Beyond Flesh and Blood Developer Interview – Phillip Muwanga & Lee Blacklock

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There were lots of cool indie games on display at this year’s EGX Rezzed, and among the titles I was keen to try out and play was the latest playable demo of Beyond Flesh and Blood, by Mancunian studio Pixelbomb Games.

If you missed my impressions on the demo, here’s a quick rundown on Beyond. The game is a third-person mech shooter set in a post-apocalyptic Manchester in the year 2281. When a meteor containing some nasty extra-terrestrial creepy crawlies hits the planet, you’re sent in as a mech pilot to retake key strategic Earth cities (AKA Manchester) and get them back under control from gun-slinging bandits and bitey alien lifeforms. From what I’ve played and seen of the game so far, it’s shaping up to be a cool shooter that brings some interesting new tweaks to the mechanical mayhem of the mech genre.

I had the chance to chat with the two project leads, Coder Phillip Muwanga and Game Designer Lee Blacklock and talk about Manchester, mechs, meatsplosions and more.

Tom: What was the original inspiration for Beyond Flesh and Blood, and what inspired you to make a mech shooter specifically?

Lee: We’ve got a big love of anime and mechs, and being a dev company in Manchester, we wanted to set the game in a post-apocalyptic version of our city. We thought that a combination of these two things would be quite a playful scenario.

Phil: The basic thing is we love mechs, we love science fiction, we love action games, so we are finally able to make the game that we want to make.

Mech games in the past such as Steel Battalion and Titanfall have traditionally favoured a first-person camera view to get that cockpit experience. What was the decision behind deciding to go with a third-person camera?

Lee: Interestingly, when people ask us what the genre of the game is, we say that it’s a third-person action shooter, which is different from your typical mech shooter. It’s a third-person game, you just happen to be controlling mechs. We absolutely love robots and all forms of them, from the Japanese ones to the big stomping western mechs, so things like Steel Battalion were a big influence.

Phil: It pains me that I never got to play Steel Battalion on the big forty-button controller. I like the idea of a game where when you die, if you don’t press the eject button, you lose your save file. That’s a wonderful thing!

Townhall Concept

The game is set in Manchester, and the maps feature prominent Mancunian landmarks in their design – did you run into any issues with getting permission to use their likenesses in-game, and what other locations are you planning to get into the final game?

Phil: The main thing is that you’re fine to use the exteriors, but if you want to use the interiors then that’s when you need to get permission. But, of course, you can make a building that’s inspired by something, and that’s okay. For example, we’ve replicated my favourite bar in The Triangle – mainly because I want to fight in front of a bar that I drink in! (Laughs) There are a few other areas that we’re not talking about, but the main focal points are Deansgate, The Triangle and in front of the Hilton. We’ve purposely stayed away from having the Man United or City stadium because if you pick a side then we’ll alienate half the audience!

Lee: I think for us is the fact that the game is concentrated in the city centre as well, so to go to another location would mean jumping out of the city and we really want to focus on that sort of overgrown future version of Manchester.

Phil: The political answer is we have members of our team who support Man U and members who support Man City.

BF+B Play Expo Stand

You demoed the game last year at the Manchester Play Expo – how was that experience, and do you have any plans to take Beyond to any other shows or Expos after Rezzed?

Phil: Yes, that was a wonderful Expo. It was nice to do an Expo in our home town with a game that’s based in Manchester – we got a lot of positive feedback. There are a few big shows that we’d like to take it to, but we are mainly focused on just finishing the final thing now. What will be quite nice is that once we’re closer to release we’ll have a more stable build, so we won’t have to spend quite so much time getting a build ready to tour at Expos. It is important to get the game out and to talk to members of the press so that people can hear about it.

The game is designed as a singleplayer experience with a solo campaign, but have you got any plans to implement any online multiplayer features into the horde mode maps at a later date?

Phil: The gameplay that we’re showing here is from our wave-based mode – this is an added extra that comes with the game, the singleplayer story is the primary focus. We’re not showing much of that because we don’t want to spoil the story. Let’s just say that it does take place in these areas here, and that it involves mechs and people being torn to pieces.

Within the world that we’ve made, there are various factions and it would be wonderful to do a multiplayer shooter where they fight against each other. We’re talking and thinking about that, but at the moment we are focusing on making the best singleplayer experience that we can. The campaign is our focus. What we didn’t want to do was to tack on a multiplayer component just to have a tick on the back of the box. If we were to do multiplayer, we would want to be properly focused on that.

Lee: When we’ve been developing in the studio, we’ve actually switched the player camera around and switched to the other AI classes that we’ve got so we can run around as them. It’s not going to happen for the game, but it’s just what we’ve been doing in-house just to have a play around, so like Phil said that’s given us the multiplayer ideas, and we’d love to do a lot more in the world of Beyond Flesh and Blood.

Dropship

I appreciate that you don’t want to say too much about the story, but what challenges did you have in writing a story around what’s essentially a faceless robot character?

Phil: The interesting thing is that you can’t die in this game. You’re in a space station in orbit, so if you’re suit is killed then they just send in another suit from orbit. It is not a big deal for them (The United Global Remnant, the in-game faction you play for). We try to tie this mechanic into the gameplay of the world – these soldiers on the ground, because they can die, they will comment on the fact that you’re not really there or that it all feels like a game to you. These are some of the areas that we wanted to explore in this.

Lee: We’ve not really had difficulties, but it’s more about the amount of choices we’ve got – we’ve got to keep narrowing it down. Like Phil said, there’s lots of themes we’d like to explore but it’s a case of just how many of these we can effectively explore in the timeframe.

Phil: The hardest bit that we’ve had is trying to squeeze all of our ideas into this game. It is a combat-focused game, so we want the gameplay mechanics to tell most of the story, rather than have a lot of expensive cutscenes and FMVs. Those two fields do not have to be mutually exclusive; we do have a story that we want to tell, but we are focused on making a fun, enjoyable gameplay experience. At the end of the day, we are a small indie studio – we’re not a big triple-A studio who can afford to hire all the animators it takes to do your cutscenes.

Mark 1

When I played the previous demo myself I used mouse and keyboard controls. I’m normally a player who favours using a controller, but I have to say I thought that the way you’ve designed the keyboard controls was spot-on. You really get a feel of each mech’s weight and momentum, especially the Mark 1.

Lee: That’s definitely something that we want you to feel as you go through the different mechs – we will have four mechs, so as you go through each one that feeling will feel different, but we still want it to feel very meaty. Like you were saying, in the Mark 1 you can really stomp around with it. The mouse and keyboard controls still need work though at the minute, they are still in development so that they can be even better.

So there’s four mechs in total?

Phil: You start off with the Mark 1 – he’s basically a walking JCB; he’s a slow engineering mech and can’t dodge so far. He can use his size to tear people to pieces and to pick up large objects and to interact with the world in a very physical way. As you move up through the marks they become smaller but more agile, but they lose the physical powers that the Mark 1 has.

Next is the Mark 2 – he’s the baby brother of the Mark 1. He isn’t quite as strong, but he’s faster and a more agile engineering mech overall. He’s still not purpose-built for combat, but he does have a welding laser which is really effective. The special thing about this mech though is that he’s got awesome extendable arms; if you think of the Mark 1 as the JCB, then the Mark 2 is like the forklift version if you will. Obviously it’s still very powerful – he can use his arms to extend himself up in the air and slam down on enemies. We’ve used his arms in a number of the sync kills which are unlocked through story means.

Eventually, you get to 4th mark, the Prototype Suit.

Mech Landing

Is that different from the Prototype Suit featured in the demo then?

Phil: Yes – I know the terms are the same, but the Prototype Suit that you’re seeing here is the prototype that we internally made as our test, and not the finished thing.

Lee: We made this in-house prototype so that we could get a sense of its scale and movement speed, and how that will differ in comparison to a larger mech.

Phil: The actual Prototype Suit in the final game is an advanced suit which has all sorts of interesting tweaks to it. It’ll be able to do all sorts of wonderful things.

Unlike a lot of other third-person shooters, you’ve got these big open environments in Beyond which aren’t littered with a load of conveniently-placed thigh-high walls to hide behind for cover, plus you can actually improvise and arrange your own cover using the items in the environment.

Phil: One of the choices that we made was that the player cannot take cover in our game. The AI can, but you instead have to rely on the suit’s powers and abilities, and the fact that you can slow down time and dodge. I love Gears of War, but I don’t want to make another game where you hide behind a chest-high wall, wait for yourself to auto-heal and then you come back. It’s why, from a gameplay point of view, you don’t recharge your health; the only way to get your health back in Beyond Flesh and Blood is to kill your enemies, so you can’t hide. If you want to stay alive, you’ve got to get into the fray and get into the fight.

I like the game’s tower mechanic – it’s a cool way of reining in the player’s power and reach without it feeling overtly restricting.

Phil: The main reason why we have them is that in the singleplayer campaign, we don’t like it when the player encounters an invisible wall, so the towers are our way of leashing the player to where we want them to be.

Lee: The story element of it is that the pilot controlling the mech is on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, controlling his mech with his mind – he constantly needs connection to that mech through the towers, so when you die, that connection is severed. Another mech gets sent in and your mind reconnects to the replacement.

In one of your previous interviews you mention that you specifically didn’t want the game to be too hand-holding when it came to difficulty. Is that a personal reaction against the design of modern shooters, or rather a case of giving the game some of that old-school shooter difficulty?

Phil: I’m an old-school gamer – I like games that are hard, that you actually have to think about them and learn the gameplay mechanics. One of the things that I don’t like is when people take a dislike to a certain game because it doesn’t feel like a game that they already know. If you don’t like a shooter because it doesn’t play like Call of Duty, then fair enough that’s your personal choice, but perhaps you should try and learn that game’s own gameplay mechanics. The configuration of the pad doesn’t have to be locked, I’d much rather a game dev did different things with it.

As for the holding hands bit, I like hard games. It pains me that nowadays quite a few games just give you this sort of rollercoaster ride. We want our players to really have to think about the game and understand the mechanics to be able to progress.

Speaking of old-school, Beyond has some crazy levels of gore going on – is that also a throwback to older shooters like Unreal Tournament and Quake and things like that where gore was a big part of the shooter zeitgeist of the time?

Phil: We are late ’90s gamers. I like games with gore in them. The big thing that I always say is that we’re not making a torture-porn game – it is over-the-top action movie gore, where you shoot someone and they explode into gibs. The violence is easier to palate the more extreme it is, as it takes on a cartoon-esque vibe.

Lee: Phil is also working on a new dismemberment system, and new sync kills – the melee kill animations that the mechs perform they tear people apart. We’re still working on them, but we’ve managed to get a lot of the new animations in. These are going to be a lot more detailed – we’ll be releasing some more footage sometime soon.

Phil: With the Unreal 3 build there was only so much that we could do. Now, I can tear any limb off any person and punch holes in people – basically all the things that my sick mind wanted to be able to do to people in games! (Laughs)

Printworks

How was the transition going from the Unreal 3 engine to Unreal 4? I’m guessing that it wasn’t just a simple ‘right-click – save as’ process?

Phil: No – I’ve not had much sleep over the past two months and the whole team has been working incredibly hard to port all of the assets over. It’s worthwhile, but it’s not a simple job; we’ve had to rebuild the game from the ground up.

Lee: I think Epic have done some things to help this process, like there are exporters for things like content, but it’s still a big job to move the code base over for our AI, the shaders, the dismemberment system and a lot of the assets.

Phil: It’ll be worthwhile, but I’ll be glad when it’s done because we have a nice stable build here, we need to get our Unreal 4 build to feel as polished as our Unreal 3 build does.

Lee: We’ve definitely got both feet in Unreal 4 now, but it’s just a case of continuing on with that process.

I’ve read that you’d also made changes to the enemy AI since the previous demo – how exactly have you changed those systems?

Phil: They are smarter, we’ve used everything that we’d learned in the Unreal 3 build to make the Unreal 4 AI a hell of a lot better. They have squad-based AI now, so they know where you are in relation to the rest of their teammates and will try to flank you. The AI is an important part of the experience – we don’t just want them to blindly fire at you. We want them to apply pressure.

Lee: Even in the AI themselves, we’ve got separate classes of AI that will respond to you slightly differently as part of their own AI class but will operate together as one when part of a squad.

On a related note, can we expect to see any more extra-terrestrial enemy types in the final game i.e. ranged variants?

Phil: We aren’t talking about that faction yet, but let’s just say that we have a crack team of artists who are making some interesting content. (Laughs) We do have to keep some things back for the singleplayer.

The game is coming to the Xbox One and PS4 after the PC release – do you have any plans to use the unique hardware and features of those consoles? Any plans to use the DualShock 4’s touchpad or the Xbox One’s Kinect?

Lee: With the Kinect personally, aside from what we’re doing with our game, I was really excited when it came bundled with Xbox One. Now that it’s an optional extra, you can never be sure that every user has a Kinect, so we’re not 100% certain about those elements.

Phil: Unfortunately because the marketplace has now been split with the Xbox One, you need to cater for people who don’t have one.

Anything in mind for the PS4 touchpad?

Phil: It would be nice, but just as long as it doesn’t influence the core gameplay too much.

Any plans or thoughts on integrating VR or Oculus Rift support into the game in the future?

Phil: We’re aiming to get the game to run at a stable 60 frames-per-second, but to integrate VR we would have to half that, and do it all in 3D. It’s something we’re not heavily focused on – we’re focused on making this the best singleplayer experience that we can, but just for my own personal pride I would like to see it working on Oculus.

Lee: I’ve played other games on VR and I think it’s an excellent experience so I hope that it definitely does take off. It’s interesting now that Valve is releasing its own VR headset (the HTC Vive) now.

Phil: It does feel like this is now an actual thing; VR is happening, and the future is all about these new headsets.

It’s funny how VR is still a concept that’s in vogue today after it turned out to be nothing more than a kind of a gimmicky fad back in the ’80s with things like the Nintendo Virtual Boy. In such a short period of time it’s come back and it’s now a very real possibility and practically an inevitable thing at this point.

Phil: I think it was at EGX last year that I played Elite: Dangerous on the Oculus, and that was a mind-blowing experience. If that is just the baseline of it, then the future is going to be bright.

Lee: Yeah, and that was on unreleased hardware as well, so hopefully it’ll just keep getting better and better.

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Anything else that you’d like to say about the game that we didn’t get chance to cover? When can players expect to get their hands on the final version of the game – Summer 2015 right?

Phil: Yeah that’s correct, we have a free demo of the game that players can download from our website (www.beyondfleshandbloodgame.com) so if you’re interested then you should get it downloaded.

Lee: Also, for anyone who’s interested in the game to keep an eye on our content releases, as we’ll be releasing more things to do with Unreal Engine 4.

Beyond Flesh and Blood Pre-Alpha Demo – First Impressions

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 (Played on PC)

Cotton and guns – two things that Manchester is most famous for according to Alan Partridge. However, if Alan Partridge was a keen PC player with a penchant for mechanised brutality, then I’m sure he’d be quick to add a third notable item to that rather brief list – mechs.

That’s thanks to Beyond Flesh and Blood, an upcoming third person mech shooter by Pixel Bomb Games, which is set in a future post-apocalyptic version of Manchester. While not the first game to design a shooter that features a virtualised Manchester – that honour goes to Insomniac’s Resistance: Fall of Man – Pixel Bomb, themselves a Manchester based development studio, have taken it upon themselves to combine their home city with their love of giant mechs to create an exciting new shooter for PC, Xbox One and PS4. Forget Madchester; this is Mechester (sorry, I had to do it).

The story goes a little something like this. The year is 2281 – after a catastrophic global war, the remnants of society have split into two groups – on the one hand you’ve got the United Global Remnant who now live in a space station in Earth’s orbit, known as the Tree of Life, whilst on the other you’ve got a group of rogue scavengers who still skulk about on the planet’s surface. When a meteor containing some nasty extra-terrestrial creepy crawlies hits the planet, you’re sent in as a mech pilot to retake key strategic cities back under U.G.R. control. Any guesses as to which city you’re sent to?

I’ve been checking out the latest pre-Alpha demo of the game (Version 0.04) which gives the player the chance to pilot two powerful mech variants in two large crumbling outdoor combat arenas. Each level is essentially a Gears of War horde mode style map; you’re pitted against wave after wave of human rebels and necromorph-like alien assailants and you need to blast them away before they can destroy your mech. The two different mechs that you can use each in combat (or Tactical Combat Frames to give them their proper title) provide distinctly different weapons, modes and attacks to use on the mean streets of future Manchester; each suit offers its own distinct flavour and style to the combat.

Smash

The Mark 1 is your prototypical bread and butter big mech; a bulky yellow powerloader-like robot, complete with a shotgun, lasers, pulse bombs and missile salvos to destroy pretty much anything that happens to piss you off.

Mech Landing

The Prototype Suit on the other hand is a smaller armoured battle suit, something more akin to the MJOLNIR armour that the spartans in the Halo games wear. This suit offers some more physical attack options than the Alpha suit, such as a powerful ground pound move (speaking of Halo, it’s similar to the move of the same name in the Halo 5 Beta) which delightfully chunks any enemies caught in its blast radius. Lovely.

The two maps available in the demo, Albert Square and Beetham’s Folly (Deansgate), which are, of course, modelled after the real life Manchester locations. As a player who’s already familiar with the city, it’s a delightfully surreal experience to see familiar sights and buildings from the city now turned into beautiful The Last of Us style decrepit ruins, overgrown with both natural and alien fauna.

Town Hall

There’s something particularly cool about robo-rampaging around these Manchester locations that I’m sure present day Mancunian gamers will no doubt enjoy. Plus, it’s great to see areas of England in video games that aren’t just set down south in the capital for a change.

Tower

Anyway, let’s talk about the gameplay. An interesting tactical mechanic that the Pixel Bomb team have implemented into the game is that your mech can only operate in areas of the level that are within the signal range of the U.G.R’s control towers. Start to move out of bounds and your mech will gradually start to lose signal, which ultimately causes you to lose a life/mech if you keep going. At first, you’ll only control one tower and you’ll subsequently find that you can’t venture very far into the level at all. Whilst this can feel a bit frustrating and limiting initially, you can quickly expand the boundaries of your fighting space by hacking new towers, which then grants you more freedom to move around the level and blast, scorch and demolish foes to your heart’s content.

So, one of the first jobs you’ll want to do when starting a level is to get hacking away at the level’s towers in order to give yourself more room to manoeuvre before things properly kick off. However, in the later stages of a level, you’ll need to be keeping an eye out for enemies trying to take your towers offline in order to restrict your movements, which creates an exciting tug of war power struggle between you and your cannon fodder. In addition, you can also hack various gun turrets and missile batteries in the area to aid in your defensive efforts, as well as activate force fields to close off areas to the attacking human and alien hordes.

From my time with the demo, the human rebel AI is good, but they have a tendency to feel a bit like cannon fodder after a while without ever feeling like much of a serious threat in combat; they tend to either run straight at you and make themselves easy targets in the process, or skulk behind cover in fixed positions and wait for you to come and finish them off. On the other hand, the alien AI is very aggressive and very much a threat; they will often make a beeline straight for you once they spawn on the map, and they can quickly tear your mech to pieces in seconds if you’re not quick to blast them, so together a combination of two enemy types definitely keeps you on your mechanical toes so to speak.

You can pick up your fallen attackers’ weaponry from time to time, as well as environmental debris and items which provide a temporary change from your mech’s standard arsenal, although it’s not always clear or apparent just how to use whatever you’ve just acquired. I found picking up and using rebel assault rifles and shotguns to be easy and straightforward, but for some reason I couldn’t seem to be able to get my mech to throw the molotov cocktails once I’d scooped them up. My mech would just keep them clutched in its arm like it was a fine bottle of Chardonnay that it was saving to swig down later at a quieter moment. It was probably just me being an idiot and not doing something correctly or otherwise it’s something minor that will be fixed in the final game.

Speaking of things you can find on the battlefield, the thruster pack power up you are sometimes awarded with adds some extra abilities to your mech that permanently increase its manoeuvrability for the rest of the match. These include the ability to perform short dashes which allow you to quickly get out of the line of fire, to perform mid-air boosts which allow you to zoom across platform gaps and the ability to charge up your standard jump so that you can reach greater heights. It’s just a bit of a shame that the thruster pack is a separate power up that you have to acquire, and not something that is inherently built into your mech from the start; it makes navigating around each arena much more of a smooth and enjoyable process. It’s a small point, I know, but without the thruster pack, your mech feels like it’s just missing a crucial element when you fire up a new level and it’s not automatically equipped.

Laser

Now, time for a bit of a confession; I’m primarily a console player who doesn’t play an awful lot of shooters on the PC these days (heresy, I know), so I accept that I’m not exactly an expert on how a shooter should feel control-wise on a mouse and keyboard. In my opinion though, Pixel Bomb have taken what could have been an overly complicated and fiddly set of controls (yes, I’m looking at you Steel Battalion and your 40+ button controller) and assigned them to a control layout which largely feels simple to use – even for a PC noob like me.

With a bit of practice in the tutorial, I was soon stomping around, darting around corners and piloting my mech with ease. The weapon system felt a little strange with this setup at first, as the majority of your weapons are fired all by using the left mouse button in different ways, but I actually found that this actually makes things way more concise and simple in the fast-paced nature of the combat so that you’re not constantly scrolling through a weapon wheel every few seconds. Perhaps it’s just because I’m primarily a console player, but I have to say that there’s just definitely something undeniably cool about playing a mech game with a keyboard, as it gets across that tactile feeling that you’re directly manning the controls of the mech in a way that you don’t quite seem to get when using a controller.

Drones

Having said that, I personally found that some of the keyboard controls could feel a bit awkward and clunky at times. In particular, activating the slow motion precision aiming ability on the keyboard felt like quite a convoluted procedure – you have to click the right mouse button as you simultaneously tap left shift, but if you hold left shift for slightly too long then your mech will start to race forward as it’s also the run key. This makes things a bit awkward if you’re wanting to snipe at fast moving targets from afar without your mech lurching forwards at a crucial moment. For a skill that you need to consistently use in order to take out targets at range, it definitely took a while to get the correct timing down in order to aim accurately in slow motion. Admittedly, the game is designed to be played with an Xbox 360 controller first and foremost, which probably elevates this issue altogether, or like with the molotov cocktails, it might be just me being an idiot again.

Charge Attack

In contrast to the issues I had with the long range shooting, the game really nails the up-close and personal mech on flesh brawling with flying colours. Perhaps I’m a bit too bloodthirsty for my own good, but in my opinion one of the game’s greatest strengths is its heavy emphasis on guts and gore. While Manchester is often (unfairly) labelled as the rainy city in real life, in Beyond Flesh and Blood, it’s certainly raining an awful lot of blood at pretty much any time of day. The ease with which you can eviscerate the attacking rebel humans and curb stomp them into nothing more than greasy red Deansgate pavement stains feels disturbingly great. There’s a hefty sense of weight to your mech, particularly when using the Mark 1, and it’s a real rush (pun intended) being able to thud into a frail fleshy human at speed and pulverise them into great big bloody chunks with just a single click of the mouse.

Corpse

Alright, look, I might be a tad bit bloodthirsty, but the liberal use of gore and giblets gives the game this old school Unreal Tournament sort of feeling which works surprisingly well within the game’s more serious post-apocalyptic aesthetic. In particular, the various animations that your mech performs when dismembering some poor futuristic Mancunian soldier always made me chuckle (I’m definitely not a psychopath, I promise), and they imbue what would otherwise be cold and unflinching robots with a gleefully malicious attitude. Despite this, the high frequency with which these zoom-ins happen did start to get a bit irritating after a while, as they greatly slow down the action and pull you out of the experience a bit, particularly when they happen to trigger every couple of minutes.

Sunset

Perhaps one of the greatest concerns I had before even playing the demo was whether a third person camera view would best suit a mech shooter? For a genre which is typically associated with intricate first person cockpit immersions, the decision to go with a third person perspective felt an unusual design choice. From my experience of playing previous mech shooters such as Titanfall, which places a great deal of its emphasis on the simulation of climbing inside and piloting the giant Titan mechs, I was worried that the third person perspective of Beyond Flesh and Blood would lose something by eschewing the traditional cockpit view.

The game’s curved onscreen interface and futuristic heads-up display certainly help to create the impression that you’re inside the mech and directly piloting it first-hand. Although I personally feel that you somewhat miss out a bit from not having an internal cockpit view that gives a first person perspective of the action, the game goes a great way towards capturing that feel of piloting a robust heavy mech through the way its gameplay mechanics and the controls nicely intermesh with one other. You definitely get that great sensation of having all of the mech’s weight and power at your fingertips when playing; you feel like you’re controlling nothing short of a walking death machine on legs as you romp around the crumbling red brick ruins and pulsating alien hives of post-cataclysmic Manchester.

Additionally, the developers have stated that one of their main intentions with the game was to particularly focus on the “visual atmosphere…we’ve made one of the most enhancing features of the game its environments – using visually stunning playscapes to accelerate your experience.” Using a third person camera allows them to do exactly that, as well as show off the majestic mechs in all their shiny glory too – even though when you’re using the Mark 1 mech, it does take up roughly a third of your screen’s real estate. However, like I mentioned earlier, the area of the screen that you can see shows off some great set pieces and environments to fight in which look very promising even this early on in the game’s design.

So, all in all from what I’ve played so far in the pre-alpha demo though, From Beyond Flesh and Blood looks to be shaping up into being a fun mech shooter that’s full of promise, lasers, and pints and pints of blood.

I’ll be talking to the Pixel Bomb developers later this week at EGX Rezzed and also hopefully getting the chance to try out the latest Unreal 4 version of the demo which they are debuting there, so stay tuned for an upcoming interview piece and further written impressions in the near future. Until then, if you want to get in on the Manchester mech mayhem yourself, then simply download the demo to start eviscerating humans and aliens to your heart’s content. Just don’t forget to wear an apron – it’s bloody up north.

Retro Collect: Video Game Market 2 – Leeds Town Hall, 7th February 2015

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Leeds Town Hall

Today, it’s really easy to take for granted just how far the games industry has come, and in such a relatively short period of time too. While it’s cool that our shiny new always online modern consoles are busily purring away, automatically downloading the latest patches, system updates and all manner of other digital shots in the arm that are part and parcel of today’s gaming landscape, it’s a really nice change to once in a while step back in time and blow the dust out of the thick plastic cartridges of yesteryear.

This is exactly what a lot of West Yorkshire retro gaming fans did this past weekend. Retro Collect’s Video Game Market 2 took over Leeds town hall on Saturday 7th February, transforming the stately civic venue into a vintage gamer’s dream.

I popped down to the event to grab a few cheeky snaps and peruse all the lovely old school gaming delights on offer…and, of course, to snag some sweet loot along the way.

Retro gaming fans flooded en masse to the event to buy, browse and button-mash their way through over 40+ shop stalls spread out across the main room and off into the twisting passages and corridors of the town hall. There was an exciting  and at times almost mysterious buzzing atmosphere in the air, like you’d stumbled into the gaming equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave; was that a NES Zapper over there or is it just my eyes? Is that a copy of Zool for the Mega Drive I spy with my little eye? What’s that – An Altered Beast t-shirt? Wow, look, a pimped out Game Boy Colour! Oh hell yes.

In other words, to use a modern gaming analogy, it felt rather like walking straight into The Tower in Destiny, only way WAY busier, with far more interesting shops to browse and no miserly Cryptarch skulking about in the corner, doling out shoddy green engrams left, right and centre.

Video Game Market 2 had something for practically anyone who’s been even remotely interested in console and PC gaming of years gone by, and thankfully, unlike Destiny, the only currency to worry about was cold hard sterling, no fancy-schmancy marks or emblems and whatnot. The scope of gaming history packed into the town hall was really impressive, and between all the various shops and stalls displaying their wares, practically every era PC and console gaming was covered; with Atari 2600 games and Commodore 64 keyboard units snuggled up cosily against Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s of this past console cycle.

It was a really cool sight to see, and this juxtaposition of the old machines alongside the new got me thinking about the retro scene with regards to this current console generation. Standing in amongst the buzzing throng of the eager crowd, fawning over the various treasures and trinkets on sale, I found myself pondering whether today’s consoles will have anything like the lifespan or legacy of their predecessors. My gut feeling is that no, they won’t…but I’d love to be proven wrong.

Food for thought, right? Personally, I think it’s hard to imagine just what sort of retro revisiting will be possible in the future, what with the current console generation’s reliance on online infrastructure as an integral part of their basic operation and the industry’s gradual move to more multiplayer-centric always online experiences in general.

Whether today’s consoles will still be able to generate the same level of fan appeal and interest once their time is up in the spotlight, and we’re all playing on our PlayStation 5s and our Xbox Twos etc. remains to be seen. In fact, will our current PS4s and Xbox Ones even work once the servers and the all-powerful omniscient ‘cloud’ finally gets unplugged? As the holiday attacks on Xbox Live and PSN by Lizard Squad unfortunately demonstrated, the inevitability of an always online gaming ecosystem is slowly but surely becoming a reality, and even a temporary inability to connect to online infrastructures can grind pretty much all activity on these consoles to a complete halt.

For a very real example of this, consider a game like Titanfall. Whilst it’s an awesome game (one that I’ve sunk an unhealthy number of hours into), it’s a completely online multiplayer title with no traditional singleplayer campaign component. Almost a year after its launch in March 2014 however, the game hasn’t really been able to retain its player base as effectively as we once hoped, and now the player population is a tiny fraction of what it originally was.

With the exception of the subsequently patched in Frontier Defence mode (Titanfall’s robotically-themed equivalent of Gears of War‘s classic horde mode), which albeit can be just about played solo (the mode doesn’t scale the difficulty according to party size, meaning you’ll have to slug it out on your own against near-impossible odds on some maps), Titanfall fundamentally requires an always present internet connection and a full set of active players in order to even function.

Due to its ever-dwindling player base, future players of the game on the Xbox One are essentially going to be left with an unplayable shell of the original experience. Once the last players have moved on for good and the servers are finally shut down, that’s it. Finito. No more Titanfall. All that remains will be an obsolescent global graveyard of cracked green plastic cases of the physical copies, with their sun-bleached covers caked thick with dust, and a community’s collective memories of smart-pistoling Spectres, gunning down Grunts  and rodeoing Titans to their heart’s content; all a long time ago in a virtual galaxy far, far away…

But hey, they will probably have Titanfall 2 or 3 in their greasy mitts by this point, so you know…swings and roundabouts.

Of course, I’d love to be mistaken, but I just doubt whether current consoles and their game libraries will be able to sustain themselves for anywhere near as long as their offline predecessors have been able to.

By its very nature as a technological industry, gaming is  a constantly moving and forward-looking form of entertainment. There’s almost always something new to get excited about, that next big thing that’s just around the corner; some elusive, flashy new carrot that’s provocatively dangled in front of you at an E3 show to keep you salivating and desperate to get your hands on, even though it’s still many months and sometimes years away.

With each new major release in the gaming calendar inexorably sweeping up the player populations of older titles, we’re no doubt going to see more and more examples of these types of gaming experiences; ones which require a buzzing hive of online players to keep the blood pumping through their virtual online veins.

Anyway, with thoughts of all these extraneous online issues floating around, there’s something really delightful in being able to go back and revisit gaming’s past at an event like this. Even if it’s something as fleeting and momentary an experience as looking at the crumbling papery boxes and artwork of early cartridge games, or feeling the chunky controllers and garish peripherals of the past in your hands once again.

Resident Evil 2

Amongst all the delights on offer, a personal triumph for me was that I managed to find a Gamecube copy of Resident Evil 2 – the only game in the series that I (shamefully) haven’t been able to play…until now. I’d been searching for a reasonably priced copy of the game for absolutely ages, so I pretty much lunged for it like a crazed Black Friday shopper when I saw it on one of the stands, clutching it to my chest like my life depended on it. It did though, seriously, it really did.

I’ll absolutely be streaming Leon and Claire’s adventures through the wonderful tourist hotspot that is (or, perhaps more accurately after the events of Resident Evil 3, was) Raccoon City at somepoint in the near future on my Twitch channel – so stay tuned if you’re a fan of zombies, side-swept long blonde fringes and delightfully wonky dialogue from time to time.

So, as much as I love my modern consoles and this era of interconnected online experiences, there’s something particularly comforting in knowing that say in ten years time, I could dig out my treasured purple gamecube – itself already fourteen years old at this point – hook it up to an old CRT TV, pop in Resident Evil 2 and desperately try and escape Raccoon City one more time. Alone, anxious and desperately short of ink ribbons.

Titanfall – Frontier Defense Mode – First Impressions

Titanfall - Title Shot
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Respawn Entertainment announced earlier this week that a free new co-operative defence game type has been added to Titanfall‘s online multiplayer modes.

I’ve had a quick hands-on with this new mode, called ‘Frontier Defense’, and from the brief time I’ve played so far, I have to say that this new mode is actually really good, and a welcome, refreshing addition to the Titanfall package as a whole.

It’s essentially a four-player Gears of War horde mode clone, only with robots and giant mechs as your enemies instead of the subterranean gun-wielding Locust.

Your task as a Militia pilot is to defend a giant ‘Harvester’ contraption in one of the game’s standard maps, along with three other players; you can all call in Titans like you normally can in the game’s competitive multiplayer modes, only the goal here is to work together to repel the invading CPU-controlled IMC forces.

Frontier Defense is pretty difficult. You and your teammates have got to fight off six waves of robotic and human enemies, all the while defending the rather fragile Harvester, which has regenerating shields, but limited health, much like the games’ Titans. By about wave four or five, you’re going to be absolutely overwhelmed by enemies pouring in from all angles.

The action here is desperate, and surprisingly, quite tense too; on your first Frontier Defense match, you won’t know what to expect at all, and a lot of the normal enemies have cloaking devices which let them sneak up close to your team’s Harvester, which makes the Grunts and Spectres in particular feel much more significant and dangerous than they’ve ever felt in the game’s competitive multiplayer modes.

In addition to the ground troops, enemy Titans also often deploy with floating companion cloaking devices, which you need to shoot down in order to reveal their bulky, lumbering frames. You have an enlarged map in the top left of your HUD, placing a greater emphasis on tracking enemy and friendly movement around the level.

There’s some interesting new twists on the regular enemy types too; you have to keep an eye out for the new Suicide Spectres, fast moving Spectres, strapped up with plenty of C4, who like nothing more than to run at your team’s Harvester, as well as Nuclear Suicide Ogre Titans. These operate just like the Suicide Spectres, only they are much slower, but much more deadly.

You’ve got to balance between taking out the bigger Titan threats, while also not ignoring the Grunts and Spectres, as in numbers they can quickly whittle down the Harvester’s shields and health. Teamwork and communication are needed to keep that precious Harvester in one still-functioning piece. You’re periodically given a defence turret at the end of each round, which you can then put in a strategic spot of your choosing as a means of picking off some of the smaller Grunts and Spectres weaving their way throughout the map. But ultimately, success in Frontier Defense comes from effective co-ordination with your human buddies; playing with random uncommunicative matchmade players when I’ve been online has so far led to disastrous results.

This new mode feels refreshingly chaotic and intense. It’s still the same wall-jumping, action-packed Titan stomping shenanigans that you know and love, only with a co-operative focus instead of a competitive one. It feels so different and entertaining to play in comparison to the usual Titanfall modes that I’m surprised that a mode like this didn’t make it into the main game in the first place. Anyway, I’m glad it’s here and that we’ve got it now in the form of this free DLC.

Everything feels pretty cinematic, exciting and different – much like the main game felt upon its arrival in March. When you die, you don’t just respawn, you’re dropped in by a dropship, which gives you chance to briefly survey the battlefield from above. It really adds to the sense that you’re dropping into an on-going warzone. At times, these cool little things make Frontier Defence feel like the sort of thing that would have been a perfect fit as part of a more traditional singleplayer mode, the sort of gameplay that a lot of Titanfall fans undoubtedly felt was missing from the rather underwhelming multiplayer ‘campaign’.

There’s some annoying achievements that have been released with this new free DLC update, which I’ll grumble about in an upcoming post, but in the meantime, if you’ve kind of forgotten about Titanfall recently, what with all these shiny new games dropping out of the sky left right and centre (much like a Titan), then I highly recommend that you fire your copy up, and try out Frontier Defense. After all, it’s free and, like me, you might just be rather pleasantly surprised by it.

Titanfall 2: Giant guns, grunts and gratuitous gesture controls – four cool ideas for the inevitable sequel from the mouth of an armchair idiot.

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(Originally published on MyIGN on April 7th, 2014)

Pilot Ejection

What goes up…

Despite going through 5 generations of combat training, each new generation a flawless recreation of the last, the Pilot found that he never got used to mid-combat titan ejecting. One moment you’re sat inside the hulking state-of-the-art chassis of a two-storey, 30 tonne walking tank, a few rapid keystrokes and a pull of a lever later and the next all you can see is wide open sky, the icy cold wind whipping against your visor and jumpsuit, the breath completely sucked out of your ragged lungs, which only seconds ago were full of the acrid fumes of internal cockpit fires and melting plastic, with nothing but your cloaking device, thruster pack and, hopefully, just hopefully, a great deal of luck that you’ll get back down on terra-firma alive and in one piece.

The ensuing fall itself was not so much of an issue, as the regulation Militia gravity-dampening boots would safely absorb the force of the impact, but rather the real danger came in the form of every enemy grunt, spectre and Titan on the field, which were undoubtedly calculating highly accurate lethal targeting vectors to shred the now exposed rapidly falling human in the sky before them into a cloud of fine red mist and a plummeting trail of several small lumps of scorched, bullet-riddled meat. Small arms fire from the IMC grunts and spectres started up as he fell into range, and the pilot could hear their R-101C and Hemlock BF-R rounds rattling through the air around him. The repeated crack of a Kraber-AP rifle, it’s high calibre rounds scything through the air, leaving an evanescent misty trail behind them gave away an enemy IMC sniper who was trying hard to snipe him on his descent, undoubtedly trying to get a flashy airborne headshot (which was quickly becoming apparent with each successive shot’s miss, quite clearly beyond his attacker’s skill) recorded onto his helmet’s capture equipment to impress his superior officers.

“Hmmn. Amateur” the Pilot sneered. A small flash of light in his periphery – ZAAAAP! A crackling white-hot bolt of lighting seared within a couple of inches of his torso, causing him to violently jerk about and cry out in an anguished combination of shock and pain. Although the shot was not a fatal direct hit – a ridiculously high voltage electricity projectile fired from a titan-mounted arc cannon no doubt – the intense heat and its proximity to his torso still managed to scorch the right side of his jumpsuit and helmet and causing his burnt skin underneath to instantly blister and weep. Too close, far too close his mind screamed at him, his body writhing and tumbling out of control through the air in pain and heat, sweat pouring down his face and mouth in salty streams, blood pumping loudly in his ears, whilst he blinked rapidly to see where to escape to before the titan could fire again.

Not now. He could deal with his injuries later, if he made it out alive – right now, such thoughts about his chances were only clouding his mind. He needed to focus. The Pilot quickly assessed the situation whilst plummeting toward to the buildings racing up to meet him. What he needed was an accessible rooftop or some nearby structure to get to, and fast – there. A cluster of small warehouses were coming up fast on his left – that would have to do. Pivoting in the direction of the buildings, the pilot simultaneously activated his cloak and fired the belt-mounted thruster pack slung loosely across his waist to set a trajectory for one of the skylights on the warehouse’s rooftop. WHOOSH! Another crackling jolt of lighting punched through the air, which would almost certainly have been the end of him had he not activated his thrusters mere seconds ago. Grimacing from the lightning bolt’s accompanying nauseating wave of burning heat, the Pilot curled his small frame into a loose ball shape, preparing to meet his reflection racing up to meet him in the clear window of the skylight below.

Crashing through the glass skylight, a cacophony of shimmering crystalline light exploding around him, he gracefully landed on the soles of his feet like a strange mechanical feline, maintaining his momentum whilst tucking into a forward roll, one hand reaching behind his back and drawing his carbine, scanning the room down the sights for movement. Nothing. Shards of glass tinkled to the floor from the shattered window above like fresh drops of dew, peppering his back and head, but the Pilot tensely held his stance, solid and unmoving like an old weathered and worn statue from eons past. Paused, waiting for the faintest movement, the smallest sound, the ever so slight visual distortion in the air that marked an approaching cloaked enemy pilot. Nothing. Exhaling a deep breath, the Pilot allowed a brief moment to pause and consider the next move. His head was pounding; his ribcage felt bruised and battered from the ejection, possibly a fracture or a broken rib and he could taste the cold coppery taste of blood in his mouth. The Titan’s outside this structure were obviously the main attraction on the battlefield for enemy infantry right now. He should be safe for the time being. He staggered over to a stack of ammunition crates stacked in the corner of the warehouse, slumping down heavily against them, relishing taking the strain out his aching legs and back. The faint tang of his burned flesh stung his nostrils as he removed his helmet, spat out a mouthful of dark crimson and wiped away the sweat from his forehead. The others. He needed to contact his fellow pilots. Pulling himself up with a grunt of pain to a sitting position, the pilot hailed his team’s comm. frequency on his suit’s inbuilt codec. “Pilots, report in, status update”. He received no answer except a ghostly distorted crackle. An enemy arc grenade’s EMP must have fried it earlier in the battle – he was on his own for now.

He already knew that the battle was lost. The Militia were getting destroyed out there. Thinking back to only a few hours ago when he jumped out of his unit’s goblin dropship onto the field of battle with 5 fellow pilots, the goal was simple. His team was to infiltrate the IMC base and locate and hack into 3 orbital sentry turrets in order to allow the Militia carriers to sweep in and siphon much needed fuel and supplies from the base. They had been told to expect a heavy presence of grunts and spectres, which were plentiful and swarming the battlefield like an angry uprooted colony of termites, rising up to smother the attacking Militia with their sheer numbers. His team was also expecting a heavy titan presence. Normally, the Militia’s titans could comfortably go toe-to-toe with the IMC’s any day of the week. After all, the Militia’s titans were of course IMC titans before they were stolen and given a gung-ho, kick ass olive-green and orange paint job. But the IMC had access to the latest up to date mods and equipment from Hammond Robotics, such as slaved warheads and dedicated 12 missile target-painting salvos, which more often than not gave their pilots a slight advantage over the Militia’s. The Militia had to make do with whatever modifications they could salvage from fallen IMC titans, or steal blueprints, mods and entire shipments of titans from IMC factory ships – but such operations nearly always resulted in heavy troop casualties and the loss of a great number of their ships – both of which were in short supply.

The battle had started to go awry when the IMC titans managed to project a massive co-ordinated particle wall – a shimmering blue-green distortion field which would absorb any projectiles fired at it, but allow those standing behind it to fire through at their targets with relative safety – between themselves and two of the turret hard points, effectively allowing them to shell the advancing Militia titans with impunity. The Militia had yet to perfect the reverse engineering of this technology, so without a viable defence, the only choice was to continue to advance into the thundering storm of shells, bullets, energy bolts and missiles. By the time the particle wall had dissolved, the Militia’s titans had taken such a severe beating that it didn’t take long for the IMC to mop up those left standing. The pilot’s own titan, an ogre class he affectionately nicknamed ‘Betty’ was one of the last to fall, fending off 2 nimble enemy stryders using a combination of electric smoke to scramble their targeting systems, a few well placed 40mm cannon shots and Betty’s brute strength to rip their shattered limbs from their fragile chassis and bludgeon their cockpits (and the doomed enemy pilots within) in as a final coup de grâce. With the two stryders down, the pilot intended to retreat and get to cover, before an enemy atlas model with an arc canon and a souped up damage core – the same one which nearly flambéed him mid-air only moments ago – arrived to put an end to Betty and her winning streak.

Perhaps if he’d opted for the standard issue vortex shield, then Betty’s last titan joust may have gone differently. But he favoured an anti-pilot build, complete with electric smoke canisters installed into the rear access panels that surrounded the titan’s brain core. Besides, it was too late to worry about that now. He had to hope that the militia had managed to get what they needed fuel and supply wise from the base. A sharp crackle of static from his codec interrupted his thoughts.

“Attenti…on…all p-pilots…miss…..f…ailed……..g-g-….et…..to….dropship….hurry!….”

It was Sarah, the chief Militia communications officer. Mission control must have seen the latest casualty reports and battle projections by now, and would be dispatching the small but hardy evacuation dropships to rescue any soldiers lucky enough to still be breathing. He needed to be there when they arrived. Getting unsteadily to his feet, he clicked his helmet back into place, checked the clip in his carbine, double-checked it just to be sure, and then, after a moment’s pause, the pilot raced towards the warehouse’s door.

Checking the coast was clear, the pilot activated his cloak once again and proceeded to lithely sprint down the alleyway between the warehouse and the next building. His burnt and fraying jumpsuit’s earlier brush with lightning meant that the light refracting technology of his cloaking device would probably be struggling to effectively conceal him for the normal duration, but it would have to do. The GPU readout marker in his helmet’s HUD marked the dropship’s estimated arrival location and ETA, and were both slowly counting down. 200m. 210m. 200m. 190m and dropping, and roughly 20 seconds away. The alleyway opened out into a small loading bay, which was filled with a group of spectres searching for stragglers. He needed to get to higher ground. Launching himself into the air, the pilot gracefully dug his toes into the wall, feeling the boots assimilate and grip to the rough concrete and bricks. Scaling the wall, the pilot ping-ponged back and forth between the narrow buildings, and eventually hoisted himself to a rooftop. There. The Goblin was just touching down a few buildings away. He could see other pilots were scrambling aboard and proceeding to lay down covering fire for their comrades. 10 seconds. With a final burst of energy, the pilot ducked and ran in a low crouch, leapt to the next building. 5 seconds. Another leap, and he was almost there, launching himself over the chasm between the final two buildings. 2 seconds. Firing his thrusters, the pilot boosted upwards to the open hatch in the dropship, a fellow pilot with arms outstretched ready to drag him into the hold, when…Crack!

You were killed by XxxXSnip3z4Ev4rY0l0XxxX.

Oh for fu…oh? (Notices the reader looking bored, yet still waiting patiently for the main point of the article, and puts down Xbox One controller)  Ah, hello there! Sorry, I didn’t see you come in! Let’s begin shall we? (TB321 gestures for reader to take a seat before composing himself).

Unsurprisingly, EA and Respawn have announced that the initial workings on a sequel to the massively popular Xbox and PC juggernaut Titanfall are starting to get underway. So, from the powerful and influential position of my sofa, here are some cool ideas that I think would personally be great implementations to get into Titanfall 2. Listen up Respawn, I’m only going to say this once, okay? Good. Ahem (clears throat before continuing).

1. The campaign multiplayer should have various outcomes and routes

Although the campaign doesn’t really have any major impact on the gameplay other than what the current match’s objective is (either attrition or hardpoint domination), it can feel a bit demoralising to have an established linear path laid out in front of you regardless of your team’s performance. This is a shame, as the inclusion of bots (which is a thorny issue for some) gives the game a really good sense of atmosphere and world-building. If you start a campaign playthrough from the beginning as the IMC, and win every match that comes up in the sequence, your faction still comes off as the worst of the two – the militia still steal your fuel, destroy your super-carrier, and your main battlefield commander still defects even if the IMC team absolutely dominate every single match. Once you’ve got your achievements for playing the requisite number of campaign matches, and winning every match as both factions, there is little to come back for in terms of replay ability here (unless more story is included in the upcoming dlc packs).

A campaign system similar to Star Fox 64 would potentially allow for some interesting campaign experiences that would be refreshing to replay multiple times as either side. Every campaign would start with an opening level which is identical each time – much like the opening round of hardpoint domination on Fracture in Titanfall, where both IMC and Militia sides are on a similar level footing in terms of narrative progression. From there, the next level would be one of a set of binary branching paths depending on which side wins – an IMC victory on the first map would take the campaign to a match on one of the nodes on one of the branching paths, and a Militia victory would take the campaign to a completely different map and different node. This could also impact on the gameplay in relevant ways. If the IMC team win the first match, then they could start the next map in the sequence with a much greater number of CPU controlled Titans at the start, giving them a slight numbers advantage. This would also make sense narratively as was well of course, as the Militia, having suffered a defeat in the previous match, would presumably have slightly depleted numbers of titans and troops. If your team wins a number of consecutive landslide victories in a row, you could maybe claim a total ‘checkmate’ style victory several matches earlier than a specific scheduled end point, but this highlights the very problem with this idea.

If each match’s outcome determines the state of play of the next, then it could lead to some punishing and not fun to play experiences – not what you want in an entirely online multiplayer game. An ideal multiplayer mode in a game like Titanfall wants to be balanced or it starts to feel unfair. The three titan models work brilliantly as distinctive vehicles of destruction as they are all delicately balanced with respect to each other in a pseudo rock-paper-scissors sort of way, and each have class-specific advantages and disadvantages in combat. The controversial smart pistol is similarly a cleverly balanced inclusion in the game, allowing beginners and those new to FPS a quick, intuitive and easy to pick up way of earning CPU kills for their team. To stop it feeling like an overpowered aimbot however, it takes approximately 3 seconds of uninterrupted aiming on a human player to score an instant kill, which means that it keeps the weapon from feeling too powerful, and encourages the player to graduate to using the other pilot weapons. So if arriving at the final level of a rolling progressive star fox-like campaign like the one outlined above means that one team is basically all but guaranteed to lose as the other team has significantly more game-changing resources, it would just feel really unplayable and broken. A secondary potential problem which could stem from such a campaign mode would be how to maintain and track the progression throughout the story with a regularly rotating set of players. What if the winning team quits, people rage-quit at the start or lots of people drop out from the losing team after a particularly punishing defeat? Would the campaign continue to carry on, or would a reset back to the lobby to wait for more people to join be needed if lots of participants drop out. It could feel very disjointed and muddled if you joined halfway through. Or, conversely, the alternative to this could be…

2. Have a stand-alone single player campaign

To completely contradict everything I just said in the last section, I actually think that the old school triple-A model of military twitch shooters having a separate single player, single-playthrough disposable campaign in addition to multiplayer modes would have actually worked out quite well for this game. Yeah yeah, the usual sci-fi tropes and action game/film clichés we all know and love are all present and accounted for; small rag-tag bunch of rebels up against the mighty power of the megacorporation and it’s vast army (check); grizzled and world-weary heroes called back to the action for one last job, needlessly sacrificing themselves for maximum cheesy dramatic impact (cough cough, MacAllan cough, cough) et cetera, but I think the unique moment to moment gameplay that makes Titanfall so unique would make a single player campaign feel fresh, even if the regular story beats are still pretty stale. Imagine launching in a titan onto an enemy battleship in low orbit, shooting your way through it’s defences before wrenching off an access panel and dismounting to get inside it on foot to deliver a bomb or hack some vital intel while your titan has to stand guard and defend your escape route. Or what about a level where you temporarily have no titan support, and you have to use a combination of stealth and guerrilla tactics to take down other pilots and their titans? I know boss battles get a lot of stick these days as an antiquated relic left over from the arcade era, but I personally like a well written boss fight, so the thought of taking on a massive new mega-titan as a final boss would also definitely appeal – but again, it would all have to be staged well or risk falling into standard well-trodden territory.

3. Let the Kinect supplement the titan controls

This seems like an absolute no-brainer to me. The main distinguishing feature between the Xbox One and the PS4 is the Kinect 2.0. Before the recent price cuts and Titanfall console bundle options were announced, the £100 difference between the two consoles was a significant deal breaker over here in the UK as to which one you were going to purchase, and the reason behind that price difference was the inclusion of the Kinect with the Xbox One.

As a result, Xbox One developers have the Kinect available to use in games as a viable control mechanism to be used alongside regular controller input. With regard to Titanfall 2, Kinect implementation would mean some potentially interesting ways of further immersing oneself in the game, particularly when clambering aboard your titan. Imagine simply lifting your left hand up with your palm out to activate the vortex shield, and then pushing it toward the screen to return the bullets and shrapnel back to the sender. You shell an enemy titan with your 40mm cannon, blasting away it’s health before rushing in, and reaching out with your fist to the screen to get your titan to wrench your enemy from their shattered and burning wreck for a grisly melee execution.

However, as any Xbox One owner will tell you, when the Kinect works, it’s great. You get an epic kill, you quickly squeal out “Xbox, record that”, and lo and behold, your moment of glory is recorded for all to see, and be passed down from generation to generation though the ages in the years and centuries to come – interestingly, my Xbox seems to think I’m saying “Xbox go back” instead of “record that”, perhaps due to my dulcet northern vowels. Hmm. Anyway, like I said, when it works, all is well…but…that’s usually not often, at least in my experience. Despite all the marketing for the device showcasing it’s ability to track your limbs, individual digits, facial expressions, and even heart rate, all in various light levels (which make no mistake, is highly impressive and commendable) – it can still fuck up quite pathetically at times. One particular bugbear I’ve personally run into time and time again is that when I’m sat on the couch with my legs up, it can’t even distinguish between my fucking hands and my feet! My hands and feet! I mean, yeah okay, I have 4 fingers and a thumb on each hand, and 5 toes on each foot. My hands are each attached to separate long fleshly appendages, commonly known as ‘arms’, and my feet are attached to long fleshy appendages commonly known as ‘legs’. I can see the similarities here Kinect, I really can. But I’ll be watching an episode of Twin Peaks (huge David Lynch fan) on LoveFilm, when if I accidentally move my legs and feet, the Kinect thinks that they are my hands, suddenly now attached to my legs it would seem, are frantically waving at the screen to pause playback or skip ahead (the recent system updates have now solved this problem for me somewhat, so I’ll respectfully stop grumbling…for now). I believe Halo: Anniversary for the 360 allowed for some voice commands to be utilised in combat alongside the standard controller functions for those who had the old 360 Kinect, although these appear to be rather arbitrary and non-immersive, such as yelling “THROW GRENADE!” (not something you would imagine the stoic Master Chief to yell Leeroy-Jenkins style as he leaps into battle). If Kinect is ever going to be a tangible positive addition to gameplay, it’s going to need to be done well and have it perform consistently, not when it chooses to work! I’ll be keeping a close eye on Kinect Sports: The Rivals to see how it holds up. That game absolutely has to perform well with the Kinect, otherwise it’s not looking good for our favourite black rectangular 2001 HAL-like beady eye perched above our televisions.

However, as Titanfall 2 will no longer be just Xbox and PC exclusive, this may not be a worthwhile endeavour for Respawn to pursue. Unless they can implement similar functionality and in-game use with the PS4 camera, Kinect supplemented controls may be just relegated to the Xbox One and PC versions (now with the newly announced Kinect sensor for PC), or most-likely, not at all.

4. Smartglass integration – maps and titan building minigame (This is scraping the barrel here, I know!)

Ever wonder what happens whilst waiting for your shiny new titan to drop? Well, now you can find out when you use a second screen device whilst you’re playing! Seriously though, this could be quite a nice feature for any non-gamer to get involved with your gaming sessions if they so wish (or just yourself, if you’re feeling in a particularly ambidextrous, multitasking mood). A mini game where you have to select the correct parts and weapon systems for the desired titan from a construction line and then weld them onto the main body chassis, using your finger to trace the lines on the screen as a rudimentary blowtorch could work quite nicely, with a slight time construction bonus for the main player (nothing too advantageous, just say 10-15 seconds shaved off your next build time). When not titan building, the smartglass experience could mark out where enemy CPU characters are being dropped on the map – again, nothing too advantageous, marking exactly where each unit is would be unfair, but just showing where each drop pod initially lands could lend a helping hand to a struggling player looking to quickly reap a few quick AI kills to turn their fortunes around. Certain burn-cards could work well on smart glass apps too – for example, the burn card which gives you full unfettered access to the map, displaying locations of all player and CPU characters, would be much more useful to be fully displayed on a second screen, rather than just the cramped mini-map view which appears in a corner on the main screen.

What do you think would be good features for Respawn Entertainment to put into the Titanfall sequel? Let me know in the comments and I promise not to plagiarise them and claim them as original ideas of my own…promise 🙂 Absolutely no intellectual theft at all, don’t you worry about that, no sir-ee! 🙂