Thursday, March 8, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Bullet Witch

Game: Bullet Witch
System: Xbox 360
Developer: Cavia, Inc.
Publisher: Atari
Player: Tony
Experience: Blind

[For the article, follow the jump.]

Third person shooters and action titles have become increasingly similar to one another, and Cavia’s Bullet Witch happens to be one of the earlier attempts this generation to bring them together with a female protagonist. Bullet Witch was remembered as one of the first unique Japanese products exclusive to the Xbox 360, followed eventually by Mistwalker’s Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, to name a few.

Bullet Witch was developed by Cavia, Inc, which was formed in 2000 in Tokyo, Japan. The company’s name is said to have come from caviar, although others state that it is an acronym for Computer Amusement Visualizer. The company’s first title would be 2002’s Nihon Daihyo-senshu Ni Naro, a Japanese-only soccer drama. In America, the company’s first major release would be Capcom’s Resident Evil: Dead Aim, a sidestory title in the series which turns into a first-person shooter when a weapon is drawn. Outside of developing a number of licensed titles such as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (published by Bandai) Dragon Ball Z: Supersonic Warriors (published by Atari), and Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles (published by Namco Bandai), Cavia had been best known for its work with Square Enix, particularly Drakengard and its sequel (which was published outside of Japan by Ubisoft). Both Drakengard titles feature a medieval world filled with magic and monsters with whom people form pacts to gain special powers. However, what make the games so significant are the melancholy stories and multiple dark endings present in each.

In 2005, while producing all of these titles, Cavia, Inc. expanded and changed its name to AQ Interactive, with smaller developer and subsidiary projects marketed and released through the AQ name. The game planning and development branch of AQ Interactive would be renamed to Cavia. Other subsidiaries in AQ Interactive were Artoon (founded by Sonic-creator Naoto ƌshima) and feelplus (whose first major release would not appear until after Bullet Witch’s release). American publisher XSEED Games is said to also be an AQ Interactive subsidiary, although when that happened is not specified.

The publisher in America is Atari, which has so much history I could write a book about it, but for all of our brains’ sakes I will keep it short. Atari was originally founded in 1971 as Syzygy Engineering, although it was never incorporated formally until 1972 with the name Atari, which is a Japanese phrase for having a prediction correct or winning a lottery. In 1973 a shell competitor named Kee Games was formed to circumvent exclusivity deals with particular clients, although it was discovered in 1974. In 1976, wanting to launch a home gaming device, co-founder Nolan Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications, and in 1977, the Atari VCS (later called the Atari 2800) was released, but a year later, disagreements forced Bushnell from the company. As time progressed, Warner was unable to replicate successes from its first few years, and combined with the E.T. and Pac-Man Atari game snafus, Atari could barely stand amid the 1983 video game market crash. Deals with Nintendo’s Famicom fell through, and while Atari was trying to reorganize itself, Warner secretly set up a sale to Tramel Technology, who created Atari Corporation in 1984. The pinball/arcade division of Atari would be renamed Atari Games and eventually sold to Namco in 1985.

Atari Corp’s major initial release was the Atari ST, a 16/32-bit computer system, as well as the development of Atari 2600jr and Atari 7800. It would release the Atari Lynx handheld system in 1989, which was initially successful, but the Game Boy had gained popularity and led to the Lynx’s failure. Atari Corp even tried to sue Nintendo, claiming the Game Boy made the company a monopoly. The other console launched was the Atari Jaguar in 1993, but that system was a failure in both a commercial and critical sense. In 1996, Atari Corp would be merged into JTS Inc., forming JTS Corp. From then on, Atari would simply be a holder of properties for licensing, and the name disappeared.

Hasboro Interactive purchased the Atari name and properties in March 1998, releasing a number of new titles under its moniker, including a remake of Centipede and Pong: The Next Level. In 2000, however, French publisher Infogrames Entertainment took over Hasboro Interactive, naming it Infogrames Interactive. In late 2001, Infogrames began to relaunch the Atari branding with Splashdown and MX Rider. Infogrames’ US branch would be renamed Atari Inc., and its Europe operations became Atari Europe, whereas Infogrames Interactive became Atari Interactive. In short, the Atari we see on Bullet Witch’s boxart in America is actually Atari, Inc., originally Infogrames, Inc., the US subsidiary of Infogrames Entertainment. Before Bullet Witch, Atari, Inc. had published a number of games, including but not limited to, Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Under Pressure (developed by Foundation 9’s The Collective), Driver: Parallel Lines (developed by Reflections Interactive, now Ubsioft Reflections), and BattleZone (developed by Paradigm Entertainment).

“…Right from the start, our plan was to invent a TPS game that would be embraced by the Japanese gamers. We felt that Japanese gamers tend to be very interested in fantasy elements so we created the game to feature a combination of the "Gun" weapon and "Magic". "Magic" is a synonym for "Fantasy." "Witch" who uses "Magic" is a synonym for "Fantasy", too.
So we really tried to make a TPS game that would still appeal to the Japanese users who were less familiar with the play style by featuring such fantastical elements. However, the preference to the fantasy element is not only for the Japanese users. The source of the fantasy was inspired by western stories and we think the theme of fantasy element is accepted easily for all over the world. We believe that the nonstop action created by a combination of magic while shooting the huge showy gun offers a unique style of play all users who like to play FPS and TPS.”
- Tohru Takahashi, Producer, Cavia (1UP.Com)

Bullet Witch is a third person action shooter title which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and follows the adventure of a witch named Alicia who bears a large broom-like weapon which allows her to cast magic. Alicia is accompanied by a voice called The Darkness which continues to aid her as she works to protect the remnants of humanity. The game takes place in 2013, some six years after the world has been ravaged by a demonic uprising in 2007, and Alicia is set out to try and hold back the Geist, the army of demons created to suppress the remaining humans left on Earth.

The camera remains slightly over the shoulder, allowing for better aiming and more views of her acrobatic abilities. Alicia can use her broom to use as a gun, starting as a machine gun but eventually allowing shotgun and other weapon types as well. Her stronger magical abilities require Mana, which similar to her health, can regenerate over time but to a limited point. In order to get more health or Mana quicker, players can save humans from the Geist for health or kill more monsters for Mana. Certain spells will be necessary in order to destroy particularly difficult obstacles, such as tanks. Once a level is completed, players are ranked based on kills and deaths among other things to get a grade, which can give points to build up Alicia’s strengths up for future levels and even for harder difficulties.

Bullet Witch contains DLC for costume variants and extra missions, the latter of which cost 20 MS Points. The costumes include pixie, school girl, and white witch, whereas the levels are usually some harder variant or revisit of the game’s main quest levels. In Japan, a rerelease of the game through the Platinum Collection has all the extra downloadable content on the disc.

Following Bullet Witch’s release, Cavia went to work on a number of franchise titles. While the company worked on other licenses including Zegapain and Death Note, the company also developed unique, smaller products such as KORG DS-10. Through Capcom, the company released the light-gun shooter Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, and its sequel, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles. The former is infamous for being one of Capcom’s “test” Wii titles for the hardcore market, and as it “passed,” Darkside Chronicles was the result. Umbrella Chronicles features Resident Evil’s 0, 1, and 3, and Darkside Chronicles features Resident Evil’s 2 and Code Veronica (although it connects greatly to Resident Evil 4’s plot background).

In 2010, Cavia released its last major title, another Square Enix project called Nier. Nier takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where dark beings called shades have inhabited the land, and a deadly virus has spread throughout the world. Without giving a lot away, there are plenty of oddities in the supporting characters as well as equally melancholy moments within the game’s story, which matches the game’s spiritual prequels in the Drakengard franchise. In the American release, the main character is a father hellbent on saving his daughter, but in the Japanese PS3 version, the protagonist is the victim’s brother. The “Western” game is called Nier: Gesalt in Japan, whereas the “Eastern” version is called Nier: Replicant.

Cavia would not produce any further titles, as in 2010, AQ Interactive announced that it would cease publishing titles and, as of July, would dissolve all development subsidiaries and absorb them into AQ itself for the future. This merger did not affect XSEED Games and other subsidiaries Micro Cabin and LinkThink. On October 5th, 2011, it was confirmed that AQ Interactive was no more, having been completely merged with Marvelous Interactive and mobile developer Liveware to create Marvelous AQL. Marvelous AQL is currently working on a variety of projects, including Harvest Moon: The Land of Origin for the 3DS and New Little King’s Story for PSVita with help from Konami. Most notably from Marvelous AQL is Kaio: King of Pirates, a series of titles being created by Keiji Inafune’s new development company Intercept and Comcept.

Atari, Inc. has since dropped its internal development operations, becoming a publishing house in the US since late 2007. Early 2008, Infogrames offered to purchase all remaining stock of Atari, Inc., and on October 11th of that year, it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Infogrames Entertainment, SA. In May 2009, Infogrames Entertainment, SA officially changed its name to Atari, SA. The company has seen better days, but it continues to release games. More recent games include Terminal Reality’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Eden GamesTest Drive: Unlimited 2, Centipede: Infestation (by Wayforward Technologies), and Killspace Entertainment’s Yar’s Revenge (2011). Most recently, the company has been releasing subsidiary Humungous Inc.’s Freddi Fish and Putt-Putt games onto iOS, with Freddi Fish 3: The Case of the Stolen Conch Shell being the most recent.

Bullet Witch appeared to me as a pretty neat game, at least from the screens I had seen. Tony was given the Xbox controller, and from there began our venture into the post-apocalyptic world. We try as well as we can to fill an hour block of the game, but the bigger question is how badly can we suck at an action shooter of this nature?

Turns out we can suck quite a bit. We do not venture past the first level of the game, stuck at the bridge and overall annoyed by the continually difficult encounters along the way. It could be that we did not make use of the magic as well as we could, but when we did use magic, it could not save us from the game’s instant death cars thrown at the poor witch. Either way, the game was not lending itself well to our liking, so we ended the run.

This was our first recording of an Xbox 360 title, and it shows. Without a real capture card device, we used a DVD Recorder and ripped the data from it for editing, a method we still use today for older systems which cannot be captured via our Hauppauge HD PVR. Unfortunately, due to the game’s resolutions, a bit of a discoloration occurs, but this eventually stops being an issue in later recordings. On top of that, the audio of the whirring console remains louder than anticipated, but that can barely be helped. We have since gotten better with console placement, too.

But enough talk about the behind-the-scenes and more about the game…it was not a great game. The plot was a bit messy, and even though we only saw so much, we knew the story was not going to evolve too far from where it began. Perhaps seeing more levels would change our mind, but the game felt frustrating to play for Tony, and as such, we do not plan to return to it in the far-seeing future.

3RM Says: Finally!  This image took eight tries, but we finally got the theme.  Wait, this
game isn't Cannon Witch!  Where's the director?!

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