I have often expressed my disinterest in Smartphone and tablet games that try and replicate traditional buttons virtually. Very few have worked and even less have had any kind of lasting appeal for me. Simple finger swipes and taps are what work best and with the App Store crammed with awkward on-screen controllers, it’s always nice when a game comes along that promises something different. Uppercut Games are doing just that with their upcoming shooter, Epoch, which will be available from November 10th.

Epoch has been developed on the ever popular Unreal Engine and if one mechanic is synonymous with that engine it’s a cover system and Epoch is all about taking cover and taking out enemies when it’s tactical to do so. The post-apocalyptic setting may not be the most original and the Gears style combat is often mimicked but from what I’ve seen of Epoch, the fun comes from the aerobatic manoeuvres of the robot you control as it works its way through various arenas battling the hordes of approaching enemies (check out the pre-launch trailer here). I do like a good horde mode in any game so one that is boasting the ability to do this on the go with simple and intuitive controls has got me interested. The story? the press release states Epoch definitely has one but “Uncovering the mystery is part of the fun, so the best way to find out more is to play the game.” Uppercut Games aren’t discussing whether Epoch is to have in-app purchases or multiplayer but the fact they’re not giving an outright ‘no’ would suggest that both will be coming at some point.


Once again, Fable: The Journey isn’t on-rails dagnabbit!

I do feel sorry for Peter Molyneux. Being such a great speaker who calmly relays his aspirational thinking to anyone who will listen, he often talks at Microsoft press conference, regardless of venue. And with Fable being one of Microsoft’s big IPs, Molyneux usually discusses its future titles. But the reason I feel sorry for him is because I get the impression his thoughts aren’t quite at the stage where he should be in front of hundreds of people but still, there he is with a Fable product, dividing the audience on whether ‘it’ll work’.

The recent hotly discussed game was Fable: The Journey at E3, a game demoed on-stage looking a whole lot like it was on-rails. Earlier this month he cleared up any confusion saying for the record, Fable: The Journey ISN’T an on-rails experience and the navigational element was removed at the last minute. Why? According to OXM, Molyneux said “The reason it was on rails was because I told the team to take out navigation, because on stage I thought, right, I need to show off magic, how cool magic is.” Funny thing was, to me, this worked because I did indeed think the magic looked cool and how different hand movements cast different spells. Molyneux went on to say: “If Dimitri doing the demo had had to navigate from one position to another, one, it would have extended the demo to four minutes from two minutes, and two, it would be slightly confusing.”

Another reason for the arguably poor showing was how little time Lionhead Studios had to work on the demo: “This project really only started, well in earnest it started about seven months ago and we started coding about four months ago.” And not straightforward coding either, the team moved from the normal Fable tech to using the Unreal Engine. This generation really is becoming the age of Unreal isn’t it?

So for a lot of people, Fable: The Journey looked iffy at best but Molyneux promises that come Gamescom in August, Lionhead will be able to fulfil their ambition of making something we all want to play. And I can see sleepless nights ahead for the studio. By August, the game would have only had just over six months development time and no doubt there’s even more pressure to get it right after the Molyneux took the negative comments of E3 so personally. I think the press and gamers often forget just how young titles can be at big press shows. It’s rare that what you see in a game stays exactly the same when it’s finally released and being a supporter of in-game demos over flashy CG trailers, I’m glad Lionhead took the risk to show off Fable: The Journey at such a raw stage rather than a random piece of footage which leaves us with just as many questions.

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!

Infinity Blade. You can do it too!

Epic’s Infinity Blade swiped its way onto iDevices last year after beginning life as a tech demo called Epic Citadel. That proved the Unreal Engine could work remarkably well on a mobile device and gamers were eager to see how the team of ChAIR Entertainment used this to make a game. The result was a very casual experience wrapped in a veil of hardcore ideas and a simple control scheme, taking only five months from start to finish. That includes concept and distribution. The team revealed their timeframe in a talk at GDC (via Joystiq) called: Infinity Blade: How We Made a Hit, What We Learned, and Why You Can Do it Too!

What they learned was to always have some ideas in mind for future projects. ChAIR’s employees pitched around 30 ideas a day with the stipulation that it had to built by the six people in the team in less than a year. When Epic Games bought ChAIR, they knew the kinds of games they wanted to make and already had a plan for them too.

After the honeymoon period between gamers and Infinity Blade was over, the backlash began with many claiming the game was repetitive and too easily controlled which limited what you could do with it. When you look at the internal rule set ChAIR implimented when developing Infinity Blade, their decisions make a whole lot of sense. They came up with the ‘Pocket Pillars’ which defined how to make a touchscreen experience with the number one point being it must be playable with one finger, finding ways to use that finger then remove it. Presumably this is so the player’s digits don’t obscure their view of the game like so many other smartphone titles we’ve complained about. The game also had to be “Super short” with meaningful and fun gameplay, progressing the player every two minutes and if it was something that worked great with a traditional controller, they were doing it wrong. Lastly, Infinity Blade had to be purely skilled based, easy to learn, hard to master.

All of these points are incredibly valid points into how great smartphone games are and should be made. They can be attributed to the likes of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, two immensely popular mobile games with legions of fans between them. They all excel because of how they’re perfectly designed for the device in hand, not a compromised version of something else. The fact that Infinity Blade was criticised for offering a similar experience seems a bit harsh to me as it does cross the boundaries of both casual and hardcore quite nicely.

Donald Mustard of ChAIR said last December how Infinity Blade started life as a Kinect project and hinted if the game proved popular in over the holiday period it could be headed for the motion controller. With a little tweaking, the Pocket Pillars would equally work well when making a Kinect game, keeping it simple, fun, skill-based and specific for the device. For now, I’ll keep on levelling up my knight on my iPhone but am increasingly intrigued as to how it would work on Kinect. 

ChAIR kinects with Infinity Blade

The talk of the town for iDevice gaming at the moment is Infinity Blade who stormed the App Store last week to a multitude of positive reviews. But did you know that it was first conceived as a Kinect game? Co-founder of ChAIR Entertainment, Donald Mustard, spoke of the various internal discussions that lead to the slasher becoming an iOS darling: “We always have some cool ideas on deck, and kind of the inception of Infinity Blade began as a discussion around: ‘If we were going to make a Kinect title, what would we make? What would a Chair Kinect game look like? That discussion happened, you know, a year and a half ago. We had this really cool design, and it’s not that dissimilar from the game you’re playing today; it’s just been refined and adapted to the iOS screen, which honestly I think is where the design works the best.”

I agree, setting aside the fact that running the Unreal Engine on iOS platforms is a massive deal, the pick-up-and-play style and very linear but entertaining progression system feels right for an Apple portable. That being said, the same importance that Infinity Blade has for Apple could have easily been applicable for Kinect. It would have been the most graphically impressive and one that uses a traditionally core engine instead of a more casual-focused one. But I’m glad ChAIR chose iOS over Kinect in this instance as the gameplay does seem right at home on a touchscreen over motion-controls. However Mustard did finish with a bit of an ominous statement regarding the future of Infinity Blade: “If the Kinect really takes off over the holiday season, who knows?”

{Thanks Joystiq}

Infinity Blade swings onto App Store December 9th

Epic Games has announced that Infinity Blade has been given an official release date of December 9th (via Pocket Gamer) for the premium price of £3.99/$5.99. But this is ChAIR Entertainment’s visually spectacular slasher powered by the Unreal Engine and no doubt a showpiece for future iPhone, iPod and iPad gaming. Four quid is nothing to pay for such a privilege right? I guess we’ll find out in a week’s time. The game features a single player campaign with upgradable equipment and abilities as well as a multiplayer mode complete with Game Center integration. What exactly that integration maybe is still unannounced but at least two-player battles are a given as, I would imagine, leaderboards would be too.

But sadly here’s where the Apple handheld market starts to fragment. ChAIR have stated that only the newest versions of iDevices are supported, those being iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad and third generation iPods (and above). It’s a shame for anyone still using older models especially when you think that they’re not exactly ancient in technology. Not that such a thing is exclusive to this game or indeed Apple products but I wonder how many people will be effected or if those who really care would have upgraded long ago. Hmm, it’s a puzzler. Or is it?…

Infinity Blade debut trailer

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A brief but beautiful trailer for upcoming slasher Infinity Blade has been released this morning by proud developers ChAIR. A few days ago it was announced that Project Sword, which is the first Unreal Engine game for iDevices, changed its name to Infinity Blade and that its still on course for a Christmas 2010 release. The trailer shows off a predominantly swiping control scheme and the purchasing of new weapons and armour with unlocked experience points. Oh and did I say it looks stunning? I did? Well it’s worth another mention.