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  • Game Informer News Feed: New Stories Help Liven Up Familiar Gamplay

    Publisher: Bandai Namco
    Developer: CyberConnect2
    Release: 2019
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    It’s been a good time to be a Dragon Ball fan recently. Dragon Ball Super rekindled many fans’ enthusiasm for the series, culminating in the film Dragon Ball Super: Broly making over $100,000,000 at the box office in the past year. On the video game side, the Dragon Ball Xenoverse games let fans dig deeper into the wider world of the series, while Dragon Ball FighterZ finally gave fans a deep, rewarding fighting game using its iconic characters.

    With all these spinoffs and continuations, it’s easy to forget how long it’s been since we got a proper retelling of the storyline of Dragon Ball Z. That’s what Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot aims to do. “There are a lot of fans that have kind of jumped onto the ship [recently],” says Kakarot director Ryosuke Hara. “So I think this game will be a very good entry point for that new community, if you will, and they'll get to experience Goku's life and through this game.”

    After playing a short demo of Kakarot, its storytelling is what stood out, both in how Bandai Namco and developer Cyberconnect2 are planning to stick by the established plotline and how they’re planning to deviate. The fighting that ties it all together, however, didn’t shine through.

    Kakarot is an open-world action RPG, something fans have been craving for a while. I’ve always wanted to see more of Akira Toriyama’s world than Dragon Ball has shown; it’s a world ripe for exploration, even outside the confines of a shonen fighting series where plot takes a backseat to flashy, over-the-top fights. Kakarot of course stays within those confines, but wants to give us a little more world-building than the series has given us in the past.

    My demo begins with a clear objective: Take on Radditz, the first baddie of DBZ’s Saiyan Saga. Although my map shows me I can immediately fly on over to take him on, I’ve got 30 minutes to explore the surrounding area, and it’s not the barren grassland you might remember from the anime: it’s much more crowded with tiny settlements, collectibles, and enemies, with various points of interest dotted on my map.

    Kakarot is an attempt to further delve into the world of Dragon Ball Z through Goku’s eyes, which is partially the reason “Kakarot,” Goku’s other name (in the same way Kal-El is Clark Kent’s other name) is the subtitle. “We wanted to shine the spotlight of course not only on the battles, but what happens in between the battles, and what Goku’s day to day life is, so we needed a name that really was representative of this idea and concept of Goku,” says producer Masayuki Hirano.

    The other reason is that the name is what Kakarot represents in the series itself. Radditz calling Goku this name, and revelation that comes with it (Goku being a Saiyan) is part of a shift in direction that Z begins to take that separates it from the early Dragon Ball series. “It really kind of cracks the narrative and the possibilities of the Dragon Ball universe wide open,” Hirano says. “So it's the genesis of Dragon Ball Z, the first time it really opened up that universe.”

    I can see what they’re going for as I approach the first dot on my map. Here I find Nam, a character from the original Dragon Ball anime. After a short bit of catching up, he sends me on an escalating trade quest, in which I have to trade one item for another until I’m able to get him something of value for his village. Later in my demo I encounter another Dragon Ball character, Android 8, who again sends me on a similar quest after a short exchange.

    Seeing these oft-forgotten characters is a fun surprise, but I leave my talks with them disappointed. The conversations themselves are pretty short and mostly perfunctory, and I wish there were more to them. I’m not asking for a Mass Effect-style dialogue tree or quest line, but I would have liked to see more interesting situations or sequences at play. For all its focus on fighting, FighterZ managed to wring some fun new scenes out of established characters, and I wish more of that showed up here.

    For his part, Hirano is hopeful that they’ve been able to portray things other than the series’ bombastic fights, and that this aspect will set Kakarot apart from other Dragon Ball games. “I think Dragon Ball has a very unique sense of comedy,” he says, pointing to one of his favorite quiet moments early on in the series: The episode in which Goku, having died at Radditz’ hand, needs to make King Kai laugh in order to qualify for training in the afterlife. “A lot of those little moments in between the battles, I think, especially the comedic moments for me were really fun, and the fact that we were able to portray this in a game I believe hasn't really been done before.”

    As I fly around on the Nimbus cloud (you can do barrel-rolls to collect floating items along the way) with Piccolo at my side, to complete these quests for Nam and Eighter, I’m ambushed by enemies resembling the Pirate Robot from the Red Ribbon saga of Dragon Ball. These encounters are what you’ve come to expect from action-oriented Dragon Ball games: From a behind-the-back perspective, I can fly around, shoot ki blasts, or run up and punch these robots, who don’t take a lot of effort to destroy. I can block attacks or have Piccolo help me out, but I don’t really have to engage with a lot of the systems against these enemies; I stick to just mashing the attack button I breeze through it.

    I take on several of these encounters in my demo, and even by the end of my short time with Kakarot they lose their luster. These fights are hard to flee from, too, which made them more of a drag than anything else. Sprinkinling in random fights throughout the Dragon Ball Z sagas is what I’d expect from an RPG take on the series, but I wish the fights themselves were more engaging. Right now, they feel like a way to pad out my time in the demo before I take on Radditz.

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    My fight against Radditz himself, however is more engaging than the several I had against pirate robots; he doesn’t seem too bothered by my attacks, but I have to think a bit more critically about how I approach him. As I lay into him, he starts glowing red, which is my sign to back away before he unleashes his own attack against me. It’s a spin move I have to dodge out of the way of, and dodging it again leaves him open to more damage. He also has a beam attack I need to duck and move around, and it provides a decent challenge.

    These attacks get a little more difficult to dodge during his second phase, which is punctuated by a cutscene depicting a scene many fans already know well. As Piccolo charges up his Special Beam Cannon attack, Goku grabs hold of Radditz’s tail, paralyzing him. After Radditz fools the incredibly gullible Goku into letting him go by promising to turn a new leaf, I have to fight Radditz again in order to pin him down. His spin move now has two follow-up attacks, and his beams move more quickly, and have more blasts surrounding them, making them harder to dodge. It’s a good challenge, but that’s partially because Radditz has 12 health bars, which drag out the fight long after I’ve got his patterns down. Still, it’s a better implementation of combat than the random battles before it, and I hope future fights are like this as well.

    My demo ends right after this fight, which raises some questions: With all the emphasis on depicting events we don’t typically see and Dragon Ball video games and sprinkling in some new ones, what’s the scope of Kakarot like? Will it chronicle all of Dragon Ball Z? Unfortunately, Hirano is keeping tight-lipped, and says he can’t reveal exactly where the cutoff will be. “But with that in mind, I think the fans will not be disappointed,” he tells me. “I will leave it at that.”

    Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is scheduled to release sometime next year on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Try To Be More Dr. No Than Dr. Evil

    Publisher: Rebellion Developements
    Developer: Rebellion
    Release: 2020
    Platform: PC

    So many games put you in the shoes of a brave hero attempting to infiltrate an maniacal mastermind's secret base. Evil Genius 2: World Domination turns the tables, putting you in control of your very own criminal overlord. In this role, you build a base, hire and train minions, and lay out traps in hopes to make your lair impenetrable en route to taking over the planet.

    Before you can do that, you need to select from one of four evil geniuses to play as. Right now, Rebellion is only talking about two of them: Maximilian, the star of the first game, and Red Ivan, the explosive henchman from the series' debut. Maximilian is an all-around style of play, while Red Ivan goes by the motto of "might is right" and has an unhealthy love of explosives. 

    Once you choose the right genius for the job, and the island you want to base your operations out of, it's time to set up your lair. Each lair starts with a front – something to put on a friendly face and put in the minimal effort to try to look like a legitimate business. In my demo, the front is a resort-casino. Once you get that out of the way, it's time to get to work constructing the heart of your lair.

    As you build your hallways and rooms, you can build training facilities for your minions, as well as various specialty rooms that can bolster your defenses. Want to make your minions stronger? Build a super serum room. Want to ensure that any potentially dangerous inspectors return an "all-clear" report to their superiors? Maybe a brainwashing station is the right call. You can even build video game stations and barracks to improve minion morale. Minions are split into three classes, which affect their attributes and effectiveness in certain situations: science, muscle, and deception.

    In addition to minions, you also have stronger, named characters that serve as your henchmen. The first henchman we know about is Eli Barracuda Jr. These characters are better at facing off against super spies that infiltrate your base, and they're the only characters you can give direct orders to outside of your evil genius.

    Before the Forces of Justice find out what you've been up to, it's a good idea to not only train your minions and henchmen, but also set up trap networks. While some traps are fine on their own, linking various traps together makes sure the nimble spies that enter your lair are in for a real challenge. In my demo, the trap network consists of a narrow hallway with a giant fan at the end. Once the spy enters it, the giant fan activates and a laser grid turns on. The agent is blown through the laser grid, stunning them as they reach the end of the hallway. They think that's all that's going to happen, when suddenly the floor opens up and they fall into a shark tank. Countermeasures like this network are crucial to maintaining your lair and preventing the Forces of Justice from foiling your evil plans.

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    The Forces of Justice are just as diverse as your minions, however, consisting of soldiers, saboteurs, and super agents. While making sure your henchmen are around to deal with any pesky super agents is a good idea, it's an even better idea to diversify your traps to deal with any threats. Thankfully, Evil Genius 2 gives you plenty of trap options with which to find the best combination. From the aforementioned laser grid and shark tanks to a pinball device and a perfectly named Venus Spy Trap, you have plenty of ways to catch a secret agent.

    While defending your base is important, the ultimate goal is the subtitle of the game: world domination. To accomplish this, you can participate in various objectives, with potentially hundreds to choose from. Some of these wacky objectives include destroying the Forces of Justice, selling the British royal family, kidnapping the governor of Maine, or literally baking Alaska. 

    However, if your evil genius dies, it's game over and your campaign run comes to a sad, anticlimactic end. Thankfully, with so many customization options and objectives to choose from, the next campaign attempt should be just as lively as the first. I love the oddball humor Evil Genius 2 looks to bring to the table, and the wacky customization options has my mind churning out potential trap networks and layouts of my lair long before the game even releases. Evil Genius 2: World Domination launches on PC sometime in 2020.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Building Your Zoo The Way You Want It

    Publisher: Frontier Developments
    Developer: Frontier Developments
    Release:
    Platform: PC

    A good zoo isn't just about giving paying customers a fun afternoon with the family. Looking past the fancy animal displays, shiny souvenirs, and themed restaurants, every great zoo works toward a mission of conservation. To accomplish this goal, the zoo and its employees must get everything perfect, right down to the very last details. Frontier knows this, and the result looks to be the most detailed, customizable experience the genre has ever seen.

    As I sit down to meet with Frontier, the developer opens up a zoo they've created and soars over a river of people walking along the paths. Sure, each person has expectations and desires when visiting a zoo, but this facility isn't just about catering to the visitors. According to Frontier, Planet Zoo is just as much about conservation and education as it is about building the perfect zoo for your customers. Every animal has wants and needs based on its species, and its up to you to design habitats for these beautiful creatures in ways that also attract patrons.

    Planet Zoo understands how daunting the task at hand is, but it has provided players with an impressive customization suite to help them achieve it. The first step is assembling the walls however you want them. From there, you need to take into consideration the kind of animal that will live inside the habitat, then make sure the correct terrain is laid; alligators have different needs than giraffes.

    If you need help, you can open up a tab to see what that animal needs; making sure your alligator has enough space to swim, as well as a nice plot of dry land to lay out in the sun is important. This menu shows the needs of animals across four welfare categories: nutrition, social, enrichment, and habitat. You can also assign research tasks to your staff to learn more about the animals – improving your zoo's knowledge of the animals even unlocks additional text on educational signs you can post around the park.

    Once the animals are placed, they're nothing short of impressive. You can zoom in close enough to see individual hairs on lions, and those alligators basking in the sunlight have intricately designed scales. At one point in my demo, the developer zooms in on a chimpanzees eyes to show how captivating they are in Planet Zoo. Species like giraffes and zebras have unique patterns that are passed down based on the genetics of their parents; no two animals are ever the same.

    The creatures in Planet Zoo behave dynamically, meaning you can expect unpredictable moments in line with how the species actually behave in real life. For example, in the chimpanzee habitat I'm shown, an unexpected rainstorm sent many of the apes scurrying for cover under a shelter in their habitat, while some stayed out in the rain to enjoy sloshing around. Also, in the first five minutes of my demo, nearly every habitat featured an animal that decided it was a good time to clear their bowels.

    In line with that dynamic behavior, the animals in Planet Zoo breed, and you witness entire lives of animals from birth to death. Each time an animal is born, the zoo celebrates, and each time a creature dies, the zoo mourns its loss. Animals even have fertility traits that measure how capable they are to breed, and keeping animals from inbreeding is important to prevent sterility. Alphas emerge in herding species, and animals can develop herding behaviors that cause them to follow those dominant animals around.

    In addition to catering to animals' individual needs, you can also match up certain species that co-exist in the wild. In the demo I watch, I see giraffes and springboks living in the same habitat, as well as zebras and black wildebeests. These kinds of pairings enrich the animals lives if done right. You do have to be mindful of these pairings, however. Matching a chimpanzee with a crocodile won't end well for the ape.

    Other ways to improve animals' lives is to install enrichment items in the habitats. For big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs, this includes giant scratching posts, while you can add a device that makes chimps solve puzzles to get their food. If something isn't quite right in a habitat, you can easily fix it by placing a new item or painting the ground with grass, sand, or soil to match their needs.

    One big way to cater to the chimps' needs is to build climbing frames for them to spend their energy. Just like the walls and paths in Planet Zoo, these frames are custom built to your specifications. Not only are the frames set up however you want, but the chimpanzees run across them seamlessly regardless of how you set them up. 

    Of course, a zoo doesn't run itself. You need to hire employees to run the park. During my demo, I was only shown the zookeeper employee type, but it was neat to watch them go about their business. Zookeepers clean habitats and feed animals, but base their operations out of keeper huts, a special building type you can create. Keeper huts must be placed near the habitats to allow keepers to be efficient, but they should be hidden from guests' views, as most guests don't want to see behind the scenes. To do this, you can designate employee-only paths.

     As the keepers get to work, watching the animals react to them is awesome. In my demo, the zookeeper entered the dog habitat with a bucket of food. The instant the door creaked, announcing his presence, the dogs' ears perked up and they got excited for feeding time. Small touches like that defined just why I was so impressed by Planet Zoo.

    While not everything is focused on the customer, they are your source of income. To make sure you're treating your patrons right, you can add restaurants, souvenir shops, bathrooms, and more in order to react to their needs. It's also important to make sure they have good views and plenty of educational signs around the exhibits. If you want to give them even better access, you can set up a 4x4 track so they can go on a mini safari through the animals' habitats; whether you choose to charge for the ride is up to you.

    The zoo-sim genre has been largely dormant for several years, but Planet Zoo looks to revitalize it. With stunning attention to detail, dynamic ways to react to your animals' wants and needs, and all the simulation mechanics you've come to expect from games like these, I can't wait to play Planet Zoo when it launches on November 5.

  • Game Informer News Feed: A Modern 2D Adventure For The Heroic Duo

    Publisher: Team 17
    Developer: Playtonic Games
    Release: 2019
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    Playtonic Games' stable of veteran developers made its debut two years ago with Yooka-Laylee, a faithful spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. Since Playtonic consists of many former Rare employees who created Banjo-Kazooie, the team effectively captured what many fans loved about that series. Now, that same team, which also features former members of the studio behind the original Donkey Kong Country games, is tackling the 2D platformer genre in Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair.

    Much like the platformer duo's debut adventure, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the eponymous chameleon and bat combo working through 20 2D levels with the hope of getting enough help to defeat the ultimate challenge: Capital B's Impossible Lair, an extremely difficult level that's four times as long as any other stage in the game with no checkpoints. Yooka-Laylee can take just two hits – the first hit sends Laylee the bat flying off, and Yooka has to try and recover her before she vanishes (much like Yoshi in Super Mario World) – so I didn't last long in the early version I attempted. Thankfully, you're able to bolster the heroes by finding 40 bees scattered throughout the 20 levels.

    You can actually go straight to the Impossible Lair at the start if you want, but you won't have much luck. Unless you're a masochist, you're going to want to collect as many bees from the various stages as possible. Each bee you find joins you in your Impossible Lair run, absorbing one hit for you. In the early version I tried (Playtonic tells me it may change by the time launch rolls around), the lair starts off with a difficult boss battle before dumping you into a moving-platform hell full of enemies, laser-focused flamethrowers, and other deadly obstacles. I didn't even make it out of the first room, even with the six bees that joined me.

    Over the course of the 20 stages, you travel across diverse locales like forests, towns, and even a blimp in the sky, and encounter all sorts of obstacles and baddies. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee attacks these challenges with a strong moveset inspired by the 2D platform superstars of yesteryear. Yooka the chameleon can jump, roll, and lash his tongue out to grab objects. Laylee the bat can do a twirl-jump, a ground-pound, and boost Yooka's roll. You always control the two in tandem though, as I mentioned before, Laylee will fly off if you take a hit, leaving Yooka without Laylee's special abilities if he can't catch her in time. 

    Between stages, you can explore the overworld. While normally just a hub to get you to your next level, in true Yooka-Laylee fashion, the overworld map, which changes the view to an isometric perspective, is dense and full of secrets. In one sequence I saw, Yooka blew up a wall with a bomb to open a new area. Though there is much to do in the overworld, Playtonic intends this area to be a chiller experience than the mainline 2D levels. Still, however, exploration is greatly rewarded.

    In addition to finding quills, the main form of currency in Yooka-Laylee that can be used to buy items to bring into the 2D stages, you can also unlock special second states of the stages. These new versions of the stages fundamentally alter the level you've already beaten, and offer up a new bee to find within that course. One second-state version changes the orientation, so you're climbing vertically instead of going left to right, while another floods the forest so it becomes a water level. These add new twists to the game, and I'm excited to see what else Playtonic can dream up to mess with players hoping to collect all 40 bees.

    Of course, it wouldn't be a Playtonic game without collectibles. The original Yooka-Laylee went a little overboard with its collectibles, and often frustrated players with how hard it could be to grab everything. Thankfully, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair tones down the overall number of collectibles, with quills and bees found in the stages serving as the most important ones. While old-school fans of Banjo-Kazooie may lament the death of the collectathon elements found in the first Yooka-Laylee, I greatly welcome this scaling back.

    Playtonic, despite having its DNA rooted firmly in the original Donkey Kong Country, sees the game as inspired by modern games, directly mentioning Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as inspiration. After playing through three levels and attempting the Impossible Lair, that's obvious; Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair plays tight and modern, with challenges that feel new and exciting, rather than ripped out of the '90s like the first Yooka-Laylee game sometimes did.

    Click here to watch embedded media

    Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is set to launch sometime this year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

  • Game Informer News Feed: An interesting multiplayer premise that needs to clean up its rough edges

    Publisher: Improbable
    Developer: Midwinter Entertainment
    Release: 2019
    Rating: Rating Pending
    Platform: PC

    When we first learned about Scavengers from the team at Midwinter Entertainment, it was hard to understand exactly what kind of game it was without getting my hands on it. Midwinter’s goals certainly sounded ambitious; the idea of creating mutual goals in a multiplayer match that would create more nuanced multiplayer scenarios (ones where players wouldn’t always immediately shoot at each other) sounded promising, as did the mix of PvP and PvE elements. After finally having a chance to play a match at E3 this year, however, I have a good idea of what Scavengers is and while its premise is interesting, some of its ideas don’t live up to their promise right now.

    The easiest way to think of Scavengers is to use battle royale as a base. Four teams are dropped onto a single, giant map that takes place on an Earth that has become an eternal wasteland after a meteor crashed into the moon. Without supplies, you’re forced to scrounge up resources, weapons, and items in the early minutes of the game. One major difference between Scavengers and battle royale games, however, is that you’re not fighting to be the last person standing, and there’s no circle closing in on you. Instead, you’re collecting DNA samples for Mother, the A.I. which sends you into the eternal tundra in the first place. 

    It’s a mutual goal, too; every squad was working to gather a total of 60 samples in our match. Once those have all been collected, Mother sends down a dropship. Your goal is to board that dropship and get out before you’re overtaken by the cold. There’s also hunger and cold meters to contend with, which you have to fill by finding warm areas and feeding off wildlife. Storms also roll in from time to time, giving matches some natural urgency. These factors give you a constant motivation to move forward; hiding out in a settlement and waiting for the player count to drop isn’t going to do much for you here.

    Although your three-person squad is made up of individual character classes with distinct roles and weapons, you still need resources to unlock your class’ true potential. I played as the melee-oriented Jae, who could use his character ability to disrupt groups of enemies from up close, but in order to unlock my signature weapon (a halberd-like blade) and reinforce my armor, I needed to collect a certain number of materials to craft them. I like that you’re working towards a static goal instead of praying you get a lucky drop; it reminded me of a MOBA in the way that you’re working your way through a character build each match.

    Another aspect of Scavengers that might feel familiar to MOBA fans are encounters with A.I. opponents. Littered across the map are camps of enemy factions, who act as a way to build yourself up before you find and take on human opponents. These encounters are akin to killing creeps in MOBAs; they don’t pose much of a threat, but you need to mow them down if you want to stand a chance against human foes later on. You do have a more solid motivation for attack them, however; these camps usually host the samples you need to collect before Mother will let you back on the ship, so it’s a primary goal.

    As a gameplay loop it works, since you slowly start to feel better equipped and ready to take on other players, but fights with A.I. opponents doesn’t reinforce the harsh, survivalist tone the game is going. Some enemies packed more of a punch than others, but I never felt threatened by these foes, who were completely oblivious to obvious flanks and simply stood there as I wailed on them. Enemies don’t seem to react to being shot and don’t put up much of a fight, either, which made working them over and raiding their encampments for supplies feel more like a ritual than a fight. 

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing; neutral enemies in MOBAs work the same way. These fodder enemies also introduce a bit more flair the looting aspect of a battle royale game. Considering there’s only a handful of squads on the field, they liven up matches, too. I just wish these encounters were more interesting; the gunplay is functional, but not all that exciting on its own.

    Fights with human foes are different story. Our team didn’t have a real encounter with another squad up until the very end of our match, after we’d collected all the samples and Mother had sent down the dropship and a powerful storm began to roll in. They came at us as we were clearing out an A.I. hideout and the storm came in from the direction of the dropship. Pincered, we decided to stand our ground atop a hill a few feet away from the camp. The high ground didn’t give us the protection we might have wanted, however, and we wound up backed into a corner and wiped out. 

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    We could have made our way to the dropship instead, however, and I’m curious about how the match would have turned out had we made a run for it. But because our confrontation came at the end of our match, with a storm barreling down on us, the tension and stakes were high, so I didn’t get a good sense of how Scavengers might let you engage with other players beyond combat. It’s hard to know if things might have been different if we’d encountered another squad earlier on, but I still think it’ll be hard for most players to get over their shoot-on-sight instincts, and I never felt the motivation to do so.

    Still, Scavengers offers enough deviations from what we’ve come to know about battle royale games that, despite some rough edges and some lingering questions about whether this setup can deliver on its promises to offer something new in the multiplayer arena I’m intrigued by what it has to offer. There are some fun ideas at work here, and with a playtest rolling out this year before the title properly releases in 2020, there’s plenty of time for Midwinter to iron out the kinks and mold the game into something unique.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Exclusive In-Depth Profile On Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s New Droid, BD-1

    Publisher: Electronic Arts
    Developer: Respawn Entertainment
    Release:
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    One of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s early standout characters is one that never says a single line of dialogue throughout the course of Cal Kestis’ adventure. BD-1 is a small bipedal droid that assists Cal in his journey in a number of ways. He can hack into electronics and control them, scan elements of the environment and defeated enemies to build out an encyclopedia of knowledge, display holographic maps, and dispense health canisters when Cal needs them. We spoke with the art and sound team at Respawn about what it takes to add a new, unique droid to Star Wars’ canon and find out what it’s like to work with legendary sound designer, Ben Burtt.

    In our cover story, we touched briefly on BD-1 and how his original inspiration came from Snoopy and Woodstock. His code name was even “Bird Dog” before he became “Buddy Droid,” but that was just the starting line. “Originally, we had the idea that Cal was a tinkerer, so maybe he kit-bashed this little droid together and originally the little droid was going to work like a backpack to hearken back to Yoda on the back of Luke,” lead concept artist Jordan Lamarre-Wan says. The idea of Cal building BD-1 was abandoned, but the element of him traveling on Cal’s back remained. “A lot of mechs and droids in Star Wars are a very simple silhouette. Very simple shape, but then there are a lot of details within the silhouette to make them very readable,” Lamarre-Wan says.

    R2 is a cylinder with a dome, for example, so many of BD-1’s early designs followed those ideas. “Some of our original sketches were actually following those same recipes, so we actually landed on a place that was really close to BB8. And then we saw the trailer revealing BB8, so that was kind of a no-go,” Lamarre-Wan says. Other early ideas gave BD-1 boosters so he could fly around, but the team eventually landed on the bipedal design we see today because BD-1 is meant to help with exploration, both from a gameplay perspective, and within the fiction.

    BD-1 is a droid meant to assist explorers and archaeologists, which was a result of the gameplay functions the team wanted for BD. “He didn’t start from a strictly visual, or narrative standpoint,” art director Chris Sutton says. The team knew how they wanted BD to assist Cal and they worked backwards from there. BD-1 has two big eyes, an atypical asset for a droid his size, because he needs to be able to scan things, and he needs to be able to make 3D projections for Cal, and he has legs because he needs to be able to crawl around and explore tight spaces. “BD-1’s not one of a kind – but he’s not common,” writer Megan Fausti says. The general idea behind BD is that the company that manufactured him went under, so you will never see new droids like him, but there are a few out there in the universe. Once the gameplay functions and fiction were in place, his character design began to take shape.

    “We try to make BD-1 very human and very personable and like a best friend for Cal,” Fausti says. Along with gameplay and archaeological functions, Respawn also imagined that buddy droids, like BD-1, would be used by lonely explorers. “Part of the function of the [BD] droid is to help [explorers] not get lonely and not get sad, so he can be cheerful or encouraging and express a lot of emotion as a core function to help the person not lose their connection to society,” says narrative designer Aaron Contreras.

    “Some of the inspirations visually… we were talking about the manufacturing process of like where the droids come from fictionally, and some of the lines you see on BD will evoke things like a snow speeder, like the way there are diagonal lines on the visor.” Lamarre-Wan says. “The graphic patterns, even the heat sinks on the back. It also evokes the binoculars that Luke uses.”

    BD-1 is also very cute, which plays into all these ideas. “Cute wasn’t the pillar, but it helps,” Contreras says with a laugh. “I would say his defining trait would be bravery, but he is cute just by virtue of who he is and what he is to Cal and to the player,” Fausti says. He has a pair of antennas on his head which animator Laure Retif says she tries to use like dog ears. “He’s got a big head, like a bird, and two legs, like a bird, but the emotion of a dog.” Lamarre-Wan says. Retif has to lean on body movement in general since BD-1 is a droid and doesn’t have facial features that can be used to express familiar emotion. He may not be able to move his eyebrows or change the shape of his eyes to get across his personality, but he does have a voice, which is being created by Ben Burtt.

    Burtt created just about every iconic Star Wars alien or robotic voice and sound effect that we take for granted, and he also provided the voice for Wall-E. Early in the process, Burtt gave Respawn about five different voices to choose from that ranged from R2-D2 and Wall-E, to voices that sounded close to human speech with layers and layers of processing on top of them. Respawn told Burtt what they liked, and he began the recording process.

    Burtt recorded complete cutscenes, but he also recorded all kinds of “dialogue” for various moments outside of specific narrative moments. Early in the process, Burtt received actual dialogue to be translated into BD-1 speech, but over time, the team found more success in just making specific emotional requests of Burtt.

    In terms of how it works, like whether or not Burtt is actually making bleeps and bloops into a microphone with his mouth and then tweaking those noises in post-production, Respawn’s sound designers admit they don’t actually know. “I can only really guess at that,” audio director Nick Laviers says. “Yeah, he doesn’t reveal his secrets,” audio director Rhonda Cox says. Laviers and Cox spent time with Burtt at Skywalker Sound touring his studio and even looking at his Star Wars props, like his original Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope script, and they connect with him regularly, but for the most part, they just let him work his magic. “I do think he likes to speak the part,” Laviers says regarding whether or not Burtt speaks actual lines of dialogue. “I think when there aren’t any, Ben kind of makes them up, because he likes to kind of get into the character. My theory is he will perform it in his words first, then he will take a synthesizer and try to kind of create the intonations… but that’s just a theory.”

    EA commissioned a robotic puppet version of BD-1 to take to E3, and it’s easy to understand why it went through the marketing expense. “He’s not just a robot. In Star Wars, droids are characters,” Lamarre-Wan says. Respawn wants BD-1 to be just as much of a character as any human, Wookiee, or other alien in the game, and our time with the game shows he has a lot of promise, both from his gameplay applications and his personality.


    For more on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, you can head here to read the full cover story, and click the banner below to check in on all of our exclusive coverage throughout the month.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Id Talks Mod Support, Integrating More Traversal, And The Controversial Neon U.I.

    Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
    Release:
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    Building on the success of the fantastic 2016 Doom reboot, Doom Eternal has a lot riding on its shoulders. The shooter that put the genre on the map has restored its sterling reputation, and fans have lofty expectations for where the series can go next. 

    At E3 we played an extended combat sequence that confirmed Doom Eternal is shaping up quite well. Afterward, we sat down with creative director Hugo Martin and executive producer Marty Stratton to talk about the changes we noticed in the demo. 

    Demons Are Your One-Stop Resource Shop

    Doom Eternal still has ammo, health, and other power-ups littered around the battle arenas, but these supplies won't be enough to mow through the entire pack of bloodthirsty demons barreling down on your position. To make it through the fight, you need to take resupplies directly from enemies by killing them in various ways similar to the way you received a generous drop of ammo after using the chainsaw to slice apart an enemy. 

    "We felt like ultimately, [using the chainsaw] was so much more satisfying than just overfilling the levels with resources everywhere so you're tripping over them," says creative director Hugo Martin. "We decided to steer into it with this one and say, "That felt really good. What else can we do to kind of allow you to take what you need when you need it from the bad guys that you're killing?"

    Chainsawing enemies still procures a healthy ammo resupply, but now you have three other techniques for collecting specific drops. Glory kills reward health, using the flame belch shoulder attachment to burn enemies yields armor, and stringing together glory kills powers up your Blood Punch super, a new rune-activated skill that lets you take down an enemy with one brutal punch.

    The Corruption Meter Tracks Your Level Progress

    Doom Eternal's levels are packed with collectibles, secrets, power-ups, and demons. To give players a clearer sense of if they've seen everything they need to see, and shot every demon that needs to be shot, id added a new corruption meter in the upper righthand portion of the screen. 

    "We think of the player like an exterminator – you're cleaning out this facility full of cockroaches," Martin says. "There are still some tucked in closets but you want to kill everything that was in that level before you leave to get all your combat points. Your current demonic corruption meter is an indicator at a quick glance."

    Explaining The Neon U.I. Overhaul

    One of the more controversial new elements to Doom Eternal is the bright neon user interface, which pops off the screen much more so than the one used in Doom. When I asked Martin about it, he said they are still iterating to get it right, but they felt it was essential to make these elements more visible when you're flying around the arena in the middle of a dozen demons. 

    "Doom is not trying to be an immersive game; it's not trying to be a cinematic game," Martin says. "It's a video game with the capital V that's dripping with demon blood. Because it's really fast, we're putting a lot of pressure on the player. It's speed chess. You've got to make decisions really fast. If I'm driving around a race car 200 miles an hour, I need all the signage and the game to be big and bold. Otherwise, I'm going to get killed. We want death to be a result of the player making a mistake and not the game screwing them. If stuff is subtle, it's the game screwing me... It's like in this game, I'm in a race car. Dude, if you have something to tell me, tell me loud and tell me fast. That's really why we do everything with the glowing one-ups, the floating question marks, and the huge health packs." 

    Martin encourages players to experience the game before knocking the U.I. too hard because it is a functional decision, not an aesthetic one.

    Slayer Gates Replace Rune Trials

    The Doom reboot featured 12 unique trials players had to complete to receive equippable upgrades to the Doomslayer. These aren't returning in Doom Eternal. Instead, id introduces Slayer Gates, secret, giant arena encounters. "They are really f--king hard, but they give you a lot of resources," Martin says. 

    To open a Slayer Gate, you first need to find a key somewhere in the level. 

    Doom Eternal Rewards Exploration

    Doom 2016 featured several collectibles like trophy figurines, data logs that fleshed out the backstory, Argent Shards for upgrading your base stats, and even hidden places themed like classic Doom maps. The studio doubles down on this concept in Doom Eternal.

    "We are busting our ass to make sure that every aspect of the game has real meaning for the player," Martin says. If you see like a ledge down there, leading to a little tunnel, you're like, 'I bet you there's something down there.' When you go in there, it's going to be worth your time." 

    The Rune Lineup Includes Old Favorites And Powerful New Options

    Just because Rune Trials are gone doesn't mean runes are a thing of the past. The Praetor Suit still includes several slots that allow the Doom Slayer to equip runes that impart a variety of skill bonuses, and you can find runes by exploring the environment. Many popular options return for Doom Eternal, like the Blood Fueled rune that speeds up your movement after performing a glory kill. Id Software also designed some new ones it is excited about. 

    "There's one called Target Strike. It's awesome," Stratton says. "When you use mods, it slows time. It's really cool when you're doing things like using the scope on the HAR. Using the meat hook with it is fantastic." 

    This power is especially helpful when trying to do specific damage to a demon, like shooting the turret mounted on top of the Arachnotron or the guns on the Mancubus.

    Traversal Plays A Bigger Role

    The Doom Slayer has a lot more agility this time around thanks to some new tools that build on the double jump. The meat hook allows him to swing from enemies like a grappling hook, the new gloves let him scale particular walls, and the dash button helps him cross wide expanses. With all these new traversal mechanics at players' disposal, id is making much more diverse and vertical environments that require some platforming skill to navigate. 

    "This time around, I think level design takes a big step up," Martins says. "We got criticized that [Doom 2016] was just too many arenas and hallways."

    The E3 demo had a major focus on wall climbing, but Stratton says they have many different ways to mix up the traversal from level to level. One might require you to bust chains to open levels, where another has you punching moving blocks to give you access to new areas. It almost sounds like a Mario game with bloodshed mixed in between platforming sections, but Martin insists it will still feel like Doom. 

    "We can knock your socks off with a killer arena, But we can't have like killer arena then another killer arena – there's only so much you can take.  We gauge it from a pacing perspective, kind of like a piece of music. The arena is like a guitar solo, yeah, so let's do something else for a second. But it's always combat. It's always aggression."

    No RTX Ray Tracing Support At Launch

    Ray tracing is the cutting edge visual tech on the PC scene right now. This new tool allows developers to make lighting systems where the light behaves as it does in real life, bouncing and reflecting accurately off many different types of surfaces. Graphics-intensive games like Battlefield V and Metro Exodus have already added support for the technology, and id Software plans to do the same for Doom Eternal – just not at launch.

    We've spent some time with that, but it is not at the top of our priority list," Stratton says. "Finishing the game, we want it to run flawlessly at 60 frames per second in 4k and we also have our streaming initiatives both with Google and the Orion stuff. Making it unbelievable with ray tracing is definitely up there [on the to-do list], but we're getting the game done first and foremost."

    No Arcade At Launch, Either

    The popular arcade mode, which id Software added to Doom via a free update last time around, added a lot of replayability to the campaign, so it would have made sense for id to include it in Doom Eternal. No such luck just yet. 

    "We're not shipping with arcade mode, but there'll be a lot of challenges," Stratton says. "But you'll have a whole track of things that you can do to earn XP. We'll probably talk a lot more about that stuff at Quakecon."

    Though Arcade mode may not be in the plans right now, id has an aggressive plan for supporting the game post-launch. "When you look at Doom 2016 and look at the number of people that still play the game today, it's mind-blowing," Stratton says. "This time, we're really going to support it, we're going to give players new ways to play, fun ways to play, new challenges, new content, and keep them engaged. Engaged when they play the campaign right off the bat, and engaged long term as well. It's a big focus for us."

    No Mod Support... Yet

    Doom has always been associated with the mod scene, but last year's attempt to appease creators with the rigid Snap Map system fell flat. Id is rightfully moving away from Snap Map with Doom Eternal, but the game isn't quite ready to integrate mod support. However, that doesn't mean id isn't thinking about it.

    "We've actually done things technically that are getting us closer to doing mod support, but it won't be immediate," Stratton says. "I think longer term. We made technical decisions years ago that we're still moving away from, and they're getting us closer to those kinds of things." 

  • Game Informer News Feed: Meet Nyoka, Your New Companion

    Publisher: Private Division
    Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
    Release:
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

    We spent a couple days checking out The Outer Worlds earlier this year, but after seeing it again at E3, our anticipation has only increased. The team at Obsidian prepared an impressive demo that highlighted many of the game’s pillars, like entertaining combat and meaningful player choice. Plus, we got to meet a new companion named Nyoka, and she seems to be a fun addition to your crew.

    The demo took place on the planet Monarch, which is home to a wildland area that is the largest single zone in the game. The player was joined by two companions: Ellie (who we have met before) and Nyoka. Nyoka is a big game hunter, and while that fact figures into her personal quest, the team at Obsidian isn’t saying too much about her backstory right now. However, we know a few things about her personality. She’s a big fan of alcohol, and she’s tough (and a bit jaded). Having her along should make you feel like someone has your back – especially since her special attack involves a furious hail of fire from an enormous gun. Like other characters you meet, Nyoka may seem a bit distant when she joins the crew, but she can become more attached over time.

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    If you’re a big fan of Nyoka or any of the other companions, you might want to consider delving into a leadership build for your character. Obsidian had discussed this option before, but this time we got to see the archetype in action. This development path involves investing in abilities that improve your companions more than they directly impact your own skills. Not only does this make companions more effective in combat through things like health boosts, but it also means that they can lend you additional expertise based on their specialty skills. For instance, Nyoka provides bonuses to stealth and weapon skills, since she is a huntress.

    The events of the demo take the hero to a boarst (a hybrid meat) factory with the goal of taking it out. That could mean sabotaging the machinery and killing the “cystypigs” that provide boarst, or taking out the man in charge of operations. You can make this call in the moment; you aren’t bound to keep your promises to anyone about how you will (or won’t) approach a situation. And in addition to making choices about to handle key moments, you also decide what kinds of gameplay tactics to employ. One option to gain entrance to the factory is going through the front door with guns blazing. However, in the demo we saw, a stealthy approach resulted in fewer direct confrontations.

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    Despite evading detection most of the time (which is easier since your A.I.-controlled companions won’t tip off enemies when trying to sneak), we still saw some combat. This gave Obsidian a chance to showcase weapon modifications like a gun that shoots electrical bullets, not to mention the tactical time dilation (TTD). Like the V.A.T.S. system in the Fallout series, the TTD effect slows your perception of time and allows you to target specific areas on your foes for certain advantages. For example, if you shoot their legs, their movement is impaired and they may not be able to close the gap before you finish them. If you shoot their arms, they may drop their weapons. The goal behind the TTD system is to provide a more deliberate and strategic layer for players who are less interested in combat strictly as a skill-based shooter – though most players are likely to use a combination rather than stick to one side of that spectrum.

    Balancing playstyles and accommodating different choices in a complex RPG is not easy, but from what we’ve seen, The Outer Worlds seems to be sitting at the sweet spot. It doesn’t aim to provide a world that says “you can only do one of these three things: stealth, action, or persuasion.” Instead, you play in a way you think is fun, and then you get to see how the world responds. As the list of companions continues to grow, we look forward to seeing even more personalities who can react to your actions. 

  • Game Informer News Feed: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Is A Total Game Changer

    Click here to watch embedded media

    Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
    Developer: TT Games
    Release: 2020
    Rating: Everyone
    Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

    If you’ve played one Lego game, you’ve played them all. As much as I love the Lego games, I usually know what I’m in for when they boot up. That all changes with The Skywalker Saga. TT Games has completely rebuilt its engine and reimagined its classic Lego formula, and the results speak for themselves. (Actually, results can’t speak, so I’ll do that for them. The results say: This game rules.)

    One of the biggest changes for this new Lego game is the camera, which now sits behind the shoulders of each character. The game looks great, the worlds are highly detailed, and the Lego characters have a nice fluid animation.

    The Skywalker Saga not only looks different, it plays different. Have you heard of combos? Because TT Games has. Now characters can perform a series of attack combos. Of course, you can still button mash your way through most encounters, but you’ll also have more attack options in combat. The behind-the-shoulder camera also highlights the new shooting mechanics, which are now more precise and feel more like a third-person shooter (think of an adorable Gears of War).

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    The entire game includes all nine episodes of the main Star Wars franchise – from The Phantom Menace to The Rise of Skywalker. Our E3 demo jumped into Return of the Jedi, but players can tackle each movie in any order. Once you jump into a movie, you’ll have the freedom to tackle objectives at your own pace. During the demo we watched the Millennium Falcon fly through outer space. During these open-ended sequences, players might randomly encounter roving bands of enemy fighters, and we watch a capital ship warp into view. If you avoid this combat, you can fly to a variety of planets within the Star Wars universe (at least 20 will be fully explorable in the final game). We watched the Millennium Falcon touched down on Tatooine. However, even when you’re planet side you’ll have multiple docking stations to choose from.

    This sense of freedom extends to the ground-based levels. Once you've landed on Tatooine, you’re free to explore the space at your own pace, find hidden bricks, or complete various story missions. We watch Luke talk with a droid and use C-3PO to translate the droid speak. Each hero still has character-specific powers that might come in handy from time to time. We also saw familiar sights from the films, such as Tosche Station, Jabba's sail barge, and the Sarlacc pit.

    I haven’t been excited for a Star Wars game in years, but The Skywalker Saga definitely caught my eye. The game looks to appeal to long-time Star Wars fans, but also looks unique enough that newcomers could have a good time.

  • Game Informer News Feed: Following In The Footsteps Of Journey And Flower

    Developer: thatgamecompany
    Release:
    Platform: iOS

    Over the years, I’ve learned to really look forward to my meetings and demos with Jenova Chen. The chief creative voice behind games including Journey and Flower, Chen approaches game development from a different perspective than many game makers, and talks about the process in a different way than many other developers, as well.

    After a long development process, Sky: Children of the Light is targeting release in July, first on iOS, but eventually across the spectrum of mobile phones and tablets. Like all of the games previously released by thatgamecompany, the core concept of Sky is quite easy to grasp. You play an adorable individual, given life and energy by light and fire, and you explore a world of fallen stars, attempting to rediscover them and place them back into the sky. Along the way, you explore a variety of unique realms or lands, reachable through portals from a central hub, and most locations feature a mix of on-land exploration and grand elevated flight sequences, where your character can float and wing freely across a beautiful landscape of clouds and sunbeams. And all of it is meant to be played with others at your side.

    That description isn’t how Chen describes his game, but simply what I can gather as he and I wander together through the playspace, even as he speaks to me about the more philosophical and artistic goals that fuel the project. Where Journey explored themes of loneliness, and the way a single other person could be a lifeline and companion, Sky: Children of the Light is about the broader webs that connect us as families, friends, and strangers. Chen hopes the game design simulates many of the brighter aspects of human interaction, like friendship, generosity, cooperation, and community. He’s interested in the way that people connect and build relationships, and how those relationships only truly form through non-selfish acts and discovering the world together.

    Click here to watch embedded media

    While flight and exploration of the various realms is certainly important, an equal effort has been put into the ways in which players can interact with one another, usually in loving and relationship-forming ways. Emote options let you shake hands and hug, celebrate successes with each other, or sit quietly on a bench and have a private chat. You can collect musical instruments in the game, like pianos and harps, as well as musical notation sheets, which can be played by tapping in-time with on-screen prompts. Once you sit down to play some music, other people can sit down and join you with their own instruments, and you can make music together.

    The game is also explicitly built to allow for dedicated gamers to play with their non-gaming friends, partners, or children. Controls defy the traditional “two analog stick” move and camera rotation pattern, and instead you simply swipe with one finger to hop in a direction, or drag with two fingers to change the camera position. In flight, intuitive motion directions let you swoop and dive naturally. If even that level of 3D navigation is too involved for some, the game allows literal hand-holding with other players. Want to guide your non-gaming spouse to that cool new island across the way? Offer them your hand, and now you simply take them with you wherever you go. Up to eight players can hold hands and move as one.

    From the central hub, you’ll move into one of six distinct realms that each offer different tonal experiences of play. Among the six there’s a valley that allows for competitive flight racing with your friends, a mysterious forest filled with moments of exploration and discovery, a romantic dim-lit vault filled with secrets, and a daylight-suffused prairie of interconnected islands, filled with opportunities to meet strange creatures, almost like an alien petting zoo. In addition to these and other lands, there’s also a seventh realm that only opens up once a week, and offers more challenging “endgame” content that Chen equated a bit with a raid in an MMO.

    Throughout it all, you’ll be finding and collecting fallen stars, which once discovered transform into individual NPCs with whom you can also form relationships, learn new things from, and acquire new hairstyles, masks, and all sorts of other items with which to customize your character. These fallen stars each have their own personality and things to share with you, and they slowly help to pull the curtain back on what has happened in this unusual universe.

    During my time wandering the game world with Chen, we played some music together, and then he led me by hand into a realm where we had to act together in order to make a giant flying manta ray appear. Once it was flying along the wind currents, we could float down onto its back and ascend to as-yet unexplored areas of the realm.

    Sky: Children of the Light is clearly a game interested in letting players discover its charms for themselves, but I have little doubt that fans of the developer’s previous work will find a lot to love here. There are elements of play that seem to directly reference aspects of Journey and Flower. However, this game is a far more social and interactive experience, and clearly one meant to have players return to on a more regular basis over many days, weeks or months, and with greater options for customization and personalization.

    Mobile games have a reputation at times for shallowness or flash for the sake of flash. Whether that’s always deserved or not, Sky is a game that is set to offer something decidedly different for players when it begins to roll out this July. While there’s a lot I still don’t understand about how it all fits together, I was immediately charmed by the game’s heartfelt messaging and quiet moments of joy, and I suspect there are a lot of other players who are similarly ready for a mobile release that offers this unique breed of meditative, joyful, and socially connected experiences.

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