Hashtag Dungeon, Preview of DOOOOM!

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Today I spent about 3.5 – 4 hours in one game, so this post is coming a little on the late side.  I promise this was worth it.  Sean Oxspring sent me a copy of this game to preview some time ago and I left it in my downloads.  I can honestly say I will never uninstall this game for the shallow hope I will be able to bring my murderous dungeon of death to others.  This game is a ton of fun and, although it is simple, the open and social nature of this game is what makes it so much more intriguing.  It is the first game that I’ve seen that uses social media as a preexisting  user workshop where dungeons can be made and propagated on twitter.

Starting from the basics, this game has two characters: blue and green… but for the sake of them sounding cooler than just a pair of primary colors, we’ll call them Verdi and Azure.  Through rampant speculation, it looks like Verdi is female and Azure is male as Verdi is slimmer/smaller, but it could just be a wiry little guy.  Either way, to me Verdi is female, Azure is male.  Both characters have the same magic-missile attack, so if they are both guys, the only style differentiation comes from the colors.  After speaking with the game’s creators, I am told that this game will later features varied classes such as knights and rangers!

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At the very least I assume Verdi is female cause it looks like her hair is longer

Of course, you don’t select a character until you’ve chosen a dungeon to run.  What it seems is that you will take a minute compiling various tweets under the #hashtagdungeon with a specified dungeon hashtag.  Mine was #deathtothesheeple and you can run it if you dare, though I haven’t gotten all the way through it myself.  It is pretty tough, sure, but I also get this message as the game crashes.  It is an early game, so it has a few bugs.  This happens to me almost every time I encountered numerous zombies in one room.

___________________________________________

############################################################################################

FATAL ERROR in

action number 1

of Step Eventobj_KnightsGrave

for object obj_Zombie:

Push :: Execution Error – Variable Get -1.xoff(100380, -2147483648)

at gml_Object_obj_Zombie_Collision_205

############################################################################################

 

This is horrifying on its own, considering you don’t have any saves.  Granted, a standard dungeon only takes about twenty minutes to run.  But then again, this is what my dungeon’s floorplan looks like:

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So it is a little bit taxing on a computer, I guess…

Each darkened square is a room, by the way.  If you don’t have the gams to run one of these dungeons without the promise of a saved game, you might want to consider something easier.  This pixelated, retro runner is like Contra and the difficulty is up to the lunacy of those crating the dungeon.  I can tell you right now that there are a decent number of loot and treasure rooms, but getting to them can be a challenge.  Keep in mind, though, this is a good 3 (ish) hours of on-off work.  @hashtagdungeon can attest to that.  They recieved a good 90% of the tweets!

In each room you will find an assorted collection of monsters and enemies, traps and sometimes (if the dungeon creator cares enough) some loot and health!  Once you are in a room, every entrance is blocked until you kill everything in the room.  Keeps adventurers honest.  Personally, I feel that creating dungeons is a big part of playing this game.  After all, if no one makes dungeons, what will players run?

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Shittiest library ever. 1/10 would scream at checkout.

The above is one of the rooms I created in my dungeon.  I feel I started most times at the scenes, which are what the dungeon room looks like.  This one is the library.  I threw in an Oculus (the beholder in the center) and a couple demon dogs.  This screen is where the most additions will be visible.  Even if you don’t create dungeons regularly, you’ll end up coming here just to get a good hold on things that are in the game since last update.  Once you have a scene set in place, you can pick from the traps or enemies.  You can see that I set in four spike pits that will pop up and down as you avoid the enemies.  The traps and enemies will fill that green bar.  The further the room is from the center, the more enemies and traps you can fill the room with, you sadist.

Magic and objects in the special category will fill that bar as well.  Magic contains various spells that will make enemies more powerful.  They’ll shoot out little electric charges, run faster or take more damage.  Those are actually the only spells right now, but the guys over at Hashtag Dungeon are working on a number of add-ins, including a halloween update!  Special objects tend to consist of loot, monster generators and things that contain loot.  This is good, since you’ll die without buffs, and pretty quickly.

The last element is the clutter.  You can see four little pots in the room above.  Those pots are destructible, and they can give you loot and power-ups alike.  As you place them, the blue bar will fill up.  It takes a good bit of clutter to fill up a room entirely, but this is likely to keep people from doing something really irritating and filling up an entire room and making the only way through open by stepping on exploding traps numerous times.  That would be a real dick move… which I totally tried to do.

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I ran for cover a LOT in my own dungeon.

The way this game spreads the dungeon rooms to players is pretty ingenious, though.  As you make each room, you hit TWEET to save the room and simultaneously send out the data to recreate that room in other versions of the game.  I am impressed since I have never heard of anyone else sending out data for mass consumption in 140 characters or less.  These guys deserve applause.

Overall this is a great game and its devs are hard at work trying to make it a reality.  It is a lot of fun creating a dungeon, but then playing it and having others play it?  It is a lot of great fun.  Of course, it won’t exist without your help.  Go check out the game’s website for more info about the game and to sign up for the mailing list.  Vote for the game on Steam Greenlight, please!  This game implements amazing ingenuity and it shows what really lies at the hart of videogames as a whole: the desire to reach out and play with others.  That sounded a little dirty.  LoL!  Either way, vote this game up!  It’s a great example of the experiments of ingenuity that indie gaming allows.  It is great fun now in its natal stages, despite a few bugs, and it will be a monumental achievement once it has gotten a little traction and is able to really take hold of an audience.

 

The Best Rash I’ve Ever Had

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When I was a kid, my friend would come over with a copy of Road Rash for Sega Genesis.  We’d race for hours while beating each other over the head with any number of clubbed and bladed implements.  Ah, the joys of youth!  It has been many years since and I hadn’t even heard the name of this spoken, and I had begun to wonder if it was ever real at all.  I played Twisted Metal on the Playstation and any number of other games that tried to emulate it, but none that tried to recreate the balls-to-the-wall motorcycle racing gauntlet that was Road Rash.  Then yesterday, it happened.  I heard of a projecton Kickstarter that was to emulate this game, and it had already reached its funding goal.  Its name was Road Redemption.

In this title, you will be playing a Katana-clad member of a mid-western America motorcycle gang.  You have to move your way up in the ranks and take control of drug trading routes.  It’s a visceral title that will actually hit harder than its spiritual predecessor.  Thing is, it won’t be made by the same people that made Road Rash.  In fact, a lot of these developers grew up playing games on the same systems I did, so they remember the good old days of games that make you earn their respect rather than the spoon-fed titles of today.

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

Who says real badasses never look back at an explosion?

This looks like a title that will take esports to an awesome new level and bring people away from their Xboxes and Call of Duty.  You’ll earn money by racing, sure, but if I can wield a shotgun on a motorcycle, why would I just want to race all the time?  Luckily there will also be assassinations, robberies and other challenges.  Getting the goods will allow you to level your character, buy better hardware and upgrade your bike so you can really take on the tough guys.

The storyline is a sort of made-in-America Mad Max routine.  You are part of stated motorcycle gang in post-apocalyptic mid-west America, and the country is run by a ruthless dictator.  You gang-leader decides that it would be a great idea to ride into the capital with the intent of killing the dictator.  I guess it doesn’t go too well, since the game description implies heavily that shit hits the fan for you and everyone you know.  You then have to track this guy down and, pending his judgment at the gang’s hands, decide what to do about the whole dictator situation.

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Flying blurry men never did know how to ride bikes well…

One of the more vague features of this game comes with the life-system.  There will be no extra lives, but the experience, gear and upgrades you earn should stick with you.  What does this mean? Fuck if I know, but I guess you have a lot of family members who are willing to step up and take over your cause.  You’re probably from one of those massive Irish-Catholic families you see all over television.  What’s more is that multi-player mode will be all about you building your gang and then taking to the internet where you will join up with or against your friends.  Hey, competition is just as much fun as working together, sometimes.  Personally, I cannot wait to throw someone under a bus.. fucking literally!

The best part about all of this?  Road Redemption comes out tomorrow on Steam as Early Access.  So get those bike helmets ready.  We’re info for one hell of a ride.  Get ready for the best rash you’ve ever seen!

Valley of the Dead Pre-Releases

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Before any gets clever, I am not asking about the dinosaurs; I am referring to a mass extinction event going on within the confines of digital media.  Early Access games are out there and comprise a large part of Steam.  I have nothing resembling exact figures, but it feels like there are at least 5 unfinished games on steam for every complete title.  Want a more solid idea of how many there are? Early Access is its own searchable category on Steam.  It contains such prestigious titles as The Forest, DieselStormers, Galactic Civilizations III and others.  The three I will be discussing today are those shown above: Towns, Terraria and Stomping Lands

What is Early Access?

Once upon a time there was a magical viking who had an idea for a video game.  You can mine and mine and mine, build a house, a fortress a town, farm, breed animals and fish.  You’ll be able to use portals to travel to other dimensions and work magic.  Monsters will come out at night, but you can defend against them!  And in the End, you’ll fight a dragon!  This game was slow to catch on at first, but once kids and gamers found it, they fell in love.  It rapidly became one of the most popular games of all time, spanning generation gaps and giving everyone something they loved.  This was the first instance of an unreasonably popular early access game.  It was called Minecraft.

Since then a number of companies have vied to create an early access hit like Minecraft.  Steam has been the most successful in its push, encouraging devs to submit their games for rigorous vetting by Steam’s community through Steam Greenlight.  Once the games have been selected, they are allowed to provide an early version of the game at a reasonable price for purchase.  This was awesome at first, but then Steam became progressively more inundated with games that aren’t finished.  And worse than that, some games die in this public-run games incubator.

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This is a brief description from Steam’s website about what early access is and here is a link to their complete explanation about what all of that entails.

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Many people are familiar with this title.  The idea is that you start a small, 16-bit town of sprite people and then guide these people through building a town.  You can do all kinds of fun things from farming and animal husbandry to combating foes.  You can also create a little stairwell down to the mines below.  Of course, these mines are filled with all nature of foul monsters, so you need to attract heroes to your town to battle the enemies and delve deeper.  By doing this you can get better materials to build with and make a fabulous town!

So how did it die?  Sales.  In a lengthy post on the Towns official forum, gamedev Moebius went into detail about why Towns is no longer being developed.  Hardly news, this post goes back to May 2014 and details his reasons.

“When I signed up for working on Towns I was told that we sell a minimum of about x copies/month of the game. I agreed to work on Towns for 15% of what would remain after removing all the taxes and the Steam fee. Xavi and I agreed that this would be a fair amount, and I still think it is.  After getting used to the source code and publishing the first new version of the game, we talked about the agreed payment and it turns out that the sells are getting down rapidly. So we are now selling less than a third of the x copies a month, loosing about 33% of sells per month.”

Yea, that is the most of it.  The game wasn’t selling anymore and the most of the money to be made there was lost in the initial rush of sales.  By the time Moebius was conscripted, it was too late.  If you keep reading that little post by Moebius, down at the bottom they make some spectacularly upsetting statements.

“Xavi and I were talking about a possible Towns2. At the moment this is just in an idea stage and we can’t really say if he, I or eventually Ben have the time to create a Towns2. As faithful fans of Towns we would of course reward you in some way, when/if the new game is released.

“A new game will give us the following advantages:

  1. we can implement all the cool things that are not possible at the moment due to how the core mechanics works in Towns 1
  2. we can also rise attention as this is a completely new game and a successor for once great runnning game
  3. this will also make it possible to have a financially sound basis for a long development of Towns2

“I want to end this post by thanking you for reading this and for all your support in these two months. Again I’m sorry that we had to pull the plug right here, but I sincerely hope you can understand why we had to make that decision right now.”

So let me get this straight.  Not developing the game anymore because of a decrease in sales, so the money isn’t there.  Got it.  Now we are considering a Towns 2 as a sequel to this farce?  What the fuck?  I mean at least they were open about saying the idea is just a way to get more money out of the game, but how do you make a sequel to an unfinished game?  Granted, there have been 2 updates to the game since this post, but they were the only two updates to the game since September 30, 2013.  So fans of the game are left with an occasionally updated title that is a testament to what could have been.

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I am pretty sure this title is older than Towns, but there is a reason I am listing it here.  Terraria is a game where you build 2D houses and dig in the ground for stuff.  At night evil monsters come and try to kill you.  God what the fuck is with all the similarities here…

Back in 2012 the developers of Terraria declared the game had received its final update and that it was “time to move on”.  In this PC Gamer article, it is explained that one of the developers even went to work on Starbound with Chucklefish, which, for lack of a better term, is Terraria in space.  In my opinion, it seems like CF stole the developer for this game to prevent it competing with their own game.  Shady horseshit.  Despite the developers apparently jumping ship, the game is still receiving updates on the Steam store, which makes it seem like the whole “boo hoo we’re ending the game” thing was a cry for help.

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Now we’ve got this game, The Stomping Land.  I was originally planning to review this game, but I spent hours in-game and realized how much it sucks when you play it alone.  To give you an idea, when I first came in, I was a naked caveman.  I was on a beach for about a couple seconds when an idiot burst out of the underbrush riding a raptor and hurling bolas.  Someone else was trying to stop him from killing me, and I managed to use the terrain to conceal my escape.  Crafting was boring and you couldn’t stash your shit except in a box, which you dragged along behind you.  It was utterly unfinished, and now I read THIS horseshit.

Apparently the game has gotten no updates in months, which really got Kickstarter backers nervous.  The company also went radio-silent for a while too, but they came out and said that they were switching to Unreal 4.  That is not so bad, but with the game itself being pulled from Steam, everyone with that game in their library – myself included – shat many bricks of frustration.  Of course, before Alex Fundora, SuperCrit founder, announced the engine change, he effectively disappeared for two months!  Tumultuous, scary shit.

So what does all of this mean for Early-Access games?  Tread lightly.  Many of these games are financially on the ropes as it is, so a heavy measure of trepidation is urged in investing.  Buying these games isn’t you standard I give you money you provide a product, it is literally a form of speculation similar to stocks trading;.  Certainly it is not nearly as volatile or risky, but you might not get your 20$ for that game back, nor might you get a finished game.  It might be a sign that all of these games attempt to emulate Minecraft’s basic structure despite adding new elements to their games.  Just like so many other MMO’s attempted to emulate World of Warcraft’s success and died trying.  In some of these instances you even have games that died and came back from the dead, which gives a new meaning to the term “zombie-game.”

I spoke briefly with my friend Dave about these types of games and he echoed the same frustration that many long-time gamers feel.  When you buy a game, you want a finished product.  You don’t want to play a game up to the point where the bugs are too much to handle and then have to put it down.  Sure, there will be more content later, but it will trickle in; then you’ll log on each time to experience that new content, effectively experiencing the finished game in pieces until the finished product feels as worn and old as the other games in your library.  It is irritating and many of us just want to play a finished game.

Some people seem to be over Steam Greenlight and similar services altogether, but just how many I am not sure.  VG247 had a pretty interesting article back in January 2014 about Greenlight closing, which might not be the complete answer, but I am not sure that too many people would be upset about it.  What are your thoughts about early-release games?  Join me in a discussion about it on Crotchety Gamers United!

How Elysian Shadows Team Plans to Revive The 2D RPG

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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.

Skara, Shiney Pre-Alpha Preview

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Skara: The Blade Remains is a game given the go ahead by the community on Steam Greenlight.  One of many worthy candidates for support, Skara attmepts to step in where many mainstream companies leave off.  Arena deathmatch games typically come with guns and grenades, but this title threatens to drop you into an ancient desert or a volcanic nightmare and wishes you well against the hordes of your foes.  The game looks great and the developer’s site gives a lot more regarding the story and world.

Among alpha-previews that I have played, this title has to be the most difficult to discuss in my fashion.  Primarily, I would ask readers to keep in mind that this game is not even up for sale yet.  It is not even close to finished.  The developers are working hard daily to ensure this game gets to a complete phase as soon as possible.  Having recently played the pre-alpha build, I am certainly excited, but not overly impressed.  If this game were to pre-release today, I would laugh loudly and call shenanigans.  But it is not, so I look forward to the game that the developers are working on, as detailed on their Greenlight page.

First, let me generally name some of the areas that the developers have to improve.  In a game with sword fighting gameplay, you want the character to attack well.  A third-person perspective is granted to the player, and this gives you a much better perception of the presence of your character than other games of a similar genre with their first-person views.  Now, being in pre-alpha, Skara’s animations are a little slow right now and this definitely comes out in the gameplay, making it difficult to maneuver, but it was funny as hell to watch my character swinging a longsword like it was made of white-dwarf matter.  I had to actually start my attacks at a distance in order to “spool up” the animation like it was some kind of minigun with one fucking shot.  Another problem with the animations is the ragdoll effect, but in this it should be called the invertebrate effect.  Upon death all the bones in a corpse seem to magically disappear.  Instant man-jelly style.   Now, one thing that I did notice about the animations while playing was fatalities.  Let’s fucking face it, a game like this is boring without a little extra in the awesome category.  I was able to perform two fatalities that really got me amped up.  I favored the civilized look of the Durno fighters.  They just felt better than the insane, cultist look of the Kharn savages.  I was able to get a few guys to a state of “finish him” dazed-ness.  Once there I ran one guy through and flipped him over my shoulder.  The second one I put a guy on his knees like a priest at a pulpit then proceeded to hack wildly at his muscular neck.  I imagine the head will fly off at the end once the game releases, but the chopping action just finishes the animation with the victim sliding to the ground.

Just wait right there, Shraka!  I gonna keel you!

I’m not waiting here all night, Shraka.  Just get the attack over with already!

 

Arena fighters always need someoneto duke it out or there is nothing to play.  This game currently features the Durno (above left) and the Kharn (above right).  Looking at the models and textures for the races I can see why there are only two at the moment.  And why they turn into man-jelly on death.  The models and textures are detailed as fuck.  Light reflects from their clothes and skin differently and their armor and weapons gleam. It is really exciting to see.

Another element that is important to arena fighters like this is easy navigation, especially as far as the menus are concerned.  There shouldn’t be a learning curve for the usage of the basic elements of a game.  When there is a menu to interact with, Skara makes sure it is easy to use.  The only two menus I saw, however, were the escape menu and the match menu.  When loading the level right now, there is nothing.  The screen is just a dead view on the map your anticipated match will be held. Once the game starts, though you have access to the match menu. The match menu is what displays when you hit the tab button in-game.  This is pretty simple and shows you how many kills you (in a deathmatch) or your team (in team deathmatch) have scored.  The scoring system is the Kills – Deaths equation, which I can get behind.  I played enough Unreal Tournament and grew accustomed to the simple systems of games past.

STBR

Best not ask the barbarians why they all have the same first name. Might insult their savage and unforgiving culture.

 

Now, everything that is wrong with the game can be attributed to the fact that the game is not ready for release, so it is missing a variety of important features, such as a tutorial area.  Tutorials on the operation of the battle combos would definitely be very helpful.  Looking at the explanation of the combos in the PDF that came with the game is a little on the confusing side.  Not because of the manual, that is simple.  Click this button, or press this series of keys.  Whatever, no sweats, man!  Then you get in-game and the ham-handed speed of the animations makes timing combos impossible for anyone.  Unless you are Miss Cleo or a Jedi..  then you can clairvoyantly intuit precisely when you need to hit the next key.  Otherwise it is a frenzy full of confused manipulation, like watching my childhood dog hump a pillow.

Of all things this game does and does fucking well are the sights.  Now, yes, I am very critical of graphics-heavy games with no other matter, but this is a game that is still in fucking development!  Cut me a goddamn break!  At one point the AI had a freakout session as I swung at it, and I think opted for self-preservation.  Either that or the guy was like, “fuck this!  If I die now, I want it to be a badass fight sequence!”  So he turns and runs up this tower, and I immediately give chase.  Bones of fallen warriors crunching beneath my iron-clad feet, I charge after my foe.  Bloodlust is coursing through my mind and bringing that coppery flavor thick into my mouth.  Each step takes me upward and he intermittently flags in stamina, coming into view only to catch a string wind and charge further.  I arrive at the top, only to lose my bearings.  Around me the winds howl and the glare of orange light as the sun reflects off the clay-shot fields of the moors.  Behind me my ambuscade foe howls and comes a hair’s breadth from burying the sharp end of his axe into my skull.  I dodge narrowly and heft my sword up, bringing my slice through his torso.  Dazed and reeling, the Kharn warrior blinks against the dazzling flash of my steel.  Only a blink passes and he opens his eyes to see the sharp tip of my sword pierce his chest.  Back my sword plunges until the hilt nearly touches his bulging muscles.  Kharnish men are brutal, and the warrior sneers and tries to grab my sword with his last breath, but I ram my shoulder into his sternum and twist my blade, flipping him into the air.  He lands with a sickening crunch on the stone behind me.

This is what is looked like in game, and the graphics supported every second of it.  You see a far-flung waste, venomous water gnawing at its shores and warriors struggling against death borne by other men.  I can only image that this game will get better, especially since it has been successfully Greenlit.  My biggest issue here is that the game isn’t fucking done, yet.  I played an unfinished game and honestly cannot wait until it is done, because a fantasy arena fighter would be so much fun to me.  The graphics and textures are gorgeous and the ambient sound is nice.  Perhaps the grunts and groans of the characters sound like they came out of a can, but the wind tearing at the dirt and slobbering waves on the shore sound magnificent.  Add in the ambient wildlife and you have a very graphically enticing world that utilizes the Unreal engine to stunning effect.  Now let’s get the rest of the game done, guys.  This one is set up to be really good.

Here the Kharnish warriors allow a Durnovan man how to perform the Kharnish Hot Foot ritual, performed with axes and clubs by boys at age 4.

Here the Kharnish warriors allow a Durnovan man how to perform the Kharnish Hot Foot ritual, performed with axes and clubs by boys at age 4.

 

By Your Powers Combined, I am Indie Team Up!

itulogo

 

Since Captain Planet can’t help us anymore, it is up to us to fend for ourselves in this crazy world.  But none of us have powers as strong as Captain Planet’s, even if Independent Game Developers are capable of some pretty cool things on their own.  Many IndieDevs are solo men or women sitting in their basement coding, more still have a small team of about 6 people.  Some IndieDevs are entire companies, but still the process can be a difficult slog through treacherous terrain.  Indie Team Up is, luckily, one of those awesome things that some GameDevs did has the potential to make life easier for everyone involved.

The idea of the upcoming service is to link IndieDevs together so that we can help each other move the development of games forward.  Another feature of this is artists.  How many times have you been sitting there wishing you had artistic talent outside of coding?  Or needed a composer just to drum up some music?  Perhaps you need a writer to spell check, edit and hone your dialogue?  Indie Team Up will have that, too.  So who are these people with the drive, passion and vision to make this happen?  What is their motivation and what are they going to get out of it?  Just follow the bouncing ball.

Between the two of them, Colleen Delzer and Justin Hammond are the evil geniuses bringing this community to life.  Both are dedicated IndieDevs, and both of them have other things in their lives that require their focus and attention.  During our interview, Colleen had chicken in the oven for her family.  This code-slinging mother of two spends everyday making games with her husband.  Indeed, she is half of Adversary Games, a company Co-Founded with her husband.  Colleen attended the University of Advanced Technology and, only two years into her studies, she was picked up by Realm Interactive.  A year later Realm couldn’t find a pusblisher, so Colleen sought new work outside the industry.  That lasted about 6 years until she was hired at Game Center Group.  There she did game QA, game CS, web coding and design, but her true creative desires drove her to make games.  Listening to the voice in the back of her head, she read some C++ books cover to cover and founded Adversary Games with her husband.  And they manage well enough to make the Indie Team Up a reality.

When I asked Colleen to explain the Indie Team Up to me, she explained, “There are a lot who would love to help out GameDevs but don’t know how to ask, and a lot of GameDevs want help with an idea but don’t know where to turn too.  The role of Indie Team Up is to connect the two!”

In a culture that is so focused on excelling individually, Indie Team Up has a different plan, “Our mission is to help bring the ideas of Independent Developers to fruitation and to cultivate a spirit of collaborative assistance.   And to say, Hey! It’s ok to ask for help!”

And many in the IndieDev community agree.  Indie Team Up is a burgeoning hashtag that is tearing holes in the twitter-verse.  “It only started on the 15th of June, and I really wasn’t thinking it was going to take off like it did!  But we are really trying to help people collaborate to make their projects a reality.”

So where does an idea like this originate?  The ITU team has a good heart and the skills to bring the Game Dev community closer together, but it seems this is a movement born out of frustration. “Several people asked if I could use help with development, which at the time I didn’t.  I felt bad turning people down because it seemed they really wanted to help someone. I thought that Indie Team Up could be a way were they could help someone in need.  An avenue for them, if you will”

ITU is an idea from the heart of its creators, helping them tap into their own creativity and allowing them to give back to the IndieDev community.  “I guess it’s an avenue for me as well.  I really love helping people, just wasn’t sure on how to do it.  So, I guess this is my chance. ^ ^”

If Colleen is the caring mother of the ITU team, Justin is certainly the dedicated father.  With C++ as his first language, possibly prior to English, he is a self-taught programmer and later sought to legitimize his knowledge by attending school.  Though he has yet to finish his degree, his reasons for taking his time are certainly respectable.  Having served 5 years in the Army of the United States of America, Justin spent 2 tours in Iraq.  He is proud of his time in the military, but he’s glad to spend his time with his own family now.  Justin is a husband of 7 years with a 3-year-old daughter.  He devlops games under the moniker Black Module Studios and  has some of his work on Kongrerate as well.  Of course not every project goes as planned and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.  Justin also helped develop a voxel framework that is featured on the Unity3D asset store for 40$, which started as a game.  Unfortunately he and his team at Black Module had to shelve the idea until they have the resources to complete it.

Justin’s biggest priority as a Co-Founder is the development of the Indie Team Up website and shared his origin story as the ITU Web Developer. “Web development just sort of came naturally, as I love spending time on the internet, and I could program, so I just picked it up.”

And he puts a lot of time into the website, “It’s really only been about a week, so I can’t give an average yet.  Although I’ve spent at least 25 hours this past week on design.”

But hard work is worth it when the product in mind is rewarding and extensive. “At a high level, [the Indie Team Up website] will allow users to showcase themselves and search out other people or teams to join. Teams will also be a large part of the site as teams will be able to search for users with the skills they need to complete their projects.  There is a heavy emphasis on discoverabilty.  The goal is to make it insanely easy to find people with the skills you need, or projects that you want to work on.”

The team has some really interesting plans, too, to integrate with a number of other community-organized projects.  “Something else that we hope for is some integration with game jams.  This was actually a personal idea of mine, as I always have trouble finding people to work with when Ludum Dare comes around.  We still need to organize something with the hosts of different game jam events (Ludum Dare, #1GAM, etc.) but we are very hopeful.  At the very least, we’ll have a section of the site dedicated to short term projects, such as game jams or other events.”

Indie Team Up has a list of problems it aims to solve, and Justin was eager to expound up them. “Because the internet is so large, it can be difficult to find people that 1) have the skills you don’t have, and 2) actually want to be part of what you are doing.  We aim to solve those issues by having a centralized place to find other indie developers.”

Among the goals for the ITU site are integration with its existing extensions, “The site will tightly integrate with the hashtag and facebook page, so that when people post their, it is right on the site. It won’t just be a direct feed though, as we are already having people ‘misuse’ the hashtag.”

I even suggested that there be a showcase where ITU displays some of the projects it helped match-make with the approval of community members.  He laughed and mentioned that he and Colleen already have a plan in the works for just such an idea.  The ITU team has even had its first victories, which Justin shared. “One of the first days after #indieteamup started, we helped an artist find a team and are flying him to PAX.  That was a very happy moment for us, being able to see what we are doing actually help people to achieve their goals.”

The Indie Team Up is a project that has a lot of goals.  My first thought is to worry that the team is reaching a bit, but they have a well-coordinated group of members outside of its founders.  When I spoke with Colleen about the origin story of the ITU itself, she mentioned it felt serendipitous, even fated.  As if the IndieDev community has been looking for something like ITU for a long time.  ” They just stepped up and asked.  Justin was pretty much like ‘hey I plan on making a site!’ As well as the bot guy and the app guy.  For instance, I did want to make a bot so I asked White Llama how to create one. The same day the bot guy 0x0 tweeted to me that he was interested in making one.  I DM’ed White Llama, and I did tweet that there should be a more organized way for #indieteamup users to connect.”

0x0961h confirmed this story from his end in an email correspondence with me. “I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline and saw this new Twitter thing, that Colleen was kickstarting.  I thought that it was actually a very awesome idea for the whole indie community, for people who are desperately looking for a team during jams.  Plus, I always liked One Game A Month’s bot and always wanted to make a Twitter bot myself. So I threw some code into IDE, made it work and contacted Colleen. She approved the bot idea a-a-and here I am.”

As the Bot Developer, 0x0961h has the task of maintaining what currently represents the Indie Team Up initiative on the internet. “I made a web application that once in hour receives tweets with hashtag #indieteamup and pick 10 (or less) tweets to retweet. Simple enough. My current mission is to maintain it and implement new features for it. In one of future updates, for example, bot will start looking for speacial hashtags (e.g. #LFA for “looking for artist” or, maybe, more “Reddit-ized” variant of tags: #AW and #AH for “artist wanted” and “artist for hire” respectively) and give priority to tweets with them, not just every single tweet with #indieteamup hashtag. The goal is to make Twitter bot useful tool for, well, “teaming up” and not “just another useless spam twitter”.  Now it just retweeting tweets with #indieteamup, but after site launch, I think, it’ll have few more functions, like, automatic posting “looking for/for hire” stuff from sites, maybe week highlights. It should become more clear after launch.”

0x0961h is experienced with the frantic days leading up to game jams and the search for individuals useful to a specific project. “All my previous games are jam entries, so they are not so polished, not so long, not so narrative-driven.”

But he is currently in the process of making something new that will follow along the lines of a true game release. “I’m developing a… well, I call it a “Big Project”.   I want to make something, you know, “big”, pretty looking, so I won’t be blushing in shame before and after sending it to Greenlight. No details for now (mostly because I don’t have a single clue where my concepts and ideas will lead me), but I want to make a puzzle. I hope one day I’ll be able to finish it and actually release it. :)”

Despite his modesty, 0x0961h has a number of projects that made it to itch.io and even a prior Greenlight submission for a game on Steam.

Justin was able to further detail the origin story “Colleen was talking to @0x0961h (I believe) on twitter one day, and they wanted a place to find other indie game devs, then Colleen suggested #indieteamup, and @0x0961h set up a retweet bot for it (@indieteamup).  I noticed this conversation and told Colleen I was going to make a site for Indie Team Up as I knew that permanence would be an issue, what with how quick tweets can go by.”

And so Indie Team Up was born.  But where is it going?  What happens when you can’t get to a fucking computer and you have to make immediate contact with everyone involved in your project in the heat of the moment? Well, simmer your skettios, there’s an app for that.  Or, rather, and App Developer for that.  Yep.  Indie Team Up has a mobile division, and they’ve chosen to collaborate with another development team from Pakistan to do it.  After speaking with them on the topic, I am really excited to see the results. “We, BugDev Studios, were looking for an artist to team up with on a few projects, one thing lead to another and we found #indieteamup. I was pleasantly surprised by Colleen’s enthusiasm of the idea and felt that the need was real and when we had a chat we knew we had to make this happen.”

The main man behind BugDev studios, Usman Cheema, was happy to give me a little bit of his background as well. He graduated in 2012 in Computer Science from a Lahore University of Management Sciences. He loves the intricate systems games offer for players to experience, used to play DOTA and AOE 2 alot around my graduation and I think these two games are what got me interested in game design. After being repelled from game design schools by financial limitations, Usman joined a local game development studio named Tintash. He worked there for two years in multiple roles and recently quit to start BugDev Studios full time with a team of like minded individuals. “At BugDev Studios we aim to develop creative, out of the box games, currently focusing on hand held devices as out target platforms. I have worked on Itsy Bitsy City at Tintash and Crazy Hexagon as an independent project with fellow devs (both available on Google Play). I like to read and write about games and psychology and take course on Coursera in my free time.”

As stated, Usman is part of a three man team that is working on the app. ” I am part of a team with two engineers [Aqeel Raza (@AqeelRaza2) and Abdul Aleem Khan (@aleemkhan001) ] who have experience in game dev, web development and app development. We will primarily be handling app development of the project. I will also be pitching in with user experience and feature design of the website.”

Though the app is too early in development to expound upon specific features, BugDev studios was able to provide some information about the app’s functionality. “The concept of the project is help out independent developers working in game devevlopment to find like-minded individuals with specific skills they need. The app will be designed to mirror the website’s capabilities, more or less.  So, the website is something really needed right?  The app is visualized as a mobile version of the platform, making it easier for our users to interact with the platform on the go.”

Indie Team Up is a community of IndieDevs created by IndieDevs.  What are your skills and talents?  What prior work have you done?  Want to break into the gaming industry, and help some independent developers along the way?  Keep and eye on #indieteamup and use the hashtag to connect with other developers.  I would like to nominate this song as their badass theme song because these guys are IndieDev superheros.  Like a bat signal in the night sky, this team of dedicated developers will see it and help provide you with the key ingredients necessary to get your project finished, and well.

All of the quotes included in this article are modestly paraphrased for spelling and accuracy.  This is what the individuals involved said, but it has been arranged so that it all flows together nicely.  What? You thought I got everyone in a room and had an interview?  That shit would take hours!

 

Concursion, Genre-Fusion Salad

concur

 

I imagine the discussion at Puuba Games when this game was thought up went like this:

“We want to make a game, and have decided it will be a platformer, now Bill…”

Dave jumps in,  “Whoa whoa whoa!  Who decided on that?  I wanted to do a fucking fighter, like double-dragon!”

Bill cuts off Dave “O fuck that! We agreed last week at Chi-Chis that we’d be doing a damn ninja game!  Shinobi redux bitches!”

“And most of us were trashed on tequila and margaritas!  No, last week beforehand we decided on a space shooter!”

Sam cuts in angrily, “What!?  But the indie scene needs my ideas for a non-violent ambient space explorer!”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               – Puuba Games Board Discussion, probably

On the battle raged for 6 days, 7 nights and on the 7th day, everyone said fuck it! and they each started their own games.  Little did they know, this was Dave’s plan all along.  He wanted everyone to do what they were good at in order to make this game.  You’re a devious mother-fucker Dave.  Devious.

Concursion literally takes 6 different games, disembowels them like digital legionnaires and squeezes them into a bizarre game smoothie.  Don’t believe me?  They brag about it on their fucking site.  Now, the game starts off as a platformer with the usual platformer issues.  Dark Lord Bignbad has captured the princess… Honey Drop.. Honey Bum..(?).. the princess yet again, but this time he shatters some crystals, rending the world and various others.  Your character just shows up at the castle, presumably because he’s a horny (-ed) viking, and sees that she isn’t there.  You then chase after the princess’s hand maiden, who it seems was included as a bad-ass lady character because in a kingdom with no other visible rulers, theirs is still a princess.  At least I don’t think there are other rulers, but if there is a king and queen, it was real shitty of them not to show up at the scene of their own daughter’s kidnapping.  Anyways.  Puuba Games essentially does with Concursion what Irrational attempted with Bioshock Infinite, but does it better and to greater efficacy.  Sure, it is not as sparkly as Bioshock was, but I never once said, “God this game looks great, but where is the game material that I was expecting to enjoy?”  Concursion delivers on all of its promises, whether you like it or not.

In the platformer you play a little red viking that seeks to save the land.  Of course, when your happy ass crosses realms you change into the hero of that realm.  It’s pretty fucking awesome.  So one minute you’re a little red viking and the next you are a ninja, double-jumping and deflecting shurikens.  Cross over into another realm and you man a spacefighter, and another still has you don a jetpack and spacesuit.  Watching the transition is a little bit jarring, but as you play each genre-realm, you become associated with the capabilities of each character.

They have great dumplings in this swirling vortex of universe-rending power.

They have great dumplings in this swirling vortex of universe-rending power.

Transitioning between worlds also grants you certain abilities.  Jump in the platformer, transition into ninja, now you can double-jump that pit in time to survive and go platforming again.  Even the bad guys transition sometimes, but it is really funny to see a dopey dragon-dog transition into a flying hunk of rock and vice-versa.  Those bastards over at Puuba also made mastering these transitions essential to obtaining the key to patching all the holes.  See those little green shards at the top left of my screen there?  Yea, those little fucking things.  At first you are getting them like it’s you’re job, but the difficulty of the game increases steadily, so each level makes it tougher and tougher to get the damn things.  I can already hear the howls of completionist rage.

I am not a platformer pro, either.  I bought Braid, found it insanely too tough and quit playing.  Sure, it’s artistic and mopey and wrist-cuttingly emo, but this is not Braid.  This game is also artistic, in its own way.  In a way that reminds me of Mega Man.  Seriously, this game’s music is the type that I love to hear.  It is full of energy and fun.  I actually alt-tabbed the game so I could listen to the theme music of the Intro level.  Don’t you judge me, play the game and listen for yourself!  Music in this game is also as much a part of the game as the mechanics and the graphics, too.  Each realm has its own version of the same music in each level to which it transitions.  It seems Puuba put some serious ass into this game as the only way I can imagine doing this is to make several versions of the same soundtrack and making the game change the place in the soundtrack upon transitioning.  And in case you are wondering, this takes about a fraction of a second.  It is seamless and really neat.  Even in places as above, where you will transition three times mid-jump, the game alters the music as you pass through those vortices.

The soundtrack here must be titled something like "the finality of laser-induced death"

The soundtrack here must be titled something like “the finality of laser-induced death”

Concursion’s difficulty has a good rising curve, but after a point I got to where I was cursing my ass off.  It really brought me back to my roots on the Super Nintendo with Mario or the Commodore 64, trying to make the Hulk cry for mommy before the dynamite he had strapped to him exploded.  It is the most fun game I have ever sucked at in every possible way.  Real platformers would be facepalming and tearing the controls out of my hands.  But the way this game has you doing things that are hard as hell to awesome and encouraging music is really fun.  I mean, every scenario they put you in, whether you are attacking shuriken-flinging wall-ninjas or dashing for your life from a player-seeking angry spike ball, the music is perfect for the level.  Any of you that have a child inside you not due to a heavy lunch will want to go get this and relive your entire childhood gaming experience in one game.

Some of the levels are done up in vector graphics, some are your pixel-art, if you’re into that.  But all-in-all this game rocks.  There is even a little humor in how the game teaches you how to play.  Like, did you know that ninjas could historically perform a double-jump?  I can just imagine that showing up in one of those highly questionable History Channel shows.  And once you are done running all over the place, the game lets you jump under a discoball for your own personal pelvic-thrust party!

If you would like to buy this game, aptly described on Steam as a difficult indie action platformer with a great soundtrack, it runs 11.99$ on the aforementioned gaming service or 16.98$ for game and music.

nntsss nntsss nntsss

nntsss nntsss nntsss

Absolutely one of the most fun platformers I have ever played, including in comparison to the classic ones.  But the thing that pisses me off about all of this is how hard I suck at platformers!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love gaming, and I played more Super Mario Brothers than any one person should have as a kid with 4 brothers.  But I was the one that passed the Sega controller during rocket-knight adventures so my brother could teach me how to rocket-jump!  I played the first level after the intro in about 3 minutes and 30 seconds.  When you play that level, you will be astounded by how hard I truly suck.  Please don’t hate, we all have our strong suits and I am not the Jack of Platformers.