Introducing Dakota and Project Shadow

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Most people haven’t heard of Living Dream Entertainment, and for good reason.  This is another group of gaming idealists that have a vision defining, for them, the perfect game.  So far everything I have heard and seen out of these guys is impressive, despite things being in an early phase.  To be honest, they remind me of Elysian Shadows Team in the sheer audacity of their project and what they want to accomplish.  People should know who they are and what they are planning because it will be something really special when it is finished.

Living Dream Entertainment is a small independent game development team working on a game called, A Shadow’s Tale, through a process they call Project Shadow.  I wasn’t too sure why there was such a distinction between the two, but I have come to understand that Project Shadow will also invite players and fans to contribute to the finished game itself.  No seriously.  You can make a quest, a character, customize their style, how they fight, who they are: nearly fucking everything.  Check it out here!

Dakota Barrett, founder of Living Dream Entertainment, was happy to answer some of my questions about themselves and the game they are creating.  So who are these people and how did they come together?

“Originally my team started out as many indies do: a group of friends with a common interest.  That team died over about the course of two months and got down to just me.  Around this time I was getting some money in doing odd jobs and I started to contract freelancers.

“First there’s Riley, our character artist.  Her job is to draw the busts of characters that you see in dialogue, and often everyone else’s work is based around her creation of a character.

“Then we have Tony, who seems to be the favorite of the public, which is rightly deserved because the guy has a lot of talent. His concept art has a unique style.

“Devon worked with us on and off for several months before becoming an official member of the team.  He does our code work and makes a lot of my crazy ideas come to life.  He’s the reason we’re able to push an outdated program like RPGMaker into the modern age.

“Elbert does our sprite art and animation and he’s really good at it.  We spent four months going through dozens of applicants for the position and it wasn’t until I met Elbert that I knew I had the right guy.

“Saad is our composer and most recent addition to the team.  Unlike everyone else, I wasn’t actually looking for a composer at the time.  Saad was just interested with the project and sent in a sample of his work.  I loved it so much that I included it in our announcement video of Project Shadow and asked him to join our team.

“I run social media, talk to journalists, run the business and all the legal work that comes with that, and I make everyone’s work show up and coordinate in-game, creating the world for the player to enjoy.  But at the heart of it all, I’m a designer and writer.  All the stories, dialogue, and gameplay mechanics start off as ideas in my head.  I have about three gigabytes worth of just notes alone.”

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Yep, the skill is visible.

So this is already a strong team of talented individuals with a common purpose.  From the teaser trailer for the game itself, I know I got a strong impression.  So, if Dakota is the main drive and energy behind this game, what brought him into gaming and games development?

“Throughout my childhood I played a lot of games through frequent visits to BlockBuster when it was around and you could get a game for a week, which was perfect for me because I usually binged a game until I beat it.  I’ve played all sorts of genres from big AAA titles to the little indie teams, but I think where I truly fell in love with games was with role playing games like Final Fantasy IX and X, Knights of the Old Republic II and the original Fable.

“As I entered adulthood I started to bind my passion for games with my passion to write.  I tried out a few development programs, such as Unity, Blender or Game Maker, but the one I settled with was the one that best served my roots as a gamer, RPG Maker VX Ace.  It’s a pretty simple program that could allow even a child to make a game but over the time I had it I started to find how to push it further and further and when I started to really see the potential with the program I started working on the very early concepts of A Shadow’s Tale.”

Projects of passion are often rare gems, because they are so hard to attain.  When such a project can be made possible, they often turn into impressive entries in a genre and even in a field of art.  The biggest obstacle is often money, and that can kill a project before it ever even happens. How has A Shadow’s Tale gotten its funding so far?

“It started out as a birthday/graduation gift.  I was the first in my family to graduate high school, which isn’t much of an accomplishment, but it was something.  So I took what was likely meant to be the means of buying a car and put it towards making a game.  When that ran out, I started funding the project with what I could from my paycheck, which to this day is  just a part-time, minimum-wage job, so progress has been slow.  Our goal is to crowdfund with the community we’ve built up, but we’re not quite ready for that just yet.”

Each game has its own draw, something makes it stand out.  What are the features of A Shadow’s Tale that will really set it apart from other games of its type?

“Simply put it’s how the game is designed overall.  It’s not meant to be a retro throwback to the games I and others grew up on, it’s meant to be Living Dream’s first step in showing what the industry is capable of producing.  Though it’s an open world RPG, it takes inspiration from all sorts of games, old and new.

“To be more specific I would say the focus on your actions is at the heart of the gameplay.  In many games that I enjoy, like the Mass Effect series, you get to make choices that change the universe you play in and could very well cause your experience to be completely different from all your friends who played the game.  But if you look back, almost all these choices centered around dialogue.  The hundreds of people and monsters you killed didn’t change anything and where you went didn’t really matter as long as you completed the main goals of the game.  With our game we’re putting a focus on what you do, as with reality it’s not so much what you say that affects others and who you become, but what you do.”

So what is the complete vision for the game itself?

“As I hinted at earlier, our goal is to deliver not just a game but an experience; one you’ll look back on for years to come as I have with the hundreds of hours lost in the universes of RPGs.  A world in which you grow attachments to the characters as if they were truly your friends or your enemies.  One where your actions changed the world.  I believe that what people want is their actions to matter.  For something we did to have an affect on the world, be it big or small, to know we made a difference in other’s lives.

“That’s my goal for the game at least, for Project Shadow itself you could say it’s the same thing but in the real world.  I want our community to truly feel like they had a part in making the game without handing over the files and expecting them to make sense of it.  That’s why we’re allowing the community to co-design elements of the game alongside us.”

Whoa. Badass.

Whoa. Badass.

That is a lot to shoot for, so the game itself has to measure up to this, helping the player insert themselves into and influence the world in a noticeable way.  What are some of the mechanics of the game and how will they facilitate this?

“I would say our combat system is probably the most interesting mechanic of the game outside of the responsive world system.  RPGs have been going back and forth between the blood pumping excitement of live action and the tactical thinking of turn based combat.  They both have their benefits and downfalls and I believe we found a unique way to combine the two.

“In the game the controls are rather simple: WASD to move and spacebar to interact and use skills.  Now that second part is the key to shaping combat.  When you press space, a wheel of icons displays over the head of the player.  This wheel technically consist of dozens upon dozens of interactions and skills, but since that would be a pain to cycle through, we’ve made it contextualized; depending on what you’re facing, it will only show what makes sense with that person or object.

“As with the rest of the game, this was designed to give the player a choice in how they go about getting past enemies.  In a sense it’s more like a puzzle than straight up combat.  You could go around in stealth taking enemies down one or two at a time.  You could break, throw, or burn objects to cause distractions.  Use skills or dialogue to manipulate people, or straight up fight your enemies in turn based combat.  Even the turn-based combat itself is designed to give you challenges through three gauges, health, energy, and fear.”

What games have you played an liked?  From there, what games can you say have influenced A Shadow’s Tale?

“I mentioned the RPG genre before and some games that are a part of it, but I pull my inspiration from all types of games.  I enjoy simple and quick RTS games like the Command and Conquer games or Halo Wars, which I still play on occasion.   Shooters like Destiny and some MOBAs have also left their mark.

“Two games which probably have the biggest impact that aren’t straight up RPGs are Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  They both have RPG elements but they’re almost entirely based around quick combat in first person.  Both of which I focused on stealth and I had great joy is crawling in air vents only to come out and beat someone to death with a refrigerator (Yeah I’m probably a bit too violent).  This approach of deal with enemies how you want was really enjoyable and that can be seen in our own combat, though it isn’t a straight up choice between stealth and action.”

I love these emblems.

I love these emblems.

What can you tell us about the Kickstarter?

“We will be doing crowdfunding, but it won’t be through Kickstarter.  That is why we’re creating Project Shadow which works like the crowdfunding with Star Citizen, this sort of build over time instead of all at once approach.  Except our design is not so much to keep raising more and more money and add more to the game so much as we want the community to be a part of the design with us and get to see right away what their money goes to.  When you contribute hundreds of dollars it’s not really fair you have to wait months to even start to receive what you paid for and it’s usually physical merchandise and not the actual game itself.

“Instead with Project Shadow you choose what you want to co-design such as a character.  Once you’ve selected what type of character they are, where in the world they live, and what the character consist of we’ll get to work with you within a few days and start fleshing out the details so that the artist can truly bring your character to life and you get to watch the whole thing happen.  If you want you can share it with the world too, just avoid any spoilers.”

Awesome!  Well that is good to hear.  I will be interested to see how this community develops!  What can you tell us about the contest?  Where do people participate?

“We’re giving the community a chance to co-design a character prior to the fundraising of #ProjectShadow.  Now usually you would cover the cost of your character, but this time around I’ll be covering the cost for the winner.

“So how do you participate?  All you have to do is write us your idea for a character and we’ll select our favorite and start working with you on bringing it to life.  All the details and guidelines can be found here, which I recommend you read thoroughly if you want to win.  One last note: unlike with Project Shadow, you won’t be choosing the character type.  Instead, we selected one for you that is one of the more interesting and costly to make.  Out of the character types (basic, advanced, keeper, friend, faction member, faction captain, and major) this one is a faction captain, which is a mini boss as your enemy or a faction-related quest giver as an ally.

“One of the key features of Project Shadow (actually the entirety of Project Shadow) is that it allows anyone to be a part of the creation of a game.  It’s really great in that you get the benefits of coming up with ideas and seeing your creations come to life without having to deal with the stress of actually being on the team and hoping the game does well because your livelihood depends on it.  You get to create whoever or whatever you want that fits within the fantasy world we have created, and in doing so you get to share it with the world and at some point experience it in game as well.

“We may not be doing the crowdfunding now but you can still join in by getting in touch with us.  Tweet us @LivingDreamEnt, or use #ProjectShadow on Twitter.  Or you can email us at, livingdream3r@gmail.com

“It’s really important that you do because even though it’s not giving us the funding we really need to make the game it shows us the community is ready for this and they want to be a part of it.  The sooner we see that people are ready for us and we too are ready for them the sooner we can get this started and start to build a world together.”

The vaulting halls of the Hunters' Guild!

The vaulting halls of the Hunters’ Guild!

Awesome!  Personally, I am really looking forward to this community event.  Living Dream Entertainment is taking on a whole new approach by getting players and fans involved in the creation of the game itself.  As the game is developed, players will get to have input on what gets added and it will be, in more ways than normal, our game.  A game that we don’t all just love and play, but a game that we’ve all given input and some of even helped to design!  Dakota also wanted to leave a special message to followers and fans:

“Thank you for reading this article and please follow us and share us with friends!  This Project is entirely based around a community we’re beginning to build, and we encourage every one of you to participate and get involved!  If you like our art share our DeviantArt account.  If you like what we’re doing on YouTube, share it.  Don’t be afraid to contact us at anytime because we’re here for you and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible!  Please consider following @crotchetygamer and his blog.  He’s a great guy and amazing with words!”

This interview is based on an email correspondence between myself and Living Dream Entertainment.  The conversation has been lightly edited for flow, coherence and grammar.

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Double-Up Discussion: Taekwondo Global Tournament, Bucketman

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It is starting to happen.  Games are coming out on mobile platforms that aspire to be more than just quick little solo challenges.  Mobile gaming is starting to earn its stripes as a “real gaming” platform.  Don’t believe me?  Check this game out.  It’s based on the ancient Korean martial art, and it utilizes the fighter concept to pit players against one another.  It is still deep in development, if you go to the game’s website, you can sign up to receive updates about its release!

So right now you get to choose between four character, two male and two female.  There are also two different arenas to battle in, but the “space” in the arenas are pretty small.  Really the goal is to get up on your enemy and deliver blows to their helmet or to their waistband.  This scores you a hit and lowers their health.  There is also a stamina bar that lowers depending on how many moves you do, and attacking and blocking will lower it briefly before it refills.

You stepped in a poop...

I can see you stepped in a poop…

Controls are simple, back and forth arrows allow you to scootch in close to your enemy.  Above those there is the block button, which makes your character drop their shoulder.  There are two attack buttons, a low and high attack.  Low attacks are aimed at the waistband while the high attack is aimed at the head.  Experimenting with the attacks in combination with the move buttons causes your character to perform a variety of different style attacks.  It is a lot of fun.  It is pretty fast-paced and a lot of fun, even though there were only two different arenas that I could choose from: Dojang and Iran.

The background and art of the game is rather stunning for a mobile game.  Taekwondo Global Tournament really took me by surprise!  Right now there is no sound, but with the attention being paid to the rest of the game, I don’t doubt that it will be spectacular when it’s released!  You can watch the teaser on you tube!

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Bucketman is a bizarre game that takes the location information about your neighborhood and turns it into a game.  Just the introductory levels, which all take place in Palo Alto, California, are frustrating and difficult, but the game has its charms.

The story is that there are Artificially Intelligent Vehicles, or AIVs , roaming the streets and you have to take on the form of a sentient bucket to stop them.  Probably related to the Kool Aide Man.  In this battle for chromatic dominance, you control your bucketman with a concentric joystick pad.  You can also jump over the AIVs and there is another button, but I was having some trouble getting to the use of that thing.  It is a fun game, though a bit trying on the patience.

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The game gets more and more complex as you play, and the goal is to battle it out with the AIVs.  You collect different color paints to raise your stats, such as walking speed and air-time for your jumps.  An easier way to put is you can get more ups so jumps last longer.  There is also water that you have to collect throughout a level, which comprises the main goal and gets you more time.  So run around collecting more paints and waters.  You can also buy more paints and such with in-app purchases, but they are pretty well hidden in the menu, almost as if the developer is ashamed to ask.  But no worries, it isn’t in your face or forced, so it makes me feel really good about these guys.  You can get this app free on Google Play!

Bucketman is a great location-based game that deserves some credit, even if the concept is bizarre and the story is goofy.  I mean who would believe that Google cars could take over the world..? wait a minute…

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!

Boogey Boy, Preview of Fears

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You know that dream where you are running and running, then suddenly you look back and there is a giant black demon horse chasing you? Goon Studios made a game about that and it is not nearly as terrifying as the dream.  Frustrating at times, but still a lot of fun.  Granted, it’s not completed, so this game is a preview version, but the good news is you can play this preview, too, on Indie Database!  Don’t want to commit to the download?  here are my thoughts on it as it is so far.

You character is a kid in his dreams, which end up having the same exact mechanics as an endless runner, like Canabalt or Crazy Critter Dash.  Interesting that I should compare it to mobile games, since this little blue-haired fucker will be charging his way across PC monitors, Idevices and Androids.  As he runs, his arms flop behind him like he was dreaming about seducing an anesthesiologist prior to arm surgery, then the running started.  His art reminds me of a combination of Coraline, carrying some similarly creepy vibes, and Adventure Time.  Nothing on this fucking Earth would get me to watch that show, but the art looks similar from what I’ve seen on posters at the mall.  You are being chased by a rotating cast of silhouetted eldritch horrors across the terrain of your dreams.

Gonna die!!

If I was being chased by Cthulu’s drinking buddies, I would look like this too.

While you are running, there is the ground itself, which undulates wildly.  Stay on the ground and you’ll be dead in seconds, since the nightmares, I’ll call them, run fast, and you really don’t for the most part.  When they catch up to you, you roll under them like that guy in Ben Hur.  To avoid this, there are a number of floating platforms you can leap to.  Jumping is a lot of fun, and this kid is apparently the blood relative of an ancient ninja: he can double jump.  And his double jump is fucking fancy!  He’ll jump, then double jump and end it with a travolta.  It’s wild and fun, and the best part is that this game is fucking creative.  Sure, you have the usual platforms, floating pieces of road, clouds etc.  But there are also things like beds to bounce on.  As you might expect, this enhances your jump, which can already be enhanced by holding down the jump key.

But you have to move fast, since the nightmares toss platforms aside as they pass under them.  Of course, you don’t control your run so much as struggle to cope with it.  The only way to increase your run speed is to grab stars, which seem to make you speedier the more of them you have.  Much like other running-centric heroes, you will lose your shiny collectibles if hit by an enemy.  Enemies are pretty surreal, too.  They run the gamut from helicopters and frogs to cars with spring-loaded boxing gloves in them.  Most of these you can ‘defeat’ by jumping on them, but sometimes you can run along the top of them to escape.

Aside from stars, there is an array of powerups you can grab, and I have no idea what any of them do.  I will tell you, instead, what I do know about them.  The batteries you grab fill up your batter bar at the top of the screen, which makes me feel good when I get them.  I have not been able to fill it and posit that its effect would be known if I could get the third battery slotted.  Unfortunately, runners are not my natural habitat.  There is also a kid-style superhero cape, which seems to actually be a blanket. You can’t trample my dreams!  There are also dog, bubble, sister and teddy bear pickups.  See if you can uncover their secrets!

Jump on the magical unicorn to briefly escape a horrible death by trampling!

Jump on the magical unicorn to briefly escape a horrible death by trampling!

This is a really fun game.  I have only played a couple unfinished levels, and I am really interested in this title, despite my neutral emotions toward its genre.  Honestly, most of my love for Boogey Boy comes from the art.  The look is really dream-like and surreal:  enemies make a sort of vague sense, platforms are creative and neat.  Another thing is the music.  It leaps and frolics around with you while still leaning on you to keep up a solid pace or be stomped into dream dust.  The controls are simple and the UI is a bit random, but coherent.  Overall, I would be alright paying money for this game.  Its early stages of development generate their own ire, but it is to be expected at this point.  The most annoying thing about this title is the lack of fucking exit button on the menu.  There is also the issue of no pause menu’, so you only get the choice to return to the title menu, but even there you have no exit option.  Again, though most of that title menu is non-functional because this is an early early development preview!  Check it out, but don’t be judgmental.  It’s a great work-in-progress that deserves to have an eye kept on it.

X-Tactics, Genre Fusion By AAA Veteran Devs

 

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Generally, I like to promote games from indies in need, but this is a story too deeply bizarre and intriguing to pass up.  Veterans of the AAA gaming industry have broken off and teamed up to create X-tactics (pronounced Cross Tactics), a game that will link gaming across mobile and PC platforms for an exciting blend.  Honestly, the anime art might not be my usual bag, but the concept behind this game is so vast and exciting that only the Japanese are crazy enough to do it right.  Ingress better watch out, shit’s about to get real.

First things first, who the fuck are these people?  Our developer in question, GAMKIN, is the product of minds from Square-Enix, Sega and Capcom.  Those names drop harder than Skrillex does his bass, but still it stands.  This is a game that will be rendered by veterans from three legendary household names in gaming.  Fuck.  These guys got together in late 2013 and they have spent most of their time in Japan away from the warm lights of our hemisphere.  Mostly they’ve been working with interactive children’s television and collaborating with local game schools to cultivate next-gen game devs.  So these guys are legit philanthropists with a serious mind for our future.  Now they turn their thoughts again toward gaming, and this beast, which they’ve gotten fully funded with 33 days left on their Indie GoGo clock, threatens some formidable levels of awesome.  For a little perspective, the campaign launched on the 8th.  This means they achieved their primary goal in just 6 days.

GAMKIN has a lot on their plate when you look at their plans.  The platforms they will be releasing on include iOS, Android, Kindle (2014), PC, Mac, Linux and Google Glass  (2015), and none of those are stretch goals.  The features of the game are complex and paint an exciting picture of gaming interaction.  First off, this is another genre-fusing game.  Its main components are tactics, fighting and urban exploration, with a 50%, 25% and 25% split, respectively.  In their own words:

When we set out to make X-Tactics we didn’t want to make just another tactical game, nor attempt to create some sort of perfect tactical game. Instead our goal as developers here is to create something new. We combined equal parts of tactical gameplay of classics like that of Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyrie Chronicles, together with fighting game mechanics and aesthetics, like those found in the Street Fighter series, to create a new gameplay experience, that we at least have not seen done before.

– GAMKIN on Xtactics, Indie Go Go campaign

 

Now this doesn’t explain the other 25% of the game, but let’s stop a minute what this means for PC gamers, as PC and MAC will be options for the game.  The game itself will use turn-based tactics to create a high-speed gameplay environment that focuses on treacherous close-quarters combat, as you might find in an urban setting.  Your heroes won’t be able to take ridiculous amounts of damage to the face, so you will need to make quick moves and calculated risks to achieve victory rapidly.  Failing to do so finds you at the business end of some purple alien’s psychic attacks…

 

... and that suit screams "business time"

… and that suit screams “business time”

Each battles takes up the full screen, and each mission will be comprised of several battles.  With one screen active fights will be tightly fought, so bonuses like flanking, support, destructible furnishings in the environment and traps will give you a serious edge and change the battle’s dynamics every time you play.  X-Tactics will also utilize an initiative system, which they compare to that of Final Fantasy Tactics, but I will translate that to the American readers: shit’s going to battle like DnD.  Initiative will be based on speed and turn order will be thereby determined.  This will also open up the ability for seasoned players to fine-tune their initiative-order to get their team members to unleash dual combos and team combos.  Not to mention, enemies will come in waves each battle, so you really have to get that ass in gear and wipe out your foes before more arrive!

What does this all mean for mobile users?  Honestly, this part looks to be the most exciting.  GAMKIN is going to use GPS information to create a variety of missions that will allow you to defend your neighborhood, school or workplace from outbreaks and other dangers.  Each character you have will even have locale-based storylines that will be unlocked depending on where you are, so the exploration is highly encouraged.  Where this game will really shine is how it will use the GPS of your device to investigate your surroundings, reveal hints and uncover treasures.  This will open up to more modular features where users can organize their own location-based events and treasure-hunts with friends.  In addition to all this, the game will be sensitive to the time of day, moon cycles and even weather to unlock events, initiate outbreaks and influence character abilities.  Having the mobile functionality will also allow for 4-player co-op missions, so you don’t have to be anti-social with this title.  And for those of you guys who shelled out the outrageous amounts of cash to join in on the googe Glass explorer program, the team will also have a companion app that will assist with the urban exploration part of the game.  If that isn’t enough, they will also be updating weekly with episodic content for the game, including missions, items and new heroes all at no cost to players.  If they throw in anything else, my brain might explode.

O, no, wait.  That's just my aunt's baking.

O, no, wait. It’s just my neighbors’ cooking.

This is all well and good, but what is the fucking story here?  Well, it takes place in a story like our own, if our world was controlled by top-secret government agencies and secret societies.  It isn’t, right?  You’ll control a motley crew of secret agents, treasure hunters and adventurers that are working to keep the truth in check.  This means you are more “Men In Black”, less “defenders of the people”.  I expect we’ll likely be killing those free-minded liberators of information, and that makes me laugh with dark, dark relish (enjoyment, not condiment).  And the game is perfectly ok with this.  In fact, the creators have said that it will use dark humor and anime punk art styles to put a new spin on conspiracy theories and urban legends!

And this got funded seemingly over night.  I have known about this game for four days, and it has already gotten its Indie GoGo funding, and they are into stretch goals.  Literally, they got a money enema.  They have 6 hunters with 2 more listed for stretch goals, including some badass ninja panda and a thick list of additional concepts.  Go and check it out for yourself, and wait with bated breath for the release!  Congratulations to these guys for getting their funding goals!  Now get in there and see if we can help them meet a few more stretch goals!

A bit of gameplay for ya ; )

A bit of gameplay for ya ; )

 

How Elysian Shadows Team Plans to Revive The 2D RPG

ES_logo

 

In 1998 I spent my time roaming the castles of Thief: The Dark Project and watching The Matrix, but I also have a strong memory of hearing about this mythical console set to ride an eastern wind to our shores.  Its name was the Dreamcast and it was Sega’s final all-or-nothing bid to take the game console market by storm.  It had numerous features that were well ahead of its time.  Unfortunately, it was too far ahead, like trying to explain electricity to cavemen.  By the time the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube were released, it was just a shadow of a memory from a glossy magazine page.  After the Dreamcast, Sega didn’t die, it just slid out of the limelight and settled for publishing games instead of consoles.

Many did not get to experience the Dreamcast, but for those that did, it was more than just a console, it was a lost piece of gaming history.  Even today, developers are putting out titles for Sega’s last console, and the Elysian Shadows Team proudly stand among their number.  Falco Girgis is the Engine Architect and Team lead, and he explained his motivation to me when I asked why develop a game for the Dreamcast in 2014?

” I found my way into the Dreamcast scene at around the age of 14.  I had always loved video games, and I had done a little bit of programming, but when I discovered there was an entire community of crazy fuckers out there developing their own apps, emulators, and games for the console, and I had the opportunity to also do that without being part of a huge studio, I fell in love immediately.  You have to realize this was before Steam, smart phones, or any kind of indie support on consoles.  The Dreamcast allowed the average guy with a dream to develop for a platform.  I taught myself to code just for that little white box.  I fell in love with it, and what it represented as Sega’s last console.”

So, it was a console Falco loved immensely as a teenager and he learned to hone his craft on it.  That just means it has a special sheen, right?  It’s a dead console, though.  So what?  I was still wondering if there was even still an audience for the console as Mr. Girgis continued.

“It’s so underappreciated, and it innovated so much in gaming–poly counts in the millions, hardware support for bump mapping (PS2 can’t do that), memory cards with screens, online gaming.  It also had an insane amount of AAA titles for a console with such a short lifespan.  It really felt like Sega knew it was their last chance in the hardware market, and they poured their hearts and souls into it.  For those of us who were able to experience the Dreamcast, it’s kind of an immortal thing, and it shows.  Most of our money from our Kickstarter is from Dreamcast sales.  There are still gamers everywhere who have not forgotten the Dream, and I have made it my personal quest to realize my childhood dream of releasing a game for the console.”

Honestly, I was taken aback.  Jump over to their Kickstarter and tell me what you see.  As of right now, I see 90,448$ with 760 backers.  Doing the math, that would have to be about 119$ from each backer, and considering only 182 backers pledged 100$+, that means there is a formidable Dreamcast audience.  Granted, some of those backers gave 1k$ – 5k$, so this game has a spirited group of supporters…

...And when you look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaide.

…And when you really look at what they want to accomplish, it is hard not to drink the koolaid.

Everything I see on their page makes me flash back to the numerous hours I had when I discovered Chronotrigger, Secret of Mana 1 – 3 and (US) Final Fantasy 6 on emulators.  There is a lot on that kickstarter page, but seeing everything made me wonder, what are they really trying to accomplish?

“Our overall goal is pretty multi-layered, haha!  The biggest thing we wanted to achieve with Elysian Shadows itself was to reinvent the traditional 2D RPG formula in a manner that makes it new, exciting and relevant by today’s standards.  We don’t want games like Chrono Trigger or Secret of Mana to be a thing of the past, and we certainly have not been too thrilled with the slow demise of the JRPG itself.  Most of our team members can be quoted saying that they want to create the game they wanted to play most as a young gamer, including aspects of games that they grew up loving as children, and trying to use them to create a unique RPG experience that could appeal to an audience beyond just RPG players.”

“I have found myself,Falco, really wanting to make an emotional connection with our audience through ES.  I want to create a game whose story and characters are relatable, and whose struggles are relevant to the lives of our players. I feel like this connection is really the ultimate goal of any form of art, and this is especially true for video games as they’re an aggregate of every other art form: writing, art, music, etc.  I’m really an introverted guy who loves to play the outgoing extrovert, but I have very few close friends and I tend to not have much in common with most people.  The older I get the more I feel like my contributions to ES artistically are some kind of attempt to connect with players and fans on a deeper level.  I’m sure Freud would have a field day psychoanalyzing that.”

That really explains everything.  Elysian Shadows is a collaborative piece of art interpreted through the hearts and souls of its creators.  Each of them has something unique to put in and being indie developers lets them do this the best they can.  And when you look at what it adds up to, you can’t help but feel the passion and love there.  You can’t helped but be awed.  Personally, I think it’s moving.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I love the shadows and how the game looks like pixelated life.

I really enjoyed taking in everything that Falco and the team were telling me, but what is the rest of the team like?  What do they do and who are they?

“We have 7 team members total:

Falco Girgis

Falco Girgis

 Falco Girgis is our engine and toolkit developer, and he’s also the one who developed the framework, allowing us to target so many platforms (including the Sega Dreamcast).  He’s basically the team mad scientist.  Falco loves the Zelda franchise, pretty much anything on the Dreamcast, and obviously all of the 16-bit JRPG classics.

Tyler Rogers

Tyler Rogers

 

Tyler Rogers is the gameplay engineer, who basically takes the art, music, and levels then puts everything together into a cohesive gameplay experience.  Tyler is very into Legends of Dragoon, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy tactics.

Daniel Tindall

Daniel Tindall

 

Daniel Tindall is our web developer and level designer, and he has been very much a secret weapon for creating our Kickstarter and Steam pages.  Dan’s favorite series is Metal Gear Solid.

 

Patryk Kowalick

Patryk Kowalick

Leandro

Leandro Tokarevski

 

Patrick Kowalik and Leandro Tokarevski are our two pixel artists, both self-taught and classically trained traditional artists who decided to get into game development to broaden their horizons through pixel art.

 

 

 

Connor Linning

Connor Linning

Connor Linning is our team rock star and audio composer, bringing with him a background in rock, metal, electronica, and survival horror music influencing his musical direction with Elysian Shadows.  Connor is obsessed with the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series.

Eddie Ringle

Eddie Ringle

 

Eddie Ringle is the team mobile developer, who has been the guy working on the OUYA, Droid, and even Google Glass builds of Elysian Shadows.

We aren’t just retro gamers either.  Falco is totally into the new adventure-style games: Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us.  So good.”

It feels like I just put up a description of the A-Team, or something.  Hopefully each of these pictures gives you an idea who we’re dealing with here.  Each of these guys is immensely talented and putting everything they have to make something amazing.  I hope Ebert is rolling in his grave because if this isn’t art, nothing is.  Of course with the influence each of these games has had on the Team, what games have a direct influence on Elysian Shadows?

“There really is no single inspiration behind Elysian Shadows, and I kind of feel like that’s why it’s so special.  It’s why our team is so emotionally invested in the project.  We have all found our own ways to endow Elysian Shadows with a piece of what we like best in gaming, each of us growing up with different backgrounds and inspirations.  Obviously games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star have deeply inspired our direction, but there are quite a few more inspirations that aren’t even from the RPG genre.  Falco and Tyler grew up loving the Megaman Legends series, and it has influenced their direction with the whole “ruins” concept.  Even portions of the storyline.  Connor is a huge survival horror fanatic and, oddly enough, he’s found ways to endow ES with that kind of emotional tension through dynamic lighting.  Once we added jumping (initially inspired by Mario RPG), we quickly found ourselves able to design levels with influences from games like Super Mario and add combat moves from games like Megaman X.  I feel like there’s little pieces of numerous games influencing what we do with ES.”

So Elysian Shadows, almost literally, draws its lineage from the DNA of a widely-ranging gamut of games without any single influence dominating completely.  The more I hear about it, the more excited I get.  This isn’t just a game, it’s a love letter.  The kickstarter page has an amazing set of features.  Elysian Shadows Team has partnered with Pixellamp, which allows for impressive pixelated shadows.  The combat is set to be real-time and the gameplay will have a strong feeling of freedom.  Splicing 2D RPG and platformer elements, this game will go boldly where other games are limited from going.  There will also be a complete class or “job” system where characters’ innate strengths, weaknesses and gameplay styles can be augmented through a wide array of job-specific abilities and talent trees.  A lot of this is straight off the Kickstarter page, so you can go there and get the complete feeling for what backers are getting out of this.  They have samples of the music, the art and descriptions of various details planned for the game up there, too.  The initial goal is to reach 150,000$ with stretch goals all the way up to 800,000$.  And considering that last one would make this into an MMORPG, I hope we get as many additional backers as humanly possible.  They also have an entry on Steam Greenlight, so if you can’t put any money in, vote them up on Steam!  This is one vision that is extremely close to meeting its funding, and it threatens to shake the boundaries of games as we understand them.

 

A lot of this article has been lightly edited to flow as neatly as possible.  The message conveyed has been kept the same in all respects.

AntiHero, Sprinting Preview

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I have been playing a lot of platformers lately, so I got myself a Dualshock 4 controller in anticipation of one day being able to afford a PS4!  For now, I will settle for using one on my PC.  And today it really paid off.  Today I was able to burn through the Anti-Hero demo a couple times and get associated with this upcoming indie title.

Anti-Hero is a fast-paced puzzle platformer that takes you across the universe.  The main character is some sort of spaceman with interesting powers.  Now they aren’t terribly amazing, so don’t get all amped up for some crazy fucking ideas that will rend the universe itself, but the way the mechanics of the game are woven together provides a fun and challenging game that gets me excited to wear in my new gamepad.

First among the mechanics employed by Anti-Hero is the wall-run.  Apparently this space wanderer character is from a distant place where they still have ninjas, because he can run straight up a fucking wall.  As of right now there is even a tutorial that lets you practice wall running.  You run at a wall (moving forward while pressing L1 for me ) then press the jump button (X in my case) twice in order to start running up it.  Simple enough, but as high school does not offer extensive preparation for the real world, so, too, the tutorial is just child’s play compared to some of the wall-run challenges offered by the game even as early as the introductory level.  Now, don’t get it twisted: this mechanic has been woven into the game well.  It feels right, it isn’t terribly hard, but the game doesn’t hand you anything.  After speaking with Matt Lewis, an Artist and Animator on the project, I have a firmer idea on the thought going into the mechanic.

 

We do think about how the player is going to react to situations like wall-running.  People have said “it’s too punishing, I need check points.”  We respond, “The level takes 60 seconds to run through and you want a check point?”  That’s what I thought, wall running shouldn’t be an automatic thing; it should require timing and skill.  The idea was that we didn’t want sticky walls.  We want wall running to be a platform challenge, just like clearing a gap or timing platforms.

– Matt Lewis, Artist and Animator, Couch Fort Gamez

 

Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer at Couch Fort, also had his own thoughts regarding difficulty of the gameplay:

 

There are too many follow missions these days.  Personally, I want kids to hate me like I hate whoever programmed Mega Man 7

– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

So the developers don’t want anything to be too easy, so the game feels satisfying with objectives and challenges that are fun and attainable.  But how attainable is wall running?  Well, I am glad I played it with the gamepad.  Despite my preference for my PC gaming input apparatus, the gamepad made the entire mechanic smooth and intuitive to get your hands around.  It is kind of like every other PC platformer in that it should have a warning label: DO NOT TRY THIS AT ASDF!  What is unique about this mechanic is the way it is presented in the demo.  There is a section of it where you have to wall jump up a mine shaft.  Everything about the mine is well-crafted, too.  You are running up a couple walls and jumping back and forth between them in time to catch the other side and keep running.  It takes some practice, but if you get it right, you can end up running up higher than your goal and coming back down to reach the objective.

Seriously, don't try this on any non-controller device

Just.. a little… further!

Another mechanic in the game that adds to the momentum of gameplay is the slide.  Pressing a certain key on the gamepad ( O for me ) triggers a slide, and when executed in certain locations you can slide even further.  Various obstacles throughout the level make you slide on your side for a good distance.  This results in a platformer with a speed and synergy that gets you moving fast and keeps you on your toes.  You want to maintain the momentum you feel with the main character, and it is definitely going to be a good title for speed-runners.

Through the game, you will also be tasked with some fairly simple puzzles.  These include throwing an object through a hovering hoop to unlock a door.  Throwing is accomplished with the left stick, and the character thrusts out his hand like a damn jedi.  You then control the object as it flies through the air.  Since this is a preview, you might have guessed the game is in early development.  The objects, for now, are blue cubes.  As you might expect, the game rapidly builds on the throwing mechanic by immediately having you take an object, throw it through a hoop and over an obstacle, while you slide underneath and catch it to continue the trajectory through to another hoop, which then opens a door.  If it touches the ground, the door doesn’t open.  It sounds like a bitch, but the way the game plays, it is very doable and very satisfying when you complete it.  I have replayed the demo 5 times just to be like, “hell, yea, just another space traveler doing some wicked slam dunks, comin’ through here.”  Using this ability also helps you kill your foes as early in the game you notice the blue cubes just chilling there.  You can take these babies and lob them at your foes, but many times I used them too hard and they landed in a bottomless pit.  Weaponizable objects are best used as “magic bullets” than dumb-fire missiles, swinging them through the air and guiding them closely.  Now, in a game driven toward momentum, this takes you out of the speed a bit, so the best way to just get through it is to watch your foes’ movements and run past them.

I knew my years of slip 'n' slide practice would come in handy some day!

I knew my years of slip ‘n’ slide practice would come in handy some day!

 

Some other elements that I enjoyed were the scenery layering.  Although the level platforms cut a bit suddenly in some places, overall the way the foreground reaches back into the background is great.  That is then layered with various elements that move naturally.  It is not like playing in a diorama but it feels like you are just on a hill in a busy forest-bedecked town. One point of this game that still feels a bit rough is the music.  The music in the trailer on the site is pretty exciting, but that in the game is comparatively overworldy.  It can be best described as platformer jive and it gets you rolling with the game, but it just feels like it should be in a version of this game retailed by Old Navy.  A game this fast-paced featuring a space traveler might feature something a little more techno-sprinter and a little less polo shirt overworld.

Finally, the storyline, though largely conceptual, also has a number of fantastic elements to it.  In the title screen you see a balloon that is rocketing out of the atmosphere to scintillate gently in the starlight.  Paul DiDomenico, the Lead Developer at Couch Fort, revealed to me that this symbolizes a key theme in this game’s golden heart: a child’s wish, which thrusts him into the heart of the story.

 

The idea is that a true wish from the heart can hold great power, and that power always draws more power.  It comes from a place of light and innocence, but it is coveted by those who wouldn’t use it for the like.

– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

So right off the bat, I get the sense this game will have some serious feels.  But in a brilliant manner of true “yin and yang”, the main character, our space traveler, has a story that is dark and sad.

 

Eons ago his home world was at the brink of destruction.  He and a small council performed an ancient and forbidden ritual as a final effort to save their planet and species.  This effort, though bestowing upon them incredible abilities, ultimately failed and left them with the curse of immortality.  They have since wandered the cosmos decaying until they are mere husks of their former selves, unable to die.  Then, suddenly, one by one, they begin to disappear until only our main character remains, which is where his story and the child’s meet and our game begins.

-Paul DiDomenica, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

I am not sure about you guys, but this game looks and sounds like a lot of fun.  Though it is in its early stages, the amount of heart and work being poured into it makes me optimistic about the final product.  Through everything I have come to understand about Antihero, the only thing that get me feeling frustrated is that it will be some time before this title is finished.  Keep this title in the back of your minds, though.  This is a first look into what is going on with Couch Fort Gamez inaugural title.  Let’s wish them luck and get them the support they need and deserve!  Check out their site and keep an eye out for Antihero.

Keep an eye out to find out more about Antihero and learn what the devs have in store for our main characters!

Keep an eye out to find out more about Antihero and learn what the devs have in store for our main characters!