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E3 Doesn’t Really Matter

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I’m so very tired of all this.   I’m tired of the conventions, the get-togethers, the anticipation, the high hopes, the waiting, the suspense, the reveals (which, most of the time, aren’t reveals at all), the questioning, the answering, the two-sided grins on the faces of the developers and their constituents.  But most of all, I’m tired of the way we do it all over again, every single year.  I’ve learned that most the things that are talked about at E3 are utterly meaningless to me.  I’ve learned that by the time I get all excited over a new IP, I’ll be more excited over another game that’s coming out sooner.  Then, after I’ve played that, I’ll focus elsewhere until a new game strikes my fancy like the one before it did.  Sure, E3 builds hype, but building hype for the sake of building hype isn’t nearly enough for me.  I want information, the likes of which is seldom given away at these sorts of conventions.  I want hard facts. I want a no-nonsense, straight to the point, here’s-what-you’re-having-for-breakfast-lunch-and-dinner kind of convention.

Why do developers, publishers, and Reggie Fils-Aime seem to take pleasure in holding themselves back? Obvious answer is obvious: They make lots of money on it!  The hype machine is endlessly spewing forth loads of cash for the people and the companies who talk about games, but don’t really talk about games.  I’m pretty sure Bobby Kotick approves of this.  You see, it’s all part of the plan.  E3 happens every single year, and every single year, more and more people watch it, waiting with bated breath, squealing with anticipation when a familiar logo pops onto the big screen.  And sure, it’s fun!  I genuinely have a good time watching E3!  For those three days when new games are talked about, I’m out there covering them just like any other gaming journalist does.  But you see, it’s a cat-and-mouse game, and to the people playing, the average viewer is simply that: a viewer, a spectator, a useless and incompetent mass of flesh and bones who’s sole purpose is to quietly and quickly hand over their money to the professionals on their living-room TV.  Yet, we all seem to follow this fatalistic doctrine, that on these three unremarkable days in June, the gate’s of Heaven will open and the three gods of video games will give us their Ten Commandments for the year.  And even then, they can choose to change or even erase them.

But, some things are preordained, like the fact that I’m going to buy Far Cry 3 because it looks fantastic, but I knew that before even last year’s E3, when it was officially announced. The second I finished Far Cry 2, I knew I would buy the third one, if they ever made it…which they have.  The same can be said for any big-name franchise, the easiest of which to go after is Call of Duty.  Just think of all the copies Black Ops 2 will sell simply because of it’s fan-base.  Sadly, I’ll probably end up getting a copy of the game, and I’m horrible at first-person shooters.  But even if Black Ops 2 hadn’t been showcased at E3, I still would’ve bought it. You see, I’m no better than the average viewer–in fact, I’m worse!  I report on all the rumors and speculation that goes on during the 11 months before E3 happens.  I know what to expect, and when it comes true, I’m still excited for it!  It’s only after E3 ends that I realize I still have to wait for something that I knew I was going to have to wait for in the first place.  Last year’s E3 was the most eye-opening for me in this respect.  When Nintendo announced the Wii U, I was genuinely excited to see a new piece of hardware hit the market. Of course, I knew it’s release was still a long ways off, but I was excited none the less.  Flash forward to this E3, I knew that despite what I wanted Nintendo to announce, I knew that they wouldn’t.

An article by Farida Yusuf over on our sister site, velocitygamer.com, brings to light this very fact: Nintendo told everyone that there would be no new information regarding the pricing or hardware specifications of the Wii U, despite it being the main focus of their conference.  Yet still, analysts are, as she puts it, “peeved” that Nintendo didn’t announce anything. The question is why is this happening at all?  How can people be angry over something that they were told wasn’t going to happen?  You see, this is one of the many problems I have with E3.  Everyone automatically expects all the biggest reveals, all the game-changing announcements to happen simply because the people who make the big decisions are all in one place.  But why?  Why do we have to wait and anticipate for an entire year to hear a few announcements be made?  Or for a new game to be talked about openly?  Why can’t we simply let developers and publishers release new information at their own pace?  Why do you think that some conferences are so bad some years?  Why do you think that Nintendo always seems to disappoint us?  It’s because they’re never willing to part with any pertinent information when everyone wants them to!  Of course, I knew it’s release was still a long ways off, but I was excited none the less.  Flash forward to this E3, I knew that despite what I wanted Nintendo to announce, I knew that they wouldn’t.

Let’s take a look at two of my favorite developers: Rockstar and Valve.  Focusing on Rockstar, just how long has it been since they’ve attended E3?   It’s been what, four or five years?  But look at they games they’re putting out!  Sure, Max Payne 3 came out before E3, but did they feel the need to make some big announcement about any plans for DLC during the convention?  Nope.  Any announcements about GTA V?  Nope.   Let’s take a look at Valve:  Sure, they announced Portal 2 for the PS3 at E3 two years ago, but that’s an exception.  Why do you think Valve takes their time when making announcements for any of their games?  Because they tend to win Game of the Year awards, earn them lots of adoring fans, and make them millions of dollars.  Why wouldn’t you take you time with that sort of a reputation?  So, based of off the success of these two respected, world-renowned, beloved developers, it’s simply not necessary for every single announcement about a particular game or console to be unveiled at E3.  There’s no need to tease audiences just to have them wait for an undisclosed amount of time, when you could have simply saved them the trouble.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that E3 is a waste of time.  It’s a great way to showcase new projects and technologies–but only if they’re ready to be shown.  E3 is fun because of all the excitement that goes along with the seeing new things.  But all that pomp and circumstance is useless if the thing that’s on display isn’t ready for people to use or play it. In my opinion, both Watch Dogs and The Last of Us are completely ready to be played.  The developers have been working on them for a few years, and they earned the right to be shown in the main conferences.  But on the other side of the coin, I seriously doubt that Wonderbook is ready to be bought by the general public.  Just another example of this is Bioshock Infinite.  It wasn’t at the show simply because Ken Levine said that it wasn’t ready, which is an extremely smart choice.  And the thing is, I’m still going to buy it, regardless of whether or not it’s at E3.

There’s nothing wrong with E3.  But there is something wrong with trying to impress people with things that either aren’t polished, or simply aren’t worth our time.

Kyle used to work alongside Nick Calandra in the early days of OnlySP, doing such things as "writing articles" and "posting" and "being the Editor-In-Chief". But then college happened, and things slowed down. But, now that he's graduated, he can resume his life-long passion of writing about video games. And making movies. He also has a beard.

Features

“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.

Otherwise, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube for all the latest from the world of single-player gaming.

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