Only 182 or so days left until Christmas! Have you started putting together a list? For their part, the developer’s of this season’s most anticipated games are hard at work making sure there’s plenty for you (or your kids) to want. We talked to a handful of them earlier this month at the big E3 conference in L.A. Here’s what we learned about the most popular titles or installments in franchises for the current game consoles and the next generation of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming in November.
The historical action series continues with the life of Edward Kenway, a pirate captain. “In the gameplay, you have your ship the “Jackdaw.” We give you all the weapons pirates have: swords, multiple flintlock pistols. You are free to roam oceans, pick up your spyglass, look for cargo, look for plunder, look for prizes,” AC4‘s lead writer Darby McDevitt tells Fast Company. “If you see a ship you think you can take on, you can board it, kill the crew members; the ship is yours. You take its cargo, sell it for money, use it to upgrade your ship.”
If the prospect of living a pirate’s life isn’t enough, there are always the historic characters. “Of all of the Assassin’s Creed games, this one has the most colorful, most robust, most fully realized characters. You are going to meet Blackbeard. I worked really hard to bring him to life in a way that’s very historically accurate. People are going to see why he was the legend he was,” McDevitt says.
A cinematic and mature game about the life a psychic girl named Jodie, played by Ellen Page, who has a connection to a spirit named Aiden. You play through her life from a little girl, to a military operative, to a vagabond on the run. “It’s the story of Jodie and Aiden and their relationship and how it’s going to evolve through time. What was interesting to me was to tell the story of one person through several years,” says David Cage, Beyond‘s writer and director.
With a focus on story and acting, Beyond blurs the line between game and film. Cage says, “The bar for quality has raised significantly with everything: with the sound; with the acting; with the animation; with the filming. It takes more time and it’s more challenging, but it’s more interesting.”
The latest in the best-selling military shooter takes the game in a new direction–you’re a member of a small group of U.S. military operatives who’ve banded together after America has crumbled. Mark Rubin, executive producer of Ghosts, tells Fast Company, “We have this mass event that decimates everything that we know, the government, the military. We are not the superpower anymore. There’s this new superpower that’s arisen from the ashes. Instead of being the big mass military coming in, you are on the other side seeing the big military coming in.”
The game’s creators Infinity Ward used a new game engine for both current and next-gen systems to allow new kinds of gameplay. “There were some environments that we avoided in the past, just because the tech couldn’t make them look as good as we wanted,” Rubin says. “We’ve done underwater before, but never made it look that good. It’s three dimensional, so it’s not just running down hallways, so you can use cover above and below you–some really cool stuff that we never did before, that we never could do before.”
One of Microsoft’s launch titles for the new Xbox One, Spark allows you to make your own games. You can start from scratch or answer a series of questions and use templates to create the game. “We wanted to give game creation to everybody, the feeling I get when I show my games to the world,” Saxs Persson, the lead of the Microsoft team behind Spark, tells Fast Company. “We have people from outside the game industry that are doing phenomenal on this because it levels the field in being creative.”
Beyond the new Xbox One, Project Spark will also come out for Xbox 360, PC, and Windows tablets. And you and friends can play each other’s work, or even remix their games. Persson says, “Once you are happy with your game, you can share it with your friends. You can go in and change the settings, swap out goblins for fish. There really is no limit where you can take this.”
Activision’s innovative and bestselling series about toys that come to life gets a simple but powerful innovation–toys will have top and bottom halves that can be interchanged. “Your imagination and your autonomous choices become recognized,” says Eric Hershberg, CEO of Activision Publishing. “The game is constantly reaching out and shaking your hand, seeing where you are going. ‘Let’s see what the jet boots do with the Octopus head!'”
The game itself features dozens of new levels in an improved graphics engine, for both the new Swap Force toys or for fans’ existing collections of toys. “Every single toy that someone might have purchased works in our game. All of the characters come forward with all of their upgrades,” says David Nathaniels, senior executive producer on Skylanders. “We are actually adding more value because all of our characters can jump, which is something that people have been clamoring for. And the level cap is increased, and there’s more powers for some of the characters. All of that investment that families have put into the game to date is paid off.”
A new Mario game for the Wii U, 3D World has a more open form of game play and new power-ups like the catsuit that allows climbing and pouncing. And like other recent Super Mario games, four players can play at once. Director Koichi Hayashida says, “There’s a lot of elements that are exciting that we really want to talk about, but nothing compares to running around on all fours as a cat with three of your friends in a 3-D Mario world. It’s really amazing.”
Something that hasn’t been seen along time has also returned, four characters to choose from, with differing abilities, including the return of Princess Peach. “The ability to play with four characters is an idea that existed in a Mario game before, that doesn’t exist in all Mario games, but they brought that back,” says Scott Moffitt, Nintendo’s EVP of Sales and Marketing. “We also learned in Super Mario 3D Land for 3-DS that people really love the open-world style of play. It’s really a blend of something familiar and yet trying to bring something new so it feels fresh and different.”
You play as Aiden Pierce, a hacker turned vigilante who uses the citywide computer system of a near-future Chicago as a tool and weapon. Controlling traffic signals, cameras, or ATMs is powerful, but it’s what you do with that skill that makes the game. “From a game-play perspective, it’s basically to connect everything,” said Danny Belanger, the lead game designer. “It’s a choice of a player to intervene or not if you know a person is going to be in a crime or a murder, or you can steal a bank account.”
As you manipulate Watch Dogs’s complex city of simulation systems–traffic, weather, crowds, and more–others can come in and hack your game from their console or tablet or mobile phone, either to help or to hurt you. Belanger said, “Game play through chaos is super appealing to us. Personally, I think it is the way of the future, playing with the system and having emergent game play.”