The sequel to rally racing game GRiD from Warwickshire based studio Codemasters takes a first place launch finish in the UK chart this week, despite 29% fewer sales than its predecessor. GRiD 2 is the first of the franchise, and first for the studio since 2010, to reach the top spot.
FIFA 13 (+17%) has improved sales over the school break, ahead of Dead Island: Riptide with no change in numbers at third from fourth. RRP reductions for Far Cry 3 (+35%) takes it up four places to fourth and Resident Evil: Revelations (-45%) drops four places from first.
A little growth sees Assassin’s Creed III (+10%) sticks at sixth ahead of falling Metro Last Light (-40%) and Donkey Kong Country Returns (-17%). Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (-35%) swoops into ninth from outside the top ten. Tomb Raider (-0%) takes no damage in sales yet slips three places to complete the top ten.
Insomniac’s Fuse is the only other new release this week, landing at thirty-seventh.
The Lord of the Rings Online is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, taking a third person character through a cooperative environment. It was originally released in 2007 under a subscription service, where a player would need to buy time upfront in order to play. Now the game is facing a re-release with a free-to-play model giving players access to regular play without charge. As discussed in The Lord of the Rings Online store preview, Turbine Inc will generate income by selling extra digital content; therefore with the free purchase, will it bode as well on your free time as it does on your wallet?
Being an avid fan of the books by Tolkien and the Peter Jackson trilogy of movies, I have always had an idea of how Middle-Earth should look and feel in so far as its atmosphere. The Lord of the Rings Online holds such as stark difference, it is more akin to the cartoon films of old. I’m all for a colourful, not-too-serious look about a game, but all in the right context. The light-hearted non-player characters, out of proportion enemies and fantastical situations bring thoughts of carelessness with the Tolkien licence. Add off the mark voice acting, repetitive quests, and generic items, and The Lord of the Rings seems like a name that was slapped on at the last minute to gain a few extra sales.
As far as the game actually plays it is a competent online role playing game. The player starts with character creation; forming the player that they will control about the environment. Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves can be chosen from, given a gender and a name of the players choosing. The random name generator can be a useful tool to find a Tolkien style name. Before being inserted into one of the four race-centred starting locations the player will first have to choose a Class, which again are generic, such as Champion or Rune-keeper.
Each of the races begin their Journey, set when the Fellowship is first formed with Frodo and Sam, in a settlement littered with their own kin in a struggle with a local enemy. Each of the starting areas can be different for Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves, although some are interwoven, such as in the interwoven stories of Men and Hobbits. The quests start with an incident which the player must overcome in order to open up an area for free-roam, the incident usually being an attack by an oncoming force. From there the objectives lead the player on paths of exploration around the local area; collecting objects, disbanding packs of wolves, and gaining allies. The story expands in books, which are added to progressively by the developer, and match chronologically to the main story incidents of Frodo and the Fellowship, and eventually volumes with the expansion packs.
The Lord of the Rings Online features an age old levelling system, expanding the health bar and other traits as you rise through the ranks, and allowing access to purchasable upgrades and skills. Skills are unique class abilities that are special moves and attacks to be used in combat. I found them particularly useful as a sink for all of the money earned from quests, of which there was plenty, and a reason to push the experience to get to the next level.
The Lord of the Rings Online is a sound MMORPG with constant, if not slow, pace through the objectives, expanding the area of exploration. Its major problem, at least for me, is its attitude towards the Lord of the Rings universe. I would have much preferred a grittier, darker style of environment, rather than the cartoon, unrealistic approach to art. The Tolkien licence seems to have been exploited only for place and character names, and not used to its full potential as a fantasy gold-mine. If you are just looking for a solid RPG, and are not too fond of lore backgrounds then there is no reason not to give this a chance, especially when it is free. If however you are drawn to the MMORPG genre by the name alone, then it would be best to leave the One Ring to its fate.
Before the game’s re-release on September 10th The Lord of the Rings Online will have a short four day beta program running from September 6th. Sign up here and you will have early access to the game, and the option to carry on from where you left off when the switch is made this Friday.
Chris Ollis is a 3D Artist and Animator by trade; he has spent the last 4 years as Lead Artist on Moviestorm, a virtual movie-making package. However previously he spent some time at Codemasters, one of the longest running and largest British based games developers. GameBrit caught up with Ollis to ask him about his time at Codemasters and gain some insight into the world of games developing.
Gamebrit – What did your role at Codemasters involve?
Chris Ollis – I was hired as a character artist and animator for a FPS that never happened, so was quickly redirected to the Race Driver cut scene team to which I was probably more suited. It then generally involved making 3d props, environments and characters, animating them, tidying up and applying mocap data for both bodies and in RD3 faces, some physics simulation (cloth, liquids and things falling over) and various other things involved in making some very shiny pre-rendered sequences. I also helped out with some in-game track building, car and driver work for a couple of other titles.
GB – Could you give us some examples of games you have worked on?
CO – Race Driver 2 and 3, one of the Indy car titles and then before I was at Codies a cheap yet technically impressive PC title called Private Dancer, its shelved sequel (company went under before launch) and numerous Unreal Tournament mods.
GB – How did the development process for your particular department work? How did the process work from start to finish?
CO – The cut scenes went through full movie style production phases, starting with the hiring of a film director who helped shape the story, storyboarding of the scenes, then motion capture sessions before starting to build the characters and sets in 3DS MAX, animate them in Motionbuilder and then render them out back in MAX.
GB – Where does that fit in with the overall development of a game?
CO – With the Race Driver series the story was a major part (in the studios mind if not the players!) it was as important to provide a good narrative for the 1 player game as the actual playability of the cars on track. The story also took you through career progression in the game, unlocking various cars and highlighting the behind the scenes world of motor racing and sponsorship. So it was pretty much hand in hand for those titles.
GB – Is there a sense of involvement in working for such a large-scale developer in Codemasters?
CO – The FMV team was quite small (5 to 8 of us depending on development cycle) so it was a good feeling of teamwork and knowing what everyone was doing. But unlike other companies I’ve worked at there was much less of a sense of importance or place in the whole company, the bigger the game, the greater the number of staff and the more you feel like a worker ant who could easily be replaced and who’s voice is rarely heard. Plus when I was there the need and logic for outsourcing got bigger and bigger and I didn’t really want to be coordinating spreadsheets all day (which I half ended up doing in the next job for a while anyway!).
GB – Did you have any particular career high points whilst at Codemasters?
CO – That’s a tough one, not really, no. The main highlight was the people I worked with, we were all committed to doing a good job and I think we achieved that with each title, or at least the reviews seemed to show it. But it really was a lot of work, serious staring at screens and forcing back boundaries, which at times resulted in the hardware or technology simply not being good enough for what we were trying! So I have more memories of us asking too much of a physics simulation or mocap solution than I do of relief when a scene finished rendering or even the games launch. There certainly wasn’t any showering of champagne like on the podium at the end of the game!
GB – On a similar note were there any low points? Did any projects fall through mid-development for example?
CO – It was quite stressful; sometimes I really didn’t look forward to going in to work because it was guaranteed to be more pressure of maintaining the workload. But if you don’t work hard you don’t get the results. As for games falling over, the game I was hired for didn’t happen but that wasn’t a big deal, the company I had been at before collapsed so I was just grateful to have a job. The Race Driver series was a good solid title; at no point did I think it was in any trouble. Other projects fell over in the company, as is the way everywhere, Dragon Empires was in development while I was there, I guess that’s the most notable one, which was a huge shame as the artwork and development that had been done was superb.
GB – Was the games industry what you expected it to be? Would you ever consider going back?
CO – It’s not as stable a job as I’d like, you really do have to expect things to fall over and find yourself unemployed, especially when starting out at small studios. I really enjoyed seeing the inside workings but it does take some of the magic away and you don’t feel the urge to kick back and play games for hours when you get in as you would after a day in an office doing paperwork. I’d go back if the title interested me and the studio felt right, but will try and avoid the production line mentality of a big studio if possible.
GB – Are their any developers you looked up to in terms of what you did at Codemasters? Also, any current developers that catch your eye?
CO – Blur Studios are the cream of game FMV without a doubt; they’ve been knocking out amazing pre-rendered sequences for years. As for game developers in general it’s hard to say as most studios shift their staff, fall over or just change their game type so you can’t really say. Putting aside politics and the reality of the studio system, I’d love to work on Tekken characters at Namco, Ratchet and Clank at Insomniac, the next Batman at Rocksteady, maybe update Bust a Groove (PS1 break dance game), a new Gitaroo Man and anything at Double Fine.
GB – Would you have any advice for any budding games developers?
CO – Developers or people just wanting in to the industry? Developers, wouldn’t want to suggest anything, there’s as much need for someone to make the most unique game of their dreams as a big studio to churn out the same title year after year. Artists and Programmers though, [tweetable]focus on what interests you[/tweetable], be it environment design or IK solutions and stick with it, but make sure you also learn enough other things around that field so when the company you are at falls over or makes cut backs, you have enough skills to get hired again quickly! A hugely talented character artist is good, but if they can’t turn their hand to quickly making some houses or rigging a dozen cars then their job is by no means secure!
There’s some strange satisfaction surrounding being evil in games. Whether you’re taking your place as the Dark Lord of the Sith in Knights of the Old Republic or just sending penguins to their untimely death in Mario 64, playing the bad guy is fun. Thankfully Codemasters have cottoned on to the fact most gamers have an insatiable desire to be wicked and released a new take on the Real Time Strategy genre, Overlord.
Taking the role of the titular Overlord the player begins in an old ruined tower that has been plundered of its magical artefacts. It’s your job to retrieve these artifacts which were lost or stolen when your previous incarnation was destroyed, in order to regain your power and evil domain.
Your Tower acts as a central hub, from which you can teleport to each land in search of your former possesions. As you and your minions recover the stolen loot, new rooms and spells also become available, and your Overlord’s health and magic power increase. Players can customize the tower with items found across the land and Armour and weapons can be purchased or improved in the Tower’s forge. Any enemies you defeat appear as opponents in the dungeon, an arena where you can fight them again if you feel like pummeling them over and over again.
And where would any evil Lord be without minions to carry out your dastardly plans? Worry not, for you have a race of Goblins to command as you wish. And seeing as an Overlord doesn’t like to get his (or her) hands dirty you can leave it to your minions to do all the menial tasks like killing sheep, smashing pumpkins or pushing obstacles out of your path. Controlling these wicked little creatures is a piece of cake as they automatically home in on any objects in the path you set them. They even equip items as and when they come across them, whether they’re useful or not, powering up their attacks or defences or just using superficial decorations, such as a pumpkin on their heads.
The animation and characterisation of these creatures is deliciously wicked; think Lord of the Rings Orcs meet Gremlins. As is the rest of the presentation, which leans towards cartoonish fantasy, offset nicely by your evil rabble. From the outset the team at Codemasters have designed a game that looks and plays differently to anything else in the genre, certainly in terms of PC Games. In fact the closest equivalent would have to be Nintendo’s Pikmin which does appear to have been a clear influence as far as gameplay and structure are concerned.
The similarities are quite obvious, not that this should detract from the game, especially for PC or 360 owners who have never had the pleasure of drowning 100 Pikmin. You control your Overlord as you would Captain Olimar, although Captain Olimar didn’t have a big sword to smite his enemies with or magical spells to burn or crush those that got in his way. The area you can explore is initially small but any obstacles can be cleared by pointing enough minions towards them. A little counter even pops up above it signifying how many of your horde are needed to push or smash it. As your evilness increases, you are able to take more minions with you and even find some with special abilities just like Pikmin.
It also uses a corruption system similar to Fable of KotOR, which judges your performance depending on how evil you have been during the course of the game. Sparing the lives of a few peasants can come in handy later on but you are mainly rewarded for doing nasty things. Ultimately your rating affects the ending and which spells you can unlock, so there is quite a bit of replay value even if the length of the game may not prove too much of a challenge to some.
Overlord has an undeniable charm that will bring you back to its world long after you complete your evil destiny and it will certainly plug an evil-sized gap for any games twiddling their thumbs until the rush of big titles in the Autumn. Whether you choose to go with the PC or 360 version you’ll soon discover being evil has never been so fun.