This time on Built to Play, Daniel visited Xbox Canada and Arman discusses Canadian games and the great outdoors.

The Built to Play staff doesn't make it outside often. Sure we can see the outside from the windows in our studio, but we rarely experience it. Just kidding. Our studio doesn't have windows. Anyway, Daniel actually left the studio to talk to play some upcoming Xbox One games, while Arman talked to game designers about why they liked the outside. For Arman, it's baby steps.

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At X14, Daniel played Sunset Overdrive, Fable Legends, The Evil Within, Mortal Kombat X and Alien: Isolation. Here's a couple samples of what he found:

Sunset Overdrive:

The problem mostly comes in when your weapon variety starts to show up. I had a flaming  gential-themed shotgun, a disc gun that fired vinyl records, and a massive hand cannon called the Dirty Harry. None of these guns really favoured the high speed, far away combat style that the grind-rails encouraged. The shotgun worked great for enemies nearby, and the hand cannon was perfect when I slowed myself down and focused on enemies, but otherwise, the disc gun’s bouncing records was the only weapon that worked at the high speeds the game wanted me to move at.

Fable Legends:

It’s unbelievably fluid, and part of that may have had to do with the fact that it was running on five networked machines, but god damn if it wasn’t impressive. The game doesn’t currently have a five player local option, which could be a problem moving forward, but apparently Lionhead is looking into smartglass support for the villain player. 

The Evil Within:

At one point, I walked down a hallway, and triggered a rope that dragged me into a closet full of spinning blades. I tried shooting at the blades to jam them, but of course, the game didn’t exactly highlight the tiny blinking light I was meant to shoot at until after I died. And then I lost about 20 minutes of progress. 

Mortal Kombat X:

This is a game where the aforementioned Cassie Cage (...) can kneecap her opponents, shoot them through the head, pull out some gum, chew it, stick it over the bullet hole, and watch as a blood soaked bubble pops out. 

Alien: Isolation:

 The sound of it approaching was enough to get my knees shaking, and the subtle cutaway when it catches you is probably a thousand times spookier than any gore-shot could have been. The Xenomorph runs around unscripted too, doing whatever its AI feels like, so there’s no way to rely on rote memorization. It’s all about your skill at tracking, avoiding, and using the incredibly limited toolset available to you. 

Tune in about 50 seconds into the show to hear us chat about these games and Assassin's Creed: Unity. Plus we hear from Nitai Bessette, the level design director, of AC: Unity and Matt Grandstaff, the global community lead at Bethesda Softworks. Daniel also met two designers from Lionhead on the Fable Legends team, the game's director David Eckelberry and the villain's designer, Lewis Brundish.

Or read the whole article here. 

For the staff at Built to Play, Canada is probably our favourite place to be. We have free healthcare, moose, and poutine. It's great, and a lot of game designers would agree with us.

As we've repeated multiple times on the show, Canada is the third largest centre for game development in the world, right behind the United States and Japan. Which is why it feels odd when we can call so few of those games "Canadian." Games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mass Effect, and Assassin's Creed are all games made in Canada, but you wouldn't know that from looking at it or playing it or talking to the developers. To be fair to the first two, Mass Effect and Deus Ex both have had levels set in Canada (Vancouver and Montreal respectively), but Assassin's Creed, even when Ubisoft Montreal leads development, never feels like it belongs here. 

The weirdest game in the series has to be Assassin's Creed III. This open world assassination game set in the American Revolution was partially planned by Ubisoft, a French company, led by Ubisoft Montreal, a Canadian company, with parts built all over the world. It's clearly about the American Revolution, but it's not made by all that many Americans and while they doubtless did their research, the game feels culturally nomadic. It has very few traces of authorship. No one person built this game and there's no one vision guiding it. So it's not Canadian, but I'd argue it's not very American either. It's a multinational project undertaken by one of the largest game publishers in the world, Ubisoft. 

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The majority of development studios in Canada are owned by larger publishers, like EA, Square Enix, or Microsoft, none of which care very much about where these games are physically made so long as Americans buy them. So the majority of Canada's big budget games don't feel very Canadian. 

Alexandre Fiset felt this weirdness while he was at Beenox, a studio based in Quebec City that's owned by Activision. Beenox makes games starring Spider-Man, sometimes based on the ongoing film series. Fiset wasn't satisfied working on a Marvel hero living in a fantasy New York, so he left the company to start Parabole Games. Parabole recently completed a kickstarter for the game Kona, an episodic series about a supernatural mystery in northern Quebec.

Fiset wasn't alone in thinking about his game as a cultural product either. Raphael van Lierop, founder of Hinterland Studios and designer of the Long Dark, has been thinking about game design as a way to make something local. The Long Dark takes place near the mountains of British Columbia, far north of where van Lierop lives on Vancouver Island. It's a survival game based in the rough Canadian wilderness.

That's a little odd in itself. Two designers wanted to put a bit of local flavour into their games, and both of them based their in the wild. The conception of Canada as this vast land of forest and tundra seems almost like a stereotype. But, as they'll both argue, Canada looks more like that stereotype than Canadians like to admit. 

Fiset and van Lierop discuss Canada, the garrison mentality, and why cultural diversity is important for all games, not just Canadian ones. You can hear from them starting 38:45

The Long Dark's survival mode is now available on Steam Early Access. Kona's first episode will be released in April 2015. You can play the demo here.


Once again thanks to the Free Music Archive for access to great bands like Podington Bear. In our Xbox One preview section, we used the following tracks from that band: "Nature Kid", "Moondots and Polkabeams", "Lake Victoria" and "Belfast". We also used "Hedge Schools" by Peter DiPhillips. 

For the rest of the show we used the following songs from the Free Music Archive: "Wanna see my Spaceship" by Beatoven,"Run to Canada" by Min-Y-Lian, "Detective" by Krowne, "Photosphere" by Charles Atlas, and "Blind Eyes" by Everlone. We used sound effects from Destiny. 

This episode was written by Daniel Rosen and edited by Arman Aghbali. 

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