HellBlade Preview - Games Weekly

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Friday, October 10, 2014

HellBlade Preview

“We like to build animalistic characteristics into our characters,” art director Adcock tells us. “Senua has traits of a panther in her.”
The words “From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and DmC” should have gamers globally throwing money at Cambridge-based studio Ninja Theory, no matter what their new creation. And despite how little is locked down regarding new project Hellblade, we’ve got our wallets open and our hands out already. This third-person, action-shaped effort has been dubbed ‘independent triple-A’ which we can all agree is a piece of hideous marketing nonsense. But it’s also a unique answer to the numbing conundrum that seems to hound each of the dev’s aforementioned games:
they never seem to sell enough copies.

The key word there seems to be enough. “The truth is that a game like hellblade doesn’t tick all of the boxes that a big action game needs to these days in order to justify the triple-a, £50 label,” says Ninja Theory’s product development, uh, ninja, Dominic matthews.

“hellblade is a shorter, more focused experience that we can make with our fans and supporters in mind. You just can’t take this approach when developing a big triple-a game, you need to try to appeal to as many people as possible in order to justify the huge development costs.”
Purgatory knife

remember ThQ? Exactly. The reality is that the middle ground doesn’t necessarily exist anymore and with the digital landscape exploding it makes more sense to look outward, towards fans, rather than inward towards publishers possibly more inclined to squeeze endless collectibles, social integration and, urgh, microtransactions, into their products. This doesn’t mean that developers have to go big or go home, but what makes it possible for Ninja Theory to so brazenly step out on its tod?
“We have a fantastic, highly talented and experienced team available to really make hellblade work. Without this team being in place, the job would be impossible,” says matthews.

There’s also the knowledge that Ninja Theory, entrusted by capcom, remember, with its son of Sparda, might as well have its own chapter in the book of third-person action. much like heavenly Sword and Enslaved, combat will be an anchor for hellblade, though with a celtic flavouring.

“combat, when done well, can create a real connection between the player and the game,” says matthews. “We’ve built up a lot of expertise, so I’m looking forward to players getting their hands on finely polished and tuned combat that feels responsive, brutal and totally uncompromising. We’ve got some weird and wonderful enemies planned, so combining really tight combat mechanics with some beautifully realised enemies is going to make for a special experience.”

Katana nirvana

consider also that this team is packed with artists. could stepping into the realms of independent publishing ensure we’re on the receiving end of purer,less watered-down implementations of their artistic vision? “One of the really nice things with the project so far, is that when we’re creating art we’re talking all the time about how it will work in game, how it relates to the story, how it might impact design,” Stuart adcock, hellblade’s art director, enthuses when we ask him how work on the game differs from that on Dmc. “This is really easy to do when you have a small team. When you’re delivering a piece of concept art to a publisher, it’s natural for a lot of the context to be lost or for a lot of the thinking behind the art to not be communicated fully.”

There’s a long way to go yet (hellblade is only five months into development), but one thing has been communicated loud and clear. Independence may have taken the safety net out from under this studio, but it may very well have unleashed it to produce something truly special, too.

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