Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Witcher 3, New Details To Blow Your Mind

Ask anyone what games they’re looking forward to the most in 2014, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will probably be on that list. Developer CD Projekt RED’s latest open-world action RPG was extremely well received at E3 2013, winning over 55 awards, and has since then been referred to as a true next-gen experience to look forward to.

We caught up with Marcin Iwinski, co-founder of the CD Projekt group, to talk about its ambitious project, dealing with worldwide accolades, game mechanics, and lots more.


Can newcomers dive straight into The Witcher 3 or will they be lost in the game?

People do not need to play The Witcher 1 or 2 before they jump into Wild Hunt; it's perfectly fine. The game has a great introduction that will make them feel right at home, and we're working really hard to communicate this fact.

Each game has had its own story, but if you've played through both the games, or have even read Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, you'll be privy to a lot of stuff others may not get. That being said, the story is still very capable of standing on its own.

Good to know. On PC, will my older save games grant me some sort of bonus content or will my previous choices affect the game world in any way?

I cannot confirm this yet, but we're definitely looking at it on the PC side. We don't want to disappoint our PC fan base as we know mechanics like this are very important to them.
Any plans of releasing a graphic novel to bridge the gap between games for newcomers?


We've already announced a deal with Dark Horse comics in the US, and we'll be releasing a bunch of comics in a few months, so keep an eye out for that. Besides the comic books, we'll also be releasing a Witcher-themed board game that's designed by us and developed by Fantasy Flight Games. There's also a digital version of the board game planned for iOS and Android.

Wild Hunt is supposed to be 30 times the size of the older Witcher games. Is it extremely challenging to make such a vast game world and populate it with content that is capable of retaining gamers’ interest for hours on end?

(Laughs). Well, it is a challenge to develop games, let alone large open-world games like The Wild Hunt. In terms of the development itself, we have a team working on the game as well as on the engine powering the game. We have a bigger quest team and design team, and they spend a lot of time populating the world with significant content, that by the way is all tailor-made.

In The Witcher 3 you won’t have generic Fed Ex-like quests where you have to go here, fetch something, and then deliver it to someone else. Of course, you will have orders or side-quests to kill beasts, but we're trying to put a unique spin on every single quest. We want to make the story meaningful, but at the same time, if you wish you explore the game world at your own pace, it will be possible to do so. We want the game to feel natural, and we want players to be able to discuss their unique adventures with their friends.

How long will one playthrough of the game last, with and without side quests?

We're looking at roughly 50 hours for the main storyline depending on your gameplay style and the difficulty level. If you do most or all of the side quests, you're looking at anything between 100 to 120 hours of gameplay.

There were a lot of erratic difficulty spikes in The Witcher 2. Will The Witcher 3 have an easier learning curve?

(Snickers) We call this the Eastern European immersion curve, where we throw players straight into the deep end. On a more serious note, while I was going through some of the reviews, I read that certain Western journalists died multiple times in the prologue itself, and that wasn’t a good thing. We don't have the ambition to be a Demon's Souls. We're definitely working on the immersion curve, balancing the game to make sure people get well-introduced to the game world and its mechanics without any controller-breaking scenarios. If you don't want this game to be hard, it won't be. However, if you want a challenge, you can knock yourself out with the hardcore mode. With The Witcher 3, you should have the experience you want. Obviously, our core audience is the RPG gamer, but we're looking to expand that demographic with gamers who just want to follow the main story, and have a satisfying hack-and-slash experience.

So like any other medieval action game then?

I don't want to use the term ‘action game’, because The Witcher 3 is still very heavy on the RPG elements, but we would like to give our players the feeling that there is more to this game than creating alchemy potions or sorting through your inventory.

Fair enough. Speaking of action, could you maybe touch upon the game’s new combat system?

It's really tough to describe the combat system, as it is something you have to play and experience for yourself to fully understand. We're definitely looking at a more fluid combat system with Wild Hunt, where attacking an enemy feels more natural and smooth, unlike older games where you had to lock onto enemies constantly.

What we saw in Batman: Arkham Asylum is a very cool system, and I don't want to draw any comparisons, but that's definitely part of the motivation for us. I can make gamers a promise that combat in The Witcher 3 is already fun and that we're constantly balancing it till we hit that sweet spot.

Will you still retain some of the game's older mechanics, like different swords for different enemies, oils that can boost your skills, potions that can give you an edge in combat, and so on?
Yes, of course. The Witcher 3 is a Witcher game after all, and Geralt is a professional monster slayer. There is one steel sword for human opponents and one silver sword for all his supernatural foes. And this will definitely stay in the game along with other mechanics like crafting and alchemy.
But like I said earlier, you can play through the game without crafting new weapons or creating new potions as well. You may just have a tougher time with some of the enemies.

Geralt is a professional monster hunter, but there wasn’t a lot of monster hunting in The Witcher 2. This time around, will we get to track and hunt monsters in an unscripted way? Will there be side quests that tie into this mechanic?

It's funny, because in The Witcher 2, Geralt got so involved in the world of politics and wars that we kind of forgot he was a monster hunter. Witchers are like outcasts born out of a hellish initiation from which very few survive. Those who survive are given different mutagens that grant them superhuman abilities, so they're very fast, agile, and resilient. They're also very skilled swordsmen who have magical powers.

You'll see we have a whole system of tracking monsters using special Witcher senses. You will also be able to refer to our in-depth Bestiary that will be populated as you find out more about a monster through the story or side-quests. You can then use that information to pinpoint their weaknesses, and fight them more effectively. So yes, the monster hunting bit will be an important part of the game, and will make for some really cool side-quests.


In many RPGs today, you can become a demigod after grinding around for a few hours. In Skyrim, for example, I was killing dragons with one arrow after the 50-hour mark. How can you ensure that the game will constantly challenge the player?

I don't think this was an issue in our previous games, so I don't see why it should be an issue in Wild Hunt. We've made sure the game feels balanced at all times. We love Skyrim and we’re huge fans, but this is a different game. Skyrim was an out-and-out open-world game, while ours is a story-driven game that unfolds in an open-world scenario. The priorities of both games are very different.

You will be able to explore the game world of the The Witcher 3, but in a lot of ways, we'll be subtly reminding you about the plot. Do all the side-quests you want, but don't forget there is a story waiting for you - that I personally feel is the most rewarding part of the game.

So I could finish the story and then go back to tackle the side-quests?

At this moment, the answer is “almost.” Currently you have absolute freedom to do what you want up until the last few hours of the game. If we decide to allow players to return to the game after the ending, I imagine that, based on your choices in the game, some quests could be locked because of your previous actions. So, let's say you kill an entire village off, you won't be able to access side quests from there. It's not a particular example from the game, but you catch my drift right?

Sure. So player choices still play an important role in The Witcher universe?

All the time, and I think this differentiates us from other games out there. We don't tell you what matters and what doesn't, as your actions in the game speak far louder than words. I mean, there are 36 different endings in Wild Hunt.

What? For real?

Yes. We have an internal debate if it's 36 or more, but I can tell you that there are many, MANY different endings. You will definitely want to play this game more than once.

Any online component planned for the future, or is Wild Hunt a single-player experience only?

It's a single-player experience all the way, but we are looking to release the REDkit sometime after the game launches for the modding community. This way, people can create their own adventures, and this will inevitably add a lot of fun and replayability to the game.

How was development on next-gen consoles for you? How much of your vision did you have to sacrifice to gain stable frame rates on the PS4 and Xbox one?

It is extremely manageable. There is a lot of power in these machines, and I don't want to say we're using them to their capacity, but we're fairly close to doing so. We made a decision to go next-gen roughly two and a half years ago, so we've spent a lot of time with these machines, and it's been a great experience across all three platforms. On the old platforms, namely the Xbox 360 and PS3, we probably would have had to sacrifice nearly half of our vision.

Any plans to lease out the REDengine?

Yes, we are looking at that aspect. If people want to make an RPG, there's lot of tech out there already like the Unreal engine or Crytek's engine, but there is definitely a place for the REDengine on the market. We would love to see more upcoming RPGs using our engine.

The tech is super solid and it works very well on all three platforms, but having said that, we still have to release a game and that is our highest priority. The REDkit that we plan on launching soon after the game releases is also a good place to start and experiment with.

As a PC gamer, what kind of configuration should I be running if I wish to max the game out?

(Laughs) We'll be releasing that information soon, but you can already start saving up for an upgrade.

Do you have a release date for Wild Hunt?

Not yet, but we'll be announcing it soon.

But it will be this year itself right?

Yes, in 2014.



So what’s next after this game? Can you tell us anything about Cyberpunk 2077?

People have been asking me if Cyberpunk 2077 will have multiplayer or if it will be a straight-up shooter, and I tell them to relax, because it will be a true RPG game.

We are known for storytelling, and big game worlds, and so we’re taking all what we've learnt from previous three Witcher games, as well as the open-world aspect, and applying it to Cyberpunk 2077. So yes, it is an all-out RPG game, but we're looking at having a lot of new gameplay elements that I cannot talk about yet. One thing I can say for sure is that it is definitely NOT a multiplayer shooter.

Most European RPGs do not enjoy the success and accolades that you guys have received. Does this put a lot of pressure on you now, or does this keep the team grounded? 

I don't think it does, but then again, I'm not a developer. Accolades are very important, because the recognition makes things easier for us. At E3 2013, we got 55 awards, and for The Witcher 2, the biggest number of awards we got was maybe five, so we've come a long way. This kind of recognition also builds confidence within the team, because they now know people like what they’re working on. This gives them renewed confidence, which in turn helps them to make a better product.

Now we are financially independent, self-funded, and self-published across the world, but we didn't start from this position.

So will you continue to remain independent and self-publish future games?

Absolutely! We may be a stock-listed company, but all four owners - myself included - have no plans to change the way we work.

Digitally, do you plan on sticking to your usual platforms (Steam and GOG) for Wild Hunt, or are you also looking at other services like Uplay and Origin?

We will sell our game where it makes sense digitally, as we have no prejudices against any platform or any company. The game will be available on GOG (Good Old Games), Steam, and retail across the world, and this time around, we are looking at 14 localized versions.

Since you guys have started from scratch, do you have any advice for game developers who may face similar issues, the key one being lack of funding?

Unless you want to develop a huge RPG - which is not the best starting point since you can go bankrupt - start small. Just think of an idea, find the technological means, and then try and make a prototype. It can have just half an hour to an hour of gameplay. Show your creation to your friends. If they like it, contact the media/press, and see what they have to say about it. If it's good, they will tell you it's cool. If it's not, they'll give you a reality check, and then you can go back to the drawing board.

Take Papers, Please for example. The game doesn’t have stellar graphics, but the whole world is talking about it because it has character. I think the main problem with a lot of people is that they chase VC (venture capitalist) funding or publishers, but I think that's a backward approach. Make a solid product first, and then go out into the market. It starts from hard work and proving that you're worth it. The rewards will come later.

Alienware's Steam Machine will not be upgradable


From the many Steam Machine models unveiled at CES 2014, Alienware’s looked like one of the best. It was less of an eyesore, and Valve’s Greg Coomer himself has said that it's the machine "we think is actually going to serve the most customers and make the most Steam users happy." I bet these users will be less happy to find out that they can’t upgrade Alienware’s Steam Machine, which will instead just launch a new model every 12 months.

“There will be no customization options, you can’t really update it,” Alienware’s General Manager Frank Azor tells TrustedReviews. “Lifecycle wise, consoles update every five, six, seven years, we will be updating our Steam Machines every year.”

The Dell-owned company has yet to release an exact price and system specifications for its Steam Machine, but it did say that it will run on an Intel CPU and an Nvidia GPU, and compete with next-gen console pricing.

As we've noted before, if you like Windows and the option to customize your machine, at that point you might as well buy one of Alienware’s small-form-factor X51 machines, which start at $700.
Even Azor agrees with us. “If you actually want to customize your Alienware Steam Machine, maybe change your graphics card out or put in a new CPU, you would be better off with the standard Alienware X51,” he tells TrustedReviews.

Alienware’s Steam Machine might be more tempting once we have an official price point, but it needs to be pretty competitive in order to justify not having one of the most compelling aspects of PC gaming: The ability to solve any problem with a component upgrade. Other Steam Machine manufacturers are building systems with full customization in mind, with only a few of the announced systems acting as a console-type appliance.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Review

Don't know your shagohod from your la-li-lu-le-lo? Then a lot of Metal Gear Rising won't make sense. It's an action-based spin-off of Konami's brilliant Metal Gear Solid stealth series, which has yet to appear on PC beyond a lacklustre port of the original, and continues the story set up in the fourth game. Mercifully, being familiar with the series' famously convoluted lore isn't necessary to enjoy what is one of the most thrilling, theatrical action games on PC.

Rising is the PC debut of Osaka's PlatinumGames, the talented team behind console darlings Bayonetta, Vanquish, and MadWorld. They're known for their stylish, deep and absurd fighting games, and it's about time they made one for us. It's not their best - that crown still belongs to lollipop-sucking witch Bayonetta - but it's a fine example of a genre sorely underserved on PC.

You play as Raiden, a silver-haired cyborg who wields a futuristic samurai sword that can cut through metal like it's spreadable butter. He's a whirling, robotic dervish of parries, combos and flurries, all of which are controlled by an elegantly simple combat system. You get two attacks, heavy and light, but you won't have to memorise endless strings of combos. Instead, the skill lies in parrying.

Push in the direction of an enemy as they strike, hit the light attack button, and Raiden will - depending on how precise your timing is - either block it, or parry and hit back with a counter. Like the lightning bolts that appear over thugs' heads in the Arkham games, enemies will announce incoming attacks with a flash of red light, giving you a visual cue to prepare your parry. A yellow light, however, means the attack /can't/ be parried, and you'll have to quickly evade it.

Nail a counter, or beat an enemy up enough, and you can perform a Zandatsu. I must have done this a few hundred times in my playthrough, and it never gets old. Raiden slices an enemy into ribbons in slow-motion, grabs their spine before they've hit the ground, and absorbs its energy, fully restoring his health. It's an incredibly satisfying move, and beautifully animated. You can also slice up the environment with your sword in Blade Mode, which will add a good hour to your playtime. It's seriously impressive tech, allowing you to carve cars, trees and other objects up into hundreds of tiny pieces.

That's the core of the combat. It's fairly basic on paper, but not when you're being piled on by groups of enemies, all of whom have different timings and attacks. This is where the challenge lies, and it can be an incredibly tough at times - especially fighting the bosses, which are brilliantly over the top. You'll dance across missiles mid-launch while battling a giant robot, slice tanks in half as they're thrown at you, and wrestle with a superhuman US senator. It's totally mental, with that that distinct, rarely-seen-on-PC spark of exaggerated personality you only get in Japanese games.

The only thing that dulls Raiden's blade is the camera. It's atrocious, and often jerks around erratically when you're in the thick of a fight. This is a problem when groups of enemies are coming at you from all angles. The environment design is also drab, and at odds with the extravagant combat and characters. It looks nice in places, but there are a lot of sewers and grey warehouses to slog through. Those gripes aside, Rising is a welcome sight on PC. Its snappy, responsive combat looks and feels great, and it's wonderfully insane. Now, can we have Bayonetta next, Platinum?

Details:
Price: £20 / $30
Release: Out now
Developer: PlatinumGames
Publisher: Konami
Website: www.konami.jp/mgr
Multiplayer: None

Verdict

80
A stylish, elegant brawler with an absurd sense of humour. More of this sort of thing on PC, please.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player

  • Stream online video, music to your TV using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop
  • Supports Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and Google Play Movies and Music mobile apps as well as select content through Chrome browser
  • Works with Android, iOS, Chrome for Mac, and Chrome for Windows
  • Easy setup: Plug into any HDTV and connect to your home WiFi network
  • Box includes Chromecast, HDMI extender, USB power cable, and power adapter
 

Your Favorite Online Content on Your Big Screen

Sit Back, Watch Together
Cromecast have the US pin plug as the item only came out as a US version, also it does not need a plug for operation. Chromecast is the easy way to enjoy online video and anything from the web on your TV. Plug it into any HDTV and control it with your existing smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Send your favorites from HBO GO, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music, and Chrome to your TV with the press of a button. No more huddling around small screens and tiny speakers. Chromecast automatically updates to work with a growing number of apps.

With Chromecast, you can easily enjoy your favorite online content on your HDTV—movies, TV shows, videos, music, photos, websites, and more from HBO GO, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music, and Chrome. Learn how.


Remote Free

Control in the Palm of Your Hand
Chromecast works with devices you already own, including Android tablets and smartphones, iPhones, iPads, Mac and Windows laptops, and Chromebooks. Browse for what to watch, control playback, and adjust volume using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. You won't have to learn anything new.

Plug in and Play

Get Started in 3 Easy Steps
Plug Chromecast into any HDTV, connect it to WiFi, then send videos and more from your smartphone, tablet or laptop to your TV.
It's for Everyone in Your House
Friends and family can use your Chromecast with their smartphone, tablet, or laptop without any additional setup.

Supported Operating Systems

  • Android 2.3 and higher
  • iOS 6 and higher
  • Windows 7 and higher
  • Mac OS 10.7 and higher
  • Chrome OS (Chromebook Pixel, additional Chromebooks coming soon).

FAQ

What apps can I cast from on my smartphone or tablet?Casting is currently supported from HBO GO, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music and a growing number of other apps. Amazon Instant Video is not currently supported.

What video formats work with casting a tab from Chrome?

Almost every video you can view in your Chrome browser should work, including Flash videos. Video formats that require other plugins, such as Silverlight and Quicktime, may not work.

Does tab casting work with Amazon Prime Streaming / Amazon Instant Video?
Tab projection for Amazon Prime Streaming and Amazon Instant Video will not work when using Silverlight plugin for streaming.

Can I plug my Chromecast into an audio/video receiver?
Yes, you may plug in your Chromecast into an audio/video receiver with an HDMI input.

What is the compatibility with Kindle, Windows Phone and Microsoft Surface?
Kindle, Windows Phone and Microsoft Surface RT are currently not supported. Kindle can cast from Netflix but does not currently support YouTube or Google Play. Microsoft Surface Pro should work in non-metro mode. Chromecast is compatible with WiFi-enabled Android 2.3+ smartphones and tablets; iOS 6.0+ iPhones, iPads, and iPods; Chrome for Mac and Chrome for Windows; and Chromebook Pixel.

Can I stream photos and videos stored on my computer to my TV?
You can stream content that is shown within Chrome for Mac and Chrome for Windows.

Can I cast a tab from Chrome on smartphones and tablets to my TV?
Currently Chromecast does not support casting a Chrome tab from smartphones or tablets.

Can I bring Chromecast with me to another country?
Chromecast is only supported in the United States.

Get Your Google Chromecast Today From Amazon:


How Net Neutrality Affects PC Gamers

On Tuesday, the US Court of Appeals in D.C. waved its gavel at the Federal Communications Commision and handed down a disappointing verdict: the 2010 Open Internet Order is unlawful. In other words, net neutrality just took a big right hook to the jaw.

Net neutrality taking a beating isn't going to stop you from playing Battlefield, or prompt restrictive bandwidth caps overnight that make it harder to download games from Steam. Tuesday's decision likely won't affect your day-to-day gaming at all.

But net neutrality is still something you should care about. If you've ever streamed a game on Twitch, followed an amazing speedrunning event like Awesome Games Done Quick, or watched a YouTube archive of a world record solo eggplant run in Spelunky, Tuesday's ruling could impact elements of the PC gaming community you care about.

Net neutrality typically serves as an all-encompassing rallying cry for Internet users and civil rights activists afraid that phone and cable companies are going to trample all over them. It's an important cause—we don't want Internet providers controlling where we browse—but because net neutrality can refer to so many issues, it can be hard to know exactly how it affects our day-to-day use of the Internet.

The common carrier rule


"Neutrality" broadly refers to keeping the Internet an even field for everyone. When you sign up for an Internet package, you can visit any website you want. Nothing is blocked or throttled. Perhaps most importantly, net neutrality is meant to prevent companies like Comcast from interfering with the competition (like throttling Netflix's bandwidth while making sure Comcast's XFINITY On Demand comes in crystal clear).

Those protections are now gone. Here's the key quote from the court's judgement on the Open Internet Order, which codified the FCC's neutrality rules in 2010:

"...though the Commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates. Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.

Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order."
The FCC has been treating ISPs as common carriers, ruling that they're not allowed to interfere with or prioritize the traffic flowing across their networks. But it didn't actually classify them as common carriers. Ars Technica calls this wishy-washy rulemaking, explaining "The FCC has avoided calling ISPs common carriers for more than a decade, favoring a 'light touch' regulatory approach that could protect consumers while (hopefully) appeasing political foes of net neutrality."

The court decided that the FCC had the "general authority" to regulate Internet networks, but since it didn't classify broadband providers as common carriers, it can't make specific rules preventing traffic discrimination or blocking. With that key piece of the Internet Order tossed out, ISPs are now free to prioritize data as they see fit.


Trouble for streamers


Why does the FCC's common carrier blunder matter for gaming? Realistically, we don't see a grimdark storm of ISP tyranny on the horizon—Comcast would lose tons of customers if it split off a site like Twitch as an HBO-style upgrade. They're more likely to charge data-hungry services like Netflix, YouTube, and Twitch more money to reach us.

Ars Technica writes that Tuesday's ruling "would allow pay-for-prioritization deals that could let Verizon or other ISPs charge companies like Netflix for a faster path to consumers." In other words, Netflix would have to pony up for guaranteed throughput, and if it didn't, its packets may end up in an Internet highway traffic jam. Video streams would pause to buffer more often or struggle to maintain HD quality.

If Netflix has to pay more to transmit its data, that cost will likely be passed on to customers. The same goes for Twitch and YouTube. Even Steam could be affected if it continues to grow. In September, Gabe Newell claimed that updates for popular games like Dota 2 generate 2-3 percent of global Internet traffic.

Maybe all this just means more ads. Maybe it means new subscription fees. Telecoms now have more power, and one way or another, we'll probably end up paying them more money.

The FCC could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but there's a real chance it will wait to see how things play out. In December, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that he was okay with ISPs charging Netflix more for an Internet fastlane. As The Verge points out in a biting editorial, Wheeler could take steps to reclassify ISPs as common carriers, giving the FCC the power to regulate them much more strictly. But doing that would essentially be standing up in front of lobbyists with billions of dollars to spend and taunting "Come at me bro." The FCC isn't about to pick a fight with all 172 members of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

Wheeler said he's confident that the market will take care of itself. And, presumably, he's okay with the average Internet user, the kind that plays games and streams video every week, paying whatever price the market decides on.