Lair Preview - The Skies Aflame

Factor 5's first PlayStation 3 game is almost feature-complete, and we've got an in-depth look at all the dragon-fueled mayhem in our extensive hands-on report.

San Rafael, California-based developer Factor 5 has toiled in a galaxy far, far away for the better part of the last decade, rousing Star Wars enthusiasts with multiple installments in the popular Rogue Squadron series made exclusively for the contemporary Nintendo platforms of the day. But when it came time for Factor 5 to part ways with Nintendo and make the jump to Sony's beefy new PlayStation 3, the developer also took its leave of the Star Wars universe to finally craft its own original, storied fantasy milieu. The result is the upcoming Lair, a (mostly) aerial combat game featuring a vast, fantastical world in peril, power-hungry religious fanatics, two nations at war...oh, and a whole lot of fire-breathing dragons, too.

Factor 5 president and Lair director Julian Eggebrecht comments that after working with the Star Wars universe for so long, the team realized the importance of underpinning a game's plotline with an established and extensively developed universe. So rather than creating a specific scenario for Lair and then building the world around that story, the team worked in the other direction and envisioned Lair's lands, history, and cultures in general terms before then crafting individual characters and storylines based on those broader parameters. Factor 5's artists--many of whom have experience in the nearby film effects industry--drew inspiration from Roman and Middle Eastern styles, among others, in crafting the game's unique architecture, clothing, and other cultural elements.

Lair takes place in an imperiled world that's threatened by numerous emerging volcanoes, which are sundering the land and choking the skies with a thick cloud of soot. The peoples of this world have divided into two kingdoms: the treacherous Mokai, whose lands are arid and depleted of resources, and the seemingly noble Asylians, who live in one of the last remaining bountiful, green areas. These two nations are naturally at odds with one another, and the recently empowered, aggressive Asylian religious leaders are already leading the country down the path of inevitable war at the game's outset when the Mokai accelerate the hostilities with a surprise attack.

Rohn and his dragon will be swept up in a conflict that will decide the fate of their entire world.

You'll play as Rohn, a member of the Asylians' elite dragon-riding force, and you'll have to take to the skies immediately to repel the Mokai assault and carry out subsequent aerial missions in the unfolding conflict. Subsequent levels will see you assaulting entire ground-based armies, leading a nighttime raid against enemy lighthouses, and fulfilling various other objectives in the ongoing war between the two nations. This is only the plot's initial setup, however; Eggebrecht implied there will be some unexpected twists and turns as the story progresses, possibly ones that will leave Rohn a different person and in a different place from where he started.

Dragons may be a far cry from X-wings, but they do share some mechanical similarities. Luckily, Factor 5 hasn't abandoned the knowledge accumulated during the Rogue Squadron years. Instead, Lair's designers are building on their previous experience with flight combat design in creating and tweaking the gameplay. Naturally, your dragon will have a flame projectile attack, which we employed effectively against the Mokai catapult ships that were assailing the Asylian city in the game's opening level. The attack even has a degree of auto-aim and will fire at the enemy closest to the center of your screen. (The targeted enemy will have a white halo around it for easier identification.) Furthermore, as you kill enemies in quick succession to form combos, you'll build up a special meter that, when full, will make the action slow to a crawl while you continue to move at regular speed, allowing you to deal damage with even greater precision.

So dragons and X-wings both fly, and they can both shoot. That's pretty much where the similarities end, though. For one thing, X-wings don't have wicked talons and fang-filled maws. Dragons certainly do, though, and consequently Factor 5 has focused Lair's combat largely on the up-close-and-personal. Your dragon enemies will be broken up into light, medium, and heavy classes, and the type of melee attack you do will be determined by the weight class of the enemy. When you have a light enemy targeted, you can hit a button to charge it and essentially body-check it to take it out quickly. Doing a charge move on larger dragons, however, will put you into a melee fighting mode that will require you to perform specific motions with the Sixaxis (indicated by onscreen cues) to successfully attack and defeat the enemy.

Unlike in past Factor 5 games, much of the aerial combat in Lair will happen up close, in melee fashion.

Lair's gameplay relies heavily on the Sixaxis' motion controls for more than just this melee dueling. In fact, motion is the only way you can steer your dragon (the analog sticks are used solely for minor camera control). We instinctively tried to fly with the sticks when we first tried the game, but after about 10 minutes we found the motion controls to be pretty intuitive. Eggebrecht pointed out that, given the analog stick's relatively limited range of motion, the Sixaxis control ultimately gives you the ability to make larger movements for faster changes of direction and so on. We'll reserve final judgment until we get to play the entire finished game with this new control scheme, but for now we're cautiously optimistic that the designers have made the right choice by limiting steering control in this way.

Most of the action will take place in the sky, but some missions will see you hit the ground to terrorize the enemy's hapless infantry, too. When you're on the ground, you've got a number of extra attacks, from a large tail swing to a ground stomp that impacts enemies all around you. The enemy will frequently deploy entire battalions of troops against you, which means you'll get to torch and plow through endless ranks of soldiers with reckless abandon. In some missions, a meter will indicate the morale of the enemy forces, and descending to the ground and terrorizing the troops will reduce their drive to fight. You can even pick up horses and other large objects from the air and toss them at groups of enemies in a process that Factor 5 gleefully likens to bowling. Since last year's Tokyo Game Show demo, the designers have reevaluated the controls and decided that while the motion control makes sense in the air, traditional analog control has been restored for the ground-based gameplay.

The enemy's infantry will naturally be no match for the terrible power of your dragon.

Rogue Squadron veterans will know of Factor 5's emphasis on performing well in its games, and Lair will carry on this tradition with specific rankings that will tally your scores at the end of each mission. You'll be ranked on the amount of "carnage" you've caused (which seems to be analogous to a basic score), as well as your completion time, number of kills and deaths, and so on. As in the Rogue Squadron games, all of these will add up to medals that will not only indicate your overall performance, but also unlock new moves, such as a double-slash combo, that will let you more easily tackle subsequent missions. Even if you're not getting these extra moves from medals, though, the developer says the game will smoothly introduce new gameplay mechanics and concepts all the way through the second-to-last mission, to keep things fresh.

For most of its history, Factor 5 has developed games exclusively for one platform at a time, which has naturally allowed the team to exploit more of that target platform's potential than if it were creating a game that ran on multiple systems. That tradition will continue on the PS3, with the developer's coding wizards performing a number of advanced tricks to raise Lair's visual caliber. We saw the game running at 720p resolution, but Eggebrecht said the final game will also have a 1080p option, and both modes are targeted to run at 30 frames per second, since resolution apparently has little impact on overall frame rate in this particular game.

This mission will see you entering a series of Mokai lighthouses and destroying them from the inside.

Lair will employ some levels that are a whopping 32 square kilometers in size, and a high level of detail will be maintained at any distance thanks to an advanced new dynamic level-of-detail system called progressive mesh. With this technique, whether you're a mile up in the sky or hovering just a few feet above the city skyline, you'll be able to observe roughly the same amount of detail. This really showed through in the early sample missions we saw, such as the first mission in which the Mokai's dragons and catapult sea vessels assaulted the Asylian capital city, the temples and houses of which sprawled elegantly over a series of rolling hills. The sea attack also gave us a look at Lair's full fluid dynamics system, which simulates the motion of real water rather than rendering the ocean as a boring flat plane. This effect was especially evident every time we destroyed an enemy ship, which exploded into a geyser of flame and created massive ripples rolling out from the wreckage, causing other nearby ships to bob and sway in the commotion.

Equal care has gone into the artistic elements of Lair's creation. The visual designers used both dinosaurs and bats as models for their dragons, and you'll encounter a wide array of different dragon types--plains dragons, ice dragons, flame dragons, and dark dragons, to name a few. As imposing as those dragons are, they aren't nearly the biggest things in the sky. The Mokai will employ gigantic flying mantas as troop transports that make your dragon look like a housefly, and Lair's first boss encounter will see you going up against a voracious flying coral snake that's over a mile long. (Then they toss in a second one for good measure.)

Factor 5 is going all out on the visual and aural fronts to make the game as epic as possible.

Factor 5 isn't skimping on the aural presentation, either. The game's epic action will be accentuated by a full symphonic score written by film composer John Debney (a newcomer to video game music), whose extensive oeuvre includes Sin City and The Passion of the Christ. From what we heard during our demo, Debney will be bringing his cinematic experience to bear with a score that's much in the grandiose style of Hollywood action and fantasy movies. And luckily, if you happen to have the necessary home theater equipment, the game's audio will play in full uncompressed 7.1 audio via HDMI for that extra aural oomph.

Lair is currently moving into the alpha phase of development, which means all of the major features have been implemented. However, the team continues to tweak controls, balance damage values, and generally mold the game into a solid flight combat experience befitting the Factor 5 legacy. Eggebrecht said the team has a "firm commitment" to finish the game in time for a July release, so it won't be much longer before we get to evaluate the final result of the team's labor--not to mention one of the PS3's most important exclusive games this year.

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Discussion

303 comments
darthvulger
darthvulger

the frame rate is 30FPS, well we shouldnt worry about it, cuz its been such a long time in production that the people at Factor 5 sould of perfected that

dutch777
dutch777

This is one game that i shall spend a whole lot of time playing. With the sixaxis controls this will be like flying for real.

kevy619
kevy619

"hugh000270 I hope someone would develop a game like Lair for the 360. The frame rate is 60FPS." I know it doesnt have dragons, but ace combat 6 is your game.

Vyce3
Vyce3

Anyone who's seen the videos of the sixaxis controls in action for Lair saw how intuitive and responsive they were. This might be one of the first few ps3 games that use the sixaxis controls correctly. I'm now looking forward to Lair even if there's no multiplayer. I hope there are some secrets and unlockables though to add to the replay value. This game may be a console seller depending on its lasting appeal.

cameronc08
cameronc08

They clearly state the frame rate is 30 fps.

hugh000270
hugh000270

I hope someone would develop a game like Lair for the 360. The frame rate is 60FPS.

PS3Compass
PS3Compass

It's "Lair" again. I'm relieved.

GumbytheGreen
GumbytheGreen

man you ps3 guys are pretty lucky, i kinda wish the 360 would get some nice dragon/medieval era game. Its always a good time to destroy someone with a dope sword or a nifty dragon

PS3Compass
PS3Compass

This game is being called "Rise From Lair" now? What's going on.

Sir_Bozack
Sir_Bozack

I do hope this game is great, PS3 really needs help! I really looked forward to getting a PS3 but after its launch....I noticed that there wasn't anything that was great for it! I mean theres a few GOOD games but im not paying $600 for a system that can only bring me GOOD. Thats why I bought a 360. ;p

PS3Compass
PS3Compass

I'm worried about sixaxis playing a major role in gameplay. But other than that it looks like a cool game.

kiwikoh
kiwikoh

Looks cool, but I'm kind of worried about the frame rate...

bricoleur
bricoleur

This has much promise, but I'm hesatant about the SIXAXIS

wlindelof
wlindelof

I hope the motion sensor works. in games like Motorstorm and others its completely useless. But the game looks cool.

gimlifn
gimlifn

Looks great I just hope that it has some cool missions because just flying around for the whole game will get very boring.

bihboy69
bihboy69

definately picking this up! graphics look amazing and gameplay sounds great. and everyne knows dragons are cool. i wonder if this will have somekind of offline multiplayer (online would be crazy :D)

LuteGuy
LuteGuy

PS3 + DRAGONS + UNPARALLELED REALITY = JOY

dracos9000
dracos9000

Looks interesting and its a plus since I like anything with dragons in it.

DV92Camaro
DV92Camaro

Nice looking game. Can't wait for July. Tilt plus beer = fun. hahaa

Corkscrw
Corkscrw

this game looks amazing but the main character looks a little to mocho to be in a fantasy game.

spchernandez
spchernandez

Dragon battles? That's enough cool stuff for me to pick this one up!

dragon62586
dragon62586

Yeah... this game is going to pwn some faces.

Symphonycometh
Symphonycometh

...Did I miss the boss fights in the clip somehow?

dumebuggy
dumebuggy

This looks like a gorgeous game, if only i had the ps3 and hdtv to go with it, it look awesome, probably a must-have for graphic seekers

haze_blaze
haze_blaze

I started off without much anticipation for this game... now it's one of my most wante games for the year! All of the combat they showed in the new vids on gametrailers.com really got me excited for this one. It's always looked awesome graphically, but now I'm convinced that the gameplay is going to be truly awesome as well.

Plus, I had a ball using the tilt controls for flOw... so they should be awesome on this game for flying. I can't wait until July rolls around.

Someguyinavan
Someguyinavan

I just love the water ^_^... And the boss fight sounds amazing! Reminds me of SotC... Ah the old days! :D

bihboy69
bihboy69

blu-ray pwnz hd-dvd anyway. 100GB quad-layer blu-ray coming soon! anyway, this game looks really cool, hopefull you fly by using the tilt sensors. then do some other suff with analog sticks. looking good. fighting in mid-air by using functions shown on screen remind me of that game farenheit sooo much. its a good system

Stammalamma
Stammalamma

THIS GAME LOOKS AMAZING! I LITERALLY CANNOT WAIT!

CaribouLou5
CaribouLou5

Sony SUCKS!! Just kidding, this looks like a cool game. With this and GTHD/5, along with MGS I am starting to think about picking up a PS3. I'm not there yet, though. I know I will own one, and I can afford it, but the games just aren't quite there, and I'm a little hung up on the no rumble feature. I mean, Nintendo has rumble AND motion control AND infared AND bluetooth AND onboard memory AND a freaking speaker on their controllers! I am going to heed to the rumors, for now, that a price drop and/or hardware update are eventually coming. Strangely, I'm attracted to the BD drive, even though I can pick up the HD DVD add on for 360 for much cheaper. All I know is that I am getting tired of standard definition programming. Anyways, kudos to Sony and Factor 5 for what is arguably the first widely desired exclusive title. They're gonna need lots more of these to really compete, and no doubt they will have them. This is gonna ge a good few years for gamers everywhere, regardless of the machine you choose to play your games on.

Symphonycometh
Symphonycometh

...Wait...I just called out and drilled two members...and I wasn't bashed yet? Hmm? I think the crappy Sony haters are gone...:D

jammakane10
jammakane10

absolutely brilliant. the PS3 has been out for a few months, and it is already starting to pump out the great graphics games, which it took nearly a year for the 360 to do. imagine the games for the PS3 next year. i wish i could just go forward in time to when MGS4 comes out lol

mcxps3
mcxps3

anyone else find it funny that the music composer did both the passion of the christ and sin city. Anyway i want this game now or at least a demo.

mcxps3
mcxps3

anyone else find it funny that the music composer did both the passion of the christ and sin city. Anyway i want this game now or at least a demo.

tonis125
tonis125

ah man i'll have to wait until july.

guitarfreak2005
guitarfreak2005

Cmon guys, just take your uneducated "guesses" somewhere else. In developer interview videos, they say that the fire spitting was supposed to be like that, otherwise it wouldn't be fun, and they've actually improved on the fire spitting alot lately, I mean, what's not fun about spitting a huge-ass fireball? The only actual problem I see with this game is the framerate. They had better get that fixed before launch. I just hope it's not released before it's even done.

R3V3N4N7
R3V3N4N7

Finally a game that looks worth buying for the PS3. Time to go dust it off.

tommyxx516
tommyxx516

Have you guys looked at the video clips? It looks like it might get a little boring after a while. It reminded me of armor core but instead of robots, its dragons. What's worse, it looked like the dragon was just shooting fireballs out like they were bullets. Ah well, we'll wait and see how it turns out. Its been 2 years since they first showed this at the E3 show, its about time it comes out.

Martin_G_N
Martin_G_N

Yeah...this game must be one of the first that I really feel will use the hardware in the PS3 right. I'm not saying it will utilize it max, because look at the PS1 and 2 after a few years. But 1080p and full lossless 7.1 sound...wow, try getting that on a DVD for the x360.

88_movement
88_movement

DonutTrooper u don't know what u are saying about sony copying the 360 'gamer tags' because believe it or not psp has something called a nickname so that when they go online people can recognise their name so if someone copied it was MS.