Monday, February 27, 2006

Deep thoughts and deep feelings are what the Revolution will help accomplish in games

Nintendo claims that all developers, big and small, will be able to develop for its next generation console, code-named Revolution. Despite this promise, though, the process of getting a game out isn't quite as simple for the smaller, independent developers as we might like. 'The Indie Scene' aims to spread the word about independently developed games and help out the people behind them, who can be just as passionate about making games as the big guys, if not more so.

Crossbeam are based in Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA, and have a total staff count of just 17; they are, however, on the look out for more help to ease the pressure caused by their own, huge ambition, so if you think you're good enough or want to know what you could do to help, you may want to visit
their website and give them a bell. Rather than settling for developing arguably more realistic, smaller games, Crossbeam instead have chosen to aim high and set their benchmarks more akin to the standards of Eternal Darkness and Legend Of Zelda rather than the likes of smaller, simpler Gameboy or PC games you might find other such smaller developers making.

The 'Crossbeam dream' began back in 1999, when a group of friends in high school got together and decided that they wanted to create PC games. Each member gained experience in their respective chosen fields with time and as a whole they set upon their mission of creating games, picking up new recruits along the way to reach the 17 person team of the present day. Together, they have a combined experience of around 45 years - perhaps not difficult when one member of your team is 54 years young.

After beginning development for PC after years of design, Crossbeams' collective imagination was captured by a certain new console codenamed Revolution by a certain games company beginning with 'N'. Much of the team already had a fondness of Nintendo, and so it didn't take much persuasion for all attention to turn towards the console. Unfortunately, they have yet to obtain a software development kit for the mysterious system, and so they are concentrating their efforts on creating demonstrations of their projects on PC to show to publishers and developers in the future (possibly at E3 2006), in a bid to impress them and woo Nintendo into granting them official Revolution developer status.

Although they have vampire game ‘Darkness’ in design stages and the just-revealed futuristic action/adventure ‘Thorn’ in a similar state, Orb is Crossbeam Studios’ baby. Twelve of the seventeen team members are concentrating on Orb primarily in their efforts to get the game onto Nintendo Revolution. Orb is scheduled to be of the action/adventure genre (utilising a battle system similar to Zelda), but will feature limited RPG elements, such as levelling up weaponary (15 different stages per weapon) and magical powers; you’ll find no experience points or reams of statistics, RPG fans may be disappointed to learn, but a suitably epic story will be making an appearance.

The story originated from a series of dreams that Crossbeam founder Greg Szemiot had. Inspired and moved by these images in his sleep, Greg put pen to paper and came up with a draft of a storyline. When he and his friends decided to make a game, the story Greg had written was the natural choice for it, and as Orb came along and more people had their hand in its progress, it found itself in its current story, one of a bitter war led against a nation by a brutal army, the Kulon. The nation Delphire eventually falls to Kulon, as the latter tears through the former’s people, striking down men, women and children indiscriminately, and ultimately one particularly fierce Kulon warrior crowns himself as ruler of the land. Continuing his arrogant power trip, the self-imposed king decides that he’d rather like to control everybody’s lives and souls in every way possible, including (but not limited to) their beliefs; ah, religion, the most powerful weapon known to man. There is a problem with this though: in the world of Orb there are Imanti, ‘Guardians of Faith’, who, well, guard the faith. Our glorious leader decides that one such way to control belief would be to go straight to the source and kidnap an Imanti, which he happily does. However, he doesn’t reckon upon this particular Imanti having trainees underneath him, who aren’t too thrilled that their mentor has been whipped from beneath their noses. They set off after him but, as with any great tale, they may be letting themselves in for far more than they bargained for…It is this storyline, full of death and destruction, that is making Orb teeter between being rated as a teen or mature game.

The quality of the story and the talent behind it can be seen when some events during Orb’s lifetime are uncovered. The storyline, much of which is kept securely underwraps at Crossbeam, with the above being perhaps but a brief snippet, helped Orb to win a ‘best in class’ award at university against 120 other hopeful projects due to quality dialogue and characters, and perhaps one of the best compliments a team could hope for was bestowed upon the game – it was compared to the Zelda franchise. Another display of the brilliance of the full storyline is found with a friend of the studio, who would read pages of it to his delighted children at bedtime, and then would settle down to read it himself once they had dozed off – multiple levels of enjoyment, it seems, are prominent with Orb. It has even been suggested that they make a film of it, rather than ‘wasting it’ on a game.

Such a promising sounding storyline requires deep gameplay to match it, and this seems to be what we will be getting with Orb. In addition to the in-depth weaponry system mentioned earlier, there is an intricate magic system, which involves fighting, healing and environmental effects – use of magic will be incorporated into puzzles. There are 30 separate locations with 70 interconnecting areas to go through with six playable characters, and Crossbeam have been thinking hard about how to create a greater sense of freedom to traverse these locations – there are plans to have multiple ways to do things, each with their own separate risks, with one such example given being how to get over a river. Hypothetically, you could take a boat, which could have the capacity to get attacked or sunk, you could swim and risk drowning, you could use magic to walk or fly across the water, but it could run out and leave you in a deadly situation, or you might even choose to use magic to breath underwater – but you run the risk of getting eaten by a fish! All this adds to their goal of creating a game so deep that not everything can be absorbed in just one playthrough because there's simply so much to do - 'epic' is one adjective they would like people to be able to use to describe it. In the words of Greg Szemiot, Crossbeam director and one of the lead designers of Orb: “It's up to the player to be ready and plan ahead, but also to just go for it at times.”

To dwell in the massive land of Delphire (which has had its entire topography changed at least once), races with unique cultures, religions, affiliations and pasts have been thought up – around 200 years worth of history has been written for the land, in fact, and via sidequests players will be able to explore this history. As well as the playable characters, there are a further 50 or so important inhabitants of the land, who each have a personal back-story envisioned. As if this wasn’t enough, a further 100 characters will play some role in the title, and the team have even studied quantum mechanics, anthropology, religion, martial arts and Celtic ancestory in great detail in order to create the greatest story and game that they could – it’s safe to say that this wasn’t patched together over a rushed coffee at the last minute before a Monday morning meeting.

Why Revolution, though, and how will they use the new controller? Crossbeam haven’t parted with that information just yet, but they will be using the DPD (Direct Pointing Device – keep up!) to attack, use magic and aim at things when necessary – other than that, their lips are firmly buttoned, as revealing more may give away more storyline; they’d rather we were all surprised rather than know everything that happens right off the bat, see. As for the first part of the question – firstly, Orb will rely on Revolution's unique features to create a new experience, though it's interesting to note that Crossbeam feel the game would be 'crippled' on any other system without said features. Secondly, the team all lean towards Nintendo in terms of company preference, and their new direction has piqued their interest sufficiently to make Orb exclusive for their next generation console!

That is, if the opportunity presents itself. Crossbeam unfortunately still do not have a Revolution development kit, nor a publisher – Orb currently only exists within the pages of an extremely large design document, the hearts and minds of its creators and in the form of a demo for the PC that is being created. This demo is not for public release, more to show publishers and get interest levels up, not least Nintendo’s, and could well be behind closed doors at E3 this year. Until then, support and interest continues to ramp up about the game over the Internet and the generous donate to the cause, so that they might buy a Revolution development kit when the time comes that they are made available to them.

That is such a good story, I had to post it. I really admire this company and what they are trying to do with this game for Revolution. I hope you all go there and ask what you can do to help this company complete this epic game. Seeing them give such an effort makes me want to make a game! If only......

Link to the story here

crossbeam studios

No comments: