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New IPs Matter At Generation’s End

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Watch Dogs took everyone by surprise at E3 2012.

There are a number of new, potentially huge AAA IPs slated to launch on the current generation of consoles over the next year, with representations from most of the biggest publishers in the marketplace. Games like The Last of Us, Fuse, Remember Me and Watch Dogs, among others, have the ability to launch new franchises just as we’re preparing to make the leap, avoiding the current trends of yearly iteration and reboots and reimaginings of series that have been popular in the past in the process. This practise is refreshing for the fans, but it also offers the promise of being financially beneficial for the publishers when Sony and Microsoft finally do offer their next consoles.

This isn’t necessarily because they will offer a massive influx of income at their first outing but because of the aforementioned possibility of sequelisation. If the past few years have proven anything in this industry, it is that we, the gamers, are insular in our purchase choices. In general, we know the games, series and developers that are capable of delivering high quality entertainment on a regular basis. Why else would the likes of Call of Duty, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, The Elder Scrolls and Gran Turismo sell as well as they do on a consistent basis? One can argue that the hits driven nature of the industry is a result of gaming reaching into the mainstream, but this isn’t strictly true as it has been this way for years.

Many of the gamers that made the jump to the seventh generation early did it because they were anticipating the continuation of their favourite franchises from the sixth as much as due to those new titles that were gaining attention as flagships for the new one. As much as we, as a whole, crave innovation and new ideas, we are hypocrites in that we willingly embrace and support the increasing prevalence of the same ideas and are typically happy to take the safe route in our purchases.

Call of Duty: The Safe Purchase Route

Bearing this in mind, the creation of new IPs at the end of a console generation suddenly make as much, if not more, sense as it does to wait until the official beginning of the next. Releasing it now means that it is thrust into the public spotlight earlier and has access to over a hundred million potential customers, a luxury that can allow a game to turn a profit with a less than one percent attachment rate, as was recently the case with Grasshopper Manufacture’s Lollipop Chainsaw. Introducing a game to such a prolific audience has the natural benefit of more people paying attention to it, perhaps purchasing it now, leading to a far greater brand awareness than might otherwise be the case.

It makes perfect sense for the publishers, and has proven to be lucrative in the past, through the likes of the Ninja Gaiden reboot, Fable, Forza Motorsport, Killzone, God of War and Mafia being examples of series that launched relatively late in the cycle of the previous generation and have gone on to have quite a bit of success more recently. There aren’t a huge number of series typically launched in this period, and this, according to Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot , is because it simply is not an easy proposition because gamers are more set in their ways, while they are more open with their wallets early:

“It’s a lot less risky for us to create new IPs and new products when we’re in the beginning of a new generation. Our customers are very open to new things. Our customers are reopening their minds — and they are really going after what’s best. … At the end of a console generation, they want new stuff, but they don’t buy new stuff as much. They know their friends will play Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed so they go for that. So the end of a cycle is very difficult.”

EA’s Frank Gibeau mirrored these beliefs with the caveat that innovation is better siphoned into existing and established franchises towards the end of a generation:

“The time to launch an IP is at the front-end of the hardware cycle, and if you look historically the majority of new IPS are introduced within the first 24 months of each cycle of hardware platforms. Right now, we’re working on 3 to 5 new IPs for the next gen, and in this cycle we’ve been directing our innovation into existing franchises. If you look at what we’re putting into Need For Speed: Most Wanted we’re taking a lot of risks there, the same thing with Battlefield – you have to admit that, from Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3, there’s a huge amount of change there.

“But, if you look at the market dynamics, as much as there’s a desire for new IP, the market doesn’t reward new IP this late in the cycle; they end up doing okay, but not really breaking through. We have to shepherd the time that our developers spend, as well as the money that we spend on development in a positive way, so we’re focused on bringing out a bunch of new IPs around the next generation of hardware.”

Whether they are right or wrong hardly matters, the reality is that introducing a new series at the end of a lifecycle provides a foothold for the future. It’s all good and well for them but as gamers, the fiscal matters of publishers should be least in our minds when it comes to this topic. For us, one of the best aspects of launching a new IP late in the generation stems from the fact that, by this point, the developers have gotten a real handle on the hardware available and are able to do what they have wanted to all along most effectively, leading to better and more ambitious games. Besides this, it offers the very real possibility of getting the jump on the ideas that will drive the next generation as they can safely be considered as cross-generational.

Guillemot also suggested that new consoles drive creativity and that is why more fresh IPs are found in the beginning, but this doesn’t always pan out for long term success. We’ve seen a number of great titles fail to spawn a real sequel due to sales that were perceived as being poor. Valkyria Chronicles, Blue Dragon, Heavenly Sword, Brutal Legend, TimeShift, Too Human, Pure, Fracture, Mirror’s Edge; the list goes on, eclipsing the number that did go on to have mainstream success. Granted, not all of them adhered to standard of more successful titles but many of them were rife with uniquely powerful aspects that could have been used and improved in the sequel, along with the technical aspects. They simply never got a second chance.

Left waiting for so long…

The same can be said of games that launched at the end of the last cycle, like Killer7 or Cold Fear. Of course, things are a bit different now thanks to the way that gaming is really embracing the mainstream meaning that there is a better chance for such games to take off, particularly with the easy available of media for fans and those interested via the internet. It’s a different world, and with many fans still claiming that they aren’t necessarily ready for the next generation, why do publishers and developers not embrace them and add incentives for their upgrading by sequelising late generation games relatively early on rather than throwing 101 new IPs at us. It just makes sense.

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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