A Visit With SouthPeak

jmaltz@pnosker.com August 12, 2010 0

I rolled over, doing my best not to glare at my alarm clock through my sleep-induced haze, as if that would change the fact that 7:00 and I were meeting for the first time in my memory.  Luckily, before I instinctively hit the snooze button, I remembered that there was a reason for this madness: I had an appointment SouthPeak and Deepsilver to see some of their upcoming titles.  So, I forced my eyes open, rolled out of bed, grabbed some breakfast and got dressed.  Having thrown together my bag before, I double checked everything one last time before heading out the door, everything was in place for my journey.  The next three hours passed in a blur: a near catastrophe at in Rosemont, PA which almost derailed the trip before it started, a late connection in Philadelphia which saved everything, and then finally a painfully slow journey to New York Penn Station, my only company being Ken Follet's World Without End.  However, at long last, I was in the city that never sleeps, right on schedule.  Three sets of directions and one sandwich later I found myself in a meeting room on the 12th floor 1501 Broadway alongside 2 other journalists and 3 of the nuttiest PR people I have ever met.  Over the next hour they confirmed what I had hoped: my time was not wasted, the three games that were being shown: Battle Vs. Chess, Nail'd, and Two Worlds 2were well worth the trip.

 


 

 

 

 

 

First up was Battle Vs. Chess, which, you may have guessed, is a chess game very reminiscent of the 1988 title Battle Chess. Battle Vs. Chess is based off the Fritz 11 chess engine, which, for chess nubs like me, means that it can be set on anything from challenging to impossibly hard, with 10 difficulty levels in all.  The game offers a bevy of options, with one of the biggest choices you make being the way in which you capture pieces.  

Of course, a standard mode is offered, in which you capture a piece, they go into some sort of animation and destroy the opponents piece in style.  Also available will be modes in which your piece and some of its lackeys will fight your opponent's piece and some of its minions, with the winner staying alive.  Another option will be to enter a 1-on -1 duel to the death, with quick-time button presses determining the winner.  These different modes are especially nice in that they allow players without much skill a shot at winning by using skills learned from other games, although they may irritate some hardcore chess fans who just want to win using their minds and not their reflexes.

Also emphasized by the guys at SouthPeak was the idea that they wanted to provide new and interesting ways to play real chess for long time players of the game.  In order to do this, they have included a number of options for how to layout your pieces.  In addition to the standard layout, there is also the option of choosing the Madness layout, which randomly places pieces all over the board, forcing you to immediately evaluate unfamiliar situations (why yes, I will take your queen with one of my pawns with my first move) and adapt to them quickly. 

Perhaps the coolest of all the choices is the tactical layout.  This allows you to place your pieces anywhere you'd like on your side of the game board while the enemy's side is shrouded in mystery.  Once you are both locked in, the fog of war lifts and you must adapt to the situation presented to you.  More than just layout options, Battle Vs. Chess also presents you with a variety of puzzles ranging from classic historic situations to a gem collecting mini-game which is supposedly crack-esque in its addictive qualities.

The games play out on typical looking chess boards set in somewhat elaborate environments, with the build that we saw had putting our games great hall and a lush jungle environments.  We only saw two armies: a pious looking set of pieces representing the white team and evil demon-like things as the black pieces, although more are planned to be released via DLC.  The armies and environment, although not particularly impressive technically, do provide a nice sense of life to the screen that just isn't normally there while you're playing chess.  However, should you want to play with plain old pieces on a boring board that is possible as well, with a couple of very standard-looking sets of pieces being offered.

Of course, chess will be no fun if you were just playing alone, so SouthPeak has included a full suite of multiplayer options both online and off.  Battle Vs. Chess will also feature an ELO ranking system, so not only will you only get matched up with players your own skill level, but you will have an idea of just how good your chess game is in the grand scheme of things.

On its surface, Chess doesn't seem like it would offer an overwhelming number of options to support a full videogame.  However, Southpeak is definitely pushing the classic board game to its limits and finding new and inventive ways to play the classic board game. The combination of some unique game modes, a vast array of puzzles, and promised DLC which will provide even more craziness for your pieces will likely provide significant bang for your $39.99 come October 31st.  Battle Vs. Chess will be available for pretty much everything except iPhone, which means you can get your check on with your PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, PSP, or DS.


 

 

 


Nail'd was the one game that we were actually able to get our hands on, and it was quite an enjoyable experience.  If you aren't a fan of arcade racers, or feel the need to tweak every detail about your ride before putting on the track you can probably just stop reading this now, as Nail'd is not for you.  However, if you are not a Forza/GT purist, Nail'd will probably have something for you to enjoy.

Gameplay in Nail'd was pretty well summed up by the DeepSilver employee who was showing off the game when he said "press right trigger to go fast, press x to go faster, press left trigger to stop going fast."  The game is an arcade racer, and it makes no bones about that fact.  As you drive through the levels your boost meter will build up by executing various moves such as landing on all fours, knocking other riders off the road, or jumping through flaming hoops.  Boost was never lacking for me, which encouraged me to take the already breakneck pace of the game and just turn it up to eleven.

It would be easy for a game like Nail'd, which prides itself on speed and insanity, to take its levels and rely on speed to cover up some flaws in the game. Thankfully, DeepSilver has not done this.  The vehicles, which are divided between ATVs and Dirt Bikes, control very well, even at high speeds.  The camera also deals with the high speeds and twisty turns well, tilting from side-to- side as you weave through the various courses on your chosen vehicle.  DeepSilver has also included small graphical tricks, like water splashing on the screen as you drive through puddles, to slightly distract players and increase the adrenaline. 

Even in my brief (about 5 minutes long) playtime, I damn near crashed a few times because of stuff that was put their specifically to distract me.  Crashing isn't terribly frustrating though, as there are ample opportunities to build up boost and catch up.  A lot of times your opponents will be crashing as much as you, so even though it will hinder you, falling of your vehicle certainly won't take you out of the running to win.  DeepSilver has also made sure that you won't get stuck behind a gap that can't be crossed, always respawning you just enough ahead of your crash site to keep you out of such trouble.

One of the coolest parts of Nail'd is its level design.  The game is divided up into 4 areas, each with its own set of four unique tracks and environment.  Each of these levels emphasizes the over -the-top style of Nail'd in its design.  Not only are there turns which make physics go WTFBBQ?!?! but there are also interesting obstacles, like water gushing from a dam, which add some flavor to the tracks.  The races are also rather long, with the ones that we saw lasting over 5 minutes

Perhaps the best part of DeepSilver's upcoming racer is the way in which it conveys verticality.  Make no mistake about it, you will be catching HUGE air Nail'd, to the point where it will be nearly 25% of your playtime.  Some of this air-time is the result of one of the many ramps scattered about the tracks, however, a lot of it is also due to the track design.  The levels were designed to be multi-tiered and very complex, so you can expect to be shooting out of canyons and even falling through the floor in order to race in different areas.  Thankfully you have control of your vehicle while it is in the air, which allows you to avoid windmill propellers or boost to just barely clear gaps.

There wasn't any chance to play the multiplayer in Nail'd, but we were told it was going to be a very important part of the game.  There will, of course, be online support and also DLC in the form of new tracks to keep the game fresh.  Overall, the game seems like a quality racing title which provides some depth in terms of upgrading your vehicle (a variety of parts can be changed out for different effects), while not becoming overwhelming to casual racing fans.  Look for Nail'd to ship this October on Xbox 360 and PS3.


 


Last but certainly not least was a game that I would have ridden 3 hours to see just on its own: Two Worlds 2.  Before I go any further, I need to compliment the guys at Reality Pump for the job that they have done on this title.  After the debacle that was Two Worlds for the Xbox 360 (if you don't believe me, go out and buy it, you will be disappointed), it would have been easy for them to just pack their things up and call it quits on the series.  However, that's not what they've chosen to do.  Instead, they looked at the first game, took what was good and then made it even better.  Simultaneously, they ripped out everything that was bad and fixed it, resulting in what appears to be a very quality open-world RPG title.

Number one on the list of fixes was the graphics.  The first Two Worlds looked like a PSOne title, it is as simple as that. Two Worlds 2 doesn't just look average, it looks very good.  The guys at Reality Pump have built their own proprietary engine from the ground up, and what they have built rivals most RPGs on the market.  The textures are high-res, the water effects are realistic, the lighting gives the feeling of real torch lighting, the animations are solid, even the robes on your character move as you walk.  The overall effect is very impressive and polished, even though the build we saw wasn't completely finished.

Next up on the list of things which were fixed is the exploration.  Not only will horses be making a return (which will apparently work, although we didn't see one in action), teleports will also be coming back.  In addition to that, Reality Pump has implemented a sprint button.  Although it seems small, one of the most frustrating things about massive RPGs is the fact that, if you can't fast travel, it takes FOREVER to get between places. In TW2, all you have to do is sprint and that problem will be solved. 


In terms of other new mechanics that were put into the game, there was also a little toy called the occulus.  These are eyeballs that you actually rip out of the skulls of different animals(sadly we didn't get to see one of those animations) throughout the game and can use to scout ahead.  Each of them has different abilities, and some can even damage your opponent; visions of scouting ahead with an occulus, finding enemies, and then sneak attacking them for the kill are already dancing in my head. There is also the option of sailing, which we didn't get to see, but is apparently rather realistic, and difficult, in that you have to control both the sail and the rudder simultaneously

All of these fast travel options are going to come in very handy, as the world of Two Worlds 2 is huge.  Where as the original Two Worlds took places essentially on one island, the sequel will take place on "one huge island, one big islands, two smaller islands, and one itty bitty island".  There was no exact metric given for how large it is, but suffice to say it will certainly be large enough for even the most ardent explorers.

There was also a ton of features shown which was in the first game but only got better in the second.  First up was the combine system.  Whereas before you could combine a short sword and a short sword to make a better short sword with no real reason, now items can be broken down into individual parts.  So, you can break a short sword down into two pieces of iron and one piece of wood.  These materials can then be used to upgrade your armor, which conveniently needed two pieces of iron and one piece of wood to get to level up, which in turn will open up slots to put additional power ups in. You will also be able to dye your garments so long as you have dyes with you.  The whole system is impressively deep and well thought out.

Also back was the create-whatever-type-of-character-you-want levelling.  Just as in the first game, the only commitment you make at the character selection screen is how he/she will look with a pretty deep character creation system.  After that, every time you level up, skill points are allocated however you see fit.  Want to make a ranged stealth assassin who specializes in fire magic?  Go for it. Is a uber burly tank who cares for nothing other than his sword more your style? Swing away, near any type of character can be created.  What's more skill points can be swapped, for a fee, at certain locations along your quest.

In order to accommodate varying play styles, Reality Pump has allowed you to assign bind various sets of armor together and access any one of them on the fly just by a press of the d-pad.  So, you can throw on your wizards hat, shoot out some fireballs at your enemies from far away, switch to your archers gear as they get closer, and then finally go into full armor to finish the bad guys off with a
lance, all without pausing the game.  Awesome? Absolutely.

Next up on the list of things kept from the first game and upped to eleven in the second is the spell creation engine.  The card system is back, but it has been made 10x deeper.  Each amulet will have a certain number of slots, which are basically the number of different actions any given spell can perform.  In each of these slots, you can choose a element (ice, fire, wind, etc) and a type of spell (stun, projectile, summon, etc).  On top of this, you can add modifier cards, which allow projectiles to ricochet or changes the number of enemies you can hit, to any slot on the card. 
 

Not only does this sytem allow for some absurdely powerful spells, but it also adds an insane amount of depth to the spell creation process.  When I say insane depth, I'm not mincing words, the number of spells in this game is somewhere around 10^30 (give or take a couple powers of 10) , which is in the process of being verified as a world record.

Last but not least is the alchemy system.  Most of the potion-making returns intact, although now the actual recipe will be saved, so you will be able to know exactly which ingredients to make for your strong potion of endurance.  Potions can still have negative effects, although often times they will be balanced out by the positive effects.

The guys at SouthPeak also mentioned that there would be an 8 player multiplayer mode which you will create an entirely new character for.  Sadly time ran short, so we can't bring you the full details on that mode, although hopefully we can get them for you in the future.

Overall, I was absolutely blown away by Two Worlds 2.  It is a sequel that improves on everything its predecessor lacked (of which there was a lot), often times by leaps and bounds.  At the same time, it implements a lot of game mechanics which haven't been fully fleshed out in an RPG before in order to deliver an experience which appears absolutely top-notch.  We're very much looking forward to reviewing this when it comes out early this October for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.


 


I walked out of 1501 Broadway that Tuesday a happy man.  I had braved the streets of New York for the first time and lived to tell the tale, ridden 3+ hours on the train and not missed any stops, and had seen some awesome videogames.  You, like I, may not have heard of some of these titles or even their developers and publishers before.  However, in spite of this, it appears that DeepSilver, SouthPeak, and company wil be putting out some very enjoyable videogames come this holiday season.

 

 

 

 

 

[Two Worlds II]-$49.99 (PC), $56.99 (Xbox 360) and $59.99 (PS3)

[nail'd]-$59.99(PS3 & Xbox 360) and $49.99(PC)

[Battle Vs. Chess]-$19.99 (PSP, DS, PC, and Mac), $29.99 (Wii), and  $39.99(Xbox 360 & PS3)

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