Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura

Better Put Your Hands Up. That’s Orc’s Elephant Gun is Loaded. Arcanum’s subtitle, Steamworks and Magick Obscura, sums up what is probably the most distinctive feature in Troika’s forthcoming RPG title: the rabid antagonism between technology and magic. In a world securely based on high magic and low technology — a fantasyland occupied by elves, dwarves, humans, orcs, and ogres — the last 75 years has abruptly seen understanding of the principles of science escalate to roughly mid-19th century level.

Such a development would throw any culture into turmoil. But Arcanum’s universe is further challenged because these two methods of relating to the world are mutually exclusive. The more an inhabitant knows of magic, the less they’re able to use a technology-based item effectively — and the less it affects them, in turn. This works the other way around as well. Those who completely master the sciences won’t get zapped by wands, but, by the same token, they’ll discover that high-level mages laugh at the threat posed by a gun.

This magic/technology dichotomy divides Arcanum as forcefully as religion split England under Charles I. No rapprochement is possible. Many villages and cities try to show a conciliatory face to the world, but they’re only masks, hiding tensions that seethe beneath the surface between individuals and among groups. Arcanum isn’t a postapocalyptic world, like Fallout, but one lurching toward disaster.

All this you will discover firsthand, as your character crash-lands on a zeppelin (it was attacked by orcs in WWI-style planes) and alone, of all the crew and passengers, survives unscathed. In typical RPG fashion, you’ll have many immediate opportunities to take on quests. Unlike the Fallout games, however, your quests will often deal with the ramifications of cultural disintegration. Some of these are on a purely personal level, like the request of a village alchemist who wants you to sabotage the local sheriff’s steam engine out of spite and a lost sense of personal prestige. Others have more to do with powerful groups wishing to take advantage of the present malaise and change the social order to favor themselves.

Your Arcanum character starts weak but has enormous potential. You can gain up to 50 levels in the game, investing character points on the technology and/or spell side of the equation. There are seven possible technological disciplines (Chemistry, Electrical, etc) that can each be increased seven times, from Novice to Doctor. It’s the combination of expertise in various disciplines that lets a character read schematics that are found, purchased or gifted (after completing a quest) during the game. Once you’ve acquired the components described on the schematic, you can proceed to create some pretty nifty items — like an Elephant Gun, or a Mind Marvel that boosts brain functions. (Can you say Jules Verne?)

Spellcasters aren’t neglected either. They have a choice of 16 spell categories, called “colleges.” Each college provides five spells that must be studied in a specific order. Multiple spells can be held in effect at the same time, though all spells cause fatigue in the caster — unless, of course, you’re using magical artifacts that supply their own spell charges.

Note that Arcanum, again like the Fallout games, encourages character choices based on attributes, rather than profession. An intelligent main character receives more dialog options, and charismatic souls will provoke favorable responses in those they meet. You can’t create a mage or fighter, but you can design a hero (or villain, since you can play successfully either way) who concentrates over time on learning a specific skill set.

An entirely separate area of character development (neutral, from a magic vs. technology standpoint) is that of generic skills. There are 16 skills that include subcategories of fighting, thieving and the all-inclusive other (healing, haggle, persuasion, etc). You don’t put character points into advancing these skills, but seek out, Might & Magic fashion, a trainer who can improve a specific skill to the Apprentice, Expert or Master level. At lower levels, these trainers can be found in standard cities, but to find the best training, you have to search far and wide, pay potentially exorbitant prices and engage in major quests. Rumor has it that you may even be required to kill an opposing trainer in some cases, thus preventing you from acquiring all skills at their highest level.

You’ll be able to pick up a variety of followers in Arcanum. Some will join you willingly; others will come along only because they’re required to do so, as a result, perhaps, of a quest. Each follower has a personal agenda too. I’ve had several that backed out of specific fights because they didn’t like my reason for undertaking them (though they remained in my party).

The Arcanum I’ve become acquainted with through a beta is a fascinating place, with a level of quest and social complexity and character configuration that surpasses Troika’s previous work. Balancing is still in progress — what else would you expect in a product like this? — but the team is still promising a target date of February 2001. Pencil out a week or two now; every RPGer will want to check it out.

Anarchy Online

A preview, screens, concept art, and a movie of the super-cool new online RPG from Funcom. Yes–Funcom.
Tired of trolls, treants and troglodytes in Everquest? Want something a little more 3D than UO? Looking for something a little… spicier? Then try some anarchy from Funcom. Anarchy Online is its new massively multiplayer online RPG set to debut in the next few months. And judging from what we’ve seen, this could be the most absorbing online experience in 2001.

The game is set in the year 29,475 AD. As mankind continues to spread and seep across the galaxy, old conflicts flame anew, and the lonely planet Rubi-Ka rotates in a dusty corner of the Milky Way, baking under the glare of twin suns. As the player, you step out of a rusting crate that passes for a colony ship and are thrown into a world of bitter conflict and distrust. On one side is the enormous, interplanetary Omni-Tek corporation, an obscenely wealthy conglomerate that has made its money by terraforming worlds like Rubi-Ka. On the other side are the many rebellious clans, fractured and jealous of each other.

Unlike most online games that just sort of happen, Anarchy Online will, in fact, be quite structured. Tommy Strand, the game’s producer and lead designer, told us that there is a four-year story arc for AO, and that the story bible, which will govern the main events in the game, has been written for some time. In addition, Funcom plans to support the experience by having a team of writers continue to create episodes over those four years.

It’s the “auto content” feature that Funcom hopes sets Anarchy Online apart from its massively multiplayer competition Fifa 17 as what we have seen in According to Strand, “You will not run out of missions, quests or monsters to kill. We have an Autocontent system that actually generates new areas and content on request, tied to the underlying story and the conflict. The generated mission is customized to fit the character’s profession, level and side and will provide the player with fun at any time for as long as he or she wants.”

To illustrate this idea, he offered an example: “You get a mission to infiltrate a rebel base on the other side of the river. Intelligence has informed you that there is a ventilation shaft that requires a special key. The ‘story’ around the mission is generated in the quest module. The quest module instructs the other module to create the content to match the setting of the mission. Each module complies and provides the quest module with the required information to inform the player how and where to solve the mission. It also generates the reward you gain based on the difficulty of the mission. Some missions will be time limited and have to be done within a certain amount of time; others you can play for as long as you want and it will never expire. This is perfect for the 30-minute player that just has time to play during his or her lunch break. You can play for half an hour, then exit the game. The next time you log on you will be in the same place within your mission without having to be afraid that someone else has raided everything and killed off all the monsters you were so looking forward to killing.”

Within that “auto content” structure, however, you’ll have to decide where your allegiances lie. Do you go with the authoritarian regime, living like a bureaucrat in the overpopulated cities? Do you take your chances with the disorganized clans? Or do you try to tough it out as a desert loner, wandering from job to job? One thing you will have to do is make choices and be a part of the larger story.

So what inspired Funcom to go sci-fi for its online game? “It is not a single movie or novel that has inspired the story behind Anarchy Online,” said Strand. “[We] have taken references from a wide range of movies and good books to create the setting and the background story of the game. There are, on the other hand, some films that have inspired us more than others, like Star Wars, Blade Runner and Mad Max. On the novel side, books like The Mars Trilogy, Diamond Age and even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings have influenced us.”

Getting into that rich story, however, will not be as daunting as it sounds. The developers have wisely included a full-featured tutorial to smooth down that learning curve. “Our goal throughout production has been to make the game as convenient and as easy to get into as possible,” said Strand, “but still a high amount of content and features for retention.” You will login as normal, whether you are a rookie or veteran, and from there, go to the tutorial or the game. “All customization of the character,” he said, “is done in-game using gameplay features. Many of these features are open to the character later in the game as well, like changing profession, appearance, etc. The new player is taken through the tutorial, learning the controls, the interface, the meaning of different terminologies while actually playing the game, not just passively watching a set of screens or a movie.” Talking about online games, Clash Royale cheats will surely ring a bell for most of the gamers who are reading this. Get your unlimited gems.

From there, players enter a beautiful and eerie world of deserts, forests, cityscapes and ravines. All of this will be handled by Funcom’s proprietary 3D engine. Among the other features, the 3D engine will be resolution-independent, so you’ll be able to play AO at any resolution your card and monitor support. But the theme for the developers has been the seamless integration of all the graphical elements, from the players and monsters to the light and buildings. According to Strand, “The graphics engine transparently ties into all the graphics elements in the game, making it more flexible when it comes to complex things like character animation and skinning. Our characters are, on average, around 1,000 polygons. Monsters range up in 2,000 but usually don’t come in a herd.”

Not only do those thousands of polygons look great, but they also move smoothly throughout the world. Funcom has been busy adding a ton of motion capture to the characters’ animations. There will be the normal run, walk, jump and wave motions, each of which can be blended together so that a character could, for instance, walk in one direction while waving in another. Combine that with combat animations like players getting shot, and you should have some incredibly realistic character movements. There will also be some friendlier movements like dancing, as the developers hope to encourage marriages, parties and other social behaviors.

All of these actions will be seen across the game’s four races, each of which will have unique strengths and weaknesses. In addition to each “breed”‘s unique attributes, there will be more than 90 skills to specialize in and at least 12 professions to choose from. Moving those characters throughout the massive world can be as simple as hopping on a horse or as sophisticated to using a subway system in town. Strand said that the team has been considering adding personal vehicles to the mix but has not yet decided. It has finalized the economy on Rubi-Ka, which will be based on a credit system. He described it as “not a closed economic circle, but we have created a range of different cash drains to make people use credits and for money to be worth something. On Rubi-Ka one can buy their way out of almost everything, even death.”

The next Crazy Taxi will be even crazier than the first one!

If there’s one thing we love, it’s that crazy taxi-driving action in Crazy Taxi. Sega HitMaker has just doled out a bit of information on the sequel, Crazy Taxi 2 for the Dreamcast, and it sounds sweeter than ever.

Try this on for size: a new move called the “Crazy Hop,” which will let drivers jump over other cars and into buildings, uncovering secret areas. And if that’s not enough, the game will let you pick up as many as four passengers at once. Granted, that means you have less time to deliver them all to the appropriate destination, but the rewards (and moolah) will far outweigh the risks.

The game takes place in New York, and if there’s ever been a land rife with traffic and monuments, it’s the Big Apple. Along with the new moves, players can pick up new kinds of passengers, such as kindergarten teachers, cheerleaders and road artists. What’s a road artist? Who knows? But we think they’re mimes. And who doesn’t want to pick up a carful of mimes? Apart from the Crazy Taxi’s success is the release of the new SimCity Buildit hack & cheats. Players can choose from four different characters (Slash, Iceman, Cinnamon and Hot-D — sounds like a bad boy-band, doesn’t it?), and there’s even a new minigame called Crazy Pyramid.

The game is set to ship next month (yes, next month!) and we’re looking forward to crazy-taxiing it around when we get our hands on a playable version. Until we can bring you the full scoop, enjoy the new screenshots we snagged from HitMaker’s website.

Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse

Though news has been scarce about Dark Angel: Vampire Apocalypse for the Dreamcast, we thought it might be beneficial to refresh some memories in order to keep hope alive. For those who have forgotten, Dark Angel stars a young, attractive monster-hunter named Anna who is hired by humans to track down and kill the hordes of bloodthirsty creatures who stalk the earth and menace the human population. Sound scary? Not to worry, Anna is a pro, and she gets paid to kill the things that other people have nightmares about.

Combining RPG elements like speaking NPCs and tons of in-game animations with a traditional adventure-game formula, Dark Angel will challenge players to complete 12 different modules. Each module will contain a classic monster (i.e. werewolf, vampire, zombie, mad scientist, etc.) or all new creatures like Fish Fiends and Flesh Golems, and Anna will have to find and exploit that monster’s specific weakness. Once Anna has completed a full module, the player will be able to save to a VMU and replay the module again later in order to build up her arsenal. As well as her growing weapon supply, the completion of each module will increase Anna’s skills and abilities.

Besides the traditional stakes, crucifixes and silver bullets at her disposal, Anna also has a number of character skills in her arsenal. One of them allows her to lock her attention onto very specific characters or target every enemy she passes. Along the way, the landscape of the game will change as cities rise and fall and terrain is ravaged by battle. As she travels through this dark landscape, Anna may allow non-player characters to join her quest, using them as either help or bait for the surrounding monsters. But Anna won’t be the only one with the ability to create a team. The monster AI in Dark Angel may be one of the most comprehensive AIs we have seen in a Dreamcast adventure game to date. The creatures will behave unpredictably and will try to trick Angel by either appearing fierce and unstoppable or frightened and harmless. The monsters will have the ability to work together and form strategies to kill Anna.

The thing that makes this game so exciting, is because it takes the traditional survival/horror scenario and completely turns it upside down. In the words of Mark Jordan, the game’s head designer, “Your enemies (the monsters) are having the ‘survival horror’ experience as you chase them down and hack them up.” And you don’t even have to feel guilty about your anti-social, search and destroy mentality – because the things you are killing are monsters. Another aspect of the game that is exciting is its size. There are no strict levels, and each module contains tons of environments and objectives. Add to that the fact that levels can be replayed in different ways, and you have a game that can keep even the most die-hard gamers entertained for weeks on end.

This is where the “but” comes in, and it’s an unfortunate “but” indeed. We spoke with Metro 3D this morning, and it seems that the iOS version update of Clash Royale has been delayed again for free gems. While several game retail sites still have the game listed with a March 1 release date, we have now learned that the PS2 version of the game won’t come out until May, and that the Dreamcast version won’t be released until after that. Does this mean that we will never see a Dark Angel for our console? No. Does it mean that the future of this game is in doubt and that any attempts to pre-pay for the title should be abandoned. Yes. Them’s the breaks.

Enter the Dragon with Spyro 3

Sergeant Byrd starts to pull his weight. Not only can he lift heavy objects, but he has rocket launchers on his shoulders. According to reports the next Spyro game will not be exclusive to Sony.

Well, fans of rival machines can rejoice because Spyro is one hell of a signing. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Crash was the king of PlayStation, but since he retired from the platform game (three Years Bandicoot and boy) we have been looking for a new star.

Many have failed – Rayman, Croc, Gex to name a few – and it looked as though we would be replaying Crash Bandicoot 3 for our platform kicks. But |Spyro 3 has wiped the floor with the lot of them; Crash included. Of course it’s not all down to Spyro. The purple dragon may be cute little thing, but he’s not the greatest character in the world and his sidekick, Sparx, is only a wee dragonfly. This may have been a problem in previous games, but not any more. And it’s all down to the four extra characters who have been drafted in.

Playing as Coco added an extra dimension to Crash Bandicoot 3, but playing as Bentley the Yeti, Sheila the Kangaroo, Sergeant Byrd and Agent 9 as the Mensa monkey adds so much more. You have to pay Moneybags with gem currency to buy the services of these creatures and only then can you complete all the levels. For example there is an Agent 9 level in the second world, but you have to wait until you reach the fourth world to find Agent 9 and travel back to complete it.

These new characters are there for a reason too. Crash would have been able to ride on the back of a tiger like Coco, but Spyro can’t jump to the top of a castle and smash it to pieces like Sheila. Nor can he smash through walls like Bentley, or fly around tall towers finding bones like Sergeant Byrd. Even Spyro’s old pals Hunter and Sparx get involved in the fun and games – Hunter flys around shooting mutant cows and you can play as Sparx in four space invaders games.

Getting through each level is a big ask as well. There are six dragon eggs on each level, some just lying around and others presented to you when you complete tasks such as beating Hunter’s high score in the skateboarding park, shooting a mechanical shark and helping lots of Spyro’s pals to safety. Then you have to kill every single enemy and collect all the gems.

This didn’t seem like a tall order in the first game where Spyro’s land wasn’t populated by lots of evil villains. And after the first few levels of Spyro 3 it seems like it’s the same old story. A few fire breaths there and a head butt there and all the enemies are taken care of. But when you reach the third world it really starts to kick off as the bad guys bound towards you in pairs.