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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 Maker of 2019’s Must-Have Interstellar RPG Within the Cosmos Talks Gameplay, Lore, and the Future

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Within the Cosmos

Some indie games look impressive enough to match anything coming out of the AAA studios. Within the Cosmos fits that bill to a tee. Every screenshot from the project shines with ethereal beauty, and the description makes it sound like a marvellous mash-up of Deus Ex, Mass Effect, and Halo

This RPG casts players as a would-be colonist intended to seed human life away from what seems to be an apocalyptic interstellar war.

To find out more about the promising project, OnlySP reached out to developer Francis Debois, who went into great depth about the gameplay, structure, and the processes involved in production across the last five years. 

OnlySP: I wanted to start by asking about the gameplay. In the marketing you’ve mentioned that objectives can be completed through stealth, combat, or diplomacy, which is always a plus for an RPG. Is that multi-path approach available for every mission, and how free-form are the player’s options?

Debois: The missions in the game generally give you multiple ways to affect how the mission unfolds, whether it’s through dialogue or how the player approaches the mission. Also, the options available to you are governed by the type of character you create. If you have a character that’s high in Intelligence, you might be able to hack a control panel that opens a door to a room that you’d otherwise have to fight through to get to, or if your Charisma isn’t high enough, and you try to convince them to leave the area, they might not listen to what you have to say, and they’ll become hostile, or you can simply avoid all of that and find a way to sneak inside!

OnlySP: From what I understand, the RPG levelling mechanics are tied to modules on the character’s suit. Can you tell us more about how this system works and maybe provide examples of some of those modules and upgrades?

Debois: Modules are essentially “perk points” that you can use to upgrade your character. Every time you level up your character, you will get a module you can use to enhance/alter your character. The perks available to you are tied to your attribute points. So, if your Agility is high enough, you can “spend” a module and get the “Light Steps” perk, which makes your footsteps much lighter, therefore harder for the enemies to hear.

OnlySP: The game also has a stat system, which sounds a little like S.P.E.C.I.A.L. from Fallout. Is that an apt comparison? Will players be able to improve and modify those stats through gameplay and, if so, how?

Debois: Yeah, it’s a similar idea to how S.P.E.C.I.A.L. works in Fallout or similar games. When the player starts the game, they will be given a fixed amount of points that they can assign to their attributes. So, if you decide to max out your Constitution and Agility, you’ll have a character who’s agile, sneaky, and strong, but that would come at the cost of not having much Intelligence, Charisma, or Perception. So, you’re really gonna have to think about what attributes you favour, or you could put a roughly equal amount into all of them and have a character that can do a little bit of everything but not a master of everything. It’s up to you. I feel like that system will really create the desire for players to have multiple playthroughs of the game, and still have each playthrough feel like a different experience.

As far as improving and modifying those stats… I’m still trying to get the balance right. There might be one or two instances where you can upgrade them, or get temporary boosts to them, but whether you can improve or modify them beyond that is still being determined.

OnlySP: While upgrading, will players be able to respec their character’s abilities at all or are they locked into the upgrades they use?

Debois: No, they won’t be able to respec. Once you select an upgrade/perk, that’s what you’re locked into.

OnlySP: If I recall correctly, I’ve read somewhere that Within the Cosmos has a linear structure. Does that mean players won’t be able to revisit previous locations? 

Debois: You WILL be able to revisit previous locations. It’s linear in the sense that you can’t visit a new region, or planet that you have no narrative reason to visit yet. For example, the first planet you go to in the game is Alios, the second planet you visit is Berith II. If you’re right in the beginning of the game and you just got to Alios, you won’t be able to just go straight to Berith II until you’ve reached the point in the story where it makes sense to go there, but once you go there, you can go back and forth between those planets as often as you’d like. Also, I used the term “linear” as a way to get the point across that it’s not a huge open sandbox or anything. The game is very story-driven.

OnlySP: Speaking of locations, the game has the character visiting a number of planets. How many planets are there, and how have you differentiated each of them?

Debois: There are three planets in the game. Each one is aesthetically different, with different fauna, different factions, and the architecture of each planet reflects the dominant faction or factions on that planet. Aside from those locations, there are other places you’ll visit for a mission or a series of missions.

OnlySP: Looking at the Steam Greenlight page, there’s mention of vehicles and survival mechanics, but those seem not to have made it to the final version. Can you maybe explain how the development process has resulted in changes from the game you initially set out to make?

Debois: The direction the game was headed when I created the Greenlight page was completely different to what it ended up being! Initially, I intended to make an FPS with survival mechanics, but as the game progressed, and I started writing more of the story, I realised that survival mechanics didn’t really make sense, and it negatively impacted the experience. There were many things that were added and cut out in the end, so vehicles, and the survival mechanics were just two of the many things that simply didn’t end up feeling right as the game really began to take shape. As I wrote more and more, I felt like an RPG would be the best way for players to experience the game and the story.

OnlySP: You’ve mentioned that the game should take between eight and ten hours to complete. Does that factor in all the content available in the game or just the main missions?

Debois: 8-10 hours is a rough estimate of what I would say an “average” playthrough would be. Which is someone who has completed the main story, and did a few side missions. If you decide to do everything possible in the game, it will certainly take longer than that, but if you decide to strictly follow the main story, it will be shorter than that.

OnlySP: As I’ve been following Within the Cosmos, I’ve felt that it looks a bit like Halo and sounds a lot like Deus Ex. It’s got me wondering what you feel as though it’s most similar to and what sort of inspirations have shaped the look, feel, and overall tone?

Debois: Oh, there have been so many inspirations! I love the FPS RPG genre, so Deus Ex was a massive inspiration, as was Fallout: New Vegas. Those are two top tier FPS RPG games that I absolutely love. Space-based games have had an influence as well, such as Halo and Mass Effect. They helped shape the game in one way or another. I’d say the biggest inspiration behind it all has been Star Trek, I think the story and lore will reflect that to some degree.

OnlySP: Within the Cosmos is set against the backdrop of an interstellar war. How much of that background lore will players be privy to as the experience goes on?

Debois: The interstellar war is the reason that the player, and the factions are there in the first place. You will be exposed to the history of the war by reading some of the logs in the game, and through some characters you meet, etc. The war is what ties everything together. As you play through the game, you will see that even though you’ve escaped to this region of space, which is far away from the war itself, you still feel the effects of it. What you decide to do can really influence how the war plays out.

OnlySP: Meanwhile, the main story follows an individual sent to safety to preserve the human race. We’ve seen similar ideas of species protection and propagation in the likes of Fallout and Mass Effect: Andromeda. How is Within the Cosmos distinct from those earlier games?

Debois: Well, I really don’t like to compare Within the Cosmos to other games, but Fallout is more of a sandbox, and Mass Effect is more of a story-driven action RPG. Within the Cosmos falls somewhere in the middle of that.

OnlySP: As I understand it, Within the Cosmos, is entirely self-funded, self-developed, and self-published. Did you ever consider crowdfunding or partnering with a publisher to help get the game across the line sooner? Why or why not?

Debois: Not really, no. Some people suggested that I should try crowdfunding but that was something I was never interested in for Within the Cosmos. This was really a game that I wanted to make myself, so funding it and publishing it myself felt the most natural to me.

OnlySP: I know there’s still a little while before Within the Cosmos launches, but what’s next for debdev?

Debois: Once Within the Cosmos is out, I’m going to listen to the feedback from the community, and just work on updating the game with more content as time goes on. I really want to give this game all the support I can give it. Anything after that, we’ll have to see what happens! I would love to work on some of the other ideas I have, some more RPGs. There are other games that I really want to make, but after dedicating nearly five years of my life to this game, I’m not sure I will have the financial means to be able to do this again! 

OnlySP: Finally, do you have any final comments that you’d like to leave with our readers?

Debois: I’d really like to thank those who have been giving the game compliments, and those who have been providing feedback! It all really means a lot to me, and proves that all the years of hard work that I have inputted into the game, has been all worth it!

Thank you all for reading this, and for having an interest in Within the Cosmos! I really hope you check it out on Steam, wishlist it, and play it when it releases on 1 August!


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