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December 20th 2013, 7:37 am PT

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Draws Near on Xbox One

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, out today on Xbox One, is what developer Press Play is referring to as a “Cinematic Puzzle Platformer,” meaning that it is a puzzle game first and foremost, with platforming, exploration and a focus on storytelling. In this title, Max, equipped only with a powerful Magic Marker and his wits, attempts to make it across a hostile fantasy world in order to rescue his kidnapped brother.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Press Play Studio Director Mikkel Thorsted about what to expect when you play.

Jeff Rubenstein, Xbox: Xbox gamers might not be familiar with your previous title, Max and the Magic Marker. How is it related to and how is it different from Max: The Curse of Brotherhood?

Mikkel Thorsted, Press Play: Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a re-imagining of the original idea behind the previous title, rather than an actual sequel. Basically, we wanted another go at it, only much, much more ambitious. When we made the last game, we were fewer people, less skilled, and did not have access to the kind of budget we do now. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is by far the biggest game we’ve made to date and we are very proud of the final result. The new game is bigger in every way – more story, more puzzles, more powers, and more worlds.

Xbox: What new elements does Max bring to the platforming genre?

Press Play: There are a lot of puzzle platformers out there these days, so it is hard to stand out as totally unique. But we believe our Magic Marker is rather special – we have spent a lot of time and effort on making it feel and play really well with a controller, and I like to think that shows. On top of that, our ambition was to make a “proper” world in our game, so there is a lot of depth to our world compared to a lot of other 2.5 platformers. You are never going to see platforms floating in mid-air or the world being presented in cut-sections. If something is in the world, it is there in a way that makes sense.

Xbox: What types of abilities does Max’s marker present to players?

Press Play: Throughout the game, Max and the Marker unlock new ways to interact with the environment. Scattered around the world are glowing nodes – basically tears in the fabric of reality where Max is able to tap into the raw magic of the world – and depending on the kind of node, Max can create trees to climb, pillars of earth to lift giant boulders, make geysers of water shoot him dozens of feet into the air or fire great balls of fire at his enemies – just to name a few examples.

Xbox: Talk about your approach to gameplay prompts – Kotaku praised the fact that the game lets you figure it out instead of hand-holding. Was that a conscious decision?

Press Play: Very much a conscious decision, and we’re extremely pleased at the way people react to it. There seems to be a trend in many games at the moment where the level of handholding goes to absolutely absurd levels, and we really wanted to avoid that. As far as we’re concerned, that level of handholding is not respecting your players, that’s demeaning them. We want to appeal to players that don’t need to be told how to jump, and who can derive a level of satisfaction from figuring things out on their own simply through intuition and (hopefully) clever level design. As far as we’re concerned, that aspect of discovery simply heightens immersion to the benefit of all.

Xbox: What does working on the Xbox One allow Press Play to accomplish?

Press Play: Well, it’s a whole other ballgame in terms of sheer power, obviously. We can lather on the polygons, shaders and advanced lighting and not have the machine die on us. But perhaps more importantly, it is a lot closer to a regular PC in terms of game development, which means more time spent on making games and less on figuring out the arcane rituals needed to make it do what you want.

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is now available for Xbox One and will arrive on Xbox 360 in early 2014.

December 20th 2013 at 7:37 am | Interview, Xbox 360, Xbox One | 30 comments

December 17th 2013, 6:01 am PT

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare – Gardens & Graveyards Mode Revealed

In this video, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare producer Brian Lindley offers up a first look at Gardens & Graveyards mode, including some scenic flythroughs of the Driftwood Shores map. There’s also choice examples of how *not* to take on a Chomper; I’ll be giving them some distance! Brian then stuck around to chat more about the new mode, how Garden Warfare stacks up to other shooters, and where the idea first came from.

Jeff Rubenstein, Xbox: You’ve revealed a new game mode in this developer diary. Tell us about it.

Brian Lindley, Producer, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare: The mode we’re showing off in this video is called Gardens & Graveyards. G&G is a bit of a mix between of Battlefield’s Rush and Conquest modes, intertwined with some tower defense elements similar to the original PvZ, supporting up to 24 players per session. The setup is pretty simple – Zombies have a limited amount of time to try to capture the garden bases and turn them into graveyards. These garden bases will be defended and fortified by the plant team, but if the zombies manage to capture a base, they can use the newly captured graveyard as their base and the battle shifts to a new objective at a different location in the map. The maps in G&G are quite large in scale, and as the battle progresses through the different base objectives, the scenery and action gets crazier and crazier. If the zombies manage to battle their way to the end of the map, they are challenged to overcome the last stand of the plant team and some interesting gameplay twists at the end.

Xbox: Perhaps because of the colorful graphics, folks have been quick to compare Garden Warfare to Team Fortress 2. Which shooter do you think you’re closest to?

PvZ: We’ve taken inspiration from a lot of different games, including Team Fortress 2, but I think it is difficult to compare Garden Warfare to one specific game. That said, as a 3rd person shooter with a variety of different classes, Garden Warfare sometimes reminds me of the Star Wars Battlefront games from a few years back.

Xbox: Past a first glance, Garden Warfare’s visuals seem to conceal a more core shooter experience, can you tell us about some of the tactics players can employ?

PvZ: Players experienced with shooters will find many familiar character types, weapons and abilities, but we’ve tried to create unique twists and combinations of these abilities to fit the more lighthearted and humorous tone of the PvZ universe. Tactics in Garden Warfare run the gamut from fast-paced and vertical play of the Soldier and Peashooter, melee/tank tactics with the Chomper and All-Star, support tactics from healers like the Sunflower and Scientist to a sniping specialist like the Cactus.

Xbox: We’re all very familiar with many of these plants and their powers (Pea Shooters shoot, Chompers gulp, etc). How are the zombies evolving from mindless ravagers to meet the challenge from the plants?

PvZ: Aside from being controlled by smarter human players, the zombies have also been armed with a wide variety of Zomboss™ technology at their disposal to assist them in their never-ending quest for brainz and plant domination. This technology comes in the form of crazy weapons like ZPGs, Football Cannons, Jackhammers, Teleporters, Dolphin Guns and much much more.

Xbox: How do the plants and powers mapped to the shoulder buttons and Y affect gameplay?

PvZ: Each plant has unique abilities that are designed to suit different play styles and roles within the plant team. Generally, the most powerful and unique powers of each plant are mapped to the Y button, with other ‘role specific’ abilities triggered by RB/LB. For example, as the healer class, the sunflower has her healing powers mapped to RB and LB, but the Y button unleashes her Sunbeam attack, where she roots into the ground for a powerful laser-style attack on zombies for a limited time. Mastering each class requires learning how and when to use the core abilities to your advantage, both in individual and team combat situations.

Xbox: In the video we see players leveling up – what types of new abilities are awarded to higher-level players?

PvZ: Early in the progression, players will be unlocking all of their core abilities, but as they level up further, players will earn weapon attachments and new outfits that allow them to augment their primary abilities with different variations like ice, fire, toxic, electric, dark energy and numerous other crazy powers. A lot of interesting team play strategies emerge when you start to combine the different outfits and weapon variations with those of your teammates.

Xbox: Do we see any classic characters from PvZ1 or new fan favorites from PvZ2 making an appearance in Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare? Bonk Choy fan here!

PvZ: Absolutely, in fact, our core playable characters on the plant team, the sunflower, peashooter, chomper and cactus were all directly inspired by characters from the original game. There are a lot of other characters from the PvZ 1 and PvZ 2, such as Bonk Choy, Potato Mine, Conehead Zombie, Buckethead Zombie, Repeater, Fume Shroom, Chili Bean and many more.

Xbox: In traditional Plants vs Zombies, all Pea Shooters, Sunflowers, etc look the same. How can you differentiate your plant or zombie on the battlefield?

PvZ: We have a huge variety of options for customizing and personalizing your plant and zombie characters in the game. All characters feature several different outfits and can be further customized with crazy accessories like funny hats, eyewear, facial hair, tattoos and numerous ‘organic enhancements’ for plants as well.

Xbox: Popcap isn’t known for shooters, or 3D games in general – how did this whole idea come about?

PvZ: As PopCap saw the popularity of PvZ explode a few years back, they recognized that there was a lot of potential for the universe beyond just tower defense games. One of the crazy ideas put forth was to expand PvZ into more of a shooter/action experience, and from there Garden Warfare was born. Since then, our team has been hard at work iterating and developing on this crazy idea. We can’t wait to get the final product in the hands of Xbox fans in February!

Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare blooms on Xbox One and Xbox 360 this February 18th.

December 17th 2013 at 6:01 am | Interview, Xbox One | 25 comments

December 13th 2013, 8:01 am PT

Dead Rising 3 Demo Live Now, New Content Coming Soon

Today’s a big day for zombie fans; a new Dead Rising 3 demo is now available on Xbox One (“Xbox, Bing, Game Demos”), and Capcom today lifted the lid on the game’s first downloadable episode.

I’m sure the fact that today is Friday the 13th has nothing to do with it.

To learn more about Operation Broken Eagle, we chatted with the game’s executive producer, Capcom Vancouver’ s Josh Bridge.

Dead Rising 3 Operation Broken Eagle

Jeff Rubenstein, Xbox: Talk to us about the newly-announced DLC.

Josh Bridge, Capcom Vancouver: With all 4 of the Untold Stories of Los Perdidos experiences, you get to see the story of Dead Rising 3 unravel from a different point of view. You get to take on the role of a different character in each of the 4 and play through their story and how it ties into the overall plot and reveals how the outbreak unfolded in parallel to Nick Ramos attempting to escape. Each of the episodes have new weapons and a custom vehicle along with side missions and other goodies to collect and ace achievements with. The team had some fun with getting some pretty crazy weapons in there!

Xbox: How does playing as Spec Ops Commander Adam Kane differ from everyman Nick? What abilities or advantages does he have?

Capcom: As opposed to Nick, who is relatively good willed in nature facing military opposition, Adam is a by the books soldier with a crew of Spec Ops fighting for him. You get to take on some over the top military weapons and an armored vehicle that spews bullets. You get to take on missions that go against what Nick would have fought for, but as you discover through the story you can also relate to how Adam struggles to follow through on his difficult orders.

Dead Rising 3 demo

Xbox: As far as the demo is concerned, what should players be sure to seek out in the sandbox?

Capcom: We have some cool hidden goodies in the demo for players to dig for. Definitely check out the map for where the blueprints are around Ingleton. We have some cool combos to try out and even a Super Combo weapon called the Ultimate Grim Reaper. It is a multiple blueprint find, and super deadly when you get the fully stacked version. Don’t forget, after you make it or other combos, you can always pull them back out of the locker in the Safehouse and have another run at it.

Xbox: Have you been tracking Dead Rising 3′s most popular weapons, combos, and vehicles? What’s resonating most with the players?

Capcom: Overall, I have been really surprised by the sheer amount of completionists are out there playing our game. Lots of folks trying to ace all blueprints and combos created. We were really surprised by the excitement over the combo weapon Sentry Cat. Pretty much out there as far as a combo weapon, but think it being unpredictable is part of the charm. Looking at telemetry, the RollerHawg is king for killing with a vehicle…still get a kick out of seeing players sharing vids of them causing havoc with it.

Xbox: What tips can you offer for tackling nightmare mode?

Capcom: Definitely want to go in leveled up to about LV.20 with good range of combo weapons/vehicles ready to go in the lockers. The clock is quite fast, so for a first timer I would just focus on speed running the main missions. It is definitely possible to hit side missions as part of the run, but you will need to pre-plan you routes and which vehicles/weapons for the runs.

For more on Dead Rising 3, look out for Josh’s interview with Major Nelson later today on MNR 497.

Dead Rising 3 demo

December 13th 2013 at 8:01 am | Interview, Xbox One | 71 comments

December 6th 2013, 9:21 am PT

Peggle 2 Drops onto Xbox One on Monday, PopCap Chats Today

Earlier this week, I got ahold of the final version of Peggle 2, which will be available for download this Monday, only on Xbox One. Peggle 2 incorporates a next-gen visual and auditory facelift with the Peggle’s trademark skill-meets-luck, just-one-more-level brand of fun. After an evening of playing through the first few stages of single player, and a number of rounds of the insanely fun multiplayer Peg Party mode, I fired a few questions across Western Washington to PopCap HQ. Here’s Jared from PopCap:

Hey, folks! I’m Jared Neuss, the Producer for Peggle 2 here at PopCap Games. We’re incredibly excited to announce that Peggle 2 will be coming to Xbox One next Monday, December 9th! The team and I can’t wait for you to meet the brand new Peggle Masters, learn their magical powers and, well, just have a great time. We’ve got tons of new levels, hundreds of objectives to complete and a whole bunch of ridiculous surprises lined up for you. We think you’ll love it.

Unless you hate joy and happiness. In that case, you’re on your own.

Recently, our friends across Lake Washington sent us a few questions to answer. Behold! Our answers!

Jeff Rubenstein, Xbox: How do you go about improving on what many considered a perfect game (not unlike the Plants vs Zombies team did earlier this year)?

Jared Neuss, PopCap Games:It’s all about taking everything that was great about the previous Peggle games and making it even more awesome. The visuals are richer, the audio is more sublime and the gameplay is more challenging and varied. The core of what makes Peggle so great is still intact, but we’ve managed to build an experience on it that feels completely new and unique.

Xbox: What do you think is the secret sauce that makes such a simple game so addictive. In my mind, Peggle is the rare videogame to evoke the feel of something mechanical like slots, Skee ball, pachinko, Plinko

PopCap: This is actually something that we talk about a lot at PopCap. The trick is to create an experience that’s easy to pick up and play but very difficult to master. If someone plays the game for a few minutes, they should be able to have an absolute blast. If they spend a bit more time digging in, though, we want them to have that “a-ha!” moment where they uncover layers of strategy that they weren’t aware of before.

Xbox: Talk about the importance of music in Peggle – the rising notes in a long string of hits, Ode to Joy. (Great re-make of that in the multiplayer lobby, btw.)

PopCap: Music is an integral part of the Peggle experience. When people talk about Peggle, Ode to Joy is always part of the conversation. With Peggle 2, we want to create even more iconic moments that perfectly blend gameplay and audio to draw people deeper into the game.  The soundtrack has something for everyone, from classical music to dub remixes. I’m constantly amazed by the things that our audio team can do. They’re not of this world.

Xbox: What is your favorite new Peggle Master power?

PopCap: Berg’s Deep Freeze power is my current favorite. When Deep Freeze is activated, the entire board becomes encased in ice, causing hit pegs to slip and slide around as they crash into each other. Setting off huge chain reactions of pegs is incredibly satisfying.

Elisa (via Twitter): How does it feel to know you’re simultaneously giving people so much joy while shutting down all productivity?

PopCap: I’ve gotta be honest: It feels pretty awesome.

Scratch (via Twitter): Tell them thanks for Peggle 2.

PopCap: My job requires me to talk about robo-gnomes, unicorns and yetis all day. So, no, thank you.

December 6th 2013 at 9:21 am | Interview, Xbox One | 109 comments

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