Pax West 2019 Tagged Articles RSS Feed | Pax West 2019 RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network PAX West 2019 Preview: Insomniac’s Stormland for Oculus Rift Debuts Its Two-Player Cooperative Mode Wed, 11 Sep 2019 10:38:39 -0400 Thomas Wilde

The virtual reality scene is moving surprisingly quickly. Last year at PAX West, there were only a few VR games at the show that felt like full modern releases in their own right, rather than a sort of full-price score attack mode. It reminded me of the early CD-ROM era in a lot of ways, when many of the games (by no means all, but many) were more about showing off the tech’s potential rather than actually doing anything interesting with it.

Then there’s Insomniac’s Stormland. It was a Cadillac project last year, when Insomniac rented a storefront near the convention center to show it off in public for the first time. While it was still clearly an unfinished production the controllers wigged out on me about halfway through my demo it was also more ambitious and polished than anything else at the show. Stormland has a lot of gameplay mechanics that could be, and indeed have been, made into entire standalone games by other VR studios, but here, they’re just a part of a larger whole.

At this year’s PAX West, Stormland was tucked into the Oculus booth on the fourth floor of the Washington State Convention Center, alongside games like Asgard’s Wrath and Lone Echo II. The VR scene has gotten bigger and more elaborate in the intervening 12 months, so Stormland isn’t quite as far ahead of the pack as it used to be (I’d point here to other projects like the forthcoming After the Fall), but it’s still got a strong layer of polish and craft going for it.

The game’s plot is still a little murky, but the broad strokes have been revealed. A group of androids were surveying a seemingly ideal planet that they called Stormland, which used to be the home of a human civilization. Stormland is also inhabited by a force called the Tempest, which suddenly tears the androids’ forces apart and scatters them across the planet, leaving you a former gardener droid who’s barely functional as their last hope.

The big feature that Insomniac brought Stormland to PAX to show off this year was its multiplayer mode, but they didn’t tell me what that would entail until I was backstage. I was half-expecting to get dropped into a VR deathmatch with a couple of Insomniac’s testers. ("We heard what you said about Fuse," they would snarl, and then the virtual beating would begin.)

As it turns out, though, Stormland’s multiplayer is a full co-op mode. You have the option to play all the way through Stormland’s campaign with a partner, drop-in/drop-out style, and even crack into its post-game content together.

It makes a lot of sense, as Stormland feels a lot like it’s designed as an introductory product for VR newbies. Its moment-to-moment gameplay is basically a polished first-person shooter, pitting you against a hostile environment and a bunch of enemy droids, with a lot of cool little extras to enhance the game’s immersion. You can look down to see your grenades slung on your chest, and where your weapons are holstered on your hips. Accessing your map requires you to rotate your left wrist so the AR display on your character’s arm lights up. The same arm also has an energy field built into it for portable cover, so if you’re caught out of position in a firefight, you can throw up your shield like Captain America and limp back to relative safety.

All that you’d need to make Stormland a decent baby’s-first-VR sort of game is a personal tour guide, and if you have a VR die-hard handy to play with you, they can fill that role.

The big rockstar moment in Stormland, both last year and this year, was how you navigate through it. The surface of Stormland is covered in small islands, each of which is handcrafted by Insomniac’s designers but are randomly placed in the world. The space between them is covered in roiling clouds, and when you need to travel between islands, you can point your hands out like you’re superhero-flying and take off at a breakneck pace across the cloud layer. It feels a lot like waterskiing. It is fun and crazy enough on its own that it’s sometimes hard to switch back to simple run-and-gunning.

(I also consistently had a problem where I’d ramp off a particularly high cloud wave and end up flying through the air, which engaged my droid’s Pilotwings-style glider function. The Insomniac developer I was playing with often had to wait a minute or so for me to figure out how to land. Sorry, man.)

After my time with it at PAX, Stormland actually ended up reminding me a lot of Ratchet & Clank. The two games share a certain ramshackle aesthetic  Stormland's crazy robots and Ratchet's crazy backwater planets match up well together but more importantly, both games have a seething distaste for crates.

You can smash pretty much anything that doesn’t run away fast enough in Stormland to gather currency or resources, which are used to upgrade your weapons at certain stations scattered throughout the world. Those weapons are fairly standard-issue first-person shooter guns, but each one has a more interesting alt-fire that’s activated by taking a two-handed grip on the weapon. The submachinegun becomes a long rifle, and the grenade launcher acquires the ability to fire mines with a proximity fuse.

I did get the feeling from the PAX demo that if both players are roughly of the same skill level, you’d probably want to either split up or turn up the difficulty, but that’s a hard call to conclusively make from a highly curated sample of the final game. It did seem like most of the robots we fought were falling right over.

I was also told by Insomniac’s Tim Salvitti, senior community developer on Stormland, that there’s a substantial challenge-based endgame available after the completion of the story campaign. Once you’ve cleared the final mission, the world “shifts,” enabling you to work your way towards three new, more challenging realms in the Tempest. It could very well be that the multiplayer is actually balanced around co-op in the endgame, which means there’s a real challenge waiting for you and a friend after the credits roll.

Insomniac’s Stormland will be published by Oculus during 2019’s holiday season for the Rift and all related platforms. As Stormland’s production predates the recent acquisition of Insomniac by Sony, it’s unaffected by that deal.

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

Solving All My Problems With Violence in Streets of Rage 4 Wed, 11 Sep 2019 10:13:06 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Streets of Rage 4 feels like… well, pretty much exactly what it is. A French studio teamed up with a French-Canadian studio to make a stylish, faithful sequel to one of the great idle franchises in video game history, with a soundtrack by the original composer and a few equally legendary collaborators.

In a lot of ways, this feels like a fan project, the same way Sonic Mania did. Streets of Rage 4 isn’t an attempt to “update the series for a new generation,” or any other kind of random cash grab off an old license. It’s an arcade-style beat-‘em-up from stem to stern, with most of the old tricks, gimmicks, and conventions firmly in place. It felt familiar, and I felt and comfortable with it from the moment I picked it up, just as if it hasn’t been 25 years since the last Streets of Rage game.

Streets of Rage 4 is a collaboration between three studios. Lizardcube (the recent remake of Wonder Boy 3), in Paris, is handling the art direction, while Montreal’s Guard Crush Games (Streets of Fury) is handling the programming and Paris’s Dotemu is providing design work. The latter is also publishing the game.

I will say that the visuals are the biggest change. SoR4 in motion looks like the animated version of a European comic adaptation of the series. It's as if someone threw a giant sack of money at the guy who draws Yoko Tsuno to have him illustrate those old Sega licensed comics that ran in the U.K. in the ‘90s.

SoR4 is supposed to be set 10 years after the events of Streets of Rage 3, but Blaze Fielding hasn’t aged a day, Axel Stone looks like he joined a grunge band, the nameless city they’re in is still mostly populated by garish ‘80s gang members and the occasional dominatrix, and many of the backgrounds are rich with that ‘80s New York style of urban rot that all the old arcade beat-‘em-ups got out of movies like Death Wish and Cobra. It almost feels like a period piece.

Streets of Rage 4 has a soundtrack composed by series veteran Yuzo Koshiro, as well as Hideki Naganuma (Jet Set Radio, Sonic Rush, the last couple of Smash Brothers games), Yoko Shimomura (Final Fight, Street Fighter II, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XV), and Keiji Yamagishi (Ninja Gaiden, Tecmo Bowl, The Messenger). If you’re the sort of person who sits around listening to 16-bit chiptunes for fun, you should probably plan on ordering the SoR4 OST now. This is basically a supergroup for the 16-bit era.

I got a chance to play Streets of Rage 4 at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, at publisher Dotemu’s booth on the sixth floor of the convention center. They just handed me a controller and let me and a friend pummel our way through the game’s sixth stage.

The first thing I noticed, playing co-op, is that friendly fire is on by default, and according to a nearby Dotemu producer, cannot be turned off. Your worst enemy in Streets of Rage 4 is the person you’re playing with. The game was generous with its power-ups, so I was able to regain life by punching apples, hamburgers, and entire cooked chickens out of oil drums, but I wouldn’t have taken half as much damage if I wasn’t catching stray hands from Player 2.

I ended up playing as the newest character, Cherry Hunter, who’s the daughter of Adam from the original Streets of Rage. (Since Skate from SoR3 was Adam’s little brother, I guess the cross-city beatdown tour is now officially a Hunter family tradition.) Cherry felt like she was in the same mid-range zone as Axel always was, not too slow and doing decent damage, with the ability to bust out her guitar for an explosive chord that cleared the area around her.

One thing that did change in SoR4 from past games is that your special attacks still cost you small amounts of life, but it isn’t a permanent loss. Any life you spend on specials will regenerate a tick at a time as long as you don’t take any additional damage. The idea, according to Dotemu’s producers, is to make your special moves a risk vs. reward issue, rather than an emergency measure. As long as you can stay out of danger, you can freely incorporate your specials into your offense, which is great for clearing out sudden crowds of enemies.

That’s just one way in which SoR4 is a little kinder than the older games ever were. I remember complaining back in the day about a few other franchise revivals  like Contra  that kept a lot of the bad habits from the quarter-muncher days despite not being on an arcade cabinet anymore. Streets of Rage 4, though, at least in the stage from the PAX demo, doesn’t do that. You don’t have to memorize its patterns to avoid sudden cheap hits or deaths, the way that old ‘90s arcade games would in order to suck more change out of your pockets. It’s got a smoother, more intuitive difficulty curve.

Watching other people play SoR4, I did notice that I’d missed a few things. There are apparently a lot of secret moves and special attacks hidden in each character’s moveslist, the same way there were in Streets of Rage 3. There’s also at least one character that hasn’t been revealed yet, to go by the game’s key art. (I kind of hope it’s Busujima from Zombie Revenge, since this is suddenly the year for unexpected crossovers.)

I do wonder how Streets of Rage 4 will play if you didn’t grow up on arcade beat-‘em-ups. There’s a lot it improves about the original series the animation, the general difficulty curve, some of the basic mechanics but in a lot of ways, it’s trading heavily on nostalgia. The retrogaming guys I know are already hype for SoR4  Sega fans have been asking for a new Streets of Rage game since the Saturn was a thing but it’s enough of a throwback product that I wonder how well it’ll do with a brand-new audience.

Then again, it’s not a subtle genre. There are half a dozen guys over there with intact teeth, and your job is to go fix that. That will always have a timeless appeal.

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Fans of Limbo and Inside Should be Excited for Stela Mon, 09 Sep 2019 11:01:50 -0400 Mark Delaney

From the set of The Mix, a PAX West Friday night afterparty and indie games showcase (Paxter party?), I explained to two developers from Skybox Labs why Stela, their cinematic platformer, is my favorite kind of platformer.

"Because I suck at the others."

It's true. The Super Meat Boys and Splosion Mans of the world only serve to frustrate me and scare me off. But cinematic platformers? Those are moody, often deliberately paced, atmospheric. Those are right up my alley.

Stela is one such platformer, and after playing an early sequence at PAX West, I can tell it's not just going on my radar but many other radars, too. 

There's a bit of a curse and it's one I admittedly help propagate surrounding cinematic platformers. They're almost always compared to Limbo and Inside. The genre existed long before Limbo and has continued since 2016's Inside, but people have a habit of quickly drawing the comparison. 

For what it's worth, these devs wear Playdead's influence on their sleeves. They aren't shy to admit the similarities are obvious, but they're hopeful people give Stela its own fair shake.

Even amid pulsing music that killed the game's obviously present atmosphere, I found myself engrossed in its weird setting. All I was told of the story is that you play a woman amid the final days of her world. Lanky, vaguely tree-like but still humanoid monsters roam about freely. It seems to be their world now. 

These unsettling monsters are made more memorable thanks to the game's clever use of space and depth. In games like Stela, the background is often used to depict a world more alive with strange sights, but Stela also employs the foreground a lot, like when a patrolling monster eventually leaves the scene by walking toward the player.

"That was really cool," I told the devs. "I haven't seen that before." And that's true.

For all their brilliance, neither Limbo nor Inside uses such trickery to expand a scene beyond what one can see on-screen. Internally, it forces you to extrapolate what comes outside the margins, giving the world richness which is made stronger by the puzzles that utilize space in similar ways.

It's the most 3D a 2D game can really get, and it's a subtle but interesting evolution of the Playdead formula. 

I didn't know at the time, but Skybox told me a "stela" is, essentially, a gravestone. It seems their game grapples with death, and I'm eager to see that theme play out in its starkly unnerving world. 

I was told a release date announcement for Stela is coming soon, and it will definitely be out this year on Xbox.

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

“You Can Make A Good Living Off of Being A Bottom Feeder”: Jeff Vogel & Mariann Krizsan Talk Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror Mon, 09 Sep 2019 11:01:09 -0400 Thomas Wilde

Jeff Vogel is old-school in several different ways. As the owner of Spiderweb Software, Vogel has been an independent game developer since the days of shareware.

Spiderweb, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, makes 1980s-style fantasy CRPGs, such as the Avernum trilogy, Geneforge, and the series that started it all, Exile. Each game is primarily written, designed, and coded by Vogel, with assistance from his wife, Mariann Krizsan, and a handful of freelance artists.

Vogel often refers to himself as indie games’ “Crazy Old Uncle in the Attic,” and in that capacity, gave a speech called “Failing to Fail” at the 2018 Game Developers’ Conference. He also caused a bit of controversy earlier this summer with a couple of posts on his personal blog.

Vogel’s newest game, Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror, comes out on September 11. Funded by a successful Kickstarter last summer, Queen’s Wish puts you in the role of the youngest, rebellious child of Queen Sharyn of the Empire of Haven.

Up until the start of the game, your character’s life has been mostly spent partying. One day, without ceremony, you’re sent via a one-way teleporter to the distant, failed Havenite colony on the continent of Sacramentum. Sharyn charges you with bringing Sacramentum back in line and under Haven’s control.

Unusually for a Spiderweb game, Queen’s Wish offers a lot of different paths from here. You can opt to run your facilities like a tyrant, peacefully reforge diplomatic ties with the other races of Sacramentum, or ignore the Queen entirely and go wandering on your own. In another first for Spiderweb, Queen’s Wish also offers the option to rebuild the facilities in each of your allied settlements, using your collected resources to construct, supply, and enhance the shops and services in each one.

On August 29, I sat down for a conversation in downtown Seattle with Vogel and Krizsan to talk about Queen’s Wish, Spiderweb’s business model, and Vogel’s recent adventures in blogging.

(The following transcript has been edited for clarity.)

GameSkinny (GS:) I’m a little disappointed. I judge all fantasy-game character creators on whether or not I can make Lemmy from Motorhead, and you can’t quite do that in Queen’s Wish.

Jeff Vogel (JV): Because our budget for this game is so low, what we had to do was start with a core bit of art and expand it. For example, with the portrait system, there’s enough there to be a base, and get nice rounded faces. If there’s a Queen’s Wish 2 — fingers crossed  we’ll go to the artists and say, okay, now we need more faces, more beards, more this and that.

A Lemmy beard is definitely a good option. Because God knows I need ideas. I’m not an expert on hairstyles. For making these, I just did a Google for “hairstyles,” picked out a half-dozen that looked good, and handed those to the artist.

GS: You told me once that you have all sorts of freelance artists.

JV: Yup, about four main paid freelancers, but we are very, incredibly cheap in our budgeting. So we pull from a lot of good public domain art from all over the place. It tends to give our games sort of a schizophrenic appearance where the art doesn’t entirely blend together. But on the other hand, we can afford them. Keeping budgets low is very important these days for surviving as an indie developer.

GS: So the money from the Kickstarter was the entirety of your production budget on this?

JV: We still had some money kicking around. Pretty much always, the earnings from one game pay for the next game, and our games have super low budgets. It’s because the main product I’m selling is my writing, so the game is just a vector for the storytelling. I’m also pretty good at game systems.

But you know, we’ve never written a hit. We’re never going to write a hit. We make enough money from each game to write the next one, and pull salaries and health insurance out of what’s left.

GS: I got a kick out of that, with your recent blog posts (“I Am the Cheapest Bastard In Indie GamesandWhy All My Games Look Like Crap”) and the reaction to them on Twitter. The fans all reacted with various flavors of stark disbelief, and the pros all said, to paraphrase, “Yeah, that’s about right.”

JV: Our games, like most indie games, are a niche product. I’m only aiming for a small percentage of the gamers. If you show my games to a hundred gamers, 95 of them are going to say, “That looks really gross.”

But five will be like, “Hey, sure, I’ll try that out.” And you know, you can make a really good living out of being a bottom feeder, off of 5% of the gaming market.

GS: I was actually thinking that there are a couple of different people now in the indie space who are working with Patreon —

JV: Oh, yeah.

GS: — and are making a surprisingly good living off of it. These are games that have less development and less of a profile than yours do. I’m surprised you didn’t go there.

JV: I’m old-fashioned. We’re old. We come from a generation where you make a thing and you sell it.

Just moving to Kickstarter was a big step for us, but we treated a Kickstarter kind of like advanced sales, and that’s something we can wrap our old brains around. If it gets to the point where we’re really tight on money, we’re not so proud that we won’t pass the hat around and go onto Patreon, but we’re not quite at that point yet. We still want to make our living from just selling stuff.

GS: I’ve been playing Queen’s Wish. The last game of yours I played before this was the Avernum III remake, and this feels even more self-consciously old-school than that. Most of how you’re moving forward here is being able to put up buildings in your settlements, and the fact that your protagonist this time is actually a character rather than kind of a cipher.

JV: Yeah. You know, fantasy role-playing games are genre fiction. It’s like a novel, and you can approach it in just an enormous amount of different ways. Which is one of the reasons we write fantasy role-playing so much: because it’s a genre that you can do an infinite amount of things with.

As game designers, we believe we’ve barely began to scratch the surface of what you can do with fantasy role-playing games. One of the ways we stay sane writing them again and again is to break up the reality. Sometimes we like to do a game where your main character is a cipher, and then you put your own personality into that character, and in others, you have a specific role, and you have to decide what you’re doing within that role.

In Queen’s Wish, which deals with a very specific sort of political situation, with very different political problems, it really made sense for you to have a specific role that you had to either fulfill or rebel against.

GS: I did like how you’ve surrounded your main character with competence in a way that a lot of games don’t tend to. Most of the NPCs you encounter in Queen's Wish have their jobs under control and don’t need your help immediately, like the admiral at the entrance to the swamplands.

JV: Yeah, I love that. That was a lot of fun to do. In so many role-playing games, you’re just sort of a lone wolf, wandering around and beating up bozos. I wanted you to be a prince, with everything that comes with that. You’re wealthy, you have power, you have assistants, you have an army, you have forts, you have your own butler…

GS: I like that you can have your butler do a bunch of stuff for you, like give you a haircut, that has absolutely no mechanical benefit.

JV: [laughter] Yeah. A lot of the stuff is just there to contribute to a work of fiction. I love doing lots of things that don’t have game mechanics, that are there to just flesh out the world and make the player emotionally invested. Once the player is emotionally invested in the game, the mechanics are just more meaningful because you care.

GS: I’ve been running around hunting down books to add them to my records.

JV: I wish there were more of those. It’s just that there’s only so much time. It’s the two of us. I wrote most of them, Mariann wrote a bunch of them…

GS: [to Mariann]: I knew that you were his business manager, but I didn’t know you were involved in the creative side until just now.

Mariann Kriszan (MK): I do whatever he doesn’t want to do, or he needs help with. I’m kind of a jack of all trades.

JV: She assists with the design a lot. She often helps build the terrain in the engine, she writes a lot, and I just give her notes at the end.

So Spiderweb’s existed for 25 years. [as if suddenly realizing it] It’s our 25th birthday! Woo!

MK: Woo!

JV: And Mariann started working with me in ’96? ’97?

MK: Yup.

JV: And we’ve been partners ever since.

GS: I knew of your work because I grew up with Apple computers, and 90% of the Macintosh gaming library back then was what you got on the disc that came with copies of MacWorld magazine.

MK: Good times.

JV: Our business exists in large part because, a couple months in, we got our game onto one of those MacWorld discs. The sales boost from that was what enabled us to say, “Hey, this is a thing. Let’s make this a business.”

GS: I remember that the first Exile was one of the first times I ran into a lesbian NPC in a video game. There was a lesbian couple near the start.

JV: I’ve always been big on diversity in video games, in the character casts. Starting from our first game in 1994, you could have an entire party of characters that were female, or who weren’t white. At the time, that was a fairly radical thing. I got a lot of emails from people about it and thought, “Well, this is nuts.”

It wasn’t a big political stance at the time. It was just that I want as many customers as possible, so I want everyone to feel at home. It’s just more of an artistic statement. If I’m making a fantasy world from scratch, I want to have a wide variety of people in it. I want you to be in a world that feels big.

GS: One of the criticisms I saw going around, and I can kind of feel it with Queen’s Wish, is that it’s a four-character party. Why four, rather than more than four?

JV: Our first four games let you have a six-character party, and the last one of those I wrote came out in ’99, I think. Then I switched to a four-player party. In the Avadon games, it’s three characters, but usually it’s four.

I get asked again and again, why not six? It might be a good business idea to switch to six, because most people do four. The answer is: it’s an aesthetic feeling. I can’t put into words how I’m more comfortable playing games and running games with a four-character party.

It’s purely an aesthetic judgement, but part of it has to do with the fact that in my mind, when I’m playing four people, the amount of thought I have to give to each one is divided. It’s easier for me to give these people four identities in my mind than six. If I’m playing with a six-character party, I feel like it’s more of a crowd. I keep losing track of who everyone is and what they can do. If it’s four, I can always keep track of them.

MK: Six is also kind of an army.

JV: Yeah. It makes it trickier to balance.

MK: That’s the other big thing, yeah. Balancing a game is easier with four.

GS: So it’s a personal choice, rather than any kind of code limitation or what-have-you?

JV: Oh, yeah. I could easily do six. It’s just that for doing design and programming, it’s just me. I have to do something to enable my mind to keep a handle on it, because otherwise, I’m already on the ragged edge of being overwhelmed all the time. Sometimes, I just have to say, "I gotta do the simpler thing."

If you really want to get nostalgic, when I was a teenager, there was a game called Wizard’s Crown where you had an eight-person party. That’s the only game I’ve ever seen that had an eight-person party, and that came out around 1986, then disappeared from the face of the Earth. We learned from it very early on.

MK: Eight people’s just too many.

GS: Now that you mention it, I’ve seen more, but they were in turn-based strategy games rather than RPGs.

JV: One of the things about writing a role-playing game is that you have to be really careful with the cognitive load. A human being can only put so much mental focus into a game. So with Queen’s Wish, there’s a story and characters, and it’s really in-depth — I’m sorry, but I’m really happy with the story and the characters. That’s going to take up some room in the game.

There’s also a construction system, and the game’s system. I have to keep everything at a modest level so it doesn’t squeeze out everything else. I have to leave room in the player’s mind for every element.

GS: I can already tell there’s going to be a point in Queen’s Wish where I’ll hit a brick wall and have to start getting really interested in the construction systems, in order to squeeze out a few more upgrades.

JV: The construction system is fairly simple, partly for that reason. I don’t want people obsessing about their town builds so much. I want them to be going out, killing bozos, doing diplomacy and other stuff.

Also, if you’re playing on Normal difficulty, I always make Normal really easy because that’s by and large what people want. If you play on that, you don’t have to engage with the fort system a lot. You have to do it some, but not a ton. But when you play on Veteran or Torment difficulties, then you really have to know what you’re doing with building houses.

GS: My party build right now is a front-line sword-and-shield guy, then a spearman, an archer/support mage, and then an offensive caster.

JV: Yep. It really supports the standard buildout. With four people, it’s usually two melee, a support, and a mage, or some mix of that. But I’ve been finding in testing that people are coming up with crazy stuff. Someone will come to me and say “Melee is way overpowered in this.”

Someone else will come in and say, “Oh, yeah, magic is way overpowered. Don’t bother with melee at all.” I love when that happens. Everyone thinks they have the one, true build.

GS: I’d feel like magic was more powerful if not for the fact that your area-of-effect spells just munch energy, and that everything has such a high miss chance in the early game. It’s not uncommon for me to catch an entire enemy group with one spell, but miss half of them.

JV: But it’s still worthwhile. Everything just has its limitations.

One of the unique things about Queen’s Wish, which for things like this I really like, is that respecs are free. You can return to town and retrain everything.

So, on the highest difficulty level, when you’re going to an area where you know you’re going to face a certain person, you have to really modify your build. There are abilities that seem really bad at first, like silence, that suddenly on a high difficulty level become necessary for certain situations.

GS: I was wondering about that. You’ve got a lot of tools in this game that don’t seem like they’re necessary now, like all the combat abilities where you have to use up a turn first to set them up.

JV: It’s a buff on your next attack. So, for example, there’s an ability where your next attack does regular damage and stuns. But also, and this is one of the coolest things about it — I really tried to emphasize this in the game, but I’m not sure a lot of people are gonna notice — you can do that with any attack. It’s not just melee.

GS: Oh. No, I hadn't picked up on that.

JV: So your archers can do that, too, or your mages with their wands. Most people assume that a buff like that is only going to be on their melee weapons, but you can give an archer all of these optional abilities, so they can do crazy stuff all over the battlefield.

GS: I just pictured my archer suddenly pulling out Green Arrow’s boxing glove arrow.

MK: [laughter]

JV: Or just aiming it in such a way that it hits them in the head. Everyone’s going to have their own mental picture.

I really like that system. I don’t think a lot of people are going to notice that system, but what can you do?

GS: Well, now that you’ve told me, and I’m planning to run this interview, that’ll be something.

JV: Yeah. Y’know, I’m old, and I’m burned out.

GS: I was wondering about that, and some of the tweets you’ve made. I know a few people who are looking forward to Queen’s Wish, but one of the things they’ve talked about is that every so often, you tweet about how tired you are, and it worries them.

JV: Okay, first of all, no one should feel bad about me. We’re living a great life. Nobody should feel the slightest bit of pity for us in any way.

A lot of the reason I’ve been saying I’m so tired is because, with this game, I really wanted to prove I’m not a hack. I’m not burned out. I’m not out of ideas. I’m not just sort of coasting on past glories. With this game, I wanted to leave everything on the field. And it’s been exhausting.

I’ve been working on this game on and off for five years. I first had the idea for this game five years ago.

GS: Yeah, we talked last year, when you said you were about to do the Kickstarter. I wasn’t expecting to hear that the game was done for a while yet, let alone that you’d have something playable as soon as you did.

MK: A lot of the stuff was already done on paper.

JV: I’ve heard some people call the Kickstarter a glorified shit post. I’m like, "Oh, my God, we worked on this Kickstarter for months." Like, the video on the Kickstarter page?

MK: [knowing laughter]

JV: I had to program the game to make that. I love it so much. It’s like a vertical slice of the entire game. All of the systems are in that.

Making the Kickstarter took forever. But the thing is, it showed. For the people who were paying attention and cared about what we’re doing, it showed, and that’s why the Kickstarter made so much money.

So by the time the Kickstarter came out, we were already… [groans in mock fatigue]

MK: And then you can’t stop.

JV: And then you’re like, "OK, now it’s time to do the real job."


GS: I know a lot of people who really appreciated the Scroll of Absolution Kickstarter bonus, where you forgave people for ever having pirated one of your previous games.

JV: Yeah, that was something that did really well.

We’re probably going to keep Kickstarting games. The indie games business in 2019 is so ugly and murderous that you cannot afford to let any angle go past, and Kickstarter is a chance to do advanced sales, and sell Scrolls of Absolution. It’s just a little extra safety margin, to get a little extra money, which is necessary.

We added in Kickstarter the ability for backers to contribute designs, to create items, characters, and quests, and I have to say, that has been fantastic. I was worried.

MK: We were like, “Oh, no. What are we opening the doors to here?”

JV: But the items we got, the characters, the ideas, were just solid gold. I was reading these ideas, and I was like, “I’m getting blown out of the water. I’m getting put to shame. I can’t wait to put this stuff in the game. This is fantastic material.”

GS: You apparently have an impressive fan base.

JV: Yeah. I didn’t get ideas for lore from them. I got things like, “I want an item that does this, or one item that does this sort of thing.” So all the best weapons and items in the game are based on user suggestions.

Then someone said, “I want an item that does this, but also has this weird side effect.” I said, “Okay, I’m gonna have to go into the engine and reprogram this, but it’s such a cool idea. Hell yeah, this is great.”

And the quests. One person made his backer quest with his kids, and what they came up with… it’s just silly and weird and really big. He wrote to me and said, “This is so goofy. My kids came up with it. I’m not sure you’re going to want to put it in.”

I’m like, “Oh, no. This is totally going in. It’s nuts, but it’s really neat.”

GS: So, out of curiosity, let’s say someone comes forward with a lot of money, somebody trustworthy, and says, I want to bankroll your next project. Suddenly, you have a budget. You can hire people. What would you do?

JV: I’d want one or two real artists. I’d want a coder who’s good at programming art, because the thing is, a lot of the problem with our visuals is not just not being able to afford art, but having a person who’s good at programming art. Maybe I'd get somebody who’s good at programming Unity, so I can make that switch.

I’m actually pretty good at managing people. I have to manage a million freelancers all the time. I’m constantly giving people directions. My freelancers tend to really like working for me. They do it for a long time.

If you gave me a budget, I’d hire artists, and a sound designer, and programmers, and an extra designer who’s really good at writing. I could be very comfortable sitting at the top and just spinning out the story, but with enough backup and support to really do it justice and give it a lot of detail. It’s a beautiful dream.

But you know, there’s no shortage of good designers. People will sometimes ask me, “Why don’t you sell out? Why doesn’t someone steal you away and put you in charge of a larger product?” Because, you know, you throw a bunch of money at me, I’ll write you a crackerjack roleplaying game. But a lot of people can do that. There’s a million designers out there.

GS: With the sheer density of video game studios in Seattle, especially right now, I’m surprised no one’s tried to grab you.

JV: No, everyone gets their designers in house. Being a designer is the dream. That’s the ice cream slot. Everyone wants to be the one who does that. If Microsoft or Bungie wants to design a game, they’re almost never going to pull someone from outside, because they’ve got a million people right outside their doors clamoring for that job, and a bunch of them are probably just as good as me.

If a company wants to write a role-playing game — well, God help them, because it’s a difficult genre to make money in under any circumstances. [as an aside] Rest in peace, Bioware. There’s going to be someone inside the company who’s just going to be champing at the bit to write their roleplaying game for them.

GS: I was playing Queen’s Wish last night, and it really made me realize the degree to which this sort of game hasn’t even really fallen out of style, but has just gotten hybridized with everything else.

JV: And that’s what keeps us in business, to a large extent. We treat video games, role-playing games, as a storytelling medium first and foremost. We want a really good story with lots of words.

Indie game developers do best when they pick up the genres that the larger companies have dropped. Right? I’m a bottom feeder. I look for a niche that is not being served elsewhere, and I serve that. The industry is moving away from games with lots of words, but there’s still a demand for that. There will always be a demand for that. So that’s what we satisfy.

When I go to Mariann and say, “We need more words,” nobody else is saying that.

MK: That’s true.

JV: Everyone else is trying to get rid of the words.

GS: I can’t imagine trying to translate one of your games.

JV: It’s just never going to happen. It’s not worth it.

MK: Too many words.

JV: Localizing one of our games to French or what-have-you would cost a fortune and take a lot of time. It’s just not worth it. That’s another reason why we’ll probably never be on consoles, because they tend to want games that are very "localizable." You can get a game that’s all English on a console, but it’s hard.

GS: Honestly, I want to get Queen’s Wish working on a gamepad. I feel weird about click-to-move.

JV: We’re working on it. Already, today, I’ve spent some time prototyping the interface for Queen’s Wish for iPhone. It’s going to be our first game on the iPhone. I don’t know how well it’s gonna work, but we’re gonna give it the old college try.

GS: I remember seeing a lot of people who were happy about your previous games being available on mobile.

MK: It’s a good medium for it.

JV: It goes really well, it’s portable, and it’s neat. It was a Kickstarter goal to get Queen’s Wish on the iPhone. So we’re gonna work on that really hard as soon as the game’s out, and get the port out on iPad and iPhone by the end of the year. I’ve already started laying the groundwork, but really grinding out the code will start after the game comes out on Windows and Mac on [September] 11, via all the standard stores. Steam, GOG, Itch, our site. Not Epic.

GS: You’re not putting it on the Epic Games Store?

JV: [cheerfully] Nope!

Well, you know, I’m not going to lie. If Epic walked up to us and offered us a gigantic bag of money so we didn’t have to worry about earnings for a couple of years, I’d take that deal. Every indie would take that deal. This business is terrifying.

GS: [laughter]

JV: Everyone here is three bad days from going out of business. Of course everyone’s going to take the Epic money bag. It’s just that I’m not good enough for it. Our games are too niche and too low-budget to get into that club. But you know, no hard feelings.

Queen’s Wish: The Conqueror is available for sale on September 11.

PAX West 2019: Journey to the Savage Planet Joyfully Rejects the AAA Doom and Gloom Mon, 09 Sep 2019 10:00:01 -0400 Mark Delaney

Typhoon Studios is officially over the grayscale worlds and gruff anti-heroes they spent years crafting for major publishing labels. That couldn't be more obvious than it is with Journey to the Savage Planet.

From its absurdist humor to its vibrantly varied biomes and even its briefer but denser runtime, JTSP is everything AAA game design is not. Typhoon wants to dazzle you for 15 to 20 hours of gameplay, not drag you along for the third act of another Checklist Epic.

They like it that way, and they hope you do, too. I know I certainly did.

As someone who often has a hard time staying interested in the latter acts of some sandbox games, the thought of playing in a unique world like JTSP's for just 15-20 hours sounds like a dream come true. Not just because the game won't take too long — I can find that in plenty of games — but also because in my 30 minutes with the game, it was one of my favorite demos at PAX West.

JTSP is an exploration game at heart, and while Typhoon's Community Manager Denis Lanno and I took on a boss and fast traveled to several combat areas, this is chiefly a colorful Metroidvania meant to make you smile. It's really good at that.

With its gorgeously weird world full of oblong flora, magical fauna, and absurd infomercials playing on your spaceship in bright oranges, blues, purples, and greens, the planet looks more like a box of crayons sent through a blender than something aptly named "savage." It's clearly meant to be ironic.

Still, the heart of the demo — for me — was its traversal mechanics. I double-jumped over huge gaps; I grappled to the sides of massive flowers; I scaled walls using boogery plants; and I grinded on some of the world's naturally gnarly terrain. It was this last part that made me vocalize the very Sunset Overdrive feelings JTSP gave me. 

Even as so much of the game's design was different, such as its first-person versus Sunset's third, or a Metroidvania experience versus a sandbox one, ultimately, my developer teammate liked the comparison and said Sunset Overdrive is sort of a spiritual guide for them. It was a game that eschewed normal practices and decided to make a name for itself by cutting through all the red tape it could have been wrapped up in.

"We used to have to call a meeting for every little idea," Denis said, with no love lost for the AAA world.

Sunset Overdrive still had the backing of Microsoft, though, making JTSP feel even riskier. It takes some guts to ditch the blockbuster franchises you're working on to not only build up a new studio but to then get to work on a game that ignores everything you've done until then.

With heads of studio responsible for previous mega-franchises like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, it seems this refresh is more like a mission statement for Typhoon Studios. In that way, Sunset Overdrive's punk ethos does still shine through in the studio's upcoming debut. 

Journey to the Savage Planet is Typhoon's irreverent middle finger, delivered with a see-ya-suckers grin, to the gritty games and prying publishers of their collective past.

JTSP is set to release on January 28, 2020 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store on PC. 

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Everspace 2 Touts Big Budget, Bigger Promises Fri, 06 Sep 2019 13:10:51 -0400 Mark Delaney

Space was once heralded as the final frontier, but for video games, it was one of the first. It's also been one of the most common. There's no shortage of games that take players to the vast reaches of our universe or create entirely new ones from whole cloth. 

After the success that was Everspace, an indie roguelite space shooter, developer Rockfish is going even bigger for the recently-revealed sequel. 

With a Kickstarter launching in just a few weeks, there's still a lot we don't know about Everspace 2, but after 40 minutes of playtime at PAX, plus a few cheeky teases from the developer hanging out with me as I played, here's what we do know.

If you were a fan of Everspace, there's a lot to take in regarding the sequel.

For starters, I immediately noticed that the visuals were nothing short of magnificent and the UI was crowded with objectives to chase. It's all part of the bigger, better Everspace Rockfish is building.

The developers I spoke to were visibly elated with what's ahead. Maybe that's because the Kickstarter looks poised to be a hit given the passionate community surrounding the game. Maybe it's also because of the teases they alluded to while I was playing, like how the company name on the wing of my spaceship reading "Rockfish" was a placeholder for a highly-requested new feature.

Another much-requested feature was for the series to move away from roguelite elements and into a fully-realized universe with RPG elements. Rockfish is delivering on that promise and as their booth was full of one newbie (see: me) and a whole bunch of passionate fans, it seemed they had made the right choice.

Rockfish stressed that while the series is moving into RPG territory, the core of what fans still want from Everspace remains intact. Things like deep customization returns and goes deeper. Mission variety is laudable again, and actually more so, they claim. The story is meant to feel more robust as well, and will even explain in-universe how the world's roguelite mechanic has disappeared.

Unlike other hardcore space sims, Everspace 2 will retain the series' arcadey physics, too, which were on display for me a few times when I outright crashed into space debris.

Ultimately, it feels like every facet of the game is getting an upgrade to something much greater than Rockfish could've imagined. They've found success, and rather than rest on their laurels, they look to be going bigger across the board, all while listening to their most passionate fans' suggestions.

It feels like a game made not just for the community but, to a healthy extent, with the community. And at their heart, the people at Rockfish seem to be just as excited as their biggest fans.

Everspace 2 will come to Steam Early Access next year before migrating to other platforms in 2021, making it the first game I know of to have announced a 2021 release window.

There are other surprises in store according to whispers I heard during my demo, but I'll let Rockfish spill those space beans on October 2nd when their Kickstarter goes live.

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: In Predator: Hunting Grounds — Only the Strongest Will Get to the Chopper Fri, 06 Sep 2019 12:55:27 -0400 Mark Delaney

Insomniac's Spider-Man really makes you feel like the webslinger. Arkham Asylum really makes you feel like the caped crusader. Marvel's Avengers makes you feel like Thor. 

At the risk of sounding cliche, Predator: Hunting Grounds really makes you feel like the predator or at least, I assume it does. Having played it at PAX West 2019 as one of the jungle soldiers, I experienced really feeling like my guts were being swiftly removed from my stomach. 

The predator is fast, fearsome, and formidable, and just like Illfonic's other asynchronous multiplayer game, Friday The 13th, it feels like the developer may have cultivated a special breed of multiplayer gaming.

Loading out as a four-person contingent of commandos, my PAX West team headed into the jungle armed to the teeth. Each of us chose one of the several classes of soldier available; I went for the Scout class, which packs an SMG and has increased mobility at the cost of some vitality.

It's usually a tradeoff I'm happy to make, but minutes later, I found myself wondering if that extra speed would have ever really made a difference against the eponymous hunter.

What Predator: Hunting Grounds does well is pacing. There are no illusions that someone is out there playing as the camouflaged creature, hunting you down, waiting to strike. But since you don't know when that stalking player will attack, you must carry on with your mission schlepping that creeping weight.

Each mission is meant to be multi-faceted and move you from place to place within a small hub; complete all the objectives and eventually, ahem, "get to de choppa!"

But that is so much easier said than done. The predator is a killing machine, just like it is in the movies. While you're distracted with time-sensitive objectives and firing back at enemy AI soldiers, the king of the jungle will eventually make its appearance. And when it does, things get scary — fast. 

These signature moments highlighted my demo. Second by second, I could feel the creature getting closer; I could tell my team was getting eviscerated by the hunter. It was all the more reason to push forward, to not stop and watch it happen.

Strangely, I felt like a Wall Street executive shredding documents as the FBI banged on the door. My attempts felt futile, but in my haste, there was no better option but to continue on.

Eventually, I was the only teammate still completing objectives, amazed that the predator hadn't come for me yet. I spotted a downed teammate. I hurried to revive them, and then, as I got them to their feet, it happened. Like something straight out of the movies, the predator launched its forearm blade directly into his chest, killing him instantly. 

It was terrifying and awesome at once. We couldn't have scripted it any better.

From there, it picked us off, one by one, almost feeling as if it was toying with us. We didn't make it to the helicopter, and few did at PAX. Time will tell if the monster needs to be nerfed, but for now, it felt like poor teamplay was the mechanism of our failure  and that's how it should be.

For more impressions from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Once Upon a Time In Roswell is a Promising Mix of Aliens and Noir Fri, 06 Sep 2019 10:58:19 -0400 Mark Delaney

Some things in life just go well together. Peanut butter and jelly. Sports and junk food. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. 

Other things don't immediately jump out as obvious pairings. Extraterrestrials and film noir is one such duo. But even as you'd be right to ponder such a combination, you'd also be quick to realize their pairing potential — especially after you played Once Upon a Time in Roswell.

From the pre-PAX ID@Xbox Open House, I was able try out a 20-minute demo of the upcoming first-person horror game just hours before it was revealed at TinyBuild's PAX press conference. With a plot happy to warp every preconception, I came away excited to see more of this fascinating mix of aliens and noir, sci-fi and style.

At the start of my demo, all the usual hallmarks of a classic noir were present. The private detective's desk was blanketed in miscellaneous documents and soaked in the setting sun. The PI's moody monologue waxed poetic about his recent workload, the Peterson Case, which was also the former project name of Roswell

Walking the halls of an office building, I solved puzzles and recounted moments from my investigation, chatting up my inner self with musings that felt plucked right out of the golden age of 50's noir. Given the title, I expected aliens, too. Somewhere.

But before I encountered anything from beyond the stars, I saw ghostly flashbacks of a family floating in a black ether, reminiscent of the paranormal visions haunting the game's recent reveal trailer (seen below).

As I continued along, I began to suspect that aliens wouldn't show up after all until they finally did. Speaking with reps from TinyBuild, I excitedly asked, "Is this an alien game?" Much like the demo they had put in my hands, they were cryptic. Eventually, though, they admitted the title keeps giving it away. 

Thankfully, it doesn't seem like Roswell's story hinges on players being ignorant of the significance of Roswell, New Mexico. Even when E.T.s arrived in my demo with an entrance reminiscent of the birthday home video in Signs, I was still left wondering if there was more behind the veil.

The visions I had seen already told me something darker may be stirring in Roswell, and like the detective at the center of the story, I felt like I wasn't going to rest until I solved one of the strangest cases he I had ever been faced with.

While my thoughts continued to make little sense of the story, it was partly because this was a demo, and I was lacking context, but I sensed the narrative enjoyed shrouding itself in enigmas regardless. 

Is it a noir tale? Yes, it's absolutely that. Is it an alien game? It seems to be for now. Is it all just a twisted metaphor for a family crippled by tragedy or anger or turmoil? Some early signs pointed to that, too, and the overall confusion I felt when I left my seat is why it's been on my mind for days. 

Once Upon a Time in Roswell could go in many different directions, and the thrill of the unknown is leading me down its inevitably dark path. I can't wait to see more. 

For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: No Bones About It, MediEvil is Another Nostalgic PlayStation Trip Thu, 05 Sep 2019 14:21:15 -0400 Mark Delaney

When Crash Bandicoot got his remake a few years ago, critics and fans were unanimous in their adoration of the collection. The same happened soon after with Spyro the Dragon's trilogy. Then, Crash Team Racing got its moment in the sun earlier this year. 

Each outing has been awesome for new fans new and old, and the projects have amassed a ton of goodwill for these properties which laid dormant for so long.

Fittingly, it's now the undead Sir Daniel Fortesque's moment of resurrection. I went hands-on with the first two levels of PlayStation's overhaul of the cult classic, and I found in it the same nostalgic thrill all recent remakes have given me. 

I was never really sure what the lasting impression of MediEvil was among the gaming public. I liked it a lot when I played it on PS1 as a kid, but we had a lot of weird games back then, and there was no internet to tell us the consensus opinion.

With this remake forthcoming, it seems I wasn't nearly alone in my appreciation for the difficult but lovable game as I thought.

The remake truly plays out just like those aforementioned recent remakes do. It's shot for shot the original, perhaps recrafted right over the old code like Crash and Spyro apparently were. If you played MediEvil decades ago, you'll immediately travel through time.

Waking in the crypt, reading tutorial tomes, and gathering your weapons all looks and feels exactly as you left it, only now it's much prettier, even with a layer of the macabre decorating the entire world.

Heading out into the graveyard is another immediate blast from the past. It's amazing how much one retains of influential titles without realizing it. It was like I remembered where to go and what to do, even where the zombies would sprout up.

If there's one element of MediEvil you'll struggle to welcome back, it's the button-mashy combat, where Fortesque chops at the undead almost aimlessly. He's quick with a sword, especially for someone with no muscle structure, but it still feels less than reliable.

No matter how fast you can hack away, the enemies sometimes land a few hits on you. 

This could be a long-term issue for the game when later sections get really tough. Nobody likes feeling as if the game let them down. It's easier to accept when it's our own fault, and MediEvil sometimes doesn't feel that way, just like it's always felt.

I played just the first two levels, but the second stage also left me stranded without a shield during a platforming section where a shield is vital.

It's these sorts of old-school design flaws that annoyingly come along for the ride in the same way the original Crash Bandicoot still features depth perception issues.

But for those that recall how the game once behaved and can accept it might be like that again, MediEvil will be a challenging experience, though ultimately one that is still full of simple fun and great imagery. 

What's a few broken bones along the way?

For more PAX West 2019 coverage, including more hands-on impressions, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Disintegration is More Than the FPS You Might Expect Thu, 05 Sep 2019 12:49:31 -0400 Mark Delaney

When the selling point of your new IP is that it comes from one of the co-creators of Halo, you automatically paint a particular image in the minds of players.

That's how the world was first introduced to Disintegration, a brand-new sci-fi shooter from V1 Interactive, being published next year under 2K's "indie" label, Private Division.

You'd be forgiven for expecting something of a reskin of tried and true first-person shooters with that proud pedigree dominating its marketing materials, but Disintegration goes much deeper than that. In fact, its design is, as far as I am aware, unrivaled in all of games.

By uniquely combining elements of the FPS and MOBA genres, Disintegration is poised to be a trailblazer in competitive gaming.

Hands-On With Disintegration

After a brief introduction from one of V1's developers, the PAX audience and I were split into two warring teams. The 5v5 game mode felt a bit like Capture the Flag, but to say it was precisely that is underselling it. Really, the mode is an amalgamation of CTF and RTS.

In the mode, each player loads out in their choice of hovering vehicles called gravcycles. Some are slow but sturdy, others are agile but vulnerable. Some are clad in '80s colors, others look like Mad Max ambassadors.

With these various functions and factions, you're meant to feel like this is a hero shooter of sorts. Mastering each cycle and customizing their look will be a big part of Disintegration when it launches.

Hitting the battlefield with four other teammates, we were each also responsible for a ground team of AI combatants.

Depending on the gravcycle you choose, you have between two and four soldiers awaiting your orders. This is where things morph from a familiar sci-fi shooter to something much greater. With 10 human players fighting for control of two bombs one team defends while another tries to plant each gravcycle is also responsible for the boots on the ground.

This makes for a refreshing ballet, not just because the gravcycles float around the battlefield like Olympians, but because every player has a lot to consider. You can take on other players' gravcycles directly, but it's clear that the best players simultaneously bark orders to their soldiers with the intuitive click of a button.

These AI grunts behave according to the context, too. Highlight an enemy and they open fire. Move them to the bomb, and they try to plant it. Order them to use some of their special abilities, and they do so. Leaning on its MOBA influence, maps even have noticeable lanes where players can send their troops to play offense or defense.

With a round full of rookies, the match was absolutely chaotic, with battles often colliding in one central location while we all wrapped our heads around the flow of the action. In time, though, Disintegration looks like it will grow from a hectic mess to a calculated esport where laying back and playing strategically is often just as valuable as running ahead twitch-shooting hoverbikes.

Smart controls and an already obvious risk/reward element form the foundation of a shooter that will no doubt find footing with at least a pocket of passionate fans. How big Disintegration gets from there is a guessing game, but it's a risk 2K is taking its chances on.

The game certainly doesn't look like an indie, or really anything less than a big-budget shooter, but its unorthodox setup will probably turn some curious players away once they find there's more to this than another Halo.

But then, we don't need another Halo. Disintegration is going for something new, and this amalgam of MOBA principles and ubiquitous shooter mechanics is itself a fascinating risk/reward proposition of multiplayer game design.

Disintegration will launch with a full single-player campaign alongside this and other multiplayer modes in 2020. I'm curious to see if the gambit pays off, and I'd wager Disintegration will win over enough fans to birth a new subgenre.

For more PAX West 2019 coverage, including more hands-on impressions, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub

PAX West 2019: Five Things We Learned Playing Marvel's Avengers Tue, 03 Sep 2019 13:27:57 -0400 Mark Delaney

PAX West 2019 is officially in the rear-view, and with it go a whopping 35 games with which I went hands-on this weekend. Everything from huge blockbusters and the littlest indies to new platforms and remastered classics were all on display, and I was fortunate enough to demo many of them. 

I'll be bringing you impressions of many of these games all week, but I figured it's best to kick it off with one of next year's biggest games: Marvel's Avengers.

After an admittedly confusing debut at E3, Crystal Dynamics spent the Gamescom-PAX doubleheader trying to clarify what Avengers really is. After a 20-minute demo and a sitdown with one of the game's lead developers, we learned five important details. 

Thor's Mjolnir Is Just as Fun as Kratos' Ax

When one of God of War 2018's combat designers joins your team and you also have a big beefy hero who throws blacksmithed metal around, you'd be right to bring back the awesome throw-and-recall mechanics of Kratos' ax.

That's exactly what Crystal Dynamics has done with Thor, who can now fire Mjolnir at baddies and call it back for a second round of blunt force trauma on command. Just like it survived God of War's 20-hour story without ever getting old, I can expect the same will be true every time we step into the boots of Thor when playing Marvel's Avengers

Multiplayer and Single-Player Have Their Own Distinct Mission Strands

One of the big discrepancies players had after E3 was how single-player and multiplayer content co-existed in Avengers. The devs heard this criticism loud and clear and even offered something of a mea culpa for past confusions. 

Now, it's been explained that players will have a traditional campaign, called Hero Missions, but along the way, they will unlock various Warzone missions as well.

In Warzone, you play with up to three others players (or remain solo if preferred) and take on these additional quests. While you can avoid these missions and just focus on the story, Crystal Dynamics assured us that anyone who is a fan of Marvel will have plenty of reasons to play the missions given the undisclosed rewards that await your successes.

Yes, You Can Grind for Better Gear And 80 Years of Marvel Throwbacks

In those same Warzone missions is where you'll find much of the loot players will be avidly chasing. But it won't just be about getting better loot.

You'll also be able to unlock character skins that pay homage to Marvel's illustrious 80 years of history. Crystal Dynamics was elated to share that they've got the whole backlog of the brand to work with, which they admit is more than they could ever actually use in a lifetime.

They also mentioned that gear function and fashion will exist separately, so if you're fond of a certain style but don't want to lose your gear buffs, you don't need to compromise.

All Additional Heroes Will Be Free, But You'll Beat the Game with the Starting Five

Crystal Dynamics is already planning for the important post-launch era of Marvel's Avengers, and they've promised every superhero that comes after launch will be free.

I asked if that meant any would be integrated into the main campaign, and I was told while every new hero will have their own fully-fledged campaign missions, players will beat the main story with the starting five: Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Thor.

Eagle-eyed viewers can likely already guess who may be among the first expansion heroes. The latest trailer shows what looks like a young Kamala Khan going down with the Avengers' float on A-Day, but as the stoy then flashes forward five years, no one should suspect she perished in the chaos.

Ms. Marvel certainly looks like she'll be one of the many post-launch heroes.

Crystal Dynamics Remains Super Tight-Lipped About The Game's Big Bad

The last question I had for the studio regarded the apparent enemy in the game, a corporation called AIM. This mega-corporation has taken over the civilian protection industry in the wake of the Avengers' disbanding, but their technocratic rule goes awry in the five years the Avengers are disassembled, leading our heroes to reunite, some of them rather grudgingly.

What we don't yet know, and what Crystal Dynamics is playing very coy about, is who the Big Bad at the top of AIM will be.

I asked if we would learn the identity of that villain in pre-release marketing or if we won't know until we finish the story, and a PR rep shut me down like a Marvel movie marathon when it's time to watch Raimi's Spider-Man 3. I'm eager to find out who it is, but I'd expect even if future trailers tell us who the Big Bad is, there is probably going to be a Bigger Bad behind them.

This is comics, after all.

Keep it locked here as we share more impressions from the PAX West show floor all week.