Friday, February 29, 2008

Developer Vents on Making Games for the PC Platform

Here's a post made by Michael Fitch, a producer for the PC game 'Titan Quest':

"Greetings:
So,
ILE shut down. This is tangentially related to that, not why they shut down, but part of why it was such a difficult freaking slog trying not to. It's a rough, rough world out there for independent studios who want to make big games, even worse if you're single-team and don't have a successful franchise to ride or a wealthy benefactor. Trying to make it on PC product is even tougher, and here's why.

Piracy. Yeah, that's right, I said it. No, I don't want to re-hash the endless "piracy spreads awareness", "I only pirate because there's no demo", "people who pirate wouldn't buy the game anyway" round-robin. Been there, done that. I do want to point to a couple of things, though.

One, there are other costs to piracy than just lost sales. For example, with TQ, the game was pirated and released on the nets before it hit stores. It was a fairly quick-and-dirty crack job, and in fact, it missed a lot of the copy-protection that was in the game. One of the copy-protection routines was keyed off the quest system, for example. You could start the game just fine, but when the quest triggered, it would do a security check, and dump you out if you had a pirated copy. There was another one in the streaming routine. So, it's a couple of days before release, and I start seeing people on the forums complaining about how buggy the game is, how it crashes all the time. A lot of people are talking about how it crashes right when you come out of the first cave. Yeah, that's right. There was a security check there.

So, before the game even comes out, we've got people bad-mouthing it because their pirated copies crash, even though a legitimate copy won't. We took a lot of shit on this, completely undeserved mind you. How many people decided to pick up the pirated version because it had this reputation and they didn't want to risk buying something that didn't work? Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecy."

There's more....read the full post here:
http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/showthread.php?t=42663

It's an interesting read because you'll learn about the challenges PC developers face when making games for the PC platform. After reading that, I feel a bit sorry for PC developers in general. From reading that post, it seems that developing games for the PC platform must be incredibly difficult.

From a consumer standpoint, I used to be a PC gamer myself, but I stopped because PCs seem to require that you upgrade your video card, CPU, motherboard and RAM every six months. Having average hardware yields average performance out of your games, and it doesn't help that the advertising on PCs always goes along the lines of "Buy this so that you will play your games the way they're MEANT to be played." At first I must admit I found the whole 'upgrade-mania" that's part and parcel of PC gaming to be quite a bit of fun.....but it does get taxing on the wallet at some point. Couple that with the fact that big games for the PC only come out every other year (if you're lucky), and when they do come out, they always have system requirements that are higher than what you anticipated they'd be. So you end up spending even more on PC hardware, just to make sure everything works perfectly.

At some point I switched to console gaming because there's less of a need for system maintenance and hardware upgrades with the format. I don't have to worry that I'm running a game at a less-than-optimal rate than my peers, because everyone with the same console as you has the same hardware; and I guess even developers will find that easier because they have a set target configuration to work with when making games. This ensures that the quality of their games is more focused and consistent, too.

The only negative with console gaming?

Console wars on the Internet.

"My multiplatform port is better than your port!"


"The PS3 is better than the Xbox 360 because it has Blu-ray! Movies FTMFW!!!"


"Uncharted justifies my $600 purchase! YESSS!!!"


"Final Fantasy 13 is PS3 exclusive! EXCLUUUUUSIVE! That JRPG of yours is just a copy of this! So what if it was worked on by the father of Final Fantasy? We've still got the BRAND! THE BRAND!!!!! LOLZ"


I see this a lot on NEOGAF forums. Every single day. I try to ignore it and still go to NEOGAF because they get all the console gaming news first. It's still annoying to me when I see it though.

...hmm, come to think of it, when I was a PC gamer usually the forum threads are like this:

"OMG my rig can do 400 FPS, a whopping 4% better than your rig! pwn3d lol"

The Temple of Enlightenment

Just wanted to blog about this dungeon in Lost Odyssey - the Temple of Enlightenment. It's an optional area that isn't required to beat the game (but it will give you a small background on Mack's newly-found spirit magic powers).

It's a very challenging dungeon. The design of it is very interesting because it feels 'three dimensional'; it's not a simple matter of going north, south, east and west; it also has pathways that go up and down, and that adds to the confusion. The pathways also change depending on how you move certain switches in the game, so it's very, very easy to get lost. Couple that with large mobs of very high level monsters that will attack you at any given opportunity....it's quite a challenge, folks.

As for the boss in the dungeon, he put up a good fight, but because of all the leveling you'll get from playing in this area, it wasn't too difficult. The boss also has a cool spell that I wish I could equip on my party...the 'Halberd of the Heavens' (something along those lines; i forgot the exact name....but it's really, really cool)

Just a tip for other players in this area....when you first arrive here, face the high level monsters and give your characters some muscles. But when you've grown a bit weary of fighting so many enemies, don't forget that you already have the 'Turn tail' skill by this point in the game. This skill is very useful if you don't want to lose your bearings/don't want to get lost in the confusing pathways of the Temple of Enlightenment. Once you're satisfied with your characters' levels, use 'turn-tail' to escape your enemies instantly and continue exploring the temple.

These kinds of optional, high level areas should be part of every kind of RPG, not just JRPGs but even WRPGs like Mass Effect or Oblivion--a dungeon which really requires your high-level skills and a bit more effort than the areas for the main quest. I liked how this area adds even more gameplay to an already massive JRPG.

Gameplay time is now at 88 hours, with characters crossing level 70+; Kaim already has over 9999 HP thanks to the Gigantes Brooch accessory! Still, so many achievements not yet unlocked; I don't know if I ever will get all of them. But I do want to face 'The Immortal', the boss of the Backyard battles.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tales of Vesperia Press Release from Namco Bandai Games


Finished Lost Odyssey? Need another JRPG to look forward to? Tales of Vesperia looks like your best bet:


It's already been reported on the blog before, but it's nice to get an actual press release from Namco Bandai to solidify even further that the game is really coming out for the Xbox 360. For more screenshots, check the AllRPG.com link.

"Namco Bandai Games CELEBRATES 10th ANNIVERSARY OF TALES SERIES WITH TWO NEW GAMES in 2008

Tales of Vesperia™ for Xbox 360® and Tales of Symphonia®: Dawn of the New World™ for Wii™ Highlight Celebrated Role-Playing Series' First Decade

SANTA CLARA, Calif., (February 27, 2008) – NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc. today announced Tales of Vesperia™ for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and Tales of Symphonia®: Dawn of the New World™ for Wii™. Marking the 10th anniversary of the Tales franchise in North America, these two new games expand the series' winning combination of real-time combat, captivating storylines and remarkable graphics while introducing original elements that set a new standard for role-playing gameplay and interactive storytelling.

The debut of the Tales series on the Xbox 360, Tales of Vesperia launches the series to new heights of interactive narrative and engrossing gameplay with incredible anime-style graphics, a captivating storyline and characters as well as an upgraded battle system. Set in a world reliant on a mysterious ancient technology known as "blastia,” the game follows former knight Yuri as he delves into a shadowy plot to use these magical devices to control civilization, or destroy it.

A bold new interpretation of the elements that made the Tales series a hit with gamers around the world, Tales of Vesperia delivers a standard-setting RPG experience on the Xbox 360. Using an all-new graphics engine and character designs by the renowned Kosuke Fujishima (Ah! My Goddess, Sakura Taisen), the game delivers high-quality HD character models and environments that are indistinguishable from traditional cel-based anime. The game also makes significant additions to the series' trademark real-time combat system, allowing players to do battle in massive battlefields and learn new special attacks that are tied to individual weapons. New finishing blows allow players to take down enemies in a single hit with correctly timed button combinations, while mission-based battles increase the variety of each encounter as players gain unique items by fulfilling various battle objectives. Players can also use materials collected by successfully executing finishing moves to craft rare and unique equipment for their characters.

Set two years after the events of the award-winning Tales of Symphonia for the Nintendo GameCube™, Dawn of the New World follows the journey of two new young heroes, Emil Castagnier and Marta Lualdi, as they seek to uncover the mystery of why their world has fallen into ruin. In their quest, their paths will cross with the original cast of Tales of Symphonia including Lloyd and Colette, as well as a summon spirit known as Ratatosk who claims to be the lord of all monsters.

Advancing the combination of story, characters and real-time battles that made Tales of Symphonia one of the best-selling and highest-rated role-playing games for the Nintendo GameCube, Dawn of the New World introduces a new monster recruitment feature in which players can capture more than 200 unique enemies and train them to actively participate in battle. Players can then feed these monsters to make them more effective, and even evolve them into several new fearsome forms. The game also features an updated real-time battle system that lets players move freely in all directions around the battlefield, execute powerful unison attacks and take advantage of a new elemental alignment system for even more strategic depth. Dawn of the New World gives players complete control over a full roster of Tales of Symphonia characters and ally monsters, letting them customize their adventure party into hundreds of unique combinations.

"The Tales series is one of our most successful and well-regarded franchises, and we're celebrating its 10th anniversary in a big way with two new games that redefine role-playing on the Xbox 360 and Wii,” said Todd Thorson, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc. "Not only can gamers look forward to playing these two incredible titles later this year, but we'll be supporting special anniversary-themed programs throughout the year to thank all the fans of the series for their dedication and enthusiasm.”

Tales of Vesperia for the Xbox 360 and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World for Wii will be available in stores later this year. Tales of Vesperia is currently featured in the March issue of Play magazine, and Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World is featured in the March issue of Nintendo Power magazine, both now on sale nationwide. For more information on the Tales series, please visit http://www.namcobandaigames.com/ "

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Breaking News! MS Xbox Japan Interview Hints at LOST ODYSSEY Sequels!


Based on this article here:
http://trendy.nikkeibp.co.jp/article/special/20080222/1007372/

It's in Japanese....based on a translation from NEOGAF by Agent Icebeezy, it says that the Microsoft Home and Entertainment division in Japan is quite happy with the 100K sales of Lost Odyssey in Japan, and they're growing the series for the long term---in other words, sequels for Lost Odyssey are coming.

I don't know Japanese but a friend of mine gave me a link to a pretty good Japanese/English online translator. I just ran this through those auto translators so this may not be accurate. I hope people here who understand Japanese can verify my interpretation of the translation.

Original Japanese Text:
――『ロストオデッセイ』のセールスは推定で約10万本と、当初の期待値からすると、少し物足りない結果だったでしょうか。

泉水氏:いえ、セールスについては、まだまだこれからだと思っています。RPGシリーズの初回モノはメガヒットにつながらない傾向が過去にもありますからね。『ロストオデッセイ』はユーザーの評判もいいですし、まずはいいスタートが切れたと評価しています。
 マイクロソフトにとって、『ロストオデッセイ』は非常に重要なコンテンツですので、このタイトルを大事に育てていかなければなりません。欧米でのリリースが始まりましたので、そちらで大きな反響となれば、日本でも再度、話題を提供することができると期待しています。
Our 'interpretation' of the translation:

Q: Was the sales performance of 'Lost Odyssey' not satisfactory considering it sold about 100,000 copies in Japan?

Sensui: It is not possible to say that the sales are bad since we cannot predict the future sales of the title. But Lost Odyssey has its similarities with to a megahit RPG series. The reputation of the team is also very good. Lost Odyssey has a pretty good start.

But because 'Lost Odyssey' is an important title for Microsoft, it is necessary to raise the awareness of this title. The game is only being released in Europe and America, it is expected that Japan can offer the title again if the reception in those areas is pretty good.

I looked through the whole article and that was the only mention of Lost Odyssey there. I think we can be a little certain that MSKK (MS Japan) will continue the 'Lost Odyssey' series if Europe and America has a positive response to the game.

Other interesting things being discussed is that MS says that the 2007 software sales in Japan has surpassed the 2006 sales and they are happy that the response has been positive for 2007. Idol Master is the new 'face' of XBOX 360 Japan and the series has done exceptionally well for both the title and its XBOX Live merchandise.

There were also a lot of hard questions that were thrown in. MS is aware that the XBOX fans in Japan are posting suggestion and comments on how to improve their strategy. Among the biggest complaints are the lack of marketing support for the 360 and not being able to connect to the casual/core user base in Japan. While I can't make complete sense of Sensui's response, it seems like MSKK is targetting the hard core Japanese market and that strategy seemed to have worked in their favor. XBOX Live has also seen pretty good growth in Japan and the number of paying membership and sales have increased, although Sensui could not disclose the figures. Other than that, the Japanese are beginning to see that there are a lot of quality games being released by western developers particularly Call of Duty 4 and Assasin's Creed. At the same time, Sensui is proud that Capcom and Namco Bandai titles are flourishing in the west for the XBOX 360.

Nice interview all in all. The interview always makes it apparent that the 360 has dismal hardware sales in Japan (a point that has been repeated over and over throughout the whole article). Sensui believes that despite their low hardware sales they are offering quality software titles to the Japanese gamers and that they are quite pleased that they are slowly making some headway in Japan.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reading Between the Lines on the Internet


Gamespot's 'Most Popular Xbox 360 games Available Now' section says that Frontlines: Fuel of War is the most popular game today; not surprisingly they've also got this huge ad spread for the same game on the front page of the site.


In other news, Lost Odyssey is still the number one game on Play-Asia; in fact it has taken both the number 1 and number 2 spots (for the Asian version and US version, respectively). No doubt the Asian version is selling very well because it's PAL compatible. I'm also surprised that the US version is selling well on Play-Asia despite the well-known packaging problem.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Scytherage's Review of Lost Odyssey


Rating: GO BUY IT!

When the credits started to roll for Lost Odyssey, I realized one thing: This game was never about advancing the technology. It was never about pushing more polygons than Gears of War or having better anti-aliasing than any other next-generation game currently out in the market. Lost Odyssey is more about advancing the role-playing game genre, in terms of providing a more mature story, game characters that are more 'human', and themes that are more universal and relevant to people's real lives.

I could review Lost Odyssey in one way. I could talk about those moments during a few cutscenes when the framerate is less than ideal. Or I could talk about those areas in the game that are lighted wrongly and seem less aesthetically pleasing compared to the rest of the game.

But personally, I'd rather say my piece on Lost Odyssey based on the whole game and not its parts.

Lost Odyssey stands out among most other games in the role-playing genre because of its characters. In most games these days, characters only have two emotions: they're either really, really angry, or they're really, really serious. Western RPGs are particularly guilty of painting game characters like this, and you can't blame them somewhat: when faced with the task of saving the galaxy or the entire continent from some ancient evil, it would be pretty hard to crack a smile, and it'd be pretty pathetic to just break down and start crying.

Lost Odyssey succeeds by providing a wider range of emotions for its diverse set of characters, and their emotional responses are highlighted by placing them in unique situations, some of which are usually not depicted in most video games. I don't recall a game where the cruel realities of life, such as death and the pain of loss, are highlighted not for the spectacle of killing but for their profundity in exhibiting the limits of the human condition---the finiteness of life, human weakness, and the search for meaning. Lost Odyssey does not push any answers to life's mysteries; instead, it puts these in the perspective of characters who have lived for a thousand years. Their reflections on these matters are highlighted in the segments of the game called "A Thousand Years of Dreams", and at other times are highlighted throughout various moments in the game itself, through situations or dialogue pieces with other characters. Despite the somewhat dreary, depressing tone in the game's first few moments, towards the end, it is clear that the message of the game is one of hope---that despite the finiteness of the lives of mortals, it is in their capacity to perform transcendent acts of love and friendship that ultimately gives their lives meaning.

And what about the turn-based battle system implemented in Lost Odyssey? Sakaguchi returns the system to its basics, while at the same time adding some improvements which increase the degree of strategy and foresight needed to succeed. Gone are the summons of the Final Fantasy series, the limit breaks, the 'Active Time Battle' timer.....these are all removed in favor of a simpler system wherein you must maintain your party's GC to protect your weaker characters in the back row. The GC meter does not go back up after healing your front row characters; it continues to go down unless you perform specific skills or actions, and because of this, protecting your front row from getting damaged is more crucial than ever before. This is because, once the GC is at too low a level, your back row characters will suffer massive damage from enemy attacks. Placing your weaker characters in the back row is crucial because the damage that they get is far less than if you placed all the characters in front.

Also, spellcasting is no longer instantaneous; some spells take more than one or two turns to execute, and this balances out the degree of power that is granted to each type of fighting class. Your mortal characters are either fighters or mages and not both (with the exception of one character---Mack), and you can't customize them; your immortals, however, can be customized because they can learn skills from the mortal characters. This may seem like a limitation at first, but this forces you to develop all of your characters since there is an incentive to include every single one in your battles. Every time the mortals level up, they gain even more skills which you can then teach to your immortals, in order to make them truly 'immortal'. Overall I thought that this was a very interesting system which not only made turn-based combat more challenging, it also made victories and character customization all the more satisfying. You'll find yourself mixing up various skills from different mortals to get interesting effects....and with so many skills at your disposal, there's a lot of incentive to spend dozens upon dozens of hours just developing your characters, mixing up skills and making everyone in your party stronger and more prepared for whatever the game might throw at you.

Regarding the game's difficulty, Lost Odyssey is no pushover. In each battle scenario you will find yourself thinking of your next move and not simply spamming the 'ATTACK' command like in previous Final Fantasy games. The first time you will experience this is with the first boss, Grilgan....it takes far more effort for beginners to defeat this boss compared to other JRPGs. Normally games throw a very easy boss at you at the start of the game....Lost Odyssey does not. It assumes that the player has some degree of knowledge of the turn-based system. While one could say that this might be a mistake and make the game less inviting for new players, the game does have tutorials which explain the basics on your way to this first boss; so by the time that the player has reached Grilgan, he should have some idea of his other options which can help him defeat the boss with relative ease. It also forces the player to explore the other options available....you can use magic, cast protective spells, use items that make your character more powerful....the difficulty of the first boss forces the player to figure it out, and in my book, that's a good thing. There's too many games out there that spoonfeed you for the first five hours before the final level. This game does not; and I applaud the game for it. I've read far too many "This game is too short!" complaints on the World Wide Web for other video games....Lost Odyssey provides a good challenge without bordering on impossible.


Lastly, the game really shines in the way it cohesively integrates storytelling with gameplay. At every stage it manages to introduce new elements or ideas which keep you playing; these come in the form of mini-games, cutscenes, plot twists, challenging enemies and interesting locales. With the game industry's current obssession with creating sandbox games, which strip the player's in-game character of any sort of real personality or depth, Lost Odyssey is a breath of fresh air. So what if you can't do whatever you want in the world of Lost Odyssey? Truth be told, this is a linear game---you go from point A to point B and you don't really get to choose how to get there. You don't make any moral choices and instead you're a passive observer to what happens to Kaim and his friends. For whatever lack of sophistication there is in the way the story plays out, the characters you control don't feel like soulless, empty avatars. And this makes the epic, 70 hour journey all worth it.

*SPOILER SECTION....regarding "The End". Do not read unless you have finished the game.*

When faced with the decision to end their immortality and part ways with their loved ones, or to stay trapped in the mortal world as immortals and continue to experience lifetimes of pain and sorrow, one character makes the supreme sacrifice so that the others could stay with the ones they love.

It's clear from the end that the character that makes this sacrifice is the most fitting. While the character does leave someone behind, the other characters have a lot more to lose by simply leaving that world.

In the end, the immortals could not immediately decide to return to their world because they cared so much for their friends....so much that they're willing to sacrifice living yet another eternity, even if they knew that their friends and loved ones would eventually die---even if they knew they'd likely see yet another series of endless lifetimes of sorrow, they believed that staying behind for these mortals was worth it....they saw dignity and nobility in these mortal beings and they loved them that much.

In a way, their action of staying behind is very selfless. They could have easily left that world and let their loved ones fend for themselves. Imagine if you had been living for hundreds of years, seeing everyone around you that you care about start dying....wouldn't the easier decision have been to just go back to your world, become mortal once again and wait for death? The immortals who stayed behind made the harder decision, the more unpopular decision...but in that case, they showed true selflessness and sacrificed their own personal happiness for the happiness of others.

That's what made the ending to Lost Odyssey so poignant and so beautiful. Me and my wife have been talking about this one and we both feel the same way. I don't recall a video game that ended this unconventionally, and with such wisdom. Truth be told, I was half expecting them to all leave the humans behind, and then it would be such a sad end....I'm glad that it ended the way that it did.

The "Thousand Years of Dreams", while they portray a lot of human tragedies, I feel they were never meant to give such a bleak picture of human existence. Rather, they show how the finiteness of life ennobles humanity; given that each decision made by mortal men could be their last, each action then becomes all the more important, all the more significant....And given the ending of the game, I don't think it's right to argue that the stories are completely unrelated to the game. One wouldn't be able to understand why the Immortals appreciated the Mortals without these stories.

And regarding the character that makes the ultimate sacrifice, I truly felt saddened when that character did what had to be done....it was a tear-inducing moment, and one of the best moments in the entire game. That character did leave behind someone...but I think that character knew that it was for the best.

In the end, it seems to hint that the story could continue. It's debatable whether or not that character died or that character made it to the other world, alive. There are hints that the character didn't make it, but then, if you visit Gongora's Mansion (sidequest), there are hints there about how the other world interacts with that world and how it might be possible to survive the trip back, and to return.

That said, the story for Lost Odyssey left me breathless and amazed...that's one of the more fascinating, mature and unique endings that I've ever seen for a video game. I'm so glad that I had the chance to play a game like this. It will be a long time before we see another game like this again....

* END SPOILER SECTION.*

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Scytherage: I've finally finished Lost Odyssey

My final impressions for Lost Odyssey, now that I've finished the game.

This is my old "Best RPGs list".

1. Baldur's Gate 2 Shadows of Amn + Throne of Bhaal
2. Final Fantasy 6
3. Final Fantasy 7

This is my new one.

1. Lost Odyssey
2. Baldur's Gate 2 Shadows of Amn + Throne of Bhaal
3. Final Fantasy 6
4. Final Fantasy 7

Total play time: 73 hours
Overall Character Level: 49-50+
Playing style: Mostly completionist; did most of the sidequests except for the Temple of Enlightenment, and the Backyard Battles.

I'm writing a review for this game tomorrow.

Final Fantasy XIII Continues to be Vaporware at GDC


I remember reading last week that Square Enix was going to have a talk about their White Engine and possibly show off Final Fantasy XIII in real-time.

According to this news, however, that didn't happen:
http://blog.wired.com/games/2008/02/finalfantasy.html?cid=103890992#comment-103890992

"'Crystal Tools': Final Fantasy Engine Renamed, Supports Wii

By Chris Kohler February 22, 2008 3:45:11 PM Categories: GDC 2008

SAN FRANCISCO -- 'Crystal Tools' is the new name of Square Enix's company-wide 3-D game development engine, and it'll support Wii.

At Game Developers Conference, Taku Murata, GM of Square Enix's research and development division, announced the new name and more details on the multiplatform development tools, originally called "White Engine."

Although "White Engine" was originally announced in 2006 as a PlayStation 3 game creation platform, it has since become multiplatform, including Xbox 360 and PC capabilities.

"Crystal Tools," Murata said, will also be used in the development of Square Enix's upcoming next-gen MMORPG.

Some of the "Crystal Tools" features will work on the Wii, Murata said, although "it's a secret." Well, it's certainly not a secret anymore.

Murata showed the assembled audience, comprised mostly of programmers, some screenshots of the tools. He showed a character model viewer and a cut-scene editor. The latter allows designers to craft real-time cinematic scenes using tools very much like Final Cut Pro or other movie editors.

Murata finished by showing a trailer of Final Fantasy XIII. Unfortunately for everyone expecting a giant info blowout or a real-time demonstration of the power of Crystal Tools, it was the same BLIZZRAD! pre-rendered footage from E3 2006."

I disagree that Wii compatibility for the White Engine is news, because the real news here is, where is Final Fantasy XIII? Why are they still using older, PRE-RENDERED footage to show off their game engine?

Perhaps this mythical 'White Engine' is nothing more than a white elephant.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Gamasutra Article on Lost Odyssey

This is a great article which provides some insight on the development of Lost Odyssey. Click the link below to read the whole thing.

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=17559

Here's a snippet:

Feelplus president Ray Nakazato was at the 2008 Game Developers Conference to discuss the collaboration between Final Fantasy producer Hironobu Sakaguchi's Mistwalker group and Feelplus to develop Lost Odyssey. It originally began as an in-house Microsoft project before Feelplus assumed a role, Nakazato explained, as he showed a trailer of the fantasy RPG.

Feelplus was established in 2005 to develop Lost Odyssey. Currently, there are 100 developers and artists on staff, many of them Microsoft and Sega veterans, and Feelplus also relied on freelancers to help develop the game. The studio is part of holding company AQ Interactive Group, a larger merger between three development studios: Artoon, Cavia and Feelplus. In addition to supporting Sakaguchi on Blue Dragon, Feelplus contributed to Yoshi's Island.

Cavia was responsible most recently for developing Biohazard (Resident Evil): Umbrella Chronicles for Wii. Altogether, the three studios have some 300 employees. Currently, their primary business is to make games for other publishers, but AQ Interactive has recently become a publisher itself, having recently acquired U.S.-based publisher XSeed.

Nakazato then explained the division of labor involved in Lost Odyssey: The project was funded and project-managed, tested and asset-localized by Microsoft. Mistwalker, with Sakaguchi and award-winning Japanese novelist Kiyoshi Shigematsu at the helm, took responsibility for the story and character design, with well-known Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu creating the music, while Feelplus devleoped the actual product.

"To develop games, or to try to get professional game developers under the auspices of Microsoft was quite difficult, and it could be that Microsoft employees are expensive. So for that reason, they decided to create an independent studio, which is why Feelplus was established," Nakazato explained. It took the team more than four years, including the earliest days of Lost Odyssey's development, to create the game.

In the middle of 2006, Feelplus developed a Japan-only playable demo. "We developed this, or finished it, around June 2006, and then gave it off to the players in December 2006. But I think this was too early, because it ended up being a version that wasn't particularly polished at that point. But we launched a playable version a year and a half before the full launch," Nakazato recalled.

The game uses Unreal Engine 3 as middleware -- and the team did UE3 integration four times, which Nakazato said was "quite a task."

For the ambitious development project, the team divided into several groups: one responsible for building the game itself, a design group responsible for database systems and AI, and a level design team. A production management group was in charge of the game's cutscenes, of which there are over eight hours, including about 40 minutes worth of pre-rendered movies with the rest as scripted real-time events.

"All of these groups would create these parts and then put them together, and then the game and the cutscenes would be put together by combining these components. And then the Microsoft project manager would be in charge of project management," explained Nakazato. Finally, a Mistwalker-Microsoft liason would coordinate among the groups.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lost Odyssey Debuts at #2 on VGChartz.com's US Game Sales Chart


According to the site VGChartz.com, Lost Odyssey sold over 101,277 copies in its first week in the United States. It's a very strong start for Sakaguchi's latest JRPG epic. I hope the game will continue to sell well, and encourage Mistwalker to continue making games like it. Good sales will also discourage them from paying any attention to the largely misinformed/misguided/ignorant reviews that the game has been getting from the general gaming press.

In other news, the Xbox 360 version of Devil May Cry 4 continues to sell very well, and is number 1 on the chart. You may ask, why isn't this the headline? Well, DMC4 is expected to do well; it got great reviews and has quite a large fanbase...so the game selling well isn't really news. Lost Odyssey selling well IS definitely news, because this game had poor reviews from the gaming press, but received great buzz from gamers everywhere, as evidenced by the feedback on most gaming forums out there. I expected Lost Odyssey to only do 30,000 in sales, or even worse. I'm quite happy to see that the game surpassed my sales expectations for it. I feel that the game deserves to succeed in the marketplace, and that Mistwalker/Feel Plus deserves to be rewarded for a job well done!

Lost Odyssey selling well in the marketplace also proves another thing: gamers don't pay that much attention to game reviews anymore. With the free exchange of user feedback on the Internet, it seems gamers find it more reliable to get feedback from fellow gamers on whether or not a particular game is worth buying. Game reviews are losing their value in the game industry because, in the end, they're only one opinion from one other gamer, who most of the time doesn't enjoy the genre or the type of game that they're forced to play. Why listen to one gamer's opinion when you can get many others' opinions online, and make your buying decision based on that? Also, with other sources of information such as game videos, game demos, trailers or site previews, gamers can easily make their own decision on whether or not a particular game is really for them.

Also, I think another reason why the game did well despite the ignorant reviews was because of Microsoft's stronger efforts in marketing the game. With Mistwalker's earlier release, Blue Dragon, Microsoft did not do a good job in pitching the game in the US marketplace, and that's the primary reason why it didn't sell very well. For Lost Odyssey it seems that Microsoft learned their lesson...I'm glad they didn't drop the ball for marketing the game this time around. It wouldn't be in their favor to lose Mistwalker's support...the important thing for the Xbox 360 now is to continue expanding its game lineup and aim for more diversity and range in its game library. With games like Lost Odyssey, the Xbox can move away from its reputation as a 'shooter box' and serve a larger demographic of gamers by providing a wider range of genres and game experiences.

Tales of Vesperia coming to Xbox 360 (Now OFFICIAL)


I CALLED IT!

Tales of Vesperia confirmed again for the Xbox 360!

Article also posted on the front page of Pinoyxbox.com

Interview with the developer (Source):

Yosh[ito] Higuchi, Director and Tsutomu Gouda, Producer
Interview by Nick Des Barres & Dai Kohama / Transcribed by Dai Kohama
Translated by Nick Des Barres

play: Thanks for sitting down with us today. Can you first tell us about your role in the Tales series so far?

Yosh[ito] Higuchi: I wasn't an original member of the Tales team. I began in planning on the original Soulcalibur for arcade and Dreamcast, and eventually joined Tales after a number of other projects. My first was Tales of Symphonia on GameCube, followed by the overseas versions, and a PlayStation 2 port which was only released in Japan. Most recently I directed Tales of the Abyss, and now I'm directing Tales of Vesperia.

Is Vesperia being developed by the same team as Symphonia and Abyss?

YH: Mostly, yes. We originally called ourselves "Team Symphonia"-you could say 90% of us are working on Vesperia today, myself and the scenario writer included. All of the core staff remain the same.

Unusually for a Tales, this game hasn't even been officially announced in Japan yet. We don't have much information at all-can you introduce the project for us?

YH: Well, we've set our target age range for Vesperia a little higher than previous games. Tales is usually aimed at middle and high school students-teenagers. With this game being on HD hardware, we want to cater to the high school/university student age range and higher. Tales games are usually stories about the main character's growth, but you could say our main character for Vesperia, Yuri, already has a fully-formed personality. His narrative purpose is really to spur growth in the friends he meets along his journey. This is one of the two key through lines of our story.

And the other?

YH: This will take some explaining, but Yuri is a very empathetic person. He cares deeply about his friends and family, though he doesn't have any blood relatives of his own. As an example, let's say he's faced with two problems: On one hand there's someone in a lot of trouble-let's say this person is starving and penniless. At the same time some faction or other may be trying to perpetrate much larger crimes. Yuri is the kind of person who would judge the larger crime to be out of his reach, and he'd try to save the starving person first. In contrast to that, we have another character, Flynn, who Yuri grew up with. Like Yuri, he has a strong sense of justice and wants to better the world, but he wants to do it from within the establishment. Flynn's looking at the bigger picture, trying to use politics to better his country. The conflict and contrast between Yuri and Flynn is our other main through line.

Would you say they're like rivals?

YH: in a way, yes. It's not as if they're necessarily at odds with one another, though over the course of the game their differences in ideology will cause them to clash. By the way, in the short teaser trailer you can see on the net, Yuri is the character with long black hair, and Flynn the one in white armor.

I watched the teaser so many times (laughs). The visuals made it obvious this game would be HD, but I have to admit I was very surprised to discover just minutes ago that Vesperia is for Xbox 360.
YH: Oh? Why is that? (laughs)

I wondered if you were aiming directly at the Western markets.

YH: No, it's not like that at all-we're not that bigheaded yet (laughs). Like always, I think that our Japanese fans understand Tales the best. But does that mean Tales can't succeed in the West? Of course not-Symphonia proved that there are plenty of Western gamers who appreciate the very Japanese sense Tales has. Our goal is to make this game for everyone who appreciates that sort of aesthetic, so, no we're not aiming directly at the Western market.

We love the 360, but it hasn't been doing very well in Japan.

YH: I suppose you want to ask, "why 360?" (laughs) We had actually begun research into HD hardware while still working on Abyss. When Abyss was finished, it was very well-received, and we had to decide where we were going next. There were many possibilities-at the time, we could certainly have done another game on PS2. But we felt there was a need to go HD. Logic would dictate we'd have to do it eventually, so why not now? That left two choices. When we started this project, the 360 had the more complete development environment.

Was that the only reason?

YH: Well, even thought the West isn't our main target, I knew we had to cater to our overseas fans as well, so that's another reason. But this doesn't mean we're not going to work on PS3 or other hardware-just that Tales is coming to the 360 first.

Can you see Vesperia getting ported to PS3 some time in the future, like Eternal Sonata?

YH: Yes, I won't deny the possibility. But we're not thinking about it yet-there are so many other things to concentrate on first.

I was also surprised because Namco Bandai stated just last year that the Nintendo DS would be the lead platform for Tales going forward.

YH: Uh oh, the hard question (laughs).

Is that still the case?

YH: Well, I don't want to play word games here (laughs). I think what they meant was that the DS would be the lead platform for Tales in 2007. The industry is going through such dizzying change lately, and you do have to change with the times. A statement like that reflects on the entire Tales brand, so I can't really say too much about it (laughs). For me, personally, I don't think the people that actually make the games should decide whether or not their title is in the main Tales series. In the case of Vesperia, I'd like to leave that decision up to the fans. If they see these images and think it's a spin off, then it certainly is. But if they think of it as the main series...

I think most people will consider Vesperia to be in the main series (laughs).

YH: I think so too. Of course, I also think Tales is the kind of series that needs an installment on every platform-it's our duty to the fans. I think it would be very difficult to try and consolidate Tales onto one platform. Even so, when that announcement was made, last July, it goes without saying the DS was the best-selling hardware. I do believe it was the right decision for 2007.

I'm just relieved that Tales isn't actually abandoning consoles.

YH: That's a good reaction (laughs). You know, when that announcement was made, Vesperia had been in development longer than all the other Tales games that were slated to be released. I mean, we'd been working on it since even before Abyss. It was a little difficult standing silently by the sidelines while a "lead platform" for the series was being announced (laughs). But our fans are sharp...I think they probably knew, "this can't be".

I know, at least, that the DS announcement didn't make American Tales fans very happy.

YH: But Dragon Quest IX is going to be on DS, right? I think that was the right choice, I really do.

From a financial perspective, I'd agree.

YH: Yes, that too, but everything about DQIX...isn't it so perfectly Japanese?

You could certainly say that.

YH: That's why I think it was right. But Tales has been 3-D since Symphonia, so... how should I put it. In my personal opinion, when speaking of the "right" evolution for a series...if high-spec hardware with beautiful graphics capabilities comes out, then you have to make beautiful, high-spec games for it-while still ensuring they have a good deal of content. That's one "right path evolution can take. In the case of other hardware like Wii or DS, shouldn't you try something completely different from what's come before? Something suited to the hardware? That's what I believe.

You said earlier that Symphonia proved the West could be accepting of Tales. Why do you think that particular game did so well overseas, and why do you think Abyss was a sales disappointment?

YH: I think the biggest factor was probably the state of the market at the time. Also, Symphonia was only available on GameCube, and the system had a huge share of the younger gamer market. In Europe, Nintendo published the game themselves, and marketed it extremely effectively to that age range. In the case of Abyss, I often hear that Hapanese RPGs are hard to sell on PS2-when the Western gamer thinks "RPG" and "PS2" they naturally think "Final Fantasy". So, if they hear about a Tales, they may expect a game like FF, but the visuals tell them it's something completely different. I think we always knew Abyss would be a little tough to sell overseas. Of course, that doesn't mean it was a worse game thatn Symphonia, or that it wouldn't resonate with Western audiences. I think it was mainly a problem with perception.


"The environments in Tales of Vesperia appear almost drawn on canvas, thanks to fancy blending tech and a strict design policy that dictated all hand-painted textures."

Of course, we loved Abyss-we gave it a 9, and it was well-received by many other publications as well.

YH: Yes, we were very happy with the actual review scores...they actually served to make us realize we had made a mistake (laughs). Or perhaps I should say we were biased. Abyss was a very dark story, wasn't it? Really heavy, especially the middle section. I hope I don't sound rude, but we used to have a bias-we thought stories like that would fly in Japan, and maybe France, but wouldn't be accepted very well elsewhere. The Abyss reviews let us completely cast that bias aside. We realized we didn't have to be so concerned about the tone for overseas markets. It's funny, because that original bias actually served us well in Vesperia-one of our executives in charge of sales in America read the story and told me, "This is great! Yuri's awesome! He's like Jack Bauer!". I didn't really understand at first, but... (laughs)

Does Yuri not get a lot of sleep? (laughs)

YH: It's sort of like what I said before...laws don't mean much to Yuri. If he thinks he has to help someone, he doesn't feel any constraints in terms of the expectations of society. There's no "way things are done" for him. When our executive explained to me that this trait was cool in a Jack Bauer-ish way, I completely understood what he meant (laughs).

Yuri sounds like the polar opposite of Luke from Abyss.

YH: He is. You could definitely say that-he doesn't do a lot of growing up during the story, for one thing. But he does gain experience. Do you remember the giant floating ring over the city from the teaser trailer? It's a barrier-in Vesperia, the world's energy balance is breaking down, and there are more and more monsters being born. These barriers, projected from artifacts called "blastia", protect the cities from monster attacks. In the world of Vesperia, most people will never set foot outside the town they were born in.

The outside world is a complete unknown?

YH: Not entirely-a select few venture outside to do research, and there are military posts. Yuri himself was once a knight, so he has been outside briefly, but most people from his city have probably never even seen the sea. In contrast, Flynn regularly journeys outside to fight monsters and has seen a great many things there. Yuri becomes a little envious of that, and he decides to leave his city and see the world. In his case, it's really a story of gaining experience. But how about you see for yourself? (Ed.note-Mr. Higuchi hands play an Xbox 360 controller.) I'm afraid the intro anime isn't done yet, but...

Tales are always famous for their beautiful anime intros. Is Production I.G. handling this one again?

YH: Yes, but not just the intro-during the game, too. Vesperia will have the most anime FMV of any Tales yet, in full 720p HD.

Are you shooting for one DVD?

YH: Yes, it will all fit (laughs). But I think it will probably be dual layer.

This game looks absolutely spectacular in motion.

YH: Thank you. We've worked very hard to keep it "Tales-y".

It really looks like a living anime. The way the colors in the far distance bleed together, but the geometry remains sharp, like a hand-painted background-it's so much more appealing than games that try to impart a sense of distance with a simple rack-focus or tilt-shift type of blur effect.

YH: I agree, if you try to be realistic with focus effects it's just going to end up looking like Eternal Sonata. We were very conscious of not making it look like that game. I think Eternal Sonata is a very high-quality product, but it's not Tales, is it? For an anime look you have to keep a certain flatness.

Ah, the battles are 60 frames?

YH: I'm glad somebody noticed (laughs). You'd be surprised how many people, even developers, can't really tell the difference. Yes, our field graphics are 30 frames, battles 60 in Vesperia.

The battle system itself seems very Abyss. Is it still the FR-LMBS, "Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System?"

YH: It's an extension of that, called EFR-LMBS, "Evolved Flex-Range Linear Motion Battle System". Are system names very important in the West? (laughs) You might be surprised, but most Japanese don't really pay them much mind.

I was always under the impression that they were really big in Japan (laughs). How exactly has it been "Evolved"?

YH: Oh, so many ways (laughs). For instance, you know how a lot of MMORPGS have enemy links? We've incorporated that into Vesperia. If you get into an encounter where other enemies on the map can see each other, two or three groups of them might link together. In that case you might find yourself fighting seven or eight enemies at once.

In the new Tales of Innocence on DS, you can actually attack enemies on the field before you enter battle to gain an advantage. Will there be anything like that in Vesperia?

YH: You can't actually attack them, but you do get the traditional Tales series Sorceror's Ring and can affect enemies on the map with it. Also, you can now stock up to four Over Limit gauges. You can use one per character, or even use all four with one character...it's up to you. I can't say too much about it yet, but depending on your Over Limit level some interesting stuff can happen (laughs). Your regular attacks might get faster, or you might be able to uses Artes in rapid succession. You can create some pretty crazy combos with it.

"The first non-humanoid party member in Tales history. In battle Yuri's lithe canine companion seems to grip a dagger in his maw, and on field maps a long, thin pipe(!). What's he smoking, yo? Dognip?"

Will dungeons be mostly puzzle-based, like Symphonia, or will it be more of a mix like Abyss?

YH: In Symphonia almost every single dungeon was full of puzzles and gimmicks, but we think we achieved a nice balance in Abyss. You might have one straightforward dungeon, then a puzzle dungeon, back to straightforward again...Vesperia also has that kind of balance.

YH: I'd say it's more like Abyss. I'd like to do another really deep relationship system like Symphonia's some day, but it's an incredible amount of work. This time we wanted to concentrate entirely on making one pure, solid RPG, so there are no story branches based on affection. You have no idea how difficult those branches were to build in Symphonia (laughs). But people really seemed to like them. Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World on Wii will have that kind of system.
Tsutomu Gouda: Dawn of the New World will have a complex affection system, but there aren't any story branches (laughs).

So no multiple endings for Vesperia?

YH: No, only one true ending.

How about minigames? Everyone loved Dragon Buster in Abyss (laughs).

YH: I think we'll have something on par with previous games. I can't say yet if it will be as involved as Dragon Buster. We have a plan for one, but time is starting to get very short, so we may or may not be able to implement it. On the 360 you have Live!, right? There are going to be a number online rankings, and we're hoping one of those will be a ranking for the minigame.

Are you planning on any other Live! features?

YH: Definitely, but I'm not exactly sure what, yet (laughs). I can tell you that as a matter of policy we won't have anything you can only get through buying online. For example, we may have some items that are very hard to get in the game available as DLC, for people who would rather spend money instead of time on them.

So nothing like the DLC dungeons we see in games like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey?
YH: It's technically feasible-everything in the game is designed to be expandable. But I don't think we'll do it. I personally feel that it would be wrong for Tales's identity.

That's a very refreshing stance to hear on DLC.

YH: We at Team Symphonia were the first to add the "recap" system to the Tales series. Our decision not to have DLC-only features came from the same spirit-as you become an adult, you can't really play games every day, can you? Some people might only be able to play on the weekends-two or three hours per week. At that rate, you begin to forget the story...so that's why we implemented the recaps. Our stance with the DLC in Vesperia is the same: It's for gamers without a lot of free time. With that said, the ultimate achievement in Vesperia can't be bought with money. You have to do it yourself, and I think that's the way it should be.

How much total content can we expect, compared to past Tales games?

YH: I think it's very comparable to Abyss. That's rather a lot, and I think it's just the right amount (laughs). When we decided to build a next-gen game with the same amount of content as Abyss-I suppose it's really current-gen now, but it was definitely next-gen when we started-we had no idea how much work it would be (laughs). For example, the average map was now taking twice as long to build. What should we do? Alter the game design by reducing the total number of maps by half, and having the player visit each one twice? That's not something we could do. We were putting all our efforts into making a next-gen game... if we had to come up with a new design it would never get finished (laughs). With that being the case, we increased the size of the project, got a bit more time, and committed to make it just as big as our last game. I think it's a more effective use of our experience, and I think our fans would prefer it that way. In that sense Vesperia truly is the high-def, next-generation Tales.

TG: We're confident Tales fans will be totally satisfied with both the quality and the content. There really aren't that many games lately that have both, are there? One or the other always seems to be compromised.

Can you go into a bit more detail about how much more time-consuming it is to produce assets for hi-def than it is standard-def? A lot of people don't really know the difference.

YH: Well, on some games it's not that different. Take for example something like Ace Combat or Tekken-those games use actual photographs as textures. But on Vesperia, every single texture is hand-painted. Simply increasing the textures by a factor of two means there are quadruple the pixels. Like I said, it was taking double the time to finish a simgle map, but we were eventually able to streamline it down to about 120% of the time it took on Abyss or Symphonia. So, yes, asset creation was difficult. Another issue is the fact that you have no limits. HD machines have so much power...on our world map, for instance, we could have taken the camera down behind the player's back and displayed the entire horizon. But that camera angle wouldn't be Tales, right? Ensuring we didn't use all this power for the wrong things was a challenge. We could have gone with naturally-proportioned characters and full motion capture, but it would cost an enormous amount of money (laughs). Striking a balance between what was possible on the HD system, and a final product that would be recognizable immediately as "next-gen Tales" was very difficult.

Was there anything about the lack of limits that was freeing?

YH: Hmm. Well, this is going to be a little self-deprecating, but... (Ed. note-Higuchi picks up the 360 controller and begins to play.) You see where I am on screen now? (Ed. note-Higuchi moves a few screens ahead on the map.) If I'd moved that far in Abyss, it would already be loading. On next-gen, we can always be streaming data. We still have fades and transitions, but that doesn't mean it's loading-we're merely using them to inform the player he's travelled a significant distance. That was the most freeing thing for me, especially since a lot of people weren't happy with Abyss's loading times. Actually, when we started the project, and were trying to figure out how to parition map data, the programmers told me we could technically do the entire game seamless (laughs). I decided against it, though-I didn't want to break the town-interior-battle map structure. Even so, we've kept screen transitions as minimal as possible, especially inside towns. This really made a huge difference for us. The RAM you have on next-gen is just in a completely different league (laughs). Another wonderful thing-although this is strictly about XBox 360-is the fact that you can connect to the net so easily. Hardcore Tales fans are fond of getting the most out of the series, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun comparing Achievements and leaderboards online.

Can you put a percentage on how complete the game is?

YH: I'd say were about 60% of the way towards releasing it as a product.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What I Hate Seeing On Other Gaming Sites or Forums

I love video games and the game industry in general. But sometimes it's disheartening to read on other sites or forums because I can't help but get the vibe of immaturity from other gamers. Here's a short list of some things which I hate seeing sometimes on other forums or even game articles.

1. Excessive swearing. I see swearing on other types of hobbies online but it seems to me that its worse with gaming forums and some gaming related articles (I'm looking at you, 1UP.com). Can't gamers form sentences without adding the 'F' word to every other sentence?

2. The phrase "I'm cautiously optimistic". This phrase doesn't even make sense. How can it be possible for one to be 'cautious' and 'optimistic' at the same time? That's just ridiculous. The two words clearly contradict each other in meaning. Just say that you're 'pessimistic' instead.

You'll commonly find this phrase in threads talking about how game reviews and user reviews don't agree with one another.

3. Excessive anger or rage over petty things. Getting stuck on a level gets portrayed as a tragedy of epic proportions by most gamers on forums. In game articles, sometimes game reviewers exaggerate this, when the truth is, the frustration sets in for them more because they have to meet a very short deadline. I hate how this affects their reviews, too.

Things I highly recommend you must do if you're on Disc 4 of Lost Odyssey

1. Don't follow the "!" pointer on your World Map all the time. Try backtracking....explore older areas you've already been to. You'll surely find something useful or entertaining (rings, accessories or even dreams).

2. I highly recommend exploring Gongora's Mansion as early as you can. There's a nice story tidbit in there that you'd miss if you didn't visit otherwise (and the game won't tell you that that story bit is there....)

3. Also, visit Cooke and Mack's house with Sarah when you get the chance. There are some extra scenes in there, too. Granted, it won't get you a bonus item and some might find the scene really simple but it's a nice little touch that develops the characters more.

Disc 4 shines for giving you the chance to explore the game's world more....make the best of it. Of course you could go straight to the final battle at some point if you want a challenge.

That said, this is an expansive JRPG that I won't soon forget.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Scytherage's Impressions of Lost Odyssey midway through Disc 4

I am thoroughly enjoying this game.

The turn-based combat is just perfect. What I like is how every fight lets you feel that you've got a lot of options at your disposal. If you've read any review that says that the game favors magic casters, that review is sorely mistaken and likely didn't play far enough through the game. As it stands, in my view there is an equal footing between casters and fighter classes in this game. In my humble opinion, Seth, Kaim, Mack, Tolten and Sed are all fighters that are meant for the front row. Though some might consider Mack to be a 'spirit magic' character for the back row, I've found him quite useful in situations where I need some physical attacks and better defense on the front row.

Disc 4....where do I begin? The first dungeon in this level is very well designed. It 'feels' complex without making you completely lost. It has simple puzzles but for the most part continued to give me that sensation that I'm embarking on one hell of an epic adventure....this is what Lost Odyssey accomplishes that most other Final Fantasy games have not been able to after the 7th sequel. Also, by Disc 4 you'll notice that the game becomes more open-ended and there are a lot of side-quests. Sometimes talking to people in the towns you've been to already will get you new dreams or other simpler side quests. Other areas in previous towns now become open to you, so you'll have access to more items and accessories to customize your characters further. I'm really enjoying the Ring Assembly system now. Note that you can buy some ingredients from stores (particularly in Gohtza), while there are others that are extremely rare, and these are the ones you can get from simply exploring the whole world and finding new areas and dungeons. There's also a major side quest for Tolten where you have to help him become a worthy king for Uhra. Overall, the impression I'm getting is that the game is open-ended by Disc 4 in terms of letting you do more exploring, and generally the feel that you're embarking on an epic adventure is completely enhanced by this point.

Characters still get great cutscenes in Disc 4 which continue to flesh them out and make them more interesting. One of the best things I've seen from Lost Odyssey so far is that it doesn't just focus on Kaim! In fact, and this sounds insane...try this.

Take Kaim out of your party.

Seriously, guys, try it.

See? It's possible! You can have a party that doesn't have Kaim. This further attests to the idea that this game doesn't just focus on the lead character. Everyone in your party is interesting for different reasons, and the game pushes that idea throughout the story. This is a Japanese RPG in the truest sense, as I remember how they should be.

The last Final Fantasy game to do this was FINAL FANTASY 6. I've said it time and again, this is the true spiritual successor to that game. What made FF6 so interesting to me before was that I had complete control over my party and that I could decide who I thought was the 'lead' character for the game. While in Lost Odyssey of course Kaim takes prominence, you have the freedom to create the type of fighting party that you choose. Cutscenes will still work because all the characters are present, even the ones that aren't your party. It's just nice to know that you aren't constrained by the idea that one guy has to be the 'hero' in your turn-based battles...the freedom given by the game in creating your party is really refreshing.

Overall, I could say more and more wonderful things about Lost Odyssey, but damn, it's late night already, 12 midnight....gotta get some sleep. I love this game.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wada: Final Fantasy XIII could be delayed again, because of Dragon Quest IX

I found this on neogaf, an article about Square Enix and their possible plans for Final Fantasy XIII.


Translated:

"Wada Debates Releasing FFXIII in 2008

In an interview with Nikkei Torendinetto, Yoichi Wada discussed the release date of Final Fantasy XIII. According to the translation he said he is unsure whether to release Final Fantasy XIII the same year as Dragon Quest IX, since both are high profile games and that might hurt business.

However, the fact Wada said Final Fantasy XIII might be released in 2008 does implies that it is possible to release the game this year, so maybe the game's development is further along than we have previously been told."

This would be unfortunate if true. The Playstation 3 needs a high-profile JRPG to answer the Xbox 360's Lost Odyssey. With the current, overwhelmingly positive user reviews that the game is getting from JRPG gamers on forums everywhere, Lost Odyssey is quickly turning into a series that could threaten the dominance of the Final Fantasy brand. And with Mistwalker planning more JRPGs for this year (Cry On and Blue Dragon 2 are rumored) the problem could get only worse for Square Enix. Will they still be relevant for the worldwide market with all of these delays?

I've been reading online and what I've read is that a lot of gamers were really, REALLY burned by Final Fantasy XII and it's horrible gambit control system. Review sites everywhere gave FFXII glowingly positive reviews; and even Famitsu gave the game perfect scores. But if you check how it was received (even by gamers in Japan, surprisingly), it seems that most gamers really disliked the game, and it served as a wake up call for most people that Square Enix isn't really what it used to be. Granted, FFXIII and its five iterations will still sell well in the worlwide marketplace, but by delaying their games, they're giving Mistwalker an ample opportunity to make a case for the Western market and establish their brand, creating for Square Enix a bitter rival that will be difficult for them to topple.

Thirteen could very well be an unlucky number for Square....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lost Odyssey Downloadable Content in Xbox Live Japan Marketplace

Some info about the DLC for Lost Odyssey.

DLC#1: gives you the inventory item "Master's Secret Script" with the "Weapon Guard 2" skill and adds the story "Samii the Storyteller" as one of the dreams you can unlock in the game (to find this dream, look around in the pub in Uhra)

DLC#2: Costs 200 Microsoft Points. It comes with the 'Memory Lamp' (accessible in the Nautilus later in the game) which lets you watch previous cutscenes, another Thousand Years of Dreams short story (this one is located outside Uhra Castle, there are 2 soldiers standing near a hole that you have to talk to to activate it), and a ring accessory called the 'Killer Machine'.

Thanks to Dr Flibble from Xbox.com and this link for that information.

1UP Article: A Day in the Life of Nobuo Uematsu



This is a good interview. I took some of the more interesting parts of the interview and posted them below.

The full interview: http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3166165

Here are some parts of it:

1UP: What are your distinct memories of those days, the early 80's or mid-80's? Because when you really look back at it between Amano-san, Sakaguchi-san, and yourself, it was almost like the Beatles of Japanese development. Amano-san already had an established career, but as an individual he was also beginning to take off at that point. So this game really exploded things for you guys. And you even look at the back of this [Blue Dragon] packaging and it says, "Legendary RPG-creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. Renowned character designer" -- well, this is [Dragon Ball creator] Akira Toriyama -- "and famed music composer Nobuo Uematsu." So each core creator -- the three of you -- have gone on to achieve kind of a legendary status, but back then it was much simpler. What were some of your memories of the beginning of the Final Fantasy days?

NU: Well first of all, I never knew that the Final Fantasy we know today was going to be what it is when we started working on the first one. So that's already a huge accomplishment and a big surprise if we look back at where we started back in the 80's. At that time, the president of Square was considering using Japanese artists or a group to fulfill the music role for Final Fantasy. It would have been like a collaboration that you see with a lot of Japanese titles today with the artists singing the theme song. And I was OK with this, but at the same time Sakaguchi-san had told me that I should go ahead and create the music for it, so I went ahead and did that.



And there was another story about when Sakaguchi-san actually went out and picked up the completed game the day it came back from the production facilities. The company was already about to fold. If this wasn't going to be a success it might have collapsed and gone bankrupt. These weren't the glory days at Square. So, Sakaguchi-san, knowing that Dragon Quest was selling really well and there was this genre called 'role-playing games' that was gaining a lot of popularity (and we knew we could do something with the Famicom), pretty much begged the company to allow him to make his dream project. And said "If this is going to be the final project, I don't care." So that's why we all know how the name Final Fantasy came to be.

1UP: First fantasy.

NU: [Laughs] The business side of the company, after taking a look at the completed product, said, "This is only going to sell so much." And I don't remember exactly what the number was but the forecast was around 200,000. Sakaguchi was really upset with that number, and he said, "No, I definitely want at least half a million made." But the company still came back and said, "No, we're putting a limit at 200,000." So what he did was in the first pack that came from the production facility, he took every single ROM to every publication that was out there at that time, and he basically did his own PR with the first Final Fantasy. So I considered him a very strong and brave man at that time for him to have gone out and done his own PR for his game. That was a moment we probably won't forget.

The one thing I can say from that is that he must have had full confidence in his product -- in his game -- because putting aside the PR people and the sales and marketing people, he just did it himself.

.......

1UP: It must have been really inspiring to work with someone like Sakaguchi-san because it seems like without his determination, especially at such an embryonic time for video games...it was really courageous for him to put it all out there, and he believed in it. Looking back do you feel grateful having been able to work with him, because without that kind of determination -- without him being the point man -- who knows what would have happened to everything else?

NU: There was definitely something about Sakaguchi-san at that time, and even now his strong will and determination to follow through with what he puts out and sets out as a goal. But I think a lot of people who have met Sakaguchi after the huge success of Final Fantasy may have a different opinion. He may be stubborn. He may be hard to work with. He may not be a likable character. But that's only because of the surroundings that happen when you have a successful product or a successful something that labels you as a successful game creator.

.........

1UP: For Sephiroth?

NU: Yeah, for Sephiroth. The song title "One-Winged Angel." That would be the only one that technically speaking has some sort of lyrics. But it's not necessarily a theme song that's sung by an artist or some performer. But even that was an experiment. That wasn't an orchestrated song that was directly inserted into a game. We actually experimented with that piece, and we took the recording of it and reduced it in a way that it would fit the game. So it actually we used some of our techniques at that time to be able to match what was being shown on the screen to what we had recorded and took home. That was a huge experiment piece that fit well and as we all know is liked by a lot of people and a lot of fans of the game. The part of the experimenting with new ways to insert and apply music was probably the best thing to happen with Final Fantasy VII for me personally.

With "One-Winged Angel," that's a very good example of an experimental song or a result that we didn't really expect from the beginning because it was done from a blank sheet, and I'm not someone who has been trained or has been in an orchestra or was even close to being able to instruct an orchestra on how to play music. I wanted to keep the orchestral music atmosphere but be able to "rock it" and have sort of a thick orchestral feel to it, so it was asking for a lot from an orchestral standpoint. But I said, "You know what? The computer's going to be able to figure it out anyway, so why not just have a set that I can toss to an orchestrator and then have them figure it out?" So I had a bunch of samples of stuff that I had prepared for them, but in the end I sort of tossed it over to them and saw how they could perform that. I knew it wasn't something they wanted to do at all; I knew I was pushing it to the limits, but in the end it sort of worked out. I know that with every concert that we have, when we have the orchestra perform "One-Winged Angel," for some reason or another that's the one that has the biggest reaction, and everyone sort of expects that to be in a Final Fantasy concert. I still can't figure out why. I know that I pushed everyone to his/her limits, but then it worked out in the end.

.........

1UP: There's a couple of angles to it. For one, the original Final Fantasy theme was "no sequels." Each game was its own self-contained world, and the next game would be something new, and after X when they came out with X-2, they were like, "Okay, we can do this." Then with all the side projects they made resurrecting Final Fantasy VII, that's kind of become a hit factory. Now you can't even have a chance to have a sequel. Now with Final Fantasy XIII they've created like five simultaneous sequels, five Final Fantasy XIII games. That's not like the old Square.

NU: It's just a lot of Final Fantasies. I can't even track which ones came out for what format, and I see a lot of commercials with the name Final Fantasy on it. But I feel like I've seen this commercial just a couple of months ago coming out on a different console. For me, I've lost track of all the remakes or new installments outside of the numbered Final Fantasies.

.........

1UP: With Blue Dragon, to talk about something very "now," I know you said your creative approach remains the same, but since this was a super big project. One, it was an Xbox 360, which is obviously not very successful in Japan, but because it had Sakaguchi-san's involvement, it became a very big deal worldwide. It was kind of a rejoining of many creative powers. Was there any sort of special approach you took to creating the score for Blue Dragon?

NU: I knew and was already told that I was going to be able to use pretty much all and every component of the music that I made whether it was going to be performed by an orchestra or using a synthesizer, so there were really no barriers or boundaries. In that sense, everything felt really good. It felt like a perfect match for all the musical notes to come into play and fall into the right place that I imagined, so there was nothing that I really wanted to adjust or take back nor did I have to make any adjustments after everything was put into place. The process that I was used to, before making Blue Dragon, was that all the musical components were sort of installed inside the hardware and having to have to make things work and make things fit. So it was a different approach from what I was able to do with Blue Dragon.

The more recent Final Fantasies, like the ones after Sakaguchi-san left Square, there are a lot of different opinions when completing and finalizing the entire story and scenarios, so I felt like it wasn't purely a Sakaguchi title even though it carried the name Final Fantasy. Blue Dragon, being done and written and solely handled by Sakaguchi, brought back a lot of memories of when we first started working on Final Fantasy. I felt like it was going to make sense for me to work on this title as well.

.........

1UP: Back on the topic of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within specifically -- you know, there was a lot of excitement leading up to the release of the movie, and I was at a couple of the media events and also the fan events, which let me witness sneak previews of the fan reaction, which was so overwhelmingly positive, and it seemed like such good times. But after Spirits Within came out...I guess it just wasn't the right time or the right place -- North America.

The consumer reaction, how many people went to go see it, wasn't very much, and it became a big financial failure for Square, and despite how much Sakaguchi-san had done for Square, it was this project that kind of led to his eventually leaving the company. Looking back, do you think that was a sad moment, especially considering how much he had done for the company and where he had brought the company? Japanese companies in general seem to be quick to look for a scapegoat whenever something doesn't go right. How did you feel about what happened with Sakaguchi-san?

NU: [Long pause] No matter what happens in the future with the company of SquareEnix and with the individual Sakaguchi, one thing that's not going to change is that he is the father of Final Fantasy. He made the series. And it was a difficult time when he left Square -- at that time it was still Square. As an individual myself, as someone who creates content, not purely for business purposes or making money or gaining profit from something I create as a content creator, it's really hard to say this, but I really don't think Final Fantasy should have been made after Sakaguchi-san left the company. Square the company owns Final Fantasy the property, so it's really up to them what they decide to do. But me personally, that's what I thought when he left the company. And I think at the same time that they started to change the direction of the company. We weren't sure who was in charge of what. It meant a lot of things if we look back at that time when he left and maybe soon after he left. There were a lot of changes, and it was probably a turning point for the company. I don't know if there has been another turning point within SquareEnix the company, but that was definitely a moment that meant a lot of different things.

"I really don't think Final Fantasy should have been made after Sakaguchi-san left the company."

-Uematsu on Hironobu Sakaguchi leaving SquareEnix

.........

1UP: Companies like this, entertainment companies, are always in it to make some kind of money because without making money you can't continue to produce and create new entertainment, but would you say that when Sakaguchi left Square, would you equate that to something like when Walt Disney died? Because after Walt Disney died, it changed from Walt Disney Productions to the Walt Disney Company. It acquired more of a corporate mentality as opposed to this -- I don't want to say a family business necessarily -- but it turned it from something that seemed a lot more...it had a humble human element in Walt Disney Productions; you know, there were real people behind it. It wasn't just a faceless corporation. When Walt Disney died, it became the Walt Disney Company and it acquired a corporate feel and maybe it lost something. It lost some of that innocence. And Disney as a corporation just started cranking out annual animated movies to capitalize on the public's thirst for cartoons and family entertainment, and it became much more of a business. Would you say that sort of transformation took place because before there were individual Final Fantasy games, and now they come like five at a time. Final Fantasy XIII times five.

NU: You know, the example of when Walt Disney died and became corporate, now that I've left the company, I can't really say, "Yeah, it's completely changed." It's probably better to ask someone who went through that change with Sakaguchi-san leaving, what they think of the company today, but in my opinion -- and I hope that Sakaguchi-san feels the same way -- is that we did treat each and every Final Fantasy as a birth of something, as a great product that we believed in. All we really wanted to do was to be able to express a very simple belief of friendship or family love or just love in general and if that becomes something that is going to be bought by money and can easily be a base for making a successful business, I just want that to be sold in that manner. Like, this was going to be a boxed package that was going to make money. That's not -- as one of the creators of the games that we worked on -- that wasn't necessarily our purpose. So that's the line that we always have between the business side and the creative side of the business. But all I hope for is that with the people who are still at SquareEnix, I hope that they still have that belief in them, and I wish that they would continue to execute their jobs and projects in the way that we were able to do back then. It's not a MasterCard slogan, but it's priceless. The work is priceless. And I hope that everyone continues to hold that belief.

I don't know if this is going to be a good example, but if blood sells, that doesn't mean I think every single game is going to need blood because they think it'll make money. That's just easy to say in words, but it's not really why it should be in the game. There still has to be a very deep and important substance there to create that blood, and if it needs to be there, it needs to be there. But we're not going to make a game just based on blood and violence because it sells.

.........

1UP: Speaking of music, one of the most interesting parts of Blue Dragon is the battle theme music, which really rocks out hard. And since you get in a lot of battles, you are constantly rocking out because the music comes in every time. It's got lyrics and everything. That's very different from what you usually do. Was this something that you just had to get out of your system? Or did Sakaguchi-san say, "Hey, let's make the battles rock!"

NU: The rock thing, making the whole battle music, it wasn't necessarily that I needed to get that out of my system. It was actually Sakaguchi-san that mentioned something like that, and so I was totally for it. And he was like, "Should we add vocals too? Let's go for it!" So it was really just between the two of us, and I started making it. Even until the very last phase of everything we didn't have a vocalist, and we were just thinking that we'll get someone who's available. But one of the staff at the production said, "I think we can get [Deep Purple singer] Ian Gillan to do it for us." And we were like, "Really?" So we approached him and we just talked about how us old middle-aged men can't be rocking it in our sixties. I'm sure he's around that age, but now that we've seen the final product, it's totally doable.

1UP: What was his reaction to being asked to sing a song for a video game made by Japanese people?

NU: I never got to hear what his reaction was. I don't even think that young people would even know who he is.

1UP: Who wrote the lyrics?

NU: Sakaguchi-san. And someone obviously translated that.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Understanding the plot of Lost Odyssey

PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE ARE MASSIVE SPOILERS UP AHEAD. EVERYTHING UP TO THE END OF THE STORY.

Please do not read the spoiler unless you have finished the game.


I finished Lost Odysey without completing ANY sidequests. My reasons for that have been a little bit more reactionary due to the lousy reviews the game was getting. By the time I got to the end, certain plot elements about the game was not clear to me. While I understand that the real value of the game is the emotional attachment the gamer will have with the characters, the 'sacrifice' towards the end made me wonder if everything will be ok.

By Disk 2 we realize that the immortals do not belong in the world that they are in. They are immortal because they are not native inhabitants of that world. Throughout the rest of the game, they never tell us what they were doing in the present world but Gongora claims that they were all traitors to their home world. And that's all we know at that point. As you progress, you will see the moment where the rest of the immortals lost their memories. But even then, you have no idea what the reason why they came to the present world. All their recollections only point that they originally belong to a world that existed in the same 'axis' as their own world. My understanding of this, is that the two worlds are parallel to each other.

As I progress, I never get to the point where the plot is expanded. Gongora continues to be an insane bastard towards the end. But I'm watching my husband play some of the side quests and then 'THAT' scene came. And suddenly everything seemed clearer and the 'sacrifice' was not in vain afterall. While that scene does not explain everything...it explains A LOT.

While we don't know if they will succeed in their mission, the possibility of a sequel to the game exists. It seems like Lost Odyssey is just a part of a bigger story that can unfold. And I hope that Mistwalker will be a chance to continue this unique story.