The word "unique" gets bandied about a lot these days, so it's hard to stay awake when you hear it coming out of a developer's mouth. Especially when you're jetlagged and you've had no lunch and you've already seen seven videogames today, all of them variations on the popular theme of shoot-the-monster-in-the-face. And especially when the word "unique" is followed by the phrase "combination of gameplay elements you've seen over the past ten to 15 years".
But it's a lot easier to stay awake when the game the developer is talking about revolves around swapping hats, slaying chickens and eating cake. Right then, Craig Leigh, lead designer at Titan Studios - you've got our attention.
"Fat Princess is a tactical action game combining class-based team strategy, resource collection and fast, bloody combat, mixed together in a sandbox environment," he says. "It's like an RTS but every player is a character. There's no commander; you all work as a team to achieve your goals." That might sound complicated, but Fat Princess is designed to be instantly accessible: "It's almost like My First Network Game - just pick up and play."
The game is played from a top-down perspective. There are four modes and eight maps to choose from, plus five classes you can switch between at any time. To do this, all your character has to do is put on a new hat. These are produced by special machines located in your castle base, but you can also pick up hats left lying around or dropped by dead players.
When matches begin you'll start out as a Villager, who can run and transport objects quickly. He (or she - you can choose) can also slap other characters, causing them to drop whatever they're carrying. The Worker harvests resources and can use his axe to attack. Plus he can build siege weapons such as springboards and drawbridges, and is better at damaging structures than any other class.
The Warrior is equipped with a sword, shield and a healthy resistance to injury. The Ranger carries a bow and arrow for long-range combat. The Priest is a healer, and the Mage shoots bolts of lightning at people to set them on fire.
Resource collection is essential if you want to upgrade the hat machines. They will then produce more powerful hats, making for more powerful characters. So the Worker's upgraded hat enables him throw bombs, while the Warrior gets a huge longsword and the Ranger becomes armed with a shotgun.
Priests become Dark Priests, which means they can drain enemies' health down to the lowest level and make them easy for other characters to finish off. Mages become Ice Mages and can freeze people in blocks of ice. "The Ice Mage is proving very popular in playtests because he provides crowd control," says Leigh. "He's squishy, but he's powerful."
"Squishy" might not be a technical term but you know what it means without having to think too hard - which is an underlying theme of Fat Princess. Even the menu options are self-explanatory, colloquial and a little bit cheeky; instead of picking the multiplayer mode you just choose to "Play with others", while for single-player you opt to "Play with yourself". You don't select the character customisation menu, you pick the "Twiddle your knobs" option.
The game's visuals are also tongue-in-cheek. They're brightly coloured, cartoony and cute, but there's plenty of blood splashing around the screen when characters attempt to chop each other up.
"One of the things we really like about the game is the juxtaposition of the art style and the blood," says Leigh. "There is a lot of blood. The game is very cheeky and funny, and it's just meant to be fun, but yes, we have gibs and blood and bombs." The line is drawn at decapitations and drug references, but Fat Princess is still getting a Teen rating in the States.
So where does the princess come in? Well, she features heavily in the mode we're being shown today. "This mode is called Rescue the Princess. The premise is the same as Capture the Flag, but the flag is a princess," says Leigh.
The map chosen to demo the game, Black Forest, shows the red and blue team's castles positioned on opposite sides of a river. At the start of the match each team has a princess in their dungeon. The object is to invade the enemy's base, capture their princess and carry her back to your own castle. The first team to put the enemy princess on their throne and keep her there for 30 seconds wins the game.
When battles begin the princesses aren't fat at all. But you can employ what Leigh's describing as "a cake-based strategy", or what I like to call, "The Battenberg Defence". As you explore the map, you'll find bits of cake growing in the forest. "It's the tastiest cake ever known to man," says Leigh. Carry it to your princess's dungeon and she'll happily chow down, her waistline ballooning in the process. The fatter she is, the harder she is to carry. At full weight it'll take four players to carry her at the same speed it would normally take one.
Princesses lose weight over time, so you'll need to keep yours fed to ensure this strategy is effective. But if ferrying pieces of cake backwards and forwards isn't your idea of fun there are 15 other players per team to help out, and there's plenty of other stuff to be getting on with.
You might make it your business to collect wood and metal for upgrading those machines. Or you could take it upon yourself to put on a Priest's hat and help out your team's Warriors. Or, as a nippy Villager, you could pick up a magic potion, run into the heart of the battle and drop it on the ground, turning everyone nearby into chickens - including yourself and your team-mates if you're not careful.
When you first start playing Fat Princess, the temptation is to run around experimenting with all the things you can do. It helps that it's so easy to switch character classes (just walk up to the hat you want and press circle) and that it only takes five seconds to respawn if you die. However after a while you start paying more attention to what your team-mates are doing, and begin to think about the good of the whole.
In the playtest I took part in, no one was using voice chat. It was still possible to work with other players just through observation, but a headset will be required if you want to employ serious tactics. "As people play the game in testing and discover the strategies, they start to come up with their own codenames," says Leigh. "So you'll hear, 'Everybody - operation Eagle Drop!' That means build the catapult, everyone grab bombs and fly into the enemy castle. Or people start forming teams - four Warriors in the front, three Priests in the middle, five Rangers at the back... So as the game is progressing it's getting overt strategies that people learn."
You can just listen to the chat if you don't want to contribute. "If I'm honest, it's incredibly hilarious," Leigh says. "It sounds like you're in Gladiator. People start shouting, "There's ten coming from the north!", guys are screaming, "HOLD THE LINE!", stuff like that."
The more you play, the more you see how people could take such a funny game so seriously. Simple as it is to pick up the controls and understand the principles, there are loads of quirks and neat features which add layers of depth. Each team has a tower, for example, which provides a shortcut into their castle - take control of your enemy's tower while they're focused on keeping you off that bridge, and the dynamic of power instantly shifts.
Then there's in-game rule that "everything works how you expect it to work", as Leigh puts it. If you're on fire, you can jump in the river to put yourself out. If you see someone carrying a bomb you can pull on a Fire Mage's hat, use a blast of lightning to ignite the bomb and blow them up. Fire Mages can melt the blocks created by Ice Mages, and so on.
The point is there's not a lot to learn, but there's a lot to play with. And people to play with, as 32 players can take part in each battle. There's a matchmaking system to ensure beginners can compete with players of their own skill level, along with persistent rankings and leaderboards. Titan has recently added host migration, and if the host (or any other player) quits the match it will continue with their place taken by an AI character.
The AI is key to the single-player game. It's been designed, says Leigh, with the aim of making it indistinguishable from the multiplayer. "The AI is behavioural. Your team-mates will do what needs doing, but they'll also pay attention to you," he explains. "We didn't want to make two games - it's the same game, the same chaos, the same fun, but the AI's helping you instead."
There is an extra element, however, which features only in the single-player. By standing near a character and pressing up on the d-pad, you can instruct him or her to follow you around and help you out. Up to three characters will follow you at a time, so you can create your own team within a team - get a bunch of Workers to help you mine, for example, or lead a couple of Warriors and a Priest into battle. There's a single-player Skirmish mode, which is just for mucking about, and a Story mode designed to teach you the fundamentals of the game in a more formal manner.
But the real attraction of Fat Princess is the multiplayer. Even playing without a headset, it's easy to become invested in your squad's success and feel a strong desire to play your part. Allowing players to be autonomous and switch classes at will, while still being part of a team, creates a fascinating dynamic.
Most importantly, it's fun. It's even fun if your brain thinks it's in a different time zone, and even if you haven't eaten for six hours. And especially if you'd rather kill yourself than listen to one more person tell you how his game about killing Nazis/zombies/drug dealers/drug dealing Nazi zombies is "unique".
Fat Princess may combine familiar elements but it really is unique. You can tell that within a couple of hours, even with plenty still to discover. "We're still learning things and we've been playing it for a year," says Leigh. "It's a really unique mixture of gameplay elements, but they all fit together so well... Like a cake, I guess." Tasty.