Since surfacing back in 2013, the [email protected] program has been responsible for giving thousands of developers the tools to make their wildest and most creative ideas a reality. The program is notable for helping broaden the success of many popular indies such as Cuphead, Outlast, and The Escapists, and it is still spreading its magic to this day. Recently, we were invited by Microsoft to take a closer look at three recent titles that have benefitted from the program and these are Edge of Eternity, Twelve Minutes, and The Ascent.
Edge of Eternity
Already released through Steam's Early Access, Edge of Eternity is an absolute love letter to Japanese RPGs, which has a unique grid-based combat style at its core. The game sees you play as Daryon and Selene, a brother and sister duo, who are on a mission to save their unwell mother and the rest of humanity from a fatal disease known as the Corrosion.
Interestingly, the game is a JRPG developed by a small French studio. Guillaume Veer, the game's producer and narrative designer told us that he believed that the game stood out from other entries in the genre due to the studio's origins. He mentioned: "Even if we wanted to emulate the Japanese way of writing, we are still French people with our own sensibilities and sensitivity, so of course the game will reflect that."
As mentioned earlier, the game has been in Early Access since December 2018 and it has seen quite the transformation since its initial launch. The game has been steadily released in chapters, and the developers have listened to player feedback to make fundamental tweaks. Veer told us: "When it comes to gameplay, when it comes to combat, when it comes to camera, when it comes to loot, when it comes to crafting, we have been able to change several things about the game based on the feedback we have received from players. Basically we have built the game with them."
Veer was later asked about the game's influences and he noted that the team was inspired by a broad range of different JRPGs and not just one particular franchise as a whole. He noted: "It will change depending on which member of the team you ask. Some people will answer Final Fantasy, others will answer Lost Odyssey, and others will say the Xenosaga." He also noted that Shadow Hearts was a big influence and that there is a battle achievement system in the game, which has been directly inspired by Shadow Hearts 2.
Edge of Eternity is set to make a full release on PC on June 8 and it will arrive on Xbox One and Xbox Series some time later in 2021. It's worth noting too that it will be available day one for Xbox Game Pass subscribers.
Jumping on top of the currently widely popular cyberpunk craze is The Ascent, a co-op twin-stick shooter that takes place within a seamless open world. Its story unfolds following the mysterious collapse of The Ascent Group, a mega corporation that owns you and everything around you. Everyday life as you once knew it is now over, and you're forced to take up arms against a newfound threat that is jeopardising your district.
During the presentation, we learned that the game distinguishes itself from other twin-stick shooters as it features tactical elements. Creative Director Arcade Berg mentioned that players can adjust the height of their weapon (either high or low) and this impacts the effects that your rounds will have on enemies. Shooting high will apparently help you to stagger enemies and it's therefore a great means for crowd control. Shooting low will also be important as there are a few enemies that are too short to hit normally. It was also touched upon that the game has a cover-based system. As you explore the open world you'll find safe places like shop counters and vents that you can crouch behind to reduce your visibility as you fire.
The Ascent also has some pretty deep customisation options for players to tinker around with. Your character can be equipped with several Augmentations and Modules and these give you different active and passive abilities. One that we saw allows you to deploy multiple exploding spider bots and another enables you to fire a devastating laser beam. The Ascent also enables you to shape the appearance of your character by visiting a Grafter, which is present at every hub within the game. Here you can change details like your hairstyle, skin colour, and tattoos, and there doesn't appear to be a fee required to make adjustments.
The developers also gave some insight into their inspiration for the game's cyberpunk-inspired world. Creative director, Tor Frick, said: "I think that we draw inspiration from many different works from movies, books, and comics, so there's a whole influx of inspiration." He continued: "We wanted to take some of the tropes in cyberpunk but apply a little different bit of a flair to it. We have aliens and a lot more of a sci-fi feel to the cyberpunk in our game than traditionally what is expected from the genre."
The Ascent is set to launch at an unconfirmed date later in 2021 on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series. Just like Edge of Eternity, it will be releasing day one on Xbox Game Pass.
The title that leaped out to me the most out of the three was Twelve Minutes. The game plays like a much darker version of Groundhog Day, as you find yourself caught in a twelve-minute time loop that ultimately ends with you being killed by an intruder. Using the new knowledge that you learn upon each run, you must alter your actions within the limited time frame and navigate yourself to a positive outcome.
During the presentation, developer Luis Antonio shared some interesting details behind the inspiration of some of the game's prominent design choices. Antonio detailed that the game's top-down style stemmed from a result of his lack of development experience. He initially started as an artist working for the likes of Rockstar and Ubisoft in the past, and when it came to developing the game he didn't initially add a third axis and later decided it was not necessary.
The game also doesn't show the faces or expressions of its characters and this also has a similar backstory to its top-down perspective. Antonio told us: "It is something that I decided early on. I didn't want to spend time figuring out facial animation and conveying emotion through the faces." The project seems like it stands out very much due to these creative restrictions, which interestingly, is something you'd never see from a AAA studio with a full team of developers.
Another notable aspect about the game is that it features some major Hollywood talent. James McAvoy, who is known for his role in the X-men movies, stars as the game's protagonist and Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley plays his wife. Antonio noted that the star-studded cast wouldn't have at all been possible without the involvement of Xbox and he also detailed that the original plan was to have speech bubbles and not full voice acting.
When asked about when the game is coming, Antonio said: "We are in the final stages doing localisation, QA, and bug fixing. Now it's just a matter of having the game really solid and then we will announce a release date." So no exact date has been revealed, but he did note that it should be coming sometime soon in 2021 for both Xbox One and Xbox Series.