Fuck Chess! We’re Playing Beguile!

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I am not the right kind of smart to play chess.  A lot of people suck at it, and just being smart doesn’t help.  It takes a certain patience and a skill for long-term planning, both require focus, discipline and training.  It also requires a strong resistance to falling asleep while sitting down, ability to avoid daydreaming and a skill for not flipping the board when you lose after 4 hours of grueling play.  O yea, and if you play it in the park, you have to do all this on a fucking timer.  Fuck that!  I am just not studied enough in the art of chess to really know how to play!  I know the basics though.  Plenty of sorry fuckers know the basics!  We were fucking taught them by some masochistic prick (or prickess) that taught us to play only so they could experiment with strategies before mercilessly murdering us.  It’s not funny.  It’s not fucking fair.  And it is about fucking time we got even.

Thanks to this fucking guy, we’ll be able to do just that.  Study that face.  He’s is the guy normal people like me will be hi-fiving while our chess-skilled friends will hire a band of rabid ninja monkeys to hunt him down.  Really, I am pretty sure that the kickstarter for the game will be used to fend off rabid bands of ninja monkeys.  All he did was add cards to chess.  Yup.  That is fucking it!  So what do they do?  Oh, my that is the fun part.  In short, they will make it so that you will be on fair ground against your chess-club friends.  It makes chess shorter, more fun and hilarious.  Our game took only an hour and a half, accounting for the stops to marvel at the wonderful art on the cards.  The creator was able to send me some demo PDF’s that I printed for play!

Had my pawns running offense for my knight until he was taken with this card, getting an enemy knight one extra space for the kill!

Had my pawns running offense for my knight until he was taken with this card, getting an enemy knight one extra space for the kill!

My brother Joel has an awesome twili… I MEAN.. vampires vs werewoles chess set.  Black is werewolves, white is vampires.  It went with the medieval theme of the game, and even played on some of its more magical or demonic cards.  You play chess as normal, except at the start each player gets 5 cards.  You can play one card per turn and there are two different card types: T cards that take up a whole turn and C cards that play concurrently with a piece move.  Now, I started off the shenanigans with a “Rally the Troops” card that allowed me to move three pawns at once!  It was one hell of an opening move that made my brother laugh and get his game on!

As we played we realized that this made chess casual and even entertaining.  We scarcely took the game more seriously than we would have if we were playing parcheesi.  And as each card went down, it made one of us laugh and groan simultaneously.  After a few turns, I started really getting devious with Joel.  I charged my rook through a pawn with “Phantasmic Step” and took my brother’s rook, leaving him a little confused.  This happened a lot though, one or the other of us would make a crafty play or take a good piece and we’d look at the card: half to verify that was actually in the deck, half to see the artwork and read the card itself.  The cards can often be funny and they make a serious effort to look really really nice, which worked.  Look through the cards on the Beguile site.  Rather lovely.

Our majestic wall of Old Spice

Our majestic wall of Old Spice

Then there is this fucking card.  Did you read that card?  Yea, I was mopping the floor with him.  I got all of his pawns, a rook, a knight and even his queen while simultaneously making a few devious plays of my own.  I used “Necromancy” after sacrificing my queen for a good capture, then I used a bishop to take a few pieces and played “Sacrificial Lamb” to sacrifice a pawn and keep my bishop.  I was closing in for the kill… then he played that shit up there!  I heaved a massive sigh and traded spots with him.  Now faced with grim prospects, I began picking my attacks more carefully.

Joel started getting really devious, throwing out a few plays that got a couple of my pieces.  At one point he played “Holy Warrior” and moved his knight like a bishop to take my knight.  Except I had “Man in the Mirror” and took his knight instead!  There were a number of really clever plays he got off, but by the luck of  the cards I was able to get his army down to nothing but a king.  I got his king into checkmate and!   …. He played “Back Against the Wall” teleporting the king across the board.  He was also able to use catacombs to get across the board and take a couple of my last remaining pieces with just his fucking king!  That was ok, though.  After a while I was letting him take all my pieces.  just waiting.   Waiting until stalemate.  Once it happened I stood victorious!  I threw down “Sir Charles Roundhouse”, which allows you to win in a stalemate!  I got that card on the second turn and was able to really give it to him!

Sir Charles Roundhouse now has a barony in the wolf-lands of Nothern Siberia.

Sir Charles Roundhouse now has a barony in the wolf-lands of Nothern Siberia.

The moral of this story is that you don’t need to know how to play chess to have fun with chess anymore.  Beguile adds some great flavor and a faster pace to a game that is traditionally pretty tough and makes it casual and entertaining in ways that it was never meant to be.  The great news is that the Kickstarter is already past 50%!  Woochah!  Let’s get some money in there so we can start working on those stretch goals!  (note to Americans: It’s a Canadian Kickstarter, so exchange rates account for the shipping cost!)  This would be a fantastic addition to any nerd’s game cabinet!  I wonder if something like this could be done for checkers?

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Stumble Upon a Preview: A Clumsy Adventure

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The dutch have a pretty good thing going in the gaming industry, and a lot of what they’ve been putting out has given me a reason to nod with confident approval.  Excamedia is another dutch developer, and their game – A Clumsy Adventure – does anything but fall flat on its face.  Still in Pre-Alpha, its platforming charm and unique design leave me wondering what lies beyond the curtain at the end of the preview build on Indie Database.

In A Clumsy Adventure, you play as Zack, a clumsy soldier taking part in VR training.  He manages to destroy a supercomputer and gets discharged.  Not a huge fucking surprise, considering supercomputers usually run into the millions.  So this guy is off to a shitty start.  Zack is kidnapped by a secret group of aliens and he is used to brainwash the entire human population.  From the description on the company site, it seems he is possibly the dumbest person on Earth.  Nice fucking job, Zack!  At least you don’t spell your name with an ‘h’.  Our whole world defenseless, Zack can’t remember what happened, likely repressing the memories of how he rendered the collective grey matter of the human race as cognitively effective as rice pudding.  And the best part?  This fucking guy has to save the world!  The ENTIRE world! IN FOUR FUCKING DAYS!!!! This is the most terrifying apocalypse story I have ever heard.  He ends up in a dark place, with only one friend: a light that follows and guides him.  To succeed, this fucking guy has to beat the generals of the alien army and steal their dimensional keys, then stop the evil alien emperor AND his alien fleet from destroying everything anyway!

That look on his face is scarcely the confidence-inspiring countenance of heroism

That look on his face is scarcely the confidence-inspiring countenance of heroism

Zack has a lot to put back together, but on the bright side it can’t get much worse.  Despite his inhabiting the least-envied place among heroes, the game itself looks and feels pretty nice.  In the pre-alpha, you drop out of the sky and land in a jungle fraught with chaos.  In the background, massive beasts stalk through the dank undergrowth, redeyes dart between trees and the howls of unknown origin resonate for miles.  It is a scenery well set.  It isn’t long before the tutorial is delivered via internal monologue.  I always find it weird when we are led to believe that a character jumps by thinking about a green A-button, but it always makes me giggle.

After pushing around a boulder, jumping up some ledges and running around, you start to get a feel for the controls.  Everything is fairly simple and, mostly, smooth.  Granted, you have those odd little hiccups, but the game reeled me in and didn’t stop until the curtain (quite literally) fell.  One of the most noticeable elements of this game is its use of the lighting in Unity.  Now, I am not a fucking developer, I’m just not that dedicated.  I took the easy way out and became a writer.  But this game honestly uses Unity like the swatch-board of lighting and color that it deserves to be noticed for.  I saw screenies made with Unity that I thought were taken from an unannounced Elder Scrolls title (lord knows the series will need to be resurrected after ESO).  Richard Garriott favorited that tweet.  Made my knees weak.  But Unity honestly has so much more to offer than just an overwhelming deluge of apps and mobile games.  Unity is an engine with so much untapped potential, and A Clumsy Adventure is reaching deep into that pool and procuring something magnificent.

Aside from being a clumsy jerk, Zack is also a genocidal maniac when it comes to red-eyed alien things.

Aside from being a clumsy jerk, Zack is also a genocidal maniac when it comes to red-eyed alien things.

The game goes from nearly 2D, accomplished by silhouetting everything, then it switches to a world of vibrant colors and magnificent flora.  Ironically, this switch comes from outside, where it is dark, to inside caves, where the character becomes the focus and light and colors abound.  Granted, the artistic silhouetting has the effect of bringing out the colors of enemies and pickups.  Pickups come in two forms, only one of which I’ve been able to get: the backpacks and the batteries.  The backpacks are lives, I think.  I am not certain be cause I always freak out when I get surprised by the occasional enemy.  Given their size, I imagine that they come with a full trauma center complete with defibrillators and flirty, blonde nurses.  There are also the batteries, which luminesce an ethereal green.  While it is possible these have a yet unstated link to the aliens, I like to imagine they will power the radioactive Nerf guns Zack must inevitably employ to vanquish the evil alien emperor.  A lot of the simple jumping puzzles that the devs employed in this pre-alpha preview also utilized strong deviousness.  I am excited to see where else they will go with this title in the future.

Lovely pink everything!  My wife would never leave this cave.

Lovely pink everything! My wife would never leave this cave.

This game has a feel that reminds me of Earthbound for reasons I cannot explain.  Though I doubt this game will have the same vaguely off-color pop-culture references, there is still much we can expect A Clumsy Adventure to provide.  All of it good, but mostly me getting pissed off at this.  I guess I should look on the bright side, Zack spends his whole adventure making up for the fact that he blundered his way into subjugating the human race, and there isn’t an evil dictator that could accomplish this with all his efforts.  Toss a few coins at it once the kickstarter takes off and watch this one.  I have a feeling it should blow your minds.

Dev Discussion: Modern Gaming and How it’s Evolving

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Today I will feature a discussion that I happened upon on the internet.  Developers were having a heated exchange about an age-old argument that most often causes bloodshed between gamers.  For the sake of constructive intellectual exchange, I will curb my PC bias and look at this objectively.  Note also, Console v PC.  I will make fun of Mac gamers.  That is comedy that writes itself.

Gamers often get into heated debates over which is better: PC or Console gaming.  Console gamers often cite titles and communities as the strongest factors favoring console gaming, while PC gamers will fill your screen with chart after chart displaying the raw power of a PC compared against consoles, or grab screenshots to illustrate the visual differences between the graphics.  While each side certainly has a compelling argument, which really is better and , more importantly, where is it leading us?  This exchange focused more on the evolution of the various facets of the industry, rather than an argument over which is better.  Joining the Crotchety Old Gamer in the discussion, we have three fine gentlemen: Joe Yeats (@ProceduralJOYE via Twitter), a developer from the UK currently working with Autelia LTD on Human Orbit, a procedurally-generated simulator about shaping a computer-controlled utopia.  Max Krieger (@MaxKriegerVG via Twitter), an Indie Game Developer from Chicago and student at DePaul University.  Drake (@DMODP via Twitter), a programmer, designer and writer.  I came late into the discussion, but some very intriguing points were made.  Feel free to join the discussion in the Crotchety Gamers United Steam group!

Lightly paraphrased, Max said that the time-proven model of Mac vs PC illustrates why Console and PC gaming will coexist.  While Drake and myself were somewhat confused by the statement, Max was happy to provide a more detailed explanation on his viewpoint:

“[…] In this age where computing platforms are all headed in the same direction, the differentiating factor that will be key to platform sales remains the image and curated experience of that platform. I used Mac OSX as an example because it shows how illogical this thinking can be – OSX is really cumbersome for a lot of simple tasks, doesn’t play nice with industry standards, and only runs on a very closed line of hardware, but people lap it up because of the image it supports: a creative, media-oriented one that strives for intuitive use over flexibility. Make no mistake, I am not an Apple/OSX fan, but they’re one of the biggest proven examples of the curated platform image in the modern tech industry.”

Max does make a good point.  Essentially, he is saying that the biggest difference between the PC and console crowds is the image they use to represent themselves.  With the development of the Steam Machine, this viewpoint was never better supported.  Steam started as a PC gamer’s wet dream, but recent implementations in the retailer (such as Big Picture mode) reveal a strong push toward console gaming.  Not to mention, the fact that the Steam Machine plans to license its construction out to third parties, which will create a variety of hardware builds, make it a bit of a frankenstein PC-esque Console.  With companies bridging the gap between the two worlds, one has to wonder when the differences will be declared null and void.  Drake had a similar thought process, but with a different approach.

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Drake also did me the favor of elucidating his view:

“The reason people often side with one or the other and not both is […] because they’re polar opposites. They have their own unique control schemes. Consoles and computers are polar opposites not [just] because of their difference in controls, but in their difference of experience. First, [PC gamers] don’t have to move to a different part of the [house] to experience games. They’re right there on the same machine we use for work, surfing the web, social media, etc. Second, [PC gamers] can open windows […] for reference material […] but this is also good from a social standpoint. [PC gamers] can take screenshots and post them [on the internet], we can respond to [people] on our favorite social network, etc.”

So, as you can see, Drake has a solid point, too. Despite consoles, such as PS4, recently enabling access to other forms of media and direct internet streaming capability with the touch of a button, there are still a myriad of things that PC’s can do that still remain unavailable to Console gamers on just their consoles.  Drake continued, elaborating on the features of the console camp:

“I feel consoles are the extremist response-time choice. […] For response-time challenges, the question is: Who can execute the highest number of actions in the shortest amount of time? It provides a completely different experience from computers.”

My personal experience with computers, however is totally different.  The mouse offers pinpoint accuracy while playing a game.  How can you get more direct than pointing at it with your mouse? The answer is getting a touchscreen and pointing yourself.  Of course, Drake had his own response to this:

“[…] A controller’s reaction time is far more demanding. It’s more than clicking a billion times a second. It’s about hitting the right buttons at the right times and getting your fingers everywhere they need to be without looking down at [the device]. Console games often assume the player’s really good at this activity to the point they make [players] do everything all the time. [Console gameing] is about just doing.”

Of course, I would offer that this depends on the player.  I grew up on PC gaming first, so the ‘WASD’ model is practically gospel for me.  Sure, different games have different controls, some even have demanding hotkeys, but use of them is up to you.  You can customize the experience to your own play-style, and the majority of games tend to use the keys immediately adjacent to the ‘WASD’ keys for additional actions where applicable.  Not to mention, the sticks on a controller can’t be as accurate as a mouse.  A mouse is literally point-and-click.  Controller sticks are more indirect.

Joe’s thoughts on this topic were a bit of a combination:

“It’s obvious that some genres are better aided by certain input hardware than others. This is certainly the case with simulators and strategy games, which usually do better with a keyboard and mouse. I don’t think it’s necessary to expound on this.”

Max largely agreed with Drake’s assertion of their differences, but had his own interpretation of how this affects gaming.  The tech he refers to is more the innards and less the interface devices:

precisely

 

Max got more specific in explaining this part of his thought process:

The Playstation 4’s success also may owe itself to [platform image], but it’s too early to tell. Sony has always given the PlayStation brand a mild sense of curation by endorsing or even producing avant-garde titles on the platform, moreso than any other console maker in history. Going forward, this curation may end up being the PS4’s largest difference when PC hardware overtakes it again at an equivalent price point.”

Around here, Joe had some relevant input on the topic:

“The technical boundaries between a console and a desktop machine have become increasingly blurry over the years – but we’re all still pretty sure what they each are and when we make a decision about how we want to play a game, we know how to compare the ‘desktop experience’ to the ‘console experience’. We all know that we can hook our PC up to the TV and use a bluetooth controller for a ‘console-like’ experience: but most of us aren’t going to do that. The reputation and image of the formats has been accrued over a generational time period – we couldn’t shake that easily and there may not even be a good reason to do so (even if all games were available on all platforms). When I play a game on a console, I know that it has been tailored for the specific controller that I’m using, for the hardware that it’s running on. I can expect a reliable game experience without having to faff around. The experience has been designed for me down to the slightest detail. I don’t even have to tweak the graphics settings. I just need to switch on, plug in & tune out.”

The conversation gradually drifted in the direction of mobile gaming.  Drake disagreed that mobile gaming had a different target demographic and said that it targets everyone, presumably everyone with a mobile device.  Of course, just in the virtue that targeting “everyone with a mobile phone” is a task achieved differently than targeting “everyone with a specific console”, it logically follows that it is a different target demographic.  In fact, because of the similar situation of iOS v Android, console and pc gamers might find themselves on either side of the mobile discussion depending on their devices.  In this way mobile almost has a market that is totally separate from, but still noticeably influence by the gaming market comprised by PC and Console gamers.

Of course, Drake also touched on a separate issue that abounds in the mobile gaming market: the quality of games:

greatmobile

Now, before someone starts cluttering the comments sections with cries of Angry Birds adoration, Drake is referring to the fact that simple, casual games, like Angry Birds, currently dominate the mobile market.  And while he is right in that great mobile games are hard to find, they are far from non-existent.  The greatest example of a mobile-specific game that uses its functionality is Ingress.  Read about that game here.  And Ingress isn’t the only one, but, to my knowledge, it is the first.  Windows phones will be able to play QONQR, a game that wants to be Ingress, and X-Tactics, a game that is just like “Fuck Ingress!  And now for something completely different!”  Of course, location-based games are certainly not the only angle mobile gaming could take.  The fact that progressive-thinking developers have tried, and failed, to make augmented reality games more accessible overall shows that we are still a long way from making it work effectively, even with Google Glass.  So, Drake definitely has a point with mobile games being “designed to waste time while you [wait] or short experiences.”

Of course Max breaks back in and asks for a thought experiment:

“[…] If all consoles disappeared overnight, could mobile [gaming] fill their place? Yeah. But they’d have to cater to both convenience and involvement – two contradictory ideas that dilute platform image.”

This is true, but if gaming were to be forced onto mobile devices, I find it believable to find games evolving to replace what was lost – FPSs utilizing the mobile device in question combined with the player’s surroundings, RPGs that focus more on tap-controlled characters, etc.  In short, mobile games wouldn’t stop being the simple, casual games, but these types of games would be joined by an overwhelming number of widely varied games and genres.

There was more discussion about Mac OS vs Windows, of course.  This piece of the discourse was meant to display how the image-focus model has affected other markets aside from gaming.  Max posited that Mac OS continues to sell primarily because it does “normal user” better than Windows. He continued saying that Windows tried to retake that ground by creating Windows 8.  This undermined the “pro” part of Windows, which upset their users. Then, when Windows repaired the alterations to their OS, the image of a “jack-of-all-trades” OS persisted. Max maintained his standpoint, saying “image is everything.”

Max’s final thoughts on the discussion were pretty broad, but still relevant.

“Ultimately, I believe that the current trend of consuming media in any environment is one that will plateau once our near-omniscient media viewing capabilities lose their novelty. It’s an undeniable phenomenon that certain forms of media are better consumed in certain environments and settings. The biggest obstacle to a unified platform for all gaming is not the tech, nor the interface, but human nature itself – not something that can be so easily overcome. Nobody expected the PS4 to be doing as well as it’s doing right now, and I think that alone is proof enough that human nature has a lot more twists left in the evolution of gaming tech than we expect right now.”

Drake came from another angle, though, saying that games are a form of media.  And if there is one thing that is true now more than ever, it’s that people want their media no matter where they are.

everywhere

Joe broke into the conversation here, pointing out the relevance of the feature of PS4 where it can be played remotely from the Vita.  Drake admitted that he hadn’t tried it, but named a relevant issue with that right off: not every PS4 owner has a PS Vita.  Drake also suggested that the Vita isn’t the best handheld to carry around with you.  Joe threw in some more thoughts of his own regarding the PS Vita.

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Drake added saying that it really needs to be a native experience that still feels extremely great. But to do something like that, you’d have to take the ‘app’ structure and generalize the controls, then change the controls so they cater to every device the game might appear on.  He had a lot to say about this especially, and there was also a considerable piece of discussion about porting.  That will be included in another piece since this one is long enough already.

If you’ve made it to this point, please remember, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic!  Come join the discussion on my Steam Group, and let’s see if we can get some interesting exchanges started!

Ludum Dare, Indie Dev Explosion!

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Although I had a hard time finding anything about it on the Ludum Dare site itself, I have come to understand that the primary Ludum Dare competition occurs more than once a year: the current version being LD48.  Founded in 2002, Ludum is a competition that focuses on rapid game development, and it translates from latin as “The Game Giving”.  Other translators state “Providing patronage to a public duel” is a potential translation, but I don’t see anything but Game Devs here, so we’re going with that first one.

On the Ludum Dare website, it is said that “for many people, it can be difficult to find or make the time to create a game or prototype for yourself.  We’re here to be your excuse.”  And that is awesome, considering it also says they are “keeping things extra indie.”  Honestly, they had me at hello, but extra indie?  Exemplary.  So LD serves as the proverbial grease in the joints of a game developer’s mind, giving them a reason to just create what they can and throw it into the mix, just to see what they can come up with.  This is noteworthy, and it serves to challenge people to make something quickly; this most recent run of the competition taking place August 22nd – 25th.  With only 3 fucking days to create a coherent and playable game, that is one hell of a challenge.  And no one but gamedevs would be crazy enough to select Challenge: Accepted.

Ludum Dare 21

Ludum Dare 21

So what happens when they get more than they expected?  Pictured above you will see the games of LD21, during which Ludum Dare received 599 titles, pictured above.  Now, think about that for a minute.  Each of these games provide experiences that run from a couple minutes all the way up to some clever little 10 minute engagements, depending on how good you are at the game.  Each title is played by the judges and the best ones are selected as the winners.  So who are these judges?  In an interview with the man behind the competition, Mike Kasprzak, he told me just how LD works.

We assign everyone a random subset of all games to judge. If you play a few dozen, a few dozen will play your game. The system is built to reward people that play games with attention by others that play games. As far as scores are concerned, once we have a couple dozen, it’s enough to estimate what the games average score will be. So we deal with the large quantity of games by not playing them all, but by playing some.

So the people judging the games are also people who submitted games, then the community votes up its favorites.  This is a democratic process that would make the ancient Greeks and the Founding Fathers (US) wipe a tear of pride from their eyes. Of course, with every competition, there is a victor.  Competitions reward winners in a variety of ways.  So how does Ludum Dare reward its winners?

Wait... what?!

Wait… what?!

So wait wait wait..  You’re fucking telling me that the winners don’t get more than a hi-five and handshake?!  Yep, that is what the man said.  To give you an idea, some of these Indie Developers willingly commit hours to their games, eschewing sleep as long as possible just to get in the next couple lines of code.  Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying this is unfair. Devs submitting to LD know what they are up against and the rewards, and they do it regardless. And Ludum Dare grants these people a way for their work to be seen and their voices to be heard, which makes it all the more awe-inspiring that, come LD season, Twitter is flooded with bittersweet tweets from dedicated game devs.  What Ludum Dare encourages is nothing short of remarkable.

If I wanted to submit to Ludum Dare, when would I do it?  And how many submissions does Ludum typically get?  Initially, Mr. Kasprzak told me they were getting just more than 100 submissions per event.  Now? Well…

I heard a sound like a thousand shits being shat, and then... silence.

I heard a sound like a thousand shits being shat, and then… silence.

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Of course, there are probably other contributing reasons.

Of course, I suggest that there are more reasons than just the number of events.  Even if the same people were submitting for every event, if there were only 200 people in the first event, that would be 400 altogether.  This year so far there have been about 2500 submissions per event.  There is no expletive I can issues that adequately summarizes this.  I would suggest that the increase of submissions is attributable to the fact that Indie Developers aren’t just on the rise, they are exploding exponentially.  And I don’t mean spontaneously combusting, either, I mean their numbers are increasing at a rate comparable to an epidemic.  Then again, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and Mr. Kasprzak suggested his thoughts.

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Like what? Like Unity 3D or Unity Marketplace or.. Yea, the list goes on like this for some time…

So this is clear evidence that gaming is starting to migrate away from the major industry and into smaller dev shops where real magic can happen.  Away from AAA gaming and publishers, you have independent companies, which can be only a few people or fifty talented artists, which are developing games on their terms incorporating elements that they want.  With no one else looking over their shoulder, they have the freedom and the drive to make the best games they can.  That might slow down individual games; but considering the situation altogether, with so many indiedevs there are games constantly coming out.  And they aren’t just crappy little games, either.  Many of them are just as exciting as major industry games, if not more so.

So what are some games from Ludum Dare?  I have played a few of them myself, and I have to say, they vary from one developer to the next so widely that I cannot comprehend having to choose the best one.  But here are a few of them.

Fuel Runner

by Robot Friend Games

Casual bike ride with radioactive materials on my back

Casual bike ride with radioactive materials on my back

Fuel Runner is a game with a loud color palette and no sound.  You start off planetside as a spacesuit clad bike-rider that jumps from one platform to the next.  Don’t fall too far, or you’ll explode.  Luckily you start from your highest-cleared platform. It is pretty easy, too, at least until you get into space.  Then shit goes nuts.

Falling up.. AAAAAHHHH!!

Falling up.. AAAAAHHHH!!

Once you get outside the atmosphere, the platforms you are on become barriers of instant death that you soar past, floating away into the abyss.  I haven’t made it to the end yet, but I cannot imagine this having a happy ending.  Lots of fun, though!  Lovely art, too!

 

The Static Speaks

by idovingx

This game is more of an interpretive piece.  My young brother likes this band called 65 Days of Static.  I asked him where the weird-ass name comes from, and he responded thusly:

“In the 1960’s the Soviets did this study where they tested the effects of white noise on participants.  Unanimously, people started losing their grip on reality and began hearing and seeing things in the static that wasn’t there.  The conclusion is that, given totally chaos the human brain tries so hard to recognize a pattern, that it starts to create one where there is nothing.”

                                                                                                                                                – Brother Jeremiah on 65 Days of Static

Now, The Static Speaks takes on a creepy aspect that makes me wonder where this is going.  This game takes the form of a first-person adventure game.  It is short and creepy with vaguely depressing titles in a twitchy font.  You wake up from a weird dream, watch static on the TV, a door appears, you die (?) in a bathtub and the house flies apart.  Then it cuts directly to you hovering in space surrounded by tv’s broadcasting static with a weird blob above you.  Select a tv and it’s over.  I ended this, said “WTF?” tried it again, and realized I had done it right.

Watch the tv closely when you play...

Watch the tv closely when you play…

Hip Hop Planet

by SnoutUp

Snout up has shown a love for the use of vector graphics, and has made some downloadable apps, as well.  His Ludum Dare entry is a fun little arcade game featuring a spunky little character that jumps between planets collecting diamonds.  Hit the up button once to jump, twice to jet-pack.  Let and right moves you around a planet and spacebar lets you change the rotation of the planets.  Avoiding obstacles, you have to collect all the diamonds you can!  When you jump to another planet, the background changes to resemble your current planet!  Get your best time, or just beat this challenging little play!  It is a fun and addictive little game that reminds me of some fun times with gaming, down to the sounds it chose.  Add in a jazzy, 16-bit hip hop theme and I would pay some money for this!

On this planet, every week is shark week!

On this planet, every week is shark week!

There are so many talented devs submitting games to this competition, it would be a crime for you not to go there yourself and see what they have to offer!  The timer says there are 19 days left to try them out, so get on over there!  Of course, Ludum Dare doesn’t exactly make a lot of money, and is sustained by the contributions of its supporters!  Please get on over there and make a contribution if you can!  Ludum Dare helps developers to explore creative concepts that they might otherwise never get the chance to explore, so whatever you can contribute would be greatly appreciated by the entire Indie Gaming community. If you can make a contribution, tell them the Crotchety Old Gamer sent you!

Elysian Shadows, Preview of 2D Paradise

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You backed it on Kickstarter and now it’s happening.  We were excited about the mechanics, but what about the elements we’ll all fall in love with?  Who are the characters? What are their struggles?  What is their world like?  I wanted to know, and Falco Girgis and the Elysian Shadows Team agreed to tell me.  So what’s behind the game?  Find out with the Crotchety Old Gamer!

I am excited as anyone about playing this game, but who will be our window into the world?  Who is the main character of Elysian Shadows, and what drives him?

“The main protagonist of ES is named Julien. He is the son of two famous “diggers” who were well known for their research of the ancient ruins scattered throughout the land of Elysian Shadows. Julien grew up traveling with them on numerous expeditions and learning about the different ancient cultures of the past. He was well on his way to following in their footsteps as an accomplished digger, when the two mysteriously wound up missing during an expedition. An adolescent Julien was then sent to live with a family friend, the local museum owner, where he grew up despising the ruins that claimed his parents. Rather than exploring them with a passion and thirst for understanding as he had in his youth, he now scours them for a means to survival, plundering and looting their treasures just to make ends meet. 
Julien has virtually no motivation to take part in the party’s quest in the beginning. He is thrust into the action by necessity rather than choice, and it’s initially the other party members who drag him along on the journey. For Julien, this is a quest of personal growth. It’s him having to come to terms with his traumatic past and face the ruins that caused him so much pain, and his struggle to reignite a long-lost passion that died along with his parents. Julien’s character represents crawling back up and trying again after suffering an extreme loss or emotional defeat. Whether this be a metaphor for learning to love again after heartbreak or learning to try again after seeing your dream project crushed on Kickstarter. Heh heh.”
Julien and the other diggers have to rely on physical weapons when excavating ruins because magic is a power reserved exclusively for the religious. While the technology for Julien’s time is not particularly advanced by today’s standards, many of the weapons and artifacts the player encounters within the ruins from civilizations long past are far more advanced than those found in his own time. The diggers and the scientific communities rely on these kinds of manufactured and uncovered weapons for combat while the religious are strictly magic-users. But what if Julien and his friends somehow discovered a way to use magic as well?”
Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound...

Dark, mysterious caverns where treasures and danger abound…

Julien, like most people, is dealing with a  secret pain.  His struggle might be unique to himself, but each of us has our own climb from the bottom.  Each of us has a cave of terrible darkness and untold treasures unique to our souls that we must brave before we are free to be who we are.  Joseph Campbell wrote Hero of a Thousand Faces, which concerned itself with the way characters like these resonate in each of us.  What about the world, though?  What is the story told by the world Julien and his people will inhabit?
“Elysian Shadows is a world caught in constant conflict between magic and technology. Magic is associated with faith and the religious. Technology is associated with scholars, scientists, and explorers who have turned away from The Creator’s divine gifts in an attempt to better understand the world around them. The technologists are seen as heretics, while the religious are seen as sheep, following blindly. Julien and Eryn, who both work for a museum, are sent on an expedition to uncover a valuable artifact for a new exhibit. The two quickly find more than they bargained for in the ruins. They stumble upon a discovery that thrusts them into the middle of this mounting conflict between magic and technology, forcing them to unlock the mysteries of ancient civilizations and prevent their own people from sharing this fate.
The storyline of Elysian Shadows was heavily influenced by the moral dilemmas of our own technologically advanced society, especially with recent advances in bio-engineering. With stem cell research, cloning and the human genome sequence, science challenges religion on a fundamental philosophical level. Science is beginning to encroach upon powers that many people argue are reserved exclusively for God. Do we have any business modifying our genetic make-up? Is it moral to alter a fetus before its birth? Is it wrong to artificially produce life in a laboratory? Science claims that these advances could drastically benefit all of humanity, while religion claims that we are meddling with things that we have mo business meddling with. We wanted to create a story that was more than just a superfluous JRPG experience. We wanted something that would make the player think; something that would engage them intellectually and emotionally.”
Lovely vistas!

Lovely vistas!

Elysian Shadows seems like it will strike a chord that resonates with our own lives, possibly even a few nerves, but who would we be if art never asked hard questions?  And how we answer these questions are part of what make us individual from one another.  Our varied ways of thinking and how those come together for a common goal are part of what has made America what it is today: a center for all people to share ideas freely, and sometimes those ideas reach back out to the people that created them.  So how will the characters accompanying Julien contribute to the game?
“Julien is initially accompanied by the lead female protagonist, Eryn, who is a tech-savvy university student. Eryn helps her father run the local museum, showcasing various exotic and mysterious artifacts from the surrounding ruins. While Julien’s past has rendered him jaded and disinterested in discovering the secrets of these ruins, Eryn explores them passionately in hopes of uncovering their secrets often dragging Julien along for the ride. She is a strong-willed tomboy and often the most level-headed and responsible member of the party with a ruthless pragmatism. 
The two adventurers find themselves in the company of one of Eryn’s professors after his lab is ransacked and his research is destroyed ( presumably because he was getting too close to a breakthrough with his work ). While Professor Rand is brilliant, he’s also infamous for dysfunctional antics and living a life of excess. His peers in academia generally disapprove of his hedonism, but they are often forced to concede to his genius and gift for piecing together puzzles. Rand serves as a non-traditional guide for the party, and he is well-versed in the ancient ruins and their technology. Unfortunately Eryn finds herself having to guide Rand just as much throughout their journey, keeping his arrogance in check and ensuring that his decadence doesn’t get the party deeper into trouble along the way.”
...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

There is a big adventure out there for us

Allies and enemies and what separates the two is a major point of reference in how each of us live our lives.  It says something about who we are and what we want.  Note that Julien is already surrounding himself with those that spend their time largely concerned with the ruins, the very thing that he blames for the loss of his parents.  This means that, despite his feelings on them, somewhere they are still very much a part of him, maybe even one he wants to love again as it would be the only emotional link back to those happy days of youth exploring with Mom and Dad?  Eventually he will have to face those emotions, and his friends will be the ones to help.  So, what about the game itself?  How will each of these characters actually work together?  I was allured by the claims to an inventive new system for skills and jobs – How will these systems work and how will they be reflected in each character?
“It’s actually a mixture of two different systems. We ran into a kind of design dilemma early on when we were dreaming up skills and abilities for characters. On one hand, we wanted each character to have their own unique feel and play style. We didn’t want every character to feel completely interchangeable, and we wanted to give each their own innate strengths and abilities. But on the other hand, we are huge fans of job and class systems, and party customization is something we very much wanted to do with Elysian Shadows. We really wanted to give the player the freedom to customize their party as they see fit.
So we wound up with a hybrid system where each party member learns their own unique set of skills and abilities during combat and storyline progression. They each have their own unique skill trees and pools that are independent of the other characters, which is how we intend to make our characters unique and interesting. Then  each party member can be assigned to a certain class wherein they unlock class-specific skills and abilities. This allows the player to really fine-tune their party, offering a considerable amount of strategic freedom within the combat system, while still allowing us to create unique and interesting characters.”
Giant swords and power help, too!

Giant swords and power help, too!

This means the class you choose for each character determines what role they will play, and allows you to dictate how the party reacts to challenges.  Alongside this, one character might have access to certain elements within there skill tree that other characters simply cannot get to – the same way Falco and myself might both become developers, but we would end up using those skills to completely different ends and learn different, though equally useful, methods of making games.  Well, damn, I am glad I contributed to the Elysian Shadows Kickstarter!  Of course, there are still 5 days left to contribute to the ES Kickstarter, but what about those that miss the opportunity?  How much will they have to pay and what outlets will the game be available on?
“Since we’re targeting so many different platforms with completely different indie markets and economies, we can’t really set a fixed price point across each. The price of ES will most likely be adjusted so it’s comparable to other indie games available on each platform. Currently, digital copies of ES for Steam and OUYA can be preordered for $15 through our Kickstarter. This also includes our development tools, ESTk and ESGamma. The standard edition of Elysian Shadows for the Dreamcast will be $49, which includes a professionally produced jewel case, color instruction manual, and pressed disc thanks to our publishers at Watermelon Corp. The game will look like a 100% legit Dreamcast release picked up from a commercial retailer back in 1999. You will also be able to choose between PAL, US, and JAP style packaging so ES will match the rest of your DC collection no matter what region you’re in!”
Painstaking attention to detail, thorough skills and class systems, complex characters and a complex storyline balancing the the beliefs of a world against the pain of one kid: Elysian Shadows is going to have something for everyone, and a little extra to boot.  I have never been this excited for another modern retro game; not Shovel Knight or any other mainstream title.  Elysian Shadows, however, is more than just a modern retro 2D RPG: it is our modern 2D RPG.  More than just this game, I look forward to the ripple effect that this game will create and how that will resonate across the industry.  Here’s to hoping it contributes to some interesting developments all the way around.  But whether or not it does, either way, it’s going to be an awesome game!  As always, you can check the Elysian Shadows website for more about the game!

Haunt the House: Terrortown, Murderous Spiritual Mayhem!

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Not since Haunting starring Polterguy has there been a game this indirect about its approach.  In Haunting, you play a ghost who was recently rendered spectral by a careless family of fucktards that killed you while skateboarding, so you make it the purpose of your afterlife to rectify a vendetta against them.  Terrortown’s ghost is more of a motiveless malignancy that likes to kill people and scare the ever-loving piss out of them.  At least Polterguy had a purpose, granted his manifestations were exceedingly more graphic.  But he never killed anybody!  This adorable little ghost has a bloody, murderous core.  No wonder it can’t move on.

Everything in Terrortown starts in the clocktower in the middle of town, where the ghost lives.  After a brief tutorial on possessing and manipulating objects in the environment, you are set loose on the town like an apple-cheeked Mongol set on destroying families and lives.  A couple things of note in the clocktower, though.  During the tutorial, what they teach you possession with is a bell, of which there are nine, plus the one you possess.  There is also a large, out-of-focus painting that looks like it was painted in a JRPG with the bloom turned down.  More on these later.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

The adorable little tent is where the ghost hatches his devious and bloody schemes.

Calling this game a puzzler is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, since the only puzzle you are solving is how you will drive terror into the hearts of the town’s citizens.  I would call this more of a strategy game, considering you are tasked with manipulating circumstances and individuals to reach a specific outcome indirectly.  The ghost in this uses possession to its advantage.  By possessing the various elements of the environment, you are able to manifest the fears of people in the things around them.  Now the things you can make people see depend on the level of fear in the atmosphere.  At the base level – relaxed – everyone is milling about in “thumbs-up-asses” mode.  Starting from relaxed, you will only be able to move furniture or swing chandeliers, rattle bars, etc., but once you start to creep people out, the fear level rises.  Increase it to perform higher profile scares and soon you will have people leaping out of windows to escape the house.

Once you have the fear levels up to fever-pitch, people are twitchy if not outright terrified.  You are performing bizarre and ostentatious scares, people are running around terrified and the general populous is jumping out of window to escape.  Revisiting the bells in the clocktower, each level has a few haunts that get bloody.  Several people in the game are asking for it, seemingly pretending nothing is going on, and the scares you perform near these guys get them fucking killed.  This is where the ghost gets murderous: it’s already sucked the happiness and fun out of a room faster than Carl Sagan at a confirmation party, now you’re going in for the kill.  Each person you assassinate gets the esteemed position of haunting the fucking belltower with you, circling a bell themed after their purpose in life to haunt them forever.  How wonderfully sadistic.

That's right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

That’s right, shifty motherfucker, just mind your own business.

The goal of this game is to get everyone out of the public places.  Once this goal is accomplished, you win!  Seriously, though that is it.  There are 4 locations to haunt and you are done.  This is a little frustrating, but I get the feeling there is more to come.  At least there better be.  Even though the game is 4.99$ on Steam, I have played other, cheaper games that are, in fact, full and finished.  Don’t get me wrong, this game is great, especially since I was such a big fan of haunting on Sega Genesis, but it literally feels like you finish the first level and it’s over.  I have had farts that lasted longer than this fucking game, regardless of how awesome and adorable it is.  The only thing that takes a long time to finish with this title is figuring out who the last fucking person in the goddamn museum.  I had to look up a walkthrough to figure that shit out.  Overall, it is a fun game and worth some money, but until they add ore content to the title, it will always feel short and incomplete.  And if they charge for DLC, I will pitch a bitch fit.

Nuclear Throne, SHMUP Both Exciting and Frustrating

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Vlambeer is a Dutch game developer, and their stylish little Shoot-em-up, Nuclear Throne, is on my list today.  Better known for their works published through Devolver Digital, I am curious to see what their independently published projects look like.  While this title needs a little time to grow on you, it still has a certain charm and will definitely appeal to lovers of SNES and NES shooter titles like Smash TV and Contra.  Be warned though, this game is hard as fuck.

When you start up Nuclear Throne, you’ll be greeted by a badass theme that sounds like a fusion of western-style acoustics with post-apocalyptic metal influences.  It stopped me more than once at the above screen, and almost seems too awesome for this game, but it blends with the style perfectly and given what the game goes for, it is definitely perfect.  It’ll fill your ears and get you pumped up as you choose a character in the select screen, which portrays them all sitting around a campfire while one plays the guitar.

Each of the characters has its own benefit and special move, which is activated by right-clicking, but be careful since some characters have cons.  I will list them in order. Fish is a fishman who gets more ammo than the others and can dodge roll. Dodge roll is really useful in situations where you need ammo and have to traverse a field of fire to get to it.  Crystal is a sentient crystal that has extra HP and can morph into a giant crystal for increased defense.  Later, crystal can get a teleport ability with this. Eyes is a blue alien-looking creature that can see in the dark and pulls pick-ups toward him with telekinesis.  Melting is.. uh.. a sort of amorphous creature. He has shit HP, but gains XP faster than the others.  After death he can also use explosive revenge, but I found that thoroughly fucking useless since there are no extra lives.  Plant is a plant that moves faster and can grow snares to slow enemies. Y.V. is a one-eyed triangle reminiscent of illuminati symbolism that gets a higher rate of fire and can use an ability called Pop pop.  I tried using it, but I couldn’t figure out what it does.  Steroids is a muscle-bound character who starts loaded in each new level is less accurate, but can dual wield similar weapons.  Robot is a robot and he gets better tech drops and eats guns.  Eating guns is one of my favorite abilities by far.  Chicken is a samurai-chicken that starts with a katana, is hard to kill and makes everything go into slow motion upon right-click.  Once chicken gets to 0 HP, his head flies off and his body can keep shooting until it dies, too.  Gruesome, but kind of funny.  I also managed to unlock rebel, who has extra defense and can call allies into battle in exchange for HP.  There is one other character I was unable to unlock.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

After selecting a character, you are thrown right into a chaotic arena full of enemies.  At the start you get a simple revolver to suit your slaughter-oriented needs, but that will be quickly replaced by a vast array of weapons from a screwdriver all the way up to a flame shotgun and more.  Grabbing a melee weapon in a “shoot-em-up” might seem like bringing a screwdriver to a gun fight, but that is only because it’s exactly what you’re doing.  In Nuclear Throne, however, it isn’t such a bad idea, really.  I mean, you don’t have to reload melee weapons, so if you are working with a character that has comparably lower ammo, it might not be bad to have up your sleeve.  Your inventory, however, will only accommodate two weapons, so choose wisely.  Luckily, some weapons draw from different ammo types, but given all the ammo drops look the same, there is no telling what you pick-up.  Since there is no weapons inventory screen or anything more complex than weapon 1 and weapon 2, there is no way to tell how much of each type of ammo you have.  It can be a bit frustrating, but it doesn’t fucking care.  The weapon mechanics in this game are intentionally bare-boned so you don’t have anything to distract you from the HORDES of fucking enemies that want to wallow in your blood and render your corpse a charred shell.

Tearing through hordes of enemies is fun, but, as I said, you will want to mix it up.  New weapons do just that, and they come in a healthy variety, packaged in chests throughout the game.  Walk over a chest and it pops open, press ‘E’ to equip a weapon.  Experimentation will help you survive in this, but watch your ammo.  Aside from just chests, there are also EXP canisters.  Originally I thought they were giving me ammo, but they leave a bunch of green shell-looking objects.  Everyone drops these, but noticing they did nothing for my ammo supply I wondered what the fuck they were for.  Eventually, I leveled up after collecting the green bits, so that solved that fucking mystery quicker than a bunch of stoners with a microbus and a mutated, talking great dane.

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Between levels of play you will level you character by choosing a new benefit.  Sometimes these give you more ammo, help you heal, make you faster etc.  The best ones, however, enhance your special ability.  Personally, I like guns for breakfast, so I choose Robot fairly often.  Taking the appropriate skill will allow you to gain more nutrition from guns, healing you more and, I think, providing more ammo.  Each of the skills follow, too, but figuring out the related image is, at times, a matter of artistic interpretation.  The spinning black and purple vortex you see isn’t the door to Narnia, by the way.  Once all your enemies lie beaten and broken, a sucking hole pops up and whisks you off to the next level.  This can be frustrating, so I advise exploring the level as much as possible before killing everybody since this can prevent you from finding all the pickups in the level.  Missing XP canisters can seriously debilitate you for future levels, and dodging bullets becomes half the focus of the game.

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

This game is hard as hell and I couldn’t find a variable difficulty level.  Your choice of character will dictate the level of the challenge, but the massive number of unrelenting enemies make this game truly challenging.  Factor in the drop-off of everything you might accidentally miss after killing the last enemy, and you can see how I only made it up to level 6 after hours of play.  A lot of restarts, yes, but the game makes it easy to restart with the same character, so this is not one you are meant to beat in one sitting.  After drilling away at it, you will find combinations that work for your style of play and get you further and further.  The most aggravating element of this game is the fact that there is no fucking save!  Initially I was mad and wondering why the fuck you would damn your player to infinite restarts, but then I remembered that Dungeons of Dredmor originally had you play through the entire game before you could reload from a death.  Granted, you could at least save after you exit, but when you died your saves were all deleted.  Nuclear Throne doesn’t even possess that decency, and feels like a really well put-together flash game, which makes it a little more disappointing that it appears on Steam.  It is fun, though.  Overall, a good game, just a little too aggravating and definitely a title made for those who got through any of the original Contra games solo and without cheats.  It also has a unique charm that cannot be denied.  Its graphics are fun and don’t lend themselves to over analysis.  They harken back to the old age of 8-bit gaming where it was difficult to even tell what you were seeing at times, but it doesn’t detract from gameplay.  Gameplay is smooth and fast-paced, if missing any form of gaming respite.  Since it is early-access, I can definitely say that this is a game worth buying at its 12.99$ asking price,  even if just to see where they end up going with it.