Hellgate: London Updated Impressions - Graphics and Randomization

Flagship Studios shows off its upcoming action role-playing game's bells and whistles at the unveiling of Nvidia's next-generation GPU.

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You may not have heard of Flagship Studios, or of the people behind it, but you definitely know some of the games the team has made in the past. Flagship is the studio that was formed two years ago by a group of Blizzard North veterans, including the creators of the Diablo series, and Hellgate: London represents Flagship's debut game. And like you'd expect from the creators of the Diablo series, Hellgate is all about killing lots and lots of demons. It's almost tempting to think of Hellgate as the second coming of Diablo, and while the games certainly share many similarities, the thing to keep in mind about Hellgate is that it's a first-person role-playing game that looks and plays like a shooter. And unlike the 2D graphics in Diablo, Hellgate is powered by a cutting-edge 3D graphics engine that looks so good, Nvidia showed it off during the press unveiling of its next-generation GPU.

Like the Diablo games, Hellgate is built on randomization. The game creates random, unique levels every time you play, so no two players will ever experience the exact same game. Additionally, Hellgate randomizes much more, such as the loot that demons drop when they die, the generation of rare items, and more. Bill Roper, the CEO of Flagship, said during the presentation that Hellgate has a methodology that's about 10 times better than that of the Diablo games, meaning it can create better environments and items on the fly.

One of the challenges involved in creating random 3D levels, though, is to make sure they remain believable, and the demo showed some gorgeous London city streets, all war-torn and empty, save for demons, of course. The game is set approximately five years after a demonic apocalypse cleans out the city, so London has the look of a gutted town. In addition, though the game takes place approximately 25 to 30 years from now, the developers have steered away from creating conventional firearms and weapons--the kind you'd expect to see in a shooter. Hellgate remains very much a role-playing game, and the exotic weapons, most of which can be modified and enhanced, can also be thought of as "spell delivery systems." We saw a ropelike beam that attached itself to a target and then sawed through any enemies it came into contact with, as well as other magical projectiles. And though it takes place from a first-person perspective, this won't be a twitch-based game, like conventional shooters, as your combat skills will rely on your character's level, skills and attributes, and weapon enhancements.

One of the reasons London was chosen for the setting is because the city has such an intriguing history to it, as it's been home to some of history's greatest calamities, such as the Great Fire of London, the plague, and the Blitz. It's also got great architecture, which helps make the buildings in the game look good. But most importantly, there's the Underground, which consists of far more than the world-famous Tube. There are ancient Roman aqueducts, old bomb shelters, and Victorian ballrooms. Most interesting, though, are the disused and abandoned Tube stations. Apparently, to keep people out of them, the British government actually pays people to guard them. The game plays on this real-world anecdote by postulating that those guards may be there to guard against something else. In the game, the demonic gateway originates underground. We got to see some of this subway action during the demonstration, as the game showed us some of the underground levels, all of which are randomly generated.

The game certainly benefited from running on the upcoming Nvidia hardware, and one of the interesting tidbits is that it actually loads faster, too. Since the game randomly generates levels, it has to calculate the light maps when it loads. Normally, this results in long load times. However, the next-generation GPUs can handle that task much faster than existing cards. It's probably a good thing that Hellgate isn't scheduled to ship until late this year, as that should give time for the latest upgrade cycle to take hold. Even then, though, we can probably expect to see the game optimized for current and older systems.

It certainly looks great, and a lot of stuff can happen on the screen at once. First of all, the environments and character models all look excellent, but then there are tons of particle and spell effects...not to mention detailed lighting and shadowing. While you play the game from the first-person perspective, which was chosen because it's far more immersive than the traditional top-down view for role-playing games, you'll also switch to a third-person perspective when you wield a melee weapon, such as a magical sword or a cricket bat (which is an homage to the recent British zombie romantic comedy Shaun of the Dead).

Hellgate's pedigree alone should get gamers excited, but judging from the Nvidia event, even without its lineage, this looks to be a fast-paced, exciting, gorgeous game. Since the event was mainly for the purposes of showing off hardware, we didn't get many gameplay details. However, we'll definitely keep you up to date with developments as they come along.

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