Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Witcher II Preview P.2

The Witcher II Preview:

Part 2: Story

The books:

The Witcher began as a collection of short stories in ‘The Witcher’ universe, then was later tied together for the first book The Last Wish. When this took off, a saga was eventually published with the main character Geralt of Rivia.

This Witcher universe is a place designed as a medieval world with its own monsters, species, and mythologies BUT also designed to remain relevant in terms of moral questions that still exist today, and moral ambiguities that all can understand. The author (Andrzej Sapkowski) constantly tries to tie in the old world he created, to the current events of ours, like an old Wizard complaining about environmental issues and the impacts of civilization :D.

Racism and inequality are ever-present, yet the series never fails to have a quirky sense of humor about just about everything. The eloquent Geralt knows when to turn on the charm, when to whip out the blade, and when to intimidate his opponents. This is something that carried very well into the games, and why many fans say that they stayed true to the spirit of the books. That’s always the fear of course, and it definitely happened to the early 2001 film and series adaptations. (If you even heard of them its a miracle, they both failed quite badly)

Don't feel bad if you missed this one, it was worth missing. 

Genetically modifying themselves at a young age, Witchers become something more then human. Firstly, they do this so that they can imbibe alchemical concoctions that allow them to survive fights with the most dangerous monsters out there. Monster hunting is the first and foremost duty of the Witchers, but it also makes them pariahs in society, seen as not quite human. Again, racism to all nonhumans is a running theme in the books, and something that Geralt constantly has to fight with.

The change also lengthens their age, so that they have a lifespan almost akin to elves (elves have a lifespan of 300 years in the books, and for Witchers it is somewhat ambiguous but definitely 100+). Finally, it makes them sterile... rumors abound among the women folk about the ‘prowess’ of Witchers, since they are immune to disease—even venereal—and their touch makes the skin tingle... they are much sought after :D.

My original intention was to go over each book and speculate on potential tie-ins, but since most of the books haven’t been translated over to english, most of my audience probably wouldn’t appreciate that :P.

Only 2 of the many books and collections of short stories are out in English so far, sorry English speakers :P

*spoilers if you have not played the first game*

The end of the first Witcher game and the story carried to II:

Early reports was that the ‘assumed’ ending was that the Eleven rebellion was put down, and that you would not be able to continue from where you left off, seeing choices from The Witcher I reflected in II.

I am happy to report that that is not the case! :D There will be a system of importing your disposition at the end of The Witcher I, and many of your choices will have an impact on the current disposition of characters, and circumstances; this will probably extend to how they treat you, or even if they are there at all.

Even so, it seems that there are some points of the early story that are fixed, and it may be that even if you helped the elves in 1, their rebellion still failed. Yet, they might be in a better way then if you helped the Order for example. (for my main save I remained neutral, currently chewing my nails off wondering how it will play out in II)

*end spoilers*

The developers have said the The Witcher II will have a ‘self contained’ story, so if you have not played The Witcher I it will not impede upon your enjoyment of playing 2, but your experience might not be as deep as you wont see any echoing storyline from the first iteration.

(Recently the developers showed a lot of fan love by releasing an ‘enhanced’ edition of The Witcher I. So if this skipped you by I’d heartily recommend you try this better version. It is even free for anyone who owns the original game! Usually when an edition like this is put out they call it ‘gold’ or some such, and the fans have to shell out to get the better experience. The developers deserve a lot of praise for this in my humble opinion.)

Seriously, if you haven't tried the Enhanced Edition, drop everything and do it now :D

As was said in the first part of this preview, the story will be very nonlinear. The developers have said there will be around 16 possible endings to the story, some set in motion relatively early in the storyline. (No more reloading and pulling a different ‘lever’ for a different ending, yet another reason to replay)

Unlike other games of this stripe, the game focuses on the ‘moment’. Each choice presented will make the player think about the potential consequences and moral questions of the situation. In other words, no more ‘red and blue’. The player will not have to worry about the game herding him into being ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

While in the original Geralt did most of his adventuring on his own, in this game companions will have a large impact on the story and you can count on having someone by your side through most of the way through the game. Most will be the usual RPG fair, different dialogue and impact, but in this game you will not be able to directly control your companions. Want to bring along that gruff dwarf? Don’t expect him to play nice :D

Our old pals will be making a comeback, and this time you can take them along for the ride!

The last thing I want to mention is Geralt’s ‘memory problems’

Kind-of standard RPG stuff to introduce the gamer to the environment, and let him ask a lot of stupid questions of everyone he meets :D.

This time, it seems that our white-skinned pal will be remembering a good portion of his experiences from the books, and that will play its part in the storyline in the form of old scores and new characters. The Developers also promise that many of those recollections will add a depth to the character, as many of those choices will haunt him because they aren’t necessarily pleasant.

Continued in Part 3: What we know so far.    

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Still writing :D

Opps, sorry about the delay guys. I'm still writing the second part of The Witcher 2 preview, which will be all about the books and the storyline of this new iteration.

Should be out later tonight, until then:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Witcher II Preview

The votes are in! ...and so without further ado,

The Witcher 2 Preview Part 1:

Release date: End of March/beginning of April 2011

Demo: None until after release.

Trailer (definately watch this one!): Official trailer

(^^Beware of brain/nerdgasms when watching that video)

“We will have the best looking RPG ever.” –Tom

He wasn’t kidding. Remember when I said that Gothic IV was the best RPG in terms of graphics I had seen? (At the very least on par with Mass Effect 2) Well, that was before that trailer and these screens.

These guys are doing amazing things, bringing bump-maping and texturing to new levels.

They use a new form of bump mapping in The Witcher II, pay special attention to the armor/swords. 

Leaked video!:  Leaked alpha footage (keep in mind his voice is just a demo version) Also, the day/night cycles and weather are quite impressive. 

The first thing you will notice though, aside from the new graphics, is the motion capturing. Every door opening gesture to scratching of the ass has been fully motion captured for this game, and it shows.

The combat has been smoothed, especially the ‘between’ animations, so every hard strike to finisher is smooth from first strike to last. Epic. I can’t say how impressed I am with the work I’ve seen in this department.  

Hard to believe, but this is an in-engine cutscene.

Truly nonlinear storyline: A great focus was made on the nonlinear storyline, to make the player see the impact of their decisions and still let them feel free to do as their conscious guides them. For every action there is a reaction. Even seemingly small decisions may turn out to start a riot, or lead to a death. The up and downsides of these decisions are especially far reaching.

Real moral choices: It wouldn’t be The Witcher without it. This time choices are evermore ambiguous and really make you think. Just like in the first game, sometimes things can be seen from many angles, and every choice has its proponents and lamenters.

This ‘nonlinear’ feel extends even to the combat.

Gone: Increasing stats, now there is a much more ‘real’ system that will affect gameplay Instead of just ‘+2 to dex’ the player will be able to choose faster strikes, deeper wounds, or doing damage to 2 opponents instead of 1.  Things that really change the way you play, the new goals are involvement and flexability. With this new system its entirely possible to play 2 different characters 2 completely different ways even with the same specializations, and with the same Garret we all know and love :D

Gone is the Aurora engine. Instead, the developers built a new engine they are calling TSOOD. The new engine is specifically designed to prevent some of the bottlenecks in feature expansion that they fought with in the development of The Witcher I. 

New: Magic is now involved INSIDE the combo system, letting you get off wicked combos with both magic and steel.

Yes, the fist fighting in the trailer was real in-game. Visceral huh? They definitely smoothed the edges between each move to the point that it really feels freeform. So, non-lethal combat will always be an option, and possibly will be a major factor in game decisions. Finishers like the boot to the head we saw are chosen automatically instead of a normal attack when the opponent's life is low. 

Same/enchanced: The stylized narrative backgrounds are still there to let you know major choices and tell the story, but the developers have hinted that they listened to player feedback on this, and they will be more involving.

Cutscenes will be done ‘in engine’ with barely any pre-rendered, which with the current technology they are fooling around with will be similar to Mass Effect 2 in terms of an epic feel.

QTEs: Many events are included throughout the game. Battles and conversations especially you have to be on your toes. First pioneered by the Resident Evil series, QTEs are ‘Quick time events’ that allow the character (if they are fast enough) to take advantage of a situation and perform an act to benefit him/her. Remember the blue,red key strokes in Mass Effect 2 that allowed you to perform good/evil actions? Same principle, except good and evil are subjective in the world of The Witcher :D.

Here you can clearly see the new texture mapping, along with some depth of field.
Collectable sex cards: Hehe, not this time fellas :D Although, they will take another approach to this and sex will still be a part of the game. At the end of the day, Geralt is still irresistible to the ladies.

Characters from the books: A lot of our old friends from the first game will be seen, along with many new ones from the books that never made an appearance before. (If you haven’t read the books yet, now is a great time.)

Length: The original Witcher was around 100 hours with all the sidequests completed. While the game has not been finalized, the developers have signaled their goal is to not be shorter than the original.

Here is some extra footage to wet your beaks a bit:

Continued Tuesday in Part 2. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What RPG should I preview next?

The next upcoming PC RPGs are: Two Worlds II, Fallout 3: New Vegas, and The Witcher II.

Lemme know what ya think the comments section, even if its not on the list, and I'll post the first part tomorrow.

In return, a comic:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Preview part 3: Demo hands-on.

More than I’d feared, less than I’d hoped.

What? More? Oh ok :P

I went in fearing that they had massacred Gothic (from the demo comments on the Arcania forums) but happily I came away with no such impression.

Firstly, the pitfalls:

1. Some bad voice acting.

Both the female voice actors in the 3 hour game demo came off as either over-the-top (the witch) or bland (girlfriend), the latter being much more disconcerting because she is the first NPC you come across in the game. That first conversation left me both stunned by the graphical detail and taken out of the experience by the somewhat awkward exchange.

2. High system requirements.

This is the highest requirement level I’ve seen for a game of this type:

* Windows XP/Vista/7
* Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.8 GHz / AMD Athlon II x2 @ 2.8 GHz
* 2 GB RAM
* GeForce 8800 GTX

* Windows XP/Vista/7
* Intel Quad Core / AMD Phenom
* 2 GB RAM
* GeForce GTX 280

With that said the optimization is VERY good. It ran extremely smoothly on barely above the recommended system requirements with full settings enabled.

 High system requirements? Yeah.. but worth it. 

3. Turned off features.

It seems--I dearly hope--that crafting and alchemy were turned off except for an ‘all the time’ crafting that was always available through the crafting menu.

  As you can see, the crafting table is active but you can't make anything there yet /shrug. 

In past Gothic games crafting was done quite realistically. You had to heat a blank of iron, pound it into shape, douse it in water to cool it, and finally sharpen it on a stone wheel to make a blade. The same went for alchemy, although you merely used a alchemy table to combine the ingredients. Now all these nick nacks are useable in the world, but seem to be turned off so that only the animations for those actions take place.

I said I ‘dearly hope’ that this is the case because if it isn’t and this is the final version of how crafting will be available, we will have a lot of disappointed fans.

   Forging equipment also useable, still disabled in the demo. Not sure whether to be encouraged. 

4. Fenced in world.

All over the game world there are invisible barriers preventing exploration, this is a complete divorcing from what the game worlds were like in 1-3.

Before: Go to close to that cliff edge? You’re dead. Enjoy the ride down.

After: Go to close to that cliff edge? Its ok kiddo, the nerf barrier will protect you. Now go back in the play pen like a good boy.

With that said I got over my annoyance rather quickly, since most of the barriers in the world can be jumped over. Some though remain there like a piece of dirt in the eye, such as barriers right on the tops of fences that are only 4 feet high.

I wonder.....

Oh lordy! Is it too late to change my mind?

5. Combat was a bit too easy.

Yes, it is just a demo and they probably didn’t want to scare away fans by making them reload 20 times to kill a worg (a lovely Gothic tradition :D) but from what I saw it seems like everyone will have to play on ‘Gothic’ (the hardest) mode to get the difficulty level present in the old games.

For one, ranged combat is completely overpowered. Since this game seems to depend a lot on the player being able to anticipate the enemies moves (to properly dodge), NPCs have drawn out combat animations so all you have to do is keep moving backwards and firing away and every single enemy (even the ranged ones) fall without a single hit on you.

Secondly, instant potions (which exist in abundance) make even melee encounters let you feel like you wouldn’t die unless you went afk.

6. Intrusion detection not enabled on NPCs.

Another thing that I ‘hope’ is just not enabled. It was one of the things that made the original Gothic have a lot of atmosphere. If someone saw you rifling through their things, they let you know.

The Pros:

1. Some great voice acting! Yeah, I know that is a bit contradictory, but its true. While a minority of the characters took me out of the experience, some made it very believable. The father of the main character’s girlfriend was a highlight, and so was one of our old companions from the previous games that made a comeback :D. The writing was also very well done.

2. The graphics.

I’m sure this is what most will point to when they talk about this demo in a positive light. It is some of the best work that I have seen, no joke.

Textures were gritty and real with some of the vistas being close to picture perfect.

Spell effects had impact and weight to the hits along with great lighting, whenever a spell was readied (or a magic weapon equipped) a light glows around the hands of the character acting like a torch and when a bolt is let loose it casts a light on everything around it all the way to the target. The effect was quite striking.

Sigh... They never let you eat the big ones... and they look so tasty.  

3. Solid storyline.

During the course of the demo I found myself charmed by many of the characters, through only a few hours of gameplay that is pretty hard to do. This is where the good writing came into play. Even the girlfriend (the badly voice acted one) had an impact by the end of the demo. I’ll try not to give any of it away though :D.

4. The terrain is very explorable.

This was a great relief for me personally, since I always loved doing everything possible in the world before going to the next plot development or quest.

5. Gathering alive and well.

Just like in the previous Gothics there are quite a few types of native fauna that you can harvest for your alchemical endeavors :D. This time it seems they included only a few types, but enough to see that it probably follows the same track that other Gothics have gone down: Mana plants, fruits, health plants, and special plants for permanent stats.

Then there are some things that I wouldn’t say are BAD, but are definitely different from the old series.

No more attributes! Odd I know, probably one of the reasons there are no more trainers to be had in the world of Gothic. Why find a trainer to increase strength when you don’t have any?

 A simple new system, one part of the game that has been 'streamlined'. 

Instead of the Dex, Str, etc. system that we all know, we have:

Melee power

Magic power

Ranged power

Along with regeneration values and the standard health/mana/stamina. (stamina is new to Gothic though).

Gothic fans will be happy to see not only a detailed bestiary, but a simple an descriptive journal as well.  

No familiar music.

Don’t get me wrong, the music is great for the atmosphere. Just a bit different from what other Gothic games have had, since at many times there was very little.

Now the melodies are ever-present, and quite good.

So all in all, as I said in the beginning, it wasn’t what I had expected. Although, after going through all the points I can honestly say I can’t wait for he final product!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Arcania: Gothic IV Preview, Part 2

Preview part 2: Impressions, changes, and E3.

                Think those goblins have a chance? :)

With all the excitement over the new storyline, new hero, and overhauled graphics the one thing that overshadowed all this in the minds of diehard fans was new gameplay.

Basically the worry was that with new developers the ‘soul’ of the game might be ripped out and replaced with other popular (so shiny) tweaks that other games in the genre had received. Namely; over the top camerawork on cut scenes, dumbed down game play meant to draw a bigger audience, and a divorcing from the ‘solid’ feel that the combat in Gothic games has always had.

Gothic fans are used to mowing these guys down, looks like they are getting tired of it. 

For the most part, these fears have been belayed by the Dev’s continued insistence that they will stay true to the genre, but some changes have definitely been made.

For one, there will be no more trainers. While the developers have alluded to ‘some’ skills needing a special individual to unlock, for the most part skills can be allocated at any time through a familiar (to other games) skill/character screen.

The main skills are, at the time of E3;

Mettle: The primary melee skill: Melee maneuvers, attack strength, and stamina regeneration.

Vigour: Shield maneuvers, stamina, health.

Stealth: Ranged attacks, backstabbing and stealth attacks, and affects health.

Precision: The primary ranged skill: Mana, ranged attacks, ranged power.

Then the magical skills:

Zeal: Fire spells, mana regeneration, magic power.

Dominance: Electricity spells, mana regeneration, magic power.

Serenity: Cold spells, mana regeneration, magic power.

 Seen here is one of the new 'Runegates' that players will use to zip around the new world.

Every skill point in a given ‘tree’ gives a percentage increase to your primary attributes 16 points to any given tree maxes it out, more on primary attributes after the demo hands-on.

The character receives 3 skill points every level up, and every skill tree is also capped at your current level, preventing you from putting more then 1 skill point in a skill tree each level.

After pumping a certain amount of points in a skill tree you will unlock spells, moves, abilities, and other nick nacks like mana and health regen.  

An unfortunately very familiar formula, but I withhold judgment until we have seen the results and balance of the new system.

Nothing like the smell of black goblin blood in the morning. On a side note, no longer will Orcs be the primary enemies in Gothic 4, but you will still see quite a few. 

What is fortunate is that early talk of the crafting system being scraped was completely off-base.

From the press demo there will be both alchemy and equipment crafting. Although, it is still unclear what form it will take other than being learned from recipe scrolls, and some individuals in the world.  

Another great improvement over Gothic 3’s botched journal system will be an actively updating beastiary, along with pictures and full descriptions as you encounter them in the world.

 Swamp sharks and bloodflys and swampweed! Oh my. 

Details about the equipment that will be available in the game is also very encouraging to us diehards.

Every culture in the game will have its own style, which shows on the equipment from each of the 6 cultures thus far revealed. A common example is from your starting town. A small fishing village; the people have carved fishes and nets in to the armor and weapons that their people use.

Bring it on shorty!

Lastly, the combo system has been revised somewhat with a 3 mouse or keyboard buttons lining up a different combos. Some other powers work by charging up through the levels of power you have achieved, meaning you won’t be spamming that ‘kill everything in sight’ fireball twice a second. Again, more on this will be in the demo hands-on… which I see just came out! 

Continued in Part 3: Demo hands-on!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Arcania: Gothic IV Preview

Part 1: The history of the series, and the new developers.

From the first “Welcome to the colony” Gothic was a hit in Germany and North America. With its sarcastic main character and its enormous replayability, RPG fans immediately fell in love.  

The original Gothic I and II touted a unique game experience combined with a solid game engine developed in-house (4 years in the making). A special focus was placed on day night cycles, realistic NPC schedules and habits, and interactivity with the game environment; I’m sure we all lovingly remember cooking 500 pieces of meat for 20 minutes <3.

Gothic I

The Gothic epic started with our (famously) nameless hero making a name for himself by freeing the slaves unjustly thrown into a magical prison and forced into mining magical ore for the King’s war against the Orcs. The dark wizard Xardas, a prison camp taken over by the prisoners, and a cult of ‘swamp weed’ loving fanatics all added to the involving story.

                  Anyone teleport/bloodfly in and kill everything in sight right after you got locked out? Good times...

We were introduced to many complex and interesting characters, the most memorable of whom manage to stay out of the way and simultaneously influence events. These characters end up being mainstays of the Gothic story throughout the three games (and beyond).  

The story ends with the magic barrier keeping the prisoners in destroyed, the hero trapped underground, and the great Sleeper slain. The atmosphere of the prison colony was so diverse, unique, and gripping… stopping the tale there would have been a crime ;).

Gothic II, Night of the Raven

A much wider scope of the story, and a bigger world! The sequel took the Gothic experience to the next level, as we all hope sequels will. Add to that one of the best expansion packs ever made, and Gothic II really secured the Gothic series’ place as a must have in any RPG fan’s collection.

The new game was filled with great moments like coming back to the old prison colony to find it torn by war, and a continued storyline with all your old pals from the first game.

                                                                        Oh Diego, you and your shenanigans. 

We find through the course of the story that our nameless hero is not just a wanderer, but a chosen of the gods. After our hero saves the day (again) he finds that his old pal Xardas has had designs on his own place as a ‘chosen’ leaving many questions and our hero setting sail for the mainland…

Gothic III

This is where the Gothic series hits the rocks a bit. While the excellent story and even larger and more involving world are present in this title, they are hampered by unfortunate game-breaking bugs.

Through tremendous efforts by the community (and up to a point, the developers) the game was wrangled in to a relatively bug free state with a series of player made patches. So finally we were able to appreciate the real Gothic III, and there was much to appreciate!

                                                    Massive world? Check.

                             Well... lost again, but I'm sure if I keep going in a straight line everything will be... ah crap.

An overhauled graphics engine made the Gothic world come alive in ways that it hadn’t been able to previously (except in our imaginations).

As for the storyline itself, it really tied up the loose ends of the series nicely with our hero discovering the true motivations of the mysterious wizard Xardas and our companions becoming part of the mainland of Myrtana.

Depending on your choices, the game ended with either the Orcs or men winning the war, or neither winning and the gods being cast out of the world to let the peoples choose their own destiny.

The last was the ‘assumed’ ending for the series in the short game: Gothic: Forsaken Gods, which sought to tie together Gothic III and Gothic IV.

This game was… for the lack of a better word a ‘flop’. In many ways even buggier then Gothic III at its outset, it met with bad reviews and frustrating game play.

Again, it was patched and eventually became playable. It told the story of our hero who, upon seeing that conflict was once again fomenting, comes back to the world to show humanity and Orcs a better way.   

Arcania: Gothic IV, new developers?

That’s right, Spellbound studios has taken over the series. The rights to make a sequel were taken away from Parana Bytes by JoWood because of the faulty release and bugs of Gothic III, along with other internal issues.

Spellbound is best known for the Desperado series. All real time strategy/action hybrids, they were met with fairly good reviews.

The first year or two of development were fairly hush hush, with only a handful of interviews and screenshots getting out. That said, the first screenshots were quite striking, with the new lighting effects and character models being top notch.

              Wow! A foggy morning.

        Again, a wow factor. Like what you see? Then you will probably be glad to hear that you can visit every landmark you see in this screenshot!

Showing their commitment to the series, JoWood extended the release date and significantly increased Spellbound’s budget when they found that the game wasn’t holding up to what they had come to expect from Gothic. This both frustrated and relieved fans, who had been worried about the lack of new information but anxiously awaited the release.

 Now thats some detail! They really know how to breed them in that fishing village. 

The extended release date and eventual ‘Open letter’ to JoWood and Spellbound from the fans who wanted more content led to more interviews, videos, and screenshots being given and shown.

Continued Friday in Part 2: Early impressions, hints at story and gameplay changes from the previous Gothics, and E3.          

Friday, September 10, 2010

A new day, a new beginning.

Well, here we go. I'll be using this blog to post:

    Previews of upcoming games

    Reviews of the current titles I'm working on

    Random crap, Whats a blog without it?