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Interviewing ‘Tales of’ Series Producer Hideo Baba

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 3rd of November 2014

MCM Buzz managed to catch up with the producer of the Tales of series, the ever-wonderful Hideo Baba. Talking about what fans can expect from the latest Tales’ adventures, delve deeper below to discover more about the upcoming PS Vita release Tales of Hearts R and the game’s graphical overhaul, as well as the fluid battles in the brand new Tales of Zestiria.

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Me: What can fans of the Tales of series expect from Tales of Hearts R?

Baba: Every Tales game has a key theme in the storyline, and the theme in the Tales of Hearts is hearts. At the beginning of the storyline the Kohaku’s Heart is broken into pieces and the pieces fly all over the world. Kor Meteor decides to go on a journey to pick up all of the pieces to get Kohaku’s heart back. Whenever she reclaims a piece she receives an emotion and remembers what joy, or sadness, or fear is. I wanted to describe every emotion throughout this journey.

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Me: It’s an incredible concept, and the characters themselves are completely charming. How did you develop the character design from the Nintendo DS to the PS Vita?

Baba: In the Nintendo DS version there are 2D sprites, whenever a player plays this kind of game they have to imagine how these characters look because the information is really limited. When we created Tales of Hearts Rfor the PS Vita we recreated everything from scratch with 3D graphics, so the amount of information on the screen radically increased when compared with the 2D style. We paid attention to the characters movements and actions to show the characters emotions truly and clearly to the users.

Me: Tales of Zestiria marks 20 years of the Tales of series, and it’s been said that the gameplay style combines classic elements with brand new gameplay. How does the game celebrate its 20th anniversary?

Baba: Firstly, when it comes to the storyline, the characters and the real-time battle system, these are very traditional features that most Tales fans expect. Every time we create a brand new story and characters and improve the battle system, and this has become tradition in the Tales series. We also have some brand new features for Tales of Zestiria this year. The atmosphere of adventure is really important, and I really wanted to capture the sense of interaction in the previous adventures, so I introduced a vast map in Tales of Zestiria. In the previous games of the series, when the player encounters an enemy the loading screen appears and the player moves to the battlefield, but in Tales of Zestiria there is no loading screen and the player battles on exactly the same field.

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Me: How has the combat system changed since the previous games?

Baba: Every game in the Tales series has a linear motion battle system, this is a very fundamental feature. Tales of Zestiria has a new linear motion battle system which is the Fusionic chaining linear motion battle system. This allows players to infuse human and Tenzoku into one different character, changing their appearance, attack and weapons.

Me: Will Europe be able to experience the Japanese voice acting as we did with Tales of Symphonia Chronicles?

Baba: Tales of Hearts R will hit Europe with its original Japanese voice-overs. I understand there are many western users who want to have the original Japanese voice-overs in the western version of Tales of Zestiria. But there are a lot of issues we need to solve to use the original Japanese voiceovers in the western versions, but I really want to make it happen. I cannot make any promises, I can only try.

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Me: Could we see Tales of Zestiria come to PS4 in the future?

Baba: Our strategy when selecting a platform depends on which platform our users want to play these games on. More and more users are enjoying the Tales of series in the western world, but actually it is true that the Japanese market is the biggest for us. So in the same way as Tales of Xillia and Tales of Xillia 2 we recognise that most of the Japanese users want to play the new game with the PlayStation 3. But we understand that the transition to PlayStation 4, especially in the west, is quicker than we expected. Not for Tales of Zestiria, but in the future of the series, we need to consider games for the next generation consoles like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. If the same amount of users in the west are enjoying the Tales of series and we receive so many requests about the next gen consoles it may be a big help when it comes to making it happen, so thank you for this coverage!

Tales of Hearts R came to PS Vita on the 14th of November and Tales of Zestiria is expected to be released in Europe for PlayStation 3 in Summer 2015.

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Interviewing Infinite Crisis Lead Designer Ryan Bednar

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 28th of February 2014.Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman

With the announcement of their open beta launch and after a hands-on with the game MCM Buzz catches up with Ryan Bednar, Turbine’s lead designer. We talked about his break into the gaming industry, MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) tactics and their upcoming DC Comics project Infinite Crisis.

Me: So you are the lead designer on Infinite Crisis, that’s exciting.

Ryan: It is pretty exciting!

Me: What inspired you to work in the videogames industry? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you just came across?

Ryan: So I went to university for Industrial Design, graduated in 2003, and I knew my entire life that I was always into videogames. And I remember the year before I graduated I was talking to my parents in my kitchen and I was kind of figuring out or trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college, and I decided out of the blue then and there I wanted to try and get into the games industry somehow. Really at the time there wasn’t really any clear road to actually making that happen at all. You didn’t have any friends who were like, “Oh, this is how I broke into the games industry,” ’cause everyone who wanted to do it was kind of scattered all around. So I moved to Boston, because there were a couple of industrial design firms up there. About a couple of months after I moved to Boston, Turbine posted an internship for Lord Of The Rings Online, the MMO they developed a while back. I applied for the internship, I got it, and I’ve been there ever since. I started out as an intern on Lord of the Rings Online, became a world builder, then a lead world builder, then a lead systems designer, then I moved over to this project as the lead designer.

Me: It’s got to be exciting working with all those incredibly different worlds. The Lord of the Rings universe to start is tremendous, and now you’ve got the DC Universe, the DC Multiverse even!

Ryan: We’ve had some great opportunities to work with the best IP (Intellectual Property) that are possibly out there. We’ve just been really fortunate in that regard.

Me: Have you always been a fan of DC comics? Was this something that you were excited to do?

Ryan: I would say that I’m a medium fan for DC Comics, and I say that knowing that a bunch of people on our team are superfans! My level of comics knowledge does not compete with theirs, but it takes a team to make a game and we have the people that are super-into the comics doing the back-stories, the writing and the character development side of things. My area of interest and expertise was on the competitive MOBA side of things, so we all collaborate together.

Me: How do you think the DC Universe translates to the MOBA genre?

Ryan: It’s perfect! When we were deciding to build a MOBA at Turbine we were looking to build on a new genre. MOBA seemed like a great thing for us to get into with the RPG background we have. The MMO’s translate really well into managing all the systems and advancements that you have, and that’s worked out really well for us. When we were acquired by Warner Brothers, the DC Comics IP was something we really wanted to build games with, and we saw that as the perfect marriage of genre and an IP. The main content of a MOBA is its characters, and DC has fantastic characters. If you add the concept of the multiverse in on top of that, then we have an opportunity to make our own characters. For people that are super into the comics this is the thing they’ve wanted to do for their entire lives, the fact that they can take a character like Green Lantern and get two versions of him, it’s been a ton of fun and everyone loves working on the project.

Me: It’s great the way that instead of the standard class systems this is implemented into different versions of the same superhero, it’s a smart way to do it.

Ryan: It’s really interesting that if you’re a Batman fan one of the great things about having this multiverse is that you have three Batman’s, and they all have a different skill set. So if you’re a Batman fan who likes to play a bruiser character, you play Batman Prime. If you like ranged attack characters like marksmen, Gaslight Batman’s your guy. If you like assassins, Nightmare Batman. You can really be a fan of the IP and still find a play style that suits you.

Me: One thing that’s noticeable is that this game is catered to fans.

Ryan: Yeah, because we’ve had all these different people working on the project, people that add the really tight competitive balance in the game, and people who are working on the voice and video that’s driving all the action between the characters. When Green Arrow ends up fighting against Batman they’ll say something as they are fighting, so when Batman gets low on health Green Arrow will have some line to say in response to Batman being on the other team or his health bar. There’s all these interactions; you might not be super familiar with all the characters that are in the game, but because they’re always talking to each other and about what their state of mind is in the game you get an insight into their backstory without having to read a book.

Me: Right, even in-game it definitely gives the characters personality. Now Turbine has been at the front of online gaming since the very start, you guys have been doing this since dial-up.

Ryan: (Laughs) Yup! Asheron’s Call has been around since Ultimate Online and Everquest, those were the big three that started everything MMO, eventually that genre evolved into what it is today. We saw MOBAs gaining the same kind of traction and [when] we really got the chance to play a bunch of them ourselves we realised that was something else we were very passionate about and I think that’s why we’re here, we were excited to make this for ourselves.

Me: And that’s part of why Turbine is so exciting, you guys are at the forefront and it gives you opportunities to build on what you have already done and tweak it.

Ryan: We have a lot of experience in managing online games and keeping them running and pushing out updates and figuring how to take a game that you’ve launched and evolve it over time, and that’s something that we’re really excited about in this game. We’re getting to the point where it’s in open beta, we don’t have a long list of features that we really really want to add to the game. There are no features that are notably absent from the game. Now we’re just polishing it up, and then we’re into the world of live content, that’s what we’ve been really good at for a long time and we’re excited to get there. We are kind of already there with the champion releases that we do, they’ve been steady for a long time now every three weeks, we are about releasing three of them at a time, we have a backlog of about 20 that are in development in different stages so that’s starting to get going and then there’s going to be even more content available afterwards.

Me: That’s what’s interesting about designing an online game, there’s not really a point where it stops.

Ryan: No, it just keeps going and going; Asheron’s call is still going! We have thousands of people that are still playing that game and are die hard fans. We’re just getting started with this one and we plan on keeping it going for a very long time.

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Me: Do you feel like some of the features in the matches themselves put a slight spin on the MOBA genre?

Ryan: The big thing that we’re pushing for in this game is aggression. If there’s one constant that we’re trying to steer everything towards, we want to build a MOBA where it’s okay and incentivised for you to go fight the other players. We’re making a game where Batman faces off against the Joker, and you can make that game and have it be about Batman fighting tiny robots for 15 minutes and then he finally decides to fight the Joker, or it can be that Batman’s there and the Joker’s there and they have a lot of reasons to actually fight each other right out of the game. You can see that with the currency drops we’re doing, as the tiny robots fight each other, if you don’t last hit them they just drop their coins to the ground. You have to walk over there to pick them up, when you walk over there the other team can either spend their time attacking robots or they can start attacking you, and if they do you’re probably going to attack them back. It’s all there to drive that point of tension between two or four people in your lane to fighting for the resources that are available to you. In addition to that in standard MOBA’s, you can only buy items at your base, for us we wanted to give people the opportunity to get stronger whilst playing without having to recall and then walk all the way back. You can actually buy artefacts, which are the items in our game, at your turrets themselves. That gives someone the incentive to potentially be lower on health but not go all the way back to base, actually to stay out there and try to get stronger while also running the risk of getting ganged by others.

Me: It can be a numbers game that’s for sure, if you’re on your own and there’s five people around you, you’re done.

Ryan: Oh yeah!

Me: It is great when you’re in that group though.

Ryan: Yeah, when your team shows up and you get a couple of kills and just push forward and seeing how far you can get. That’s part of the cadence of a MOBA too, and I feel like that’s why they’re so popular, because the game starts off slow and less is happening because everyone is distributed pretty evenly, and there will be those stand-offs where people are fighting against each other, and then all of a sudden it evolves into play between two or three people fighting for objectives. One thing that is specific to our latest map Gotham Divided, there are objectives out in the jungle between lanes, and if you kill these creatures they give out beacons that a member of your team can pick up. What happens is they get a new skill that they can use that drops that beacon pretty much anywhere in the map. You’ll be top lane, someone from your bottom lane can pick up a health pack and drop it that you can pick up, and that might be enough to can swing the battle in your favour. We want to make sure that as people are getting those objectives there is a lot of opportunity for skillful play, that you’ve got this thing that you can use in a variety of different ways. 

Me: Are there any plans to bring social features voice communication to Infinite Crisis?

Ryan: Voice definitely helps, we don’t have any plans to integrate voice at the moment. MOBA communities can be kind of all over the place with these kind of features. So we are hesitant to investigate voice, but it’s something that we’ve done in the past and we could see in the future. Turbine has a lot of experience in developing social features. I think something like a Guild would be great to add to a MOBA, just to give you a social identity right out of the gate, it also gives you a great way to meet other people that will be supportive of you, there’s a lot of comradery there and I think there’s a great opportunity for us to have that. At the same time too we have a whole range of audiences, there are a bunch of people whose friends might want to play the game or people who are curious about this new genre, and a Guild-type atmosphere you could have players to help new players. Perhaps even implementing a game mode with less stress for new players, something like that that would be great.

Me: I guess with this being a DC Comics game, there will be a lot of people who may be new to the genre but fans of the universe?

Ryan: We have a lot of people who have checked out the game but never played a MOBA before because they like Batman or Superman, and they want to play the game. We want to make sure those guys have a fun time too.

Me: One last question, if you could have any superpower from the DC Universe, what would you choose and why?

Ryan: (Laughs) I’ll take Aquaman’s ability to talk to sea-life! I’m curious, who knows what could happen!

Infinite Crisis goes is out now on Steam.

Interviewing Cyanide and Happiness Co-Creator Rob Denbleyker

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 26th of October 2013

It was early on the first day of MCM London Comic Con when crowds began to filter through the doors in a flurry of excitement, and we managed to catch Rob Denbleyker in his natural habitat, at the Cyanide & Happiness booth. As one of the terrifically twisted cartoonists for the wildly funny web comic, we were grateful that he jumped in between sketches for a quick chat.

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Me: So how did you get involved in Cyanide & Happiness, was it all planned out or did it just seem to happen?

Rob: There was no plan whatsoever, my friends and I all met online doing animations together and we decided that, after a while, comics were a lot easier to make. So we figured we could get more ideas out there if we started doing comics together instead of animations. So we started doing this daily comic in 2005 just for fun, just entertaining each other and about 200 people that were reading it. Over time that 200 became 2,000, 20,000 and it started growing until the point where Cyanide & Happiness just became our full time jobs in 2007. So we’ve been trying to stay at it as long as we can, because at this point we figure we can’t be hired. Our job prospects are kind of done (laughs).

Me: I think this would be alright on a CV.

Rob: I couldn’t see myself sending faxes.

Me: Is there anything that you have posted and thought “Should we have said that”?

Rob: We try to be funny before we’re offensive. If it is offensive so be it, but we never try to be offensive for the sake of antagonism. It’s kind of a side-effect because we have very few barriers, but most of the stuff that I do I’m proud of; I don’t put stuff up unless I am.

Me: Is this your first time at MCM London Comic Con?

Rob: I came here last year, and it was so crazy that I had to come back again.

Me: Is there anything you’re looking forward to, do you get a chance to leave and look around?

Rob: A little bit. Last year I met some of the Eddsworld guys, so I try to have drinks with them at least once when I’m here, but I always have a good time here and I always make new friends, especially in the comics community. It’s a really fun trip.

Me: It’s an amazing atmosphere here.

Rob: It’s great, it’s really casual. Especially after the show’s over and you can just wander round and get to know people, and strike up conversations with people whose work you admire.

Me: If you had to choose any of the Cyanide & Happiness members (Kris, Matt and Dave) to…

Rob: Murder?

Me: (laughs) Well I was going to say snog, marry or kill!

Rob: I would kill them all, marry myself and f*** the consequences.

Me: Good answer! Thanks, you’ve been great.

Rob: Thanks.

Rob can be found all weekend at the Cyanide & Happiness stall at MCM London Comic Con until the 27th of October, and for rib-tickling comic strips, video shorts and more be sure to visit explosm.net

Interviewing Pixwoo Founder Pascal Vielhescaze

Originally Published By MCM Buzz on the 6th of June 2013

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“I’ve designed the website that I wanted to use, and sometimes life is simple.”

Gamers are passionate about what they do, from those who just can’t put down that pesky mobile game to those with hundreds of hours clocked shooting zombies, fighting evil, jumping platforms and unlocking secrets. Pixwoo, the social media site for gamers, is dedicated to helping videogame enthusiasts share their pixelated achievements. With major publishers such as Ubisoft, Namco Bandai and Capcom already signed on to the service with professional accounts, Pixwoo creates a hub for gamers everywhere that displays news, views and constant active discussions on your favourite games all in one place.

In a room filled with consoles from the last 20 years and a monster television, I caught up with the CEO and brain behind the rapidly expanding gaming community, French entrepreneur Pascal Vielhescaze. He took us through the site before we asked him a few questions. Pascal demonstrated the functionality of the site, and began to pitch his vision for a global gaming community.

Pascal Vielhescaze: When it comes to videogames you want to share immediately if you’re taking a picture of your Candy Crush achievement or spot something on the screen in the last Tomb Raider, you want to share it. We designed the app making sure that people can very quickly share, post, comment, and I can see the difference because now I can see people posting 20 times more on the apps than on the website, because it’s so easy, you don’t have your computer by your side every time. Most of the usage is there, and what I like with the feed for example is once you start to dig a little bit on Pixwoo you start to have some friends, you start to have some groups, you’re fully aware of some pros, you’re a fan of some game pages and then suddenly your feed is filled with a bunch of information that really reflects who you are as a gamer. It turns your experience into something unique. Pixwoo is unique, your feed is unique; you wouldn’t get such a feed of information anywhere else, I designed it for that purpose.

Me: Pixwoo has an interesting feature, with five slots given to describe your preferred style and genre. Can you tell us about Pixwoo DNA on the site?

Pixwoo ProfilePascal: I want people on Pixwoo to feel comfortable to express themselves as a gamer, and as a gamer when you express yourself you have this DNA. Once selected everybody knows I’m not a pro, I’m not a journalist, I’m a power gamer, I play RPG’s, strategies and hack-and -slashers. This is a way I can express myself, and you don’t express yourself that way on Facebook or anywhere else. If I’m saying I have these consoles I’m not saying it to show off, I just want to say this is what I’m interested in.

Me: You’ve got a very good balance. One problem that a site like Facebook suffers is that you have a lot of content that you don’t necessarily want to see, with Pixwoo you’re saying that it’s catered to your interests as a gamer.

Pascal: On your feed if you’re a member of a group you will get a post on your feed. It’s a way of making sure your feed is not too crowded and you don’t get posts from people you don’t necessarily know, but you do get posts from your friends and the groups you follow. I do not consider that we are competing with Facebook, that would be ridiculous. Firstly because they are so huge and we are very small, and secondly, we’re having Facebook in mind because there is some stuff that we don’t want to reproduce. I know that on Facebook there are some things you won’t share what you will on Pixwoo, firstly because 90% of your friends may not be interested in that and secondly because you won’t dig that deeply on something like Animal Crossing there. But the spirit of it really is to make sure that people feel comfortable and we want to make sure that there is no limitation on Pixwoo when it comes to videogames. Whatever it is about the videogame culture you like you can share it. I’ve designed the website that I wanted to use, and sometimes life is simple.

Me: Yeah absolutely, and you’ve had great success with the app in France. It was recently top of the app store.

Pascal: Yeah, but that’s a beginning, it was our launch. It was a good move, it provides me with some face and some confidence in the fact there is something. We never reached that amount of users with the website but we never really launched the website because we were facing technical issues. I think I’m going to consider the website more as something you’re using as a back office, so you will manage quickly your page, but mainly it will be for heavy users that want to manage it in a marketing way or a professional way.

Me: Microsoft and Sony have put a lot of effort into getting apps up and running on consoles, is that something Pixwoo would be interested in doing in the future?

Pascal: You can even ask Samsung now as they have integrated TVs. I’m not sure Microsoft and Sony would be interested because they’re considering Xbox Live or Playstation Network as a social media service, which is not the case if you’re asking myself. No I didn’t consider that, what I considered is to get the trophies so people can integrate that on their profile, but I’m not sure it’s that interesting, it’s a way to show off on Pixwoo, but I don’t really care about that. I’m more interested in the fact that if somebody is playing Candy Crush you can directly post on Pixwoo, I would like to achieve that. I went to San Francisco in March and I met a lot people from the mobile gaming industry, and some might be interested. I think we simply need to achieve an amount of credibility based on the number of members. The more members we get, the more the industry will be focused on Pixwoo and the more developers we will register and manage their page. I don’t have the secret recipe for that, I’m trying everything so we’ve got to see.

Me: Obviously you’re very passionate about games, and you used to be a game developer in the eighties. Can you tell us about that?

Pascal: I developed an adventure game on Apple II when I was 18. At that time you had the ability to develop a game almost alone; I was with a friend. I developed Scoop on Apple II and Invitation on Amstrad CPC, it’s an RPG. Both are names that work in French and English.

Me: It’s certainly the same area of interest, but what led you from designing games to social media?

Pascal: My professional activity after being a student was developing videogames just for pleasure. I sold them so that’s good and we were quite successful at that time, we were published by a huge publisher in France. Then I developed some marketing skills and I worked with these advertising groups and then I created my own company called Spiderdreams, it’s a digital agency mixed with consulting and suddenly the idea came. I know about videogames, I know about digital and social networking, let’s create the website I want to use. There was nothing and there still is nothing I would say that you can compare to Pixwoo, so the idea was to say I want to design something I’d be happy to use. I want Pixwoo to be on the tablet, not just as an adaptation of the iPhone app on iPad. I really want to develop something for the tablet, and if we want to implement ourselves everywhere we will need additional funding. We have already invested quite a lot I have to say, I won’t give figures but, yes, so this is where it comes from. I’ve also always been interested in technology and marketing so little by little I started to consider that I would love to be a member of a social network dedicated to videogames. I’m not going to be like Groucho Marx and say, “I would never become a member of any club that will have me as a member.” I’m the opposite, I’m really happy to be a member of Pixwoo.

Me: The best way to get results when it comes to a passion is to be involved in it directly.

Pascal: I absolutely 100% agree with you on that, I could have said that.

Me: It’s great to see you are not going down the same route as other social media sites but are more focused, arguably that makes for a better community.

Pascal: I also think it’s a market move. I think the market will move to more dedicated networks. I think eventually everybody will be on Facebook because it’s like the Internet, but it’s gonna be your life, but when it comes to more specific fields of interest I’m not sure Facebook can deliver because it’s the exact opposite of being universal. The more people are on Facebook the less able it is to become focused on a dedicated feed or activity. I think the market will move to that. I also considered that with videogames for example you are developing features specifically for them, you don’t develop achievements for books or films, so there’s a need for dedicated features too. I think the market will move in that way because it sounds logical.

Me: What’s next for Pixwoo?

Pascal: Next I want to make sure that our mobile app is fully functional, that you can only use the app if you don’t want to use the website. We are thinking of more dedicated features that will make it more seductive and exciting.I would prefer to be small in 20 countries than be big in one country, because videogame culture has no borders. I want to prove indeed it is a global website and the best way to do that is have resources to communicate with some countries and there are so many different approaches. My partner is helping me to realise we need a presence everywhere in the world, even if we are not successful or huge, little by little all of these people will start to connect themselves. First people watch, then they navigate through groups, then they start to post and then they start to invite somebody. There’s a lot to do, and it takes time.

Me: One last question, you’re a big fan of gaming, what games are you playing right now.

Pascal: I’ve just started playing the new Tomb Raider. I am playing Ni no Kuni, from Studio Ghibli, it’s really good, really in the spirit of Miyazaki. I’m playing Small World, a board game adaptation, I think iPad are really good for board game adaptations, and I’m playing Animal Crossing on the 3DS. I didn’t finish Final Fantasy XIII-2, so now I keep going back and playing it ten hours at a time. So, yeah!

Me: This has been fantastic, thank you.

Pascal: Thank you.

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