It usually takes a couple of years for good ideas from one game to seep into another. It appears that late 2009's Demon's Souls has spilled some into Ascend: New Gods, one of the wilder games I saw at E3 earlier this month.
Demon's Souls popularised — or re-popularised — a style of singleplayer gaming that is perpetually affected or even infected by the actions of other players. Demon's Souls, an ostensibly single-player adventure, would display ghost images of the dying moments of other players' characters, to warn you of deadly pitfalls ahead. Demon's Souls would let a player invade another player's game and stalk them.
Ascend: New Gods, an upcoming Xbox Live Arcade exclusive for the 360, has its own smart online connections that make it more than just another singleplayer game. The 2013 game that looks, at first just like a standard fantasy hack-and-slash from the creators of Toy Soldiers does some Demon's Souls-like stuff:
- you can "ascend" the godly character you play as and have leveled up. Ascending them removes them from your control and turns them into a computer-controlled minion who can be dispatched to invade other players' games. You can have up to 10 of these ascended characters wreaking this kind of havoc, preferably on people on your friends list.
- You can learn spells that banish regular grunt enemies to other people's versions of the game. Each banished enemy will bear your gamertag. In a demonstration of this, the game developer who was playing Ascend caused several little goblin enemies who were swarming his hero to disappear from his game. But, seconds later, they were back with even more buddies, all bearing the gamertag of another player, who had just banished them back to our game.
Anyone who played Signal Studios' marvellous Toy Soldiers games knows that this development team is happy to take creative risks and is capable of crafting a satisfying downloadable game that can feel large in scope even if it's not all that long. Ascend, which has nothing to do with toys and tower-defense appears to be a smart play toward doing something that mixes single-player with, well, the best of multiplayer mischief. The developers say they think of this game as a service and plan regular, rapid updates akin almost to what Minecraft is getting on Xbox Live, making this an all the more fascinating project to watch develop as it approaches its 2013 release.
As a bonus, it will support SmartGlass, the new E3-unveiled tech that, in Ascend's case, will stream an overhead map of the game's dungeons to your phone, tablet or laptop, showing, in real-time where you and the enemies are. It will also display enemy bios and stats when you encounter them. This implementation will come through the free Smart Glass app that Microsoft plans to sync to Xbox 360s in the coming months.