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Eurogamer Expo 2011; Day 1 – PS Vita, Battlefield 3 and Uncharted 3

Submitted by on Friday, 23 September 20119 Comments

On the first day of Eurogamer Expo 2011, thousands of gamers packed into Earls Court to sample the biggest upcoming games and listen to some of the biggest developers in the world. We were only able to see a glimpse of what the expo has to offer but we did get some time with PS Vita, Battlefield 3 and Uncharted 3.

Here are some thoughts from today’s conferences.

The first conference of the day had Michael Denny, Senior VP of Sony Worldwide Studios, take to the stage to present PS Vita for the first time to a UK audience. While the conference lacked any real new details for the system, we did get to see some extended gameplay footage of WipEout 2048, LittleBigPlanet and Reality Fighters.

WipEout 2048 had the privilege of impressing us first with its great visuals. It was clear from the live gameplay we witnessed that this has lost none of the quality that made WipEout HD our third favourite PSN game. What’s more impressive is that it actually has the potential to be better. We can’t wait to cross-play with PS3 players.

LittleBigPlanet equally impressed us. It makes use of all of Vita’s control interfaces to ensure that this will allow players to play, create and share in a way that isn’t even possible on the daddy console. Gameplay footage showed the touchscreen being used to drag objects around the screen or play the piano. Another ‘wall puzzle’ was solved by using the rear touchpad to push out blocks, while the touchscreen was used to push them back in. The gyroscopes were used to move a platform left and right, while Sackboy balanced on top. The camera meanwhile is used to take pictures of objects, which can then be edited in-game and used for your own creations. The new control interface promises to make creating seamless, intuitive and fun.

Despite all the inventive aspects of the Vita, not everything was as glowing as WipEout and LPB. We were less impressed by the augmented reality game Reality Fighters. It’s all very nice putting real people in games, but the gameplay appeared to be very shallow. Without solid game mechanics, it sounds more like a gimmick and less like a game to us.

Some other AR uses were also shown during the presentation, which definitely piqued our interest. Seeing tanks battling on a table, Ape Escape monkeys climbing out of the carpet and having an alien autopsy taking place on a dining table — it all looked surprisingly realistic, and fun. While we have reservations about Reality Fighters, we hope Sony keep plugging away at AR projects because it is an interesting area.

We are looking forward to going hands-on with Vita over the next few days, but we’re pleased with what we’ve seen so far. Sony has clearly learned from past mistakes and have all angles covered. It has every type of interface you could ever need, and its developers appear to be having fun developing ideas to use them.

The next conference was for Battlefield 3, presented by DICE general manager Karl Magnusson. He spent a lot of time discussing the Frostbite 2 engine, and how it has been created to enable DICE to recreate that “all-out war experience”. For DICE, Frostbite allows them to really push the boat out with visuals, animations, tactical destruction, sound and scale. That’ll be most things, then.

This was all in evidence on the short PC multiplayer trailer for the Caspian Border map, which showed jeeps, tanks, helicopters, jets and tens of troops going at it on a huge map. The sheer scale of the map is impressive and certainly a cut above anything else available.

Unfortunately, due to technical constraints, us console owners will never get to experience that level of scale. Instead, multiplayer maps are scaled back on consoles to fit 24 players, as opposed to the full 64 players that PC owners will get. We enjoyed a good session on the Operation Metro map using a PS3 while out on the show floor. It definitely doesn’t have that scale which PC players will experience, but it won’t be lacking either. It’s classic Battlefield gameplay.

The level Operation Guillotine was also on show, looking fantastic while playing on PS3. As well as looking technically a cut above most games out there, it showed that DICE has upped its game significantly with singleplayer — which is the big news for us.

In Bad Company 2, for example, singleplayer always felt like a tutorial for the multiplayer. Something felt lacking. This is definitely not the case now. It’s not just that it’s packed full of set pieces, it just feels much tighter overall. It has good pacing and has that “all-out war experience” which Magnusson mentions.  You feel as though you are just one part of a large-scale army. Magnusson kept tight-lipped about the singleplayer story, but he did offer the following teaser: “How far are you willing to go to serve your country?” It’s certain to be intense.

If there is one game, however, that does look better on PS3 than Battlefield 3, it is Uncharted 3. We were fortunate to witness fresh gameplay footage in the final developer session. This was from late in the game, in a level called The Settlement (Chapter 19, we think). It began with Drake, in the Rub’ al Khali desert, dehydrated and on his last legs.

He steps over a sand dune to discover a ruined settlement, a “ghost town” as he calls it, and it is here that we witness for the first time Uncharted 3’s staggeringly good sand effects. Naughty Dog’s visual effects artist actually went out to the Imperial Sand Dunes near Los Angeles to film the dunes there. The team used this footage to create drifting sand effects that are extraordinarily realistic.

This setting wouldn’t be anything without Nolan North, who plays Drake perfectly, as always. He has that tired look about him as he moves, and he sounds weary. You can sense the relief in his voice as he finds a puddle of water at the bottom of a well.

It wouldn’t be Uncharted without humour though, and just when Drake thinks he’s safe, he walks in on some bad guys while they’re having their break, cue lots of fighting. Drake does his brutal melee attack on one, stealing his gun in the process, before taking on the rest. Naughty Dog’s Richard Lemarchand explained that the team is working on making the AI more dynamic and this is clear from the demonstration. It’s not the best we’ve ever seen but enemies are much less static than they have been in the past. This should ensure Uncharted’s famed shooting gameplay is going to be better than ever.

Also joining Lemarchand  on stage was Nolan North, who went into great length about the process of motion capture and working with Naughty Dog. He explained that he’s been working on the project for 15 months and actually only finished two weeks ago. Naughty Dog has also kept him in the loop creatively, as they do with all their actors.

Naughty Dog’s philosophy is that the experience is built around great acting performances. According to North, working on Uncharted is unlike working on any other game (and he’s been in a few). Most other games he works on usually involves him showing up for a day to read some lines into a microphone. This is something else completely. He even worked on Uncharted while recovering from fractured ribs. This was around the time they were recording for the now legendary E3 ship level gameplay. “That pain was real”, he says. Maybe we should injure more actors if that’s the result.

Naughty Dog has impressed us so much this generation that it’s getting harder for them to surprise us. They can flip an ocean liner in real-time and we no longer bat an eyelid. (By the way, Lemarchand  explained that the ship’s movement isn’t predetermined, it’s affected by the dynamic water system, meaning that level will vary every time, even if only slightly.)

Yet, even by Uncharted’s high standards, it’s hard not to love what we saw today. Sure, it’s only sand, but it’s just one of many ways in which the team are drawing us into that world.

On the show floor we played one of the multiplayer maps which was set in a desert. It was your standard Uncharted fare — plenty of dying and leaping about — but halfway through, out of nowhere, came a sandstorm that left us nearly blind. How many developers have the skill or the brassneck to attempt something like this?

That’s why, despite all the quality that was on show today, we left Earls Court thinking about little else other than Uncharted 3.

If anyone would like to know more about these sessions, or any other games on show at the event, please feel free to ask in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to give you an answer.

A big thanks to Seanoc for providing the coverage so far. Be sure to stay tuned for more throughout the weekend!