By Jon Evans
Forgotten Ball is a cross between the tippy wooden game, Labyrinth, 3D Chess and a crazy nightmare from M. C. Escher. The brainchild of debut developer, Joshua Croft, it is three years in the making from an early undergraduate project to part funded Kickstarter and now also a mobile game. Forgotten Ball is bewitching in its complexity, but also a breath of fresh air in its simplicity.
You control a bouncing ball with very simple controls, left, right and jump, and have to navigate upwards through a devilish twisting maze of corners, jumps and platforms to your ultimate goal, the top. Accompanied by a haunting ambient soundtrack Forgotten Ball is the Dark Souls of platforming, hard as nuts, both fun and challenging at the same time.
On your way up you have dangers on your way. Anything coloured red, be they sections of your pathway, or moving blocks, rhythmically sliding towards you, are anathema, and will reduce you to crumbling bits should you touch them. Orange blocks transport you upwards like lifts and on your way are enigmatic buttons which perform various mysterious actions to aid your progress.
The allure of the Forgotten Ball is the depth of gameplay in the microcosm. You play, in essence, one single level, working your way upwards, however each strip, corner and sections are sub-levels in themselves, with the challenge of precise movement and split-second timing keeping you moving upwards too rapidly. There's a fine balance that maintains the pace of the game well, without you feeling too disheartened by your failures. There are green checkpoints peppered on your way up, which are life-savers but also act as a target for you to reach, especially as they appear in your peripheral vision as the tangled helix of striata rise above you.
I've played both versions on the game, desktop and mobile and it is, admittedly, easier to play on desktop with a controller, however the iOS version has very tight controls and looks beautiful on the screen of iPhone 6S+, running smooth as butter. There is also the joy of being able to pull out and play the game on the move, especially as you can dip in and play from one checkpoint to the next without losing your progress. Joshua has designed the game to be playable on the 5S upwards, but has recently pulled it from the Google Play store as several Sherlockers hacked and cloned his first build as soon as it was available.
He was initially upset about this, but remains upbeat about what happened and has continued to refine and polish the desktop version. You can download a demo on IndieDB right now while you wait for the full version which will be released later this year. The iOS version of Forgotten Ball is available on the App store now.
By Jon Evans
LEGO Dimensions is the next young upstart in the massively lucrative Toys-to-life genre. With an already large and devoted LEGO fanbase in place, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, TT Games and The LEGO Group are onto a no-brainer with their version.
BC got their hands on the starter pack at the show, which included the lego Dimension base, and the three starter figures, Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle as well as Chell from the Portal Pack. We also looked at the vehicles that come with some of the packs and tried to get our head around the confusing variety of bundles that are being released over the next year. there are 14 Licensed entertainment brands coming to the system, with a variety of LEGO own brands, as well as cartoon, comic, video game and film characters that are linked to Warner Bros' vast entertainment empire.
The LEGO Dimensions Starter Pack includes the videogame, bricks to build the LEGO Gateway, three LEGO Minifigures, Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle, plus the LEGO Batmobile, and the LEGO Toy Pad, which allows players to transport special LEGO minifigures and models into the game, as well as direct in-game action all with the movement of the physical toys. This is what we found particularly interesting.
LEGO have thought more about how their product will interact with the game world. At it’s heart, LEGO is a physical object, with tactility and great potential for the imagination. The game actively encourages you to put the controller down and play with their toys. There are a variety of different packs, which give you different combinations of levels you can play, characters to play with and vehicles to drive. The vehicles are made with authentic lego, and can be built in the three different ways, which contain a special chip that then allows the various vehicle builds match those in the game. It’s going to be great as a child to see your new creation in-game. More interesting though is the gameplay.
We were shown by the LEGO rep on the stand how to play though the initial tutorial level, with four characters in various positions on the lego pad. At certain points of the game we could only progress by moving the various LEGO mini-figures around on the pad, indicated by flashing lights on the pad that matched the colour of prompts on the screen. It was a bit like playing 3D chess and was quite bewildering to get the hang of. One wonders how easy it will be to pick up by children. Nevertheless it added an extra, ahem, dimension to gameplay and was very welcome. We felt like the physical objects mattered more and it meant we were still playing with LEGO. Better still unlike their competitors, there will be no limits on which character can play in which game, allowing for some crazy franchise mash-ups. I’ve always wondered how Scooby-Doo and Shaggy would deal with Glados. Probably abject disappointment that the Scooby Snacks are a lie.
It is highly likely that LEGO Dimensions will be a huge success and on many people’s Christmas wish list this year. You can get hold of the starter pack right now, with additional packs being released in waves though November 2015, to January, March and May in 2016.
By Jon Evans
Black and White Bushido is a Smash Brothers style game, but with added depth and substance. The immediate impact is the art style, the high contrast monochrome and the kanji style typography lends the game an attractive slant. The black and white is also one of the game's main mechanics. At its simplest, it's a multi-player brawler, with the game area sectioned into black and white. You choose a character. The white, 'light' character or the black 'shadow' character. You jump around with your katana sword trying to slash and attack your opponent. You can, however, hide in plain sight. If you play as the light character and enter your own white zone you disappear from site and vanish completely if you stay still. The same happens to the black 'shadow' character. This adds an element of strategy to the game, along with a variety of ninja-style power ups littered around the level such as shuriken and teleportation devices.
The gameplay is fast and manic, especially if you have up to four players on the screen at once. You also have various game modes including team death match and capture the flag. In capture the flag, if you stand next to the flag long enough, you flip the Colour zone to match your character and gain a stealth advantage.
The game is slick and well made and has a good level of challenge and skill required to master the levels. It's also great fun as a local multiplayer.
Black and White Bushido comes out on the 2nd of October.
by Philip Cole
So hopefully you’ve read the write up from Jon and myself of the Battlefront Survival Mode demo we put up the other day. If you have, you’ll know that I was rather scathing on the gameplay aspects of the game and I hoped that the multiplayer demo would deliver a better experience (If you haven’t… err spoilers?). Having now sat down, along with thirty nine other attendees, and played my part for the Rebel Alliance I can firmly say…
*Pause for tension*
It most definitely has.
The multiplayer game truly is everything I wanted after the survival demo. The absence of the suicidal AI and the fact that you are playing against cunning and tactical human beings (I say this, completely excluding myself and most players who got into aircraft…) means that you instantly feel that more is on the line, especially since the ever present walking doom machines that are the quadripedal AT-AT walkers loom invincibly on the horizon, stalking towards the shield generators.
It also helps that the Battle of Hoth is, for the moment at least, a much more memorable location in
our collective psyche than Jakku could ever be at this point, which only helps to kick you in the
nostalgia even more.
The gameplay itself is very well thought out – Battlefield rush-style objectives, when held by the rebels, open up a Y-Wing bombing run which knocks out the AT-ATs defences via a suitably visible ion cannon lightning effect which allow the rebels to try and take out them out. The time they have to do so increases with each second the objectives are held for. The Imperials on the other hand must charge forward to disrupt these same objectives, thus limit the damage taken by the walkers and ensuring they reach firing range of the generators. These objectives serve to focus the gameplay nicely, whilst the level itself is broad enough to allow for some leeway in manoeuvres by both teams.
Throughout the level the map design changes between open trenched snow plains, rocky snow-capped bottlenecks and interior sections of the rebel base. Each of these provides a nice change of tempo to the gameplay with you naturally adapting to each area and the transitions feel very natural.
Speaking of transitions, I had a chance to grab one of the floating power-up tokens around the level which allowed me to call in air support and take on the role of Red 11 up in the skies above Hoth to get a taste of the game’s flight model. This proved a nice and fair way of ensuring that they weren’t constantly up in the air and that getting the chance to fly was evenly spread - Gone are the days of queueing with other players at an airfield only to be griefed if you manage to get in it first!
Managing somehow to somehow stay airborne (the second time at least!), I spent my time peppering both AT-ATs with laser cannons and torpedoes during their vulnerable period. The flight controls take a lovely queue from the X-wing/TIE fighter games - while the right stick offers rudimentary direction control, the left stick allows you to balance the energy of the ship between engine power and cannon power. This little touch is nice to see and I can see in the future how good
pilots will finely balance the two much better than I did. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to pilot a snowspeeder and so comparisons with the fantastic first level of Shadows of the Empire on the N64 will have to wait.
Over the years we’ve had a lot of Star Wars games of varying quality to play out our fantasies with but as I said in the co-op round-up I think Star Wars Battlefront really does come the closest to actually being there in those pivotal battles – At least on the ground! Whilst the co-op has it's issues, as far as mechanics; visuals and sound design go I think we have nothing to worry about. It will come down to level design and level choice to really cement the game as a true classic of the franchise. Do or do not DICE, there is no try.
By Jon Evans
We got a chance sit in on a Q&A with Arne Meyer, creative strategist for Naughty Dog, who was here to talk about the Uncharted games and their evolution to the remastered versions. It was a fascinating insight into the background of the games and a must for fans of the series. Arne was charming and accommodating and showed a calm clarity of thought when answering the questions:
When asked if he had made any changes in terms of gameplay to the new HD collection, he pointed out the most major change was the shooting mechanic. He appreciated that the shooting in the first game wasn't perfect, following user feedback, and as they improved on this in subsequent games, they brought the updated control and reproduced it across all the games in the remastered collection.
One particular standout moment among fans was the train chase sequence from Uncharted 2. It took two years of development to create the train level which set the standard for the rest of the games. Interestingly, they rewrote the physics engine after problems with the set pieces. What was more surprising as that this sequence was conceived before they had even written any of the story. The story was then built later around the train sequence. Without this part of the game, there wouldn't have been the convoy sequence, cruise ship or plane and also all the new sequences in Uncharted 4. Arne was asked if there sere any surprises during development. He gave an example; The collapsing building sequence at E3 had an unexpected impact. The public response was the defining moment for Naughty Dog to finish the train sequence.
In terms of how Naughty Dog create pace, the Tibetan stage was an attempt to change the flow of the game and to allow the player to get to know the narrative more. Naughty Dog were not sure what fan reaction would be like. Their big focus was meshing story with gameplay. The desert sequence was another example of slowing pace and dropping in a dramatic film-style influence. They wanted to bring the beauty of the desert into a 70mm film style sequence. They played with this sequence while the game was in the beta stage, while the game was still being polished. They paid attention to these sequences during QA, and surprisingly a lot of users said the sequence wasn't long enough.
With regards to the poetic voice over during these desert scenes, this was in fact a poem called Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. Naughty Dog found it hard to get hold of the rights to show it in game, especially in the UK. If it hadn't been permitted, it would have had to be cut from the game, changing essential gameplay elements (sheltering under the rock would have been removed). Arne pointed out that the mirages such as Sully and the oases you wander through were ways of land marking the game and directing the player. Neil Druckman actually came up with the idea of bringing the player back to the well (he was working on The Last of Us at the time).
In terms of converting to HD for the remastered collection, Bluepoint took the reins for doing the Next-Gen Port. Looking back at the Uncharted collection Naught Dog realized how badly they backed up their assets to hand over to Bluepoint. They thought they had lost everything, but they eventfully found it on a decommissioned PC in the Naughty Dog office. THe process of conversion was very very challenging. When considering converting to 60fps, Blueprint had to re-render all the cinematic scenes. Unexpected things would happen in the re-renders as extra frames were created.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection comes out on October 7th. Watch this space for more info.
Our first impressions of Star Wars Battlefront are mixed. Fellow BC writer Phil and I got a heartbreakingly short go on the co-op mode on Tatooine. Playing as two player split screen, we ran about the sandy, craggy ravine protecting landing pods against waves of Storm troopers. We immediately noticed how good the lighting was in the Frostbite engine. We recognized this place immediately; the tones and colours were spot on and it felt like Obi-wan might come round the corner at any point to warn us about sand-people.
Phil and I picked our load-outs tactically opting for different set ups to each other to maximize battle capability. We both went for blasters as our primary weapons, but I opted for a grenade launcher type weapon, as my secondary. Phil chose a rocket launcher.
The waves of stormtroopers scaled up in numbers over time and we had a couple encounters with AT-STs too. The jump packs were useful, although the recharge time was frustrating, so it was better to keep this as a means of escaping large groups of enemies.
The minimap was initially confusing as the enemy was shown as a red cake slice, however the edge of the battle zone is also red. A couple of times I found myself running away from the edge thinking the enemy were encroaching. Visibility of NPC's was tricky, especially in the sandy environment, however I soon got used to how they would appear. There were a variety of stormtroopers who could soak up more or less rounds depending on their coloring, and their classes reminded me of those of the original games.
Overall the game was a great taste of the SW battleverse. The fan-friendly cut scenes were gorgeous, from the shot of the troopers running off the just landed imperial shuttle to the final vista, post game, of the X-Wings flying and zooming into the distance over a crashed star destroyer. Watch this space for our thoughts on the 20 v 20 multiplayer.
So, Battlefront – The number 1 game that Cam and Seb recommended us to see from the giant screen in the queueing area, the most awaited game by sooo many people this year and I’ve finally gotten a chance to get my grubby mitts on it. “So how was it?!” I hear you all asking and.. well… it was ok.
Now before you all clamour for my head as I dare to denounce it as not the second coming or use me as vindication for an already pre-determined dislike of the game, I’ve only had a chance to play the co-op survival mode alongside the esteemed Jon Evans, and we’ll hopefully get to grips with the full multiplayer later today. The demo we played was six waves on the Battle of Jakku survival map that has been shown previously at E3.
To start with, the good things - the graphics and sound are just as amazing as they look in all the videos. The lighting engine still continues to impress and combined with the authentic star wars sound library it feels very atmospheric.
Unfortunately that’s sort of where my list ends. The gameplay feels a bit plain and simple, and whilst this can be explained away by dint of it being a “shop window” demo it felt a bit dull hanging around in the same orangey rocks waiting for enemies to spawn and try and kill us. They didn’t even try to kill us in particularly invent ways, with the Stormtrooper AI seemed intent on recklessly rushing at us with barely a shot fired in anger.
Again this can be explained away with them being rank and file troops and, admittedly, once higher ranked troopers appeared with better armour and shields and larger guns and jetpacks came along, things became a bit more interesting, but even then they still didn’t really vary their tactics. The icing on the cake came when scout troopers armed with sniper rifles (heralded with a “The empire has deployed marksmen” voice over) appeared and then continued to use the same kamikaze tactics which really seemed out of place given their supposed role.
The seeming centrepiece of the demo would be the appearance of two AT-ST walkers. The chicken-legged, bulbus-headed death machines from Return of the Jedi. Whilst the appearance of one of these machines in previous Star Wars games would herald lasery death from on high these machines seemed… lacklustre. Their appearance was unremarkable and they were easily dealt with via two torpedo shots from my “never running out of ammo” torpedo launcher which I fired from behind the relative safety of a rock.
Speaking of the armoury, the primary weapons were functional and there was a variety, though you could only choose one at the setup screen. They operate on an overheat mechanic so, like the aforementioned torpedo launcher, they never run out of ammo. Whilst this is a god send on waves with higher numbers of enemies it does reduce the frantic scrabbling to reload and ammo runs that other games might make you endure and which engender a sense of panic and urgency. The only thing you have to manage is an overheat bar and it’s pretty generous with it’s cool down speed even when almost maxed out.
Ultimately the real question is “Have they captured the Star Wars feel?”. Absolutely – I’ve played pretty much every major Star Wars game going and none of them quite feel like you are /in/ the movies from an audio visual standpoint. But in concentrating so much on the details so it would appear that, as far as survival mode goes, they have lost a bit of the fun element. I’m still hopeful though for the Multiplayer – More to come soon!
By Jon Evans
Backwards Compatible's first Hands-on of Playstation VR, formerly known as Project Morpheus, was a bit of a terrifing experience. Hopes were high after trying Occulus demos of Eve Valkyrie in prevous years, and finding the resolution of the devices a tad disappointing. Sony had set up some appointment-only booths on their stand and were offering a charmingly personal exprience.
"Are you of a nervous disposition? Do horror games upset you?"
"No," I lied.
The Sony rep was very specific about placing the kit on my head, not letting me touch any part of the device or adjust it. It fitted fairly well, although the feeling was that there was still some work to be done before the final consumer product is to be released. The headset was pleasingly light and confortable and did a great job of closing off the outside world.
The reps were also very careful to repeat that this was not a game, but a tech demo, and quite often had to correct themselves whenever they accidentally called it a game. The demo was called The Kitchen. Due to the graphic content in the demo, they couldn't display wat I was seeing on the main TV screen in the booth. Inititally the quality of the image was not the pin-sharp display I was expecting, however I felt that a bit more time spent with the headset setting it up to suit my short sighted vision would correct this.
After pressing any button to start the demo I was shocked by what I saw. I was suddenly in a dirty, dingey kitchen, with Resident Evil-style trappings, stark lighting and plenty of shadows. As with VR, moving my head around let me view the room in any direction. I was sat down, tied into a chair with my hands bound. The rep told me not to let go of the controller. I could look down and see my arms and legs. Looking left and right let me see the edge of my body and shoulders. in front of me was a video camera on a tripod. Experimentally I leaned forward and knocked it over with my head. Oops.
In front of me was an unconscious man in a bedraggled business suit lying on the floor. He started to move and get up. That was when the impact of VR hit me. As he stood up and walked towards me, with knife in his hand, I genuinely felt his physical presence. This felt like a real person in front of me and not a computer generated character. He was actually there. I was terrified. He held out the knife in front of him and I pulled back and flinched.
Thankfully he was, it turns out, a friend who was just trying to cut the ropes around my wrists, and managed to half finish the job, until a young asian girl with lank black hair (which admittedly has become a bit of a horror cliché) leapt out of knowehere and dragged him off into the shadows to brutally murder him. His dismembered head eventually rolled across the floor towards me leaving a gruesome blood trail. I involuntrally lifted my leg up to avoid it.
That did it. I started spinning my head around to find the girl, even to the point of looking directly behind me. Suddenly her talons from behind grabbed my head and yanked it up to her face, spittle dripping over my vision. Much clawing and stabbing of implements into my thighs later the demo was over, a concenred rep pulled the VR headset off my head and asked me if I was OK. Apparently my screaming had caused some concern from onlookers.
It was an incredible experience. My initial concerns about the quality of the tech were replaced by the joy of immerison and the sheer believability of the demo. My only reservations at the this stage is how this experience translates to full long term gameplay. As yet we have only been treated to demos. It will be interesting to see how the games evolve for VR and how we cope with extended time in the dark.