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Inspiration From Around The ‘Net – April 1, 2012

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Quite the hubbub sprang up earlier this week, following the posting of an article titled ‘The Playstation Brand Needs To Die’ on N4G. I was reluctant to read into it, but my curiosity got the better of me. I clicked the link, perused the article and walked away with a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. It is the opinion of one person, completely subjective and reasonable, within his logic and seemingly limited view. May I make the interjection here that I, and many of the people I know that play games, prefer the Playstation 3 to the Xbox 360 for a variety of reasons, but we’re all willing to admit that both have their merits. The writer of the article professes also to play primarily on the Playstation 3, but says that he is singular in the crowd of his workplace and uses this as the basis for his argument.

Interestingly enough, he brings up sales figures, admitting that those of Sony’s device is fewer than four million units behind those of Microsoft’s, despite being on the market for a full year less. From this, he breaks the figures down by region, coming to the not-so-startling fact that the 360 has a 14 million unit lead in North America, and thusly to the conclusion drummed into us all that America, as the only remaining superpower in the world, is also the only country that matters. There is so much that I could say in response to this idea, but I will leave it at ‘no’. Gaming is a global industry and, as such, the tallies from everywhere must be granted the same weight. The writer displays an incredible folly here.

A gleam of possible redemption shines through a moment later when he highlights the importance of public perception. Of course, the Playstation 3 has garnered the unfair assumption of being an inferior product to the Xbox 360, due to the difficult two years that followed its launch. That much can’t be denied. Things, however, have turned around since then. While it remains true that there is a schism between those who own only one of the current generation consoles, Sony’s use of Kevin Butler and more direct advertising have seen the company appealing to a wide demographic of late.

Besides that, Playstation retains the incredible legacy of the first two iterations. The Playstation 2 is still the most successful home console to ever release, and I’m willing to bet that there is a considerable contingent of people that aren’t averse to gravitating back to the brand, if the next step drops with all the desirable features at the right price. The author argues that it would be better for Sony to drop the Playstation name altogether and come up with something new and fresh. The idea has merit, but I think that it would be taken the wrong way by Playstation purists.

Playstation should definitely stay, which brings me to the rumour mill. It seemed almost in direct opposition to the aforementioned article that a bombshell was dropped, via Kotaku, about the next Sony console codenamed Orbis. Let us, for a while, forget that the information has been supplied by an unverified and unnamed, though ‘reliable’ source and believe in the specifications set out. So, the report follows in the vein from one of several months ago that the mechanics of the next Playstation would be outsourced entirely to AMD. It’s more clear this time around with what to expect with an x64 CPU and a Southern Islands GPU. I don’t follow specific hardware near as closely as some, but these components are among the most powerful available on the market today.

This, it is postulated, will allow the new console to display games at 4K resolution, as well as allowing it to easily render 3D games in full 1080p HD. It’s wonderful to hear, but if this generation has been any indication, it won’t be used to any exceptional extent, as it is far easier to cater to the lowest common denominator that will satisfy players. Besides this, what does it really add in terms of functionality? Nothing. I’m not much one to harp on about graphics, unless they truly are bad enough to make one want to gouge their eyes out, so I’ll move on to more interesting fields.

The first of these is that it will not feature any backwards compatibility with the current console. At first, I was somewhat confused by this morsel of information, as Sony received quite the backlash for the removal of the ability to play PS2 games outside of the first hardware revision of the PS3, but after some contemplation it makes sense. It is easier to not include something from the outset than it is to backpedal and remove it later on, and Sony has already been burnt on several occasions for this very tactic. Besides this, the shift in architecture would make software emulation difficult, if not entirely impossible and it simply would not be cost effective to include the CellBE/RSX combination. If true, this decision will certainly dog them for the first few years, while there is relatively little coming out, but it’ll be no great hardship later on.

The next piece of news indicates a release for the holiday season 2013, roughly seven years since the Playstation 3 first hit store shelves. An immense period of time, but this puts it well in keeping with Sony’s ten year plan for the PS3, as well as giving the Vita time to spread its wings. Also mentioned is the fact that early development kits have been sent since the beginning of this year, with revisions being sent out more recently and something closer to the final build to be shipped towards the end of this year. This will allow for a full two years of development, which is quite in keeping with many modern games, and should grant a decent level of quality. I would love to see an extra year before any new system launches, as we are still seeing developers push the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, but they are losing their lustre as they grow long in the tooth and even the advent of Move and Kinect have done little to stimulate excitement in them. I’ve already explained my ideas for this though, so I’ll offer the link and move on.

Another major point is that all games will be available via Blu-Ray and usual retail methods, but also through digital distribution, embracing what is widely perceived to be the future of the industry. I have no problem with this turn of events whatsoever, so long as the retail sector still exists. This isn’t because I’m afraid of the digital shift, but because where I live at the moment, I do not have access to broadband internet. I use a combination of dial-up and 3G data connections for all online interactions. It’s a pain in the keister, but one that is necessitated by my circumstances. It is what follows on from this piece of news that is getting up my nose.

It’s designed to combat used game sales, which is reasonable, but it forces an immense inconvenience for people like myself. Basically, any game that you purchase must first be authenticated via the PSN before it can be played, making it impossible to play without an internet connection. Those playing it used, in addition to this, will also have to pay a nominal fee in order to unlock all of the content on disc, as they will otherwise be limited to a trial version. It isn’t dissimilar to the idea of DRM (which Simon was advocating earlier this week). If Sony and Microsoft were to do this, it would alienate their user base in a major way, going way beyond the tyranny of PC developers. But needing to authenticate before playing on a console? That’s utter madness. It cannot work, and I’m afraid that I would have to step away from gaming if that were to happen. A sad thought, but one that I would be more than willing to act on. There are always other avenues for entertainment, and I would simply have to seek them out.

But that’s enough of that. This past week has also seen some news emerge about the future of the Xbox. First is that a new model of the Xbox 360 will become available in the near future, being stripped back to focus on Kinect and XBLA features. It is rumoured to sit at a price point somewhere in the vicinity of $100USD. I’m confused about what could be removed to create such a system, especially at such a competitive price. A smaller included hard drive would be a reasonable assumption, as would be the removal (once again) of the wireless adaptor, but I can think of nothing else that is not necessary to the core design of the device, unless Microsoft are going to trial a disc-free version of the console to gauge how such a tactic would be received in the next generation. As much as I doubt this latter thought, it remains entirely possible.

The other morsel of information is that Microsoft has registered the .com and .net domains for XboxFL. So, XboxFL? What could it be? The designation for the aforementioned stripped-back edition the 360? Perhaps a new feature to be implemented in the near future? Or maybe it is the final name for the next console. As usual, we’re left in the dark, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

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

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.

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