Game (music) news
The Rhythm Doctor tech demo is a browser-based, one-button tap game with very strict timing and a very silly story. Heavily inspired by Rhythm Heaven, players simply tap the life-saving button with a creepy long hand on every seventh beat.
The rhythm sometimes changes, and the later songs add one or two extra beats to keep. Scoring an "A" grade unlocks the three songs' remixed versions. The first remix is a harder dubstep track that sounds substantially different - the second remix, not so much. With enough practice, I proudly earned the title "interracial love guru" in my play through.
The base mechanic and premise of Rhythm Doctor are gold for me. I can't wait to see this game fully fleshed out with zany visuals, more ensembles, more songs, and wackier stories. I can't help but think of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) when playing the game, so I'm curious what other medical analogies could be made and visualized in the final version.
Rhythm is in everything, and I'm glad the developers found it in medicine. Protip to developers: make your name legible for proper accreditation, even when releasing a prototype. Edit: I confirmed Hafiz Azman and Winston Lee are the names of the developers in the scribbles.
[Source: TIGS forums]
Increpare's Slave Of God for Mac and Windows allows those with strong enough constitutions to brave the seizure-inducing sights and sounds of a night club in search of the sun (I believe). Along the way, one can run up an endless drink tab, expel such drinks in chunky yellow pixels in the bathroom area, and more.
The great thing about Slave Of God for me is that it reminds me I am and always have been too old for clubs and mind-altering substances. I'm happy to experience such things vicariously through video games, and few have been as colorful and hypnotic as Slave Of God.
Surely lacking in historical accuracy yet somehow making up for this by introducing goblins in ancient Crete, Low: Depths of Knossos by Dirigo Games will apparently be a procedural, first-person dungeon romp with obvious rogue-like influences. It will feature labyrinths, perma-deaths, the Minotaur and some interesting depictions of Knossos and I frankly can't wait to find out how it will turn out.
Yesterday we asked some leading indie game developers about the lessons they had learned in the past year. Today, we ask what -- if anything -- big triple-A publishers could have learned from the indie game community in the last 12 months.
The indies we spoke to generally pointed out that big publishers can never truly attain the elusive "indie spirit." That's not meant as an affront, but the fact is that large game makers are set up in different ways and work to different scales.
And while indie games have enjoyed a very good year, it's rare for an independent game to achieve the sort of financial success that would muster a flicker of interest among triple-A publishers, who increasingly are about going big or going home.
Still, small independent game developers offer plenty of interesting insights into the overall game development ecosystem. Here are some of the takeaways.
Innovate with fewer people
Randy Smith is the developer of Waking Mars. He says, "I don't see much evidence that the industry proper is taking lessons from indie teams. It'd be nice to say they realize you can do amazing and innovative things with fewer people, but the truth is the larger triple-A studios are staffing up to 500 people on a big project, which is mind-blowing.
"The large game publishers are also heavy contenders in the mobile and casual space but mostly by refining existing formulas. It just seems like the two worlds don't overlap much yet -- triple-A just keeps evolving toward bigger and fancier, whereas indies are discovering and remembering how games can be high quality without a mountain of polygons and shaders. Both serve important roles in the overall ecosystem."
Respect the talented individual
Dean Dodrill, creator of Dust: An Alysian Tail, believes things might improve for talented individual within large corporations. "I would hope that large companies learn to respect their creative talent. The most talented individuals out there remain at large studios, but they aren't given the freedom to stretch.
"The big money still comes from triple-A titles, but those are also the costliest risks. And with the large number of studios and publishers going under, I would hope they'd stop chasing the same few genres and look at what's happening in the indie space."
Spread the risk
Steve Gaynor, who worked on the triple-A BioShock series at 2K, is now working on Gone Home with The Fullbright Company. He says that indies have shown that there are different ways to approach the problem of risk. "If they were learning from indies, I would think that triple-A would be making more, smaller bets with more, smaller teams of developers, to diversify their lineups and get their employees more invested in what they're working on.
"I'd think they would be letting their developers off the leash more, taking advantage of the huge influence of social media, allowing players to connect personally with the people making the games. I'd think they'd be branching out from traditional genres more and investing in giving players truly new experiences, to find new ways to stay relevant instead of burrowing deeper and deeper into known territory."
Dan Pinchbeck, creator of Dear Esther with thechineseroom adds, "It is as valid a business model to spend less on more games that all make a good return and spread the risk of that investment. If you spread the risk across a number of games, then if one flops, you've mitigated that loss by the successes. If you back one title only, it'd better be damn good, and you can end up having to keep sinking money into it, polishing and polishing that turd until it gleams in the sunlight.
"The last couple of years have proved you can make a really good return on a lower budget game, even with a tiny marketing spend. You might not have billboards and TV ads and retail shelf-space, and you might not make a gazillion dollars like Call of Duty, but you're not spending Call of Duty money, and that buys you a lot of creative freedom as well. That's pretty cool, and it's good business sense. So hopefully they'll continue to develop the understanding that investing in smaller teams, and then staying pretty hands-off and letting them do their thing is smart business."
Pay attention to indie-friendly business models
Kyle Pulver, creator of Snapshot with Retro Affect points out THQ's recent foray into an area traditionally reserved for indies. "Strangely enough the biggest example of big game publishers trying a recipe from the indie scene can be found right now at Humble Bundle. THQ has jumped on board with a massive pay-what-you-want sale, and although that might be directly related to their current financial situation, I think any big publisher or studio can learn a lot from what indies are doing in both commercial and creative spaces, just as indies can learn from the big studios."
Experiment within AAA
Nathan Vella created Super Time Force (pictured at top) with Capybara Games. He says, "I think developers everywhere see the growth of the independent games movement as validation of experimentation. This is something that everyone can learn from, and some large developers have already started leveraging. Bethesda's "Skyrim Jam" [YouTube] is a perfect example of large-scale devs applying this in a super positive way and seeing ridiculously positive results."
Don't try to be 'indie' if you're not
The Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy designer Edmund McMillen says large publishers are learning "nothing" from indies. "A lot of large game publishers try to figure out what indies are doing right and come to all the wrong conclusions. It's not something you can replicate in a very large studio because what indies have over large teams is just that, they aren't large teams, they don't have huge budgets that require great success to continue, they have the freedom to take big risks and speak honestly through their work, they have the freedom to experiment and improvise.
"Indies have a very clear voice," he adds, "their games represent who they are and aren't muddied by the control of their many bosses telling them what they should do to make their games sell more copies. Indies are individuals, and that's something large mainstream studios can never be."
Think of what 'indie' means
Derek Yu, maker of Spelunky, believes the biggest lesson might be learned by individuals working within large organizations. "Beyond a certain size I think it's hard to understand one another," says Yu. "It's clear, however, that individuals within those large companies are seeing a lot of potential within the indie scene -- it seems like each year more and more are taking the leap themselves.
"And that really highlights the importance of the word 'indie' to me. There's been a lot of discussion around what it stands for or whether we need the label at all, but at the end of the day, it's great that someone can look up 'indie' and discover a vibrant community of people that they may fit in better with. It emboldens people to take a chance on being happier."
Recently, I spoke to a number of well-known independent game developers to find out if they too shared the sense that this has been an extraordinary year for indie games. Part of that conversation focused on the lessons other small teams might learn, as indie games move from niche to mass-market, via digital distribution hubs on consoles, mobile and PC.
What have they learned this year as they strove to get their games noticed? How have they been able to find success?
Maintain the indie spirit
Derek Yu, creator cave-exploration hit Spelunky says this year has seen a big improvement in the core issue of getting games out there. "Funding and distribution have always been a big issue for small teams but thankfully that's becoming better as more indie-friendly channels open up," he says.
But ease-of-access brings greater competition. "What's maybe more difficult these days is finding your own voice amid an increasingly crowded, successful and commercial field," Yu adds. "I feel like that environment has put a lot of pressure on small developers to focus too much on making money and winning awards."
He wants the indie spirit to remain different from the processes and motivations that drive mainstream commercial game development. "The rise and success of indie gaming has been wonderful to watch and be a part of, but I'm wary of letting it affect my reasons for making games," he says. "It's really important to remember why these 'small' games made such a big splash in the first place -- because we put a lot of love and care into them."
Don't be a hit-chaser
This challenge also concerns Edmund McMillen, part of Super Meat Boy's Team Meat and creator of The Binding of Isaac. He says, "The biggest challenge now is simply not falling into the mindframe of trying to make a hit. You can't worry that much about your game's success, just focus on making the game good and your fan base will be there for you when it's done. If you start worrying too much about how to sell your game, or who your target audience is you are shooting yourself in the foot from the start because it's these kind of thoughts that push you into the mindframe of a large budget studio with big money on the line."
Go for the risky Big Idea
Dan Pinchbeck of thechineseroom created the island-exploration experience Dear Esther (pictured at top). He says, "I get a lot of emails now from small teams asking me to look at their games, or for advice for getting on Steam, or whatever. It's really hard to answer those questions -- it takes a long time to look over something and give good advice, which I just don't have right now, and getting attention is really, really tough because the market is just so flooded. The quality bar to get picked up by Greenlight or IGF or Indiecade or press outlets is high as hell now, so those middleground titles are going to struggle increasingly.
"I think right now, the biggest challenge is making a game that shoots way over mediocre into super-amazing, as that's really the only way you are going to get the kind of escape velocity you need to start being noticed. This is a time when big ideas, risk, innovation will pay off -- clones and variations are not going to make it. And that's a good thing really. So make something completely brilliant and do radical things."
Make it truly interesting
Steve Gaynor is working on The Fullbright Company's point-and-click mystery Gone Home, which has attracted a lot of positive media attention. "The biggest challenge will always be making a truly interesting game that a lot of people want to play. That's the price of entry, right?"
But there are still plenty of practical concerns, even for those with great ideas, such as "having enough money to keep you going long enough to get the game made," says Gaynor. "There are more options than ever for this too, like Kickstarter and Indie Fund, but it's still a rare thing to be able to drop your day job and put the time required into building a thing."
Get the word out
Dean Dodrill is the creator of fantasy side-scrolling adventure Dust: An Elysian Tail which released this year for Xbox 360. He says, "There's always the issue of money and self-motivation and often enough, the two are related. Also, I see a lot of multi-person teams fall apart very early."
He adds, "However, I think marketing will always be the biggest hurdle. The worst thing that can happen to your game is to have no one talking about it. Even bad publicity is better than nothing. There's a reason large publishers pump millions of dollars into their launches, and it's up to us, as indies, to get the word out. I learned some valuable lessons with Dust regarding this, and I hope to do better with future titles. When I started development, I underestimated my role as publicist and marketer."
Super Tower Rush for Windows came out of nowhere and plays as a rather fun local versus platformer. The first player to reach the bottom of the tower or to put ten floors of distance between the two racers wins.
The crazy combat comes from using all sorts of tricks and magic spells to slow down the other player. Players can amplify and prolong those spells by spending coins collected on the downward journey. When players feel stuck, they can often dig their way to the bottom at a timely cost.
Lorena Casanova and André Marí Coppola have released an alpha version of the game to see how players enjoy the content already and to see if they can get enough interest and funds to flesh out other modes for the game. Already planned modes will include a single player campaign and online multiplayer. Casanova told me that the characters will get different powers in upcoming updates, too.
Those interested can pay 3.50 Euro or more to access the alpha. The hyper gameplay trailer (the game actually runs at a comprehensible speed) is below.
[source: Super Tower Rush]
Gribbler's first point&click adventure is centered around the exploits of a a not-quite-sane homeless man. Instead of communicating with other people in a traditional fashion, he talks to folk with the assistance of a green sock puppet. Yup. According to its developer, The Bum will revolve around the titular character's attempts at recovering his ball after a bully leaves with it.
More details can be found here.
Italian indie team Mixed Bag's forma.8 looks to be an exciting exploration adventure with a style and feel of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet mixed with PixelJunk Shooter. As described on the game's SlideDB profile, the story involves a "little exploration probe on a foreign planet, with a life or dead mission to accomplish."
The developers promise "an innovative control system implemented with touch screen in mind" for "iPad, iPhone and other mobile platforms." The old school action adventure forma.8 is tentatively scheduled for 2013.
If you thought the gameplay video posted above reminded you of a certain 16-bit SNES adventure, worry not. You are making sense. Retro Arcade Adventure Remade is indeed using the SNES palette and sporting some 16-bit sounding tunes. Oh, yes, and it definitely looks quite a bit like Zelda, despite essentially being a rather pure and, judging by its alpha demo, promising action game that impressively sports a power-up letting your character morph into a dragon.
Josif Stalin and Karel Marx are a gay couple that somehow have a baby and need to protect it in Sos Sosowski's Christmas Shotgun Defense.
Players purchase stronger weapons to eradicate invading animals, tanks, and more. Even social workers seem hell-bent on taking away the baby from this gay power couple. Unnatural offspring aside, Christmas Shotgun Defense beckons your attention and tower defense skills.
[source: Indie Statik]
Yes, time for another ludum dare 25 game; can't help it if this jam's theme of villainy was such a success and devs seemed to really enjoy it and manage to come up with hundreds of mostly great games. Pineapple Dreams is, quite obviously, one of the most interesting and enjoyable ones I've come across, while simultaneously being a rather refreshing take on the arena shmup sub-genre in that it doesn't really involve any shooting whatsoever. Does sport quite a bit of baseball bat swinging though. some successfully stylized graphics and quite a bit of jumping.
Mac and Windows users can finally enjoy Nifflas' latest exploration platformer, Knytt Underground, with a free demo and full game purchase for $14.99. PlayStation users gained access last week, but now the game is available to a much wider audience.
The story goes that "Mi Sprocket is a sprite who develops special powers as she embarks upon a quest to ring the six bells of fate; which if not rung every six hundred years will begin a chain reaction that will obliterate the world!"
I've beaten chapters 1 and 2 rather quickly, but those seemed to serve as extended tutorials for how to play as the legged and ball characters. Chapter 3's map is huge, and I can now use both characters' abilities interchangeably to explore most of the 1,800 rooms in the game.
A free demo is available to download for Mac or Windows, and the full game is available via Fastspring or Gamer's Gate for $14.99. Those wanting it on Steam can help support its Greenlight campaign.
Lastly, Linux users can download a demo of the game in beta or purchase the same full game from Fastspring to get access to the full version Linux betas (and the 1.0 release when it's out).
Dig-Dug Dungeon sports one of those incredibly descriptive names that somehow manages to not also sound incredibly dull. Anyway, what I believe you'd rather know is that Dig-Dug Dungeon is a most interesting take on the Dungeon Keeper formula featuring the aesthetics of Dig-Dug and some brilliantly elegant controls and mechanics, that was created for the latest ludum dare. Just, please, do keep in mind that the game essentially only supports Chrome and Opera.
Well, the wait is more or less over and the playable beta of A Valley Without Wind 2 can finally be, err, played. On Steam no less and, should you hurry and grab it before January 5, for a mighty 60% off discount that will earn you access to the ongoing beta, a copy of AVWW2 on release and, kindly, the original AVWW. As for the game itself, it seems to be doing what any sequel that respects itself should do by keeping and polishing up the best bits of the original, revamping the graphics and, most importantly, adding a turn-based strategic level on top of the metroidvania arcade adventuring.
A Valley Without Wind 2 should run happily on most Windows and Mac PCs and is expected to launch its final version sometime next February.
Need to clean the candy canes out of your system? Play the game here.