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Space station meets alt-Victorian world with Arkane

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One is set in a fantastical alt-Victorian world. The other takes place on a space station. Dishonored 2 and Prey are clearly very different games – yet they share one thing in common. They are both developed by Arkane Studios.

Make that more than one thing. Ever since Arkane was founded in 1999 in Lyon, France, the studio has specialized in making a certain type of game that is, well… uniquely Arkane. These games defy easy genre descriptors. They’re not shooters, but you can shoot stuff. They’re not pure action games, but you can certainly get your fill of bloody, brutal combat. They’re not RPGs, but you have the ability to make choices with real consequences. And they’re not purely stealth games, but there are times when you can finish a mission without ever being spotted.

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“At Arkane, we always apply the same values to the games we make,” says studio President and Co-Creative Director Rafael Colantonio. “Dishonored and Prey share a lot of those values.”

For Colantonio – who led the original Dishonored with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith – that means a game “where simulation is very important, and where the choices of the player are very important.” Or, as Smith adds, “Arkane is dedicated to very immersive games that engage in first-person combat and first-person stealth. We allow the player to recombine powers and moves in different ways that we couldn’t even predict. We care about empowering the player. You can play our games very creatively.”

After the original Dishonored released in 2012, Colantonio moved his focus to directing Prey in Arkane’s newer studio located in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Smith – an industry veteran who joined Arkane in 2008 to work with Colantonio on Dishonored – moved to Lyon to direct Dishonored 2. While they now live in different countries, the two of them continue to collaborate on a daily basis, testing each other’s games, sharing expertise and more. “Harvey and I are constantly talking,” Colantonio smiles. “Either we’re chatting on Skype, or we’re texting each other.”

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A Sense of Place

For Smith, Arkane has become more than just a studio. “From the time 17 years ago when Arkane was just Rafael Colantonio and four guys in an office in France, with a network cable between their computers for transfers, a lot has happened – a long, rich history culminating most recently in the Dishonored series,” Smith says. “I’ve been with the company for eight years, which blows my mind. It’s longer than I’ve been with any other company. It’s amazing, it feels like home.”

When it comes to Arkane’s games, that feeling of “being at home” is no accident. “We are very much into creating a deep setting where there are layers of history,” Smith says. “We understand the architecture of the place, and the waves of settlers that came in, and how the foods have changed since then. It’s the kind of company where we just really care about creating worlds.”

While that makes sense for a lore-rich, fantastical setting like Dishonored’s Empire of the Isles, how does this world-building philosophy translate to a sci-fi game like Prey? Set on board the space station Talos I, Prey offers a vision of the near future that’s built upon a foundation of reality. “But it’s not the world exactly as we know it,” Colantonio says. “It’s another version of 2032. In our world Kennedy survived his assassination. We’re not very overt about it. We hint at it. This allowed us to take all the filters the new timeline would create, and build our world through those filters.”

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Which is why astute observers will see a mix of eras and styles reflected in the design of Talos I: Everything on board is rooted in a carefully thought-out alt-history timeline, with all details accounted for. The space station even includes some very lavish elements because, as Colantonio explains, “They built it in a way that would be attractive to the best scientists in the world. There’s even an artificial park with some engineered trees.”

Self Discovery

Within these Arkane worlds, the teams are also passionate about allowing players to build their own identity. It’s why Dishonored 2 offers a choice of two playable characters – Empress Emily Kaldwin or Royal Protector Corvo Attano, each of whom has unique powers and different perspectives on the world around them. And in Prey, players can choose whether Morgan Yu is male or female – but that’s just for starters. One of the major themes of Prey is identity: Along with killing aliens, players embark on a journey of self-discovery. This is even reflected in the gameplay. “We track what players do all along so there can be consequences to their choices,” Colantonio says. “We give players a lot of tools. It’s all simulated. Players can explore those tools in the environment and against the different AIs, who are themselves simulated – they’re not on a set path but are organically moving around based on what they sense. There’s a full ecology with the aliens. All of this combined really provides for experiences that are unique to every player.”

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Of course, Prey and Dishonored 2 are very different games as well. Dishonored is mission-based, with richly detailed, signature levels that you explore and complete in a myriad of ways. Prey, on the other hand, is built around a massive contiguous space, with areas you can revisit. Dishonored places a greater focus on stealth (with the option to play as chaotically as you choose); in Prey, stealth exists, but it’s not the central pillar of the gameplay. And while both games include a wealth of customization options, Prey places an even greater emphasis on RPG-like elements.

And yet they both share similarities that make them uniquely Arkane. “If you like Arkane games – those games that blend narrative and simulation, some choices and a lot of player exploration – Prey will be a game for you,” Colantonio says.

For Smith, Dishonored 2 represents eight years working at Arkane on Dishonored games. “I have a great passion for it,” he says. “The whole team does. Down to every object, the watermarks on the walls, the history of the place you go to, all the quirky characters. We just want our very vocal fans to know that we really are inspired by their passion and their enthusiasm. And for everybody who hasn’t played the first game, we think this is going to be a great entry into the Dishonored world, and Arkane games in general.”

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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