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Development Platforms A Necessity For The Next Generation?

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Time passes, ambition grows, the need to keep up with the current standard of graphics and sound is ever-present and all of these things force development costs ever higher, to say nothing of licensing fees and all the other miscellaneous factors that affect the price of making a game in the modern era. These costs have risen exponentially since the inception of this generation with reports pegging Gran Turismo 5 at $80 million, Grand Theft Auto IV at $100 million and Modern Warfare 3 in excess of $200 million. Six years ago, we would hardly have considered it possible for a game to cost as much as a blockbuster film, but times change.

Perhaps that’s overstating the issue. After all, not every game achieves the same heights of exorbitance. Nevertheless developers and publishers are always on the look out for ways to recoup their losses and save money. From adding competitive and co-operative play to tick boxes, to utilising online passes for used games or adding optional subscription fees, a la, Call of Duty: Elite or Battlefield Premium; it is all to bolster the bottom line. One thing that I’ve noticed as this generation has passed is that more developers and publishers are relying on the sharing or iteration of core technologies, rather than simply starting over with every game, which has more commonly been the case in the past.

Sony has their ICE team housed at Naughty Dog, which creates the low level technology that is shared among first party studios; EA seems intent on spreading the use of DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine; Capcom created the MT Framework early on and has since used it for almost all of their internally developed projects and Epic’s Unreal 3 has been almost ubiquitous for third parties. Most recently, the word is that Konami could very well be looking into using Kojima Productions’ FOX Engine to power more of their projects going forward. There are more examples than this to be found, but the prevalence of this practice makes it quite clear that it will continue into the looming next generation.

The first image released to showcase the FOX Engine impressed with its foliage and lighting.

Besides, some of these engines are purported to be scalable to a next generation standard, while others already have their next iterations waiting in the wings. What this means, in a nutshell, is that the development experience accumulated in the past few years will not go to waste as the same basic structures will be built upon. It gives a running leap to the next generation, meaning that early turnover of new IPs and sequels could adhere to the same schedule that they currently do. That won’t be taken well by some, who insist that yearly entries ultimately detract from the quality of a series, but many will embrace the idea.

However, in stark contrast to the companies listed above, there are Activision and Ubisoft. Activision uses a number of different engines for their games, both licensed and internally created (or a blend of the two in the case of their Call of Duty framework), while the latter company seems to use a different engine for each of their franchises with very few exceptions. Granted, these are two of the biggest publishers in the business and can get away with these practises simply due to the immense capital at their disposal, but both of these companies are also the ones driving the trend of annualisation and thus make better use for each individual engine. Some independent developers also take this route, such as Insomniac, Remedy and Platinum, but these are absolutely in the minority.

It seems that we are ever more frequently reading news about the closure of smaller studios, both independent and those under a publisher’s umbrella. Many of these can be attributed at least in part to the high cost of development and an inability to make adequate returns, with the most prominent example of recent times being Big Huge Games, which elected to use a proprietary engine for their debut title, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It only serves to highlight that it is a danger to do so. When factoring in the ready prevalence of these widespread engines, it seems ever more apparent that they will be the safe route for the next generation. The reality is that we will have to wait before we can say for certain, but one cannot deny the likelihood, especially if the need to keep up with the pushing of graphical boundaries continues.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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“The Perfect Canvas To Build a Game World On”: Talking Hand-Drawn Horror in the Hills of Mundaun

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Mundaun

The Swiss Alps are best known as a holiday destination. Snow and skiing dominate the public imagining of the region, but horror lies in all hills. The folkloric horror game Mundaun promises to subvert the usual perception of the area.

The horrific twist on an idyllic locale is accompanied by an eye-catching art style like no other in gaming.

With Mundaun being such an intriguing prospect, OnlySP reached out to the game’s director Michel Ziegler to find out more.

OnlySP: Could you please begin by providing a brief description of Mundaun for any of our readers who may not be familiar with the game?

Ziegler: A [while] ago, I came up with the description: a lovingly hand-pencilled horror tale. I like the word tale, because it emphasizes the type of narrative the game is going for. It’s a first-person adventure game inspired by the dark folklore of the alps. The aesthetic is really unique, since I combine hand-pencilled textures with 3D. It’s kind of hard to be brief about what makes the game unique. I think it’s the combination of all the things in there, some pretty well hidden. Mundaun should be a mystery, an enigma.

OnlySP: Curiously, Mundaun is a real place. How accurate a recreation of the landscape is that found in the
game?

Ziegler: The levels are a condensed interpretation of the real thing. It’s more about how that place feels than accurate topology. The steepness of it, the objects and architecture you encounter that is very specific to that place. It wouldn’t be possible to meaningfully populate a large sample of the real mountain range. I want the give the player the feeling that in every corner there could be some small and unique thing to discover.

OnlySP: Do you have any personal connection to the real place? Why did you settle on it as the setting for the game?

Ziegler: My family has had a small holiday flat there since before I was born. I spent many summers and winters up there and so it became like a second home. Especially for a child, the nature feels huge and full of wonders. I would spend my days finding well-hidden spots and imagining adventures. I chose this setting, because it is dear to me and it is full of buildings that are many centuries old. It always felt like a timeless and mysterious place. The perfect canvas to build a game world on. Four years in, it still inspires too many ideas to ever fit into one game.

OnlySP: I’ve seen the game described as ‘folk horror’—following the likes of The Wicker Man and Children of the Corn. Would you consider that to be an accurate assessment of Mundaun?

Ziegler: I think so, even if my game isn’t inspired by those particular works. But I think there is a certain ambiguity to the scenario that makes people immediately think of fiction that has a similar feel in their cultural circle. Even if I draw much inspiration from things that are specific to where I live, I find that the world and tone of Mundaun resonates with people from all around the globe and from different cultural backgrounds. That said, the haymen that haunt you in Mundaun make the comparison to The Wicker Man an obvious one.

OnlySP: If so, what sort of local legends are you drawing on for the source of the horror?

Ziegler: Not really any specific ones. If I had to name one story that influenced the plot of Mundaun, it would  be Jeremias Gotthelf’s The Black Spider. The oppressive mood it conveys has always fascinated me. Also, I loved collections of small folk tales as a child and I think, I’m remixing elements from those, creating my own folk tale. I’m not restricting myself to only local influences at all though. I take everything that I think is interesting and fits the world and universe of Mundaun.

OnlySP: How does the monochromatic art style contribute to the player’s sense of tension?

Ziegler: For one, it invokes the aesthetic of old movies and photographs. For me personally, those often have a sinister quality, hiding something in the dark shadows. In addition to that, the hand-drawn textures give the game the quality of a darkly illustrated picture book.

OnlySP: Speaking of the art style, it certainly is one of the most intriguing elements of Mundaun. How did you come to settle on it, and what is the process by which you bring these hand-drawn artworks to life in the game? When you began, did you have an idea of how much work would be involved?

Ziegler: I just love drawing on paper. I’ve never gotten into drawing digitally much. For a small game prototype (The Colony) I made before Mundaun, I also applied a hand-made approach. I love the combination of hand-made textures with 3D, it’s a strange thing. Pencils just seemed a perfect match for a more dark aesthetic.

The process is similar to the usual 3D process, but with a small detour. After unwrapping the finished 3D model, I print out the UV maps. I trace the outlines to a new drawing paper and then I fill in the actual drawing with pencils. After scanning them back in, I apply them to the models. I probably didn’t properly anticipate, how many drawings I would end up making, because I underestimated, how much Mundaun would grow.

OnlySP: The puzzles that appear in the trailers seem to draw from an older tradition in games wherein they don’t necessarily feel realistic (although that interpretation is, admittedly, based on brief snippets taken out of context). Nevertheless, do you have any concerns that that approach might turn away some players?

Ziegler: Yeah, it’s a concern. I try to make the puzzles quite logical. Playtesting seems to be the key here. I’m not trying to break the flow of the game, the puzzles are just a great way to add detail and flavour to the world. I try to integrate them into the world and make them feel organic and unique to this place.

OnlySP: Aside from the puzzles, what else will players be doing in Mundaun?

Ziegler: Encountering, avoiding, or fighting off different types of enemies. Finding and talking to some of the eccentric native folk. Making coffee, smoking a pipe, carrying around the head of a goat. Driving a chair lift, a hay loader vehicle and a sleigh. There’s a whole lot of different things to discover. I think, the mix of high-stakes death threatening situations with more mundane activities is one of the most interesting qualities of Mundaun.

OnlySP: Explore” seems to be one of the keywords of the game. Does it feature an open-world design, or is it more of a level-to-level affair with expansive levels? And, in total, about how big is the game world

Ziegler: It features three discrete levels, each with their own flavour. You start in an area with meadows and trees and then make your way up to a more sparse, stony area. Then there’s the snow-covered summit region. The levels are quite sizeable and the player is given freedom to explore them, but it is not an open-world design per se. Each part, activity, and task is unique and lovingly hand-crafted.

OnlySP: How long do you expect the average playthrough to last? Or is it still too early to be able to say?

Ziegler: It is a bit early, but I think it’ll be 4-5 hours.

OnlySP: Speaking of, we first came across Mundaun about a year and a half ago. How long has it been in
development?

Ziegler: It has been in development for 4.5 years now.


Ziegler and his team at Hidden Fields are currently targeting a Q1 2020 launch for Mundaun on Mac, PC, and Xbox One.

If your interest is piqued, let us know either in the comments below or on our community Discord server.

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