Bayonetta, the western way

Everything about Bayonetta, the game, was ridiculously Japanese from the crazy soundtrack to anime-inspired art style. I loved it. But would the leading lady, who shares the same title as the game, have developed such a cult following globally if her appearance was more westernised? Despite her psuedo-posh English accent and moderately-sized bust, Bayonetta was very much a product of Japan. Hair so animated it could be alive and a wardrobe that wouldn’t keep her warm let alone protected from killer angels could have been plucked from any popular Manga but concept artist Wesley Burt proposed to Sega a number of western orientated alternatives for Ms. B while the game was still being developed (via Kotaku). As history states, none where picked up or changed the finished product one iota which is a shame because they’re pretty cool. Especially the belted badass top left of the image above.

I’m not sure how jarring, if at all, having a very westernised character in an incredibly Japanese infused game would be though. And while Bayonetta wasn’t particularly original she did have a few unique qualities about her whereas some of the designs above could be better suited for id’s Rage or a fantasy MMORPG. But they’re still awesome and raise some interesting questions about character art and the big difference between regions. One thing that stays the same no matter what territory it seems is the appeal of a woman in glasses as Burt’s designs show. I doubt they’re prescription lenses though…

Beyond the Labyrinth looks ace

One of the main grumbles about the 3DS is lack of software with more promises of future releases than actual dates and with the launch games predominately being revamps of old titles, consumers have been reluctant to upgrade of buy the system in the numbers Nintendo had hoped for. Along comes Tri-Ace, the team behind Resonance of Fate and Star Ocean, with Beyond the Labyrinth and jaws are pleasingly dropped at the first screenshots (via Siliconera).

The game may still lack a release date and for that matter any real detail but from the look of it, Beyond the Labyrinth is at least making good use of the 3DS’s processing power. Famitsu bagged eight screens in total (see them all here) and state the game is a dungeon RPG featuring a talkative female who may or may not be the lead but is clearly important since she’s the first character shown. It probably goes without saying the look of Beyond the Labyrinth is reminiscent of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus which is another exciting prospect.

But other than the handful of screenshots and it being called a dungeon RPG, very little else is known. Though Tri-Ace do like to experiment with combat mechanics, opting to not always stick to the regimented ideas of JRPGs. It’s possible Beyond the Labyrinth will continue this tradition but it’s just as possible that there could be no fighting whatsoever but instead an emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving. Either way it’s worth keeping an eye on this game’s development for the art-style alone if not anything else.

Gears isn’t as good as you remember (apparently…)

What was your first real HD gaming moment? Mine was less triumphant than I would have liked considering for a good year or so I only had a standard SD TV for my Xbox 360. And in that time I played the hell out of Gears of War which looked pretty fantastic in a lower resolution. But for a HD game, Gears, or rather the Unreal Engine certainly raised the bar for console graphics. So much so, executive producer Rod Fergusson told Eurogamer how he felt the start of Microsoft’s stop-and-pop franchise defined high definition gaming: “We were far ahead of a lot of games when Gears 1 came out. Everybody’s been catching up, and a lot of people are fighting for ownership of that title. But we continue to push the box and what HD means. At the time it defined what HD was. It defined what your HD TV could do. People remember that.”

A mate of mine actually bought a HD TV just so he could experience Gears of War in all its glossy glory and we did spend a good amount of time zooming in on textures and dead enemies marvelling at the detail – after it had popped in of course. Even after the beauty and additional colours of Gears of War 2, I still regard the first as being something special. But Fergusson and the Epic team have these rose-tinted memories to contend with for all future titles. They not only have to visually improve the looks on paper but in our minds too: “Your memory is far better than reality,” said Fergusson. “When I was a kid, Gilligan’s Island was the funniest show on television. When you watch Gilligan’s Island now, it’s just plain terrible. With Gears 2 we were competing with the memory of Gears 1 and what people remembered it was like. We got to the point where, at the review event in San Francisco, I suggested we put up a single station of Gears 1 so the press could play it and realise it wasn’t as good as they remember. They were saying, ‘Oh, it kinda looks like Gears 1.'”

I can see where the reviewers were coming from, the style does indeed look similar but there is also a very noticeable upgrade too. The textures for one have greater depth to them and remember the meat cube tech demo? That showed how improved the graphics engine was in Gears 2 by rolling a cube of wobbling flesh towards a COG team member.

That being said, I wonder how well the Gears of War 3 multiplayer beta will go down with gamers today as it launches for those who bought Bulletstorm Epic Edition. Will it be met with the same kind of unrealistic expectations as Fergusson explained? Or will people be having too good a time slicing up each other on the battlefield? I hope it’s the latter and can’t wait to have a go myself!

Manually redundant

In recent years the video game manual, a once prized possession in any young gamer’s back pack has shrivelled into something barely reflecting its former self. Publishers have lost faith in the paper based medium and last year, Ubisoft decided to do away with the traditional manual in favour for an electronic version. EA have just recently announced (via Gamespot) their rejection of printed tree-pulp leaving few companies to either follow suit or maintain the status quo. Those who bought either Mass Effect 2 for the PS3 or Fight Night Champion may have noticed the lack of manual in the box and addition of a virtual one on the discs but if you didn’t notice, it really just proves the point that a paper version is no longer needed.

Younger gamers probably won’t be all too fussed about the loss of an instructional booklet but being a child of the 80s, I remember when manuals were cool, feature rich documents that let you immerse yourself into the game world even when your platform of choice was no where to be seen. The car trips or school lunch breaks would always be a good place to brush up on your knowledge, usually bypassing the very first few pages which showed button configuration and onto those which gave background info on characters and settings. They were for me, the prelude to a game.

But for a number of years the manual is but an afterthought with few publishers savouring the chance to use them as extended fiction for an IP and merely regurgitate information readily available on screen. Rockstar are a newer company who know how to make a good manual though and games like GTA or Red Dead Redemption contain what can easily be imagined as documents plucked from the game itself. Maps on the backs of posters or booklets made to look like tourist guides, these are the kind of manuals that get people looking and talking about your game harkening back to the classic gaming literature found in early Zelda or Mario titles.

EA want to be more green however and along with the removal of paper, they’ll soon be using DVD case that are easier to package games. But doesn’t that suggest that these games are disposable? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a hoarder – or collector – that I tend not to think of throwing out my old games but I’m sure there are enough people who treat their games differently, either trading them in or eventually chucking them out after a few years or even months. I can’t really blame EA for wanting to rid themselves of what has become a waste of time and money but I do blame the majority of publishers for letting them get that way. I’ll get over it, I mean I’ll have to when eventually we’re all downloading our games without even a disc let alone paper manual!

Come get some balls of steel

Over at VG247, they found an image, presumably from a source of off the tinterweb, of what appears to be a special edition of Duke Nukem Forever. The Balls of Steel edition contains art cards, an art book, a comic, two poker chips, a pack of cards, dice, a bust of Duke and certificate of authenticity. Lord only knows how much it’ll cost but making such a extravagant edition of a game that has had so many development struggles and an ever decreasing franchise fan base is mighty silly to me. Previews of Duke Nukem Forever are pretty good with the general consensus being that it’s a decent laugh so no doubt that will have brought back a few stragglers who are writing it off before it’s released but I can’t imagine a Balls of Steel version would be all that popular. I am excited for DNF because Gearbox make great games just not a special edition. Maybe if the art book shows the 13 years of development and the disc included playable segments of older code then yeah, I’m in. Otherwise I think I’ll stick with the standard version.

Props to the designer

We’ve read about the real world of LA getting a coat of grime to become apartments and the allure of both sexes in appropriate headwear but in the third instalment of L.A. Noire‘s behind the scenes feature, Team Bondi’s production designer, Simon Wood, speaks of the challenges to populate the video game world with authentic retro props. And it’s not just about making sure a mug or painting are true to the era. Wood had to chose the right kind of light sources for art director Chee Kin to place around the characters to compliment the visuals: “We were always mindful of the game’s super life-like conversations and the need to light them correctly. Chee Kin had to have something to justify the way people were lit, so just like in film, we placed practical lights in the locations.”

Rare 1940's props were invaluable in set dressing in-game scenes with original authentically styled items.

Who says video games aren’t art? Read on to find out more on the production design of L.A. Noire.
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Sexy women and men in hats

What’s so great about the 1947? Most of the world was still in tatters after the war and the mood of the nation barely surpassed glum. Thank god for the attractive folk to raise spirits. Professional costume designer Wendy Cork was brought on board L.A. Noire‘s development schedule to take care of the multitude of extras in the game as well as the principle wardrobe. “It was such a glamorous period for clothes… Sexy women and men in hats,” said Cork though her jubilations were stifled slightly by the sheer amount of them “It was a cast of bloody hundreds! The costume needs just kept growing and growing as the cases grew more elaborate and interwoven, but it really makes all the difference having all these different characters in the game world.” Any gamer who dabbles in the open-world genre knows how jarring to the experience a repetitive NPC roster can be. Even more so when they’re repeating the same animations. If Wendy Cork and Team Bondi have been able to eradicate any hint of this in L.A. Noire, they’re work will be greatly appreciated!

Left: Starting from original sketches done in vintage style, and a collection of fabric swatches; Middle: Erika Heynatz as Elsa Lichtman, meticulously styled for the original photo shoot; Right: The finished product - Elsa in-game

See all the notes on the game’s costume design after the break.

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