And now for something completely different.
"This is a French game."
If you're like a lot of gamers, those words are enough to send a shiver down your spine. French games have a reputation for being quirky, candy-eyed, and horribly unplayable. And in too many cases, this reputation is well deserved.
But what would you do if you were a French game developer, trying to get a game published? The industry is competitive enough as it is, but to be unfairly saddled with a stereotyped image can make it even tougher.
One thing you could do is write an editorial about it. That's exactly what David Cage, one of the developers with a new group called Quantic Dream, did. Based in Paris, Quantic Dream is working on a game called Omikron for Eidos. And they want you to know that gameplay does matter to them.
In a piece called "France and Game Play -- An Impossible Marriage?", Cage asks how French games earned their reputation.
"I've had plenty of opportunities to meet British and American publishers, and I've presented them Omikron," writes Cage. "And on more than one occasion, I was made aware of the sickeningly poor image of French developers. French games are always two to three years late, never keep to their budgets (in a Latin style), and [are] irrepressibly irresponsible about finances, which as everyone knows is no joking matter. Apparently we're also incapable (it's our genes!) of making any game with more than a pinch of Game Play in it. To put it crudely, we French can't make playable games. Or so they say."
Cage goes on to discuss this perception, and then lays the blame squarely on fellow French developer Cryo, makers of such classics as The Raven Project, Hardline, and Dragon Lore.
"Thanks to them, the Zero Game Play image has stuck to all French developers," says Cage. "Cryo and the other developers like them are so overwhelmingly mediocre that they're enough to make everyone forget that France was the place where [we] developed games such as Alone in the Dark, which was a real revolution at the time (Resident Evil is its direct descendent)." Cage also points to other good French games, like Another World, Flashback, and Little Big Adventure.
Cage certainly has a point--and hopefully now you're willing to give a French game a chance. And now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's take a look at one, Cage's own Omikron. (How's that for a segue?)
Omikron is a weird, French game. I know that's a stereotype, but what the heck. The concept is difficult to describe since the game itself is very self-referential, but let's try anyway.
When you buy Omikron, the game pretends that what you've bought is a sort of virtual window into a parallel universe. In this parallel universe is a domed city called Omikron, which lies on a strange planet inhabited by humans and aliens alike. The city of Omikron is entirely modeled within the game as a self-contained, virtual metropolis, complete with numerous citizens. All of these citizens have names, goals and roles to play within the city. The city is not so carefully detailed that it has, say, a working economy or something like that, but it is a fairly comprehensive, realistic-feeling environment, complete with cycles of day and night. And it is fully depicted in three dimensions.
You, as the player, by playing Omikron, are presumed to have taken possession of the body of someone in this parallel world. (Of course, that's kind of what happens every time you play any game, isn't it?) Anyway, this guy whose body you have usurped is completely unknown to you--so the first thing you could do is figure out who he is, where he lives, and what his job is all about. But you don't have to. You as the player freedom to roam around and explore as much of the world as you like. There is a plot of sorts, but it'd be a shame to give it away--let's just say it involves some soul-stealing and a bad demon named Astaroth.
Pretty strange, huh? But get this. If you get your character killed somehow, you can reincarnate as someone else. Remember, you're really not the character in the game--you're only borrowing his body through the magical power of the software. And the software has the power to let you take over someone else's body, though you don't have any control over who that might be. The first person who comes along and touches the dead body you were inhabiting becomes your new avatar.
Creating such an open-ended game without having it turn into a boring simulation of some guy walking around hopelessly lost--and I've played that game many times before--is an interesting game design challenge, to say the least.
To tackle it, Quantic Dreams has developed something it calls the Intelligent Adventurer Manager, or IAM. The developers explain how it works:
"Rather than trying to predict everything that a player might do (which would be very hard to do, if not impossible, in a 3D universe with no restrictions), we start from a completely different principle…. We can offer problems for the player to solve, and we can also offer the means to solve them. IAM doesn't require us to program a solution to each problem, it only watches out to make sure that every problem does have a solution."
Quantic offers an example. Say a player needs to get into a room. One way might be to find the key, another would be to use some dynamite to blow open the door, or a special item that has teleporting powers. The game doesn't care how you get into the room--it just makes sure that there is a way into the room, one way or another. According to Quantic, this system makes the game non-linear, yet also keeps players from becoming stuck in dead ends.
While the design of Omikron's adventure portion is unique, its combat system is much more traditional. When a fight breaks out, the game switches to a fighting game look. You have moves you can execute with a gamepad, and a health meter hovers over your head. The moves made by the fighters were taken from motion capture sessions with real martial artists, and from what we've seen they do look pretty good. Motion capture was also used for facial expressions, making the characters in the city among the most realistic yet seen in a game.
When we saw the game recently at an Eidos event, some of the gameplay was in place. The town was full of characters strolling around, and cars and motorcycles zoomed by on the streets. One of the developers showed us the first character you end up possessing, one of the local policemen, and had him drive around the town. Still, there's plenty more work to be done, and Omikron isn't expected to ship until towards the end of next year.
So does Omikron sound intriguing? It certainly does to us, and in a gaming landscape most remarkable for a paucity of invention, Omikron certainly dares to be different. Whether or not the developers can pull it off, though, remains to be seen.
Autor: Jason Bates