2K Marin is going back to the past, specifically 1962, to weave a tale of the first alien invasion in the United States. The world is already tense from US/USSR nuclear relations and the Cold War, and a secret special agency, The Bureau, is formed to keep American interests safe from the Red Menace and retain U.S. power globally.
The player takes on the role of William Carver, an agent with The Bureau known for getting the job done no matter what it takes. With the discovery of aliens and the potential of an alien invasion, Carver and his fellow agents are challenged to adapt.
“The organization that nobody knows about to combat the Russians are now having to switch gears and combat the aliens,” producer Andrew Dutro explained. “The Bureau now turns into an XCOM organization.”
At its core, “The Bureau” is a third-person, squad-based tactical combat game. It is a real-time strategy battle as opposed to a turn-based game, putting the pressure of the clock on all your decisions and moves.
Similar to “XCOM: Enemy Unknown,” it is not a “one man does everything” operation. You go on missions with your 4-person team, work with others in the agency to research alien technology, develop new weapons and combat the alien incursion.
“You’re going to need coordinated tactics, squad-based tactics for any chance of success or you’re going to die,” creative director Morgan Gray said. “We have an interface called Battle Focus, which will give you real-time control of your squad mates.”
Expect to see familiar alien faces if you’ve played “Enemy Unknown,” but in a different context than before. There are also new additions to the enemy ranks in order to mix things up for the player.
Agents in The Bureau rank up and abilities increase the more you use them successfully. However, fail to use them properly and there are lasting consequences. Permanent death awaits those who fall in battle with no chance to revive them.
If battling aliens wasn’t enough, you also have to take on history itself. The U.S. population and the world cannot know about the aliens or how The Bureau battled the alien menace.
“(Players) are also going to be part of the greatest conspiracy known throughout the U.S. government, which will be the covering up of this organization,” Gray said. “The world in 1962 cannot know how close we came to defeat at the hands of the aliens.”
Gray said getting the tone of the early 1960s and including the dark humor known in the “XCOM” franchise was tough.
“The juxtaposition of the 60s world in which we start in which is real, not fake, true history and then effectively creating a new alternate history both as we know it for our own planet and America, and XCOM’s history,” Gray said. “Straddling that line – it’s a lot of mouths to feed creatively.”
The game will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Windows PC in North America on August 20. It will be released internationally on August 23.
Also, there is no multi-player option. Gray said they really wanted to concentrate on the story and the action, and didn’t want to tack on something they didn’t feel was good enough for “The Bureau.”
Sid Meier, creator of the “Civilization” franchise of strategy games, completed his 20th year with the franchise after the launch of the first “Civilization” game in 1991. Meier has been involved in gaming since 1984 with the release of “Spitfire Ace” from MicroProse Software, Inc.
Meier is considered to be one of the great game designers and is currently the director of creative development for Firaxis Games. He sat down to reflect over the two decades of “just one more turn” and ponder what the future of gaming holds for him and the industry.
Congratulations on 20 years of “Civilization.” When you were first coming up with the idea, did you imagine that it would “stand the test of time”?
I wanted to make a game that was fun to play. Where it is today, I wouldn’t have dreamed. We made the first “Civilization” game because it was a game that we wanted to play and hoped that if we liked it, others would too. Lucky for us, people latched on to the game and our fan community has made the game what it is now.
Where do you get your inspirations for gaming?
The themes for all of my games are inspired by things I’ve been interested in my whole life. History, pirates, railroads, airplanes, golf, etc. are all things that I enjoy, so I wanted to make games based on these subjects.
For “Civilization” games, we get a lot of our inspiration from our fans and the talented folks who work on the games. While I have my own ideas to contribute, by bringing in designers with a fresh perspective, we’re able to continue growing and developing “Civilization” to create a new gameplay experience with each iteration of the game.
I’ve also been inspired by other developers and games such as Will Wright’s “SimCity,” the first “God Game” which really set the stage for the first “Civilization.” Also, Bruce Shelley, one of my design partners during Microprose’s early days, created one of the best RTS games ever made, the “Age of Empires” series. I’m also a big fan of Dani Bunten who created the first open ended adventure game, “The Seven Cities of Gold.”
What is the greatest innovation or idea that has been introduced from over the last 20 years in the “Civilization” franchise?
Each “Civ” game is unique because the designer brings their own unique ideas to the game. The biggest changes lately were the hexagonal world tiles, the one-unit-per-tile combat system, and the beautiful graphics in “Civ V.” We’d thought about hex tiles all the way back in the original “Civ,” but never tried it until “Civ V.” The one-unit-per-tile system makes combat much more tactical and fun to play. And the graphics take the gameplay experience to a wonderful new place.
Maybe the biggest change to the Civilization series as a whole is that we’ve managed to bring it to a variety of new audiences through our console, mobile and Facebook versions of the game.
What were some of the best times and hardest times in gaming for you in the last 20 years?
It’s difficult to think of hard times when I get to go into work every day and make games. I have the greatest job in the world and feel very fortunate to have been doing this for so long. The thrill of designing a new game never seems to grow old for me.
How has gaming and video games changed in the past two decades?
Technology is always changing and giving us new tools to work with. PC and console game designers have been taking advantage of this by creating dramatically better graphics and deeper gameplay experiences. New technology has also allowed developers to deliver games on a wide array of devices, so people from all walks of life have access to games everywhere from phones to tablets to the internet. It’s a great time to be a gamer.
Is the social gaming and mobile gaming trend a product of advancing technology leading an audience or a change in the gamer’s philosophy about gaming?
It’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg debate, but I do think advancing technology has allowed us to explore new platforms and areas of games that we didn’t previously have at our disposal. Social and mobile games deliver a different kind of experience than the traditional PC and console games, which seem to appeal to a broader audience than the usual gamer. The growth of gaming on so many different platforms, and the diversity of the audience is great news for the gaming industry as a whole.
Has gaming become more important to our culture in terms of entertainment?
Games have become the entertainment of choice for people all over the world. I’ve always said that games will someday take over the world and that seems to be happening. There are so many different gaming platforms and a constant stream of new games for players to enjoy in any way they choose.
It’s exciting to see the rise of games in popular culture in the past few years. Now it seems that everyone plays games on their phones and social networks. Games and game franchises have become an integral part of mainstream entertainment, and the industry is only 30 years old. It’s just the beginning of the greatness still to come.
“Sid Meier’s Civilization World” (2K Games) is a persistent game that allows players to play whenever they like and work towards both individual and team goals with each visit. The game, which can only be played on Facebook, has a beginning and an end, so each game will end with a winning player and a winning civilization.
“We really weren’t looking to make a quote-unquote ‘Facebook game’,” Meier said in an interview with CNN.com. “We were looking at what does Facebook bring us that is unique, that we can leverage and take advantage of with ‘Civilization’-style game play.”
“Civ World” is also a highly collaborative game where players join up with others from their social network on Facebook to form a nation and battle competing civilizations in your game to become rulers of the world. This collaboration brings players deeper into the game where they can strategize with other players to achieve a victory.
However, “Starhawk” (LightBox Interactive, Santa Monica Studios) uses a unique “Build and Battle” system in a new third-person shooter that will make every level different for different players.
The game is based on a lawless, frontier in space setting where the search for rift energy has split the populous into two factions. There are the rift miners who want to gather the energy to use and sell while the outcasts, miners who have been overcome by the mutating power of rift, consider it holy and want to preserve it at all costs.
Into this chasm steps Emmitt Graves, a miner who was exposed to rift, but did not mutate. With the help of a regulator in his back, he is able to survive and use the rift energy to power his abilities.
Graves defends the locations across the system from the roving outcast war bands that seek to destroy all who would desecrate the rift energy. He has a partner who helps act as a spy in the sky for enemy movements as well as outline the upcoming missions, but does not take an active role in the fighting.
At a hands-on demo, I tried the “Build and Battle” system in the single player mode. The gameplay mechanics seemed straightforward at first for a shooter, but the introduction of the ability to build equipment offered a unique change.
“Starhawk” is an area-based shooter, with multiple objectives confined in a specific space. The artificial intelligence (AI) is more freeform and dynamic, and takes its cues from whatever the player is trying to do.
A looser AI is needed because players can build different offensive and defense additions that will change the flow of the play. Turrets, vehicles, and bunkers provide offensive firepower while walls and gates form defensive barriers that funnel the action to where you want it to go.
The items are dropped in from the sky from an unseen location, but that offers some really fun options. During one heavy firefight involving some pretty powerful enemies, I had a wall drop in and smashed them into a fine powder – effectively turning my defense into a potent offensive weapon.
Soldiers, laser turrets, and flying mechs called Hawks were at my disposal to vanquish wave after wave of Outcasts who tried to take over a valley. Some good old-fashioned rifle work was also needed to defeat my enemies.
Players can collect game rewards that are given out at the end of each scene depending on how you played the game. I got big bonuses for the wall maneuver.
In the multiplayer demo, teams with eight members on each side played in a capture-the-flag mode that was entertaining to play and fun to watch. The action was intense and loud as each side built walls, used jeeps, or sometimes just found a unique path to capture the flag and return it to the base.
LightBox Interactive president Dylan Jobe said his team wanted to build a game that was different and awarded creativity in players.
“It is all about strategy,” Jobe told CNN.com. “Each mission can be done differently depending on the player’s choice of tactics.”
Jobe, who was the game director of “Warhawk” (Incognito, Santa Monica Studio), helped create LightBox with the idea of putting together “Starhawk.”
“We really wanted to know what the universe could be like, but remain driven by the idea of unique gameplay. We want gamers to have bigger dogfights, bigger landscapes, and a sense of progression throughout the game.”
With that in mind, Jobe said “Starhawk” was built to have a fast paced, fun and visceral multiplayer game that has a single player mode to teach the gamer about tactics. He said you ‘d never get a “game over” screen because you can always go back to the last checkpoint in single player to learn try a new way to succeed.
“There is no optimal path. We playtest every single day to find new ways to complete the missions. Even when I know something won’t work, there is someone who will find a way to make it happen. That’s why our gameplay mechanic needs to be so flexible and adaptive.”
“There are still some holes in the balance, but we are closing those up. For every power, there is or will be a defense.”
Jobe likened the action to “Starcraft,” but on a much more personal level. He said the building of equipment on the fly is very similar; however, the action takes you down to a micro level that can’t be felt in the real-time strategy game (RTS).
“It has elements of an RTS. It is more personal than that. You get to build what you want, but you are going to have to blast away. It really is more of a shooter than a RTS.”
Jobe said many of the game elements are still being finished up and playtesting goes on every day. He said they would be bringing the game to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in June.
More than two years in the making, Jobe said “Starhawk” would be ready to go sometime in 2012 and exclusively for the PlayStation 3.