Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Day 5 Coverage: Akira Yamaoka, Klei Entertainment, Gaijin Games, Nexon America
Featuring Shank, bit.Trip Runner, and Vindictus
As Long as the Audio is Fun, the Game Will Be Too
Speaker: Akira Yamaoka (Grasshopper Manufacture Studio)
So this talk with the famed composer of the Silent Hillseries actually happened on Thursday, but I didn't have time in the wee hours of the night... and also in part because I didn't want to say anything bad about him... because the "lost in translation" effect was ragingly high. About half of everything that came out of the translator's mouth either made no sense or was as dispassionate as lukewarm tofu. But of all of that was made up by a composition he wrote in the few days he was in San Francisco before the event (you can view the snippet below).
The first minutes of Akira's speech was about Japan, kind of Japan 101: Did you know that the coastline of Japan is about the same as Australia's? (Not sure what this has to with audio, but okay.) But he soon revealed some of his thoughts on the role sound plays in a video game, notably that it has the strongest influence on the emotion in a video game. In particular, the sound should have some moments of detail that let the player's fill in the gaps with his mind, especially when creating creepy environments where the player is not meant to know what could be coming around the corner.
Some techniques in particular can instill a certain emotion in the player: A sound that slightly precedes the action creates anxiety while one that slightly follows it creates comfort. Mixing white noise with sharp, clear sounds can create discomfort, and the lack of music during a scene can make it have more impact and importance. His most surprising comment was personal: Answering a question on if there was anyone he would like to collaborate with, he identifies himself as more of a lone wolf. That just makes him cooler, really.
Klei Entertainment: Shank
For years now, the beat-'em-up genre has shriveled up and has been largely mishandled by retail developers, with notably exceptions going to The Warriors and Viewtiful Joe, and it would seem that the indie developers have taken notice, throwing a well-aimed revival potion at its feet in the form of Castle Crashers. Hoping to continue The Behemoth's success, Shank by Klei Entertainment slashes its way into our hearts, our guts, and our heads. And all in an art style that resembles Comix Zone... if it was made by Golden Age Comics.
The eponymous main character Shank, in perhaps an homage to Rambo, is a rough-'n'-tumble, broad-shouldered, bandana-wearing mercenary who decimates his opposition with a flurry of trench knives and front kicks. He's not exactly a dirty fighter, but he's not beyond leaping twenty feet into the air off a rooftop, landing on a punk named Sal, grabbing the fool, knifing his gut, slicing him up into the air with a chainsaw, and then juggling him Dante-style with a spray of pistol shots.
After running through a gauntlet of goons in what looks like the backdrop of Desperado, Shank faces a battle against a towering giant named Toro whose nearly mutant muscles unsurprisingly fills his wifebeater. His size certainly poses a threat, but he's no match for Shank's swift assault. I won't spoil how the fight ends, but let's just say it's like what happens to the bull after losing to a matador. To be rated 'M', Shank will release this summer as a downloadable title for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
Gaijin Games: bit.Trip Runner
Quick plug: Alex Neuses and Mike Roush of Gaijin Games --> Awesome people.
The bit.Trip series is known for its musicality, combining sound effects and track layering to every genre of game they decide to design (they probably spin a wheel). This time around, they've decided to tackle the seemingly unusual choice of a platformer as their muse. It might sound strange because you usually have complete control over the main character's movement. But once you know that the "Runner" in the title refers to the character constantly running to the right and that's it's your job to make sure he conquers any obstacle that comes his way, it makes sense.
As with the other titles, the character you control is pixelated, a stick figure with appropriately stiff legs and arms. Since the character runs continuously to the right, the only thing you have to worry about is jumping over obstacles like stone crystals, sliding under stalactites, and making sure that every hop and skip is well-timed. If the character gets stuck behind a single wall or falls into a bottomless pit, the level restarts. So just because you have infinite lives, doesn't mean that the game will be easy nor does it mean that the obstacles will be unfair. Any mistakes made will usually be your fault, so expect yourself to think "I can just go a little bit farther" each time.
For perfectionists and hi-score achievers, each level will have coins and special power-ups. Each coin is worth a fixed amount of points but collecting every power-up multiplies that amount even further (and if you manage to collect every gold coin, you can play a Pitfall-inspired bonus stage). Not only does your rank upgrade from Hyper, to Mega, Super, Ultra, and Extra, but a magical stream also begins to trail behind you as it transforms from a stream of stars to a retro-tastic rainbow. Somehow, it just fits with the spinning polygons and orthogonal Tetrisphere-esque shapes in the background. If you're the type like me that likes Rezand Katamari Damacy, you'll understand what I mean. Look for bit.Trip Runner to run onto Wiiware this spring.
Nexon America: Vindictus
The easiest video game comparisons to Vindictus, otherwise known as "Mabinogi Heroes" in Korea, would be Lord of the Rings or Dynasty Warriors, but that doesn't serve the game justice. Vindictus is a fast-paced third-person hack-'n'-slash brawler set in the more brutal days of Celtic mythology. It's the kind of game where you can grab a stone pillar three times your size, throw it at a rabid knoll (that's a hyena-headed humanoid monster), ram its face in with a running knee against a wall, and then stab it with a longsword. Only more surprising then that it's a free-to-play MMO.
The humans in Vindictus have been worshiping the god of war Morrigan for numerous generations, because they believe the door to the paradise Edin would be opened only after enough blood had been spilled on the battlefield. This, of course, has instigated a seemingly never-ending war with the fomors, the monster-looking creatures, which has lead many to doubt the creed of Morrigan and seek peace with the fomors instead... as do some of the fomors with the humans. But in the meantime, you've got a war to win.
It's important to note the speed, because Vindictus does look a lot like a cousin of Demon's Souls where strikes and parries are much more methodical. Here, it's all about swift combos and quick thinking. Wraiths, polar bears, and spiders have no qualms ganging up on you, so there's no reason to hold back. In one video shown at the demonstration, the player was able to shoot down the wooden ends of a bridge and thus all of the monsters upon it. So you should always look for places you can use to your advantage, whether you're in an icy cave or the dilapidated remains of a castle stronghold.
The quality of graphical polish also belies its MMO mold. Not only will armor pieces fall off if you don't repair them in time, but arrows can get stuck in your shield and the face editor is extremely robust. No playable build was available yet, so I wasn't able to see how well the game could handle multiple players, but if it's anything like Nexon's previous titles, there shouldn't be much lag. The game encourages teamwork by just how large some beasts are: You will need at least some players devoted to chaining large beasts down to the ground. So far, there's talk of microtransactions as revival coins, but nothing has been set for sure. Vindictus should be ready to release some time this year.