Picassio Preview

The game is a mission-based adventure, and as with such a role in real life, you must avoid getting caught or it's "game over."

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While art and video games certainly go hand in hand, the alliance is seldom found within an actual game's theme or overall plot. European developer Promethean Designs, the creator of Interplay's Powerboat Racing, Renegade Racers, and Worms on the SNES, is changing that by introducing its latest creation, Picassio, for the Dreamcast, the PC, and the PlayStation2.

Promethean came up with the Picassio idea about three years ago. Apparently, the company wanted to do more with the game than technology at the time could handle, so it crafted its ideas and held off until more competent systems became available. Now, with a title planned for the next next-gen consoles, the developer's hopes are high.

Although the game's release is at least a year away, its developers have enough of a game plan to give us the basics. Essentially, you play as either a female or a male "cat burglar" who is hired by one of two wealthy country-club types to acquire major works of art to beef up their respective collection. The game is a mission-based adventure, and as with such a role in real life, you must avoid getting caught or it's "game over."

Promethean Designs' Ross Ritchie told us about the levels and missions. "There are 12 missions, each complete with its own back story, key factors, and plot. The 3D environments are based on famous museums. There'll be private homes, which will have every conceivable type of deterrent, both human and electronic. Each mission will require different tactics. However, every mission will put you up against Kaito (the other main character) and time," said Ritchie. So each level represents a mission, and each mission maintains its own identity within the greater goal of the game - to steal the largest number of works of art. At the beginning of each mission, you'll be briefed and given a blueprint of the building you'll need to enter as well as some of the items you'll need on that particular job. Your carry limit will be five gadgets; however, you'll be able to leave what you're not using somewhere within the level and retrieve it when it's needed via a map. Once your starting items are collected, you'll pick a location through which to enter the structure that houses the art you're going after. Regarding this goal, as you may imagine, stealing art is quite different from, for example, running through a war zone slaughtering everyone in sight. Your usable items won't be guns, as such, or rocket launchers, or grenades. Your only defense will be traps, non-lethal stun-gun darts, chloroform, a crossbow, and other devices that will assist you in your stealthy mission. Promethean said, "It takes more skill to immobilize an opponent than to kill," and the developer intends to make you prove it. You will also have cameras to assist you in your mission. According to Promethean, "The placement of hidden cameras by the cat burglar is imperative, and this introduces another unique aspect of Picassio - multi-viewpoint gaming. When you see someone coming, using the cameras, you can deploy a trap you had previously set in another room." A control room, set in each level, will also help you quickly locate items, including the art you're seeking and the enemies you're avoiding.

You'll be forced to decide whether to fight or flee, in many instances. You can set traps to immobilize the guards and then plan your escape carefully. Otherwise, you can directly impair these detractors by stunning them or dishing them a healthy dose of chloroform. Shooting stun guns instead of BFGs adds an interesting element to the gameplay: timeliness. When your opponents are struck down only temporarily, you have to rely on the fact that you're never really lessening the numbers of enemies keeping you from the task at hand. You're only temporarily putting them off, so you can count on having to deal with them again if you're not quick. This makes you rely on strategy more than sufficient aim. You must remember who's out there and have some idea of how much time you'll need to get through the building to accomplish your mission, and retreat unscathed. The game appears somewhat Tenchu-like in that if the guards hear you sneaking around, they will pursue you, at which point (according to developers) you'll have to retaliate, knowing that they'll be hounding you until the level is over. Promethean also boasts of including "plentiful guards," meaning it's not likely you'll escape without being seen. But this is also where an interesting twist comes in. As mentioned, you will work for one of two rich black-market art collectors, each competing for the world's largest assortment of paintings. You will not only have to avoid the guards, but you'll have to evade the other cat burglar who is working the same mission you are. If you encounter him or her and become immobilized by that person, he or she can take all of the tools and devices you have on hand. Your rival will also be able to steal items you've hidden around the level with the intentions of using them later.

Likewise, Picassio sounds a bit like Tenchu in that you'll use a grappling hook to skirt the more dangerous, guard-infested environments. A harpoon is attached to one end of the rope, and when you shoot, it attaches to a nearby wall or structure, allowing you to swing over the heads of those waiting to take you down. The introduction of stealth into adventure gameplay is something that gamers are typically pretty excited about. According to Promethean, "Everybody finds stealth appealing because of the excitement it brings. Remember that feeling of adrenaline you used to get as a child whilst playing hide-and-seek, being tucked under the stairs watching the person doing the hunting pass by obliviously? This is the feeling that Picassio will re-create."

Promethean promises that stealth play is enhanced by the fact that many of the items complement the state-of-the-art graphics . You'll use military-style thermal imaging and light intensifiers designed to help you maneuver around the museum without disturbing light-sensitive security features such as lasers. In fact, you'll have a hologram-based shadow generator that will let you display a location other then the one where you are so as to lead the guards to an area far from where you're hiding out or planning your escape route.

The best stealth game, however, isn't much fun if the NPC AI isn't up to par. So we asked Ritchie about Picassio's AI. "There is a high number of enemies, ranging from guard dogs to robots, and they'll all have several levels of AI. Your rival cat burglar, Kaito, will be as intelligent as we can make him. We are encapsulating the AI in a run-time scripted language, which enables the game designers to play with the AI without having to explain to the programmers exactly what they are on about. The artists will be using multiple motion path, which the code will modify in-game as necessary. Higher AI levels incorporate some learning, so that the game to a certain extent will adapt its difficulty to the player's skill levels." The concept is without a doubt interesting and unique, but without a decent game engine and solid play mechanics, a potentially decent-sounding game doesn't amount to much. For Picassio, Promethean is using a proprietary, in-house game engine that's nearly 50 percent complete, with the PlayStation2, the PC, and the Dreamcast versions all running the same code as pushed through a central converter. The engine will also manage graphical features such as dynamic lighting, skeletal animation, and volumetric fog. Multiplayer will be featured as well, featuring the usual suspects: a head-to-head mode, team-based play, and a "capture the art" mode.

Promethean explained that sound would play a major role in the gameplay as well. " allows the player to know when opponents are approaching. In addition to this, Picassio adds a digital sound indicator to the Cat Burglar's gadgets, as knowing where a sound is coming from can make or break the mission. Sound is crucial to the game and to learning when you can run and when to sneak."

We asked Ritchie about Promethean's plans for making this thinking strategy/adventure title appealing to console gamers as well as PC gamers. "Picassio is not a heavy strategy game, although of course you are required to think. Picassio will be very realistic so you will be faced with problem-solving rather than puzzles. We think of it as a stealth/action game, a 'sneak 'em up.' Time is often a key element; this informs a lot of your decisions and actions. The player will always be aware of the time limit before which they either have to complete a level, exit a room, evade a guard, and so on. So the planning and execution of any particular tactic must be done at speed. If the overweight guard is in pursuit, you will have to remember that a stun dart will not effect him as long as it would a smaller guard. If you need to descend quickly into a room, do you use your zip-line straight away, which may alert a guard that you will later have to deal with, or do you wait around for him to pass, making you even tighter on time but reducing the risk of being caught? It's up to you. Should you use stealth mode to creep across that room? All the decisions must be made under the pressure of time. The more you play, the more using the tools and traps comes naturally, making you more worthy of the hefty sum of money you are being paid. It's a complete balancing act that will be transparent to the player. They will learn when it's best to stay silent, when to hide, and when to go for it. In summary, although this game requires you to think, it still has the fast, furious, and intense gameplay of any other console game."

We'll have more on Picassio, such as details about the levels, the characters, and gameplay impressions in the coming year before the game's release.

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