|Paizo Pathfinder® Paizo Games|
|About Paizo Messageboards News Paizo Blog Help/FAQ|
It will be a sequel to ARKHAM CITY, picking up a year after the events of that game. The primary villains will be Harley Quinn, Two-Face and the Scarecrow. The game will also be set on the streets of Gotham City proper, featuring wide streets and long boulevards. Why? So you can drive the Batmobile down them, of course :) The playing area will also be substantially larger than ARKHAM CITY/ORIGINS.
The game will be exclusive on consoles to PS4 and XB1; there will be no prev-gen versions. The game will also launch on PC. Release date unconfirmed, but probably October-November.
Rocksteady, who made the first two games, are back for this one. It is unconfirmed who the writer is.
An article by io9 which lists the 24 most embarrassing and pointless D&D character classes.
A lot of these are indeed a bit pony, but some of them actually seem fine: Arctic Druid sounds pretty viable, for example, although I'd love to see a D&D party including a 14th level clown. "I gain XP by killing enemies with custard pies whilst balancing on a unicycle."
The fan community for Outerra - a graphics engine capable of rendering high-quality terrain images from relatively sparse data - has recreated Tolkien's Middle-earth using the software. This has resulted in some stunning and impressive views, especially considering this is only an alpha version.
This could be the next big thing for fantasy cartography. Westeros or Faerun or Malaz (or Golarion?) next?
GoG are giving away FREE copies of Dungeon Keeper and its expansion, The Deeper Dungeons for the weekend, and offering a monster 75% off discount on Dungeon Keeper 2 (reducing it to just $1.68).
For two of the best games ever made, this is a steal, especially compared to the godawful tablet/moble version EA released a few weeks ago which requires you to spend vast sums of money to do almost anything at all in the game. This is really the no-brainer alternative.
DK1 and its expansion will work on PC and Mac. DK2 is PC only.
Hollywood actor/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt and David Goyer are to co-produce a movie based on Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN graphic novels. Goyer will write an outline for the film and may write the script (though that seems less likely at the moment). Gordon-Levitt is so far only producing, but is also open to directing and starring.
Based on comments by Gordon-Levitt, the proposed film sounds like it will directly adapt PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES, the first SANDMAN graphic novel.
This is the latest in a long line of attempts to bring Gaiman's signature character and series to the screen. However, this has more traction than previous efforts due to the profile of those involves. Gaiman has also apparently given his tentative approval to the project as well.
Erm, the newer one is, anyway, not the original which is almost 36.
Ten years ago, on 8 December 2003, the first part of a new Battlestar Galactica mini-series aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in the United States. In response to strong ratings and rave reviews, an ongoing series was commissioned. The series eventually concluded in 2009 after four seasons, 75 episodes, two TV movies, a Hugo Award, a Peabody and a slew of technical Emmies.
BSG was an attempt by its writers to rejig TV science fiction for an adult, mainstream audience. Most of the creative team - most notably showrunner Ronald D. Moore - had previously worked on the Star Trek franchise and had grown frustrated at the limitations on realistic human conflict they could portray on those shows. BSG threw out a lot of the rules of TV SF by featuring no aliens, more realistic spaceflight physics (the first show since Babylon 5 to do it on a large scale), being more ruthless and featuring more morally ambiguous characters. However, the series also focused on the classic SF trope of humans versus AI, and if it is possible for biological and machine intelligences to co-exist.
The series was also notable for its more relatable aesthetics: no jumpsuits or impractical onesies here but shirts and ties and more convincing military uniforms. The Galactica didn't stay in the same shape each episode but got more broken-down and damaged as time passed. Its stock of Viper fighters and trained pilots dwindled (despite a handy mid-series resupply). Each episode gave a count of how many survivors there were from the Cylon attack, and this number dropped (sometimes by quite a lot) as casualties were sustained. Characters died, sometimes heroically in battle or guiding stranded ships through radioactive clouds, but sometimes committing suicide after reaching tragic breaking points. It was a series that - for the most part - did not pull its punches.
The characters were familiar archetypes turned into more realistic human beings: hotshot pilot Starbuck has family problems; executive officer Colonel Tigh is an alcoholic; President Roslin is suffering from a terminal illness; Apollo is a great pilot but is unsure of his future; and scientist Baltar is the biggest walking collection of neuroses you will ever see on TV. Even stoic, unflappable Commander Adama finally breaks down from the pressure at the worst possible moment. The actors, from seasoned hands like Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell to newcomers like Katee Sackhoff and former model Tricia Helfer, relished their complex, unpredictable roles and the meaty storylines they could get stuck into.
In terms of visual effects, the show was a substantial step forwards in quality. One of the earliest shows to take advantage of HD, it featured astonishing, imaginative space battles and some excellent spacecraft design, sometimes drawing on the original 1978 show for inspiration and at other times going its own way. The use of CGI to convincingly portray beings who were supposed to be physically present in scenes, such as the robotic Cylon centurions, was ahead of its time as well.
Of course, not all great things last. From the opening part of the mini-series to somewhere around the fifth episode of the third season, the show was almost flawlessly excellent. The writing was tight, the actors were great and the show had a real sense of momentum and purpose. The long-running story arc unfolded logically and even sub-par episodes, like Black Market or Sacrifice, were still eminently watchable. Some problems appeared during the confused 'New Caprica' arc, with the decision to jump forwards some sixteen months from the end of the previous season creating a disconnect in character development which was never really fixed: the behaviour of some characters, most notably Roslin and Apollo, became random and lacking in motivation following that point. The New Caprica arc, though visually exciting and featuring some strong moments of drama and characterisation, also seemed to trip up on the show's own press. The apparent desire to invoke comparisons with the contemporary war in Iraq was laudable, but also confused: were the colonials the Iraqi insurgents or the Cylons? Or vice versa? As an analogy, it lacked substance.
In terms of the plot, the series and ongoing storyline also seemed to lose coherence as it went along. The Kobol arc, which dominated no less than nine episodes, was completely forgotten about within a few weeks and the revelations from that story that was supposed to lead to Earth were disregarded, or referred to only in a very confused manner, in later episodes. Listening to Ronald D. Moore's commentaries, it is shocking how often hugely major story points were developed 'because they were cool' with no regard for how they fitted into the big picture. Sometimes these storylines were begun only for the writers to lose interest and get rid of them as quickly as possible. Lame retcons and wince-inducing continuity errors came to dominate the last two seasons, sometimes minor and easy to ignore but sometimes major. The show remained extremely well-acted to the end, and great episodes still cropped up towards the show's finale, but BSG's once-unassailable quality level dipped quite alarmingly in those last two seasons. The finale summed up these issues with some terrific moments of acting and some brilliant effects and space battles, but an actual ending that ranks amongst the stupidest ever put to screen. For a show that, at its best, never shied away from complexity and having different points of view, the resolution was far too pro-Luddite for it ever to convince.
Still, these major dips in quality aside, BSG was a great show. During those first two-and-a-bit seasons it was easily batting on the same level of quality as contemporary shows like The Wire, Rome and Deadwood, and was a lot better than the likes of Lost or the relaunched Doctor Who. It couldn't quite sustain that quality level to the end, but when BSG was on top form, it was the best space opera ever made. We're still waiting for the space opera that will come along and build upon BSG's successes, but until then revisiting the original is still, warts and all, worthwhile.
Sony Pictures Television has ordered a pilot episode for a TV series based on the controversial, violent PREACHER comic series by Garth Ennis. If it goes to series, it will air on AMC in the United States.
Interesting. I think they're going to have their work cut out for them on this one. Both HBO and Sam Mendes have had goes at doing this and not gotten anywhere. I'm not sure if, erm, Seth Rogen (yes, that one) is going to have better luck.
The BBC are mounting a big-budget, seven-part adaptation of Susanna Clarke's seminal 2004 fantasy novel. The series starts shooting in a few weeks and will be filmed in Montreal, Leeds and Venice. It will air in 2014.
For those not familiar with it, the story takes place in an alternate 19th Century England where magic returns to prominence after a practicing magician, Mr. Norrell, goes public. He takes on an apprentice, Jonathan Strange, and they work to help England in its war against Napoleonic France. Strange and Norrell later have a falling out and become rivals.
Bertie Carvel, a noted British stage and musical actor, is playing Jonathan Strange. Eddie Marsan, recently seen as one of the stars of THE WORLD'S END, is playng Mr. Norrell.
It will be interesting to see if they can pull this off. The book is long and complex, with numerous storylines and a large cast of characters. Squeezing the 1,000-page novel into just seven episodes is going to be an impressive feat.
HOMEWORLD: SHIPBREAKERS is a prequel to the original 1999 real-time strategy game HOMEWORLD. It is being funded and published by Gearbox, but before you set yourselves on fire and hurl yourselves from the nearest tall building, they're not actually making it. The people making it are Blackbird Interactive, founded in 2007 by a large number of the people who made the original HOMEWORLD game. The original art director, music director and several of the same writers are on board.
Even better, HOMEWORLD: SHIPBREAKERS has already been in development for three years under the title HARDWARE: SHIPBREAKERS, with a large amount of work already done. An early alpha video of the gameplay can be seen here. According to the team, they always had a secret plan to turn HARDWARE into a new HOMEWORLD game if the rights situation permitted, and actually approached THQ (the former rights-holders) in 2010 with this plan. They never heard back from them and it looked like HARDWARE would have to be a new (though very similar, aesthetically) IP. Fortunately (erm, for HOMEWORLD fans anyway), THQ went bust at the start of this year and the IP was snatched up by Gearbox. Gearbox, showing welcome self-awareness, realised they didn't know a thing about making strategy games. They contacted Blackbird, initially to see if they could track down the original HW and HW2 source code (they did) and then began discussions over this project. They signed the final deal live on-stage at the PAX Dev conference a few days ago.
As a prequel to HOMEWORLD, SHIPBREAKERS will likely be set on Kharak, the desert planet the Hiigarans were exiled to thousands of years ago. HARDWARE was set on a desert planet and had different mercenary groups fighting to loot a number of alien wrecks on the planet. As a HOMEWORLD prequel, SHIPBREAKERS will likely change this to have the different kiith (Hiigaran clans) also in conflict over resources, possibly not crashed spacecraft (in HOMEWORLD there was only one, the Khar-Toba) though they may retcon things to keep them in.
Gearbox will be funding SHIPBREAKERS, so it's likely that the game will have a much bigger budget than previously anticipated. Crucially, HARDWARE was going to be a free-to-play, multiplayer-focused game. Whilst not confirmed, it seems to be expected (especially given the 'prequel' line and the fact that the HOMEWORLD games have always been single-player focused) that the game will now incorporate a single-player, narrative campaign.
As well as releasing SHIPBREAKERS, Gearbox will also create and release new versions of HOMEWORLD and HOMEWORLD 2. These new versions will incorporate both the original games, simply updated to work on modern OS (and also on tablets), and HD remakes with modern, updated graphics and control schemes*. It is likely that if all of these are successful, a 'proper', space-set HOMEWORLD 3 may also follow.
No release date has been set for any of these projects yet.
* The source code for HOMEWORLD: CATACLYSM - the excellent stand-alone expansion to HOMEWORLD - has apparently been lost forever, so it can't get the same treatment. However, it may be possible for them to simply re-release the original game with advice on how to get it working on modern systems, GoG-style.
Full details here, but the quick version is as follows:
If an author is not present, that's likely because official sales figures have not been released yet. Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss, for example, should definitely be on here but as they have no official figures, I can't place them. That's also true for older authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick.
1) J.K Rowling (c. 450 million)
In less than two weeks, Creative Assembly and Sega will release TOTAL WAR: ROME II, the eighth game in the acclaimed TOTAL WAR series and the sequel to 2004's ROME: TOTAL WAR.
As with the other TOTAL WAR games, ROME II will mix large-scale, turn-based strategic gameplay with a (pauseable) real-time tactical battle engine. Using the map you recruit and deploy armies and navies, build new structures, expand cities and manage diplomatic and economic matters. When one of your armies comes into contact with an enemy force, combat results. The game then switches to a map in which you directly control your army in battle. The focus in these games is on realistic tactics and unit formations, with a wide range of units to control from skirmishers to cavalry and archers. The same rules apply to naval combat, with you deploying fleets packed with troops and able to engage other fleets in battle and undertake boarding actions. For the first in the history of the series, however, the game will also allow combined-arms battles, with navies and armies fighting on the same coastal maps.
ROME II also allows you to play as different factions. As well as Rome, you can play as Carthage, Macedon, Britannia (the Iceni), Gaul (the Arverni), Germania (the Suebi), Parthia or Egypt. A free expansion (available on release day) adds Pontus, whilst a month or so later another free update will add the Seleucid Empire. Three of the Greek city-states - Athens, Epirus and Sparta - will also be available to play as a paid expansion on release day, although this will be included free for those who pre-order the game. The game will also feature dozens of non-playable minor factions, many of them with unique forces, for you to defeat and conquer as you try to spread your empire across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Available exclusively for PC, TOTAL WAR: ROME II is the most graphically-impressive-looking game in existence. However, Creative Assembly claim that they have optimised the game so it will work on any machine that can run their previous game, SHOGUN II, without sacrificing visual quality.
For myself, I was a huge fan of the original ROME and MEDIEVAL II (released in 2006) but not so much of the more recent games in the series. But this is certainly looking hugely impressive, and will be the first TOTAL WAR game I get on release day since MEDIEVAL II. Here's hoping it can live up to its immense promise.
TOTAL WAR: ROME II will be released on 3 September 2014. It is available to pre-order now on Steam (though those without fast broadband might want to be forewarned that the game will be a colossal 35GB download, and maybe prefer to get a boxed copy for a faster install).
Anyone else going to be checking this out?
Fox has optioned Patrick Rothfuss's KINGKILLER CHRONICLES trilogy of fantasy novels for television. The first book in the series, THE NAME OF THE WIND, will be adapted first followed by the other two, THE WISE MAN'S FEAR and the forthcoming DOORS OF STONE (due in 2014), in later seasons.
Rothfuss is a well-known fan of Joss Whedon and has expressed criticism in the past of Fox's handling of FIREFLY. This has led some to speculate that the KINGKILLER books may be headed for the FX cable channel rather than Fox proper. Though not in the same league as GAME OF THRONES, the novels do contain some scenes of violence and, particularly in the second book, a fair amount of sex and nudity.
Obviously this is just an option so far. A script has to be written and the network will decide on whether to order a pilot or a full series. This is likely 2-3 years away from getting on-air at a minimum.
SYNDICATE was released in 1993 and was a major jump forwards in gaming. It depicted a series of vast cyberpunk cities, with the player controlling four cyborg agents from above. The player had missions to fulfil to transform their small company into a world-dominanting colossus, and immense freedom in how to undertake those missions. Some players would prefer to use sniper rifles and a stealthier approach. Others would prefer to whip out miniguns and drive in all guns blazing. Others would use the 'Persuadatron' to force a massive crowd of mind-controlled minions to rush the enemy with overwhelming numbers. Between missions you could research new equipment, recruit new agents and make more money as part of your plan for global domination. In 1996 it was succeeded by a sequel, SYNDICATE WARS, which did much the same thing but in full 3D with destructible buildings.
In 2012 EA released an ill-advised FPS 'reboot' of the series, which lacked all of the strategic elements and had none of the original attributes apart from some similar weapons. The game was an unmitigated failure.
SATELLITE REIGN is again played from an overhead perspective with four agents, although this time your agents have skills, stats and more specialisations available. There is also only one immense mega-city, rather than lots of little ones. You have more moral choice in this game, being able to work for 'good' corporations as well as trying to conquer the world for your own profit. Several of the guys from the original games are working on it, along with veterans from Rockstar and other companies. They're also only asking for a relatively modest $350,000.
According to Bleeding Cool, who have checked this story with multiple sources at the BBC, a 'large' number of the missing episodes of DOCTOR WHO from the 1960s have been returned to the BBC. The BBC will formally announce this shortly once they have a plan to release the missing material to the fans.
As people may or may not be aware, in the 1970s the BBC, showing less foresight than a chronically depressed lemming, decided it would be a splendid idea to wipe their stocks of DOCTOR WHO episodes to re-use the film. Almost the entirety of the First and Second Doctor's runs were literally burned in the BBC's incinerators as a result. Fortunately, many, many copies of the material had been made when the series had been sold to other broadcasters around the world. As part of a serious restoration effort beginning in the 1980s, over half of the lost episodes were returned to the BBC archives from these other sources. Right now, 106 episodes remain missing, including nine complete serials.
According to the rumour, a 'large' stash of the missing episodes has been recovered. Several of the totally-missing serials are allegedly included, and several almost-incomplete serials have also been completed. The one constant in the rumour is that the 1967 seven-part serial EVIL OF THE DALEKS has been completely restored (only one episode survives). Several also report that the episode haul may complete William Hartnell's run as the Doctor (currently 44 Hartnell episodes are missing). If so, that suggests that at least 50 episodes have been recovered. However, the reports also say that the haul is not the complete run, and a few episodes remain missing. The source for the episodes is allegedly an African TV engineer who kept the episodes after transmission rather than junking them as instructed.
According to Bleeding Cool, the BBC will only announce the news once they have a release plan in place, and also possibly to tie in with the 50th anniversary in November.
However, several fans have pointed out that only a few WHO episodes from the 1960s were ever broadcast in Africa, and we know that EVIL OF THE DALEKS and THE TENTH PLANET (the fourth missing episode of which, featuring the first-ever regeneration scene, is also reportedly in the haul) were never broadcast over there. 'The Feast of Steven', an episode of THE DALEKS' MASTERPLAN (the 12-part megaepic in DOCTOR WHO's second season), was also never sold or transmitted outside of the UK and shows every sign of having been lost forever, so it seems unlikely that would be in the haul (it'd need to be to complete Hartnell's run).
How much of this story is accurate remains to be seen, but Bleeding Cool seem certain of their sources.
Iain Banks came to immediate attention with the publication of The Wasp Factory in 1984. A contemporary novel, the book told the story of a mentally ill murderer and wasp-torturer. With its twist ending, matter-of-fact descriptions of stomach-churning scenes and its thick vein of black humour (best exemplified by the infamous 'psychopathic rabbit on a minefield' scene), it was immediately successful and made readers sit up and take notice. A series of similarly vivid and successful 'literary' novels followed: Walking on Glass, The Bridge and Espedair Street.
In 1987 Iain Banks released his first science fiction novel, Consider Phlebas. The move - a successful mainstream novelist moving into SF - was unexpected and commercially questionable. Banks moderated by the blow by continuing to alternate SF and mainstream work, and publishing his SF under the impenetrable pseudonym 'Iain M. Banks' (the M is for Menzies). Banks had actually started off writing SF in the 1970s, writing early versions of what later became Player of Games and Use of Weapons before the decade was out. He had switched to writing mainstream fiction to achieve enough success to get the SF published, and was successful in that regard (despite concerns over the SF community of accusing him of 'selling out', which never materialised).
Consider Phlebas introduced Iain Banks's signature creation, the Culture. Banks envisaged a utopian society consisting of multiple species and advanced benevolent AIs, living on a mixture of planets and exotic megastructures (most notably the Orbitals, more sensible and practical versions of Niven's Ringworld; it was actually the Orbitals that served as the inspiration for the titular constructs in the Halo video game series). In his novels Banks explored how such a utopian society could exist, usually by showing the more underhand and devious ways the Culture would protect itself and affect other civilisations.
Banks continued writing both mainstream and SF. His 1992 novel The Crow Road was adapted as a successful BBC mini-series, whilst 1993's Complicity became a feature film. However, his masterpiece is his 1990 SF novel, Use of Weapons. This novel features two streams of narrative, one moving forwards and one moving backwards, both building to huge climaxes.
Outside of his fiction, Banks was a huge fan of whiskey. In 2003 he wrote his only work of non-fiction, Raw Spirit, an account of Scottish whiskey distilleries.
Banks's work meant that he simultaneously became known as one of Britain's leading SF authors as well as a rising star of its literary scene. He ultimately became one of Britain's best-known authors. In 2007 his dual writing identity was acknowledged in a running gag in the Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright movie Hot Fuzz, in which two identical twins can be identified because one always reads Iain Banks and the other always reads Iain M. Banks.
In April Banks announced that he had inoperable cancer. He immediately married his partner and took a short honeymoon. He was hopeful of living for another year or so, but the news sadly came today of his passing. Banks's final novel, The Quarry, will be published next month.
Reprinted from the blog: wrote:
In the XCOM thread people were saying it would be cool if there was a new SPACE HULK game which played like XCOM (as XCOM seems to have borrowed a lot of ideas from the original SPACE HULK board game).
REJOICE! There will be a new SPACE HULK game which will play a lot like XCOM. Only with Terminators and Genestealers in space. The game is also taking a lot of rules from the original board game. There may be some reference to the EA 1990s games (which were great), but this new title will definitely be turn-based and not real-time like they were.
That game will launch on PC with an iOS port to follow. The release date they are targetting is the end of this year. It's looking very cool. Also a great story on how they came to make it at the link.
It's actually rather depressing the show is so old. I remember I started watching it in my penultimate year at secondary school and followed it avidly for the five years it was on. The very first time I ever went on the Internet was to look up info about the show. Great times.
Arguably the highest-profile development firm working for THQ was Relic, the creators of the well-regarded WH40K: DAWN OF WAR, SPACE MARINE and COMPANY OF HEROES franchises. Relic have been saved by Sega, which is excellent. Sega already own the Creative Assembly and Sports Interactive, home to two of the PC's most dominant strategy franchises (the TOTAL WAR and FOOTBALL MANAGER games), and, crucially, have a WARHAMMER FANTASY licence which they are using for a new game with the CA. Reacquiring the WH40K licence to allow Relic to continue with DAWN OF WAR 3 should be straightforward, whilst COMPANY OF HEROES 2 is on course to come out this year as planned.
Potential major disappointment however: the HOMEWORLD IP, which THQ rescued back in 2006 (HOMEWORLD was Relic's first franchise, made when they were working with Sierra/Vivendi a decade ago), does not appear to have been saved, and will likely be sold off for peanuts as part of the last dissolution of the company.
Almost as well-regarded is Volition, the creator of the RED FACTION and SAINT'S ROW games. Koch Media has bought Volition and the SAINT'S ROW IP, but from the sound of it not the RED FACTION one, which will likely now disappear. Koch Media have also purchased the METRO IP, and will be publishing METRO: LAST LIGHT (the sequel to METRO 2033) in a few months.
Crytek have purchased the HOMEFRONT IP, which makes sense as they were working on HOMEFRONT II anyway, and are now free to shop it to any publisher of their choosing (probably Electronic Arts, given their close relationship over the CRYSIS franchise).
Ubisoft have purchased the rights to publish the new SOUTH PARK game, being developed by Obsidian.
The fate of a number of other franchises - most notably DARKSIDERS - are also up in the air.
InExile, the team working on WASTELAND 2, have announced their next project. Their new game will be a spiritual sequel to the legendary PLANESCAPE: TORMENT and will bear the TORMENT name (though not the PLANESCAPE one, which is held by WotC). The setting, however, will be Numenera, the new RPG world created (via Kickstarter) by Monte Cook.
The inXile team, containing many veterans of Interplay and Black Isle who worked on TORMENT, are planning a game that will continue the original TORMENT's themes of consciousness, life and death, as well as world-hopping. The game uses new skill and combat rules, inspired by the Numenera P&P RPG.
There will be a Kickstarter for NUMENERA: TORMENT (or whatever it ends up being called), though not for a while. InXile are planning to release WASTELAND 2 in October and will probably move into full production on NUMENERA shortly afterwards.
HBO are developing a TV series based on Neil Gaiman's novel AMERICAN GODS and its-as-yet-unwritten sequel. After a year or so in early development, the series has entered active pre-production, with Gaiman recently revealing that he is busy writing the pilot episode. Based on this, I suspect we'll see this on screens by late 2014 or early 2015 (assuming the pilot is successful), potentially replacing either TREME or TRUE BLOOD (assuming the rumours over that show ending after a 6th or 7th season are accurate).
No casting news as yet. Gaiman envisages the first season adapating the novel, the second season dealing with the fall-out from that (and possibly adapting his AMERICAN GODS short stories) and presumably the third season adapting AMERICAN GODS II, if he can write it in time.
The fourth game in the seminal ELITE space trading/combat series has been formally announced via a Kickstarter campaign.
The original ELITE was released in 1984 and is notable for being one of the first major 3D games and one of the first games to give the player total freedom of how they played it. It was a stunning technical achievement and arguably represents the single biggest jump forward in both technical and conceptual gameplay terms in gaming's history (it's sometimes been likened to the arrival of sound in film in being a transformative momentin the history of the form).
The sequel, FRONTIER, was released in 1993 and was almost as impressive, featuring hundreds of millions of star systems and allowing players to undertake a much vaster array of missions, fly different ships and land on planetary surfaces as well as with orbiting space stations. The game also had a Newtonian physics flight model and a superbly accurate recreation of our Solar system. Despite its technical brilliance, actually flying the spaceship was less fun in FRONTIER. The third game, FIRST ENCOUNTERS (1995) suffered a botched, extremely buggy launch which caused the creators to sue the publishers for releasing an early version of the game without their permission.
ELITE: DANGEROUS is planned for release in 2014 and will apparently incorporate the vast galaxy of FRONTIER mixed in with a more traditional (and accessible) flight model. The game will have modern, state-of-the-art graphics (of course) and an integrated multiplayer mode. However, further details on the project are somewhat thin. Videos and screenshots of the work undertaken so far will apparently be posted soon (and I'd argue that putting up a Kickstarter page without them was rather silly, but a mistake they can recover from).
Chris Roberts, the creator of the WING COMMANDER and STARLANCER/FREELANCER franchises, has announced that he is working on a new space combat game.
The game is hugely ambitious. The project overall is called STAR CITIZEN and works on one of several levels. On one level the game works like FREELANCER or PRIVATEER, with you trading, flying around the universe and upgrading stuff. You can run the game in this mode as a single-player game or on a private server with some friends. You can also play this mode on public servers, where it becomes more like an MMORPG.
If that doesn't appeal, there is a story-driven, single-player campaign. This campaign mode is called SQUADRON 42 and will feature sequential missions. This mode can be played single-player or in co-op with a friend (or possibly several friends). This campaign will be upgraded on a regular basis with new missions and expansions.
As well as space combat and trading, the game will also allow you to walk around in a first-person mode on spaceships and stations (and possibly starports as well).
The game will be PC-only, since it is simply beyond the capabilities of the 360 and the PS3 to even begin being able to handle. However, I would not rule out its eventual appearance on the next-gen machines.
Chris Roberts give an impressive one-hour talk about the game here.
There's a five-minute trailer here.
Apparently all of the game footage was rendered in-engine using an Nvidia 680GT graphics card, which is seriously impressive.
When it comes to the genre of first-person shooters, there have been several gamechangers during its lifespan. The mass-popularisation of the genre through id's Doom was an early one. The success of 2001's Medal of Honour: Allied Assault inspiring dozens of 'realistic' shooters using real weapons and history was another. But towering over all of them is Half-Life. Released in 1998 it transformed the genre from mindless shooting to something based more around characters, personal narrative, puzzles and full immersion in the world it depicted.
More recent shooters have seemingly ignored the lessons laid down by Half-Life, becoming lost in a few short hours of tiresome, badly-acted cut-scenes and even more tiresome gimmicks like regenerating health and cover systems. Yet returning to Half-Life, or introducing it to new players, is almost impossible. What was a fantastic-looking game on release is now a painful collection of blocky models and low-res textures. What is needed is a full HD remake of the game which preserves the pacing, weapons and enemies but updates everything else.
Happily, Black Mesa is a (nearly) full HD remake of the game which preserves the pacing, weapons and enemies but updates everything else. Created over a period of eight years (!) - or two years longer than it took for Valve themselves to make Half-Life 2 - by gamers and fans working in their own time, Black Mesa is a carefully-crafted love letter to the franchise. The attention to detail in the game is tremendous, and it's quality easily exceeds that of many 'proper' Triple-A releases. Even the voice-acting (all re-recorded, as reusing the original game's audio files was legally dubious) eclipses that of many supposedly professional games.
The game opens as the original Half-Life did, with you standing on a tram as it makes its way into the Black Mesa Research Facility in New Mexico. You play Gordon Freeman, a 27-year-old theoretical physicist and graduate of MIT. Freeman is a silent protagonist who never speaks, allowing the player to come up with his own personality and interpretation for the character. The iconic tram ride shows the similarities and differences between the original game and the remake. The areas you pass on the tram are more or less the same, but are now inhabited by more people with more activity going on. A mech clearing up a chemical spill have now been joined by two scared scientists trapped against a nearby wall. Other spaces, formerly bare, are now bustling with people moving equipment around. The reception area to the main lab has been transformed from a poky square room into a cavernous circular chamber filled with computer screens. A nearby canteen has changed from a small room with a table in it to a large public space filled with vending machines.
There are multiple models for scientist and soldier characters now (including the introduction of female characters), lending more realism to scenes where Gordon forms up a posse. Amusingly, Dr. Kleiner and Eli Vance (from Half-Life 2) show up as younger characters, in keeping with the canon. The developers have resisted the urge to thrown in other appearances from Half-Life 2 characters: Administrator Breen is referenced, but does not appear (as he did not appear in the original game), whilst Barney also does not appear: whilst multiple security guards in the original game had the 'Barney voice', the canon Barney is the one glimpsed briefly trying to open a door as Gordon passes by on his tram journey, and otherwise does not feature in the original Half-Life, only its expansion, Blue Shift.
The weapons load-out is the same as in the original game, and pleasingly you can carry a full arsenal around with you rather than having the current, tiresome restriction of two-guns-per-person (or whatever) shoehorned into the title. The variety and types of enemy is also the same. The integration of the Source Engine's physics system also gives rise to the closest thing the game has to a new weapon, the ability to pick up flares and throw them at enemies, setting them on fire.
As noted above, the game has been redesigned on a micro scale in many areas: few rooms or corridors avoid having had some tweaks to make them more interesting, from whiteboards filled with amusing jokes (or occasionally dirty cartoons) to a mug featuring the Chuckle Brothers (dubious UK comedians) sitting on a security guard's desk. The general layout of the game is the same as before, but a few areas have been opened up. Whilst still a linear shooter, some areas do feature multiple paths, requiring Gordon to scout out surrounding corridors and rooms for bonus weapons and ammo before finding what is the correct way to proceed. These changes, though minor, do hugely enhance the feeling of Black Mesa as a place where, under normal circumstances, people work together.
Something that did come as a surprise whilst playing the game was the fact that, by modern standards, Half-Life is only barely a shooter. The game can happily go half an hour at a time without having any combat, instead throwing puzzles and environmental challenges at the player that must be negotiated without a shot being fired. These range from having to open up valves to prime a rocket engine with fuel and coolant so it can be fired into a blast pit, killing a giant, triple-tentacled monster inside, to finding a way of powering up a computer system so you can use it to unlock a blast door.
Combat, when it does take place, is intense and also quite tough: the AI of both the alien invaders and the marines sent to deal with them and also wipe out any eyewitnesses is impressive, especially given fan consensus that the original Half-Life actually featured better AI than Half-Life 2. Whether the smart, tough enemies of Half-Life would survive the transition to Black Mesa was a key question for many fans, even a dealbreaker, and it's a relief to report that they have. Enemies are smart and canny, knowing when to take cover, flank you and use grenades to flush you into a killzone.
Unfortunately, the game's transition to Source means that the controls suffer a little. The original game sometimes used a feature called 'crouch-jumping' to allow you to reach tall ledges that would otherwise be out of reach. For some reason Black Mesa actually forces you to use crouch-jumping far more than the original game, almost for every single jump in the game. When you have to run fast and crouch-jump (requiring three simultaneous button pushes whilst using the mouse at the same time), it's almost impossible to execute the move. It turns out the development team set the jumping parameters too low, but it's very easy to go into the source files and modify it back to something sane. The game also has a lot of problems with ladders. In fact, the only FPS I've ever seen handle ladders well was the original Half-Life. Every other game, including Half-Life's own sequels and expansions (and now its remake), seems to love sticking you to ladders to the point of mouse-throwing rage when it results in you dying. Also, for some reason, the 'walk slowly' button does not work, which makes traversing the aforementioned blast pit (inhabited by an indestructible triple-tentacled blind monster that hunts by sound alone) absolutely horrendous, although it's completely unnecessary for any other part of the game.
These problems seem fairly minor when you consider the overwhelming quality of the game. A few areas feel like they could have been truncated a little bit (the residue processing sequence in particular is a little dull) but overall, Black Mesa is a phenomenal achievement. The original game's superior level design, excellent weapons and impressive AI are now enhanced by modern graphics, a subtle-but-brilliant redesign of many areas to work better with physics and a new, moody soundtrack. The game does have a different ending to the original, however, concluding in the Lambda Complex as you prepare to teleport to Xen. The thorough, exacting redesign of the game means that Xen is not yet ready. However even this has its benefits, as the Xen levels are the most widely-hated part of the original game. Their absence makes Black Mesa a tighter, more focused (though, at over 10 hours, still very long by modern standards) experience, even if the bizarreness of the place (a refreshing antidote to 10 hours of grey walls) is missed a little.
Black Mesa (*****) is available now from the developers' website, completely legally and free of charge. The game will also be available from Steam in a few weeks.