded Looking Glass Studios in 1990 and helped create the groundbreaking Ultima Underworld series. Now he's launching a new studio, dubbed OtherSide Entertainment, with plans to rejuvenate the Underworld franchise.

If you never played Ultima Underworld back in 1992, you arrived late to the party. Doom, schmoom: id Software’s slick little demon-shooter was a high-octane shooting gallery, an endless hallway filled with closet-monsters. Doom won the popularity contest a year-and-a-half later, but Ultima Underworld was miles ahead gameplay-wise: something else entirely, and a portal to somewhere else that actually felt like a world simulation instead of a technology showcase.

Sadly, Ultima Underworld isn’t coming back — EA owns the rights to Ultima, and that’s that. But one of the original game’s co-creators, Paul Neurath, just announced he’s founded a new studio in Boston, OtherSide Entertainment, and he’s making a new Underworld game, dubbed Underworld Ascension.

Don’t worry, it’s no relation to that other poor, unfortunate game with the word “Ascension” in its title. And don’t let OtherSide’s initial dispatch confuse you when they say they’re “bringing back the classic Ultima Underworld franchise.” They’re bringing back the spirit of the Underworld franchise, true, but as noted above, not the Ultima part.

And that’s all we know at this point, beyond promises to show “more and more … in the weeks to come.” I do like that the name OtherSide’s a play on Looking Glass (Neurath’s original studio, responsible as well for Thief, System Shock, Flight Unlimited and Terra Nova). And Neurath’s apparently pulled in people who worked on the original Underworld games, so the promise, at least in terms of street cred, is there.

TIME Video Games

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s Live E3 2014 Demo Is Now Watchable

Konami was touting Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's tactical infiltration gameplay behind closed doors at E3 a few weeks ago. Now you can watch the full demo.

It was one more made-up E3 theater-in-a-theater warehouse, a vaguely roundish room that was dark and full of benches and people jostling for elbow room on those benches, squeezed tight as matchsticks.

But then that amazing song by Mike Oldfield kicked in, the one that sounds like it was lifted from a classic 1970s rock album (it wasn’t). The E3 trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain played, and everyone stopped caring. See for yourself.

That’s not the live demo, by the way; it’s the E3 trailer, which has been out for awhile. If you want the experience we had at E3, you’ll want to watch the trailer first, then the 30 minute demo — that’s the new bit — below.

I scribbled notes in Konami’s E3 theater, half-blind because the house lights were off and the theater screen was often dark or dimmed. Some of those notes became questions I posed to the game’s creator, Hideo Kojima, in a one-on-one interview after the demo that focused more on the series’ broader themes. Others were hypotheticals based more on my time with the prequel, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes — some significant gameplay issues that have me concerned about The Phantom Pain‘s attempt to put one foot squarely in 2015 while holding another stubbornly in 1998.

Remember, as you watch the demo below, that you’re looking at a pitch for a game whose premise, at least in part, is that it’s the most realistic-looking game you’ve ever seen. Never mind the Fulton recovery system hijinks or the inanity in a game this lifelike of a dude scuttling around crablike under a piece of cardboard in lieu of executing actual stealth tactics. I can get past the absurdity of some things in a Metal Gear Solid game because they’re absurd for a reason, and that reason makes sense to me and the mechanics dovetail with all the rest of the game’s stealth-oriented idiosyncrasies.

But sometimes they don’t. In the demo, for instance, (watch from about 5:00), you’ll come galloping up to a cluster of structures, pull up maybe a hundred feet away from a guarded adobe building, whip out your binoculars and start marking enemy militia.

So… the guards couldn’t see you kicking up dust a mile away (in full daylight, mind you)? Couldn’t hear your horse running full bore? Couldn’t see you riding high in the saddle like a flag? Didn’t notice you rolling from the horse, then rising to a crouch and aiming — just a few dozen feet to their left — at their heads with a gun? What’s Big Boss wearing (that Konami’s said nothing about), a horse-and-rider-masking Crysis-style stealth suit?

It’s that sort of basic weirdness, that sense of flagrant implausibility where the world’s not working the way you have a right to expect a world this realistic and lifelike to work, that starts to put me off The Phantom Pain‘s game (at least in the demo). I don’t need guards that can spy me coming a mile off, but come on: There’s a dude on a horse galloping along a dry path on a mostly flat approach to a guard-flush clutch of buildings and he might as well be the invisible man. Someone tell someone at Konami to hire better guards before The Phantom Pain ships (presumably next year).

TIME technology

New Study Says Playing a Terrorist in Video Games Might Make You More Morally Sensitive

Sony Holds News Conference Ahead Of Annual E3 Gaming Conference
Men fight to the death in the violent PlayStation 3 game, The Last of Us David McNew—Getty Images

Latest research fuels the debate on the impact of violent video games

Can playing a terrorist in violent video games make you an all-around better person? As counterintuitive as it may sound, truly “heinous” behavior in a virtual environment might make players more morally sensitive, according to a new study to be published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

“This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others,” co-author Matthew Grizzard said in a release.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo had 185 participants randomly play two different video game scenarios — either as a terrorist or as a UN peacekeeper. After playing the games, those who played as terrorists were asked to recall what “real-life acts” induced guilt, and the UN soldiers were asked to recall which acts didn’t make them feel guilty. They then completed a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire.

“An American who played a violent game ‘as a terrorist’ would likely consider his avatar’s unjust and violent behavior — violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains — to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a ‘UN peacekeeper,’” Grizzard said. According to the University of Buffalo, “The study found significant positive correlations between video-game guilt and the moral foundations violated during game play.”

This study has some limitations, however. Researchers’ associating guilt with terrorist actions (and lack of guilt with the “heroes”), for example, might have shaded the lens with which they viewed their actions during the game.

It is the latest in a series of studies that attempt to assess the impact that violent media has on its consumers. Ever since two high school students rampaged through the halls of Columbine High School, debates have raged about whether violent video games, like those played by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, lead to violent behavior. An August 2013 study argues that violent video games do not cause high risk youths to bully, while a March 2014 study argues that over time, violent video games make children more aggressive. Inconsistent finding even inspired Obama to put a call out for more comprehensive literature on the subject.

TIME Video Games

6 Interns’ Amazing Journey to Make a PlayStation Game

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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

R.I.P. Diablo 3 Auction House, and May You Never Return

After today, any items left on Diablo 3's auction block will be gone forever.

You have to respect Blizzard for knowing when to fold ‘em: the Diablo 3 auction house will today disappear from the game for good, after a long drawing down period that saw it shift from developer mea culpa to functional cessation to its visual (and final) removal from the game today, June 24.

Diablo 3‘s auction house was supposed to be about reducing fraud, stamping out illicit item-trading by effectively legitimizing it under Blizzard’s auspices. But in the end, it became a stultifying gameplay-bypass tool. Blizzard obviously wants Diablo 3 to be a game about taking down Diablo, a game of skill steeped in assimilating and vamping on its design principles. But like any game that incentivizes players to kit out characters with ridiculously high-spec, hard-to-find items, the real game in Diablo 3 is about the loot hunt: about finding that kit, then extrapolating to multiple character builds and executing variations on a theme.

The trouble with systems that let you arbitrarily cut in line — and there’s probably a crude economic metaphor here — is that we know with all but scientific certainty that many of us will do whatever we can get away with in a game, and why should the ones “getting away with it” see that as a problematic? Diablo 3‘s auction house allowed players to spend as well as make real money playing the game. When the potential — some would argue of necessity, given how rare legendary items were in the beginning — to buy past gameplay (and eventually make money doing so) by a substantial population conflicts with everyone else’s sense of gameplay fairness, what do you think’s going to win: wishes or cash?

There were no momentous player-led rallies to oust Diablo 3 moneymaking. No mass boycotts of the auction house occurred. In the end, it took Blizzard’s not-so-invisible hand reaching down of its own volition to excise the auction house from the game, turning Diablo 3 back into something that now, finally, feels more like a game worth thinking about competitively.

I’m sure “illicit” external trading’s already going on, and so be it. No one’s yet built an exploit-proof game. But the lesson here — and this has implications for free-to-play apologists — may be that trying to corral and formalize a system fundamentally at odds with the game’s own design principles doesn’t make it any less of a problem. I’m surprised Blizzard didn’t see that coming a mile off, and I just hope the lessons learned pay their way forward in all the company’s games to come.

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

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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

Shovel Knight May Be the 8-bit Homage We’ve Been Waiting For

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The music in Shovel Knight‘s launch trailer sounds nothing like the music in the game. I can personally vouch for this.

The trailer (above) is all dour, thrash-y, melodically minor guitars and calf-murdering double-bass drumming. The actual game is scored with scritch-popping chiptunes (that’s the hipster way of talking about 8-bit music in 2014). With respect for Jake Kaufmann, who’s listed as developer Yacht Club Games’ sound designer, the trailer’s music doesn’t hold a candle to the mad genius of his vintage-infused in-game tunes, like this one:

Shovel Knight is an 8-bit-like (coin a genre), a platformer starring a shovel-wielding knight, out to defeat the evil foozle, and his thumb-torturing adventures along the way. It’s like Wizards and Warriors meets Castlevania meets Faxanadu (and I’m told, DuckTales — for shame, I never played that one). It’s the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter that blew past its $75,000 goal by nearly a quarter of a million bucks back in April 2013. It’s the latest release in a sudden parade of mature Kickstarter-spawned games putting paid to crowdfunding’s promise.

Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight costs $15, and you can have it on PC, Mac, Linux, 3DS or Wii U this Thursday, June 26.

TIME Video Games

20 Video Games to Watch for Summer 2014

Here's our summertime list of PC, console and handheld video games to keep an eye on.

  • Resogun: Heroes

    Resogun was just about the best thing on PS4 at launch, a wonderful little wraparound side-scrolling shoot-em-up, and on June 24, it’ll get an update that adds local cooperative play and lets you create your own ships. Everyone who owns Resogun gets that stuff, but if you want the separate Heroes expansion’s two new game modes — Survival (infinite play like Arcade, but humans now have parachutes and there’s a day/night cycle) and Demolition (described as “Arkanoid meets Resogun” by way of a wrecking ball) — it’ll run you $4.99.

    June 24 / PS4

  • Valiant Hearts: The Great War

    Another side-scrolling puzzle/adventure game from Ubisoft, Valiant Hearts: The Great War uses a bleak cartoonish aesthetic (“The Great War” meaning World War I) to tell an adventure story “inspired by actual letters from the time.” The story itself concerns three strangers united through war in their attempt to help a young German soldier find love “in a story about survival, sacrifice and friendship.” (In other words, bring tissues.)

    June 25 / PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Shovel Knight

    A horn-helmed knight, a weaponized spade, bona fide chiptunes and visuals designed to make you feel like you nodded off and woke up in 1985 8-bit-land. Shovel Knight‘s Kickstarter was so successful it blew past its $75,000 funding goal to reach over $311,000. Fingers crossed all that extra cash helps this platformer pay out gameplay dividends when it arrives (after a few delays) in late June.

    June 26 / 3DS, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux

  • Divinity: Original Sin

    Divinity: Original Sin, a prequel to 2002′s sleeper roleplaying gem Divine Divinity, is a Kickstarter-funded left turn of sorts for developer Larian. It’s a shift from Divinity II‘s third-person action-angled approach back to a high-in-the-sky camera overview, and includes — all series firsts here — cooperative play, turn-based combat and mod tool support.

    June 30 / PC, Mac

  • Sunless Sea

    Heard of a browser-based text adventure called Fallen London? Me neither — until game chat/scribe luminaries Tom Chick and Bruce Geryk (Quarter to Three) put together this podcast of podcasts about that game and its imminent spiritual sequel in which you captain a (possibly doomed) steamship through lightness depths. The game’s billing: “Lose your mind. Eat your crew. Survive.” You want to play this. You really do.

    July 1 / PC, Mac

  • MouseCraft

    In MouseCraft, you have to stack blocks shaped like tetrominoes — shapes made out of four squares — to forge “safe” paths for on-the-move mice, guiding them through puzzle-based levels. No surprise: Poland-based studio Crunching Koalas calls it “Tetris meets Lemmings.”

    July 8 / PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, PS3, PS Vita

  • Another World: 20th Anniversary Edition

    I adored French designer Eric Chachi’s Out of This World (its right proper name in the States, by the way) when I first played it back in 1992 on a 16MHz CompuAdd 386sx. I missed its souped-up reemergence in 2011 on smartphones and tablets, but I won’t make that mistake — and if you’ve never played it, neither should you — when it arrives this summer for PS4.

    July 8 / PS4, PS3, PS Vita

  • Quest for Infamy

    Fans of classic Sierra adventures games, rejoice, or at least get your hopes slightly up at the prospect of a new Quest for Glory-inspired romp through roleplaying-as-burlesque. Developer Infamous Adventures has been working up to this, its first non-remake adventure game, since the warmly received fan-remakes of the King’s Quest and Space Quest series.

    July 10 / PC, Mac

  • Abyss Odyssey

    Game genres have the strangest names. “Roguelike.” I suppose it’s more efficient than typing out “action-roleplaying fantasy hack-and-slash with randomly generated levels.” Abyss Odyssey sounds like that with a dash of Street Fighter (it’s a 2D side-scroller with platforming bits) set in 19th century Chile (another game with an unusual-to-gaming backdrop) where you’re fighting a slumbering warlock’s nightmares made real.

    July 15 / PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Unrest

    Unrest is a roleplaying game staged in ancient India, which instantly earns it backdrop street cred (name the last game you played set in ancient India). Other hypothetically cool-sounding points: combat is possible but discouraged, the game’s impetus hinges largely on storytelling through dialogue choices that interact with character “values,” and if you die, the game simply shifts to another character, your previous one’s death impacting how the story unfolds.

    July 23 / PC, Mac, Linux

  • The Last of Us Remastered

    Watching comparison videos, you realize just how much Naughty Dog managed to pull out of the PS3′s hat with The Last of Us (less than a year ago). The PS4 version looks better, in other words, but not dramatically so. That said, if you want to play what’ll surely be the definitive version of this award-winning tromp through an end-of-days, story-twisting zombie shooter, make some space on your midsummer calendar.

    July 29 / PS4

  • Sacred 3

    Newcomer Keen Games tries its hand at the third in this Diablo-like fantasy about racing around a giant map, whacking enemies and vacuuming loot. Expect multi-classing, of course, but also “always on” cooperative play for up to four that’ll either draw on fellow players, or — if you’re playing offline — sub in computer A.I. ones.

    August 5 / PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Risen 3: Titan Lords

    Developer Piranha Bytes’ Risen series — generally lauded for its thoughtful world-building but plagued by technical issues — has struggled to find its footing after the studio’s acclaimed Gothic games (1 and 2, anyway). Risen 3: Titan Lords marks the studio’s third post-Gothic roleplaying outing, this time promising that “every decision changes the course of the story” (a promise easily made, but perhaps most consistently delivered by this studio).

    August 12 / PC, PS3, Xbox 360

  • Tales of Xillia 2

    If you haven’t played Tales of Xillia, you’ll probably just find Tales of Xillia 2 confusing. If you have played Tales of Xillia (and you enjoyed it), this direct sequel is aimed squarely at you, transpiring a year later and resurrecting the series’ real-time battle system, that — unique to this duology — allows characters to combine their attacks in linked mode.

    August 19 / PS3

     

  • Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition

    What else is there to say about this two-year-old dark fantasy monster-masher? It’s Diablo III (plus the Reaper of Souls expansion), arguably as it ought to have been from the start: sans real money or gold auction houses.

    August 19 / PS4, Xbox One

  • Madden NFL 15

    I won’t pretend to love football, but ignoring Madden is like standing next to a speeding freight train with your fingers in your ears, so let’s run through the feature list: improved defensive play, further refined natural-sounding broadcasts, a “player lock” camera, an indicator to help you tell whether you can make a non-aggressive tackle, jumbotrons that now use dynamic camera footage, and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is this year’s cover athlete.

    August 26 / PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

  • The Sims 4

    The Sims 4 continues longtime developer Maxis’ evolution of EA’s mega-bestselling franchise, sprucing up the visuals and nipping and tucking classic world-building features. You’re still essentially babysitting a bunch of babbling sims through a cartoonish approximation of village life, though the character building tools are more granular, and Maxis says its emphasis on emotional states will lend character story arcs more depth.

    September 2 / PC

  • Stronghold: Crusader II

     

    Long before the “tower defense” genre existed, developer Firefly Studios was building games about constructing actual towers and ramparts with elaborate fortifications, then hurling waves of attackers at you to test your architectural mettle. Stronghold: Crusader II is 12 years coming, replete with new units and real-time 3D physics, and this time sporting the option to manage your castle with another player cooperatively.

    September 2 / PC

  • Destiny

    Destiny is the summer’s (and perhaps even the year’s) biggest kahuna, the game everyone’s been hearing about for ages, the implication being that it’ll revolutionize gaming as we know it. It probably won’t, but it’s by Bungie, it feels distinctly Halo-like, and it showed well enough when I demoed it at E3: a highly polished, open-world, quasi-solo-multiplayer shooter that’ll work to keep your attention by dropping you onto Guild Wars 2-like playgrounds, routinely trotting out new and varied things to do.

    September 9 / PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

  • NHL 15

    For NHL 15, EA’s souping-up the notion of hockey as a full-contact sport. If you’re playing next-gen, the new “collision physics” system support secondary collisions, player pileups (involving all 12 players here) and scrambles for the net. That emphasis on improved physics extends to puck play, which EA’s touting as substantially more granular. The rest is mostly next-gen window dressing: all 30 NHL arenas meticulously rendered, thousands of models making up arena crowds and more realistic physics-impactive clothing.

    September 9 / PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

TIME Video Games

The Hollywood Cinematographer Has a New Job Path: Video Games

Lights. Camera. Press start.

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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.

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