I first heard about NFTS Games thanks to the EGX 2014 coverage by my good friends at 1001Up. Since then I’ve kept a close eye on them, even covering their Graduate Showcase earlier this year. When I heard they would be at the NEC for EGX 2015 I told them I was definitely coming to see them. Alas, I almost missed them.
The careers section of EGX was somewhere between the XBOX and PS4 booths, and I was expecting big banners to let me know NFTS was there but they barely had a tag on their booth in tiny letters—at least tiny for EGX. It was an odd placing and Tony Evans, Games Curriculum Coordinator and Social Media Master commented on it, regretting it as the bigger booths drew attention away from them.
If it hadn’t been for Tony tweeting me right before I left, I might have missed what the students had for display and I would’ve been very sad.
So, thanks Tony, you’re the man!
Between Us – Joshua Unsworth: Joshua’s game was the prologue to his upcoming narrative adventure game. It’s set in London during the night of some calamitous event, the posters even showing buildings on Fire. The main characters meet in the tube wen the tunnels collapse and from there they have a memorable night, perhaps even finding love.
But that is something for us to discover in the future. In this demo we see the main heroine on a Taxi going to the airport. We get to choose her responses to the cab driver, asking him about his family, which in turns opens up the conversation options about the man she met in the tube during that eventful night.
While at first I chose the options for the fastest route to the airport, at the end she changed her mind and said “Let’s take the scenic route, I’d like to tell you this story.” And I agreed. I wanted to know what made her leave the city. I wanted to know whom this man was and how they met, what happened between them.
Between Us was the shortest demo in show but behind its shortness hides a lot of potential. I could see, in my mind, how the story might play out, what the characters might do and how they would interact and even if it’s all in my head, I want to play the rest and discover the truth for myself. And I want to know if Josh had similar ideas to those I had.
Betwixt – Sam Browne: This was a game that intrigued me. Sam mentioned the idea came from the in-construction Onkalo Spent Nuclear Fuel Reposity in Finland, a bunker-like structure built deep underground to house radioactive waste—because that is a good idea, right?—and the Swedish documentary Into Eternity, which deals with how we would communicate to future generations that these nuclear sites are dangerous, when potentially our signs and even alphabet might not mean anything to them.
Based on this, Sam developed this game where sound and music were a way of communicating intent and emotion, something we already do on a daily basis. In the Betwixt demo you play as a young girl on a dead snowy plain. You meet an old man by a dead tree, standing by a bonfire. He tells you that to move forward you must find the songs of the land: the song of something flying, the song of something that runs, the song of something dead and so on. There were five or six of these songs to collect and Sam told me his idea would be that everyone would go, find one then return to the old man before going to hunt for the rest. As a gamer, and an exploration lover, I told him most of us would go hunting for every bit we could find and then return to the ‘quest giver’ and he mentioned he’d try to incorporate that in future versions, as the old man was there to guide you towards the next objective.
Your character’s main form of interacting with the environment is her ability to sing. With the press of a button she sings a small harmony, a little note. But as you collect the sounds of the world, her song changes, becoming more complex and infinitely more beautiful. You find the songs of the land by singing near very-hard-to-see light particles. I commented this to Sam and he mentioned that was in his plan, to make the visual side more colourful.
When you finally collect the last song and return to the old man, you sing the full piece and I wanted to keep listening to it for as long as I could, as it was just that beautiful. In the game, the song made the dead tree in the background spring to life, the branches and leaves extending to form platforms for the character to progress to the end of the demo.
I can see myself getting lost in this strange wilderness in the future, or just standing there listening to the music.
Keyframe – Kai McGilligan Oliver: This was perhaps my favourite game of those on show.
In Keyframe you visit an art gallery but the paintings aren’t the usual modern or classic pieces you’d expect. Instead, you find pictures of the major events in your character’s lives. He has amnesia and the paintings are his fragmented recollections. When you first start the game, you see him in a blank canvas and as you explore the different paintings, the canvas fills out, to show how his mind is reconstructing.
You can stretch and expand each painting, finding tickets and other items in them, giving you information on the protagonist’s reasons for acting the way he did in the past. These give you things to consider when you make the choice, after studying the painting, on how the character should feel about it. For example, the painting I saw was one of a train station and after pulling and tugging at I found stickers that told me his story up to that point and how he was leaving his family. So I made him feel guilty about it.
Each section of the gallery is also a puzzle, with the painting having arrows on their frames for you to extend and rearrange them, so you can open the way for other pieces and perhaps find more tickets and additional information. Kai mentioned this was a game for completionist puzzlers, and he couldn’t have found a bigger one than me.
Kai mentioned his intent was on tablets alone as he felt mobile phones were too small, but I mentioned my Galaxy S4 and my experience playing games like The Room on it, telling him that with phones getting larger, the surface area increases as well, so his game would fit very well on them. He agreed somewhat and I recommended he made some tests, which he seemed keen to do.
In terms of feedback—since he asked—I asked if he had an intention on making your decisions on the paintings affect how the rest would show and he said he had no plans for it, but he seemed to like the ideas I proposed him. I told him, “Our memories colour our perception of things, so what if your choices on certain paintings affected how the others were, maybe with darker shadows or even completely different art styles to match his gloomier perception of the world.” The opposite was also a possibility. Kai immediately grabbed his notebook and wrote it all down. If it makes it into the game, I will be forever honoured.
One thing I will always remember Kai for was the question he asked me after I gave him my feedback: “With these ideas, why haven’t you made your own game?” I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be told that by someone so talented.
Tony must have been close-by because he gave me sales pitch on the program not a minute after I stood up and said my goodbyes to Kai. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be one of them, showing off my own game at an NFTS stand! For now, however, and as I told Kai: “I write.”
Off Grid – Rich Metson & Pontus Schönberg: Tony pointed me to this game when I mentioned I was keen to hear about the titles I saw during the Graduate Showcase, how they were progressing. He told me Rich and Pontus were graduates of their 2013 course and were still working on this title.
Off Grid puts you in the shoes of an unusual spy. He’s not suave, used to danger nor is he in any way stylish. Instead, you control an average guy like you and me, who suddenly has to be infiltrate a company and steal its secrets.
The demo I played put me in a guard’s office and I had to make my way to the basement server room. I got through the doors with no problem but the lobby had one guard roaming around and he had a keen eye. I tried my best to sneak around but he was too good and discovered me, but I used his efforts to my advantage. I waited for him to come after me through the glass security doors, then slipped through them as he rounded a corner. I legged it to the basement, found the servers…and then I got lost.
One of the issues I had with the game and I commented to the two-man team was the lack of signposting. At no point did I know for certain what my tools did, how they helped me move forward. One in particular was a set Augmented Reality goggles I could use to set up wireless hotspots, but I didn’t know what their purpose was, and nothing in the game explained them to me.
The demo was good and the premise was extremely interesting and I will definitely go back to play as Joe Average and do some spy-work. Next time, however, I hope I can make more sense of the mechanics.
MegaMech Ultimate Mayhem – Xian Chua: This was the last VR title I played at EGX and with the experience I had with other ones I’ll admit I wasn’t terribly excited about this one, not because of the game itself but for the idea of putting the goggles on once more.
The game itself was interesting if not a bit rough. I expected a combat game with other mechs but it was more akin to demolition derby but with giant robots. You control the mech and have a limited time to destroy as much of the environment as possible. I failed during my first time but by the second I had a bigger grasp of it and tore it up like a madman.
Sadly, the destruction I caused seemed to be too much for the computer it was running on and the framerate dropped dramatically, making me feel very ill after I was finished. It’s the problem with VR, I discovered, if the framerate isn’t smooth, it causes nausea.
Having played it I talked a bit of shop with Xian, using my development skills—not on games but software overall—to give her a few options, one of them being limiting the field of view and draw distance so that elements come into focus as you approach them, giving the processor some breathing room. Another point I made was the lack of animations on the character models in first person. I tried to punch and nothing happened, or at least I thought nothing did because there wasn’t a punching animation to go with it, just a minor dust effect where the punch landed.
Still, this game was very early in development. I hope the next time I play it I’ll be blown away with what I see. There is a lot of potential in this title, especially in some MegaMech tournament fighting!
Filly the Kid – Ellie Silkstone I didn’t get to play this game during EGX but Tony and I watched as someone else did. The game is a platformer starring an anthropomorphised cowboy horse—a horse-man—though still having the ability to run on four hooves. I didn’t get much of an idea from the plot but the platforming was interesting. It wasn’t just jumping and running but also using ropes, lassos, and other tools to make your way through the western-style environments and even alter it in some cases, like pulling a tree down to form a bridge. From the demos shown (by current students) it was the one that showed the most advancement in its development.
Hopefully I’ll get to see its final state during next year’s graduate showcase!
Once again, I’d like to thank Tony for reminding me to visit them, it was an amazing experience to see these games and speak to their talented developers. I can’t wait for NFTS Games’ next showing and you can bet I’ll be there to check it out! If you want to know more about NFTS Games and the students, click here.