Retrobooster, Taking Back the ‘Verse

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Now, this game has nothing to do with Firefly, but just humor the analogy for a moment.  In Firefly, it felt like it treated space, matter and physics correctly.  Everything reacted right, there was no sound in space and it was full of excitement and narrow escapes.  Retrobooster does the same thing.  You are affected by gravity, how you are steering and every other force that might interact with your ship.  It makes sense and it is packed with full-throttle moments where I can imagine your pilot hitting the pedal to the floor in a crystal-clear moment of balls-to-the-wall commitment to death or victory.  I am having a hard time finding things about this game that I didn’t like, so excuse me for gushing a little bit. Dick.

Play the tutorial first.  If nothing else it will give you an idea how to steer your ship: more in relation to which method suits you best.  You can use either the arrow keys or the mouse or the arrow keys to steer your ship, known as a Starblade.  Using the arrow keys is a solid method, but it felt weird to me having both hands on my keyboard.  Utilizing the mouse is more fluid, but there is more margin for error.  Both methods are good and fly suitably smooth, the choice is really in what suits you best.

Now, you have two weapons – a gun and a launcher, we’ll call them.  With each you can find a spectacular array of weaponry to equip and deploy.  You can get varied ammunition for your gun, varied ammo for the launcher or a powerup that will make you more powerful for a short time.  For the gun, my favorite ammo variation were the thermite rounds.  These are like shooting smoking pellets of smouldering napalm.  They wreak havoc on enemies that have clustered together, and it happens more than you’d expect.  For the launcher, I have only really had the guided missiles, but they are magnificent.  Nothing better than going into a fight knowing you can start blowing holes in enemies from the start.  In some cases, the missiles give you a fighting chance. Powerups give a lot more variety to gameplay.  Sometimes they’ll give you a scatter shot that fires in a cone in front of you, other times it will be a constant shield that lasts for 25 seconds.  Either way, it’ll be something useful.

Boom boom boom boom

Boom boom boom boom

Two of the most important things to keep in mind are (duh) health and shields.  In this game, it is too easy to fuck yourself up and if you don’t get flying down, the enemies just have to sit back with some popcorn and watch you kill yourself.  Hit any obstacles and you’ll take damage.  There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, don’t crash into shit.  Shields are useful because, in the heat of a fight you will end up crashing into shit.  Hold the spacebar a couple seconds to use your shields and avoid unnecessary damage.  Simple as that.  Shields can also be use to deflect enemy fire, but be careful as your shields are limited.  If you do well and kill a lot of enemies in a row, you’ll get a token to increase your shield meter or heal your ship (green bar at lower left is health, blue bar is shields).

Enemies in this game are aliens that remind me of what would happen if Apple invaded another galaxy; they are all white and smooth with softly glowing lights and a sort of arrogance that makes you want to punch them in the teeth.  Of course, killing isn’t everything, and Retrobooster recognizes this.  I suppose this is why the developer made the wide array of aggravating puzzles to solve.  They are things like pushing a button and then flying past obstacles to get to the door you opened in time, or manipulating forcefields to get to the button you opened.  Either way, it pumps your adrenaline and has pushed me into plenty “leaf on the wind” kind of moments.

I'm a leaf on the wind, watch how I desperately try not to get blown to pieces...

I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I desperately try not to get blown to pieces…

These moments often launch you through a narrowly closing door only to send you blasting out the other side… directly into oncoming fire.  It sucks sometimes, but in my mind my character and his co-pilot just carry the adrenaline and go from one second to the next, flying by the seat of their deeply soiled pants.  Funny part is, once you’ve killed off enough enemies for the area to be reasonably safe, you start looking for survivors.  by survivors I mean humans that have survived the alien onslaught.

Just be careful, cause these guys are delicate...

O, hey! He’s reached his ultimate power level… O, no.  He’s bursting into flames.. my bad..

Some things to keep in mind with survivors.  First, they are squishy, flammable and all kinds of easy to kill by accident.  Many times aliens will just walk over them and squash them, other times the detritus jettisoned from an exploding enemy will be enough to kill survivors.  That is why you want to take enemy fire to your shields to protect them, use your ion bolt to blow up wreckage before it can kill them and do whatever else you can to protect these guys.  Next, when you land, you have to do it gingerly.  They will generally avoid you when you are coming down, but once your landing gear touches terra firma, all bets are off and they come running.  Some times your ship might bounce a bit and squash someone under it, other times if you come in too close to the people, they will catch on fire.  This is hilarious, but probably bad.  When they come aboard, they will give a small boost to health and shields.  Not much, but enough to bring you up from a tough fight.  My question is how do they all fit in there….

Enemies coming in from all vectors!

Enemies coming in from all vectors!

Retrobooster is a great game.  Gameplay is fluid and feels great.  It can be tough to navigate and aim at the same time since your shots follow the momentum of your ship, and shots fired can push you backward in space.  It really feels like you are floating around in a low-gravity environment battling foes.  Weapons are fun to use and explosions are satisfying.  Puzzles are a real challenge and you will die a few times, even if you are really good at flying, but that makes the game all that much more fun to play.  You only get two lives per level, which can be a pain in the ass at times, especially since there are no extra lives to find; however, longevity can be attained through skilled maneuvering and liberal application of ion blasters.  The most irritating thing about this is that sometimes the people look like they have no joints, sort of like Rayman, but there isn’t anything annoying enough to make me not want to pay the 17.99$ for this game.  If you are looking for a spectacular space-fighting challenge with a retro feel, this game is going to rock your ‘verse.  Really Slick lived up to their names on this one.

Terrance the Flying Eyeball, Disembodied and Ready to Rock!

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Somewhere on the corner of creativity and the truly bizarre sits this little game that can be found on itch.io.  I have never played any games where I was just a single flying body part, but this is surely a whole lot better than some games where you play the disembodied head of an ancient samurai warrior.  Granted, this game is not a shooter, it’s just a simple little timed game where you have to get to the end of zones.  And it’s not easy.

Controlling Terrance is pretty easy: just hit the arrows or the WASD keys, whatever your preference.  He doesn’t stop immediately, so you have to prepare for a little bit of fishtailing.  You’ll guide Terrance through small obstacle courses filled with all manner of bizarre and inventive dangers.

Just don't touch 'em, just don't touch 'em..

Just don’t touch ’em, just don’t touch ’em..

If I were actually Terrance I would be a neurotic mess.  Without explanation and, from what I can tell, shortly after his creation in a lab, this little eye has to face some pretty harrowing obstacles seemingly crafted for him.  First, there are electrified walls and blocks that disappear when you run into them; they’re the orange ones.  These wouldn’t be so bad, but then at some point there are these purple mines that come into play.  Tap one and you have 3 seconds to vacate the area or be zapped to death by purple plasma.  Each time you die, you are sent back to the beginning of the level, which makes me wonder: are you one eyeball or do they just create another?  Each level is filled with equipment and what seems to be some Looney Toons version of measuring devices in the background, so maybe this is a series of test chambers not unlike those in Portal?

Each level ups the ante on level of challenge, too.  I am still having trouble getting to the end of the second zone.  See, there are these plasma-shooting blaster things, and after a while, they home in on you and fire a lot faster.  At one point, I have to break through these glass tubes in order to progress with the blaster shooting like there’s no tomorrow behind me.  If you run into it directly, you bounce just far enough back that you’ll get zapped, so you have to run into it and use the momentum to get you past the plasma balls.  You will not be at a loss for a challenge.

Fuck whatever mad scientists designed Terrance's horrible life... seriously..

Fuck whatever mad scientists designed Terrance’s horrible life… seriously..

As far as a game goes though, especially one on itch.io, you really can’t do better.  The art here is fantastic, resembling a sort of Dexter’s Laboratory feel.  For those of you not familiar with the old Cartoon Network tv show: it’s smooth and very professional-looking.  Terrance the Flying Eyeball is a game that focuses more on timing and skill than other game elements.  If you’re looking for a fun play with a simple concept to give you a break from all those deep gaming experiences that crowd the popular platforms these days, you could do worse than Terrance.  The music is peppy and fun, the gameplay is fluid and easy to pick up.  If you don’t get some enjoyment out of playing this game, even for a little bit, then you might just be expecting too much out of your games.  Hell, the game doesn’t even cost that much.  You can pay what you want for the game.  Mind you, this is a title that has a some work in it, so leave a few notes in the till, please.  I would say this game is worth at least 5$.  If more indie devs put out games like this, competition in indie games would be even closer than it already is.  Terrance feels like a game from a game jam and is just as delightfully creative.

Point Perfect, Rage and Cursors

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After years of neglect and self-hatred, Mavis Beacon of typist teaching fame decided to grow a mohawk, dye it green and donned her studded leather jacket.  She stole the Doc Brown’s Delorian before the 90’s ended, went through dimensions to a time where the 80’s were the space-age and began her conquest.  Now she has returned to wreak havoc on mousepads worldwide, and the effect is devastating.  Ok, so that’s not the story behind this game, but with all the anger and rage it created, you would think I was playing Dark Souls or something.  You can visit the Point Perfect website here.  By the way, young’n’s: the device stealing that child’s youth in the picture is a CRT monitor circa 1998.

This is not a game for the feint of heart.  It is the most challenging thing I have played yet this year.  Simple enough idea with some goofy pixel art to provide a story.  There is a world of people that use mouse cursors to fly through space.  They are attacked by aliens and space invaders, zooming into action.  You are this world’s elite pilot and you must rise to the occasion or retire your peripherals.

Prepare yourself, brave hero.

Prepare yourself, brave hero.

From the very start, you get the feeling this isn’t going to be an easy ride.  You have to choose between an increasing number of trophies, but the first three are a wider targeting range, increased points and three lives.  THREE FUCKING LIVES! You have to choose between a buff or the basic 3 lives!  Needless to say, I always chose the three lives because I knew I would never make it without the extra lives.  And there aren’t even any extra life pick-ups (that I’ve encountered) in the entire game!

So you are the cursor.  You have to move the mouse to dodge enemies.  In order to do battle, you have to click and drag to ‘target’ foes.  When enemies enter the green field, you release to destroy them.  Sounds easy, but fucking try it.  To start, you have a smaller targeting field range, but as you get ‘P’ pick-ups your range will increase, opening the opportunity to create larger and larger kill-combos.  Your power-ups will show up in the lower left corner, and if you die, they shoot out of you in a demeaning, Sonic the Hedgehog kind of way.  If you drag more than your range, your targeting field goes red and no kills are made.  All of this has to be done while dodging projectiles and enemies.

In the lower right hand corner you’ll see a weapon box.  As you fight your way through the alien armada, you will collect various weapons that help tremendously.  My favorite was the shield, which deflects weaker enemy fire – the yellow balls.  It won’t block other colors, but that is something.  There are all kinds of other weapons that increase points from combos, add points to your overall score and other fun things.

Drag and pray, mother-fucker.  Drag and pray.

Drag and pray, mother-fucker. Drag and pray.

Of course, with all the challenge this game provides, victory is a sweet, sweet bitch to get.  Usually you just manage to kill some enemies, but successfully giving it to bosses must be amazing.  I haven’t beaten any yet, but I have come SOOOO close that it was infuriating.  This game keeps giving and giving with numerous levels beyond just this starry background.  With no introductory info, though, this game is a pain in the ass to grasp.  I had it for a month and managed to figure out that I could kill enemies.  Yea, I am not a moron, but it just didn’t register to me.

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This game is perfectly alright with telling you that you suck.

Fighting enemies isn’t the only thing to do in this either, Point Perfect also has a wide array of little skill games and challenges that provide a welcome respite from the chaotically cluttered masses of foes.  Retro graphics and an old school feel are a few more of this title’s strong points, but every element of this game’s design is created to unforgivingly teach players precision and timing.  You cannot fullscreen it.  So what, you say?  This makes it easy to drag off the screen, click other programs and push the game to the background.  It is an insane carnival ride of unremitting terrors, but it is the most fun I have ever had cursing relentlessly at my mouse.  I almost launched the little fucker undeservingly out the window…  I will be waking up in a cold sweat dreaming about this game for weeks to come.  I only pity the fool who tries to play this on a track pad. Poor, ignorant bastard.  Available on steam for only 4.99$, this game is well worth it, if you think you have the balls.  If you think you are man enough, woman enough… Gamer enough.

Hollow Dissent, Stealth Simplified

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This game, by Dark Space Games, is definitely a first game.  Developers’ debut titles may carry certain elements that come through into the game itself: uncertainty, ambition, fear and paranoia.  Hollow Dissent certainly gave the devs a chance to release some of that my shouting into a microphone.  While it may have been therapeutic for them, it made my headphones buzz and my ears ring a little.  Of course, the fact that this game almost feels like a default game that came with Windows 98 kind of makes the game feel a little silly.  Let me explain.

When you start up the campaign, you aren’t given a story as much as you are given what you need to know.  Bunch of people on a base are starting to succumb to radiation poisoning and they are losing their minds because of it.  Kill them all.  Now, I’m no doctor but I am pretty sure that a lead enema isn’t the only treatment for radiation poisoning.  This seems suspicious.  Alongside the ominous music, this all seems like some kind of plot that I am being thrown into the middle of in hopes that someone can solve a really big fuck up.  You play as the wetwork ninja that will move in, eliminate all witnesses and resolve the issue.  Ah, mysterious paramilitary organizations, when will you learn?

HoDi_squish

Turning enemies into anonymous clouds of red mist…

The controls are pretty simple and easy to master: spacebar shoots your rifle, arrow keys move, shift lets you interact with things.  Typically you will get through a level after eliminating all foes and get to a door to go to the next level.  It is never really specified whether you go up or down, but I always assume down.  Then there is the gun.  Remember when I mentioned this being a stealth game?  Well the main way you kill enemies is by walking over them like a fucking power up.  They’ll turn into red mist and give out a groan.  I don’t even want to know what this guy has that makes the corpse explode into red mist and even more terrifying is the fact that he never gets covered in enemy residue.  If you fire your gun, however, all the enemies in the level hear it and come running.

Who are the enemies in this game?  Initially you face the personnel of this facility.  The most interesting thing that this game does is make you feel bad for the guards.  Let me explain.  The two main enemies in this game are the guards and the scientists.  The guards are either stationed or patrolling and are ridiculously easy to take out.  In a game like this you would have a stationed guard switch his gaze back and forth between different corridors.  Not in this game.  These guys are practically mechanical meat-puppets that look only where their gun is pointing since that is how shooting works, right?

The other primary enemy you’ll face are the scientists… fucking little scientists.  These guys, unlike every other scientist in gaming, have decided to self-arm and start shooting anyone they don’t recognize.  This is a bitch.  Combined with the fact that they move erratically, they are a serious pain in the ass to take out.  On top of that, these guys spend the whole time whimpering and whining about “him” and “they’re gonna find us.”  This, combined with the totally forced voice acting for the guards makes the whole game start to slide apart.  I mean, the guards literally say things like “target acquired” and “moving to target” like they are a bunch of overweight local policemen playing paintball on a weekend getaway.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  I am sure even those weekend paintballers manage to sound more convincing.

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever...

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever…

Why do I feel bad for the guards?  They are useless.  Seriously.  They are doing their jobs, walking back and forth or standing there doing nothing; in some cases they are even facing a wall.  This would make sense if there was some kind of viewing window, but walking right up to them on the opposite side of the wall from where they are stationed results in staying hidden.  These guys are doing their jobs and continue to do so despite the fact that the scientists, who are supposed to be far more intelligent, start losing their shit and packing heat.  The guards even come running if they hear a gun shot like it might not just be one of the damn scientists giving into their insanity and killing themselves.  What with all their whimpering and bitching, I would have just ordered the R & D team be euthanized.  I wouldn’t even resist the main character, I would be helping him.

Then, about 4 levels down (or up, I am not really sure which) you run into a new foe.  These are some kind of groaning, grumbling comet-ghost creatures that can pass through walls, but they only move when you fire your weapon.  You can walk right up to them and they just stare right through you.  Shooting at them is totally useless, so you have to just get past them to finish the level.  The devs seem to favor putting these fuckers near the exits, forcing you to fire your weapon to get them to come after you… away from the door.  These ghosts don’t seem to affect the guards in the least bit but, entertainingly enough, the scientists splatter upon contact with these things.

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit...

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit…

Don’t get me wrong.  This game isn’t terrible, but there is much that could have been done to improve it.  Ambiance is held together by the grace of a solid soundtrack and decent graphics.  Your character looks like someone took a silhouette of a swat cop, put blue arm bands on him and said “fuck details.”  Guards are all the same little guy holding a pistol with a red dot and the scientists are the erratic little guys with the orange fishbowls on their heads.  This all kind of adds to the ghosts being a little more creepy when you run into them.  Everything already has an ambiguous look to it, but now you have these ghosts that are just all kinds of fucked up.

Level graphics are painfully simple and cookie cutter-styled.  Walls all look exactly the same, and every couple of levels the floor changes design; this would be ok if there were some explanation or pattern, but it goes from stone to riveted metal to castle flagstones so fast that after a while it is just as annoying as the scientists.  Story is delivered in the form of computer consoles that are placed randomly throughout the game.  Through the computers your character communicates with his employers, but this is very very vague and cryptic at every turn.  We have to guess at what is even being discussed at times since there is no internal monologue about anything.  If I saw a comet ghost when I thought I would be stabbing blood-puppets for the next three hours, I would stop to consider my circumstances for a moment.  I am pretty sure I passed by a terminal at some point, too, but it seems that you can go up the next level before finding the consoles, so those aren’t even entirely necessary.

Where's a proton pack when you need one?

Where’s a proton pack when you need one?

If you are jonsing for a good stealth game that challenges you in your stealthiness, you could do a lot worse than this.  Hollow Dissent still accomplishes what it sets out to do in that regard, but it wouldn’t be my first resort.  I am also not going to say that the 5.99$ asking price on the Darkspace Games website is entirely worthwhile, but here are some suggestions on how to make this game worth a little more than that:

Add in a few gadgets and, perhaps, a silencer.  Something more than just a gun and walk-over stealth kills.  The walk-over stealth kills would be alright if the guards looked around a little bit.  Add in some darkness and give guards and scientists flashlights.  This will act to show you where they are looking and add more spooky ambiance to the game.  Don’t make the ghosts glow, but perhaps add in a radar that pings gently as their groans draw closer in the darkness.  That is something the last Alien game did well, even if the only thing.  Put a little more variation in the walls.  Please.  Maybe little windows that stationed guards can look through.  It will add another obstacle and way to get detected.  These levels feel less like any kind of facility and more like mini-mazes to house a few meat sacks.  A little decoration could go a long way.  I don’t rate things, but that would take what is currently 40% of a decent game and punch it right up to 75% maybe even 80%.  I could pay 10$ for that comfortably.  And, please, get a better voice actor.  I could do it for you, I was in the army for two years.  I know what convincing “report” language sounds like.

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.

HD_witch

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.

 

Shadow Protocol, Super-Techno Euro Spy

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I am generally not a fan of mobile games, but some devs have really been killing it lately.  Seriously.  First I discovered Henry Sorren and his horror series, then there is Goodnight Games and this remarkably sweet piece of iOS entertainment.  I grew up playing games where stealth was a challenge and not a super-power, and this game just feeds that sense of profoundly badass precision tempered with a tension I rarely see anymore.  Come disappear into the shadows for a while.  I promise you’ll enjoy it.

In this iOS title you play a member of M.O.T.H., a super-secret organization so shrouded in mystery, not even the game explains what it stands for.  You are a covert operative trained to get in, get the intel and GTFO before the bulldogs catch on to your presence.  In this, as with many other stealth-based games, a main focus of the game is the gear.  Primary among your kit is that black alien suit you are wearing.  It allows you to melt into the shadows, avoid detection and be generally ninja-like.  When you are in the shadows, you are completely invisible and the music reflects this by going all enigmatic.

Another important piece of gear is the hacking device, and it’s what you use to obtain the most important plot-progressing pieces of the game.  Throughout the game there will be terminals to hack, which will give you pieces of intel – usually objectives – and can also grant you access keys to doors.  These doors will be a bland white color.  Other doors seem to have been purchased from the 90’s era FPS games, as they are activated by keys matching the color of the doors themselves.  I didn’t have an issue with this at all; in fact, I found the keys an endearing element of the game, lending a nod to older games and utilizing the game’s isometric view to the best of its coded capacity.

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Another piece of gear is the smoke bombs, which you will use to get past certain types of guards.  Generally, you can avoid the patrolling guards by staying out of sight until they pass then dodging past them toward your goals.  Cameras are pretty easy to avoid just by going into the shadows.  You can even move around in the shadows, you won’t appear on the camera at all.  I guess the villains were too cheap to afford motion-sensors.  Better to waste the funds on stupid muscle.  That always works out well. The last type of guard is a little something of a dick.  This guy sits in one place, usually guarding a door-key.  To move these jerks, throw a smoke bomb and slip past them, getting the key and gaining access.

Guards can be a little easy to get past at times, providing little more than a momentary obstacle, but they all have little surprises here and there.  The patrolling guards will look to the sides, rather than just in front, finding you just around that corner you thought you were safe beside.  Some of the guards go outside the methods you trained them on, so stay on your toes.  There is no telling where the next guy will be and how resourceful you’ll need to be to get past him.  It can be aggravating at times, but for fans of challenging stealth it is worth the play.

Of course, not every situation permits passive avoidance, and there are situations in this game that warrant a more proactive approach.  Before you Assassin’s Creed nuts start going all Altair on these guys, you have no lethal weapons in your arsenal.  All you have is a whip and a taser.  The whip has a slight chance of render enemies unconscious for a second, but there is also the chance that they might just come running after you; since the latter option is far more likely, you won’t be using this much.  Some guards will only move if you try using this thing, so it becomes a necessity in some levels.  The taser is the most proactive item you have, and this disables your enemies long enough for you to get away… so about 3 fucking seconds.  Using the whip will only disable enemies for 1 second.

...because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

…because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

The controls are pretty intuitive, though they can be frustrating at times.  You move via the touch-screen joystick that many iOS games use, and I have had many a time where I was playing too fast and I went the wrong way… in front of a camera.  Items are deployed by hitting the corresponding button on the menu at the right side of the screen.  Most of the items you just tap once and they’re used, but the hacking tool has to be held while a bar fills, hacking the terminal.  This can be infuriating as sometimes you have to do this before the guard gets back from staring at the wall for a few seconds, other times before a camera moves painfully slow into view.

The art and sound of this game surprised me, and were amazingly superior for an iOS game.  It looks and plays like a lost SNES title with art that is fitting and very enjoyable.  Characters walk and move smoothly and scenery is good.  Sound is enjoyable and helps to create the necessary tension that a game like this desires.  Everything comes together here to create a fun and interesting play, and it has a story that is frankly too good for the standard mobile fare. Add to that the fact that this game is a fucking challenge?  Yea, it’s a good play, for sure.  Seriously, though, the game goes from a pretty moderate walk in the park to “Oh my fucking god how did I even clear that goddamn level?!?!” in a few short (ish) levels.  All this, and the game itself is only 0.99$ on iTunes and the App Store.  I recommend this for iPad, but it is likely still very playable on other idevices.  Want to watch the trailer?  Here you go.

Lights Off, Good Old-Fashioned Horror

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d bring out some horror games I’ve been meaning to review for some time now.  When you think of an iOS game, you don’t tend to think of horror, though.  Hell, most games you download through the app store have something to do with angry, flappy birds, smashing candy or playing with your jewels, but it seems that some people are opening up their minds a little.  Some developers are trying out something new with these media and seeing just how well they can excel.  In the case of Lights Off, they’ve created horror and made it even more personal.

LO_car

Some of the main things that stand out with this game.  When you start there is a rudimentary story presented, enough to get you into the game but little enough that you feel less than secure about what’s happening.  In Lights Off the main character says he got into a fight with his father, took his keys then left the house.  He then needs to remember where he left his tent since he needs to get out of town for a while.  Maybe it’s just me, but it really does seem like he’s implying the argument got really bad.  Perhaps he’s murdered his father?  I mean, I have had plenty of arguments with my mom, my dad my brothers occasionally my wife, but I have never had to leave town to sleep in a tent, which I keep in an alleyway, to spend the night in a “place where no one could find me.”  Yep.  Maybe it’s not just me.

While you are sleeping in the woods, you are awakened in the night by glowing red eyes.  This makes you wander around at night with a dying flashlight, trying to find a house that some disembodied voice mentioned in passing.  After stumbling around in the dark for what feels like ages, you find your way to the back of a house.  Inside you meet this big, black spooky being that reveals some things about you.  Like, for instance, you are a man.  No really, I had only a few indications to this, but up until I saw a photograph of the character, I was undecided about his sex.  The problem is that in the beginning sequence, when you search for the tent, the sound of the shoes on the ground sounds, to me, a lot like high heels.

LO_town

Later, when you are in the house, your character breathes so heavy, I thought he might need an inhaler.. or he might have just turned into a zombie.  Either one is a viable response.  But his breathing has a bass resonance that seems to sound like a man.  Originally, I was so confident that the main character was a woman that I was getting ready to talk about how I was glad to have a female protagonist.  Considering the implication of murdering the father, women usually have way more twisted motivations for killing their fathers than men do.

LO_parcel

Another issue I had with the game is actually just a double-edged sword.  This game has a fantastic ambiance, and it even suggests you play this in the dark with headphones on.  I wouldn’t recommend it since that might have scared the piss out of me during my playthrough.  One of the ways the game achieves its ambiance is through the liberal use of film grain.  It grants the game a gritty and chaotic feeling that you just don’t get with clean graphics.  It works great, until it becomes so prolific that you feel like you are wearing really really dirty glasses.  At a couple points the film grain got so bad that I had no idea where I was or what I was doing, and I even missed a couple of little scares because of it.  It was like “man I can’t see shit! O, that was supposed to scare me! Ahh ahh….. dammit..”  In earlier levels, the game also has a small area of vision within your screen due to the fact you are using a flashlight, which is really effective and creepy.  This worked out well.

The controls are one thing that I really have to applaud because you never see them.  The left side of the screen lets you walk by sliding your finger around and the other side lets you change what you are looking at by sliding your thumb around.  It is like having two joysticks you can see through to the game itself.  Well-orchestrated and it really did help me get even more into the game.  All this alongside the fact that the graphics were pretty good for an iPad app, and I would say that this is totally worth your time to check out.  Not to mention, this game is free on the app store.  Henry Sorren and Pulp Horror Games have a lot of other games up there, too.  Definitely a good team and you should check out their work

Henry Sorren has also been a sort of sponsor of The Crotchety Old Gamer, providing keys that I was able to distribute to winners in The Crotchety Old Giveaway.  Unfortunately, the giveaway ran for a good length and by the end some of the keys expired, which was a bummer.  Steam keys never go bad, but the app store acts like you are giving away fresh strawberries without any kind of refrigerated storage.  Bastards…

Legend of Grimrock, Tearing Out RPGs by the Root

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Before all the cutesy, fluffy shit that inhabits most RPGs these days, before Final Fantasy and JRPGs had infested every corner of the genre, there were dungeon RPGs.  And they weren’t the Diablo-style one-button RPGs that breed tactical laziness; that’s right tactical fucking laziness.  Diable RPGs are allow for a wider range of motion and strategy, so you can hem enemies in with firewalls and nuke them with fire or something.  Tactics requires the careful execution of a concerted attack effort.  A small group of doomed warriors in a massive dungeon have a solid understanding of tactics.  They know if they break ranks and get isolated, they are doomed.

The first and last of these types of games I ever played was Eye of the Beholder, a game we played on SNES.  In the game, you play a group adventurers exploring the sewers of a place called “Waterdeep” to cleanse some ancient evil.  We did not understand the alignment system although we often chose whatever we wanted and joked about it like kids.  When we were in the game, we never got the gist of how to play.  We would throw our gear at enemies since it was the only way we knew to deal damage.  Eventually it got to where we were disrobing and throwing our clothes, desperately trying to kill the foes.  That never ended well… But we were idiotic 8 and 9 year-olds.

Grimrock makes a lot more sense to me.  Controls are easy and you barely need a tutorial.  Just click around, left click picks up an item and releasing it mid-screen will throw that item. Right-click to attack or to throw a weapon.  Everything is a pretty straight-forward RPG style and this makes combat more exciting, too.

Wait! I left the garage door open!

Wait! I left the garage door open!

When you start the game, your characters are assumed to have performed some transgression against King and country.  The vague nature of the opening titles leave you to think you could have raped the Princess all the way down to eating the last piece of strawberry cheesecake.  Doesn’t matter.  You’re fucked and they push you down a hole.  Best part is, at the top of the mountain Grimrock your crimes are all forgiven and you are free.  But the only way down is to descend into the bowels of Grimrock.  Oh, by the way, no one has ever fucking survived.  That’s ok, I don’t usually come for the accommodations anyway.

Down in the dungeons, you have to navigate labyrinthine corridors filled with unspeakable monsters, like giant snails, gargoyles, mushroom herders, little magic-casting mushroom guys, undead soldiers etc.  Each creature adds its own challenges to combat, and one should consider combat a feat akin to dancing.  If you just take two warriors and attempt to plow through, axes and swords swinging, you will end up a dusty pile of bones.  Many enemies are able to out-number you, out-damage you or can take a hell of a lot more punishment than you can.  Did I mention you are all prisoners?  Yea, this means they pushed your ass down in the pits with aught but your chapped asses to defend yourselves.  As you progress you’ll find the sparse weaponry left behind by other bands of hapless adventurers, so you’re not exactly a keen-eyed fighting force armed for rigorous combat.  The most common early ranged weapon is a rock while the most common melee weapon early on is a fucking torch.

When enemies come at you, the best thing to do is to lure them off one at a time where possible.  As they round corners you can stab them before back-pedaling toward an open area.  As you back pedal, you can throw rocks at them and ready up a spell.  Spells are a devastating way to deal damage, but you can’t unlock spells with the spellbook until you find the appropriate scroll, which can be frustrating.  Once you get them, though, they are profoundly useful.  Be careful, too.  If someone in your party dies, you’re all fucked.  Sure, you can keep going, but you’ll be needing the full group throughout the game.

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I'm eating at Denny's...

Spartans!! Fuck this place.. tonight I’m eating at Denny’s…

Character customization is excellent, and you can choose between human, minotaur, lizardfolk and insectoid.  I usually pick two humans, a minotaur and a lizardfolk.  I like having two rogues, as this allows me to have a ranged rogue and a dps rogue.  You know, for extra damage for the rogue since rogues prefer it from behind.  Then there is my mage, human female full of glorious spellcasting magery, and likely the smartest of the entire group.  Finally, I like to take a tank, too.  That is my minotaur.  He has a trait called headhunter where he gets extra damage for collecting skulls.  Finally a use for those useless collectible items!  I also use the minotaur for a pack animal, since they also get major strength bonuses.

The ambiance is terrific, and you get the sense of an ever-present evil throughout the game.  All the time some dark whispers can be heard in your ear, muttering in a chthonic  language some horrid curse, luring you deeper into the dungeon.  The music in the title screen also brought a tear to my eye the first time I heard it and filled me with the glee of a glorious adventure.  Throughout the game there is little more than ominous noises.  Sometimes you can heard the groan or squeal of some distant creature lurking about, waiting for its next meal to come trundling down the corridors.  There is also the fantastic element of eating whatever food you find lying all over the ground, like some kind of mad baker was damned to imprisonment here and he found some magical means to leave bread everywhere.

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn't make it too far either...

Hm.. I guess the Keebler elves didn’t make it too far either…

One of the things this game does really really well are secrets.  Notice how the walls are all constructed of a similarly-colored, moss-grown mortarless masonry?  Well, every once in a while you will see a chink in the stone or a brick out of place.  Click that shit!  Somewhere nearby a door will open and permit you access to a secret room and you’ll get some badass loot, much needed food or a magic scroll!  It takes me back to the old days of Wolfenstein 3D and Thief: The Dark Project where you had to just run along the walls at a certain angle to open secret doors or cut down every wall-hanging you could to unlock secret doors.  I find the best way to search for secrets is to stand in the corner of a room and look from afar.  Secret switches are pretty obvious if you know what you are looking  for, but they can often be just as easily over-looked, so stay sharp!

Probably the only thing that bothered me about this game was the straight-forward manner of the enemies.  This game could be very well served by some wall-lurking enemies that you don’t see until you are right up on them.  Granted, the current combat system would make that a tad difficult, but putting in enemies that climbed out of grates as you walked by or changed from statues into flesh and blood foes when you walk past them would make this spooky game into a fantasy-horror adventure.  Don’t mind my little intrigues, though.  This game is worth every cent you can throw at its creators.  It is a load of fun in a genre that I have not seen since I was disrobing for battle.  On Steam this game is an overly-reasonable 14.99$, but wait there’s more!  This game has a community of dungeon-dwellers who create new content and new levels and games with the map editor of Grimrock!  It’s fucking fantastic.  And THEN you have Legends of Grimrock 2 to look forward to!  Just in time for Halloween!  You can pre-order it now!  Screw trick-or-treaters!  Crawl the dungeons and unlock the treasures within!

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.”

AST_toad

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.

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.

earlyAccess

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!