devcom 2019 on Monday, August 19, meant fewer talks, but some pretty good ones, plus indie games, a good preparation for gamescom 2019.
The entrance to the Koelnmesse with its security booths was certainly quiet before the storm…
Borderlands 3 seems to be a pretty big deal for gamescom, but also for the whole industry this year, and as chance would have it, the first talk/keynote was going to be about it, too.
Getting into the East wing of the trade fair that is usually reserved for exhibitors in the next few days still proved to be one security check after another, but at least without waiting times.
After not having had any time on the first devcom day, I could finally have a look at the NRW (North Rhine-Westphalia) Indie Expo, which had far too many games to play… and actually only a few were ready in the early morning.
The Innsmouth Case drew my attention due to its H.P. Lovecraft subject matter, but as the stand wasn’t ready yet, I had to try it after the keynote…
However, the nice French guys from Full Cycle Games were kind enough to present their mobile multiplayer strategy game WarWest (which can be played solo, too) which had a lovely European cartoon art style and combined tower defense with card gaming. There were other modes as well, and my hands-on experience proved to be quite fun, despite the lack of time. With various characters to choose from and their special abilities, the game looked much deeper than I had the time to dive into for. But the Wild West setting with light sci-fi influences certainly set it apart from the very competitive free-to-play card/strategy game scene. It can already be played on Android and will hopefully attract as many people as possible, just because the French team were very nice to talk to, especially when it came to old-school gaming like Warcraft III and also Lovecraft. WarWest didn’t really have that dark tone, but it didn’t need to, as the visuals were enough to make it accessible. For more information, check out the website and trailer below.
The first talk/keynote of the second day at devcom was also one of the coolest, with Randy Varnell, head of world development at Gearbox Software, covering the topic Building Borderlands 3 Narrative with such enthusiasm that was infective for everyone in the audience.
Randy was certainly no newcomer in the industry, as he had worked on so many Gearbox games it was crazy, but all these years hadn’t dulled his passion about game development, it seemed.
He was even featured as a model for the classic RTS game Age of Mythology, and who can say something like that about himself?
Anyone who hasn’t heard of Borderlands has probably lived under a rock, as with its FPS action and RPG mechanics plus lots of violence and crazy characters, it’s a series that has stood the test of time, as all the various DLC testify. In addition, there’s the awesome Telltale Games (RIP) title Tales from the Borderlands.
If people only think that shooters don’t have a narrative, then they should have a look at the narrative department Gearbox has opened with all sorts of branches and positions to fill.
The obvious question for any creative person who wants to finish a product (be it a game, a book, or whatever).
Characters are memorable and therefore the most important aspects of a Borderlands game.
However, it’s still the fans deciding who is their favorite character that has to be brought into a new title, and some of these people are just craaaazy, not only with cosplay, but with tattoos as well.
Familiar faces and characters one has already built a relationship with are the most obvious choices, but they also have to be updated for a new generation of players.
Taking some characters from another game is also a good idea for fan service.
Presenting characters with this style is simply awesome.
Something else that has been iconic is the mask of mayhem that so many enemies have worn over the years and that’s a clear indication of who can be shot. However, this one has so many hidden things that people are still trying to figure out what it all means.
Gearbox isn’t your typical company, as it has released a DLC for a 7 year-old game, preparing new and old gamers alike for the third installment.
Whoever said that game design is easy hasn’t tried it yet and doesn’t know how much know-how has to be applied. Compared to filmmaking, there might be even more to take into account.
Sometimes feedback of the community can be vital to know that one shouldn’t always rely on the same old characters or villains.
Borderlands has always been quite fresh when it comes to characters, and introducing two villains that use their influence of social media and YouTube for bad deeds should already be a (controversial) winner.
It seems that the marketing machine has been strong, and I have to say that I’m also very excited about the release of Borderlands 3, especially since I know how passionate the team behind it is. I’d get the game because of Randy’s commitment alone.
There are so many ways to bring players back into the game…
… but being able to fly one of these spaceships? That’s beyond coolness!
It has definitely been a long journey for the team…
… one that will finally be rewarded with the release.
I didn’t have any questions, but I still had to talk to Randy, telling him just how the Tales from the Borderlands game encouraged me to play the original titles. It became abundantly clear that Randy wasn’t a PR person who simply talked business, but who told everything from his heart, with an unmatched sense of humor that made the keynote one of the best of devcom and maybe one of the best I’ve heard from industry veterans in a long time. Talking to Roisin Doyle, head of International PR & Communications at 2K Games, was also a pleasure, and hopefully there will be a opportunity to review the final game, DLCs, and everything else connected to the franchise… which will probably take a year or so.
Finally I could get my hands on Robot Pumpkin Games‘ visual novel choose-your-own-adventure game The Innsmouth Case. It turned out to be a great mix of comedy and horror/thriller, or it should have turned out like that. Being hard-pressed on time, I finished the game in 5 minutes, simply because I didn’t choose the way of the adventurer. So hiding under the table, pretending not to be in the office meant that one could simply avoid being bothered with the investigation. Of course the game shouldn’t be played like that, but having the option made it already different from all sorts of games pushing you in a certain direction. The game is still not finished, and mostly it’s in German, but the English version was pretty good, and with some nice artwork to accompany certain character encounters, this should also be a title accessible to people who aren’t so fond of reading simple text. After having talked to the team that is partly based in Cologne, I wished them all the best for the future, and hopefully my recommendations to one of my Adventure-Treff colleagues and Falko Loeffler will help promoting the game. For more information, please visit the official website.
Speaking of adventure games, I forgot to mention that I was sitting together with my Adventure-Treff collegues during the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure talk on Sunday, and it wasn’t any different with the next one: Beyond a Steel Sky 2 – Breaking and redefining the Rules of Adventure Writing with A.I. by Charles Cecil, founder and CEO at Revolution.
Having a dynamic environment with people following their daily routines in adventure games is tricky, but Charles already tried it with Lure of the Temptress, even if it meant that one would be looking for certain people in various places, which could become quite irritating.
Revolution Software is obviously better known for the Broken Sword titles, which I already reviewed: Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut, Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror” Original+Remastered, Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, Broken Sword: Angel of Death, and Broken Sword: The Serpent’s Curse. However, there’s still Beneath a Steel Sky, a game that was made in cooperation with Dave Gibbons who is probably most famous for the Watchmen comic.
Beneath a Steel Sky has certainly lost none of its storytelling appeal and pixel art style and it’s also available for free on PC. But it has taken quite some time for a sequel to finally materialize…
Of course the main topic of the talk wasn’t simply about Revolution’s games, but what AI could do in an adventure title. Charles showed one scene in which the environment reacted to the player’s actions: The character carried a sausage around and birds that wanted the meat followed him. There was another scene in which one had to trick a robot into investigating a certain area and one had to pick it up via a crane in order to reach its batteries. Two examples that showed how the environment, puzzles solving, and AI worked closely together.
Of course this was only a short glimpse into the production of the game that would still take some time before it will be published, but Charles seemed confident as ever that the audience would go and play the original and be excited about the new one. And with that talk of one of the most prominent adventure game designers who is still down to earth with his vision and storytelling, this was the best end of the day one could wish for. For more information about the game, please visit the official website and check out the trailer.
Oh no, wait, it wasn’t over yet, as I still had a very short talk with Alexandra Palme, responsible for marketing & PR at Mixtvision Mediengesellschaft mbH, who held a press conference about their line-up Minute of Islands, FAR: Lone Sails (the Nintendo Switch version), and Interrogation. There wasn’t really time to catch up, as I had to catch my train, but maybe there would be time at gamescom the next day(s)? Who knows… we’ll see… with the next big feature!
But of course not without a final look at the goodies of Day 2…
More bottle openers, but a very cool H.P. Lovecraft-inspired button, plus lovely artwork.