Tag Archives: Liverpool

Overcooked (PC, PlayStation 4 & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Ghost Town Games

Publisher(s) – Team17

Released in late 2016, and published by Team17 after various expo tours to bring the game to the attention of wider audiences, Overcooked is a cooking simulator in which the objective is to raise as much money as possible in each respective level by preparing as many dishes as possible. I first became aware of Overcooked hen I went to my first expo, Play Blackpool 2015, and I had been following the progress of the game closely until it’s release. After playing the final product, I can say that I was not at all disappointed.

Graphics – 7/10

The game’s variety of conceptual design is heavily based on the layout of each level’s kitchen; many taking place in outdoor and indoor restaurants, whilst other levels take place in more varied locations, such as volcanoes and pirate ships. It also comes with quite an impressive soundtrack, but it’s the variety in scenery that truly makes the game stand out. It speaks of games with some of the most diverse settings conceived, including Super Mario Bros and Banjo-Kazooie to sight a few of many examples.

Gameplay – 8/10

The object of the game is to serve as many customers as possible in each level, and to finish with a possible total of three stars, similar to Angry Birds or 10 Second Ninja X. Interestingly, it alludes to the fact that 3 Michelin stars is the highest accolade a chef can attain in the cooking profession. It’s an extremely challenging game, but at the same time, it’s also extremely fun. It’s satisfying to be able to adapt to the layout of each kitchen, and plan your strategy in accordance with the food that is being ordered by the customers; much like being an executive chef, in fact. There are penalties for overcooking food, as well as sending the wrong orders, which is also an integral part of where game’s level of challenge lies. Whilst looking simplistic, beneath the surface, there is a system that is easy to learn, yet difficult to master.

Controls – 9/10

At times, the controls can be somewhat unresponsive, but not to the extent that it ruins the gameplay, like what has happened with many other challenging games that have been developed in the past. Most often than not if a player makes a mistake, it is down to how they perform in the game, which is how it should be. Apart from this one minor gripe I have, I was particularly impressed with how the developers had handled the controls scheme; it makes it unlike any other game I’ve played.

Lifespan – 7/10

The single player campaign mode has 28 different levels, as well as and end boss fight, which dependent on player skill, can take up to 4 or 5 hours to complete. However, the game was designed to be a primary multiplayer experience, whereby two players control two chefs at the same time, which can make for many hours of entertainment. There was also DLC released for the game in addition, but with or without it, it does have a great deal to offer in terms of longevity. The only thing it lacks is online multiplayer, which I think would go a long way to improving the experience even further, but that may be an idea to implement with a possible sequel. The idea of a second game would be particularly exciting to me, since there is potentially a lot the developers could do to expand upon the concept even further,

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story involves the chefs having to save the world from an entity known as the Ever Peckish by travelling the world and cooking. Although a story may not have been necessary, it is a nice extra detail the developers added to give the game that little more substance. The concept may sound ridiculous on paper, but some of the greatest games developed have had very outlandish stories attached to them, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing speaking from experience. For example, a plumber saving a princess from a dragon may sound strange, but it’s made for the most iconic gaming franchise ever created.

Originality – 8/10

As I pointed out, Overcooked is unlike any other game I’ve ever played; it’s gameplay layout and control scheme does extremely well to make it stand out from both mainstream and indie releases, which is why I had been excited about it ever since I first laid eyes on it. As I watched it develop, my excitement and expectations only increased as time went on, and in retrospect, I think it’s deserved of the accolades it’s received since it’s release.

To summarize, Overcooked is a charming; yet challenging gameplay experience that is certainly worth playing again and again. The developers had outlandish ideas ever since the game’s inception, and to see all these ideas come together so well in the final product made believe it was well worth the wait to see it fully released.

Score

46/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Alwa’s Awakening (PC)

Developer(s) – Elden Pixels

Director – Mikael Forslind

The debut title of Elden pixels, and developed under the supervision of Zoink Games’ Mikael Forslind, Alwa’s Awakening is a throwback to the classic games of the NES era, including Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Metroid and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. An 8-bit Metroidvania game, it focuses heavily on exploration, combat and acquiring a range of different abilities in order to progress from area to area. Playing this game felt like an absolute pleasure, as well as a fitting tribute to games of the late 80s, and I would recommend it to any fan of that era of gaming.

Graphics – 8/10

Conceptually, where this game stands out is the design of the enemies, as well as the boss battles. Though clearly influenced by many aspects of medieval mythology, including other fantasy franchises (elements of Dungeons & Dragons seemed most evident to me personally), the developers took these influences, and formed their own cohesive concepts in terms of visual design, which is quite difficult to do when dealing with medieval fantasy, making it seem all the more impressive. The soundtrack, recorded by Robert Kreese, is also nothing short of stellar, being on par with, if not better than, many classic NES games.

Gameplay – 8/10

Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania game focusing on adventure and exploration, but the developers also boasted a heightened level of challenge compared to many other classic NES games during development, promising an unforgettable throwback experience to suit both the seasoned and casual classes of gamers of that time. When Elden Pixels first announced this, I did get nervous that they would develop a game that was nigh on inaccessible, as what I’ve found in many NES games, such as those in the original Mega Man series. However, wile playing through it, I found it offer a level of challenge that is stern, yet reasonable; a level of challenge on par with Shovel Knight, for example. It came as a relief to me, and I was able to enjoy the game with minimal frustration because of it. There are secrets to uncover along the way, and some of the most invigorating boss fights I’ve seen in a 2D game.

Controls – 10/10

Part of the reason why I found the game to be more accessible that many fully NES titles purposefully made to be hard was because the controls are also flawless. In many Mega Man games, I have experienced problems with the controls, and time and time again, it defeats the object of demanding skill from the player if the developers can’t program the game properly. In this game, however, no such issues exist; the controls are perfect, and any error made will be down to player performance.

Lifespan – 6.5/10

The game can be made to last around 6 to 7 hours in total, taking everything to do within it into account, which by NES standards at the time may have been outstanding, but in the current era, especially for a Metroidvania, it does fall somewhat short in this respect. It is the game’s biggest issue in my opinion, and I think it could have been made to last at least 12 to 13 hours given more things to do within it. However, there is more than enough substance in gameplay for how long it does last, which does emphasize quality of over quantity.

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Alwa’s Awakening follows a girl called Zoe, who is playing video games one night, and after dozing off, she finds herself in the land of Alwa, where her favourite video game is set, and she is thrust into a quest in order to save the land for real. The plot itself may be quite straightforward, but there are certain aspects of it that do well to foster an air of mystery about the game, as was customary among NES title in the console’s heyday. It’s a nice touch the developers added that makes the game more enjoyable to play through overall.

Originality – 7/10

Taking everything into account, I was impressed with how many unique aspects there were within this game compared to other classic 2D titles. As someone who first started out playing video games on the NES, my first ever video games being Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers, it was refreshing to take a step back from AAA mainstream titles, and play a game that not only hearkens back to the days of gaming simplicity, but also offers something different to any other NES title.

In summation, Alwa’s Awakening is a welcome addition to ever-growing indie scene, and a definitive joy to play. There’s great gameplay, atmospheric visuals, an excellent soundtrack and a level of challenge that will satisfy all classes of third generation gamer.

Score

46.5/60

7.5/10 (Good)

Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator (PC, Android & iOS)

Developer(s) – Vile Monarch

Publisher(s) – Gambitious Digital Entertainment

Developed by Austrian indie outfit Vile Monarch, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator combines turn-based style combat with the layout of a fighting game to deliver a unique twist on both styles of play, and quirky humour to match. Whilst not having a great amount of replayability for a fighting game, it can make for hours of entertainment, and for the relatively short time it took me to unlock everything, I enjoyed this title.

Graphics – 7/10

Rendered using 8-bit graphics, the developers took influenced most notably from the Monty Python troupe in both it’s character and stage designs. As a fan of Monty Python myself, it was fun identifying where the references were placed; be that either the obvious ones, like the character of John P. Shufflebottom being an obvious caricature of John Cleese’s character from the world famous dead parrot sketch, or obscure ones like the trumpets being blown by rear end in the background of the afterlife stage, reminiscent of a scene from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. There are also references to other aspects of modern and classic thrown in for good measure, which enhance game’s level of visual variety in terms of conceptual design.

Gameplay – 6/10

The object of the game is to string together the longest insults possible by picking from a selection of phrases and conjunctions in the best order to deal as much damage as possible to the enemy, and deplete their health bar before they can deplete the player’s. There are additional characters to unlock, as well as an additional stage, and then there’s also a multiplayer mode whereby people can compete online. For a fighting game, it doesn’t have a great deal of content, and I’m hoping that’s where the games upcoming sequel will come in; Oh… Sir! The Hollywood Roast. It’s not the most plentiful experience available, but well worth the price posted on Steam of £1.59. Stringing elaborate insults together feels satisfying, and it’s also rewarding to be able to identify individual characters weaknesses to deal extra damage.

Controls – 10/10

Issues with the controls are non-existent unless gamers have a problem with their mouse. It’s a simply point and click game typical of a vast majority of PC games, and suffers from no problems in this respect.

Originality – 9/10

In terms of uniqueness, it stands out from any other fighting game ever made. It thrills me to see independent developers trying out new ideas never seen in gaming before, and making them work extremely well, like what has been accomplished with title. The developers have promised a more plentiful experience with the next game, as well as it being much more open to modding like Civilization 5 perhaps, but the first game is definitely a standout starting point worthy of more attention than is has received so far.

Happii

Overall, Oh… Sir! The Insult Simulator, whilst having a fleeting single player experience, makes up for that in its quality. It’s an entertaining, reasonably priced and funny gaming experience, and I would recommend it to all fighting game fans out there.

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)

Titan Souls (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita & Android)

Developer(s) – Acid Nerve

Publisher(s) – Devolver Digital

Designer(s) – Mark Foster & Andrew Gleeson

Programmer – Mark Foster

Drawing influence from some of the most critically acclaimed gaming franchises of all time such as Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, and being met with critical acclaim itself following it’s release in 2015, Titan Souls is a top-down adventure game, similar in gameplay style to A Link to the Past, but with much of the same difficulty as Dark Souls. After playing this game for the first time at Play Manchester 2015, I was somewhat sceptical going back into it in an attempt to complete it, since I’d only played the first part prior, and was massively under the impression that things were only going to get insufferably harder after that point. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game is nowhere near as inaccessible as I feared that it would be, and ended up enjoying it very much.

Graphics – 10/10

Rendered in 16-bit graphics reminiscent of the fourth generation of gaming, the game looks even better than some of the classic titles of that era. Aside from the in-game world looking vibrant, colourful and extremely unique in terms of conceptual design, in both it’s setting and boss characters, the attention to detail regarding the environment, such as shadows in the forests, footprints in the snow and splashes in the water make it extremely enjoyable to take in whilst playing. In addition, due to elements put in such as overgrowing moss on buildings and snow mounts in the colder regions, very little about the in-game world looks replicated like what was typical of games of earlier gaming eras; it’s similar to how each cave in Skyrim was uniquely designed in comparison to how they were designed in Oblivion.

Gameplay – 7.5/10

The objective of the game is to seek out and kill a series of titans situated throughout the land, similar in many ways to Shadow of the Colossus. The player’s only weapon is a single arrow from a bow, which can be telepathically summoned back to the player upon firing, which is where the game’s intense level of challenge comes in. Players need to be able to move and dodge enemy attacks efficiently as much as they to be accurate in placing their attacks. The game can be made to look intimidating in terms of challenge, but speaking as a gamer that considers games like Dark Souls and the original Mega Man and Castlevania titles to be overly inaccessible, I didn’t find it to be unforgiving. Players will need to persevere, since death will happen more than once, especially as the player dies in one hit, but the satisfaction to be had after completing the game makes it more than worthwhile to play. Harder than completing the game is fulfilling the additional criteria during boss fights needed to unlock certain achievement within it; for example, knocking out all of the mountain titan’s teeth before killing it.

Controls – 10/10

Thankfully, there are no issues with the game’s control scheme whatsoever. It came as an especially big relief to me, as I’ve found that many challenging games, most notably in earlier eras of gaming like Castlevania and Mega Man, have suffered from having problems with the controls, which can be an unnecessary annoyance while playing. If a game demands that players need to be on top of their game to complete it, then the developers need to be on top theirs while creating it, I feel. Otherwise, it can largely contradict the point of making a game that hard at all.

Lifespan – 7/10

One playthrough of Titan Souls, depending how often the player gets themselves killed while playing, can be made to last roughly 5 to 6 hours. However, there is some replayability to be had if players want to truly master the game, and do everything there is to do in it, making for a experience lasting around 15 to 20 hours overall. I think with the size of the world the developers incorporated, they could have added a few more side quests to contribute to the game’s longevity, but regardless, the game does last a respectable amount of time for those willing to put as much time in it as possible.

Storyline – 6.5/10

The story of the game follows a nameless traveler armed with a bow and single arrow, on a quest to defeat all the titans throughout the land, in order to harness the power of the titan souls, and realize a great truth and power. What bugs me about the story more than anything is that there is too much left unexplained in my opinion. There’s nothing with a level of ambiguity when it comes to a story, for example if it ends on an interesting cliff-hanger, or if there are certain aspects of characters or plot twists that are left open to debate. But since there does seem to be some kind of mythology attached to this game, I would have liked to find out a lot more about it. Shadow of the Colossus’s plot was somewhat similar, but there was more depth to it than there is in this game, making the players care more about what would be going on, or what would happen to the characters. But where Titan Souls is concerned, I was left wanting in this aspect; at least until a sequel may be developed.

Originality – 7/10

Though Titan Souls may not be the first game to do many of the things that it does by any stretch of the imagination, they are all done with it’s own unique twist which will make gamers, especially seasoned players of retro games, appreciate it to a great extent. It’s open to players both looking for a wondrous sense of nostalgia, as well as younger gamers looking to explore into how gaming used to be, but at the same time, being in for a different kind of experience to what was typically available to gamers back in the days of the Super NES and Mega Drive.

Happii

In summation, Titan Souls is a gaming experience well worth delving into. It’s challenging without being accessible, it’s visuals are marvellous to behold, and though it may be lacking somewhat in story, it provides an ample amount in what matters most; immersing gameplay.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Igor Tanzil

Following my trip to London for the EGX Rezzed conference, I was given the opportunity to ask questions about yet another indie game for the blog; the subject of this in particular session is a game called Forged of Blood. Set in a morally ambiguous fantasy world reminiscent of ary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons series, Forged of Blood is a tactical RPG, similar to the likes of Tactics Ogre & XCOM, complete with a variety of different weapons and magic to do battle with and a morality system similar to Fable or Mass Effect. I managed to send across some further questions about the game I had to the creative director of Critical Forge Games, Igor Tanzil, and amidst the game’s ongoing Kickstarter campaign, these are the answers he gave;

What were the influences behind your game?

Forged of Blood is really the love child of the different personalities and gaming preferences of the studio’s founders. Mechanically, it’s heavily influenced by the tabletop RPGs we’ve played along with the old-school TRPGS and RPGs that a lot of us grew up playing. Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, X-Com (both old and new) and of course Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder, you name it, we’ve played it and loved it – and so we set out to the make the game that took the best parts of all the games we’ve loved and merged it with modern graphics we can get with Unreal Engine 4. I’ll let Milo our Game Designer take the reigns on the mechanical side below while I cover the world at large.

For the setting of the game we really wanted to set it in a hard fantasy world that is really grounded in the reality of that world. That means coming up with a world and coming up with the rulesets that would govern that world. We asked ourselves, ok so how would small unit tactics make sense in our fantasy world? How did magic permeate society and perhaps more importantly what is possible and not possible with the magic in our world? My partners are huge Brandon Sanderson fans and I personally loved the old Stargate SG-1 worlds and Roman cultures and so I kind of took all that in when I started with the world building. What we end up with is Attiras: A world that is heavily inspired by Roman culture and one where there we have an older ruling species giving way to a new species before getting supplanted.

Attiras is something very near and dear to my heart – it is basically the world upon which I’ve really imprinted my own personal thoughts and feelings of morality. Growing up I’ve always felt out of place, being a minority in my own country (Indonesia) and then growing up in two other countries wherein I was just as much an outcast there as I was in my own home. So I really wanted to explore the themes of race and the tensions that come with a ruling minority and how a smaller population might come to power. Of course, at the end of the day Forged of Blood is still a video game, and that means that a lot of these things might be relegated into the depths of our lore books, but my partners and I definitely felt that we needed to have a fully fleshed out world for us to then create within. The challenge now falls to us to pick and highlight the stories within our world that is fun for a game and makes for the compelling story to drive the narrative forward.

What has the developmental process been like?

The short answer? A thrill ride.

The more realistic and complicated answer is that is has been – and continues to be – a process that teaches, humbles, and excites us. As a brand new studio, the onus fell on us to remove as much doubt and risk from our future consumers as possible, and to that end we’ve taken a very pragmatic approach to our development process. To us that means making sure from the very beginning that we are able to make the things that we set out to make before committing to it, and that led us to initially launch the studio with a small team of six to prototype and worldbuild the game we had in mind. During this time we split the team into two, with the programmers

testing and building upon a toolkit in Unreal Engine 4 and the rest of us testing out the base mechanics on tabletop before implementing it in-engine to test.

From there we iterated repeatedly until we had something that we felt was fun to play before expanding the team to include the art side of the studio. We’ve since hit a few big milestones in just a under a year, from our first fully rendered tactical map to implementing the strategic and tactical layers together, the progress we’ve made here at the studio has just been a wonder to behold.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Oh boy, everyone will probably have a different answer to this question for I personally have two favourites. I think the first thing that really got me excited for Forged of Blood was the worldbuilding. It was and continues to be a creative process unlike any other that I’ve done. Being given the freedom to create an entire world, and then working with the team to bring that world to life and seeing how others interpreted the world and the rules I’ve created has been just an absolute treat for me. However, what I think the most exciting aspect of the development for all of us has been seeing it all come together right before PAX. Our pre-alpha PAX build was the first time we’ve seen it all start to come together, and being able to catch a glimpse of the game both on the Strategic Layer and Tactical Layer was a huge morale boost for everyone.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The most challenging aspect of the development process so far is finding the balance between our own dreams and ambitions and the limitations we have as a small studio. When we started the studio we focused our efforts almost entirely on finding the right team and luckily for us we’ve all worked together on a larger project before and it just came down to picking the right person for each role. That said, ours is still a very small team and our budget basically dictated the production time we’d have to work on Forged of Blood and that in turn dictates just how much we can actually do. It’s tough on all of us when we have to forego a good idea or limit the amount of assets we can have, but finding compromise is ultimately the only way forward.

How well has the game been received so far?

This is really interesting to experience as new indie studio. The hard truth is that for the most part we are ignored. We’re the “nobodies” from a third-world country that just isn’t known for video games, and we’re working on a very deep game with a rather small market segment – and that has seriously affected just how far word of our game has reached.

However, it has been extremely gratifying to experience the reaction of people who actually gave us a minute to hear our spiel and actually checked out the game. The people that stopped by our little booth at PAX East kept coming back, and they brought their friends time and time again. The more we engaged with people who found the idea of a Fantasy Tactical RPG interesting, the more they loved the project and we’ve even gotten some fans who are helping us spread the word out.

I think we’ve really hit the nail on the head in creating a game that appeals to our market – the fans we’ve made in the last few weeks is a testament to that – but we’re still hindered by a lot of the fatigue that comes from other failed Kickstarter projects and our studio’s relative anonymity. However, we knew that going in and we’ve taken the steps mentioned before in removing as much risk from the consumer as we can even though it is at great expense to ourselves.

What were the influences behind the combat system?

To quote Milo, our game designer:

Before, we began designing the game, we discussed what type of game we wanted to make. We wanted a game based on meaningful choices, dark/hard fantasy, and set in a believable world. This lead to decisions about the spell crafting and Magurite to create a more hard fantasy feel in which you draw the energy in from the environment before expelling it back out, combining with the Magurite to provide a power source for the spells. We also drew heavily from games we are all fans of, such as X-Com, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and other turn based tactical and RPG games. Our Standard Action, Move Action, and Quick Action structure is quite similar to something you would see in Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons. We also wanted to provide as much freedom for the players as we could, which lead us to having classless character builds that focus more on how the characters will play rather than what their role will be.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

While the PC is our primary platform, we will be looking into releasing on other platforms once the PC version has been released. We have also had a lot of people asking for Linux and Mac from our fanbase and that is certainly something that is feasible with Unreal Engine 4, but we’ll confirm everything once the game is further along.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

The biggest advice we can give to aspiring devs right now is just: make the game you can finish. It’s always great to shoot for the stars – in a way that’s what we’re doing – but it’s even more important that you end production with a game that ships. For us, that means approaching the mechanics and art in a very iterative way that allows us to learn, execute, iterate, and streamline the different production threads in the studio. It also means being able to acquiesce the very real limitations of time, money, and ability when approaching some of our more grandiose ideas for the game. We are ultimately judged on the work we show, and if the game never ships we have nothing upon which to build on.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

While we have a website and blog, we are also very active in a few gaming communities that I’ll include below. In fact the majority of our fanbase game from these gaming communities – mostly gamers who are really into the sort of game we are developing that they are willing to hear us out and check out the game.

Game Website: http://forgedofblood.com/

Studio Website: http://criticalforge.com/

Kickstarter Campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/criticalforge/forged-of-blood

Neogaf Thread:

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?p=233027883#post233027883

RPGCodex Thread: http://www.rpgcodex.net/forums/index.php?threads/forged-of-blood-turn-based-tactical-rpg-kickstarter-live.111536/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fobthegame

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ForgedOfBlood

Do you have anything else to add?

I think we’d like to take this time to just express our gratitude at the amount of love we’ve gotten from our fans so far. We’d also like take the time to plead our case to the many skeptics out there.

Forged of Blood is an ambitious project for us – for anyone really – but we’ve approached it every step of the way with the sort of pragmatism that we truly believe will result in a game many will enjoy. We’ve taken a huge risk in trying to alleviate the risks to the consumer and we hope that that you will judge us by the work we show. We’ve put everything we have into this game and we will see it through, though we are on Kickstarter for a reason. We need those funds to truly elevate the game to be what we know it can be, but no matter the outcome Forged of Blood will be completed.

Thank you so much for this interview, and please never hesitate to reach out to us!

I would also like to take the time to thank Igor for providing such an in-dept insight into the game, and to wish him and the team best of luck with the title, and the Kickstarter campaign. Forged of Blood looks very much on par, if not better than, many of the other RTS games I saw at EGX Rezzed, and I would recommend any readers check out their Kickstarter page.

Q&A With Twirlbound

In my ongoing bid to cover more Independently developed games and indie developers, and ahead of my trip to London this weekend for EGX Rezzed, this week lead me to discover a  game on Kickstarter called Pine. Pine, being developed by Twirlbound games operating out of the Netherlands, is an open world survival adventure game made in the same vein as the likes of Don’t Starve, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Horizon Zero dawn. Incorporating many of the same gameplay elements from the aforementioned titled, albeit with it’s own unique graphical style and conceptual design, it also incorporates a combat system heavily influenced by Bloodborne, and from the looks of it, requiring a comparable level of skill and caution to master. This week, I had a Q&A session with the game’s creative director Matthijs van de Laar about what gamers can expect with Pine, and what influenced the game’s creation. Here were his answers:

What were the influences behind your game?

We’ve been mostly inspired by the great action adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and Fable – they tend to strike a chord with people that isn’t being struck enough, we think. Only once every few years a game like that comes by, and there’s still so much to explore within that genre. A very physical, natural feeling to the game was important to us – everything should feel grounded and real, with an easy-to-grasp groundwork of physics and interaction. We look at platformers and jolly action adventures for fun, but we look at more serious games for this grounded look and feel. Some of our team members have credits in cinema, and we all have a general interest in movies and TV – which has been a good influence for Pine’s storytelling, camerawork and rhythm.

What has the developmental process been like?

Starting out as a floating idea about 3 years ago, we’ve done an insane amount of research and prototyping. We wrote several theses on the subjects that are tackled by Pine (mainly about adaptation in game design, machine learning and natural environments), and all that knowledge was brought into a bigger game after graduating last year. It was only when we knew we had something that worked and after thoughtful consideration, that we decided to go at it full time. We worked really hard on the next step, which became Kickstarter – this included trailers, but also a lot of groundwork for the game and systems. Maybe cool to show is this 12-week video of that graduation phase:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhLdiLPQ2Ng

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

The idea process. There is such a wealth of ideas among team members that every meeting is a joy. We’re always bursting with inspiration, and seeing those ideas come to life in the form of environments or specifically the species, is really fun to witness. The alternative evolutionary course of Albamare has been a lot of fun to think about, and we’re not even remotely running out of ideas!

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Being only with 6, we have to make really important decisions sometimes. It’s important to keep the game small enough, but make it feel like an adventure that can last. We have a very strong vision of what it should play like and what the focus should be, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up with that vision with only the few people we have. The open-world nature of the game has certainly been one of the tougher aspects (e.g. building the island, letting assets stream and simulating the ecology).

How well has the game been received so far?

We’ve always been blown away by the response, actually since the start! For example, we started out with sending out demos only five weeks into the process. We expected a few dozen testers, mainly from our school, but after about 6 weeks we had 3000 testers – people had been sharing it on Reddit and NeoGaf, and we got a lot of good data out of that. Things kept going like that. We went on the Square Enix Collective without any expectations, and became the highest rated project to date. We signed up for the Unity Awards, and in a completely surprising turn of events even won that one! We applied for a small grant and we got it – and now, on Kickstarter, we raced past 50% in 10 days. Like I said, we’re just pretty much blown away sometimes – the demand for a game like Pine seems to be real.

In respect of the game’s theme, do any of the team have any experience of outdoor survival?

Not really, to be honest – we all have been on camping trips before, but no real survival. It’s more about the theme of adaptation, change and evolution for us. We’ve always had an interest in evolution theory, for its beauty and undeniable systems behind it. When we realized these could be translated into a game, the theme took shape even more.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

We’re currently developing on PC, aiming to bring it to Mac, Windows and Linux. But consoles are definitely in the future vision – depending on publishers and the platform holders’ interest in Pine, we really hope we can take consoles into account early on in the process.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

The only advice I always give to developers or those starting their own company: it’s all about the people you do it with. If I hadn’t met my co-founder Marc early on in high school already, finding out we worked together really well, nothing would have happened. If we hadn’t had such a good cooperation with my companions, Pine wouldn’t have existed. Like Pixar’s president Ed Catmull says: find people you’re intimidated by, professionally. Find those who are absolutely better at things than you are, that’s the only way you can make something truly great! It’s really about the people and what they bring to the table. Recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, be honest to each other!

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Everywhere! More specifically, we’re on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and email:

http://twitter.com/Twirlbound

http://facebook.com/Twirlbound

http://reddit.com/r/pinegame

pine@twirlbound.com

Do you have anything else to add?

Kickstarter is scary, as you’re putting your whole game AND team online, but it’s so cool to see people engage that it’s all worth it!

Lastly, I would like to thank Matthijs for agreeing to our Q&A, and would like to take this opportunity to wish him the best of luck with the remainder of the Kickstarter campaign.

Q&A With Resonator

In my ongoing bid to cover and expose as many different independently developed games and indie studios as possible, I discovered a game currently up on Kickstarter entitled Anew: The Distant Light. An action adventure Metroidvania title, there is a heavy emphasis on combat and exploration, as well as a vibrant science fiction setting that contrasts between the beauty and devastation of an endangered futuristic world. Creating the game are two veteran AAA developers; game director and programmer Steve Copeland and art director and sound designer Jeff Spoonhower, collectively known as Resonator. Between then, Steve and Jeff and worked on a multitude of major gaming releases over the course of fifteen years, including BioShock 2, Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth, Borderlands 2, Command & Conquer and Uncharted: Golden Abyss to name but a few. After reaching out to Resonator, both Steve and Jeff agreed to answer some questions I had about their upcoming game, their Kickstarter program and their past and present developmental experiences. Here’s what they had to say:

What were the influences behind your game?

SC: For me, the classic Metroid games were a big inspiration.  After all, there is a reason our game’s genre is named after it.  You can probably also spot influences from Ori and the Blind Forest, Dark Souls, and Mario Galaxy.  We’re constantly looking for ways to fit fun game mechanics from other genres into Anew: The Distant Light.

JS: I am a big fan of platformers as well. I grew up playing the Mega Man, Mario, and Contra games, so in addition to the non-linear Metroid-style exploration elements, I am excited about including lots of fun platforming elements in Anew.

What has the developmental process been like?

JS: Steve and I have been working on the game, full time, for several years now. It’s been hugely challenging and rewarding. We spent a lot of time up front working on gameplay systems, player mechanics, development tools and pipelines, and we’ve also built a pretty big section of the game world itself. A lot of the struggles up front we the unknowns – “things we didn’t know we didn’t know about” situations. These were mainly technical in nature, so it was tough to anticipate how long it would take to solve them. We’re happy to say we’ve largely moved through that phase of production and are concentrating on creating content and filling out the game world.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

SC: A lot of that will depend on how funding goes.  We’re expecting to complete the PC version in about a year, but if we have to stop work to look for investors or a publisher, it will tend to slow things down quite a bit.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

JS: For me, several things. For one, overcoming difficult technical and artistic challenges, learning a lot, and growing as an artist and designer has been tremendously rewarding. I am also very proud of the world we are creating. We hope that players will find it not only fun to play in, but also visually interesting and enticing to explore and discover. It’s been awesome to be able to tell people that just two people have built the game from the ground up.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

SC: With just two people making the game, it can be exhausting to cover all of the needed roles in development and business.  If we could afford to, we’d hire some help.

JS: The number of “hats” Steve and I wear, as far as the roles we are playing in production, is pretty overwhelming. We are each doing the work of 5-10 employees in a traditional studio production! It’s been tiring, and often times stressful to have to rapidly switch between these roles on a daily or weekly basis.

How well has the game been received so far?

SC: Feedback has been very positive on all fronts and in all contexts, especially so when demoing in person at trade shows where players can feel the agility and depth built into Anew.  We’re proud to have received the Audience Choice Award at Comicon Phoenix and I think Jeff sleeps with the golden controller under his pillow.]

JS: Haha, yeah the golden sheen is starting to wear off. In all seriousness, we are thrilled with the response Anew has received so far. On a personal level, I am so happy that people have responded positively to the look and feel of the game. It’s been my goal to design a world that looks and sounds truly alien and unfamiliar. Those two words have come up repeatedly in press articles we’ve received, so I feel like I’m doing something right.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

SC: We’re leading with PC, including Steam and at least one non-DRM platform for PC.  If our Kickstarter succeeds, we’re also committing to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.  We also have a stretch goal that will fund research for porting to Nintendo Switch.

How have your past developmental experiences influenced Anew: The Distant Light?

JS: Our prior AAA studio experience has directly impacted the development of Anew. Steve and I learned a tremendous amount working on games over the past 15 plus years. That includes not only the nitty-gritty of the crafts we practice on a day-to-day basis (modelling, texturing, animating, lighting, programming, designing, tools development, marketing, etc) but how to set realistic goals and achieve them. We were both senior/lead developers on projects, so we know how important it is to properly schedule a project, and avoid common development pitfalls like feature creep and over-scoping. We try to bring everything we’ve learned on these big studio projects to the production of our indie game.

Outside of indie development, what would you say yours and Steve’s favourite projects to have worked on throughout the years?

SC: It was cool to get to work on games related to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  I’m proud of having had a small influence on Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour, which RTS fans still talk about nostalgically.  Many of those projects required crushing amounts of hours worked in a week, so it’s hard to call one a favorite in light of that.

JS: I’m really proud of all the games I’ve worked on. Making games is a huge struggle, so I feel like shipping each one has been quite an accomplishment. As a personal fan of the BioShock and Uncharted series, I really got a kick out of working on BioShock 2 and Uncharted: Golden: Abyss.

Has having creative freedom made working on Anew: The Distant Light feel like a better experience than any other?

SC: On the creative freedom front, yes it’s been the best game development experience I’ve had.

JS: Yes, the creative freedom of making our own game has been very liberating. That freedom comes at a high cost though. We have taken on a great deal of financial risk, and are pretty much working on the game all the time! It’s a big commitment and we have sacrificed a great deal in our personal and professional lives to make it a reality.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

SC: I’d advise them to make and complete things with very small scope before getting super ambitious.

JS: Agreed. Try and find the one or two things you really enjoy doing (be it art or programming), and then really dive head-first into practicing those crafts. It requires a lot of patience and persistence to get good at this stuff. At the end of the day, if you want to get a job in games, you’ll need to show a potential employer that you work is of extremely high quality, and would fit into the type of games they are making.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

JS: We are currently on Kickstarter through March 19th, 11:59pm

SC: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1799572177/anew-the-distant-light. Our official website is:www.anewthegame.com. We are also on Facebook and Twitter at @anewthegame.

Do you have anything else to add?

SC: Please check out our Kickstarter!  If you like games with action and exploration, mystery, and a high skill cap, you’ll find a lot to like about Anew: The Distant Light.  We’re making a game that will scratch the itch for Metroidvania fans, while also bringing some fresh gameplay to the genre with giant mechs and other vehicles that you can pilot, an upgradable home ship, and exotic environments that play quite differently from each other.

Lastly, I would like to thank both Steve and Jeff for agreeing to answer my questions, and to wish them best of luck with Anew: The Distant Light. I would highly recommend that any gamer who may be looking for an upcoming Metroidvania title to check out their Kickstarter page, and back the project. Looking at early footage of it, I myself am extremely excited for the game’s release, and cannot wait to play the finished game.

Mighty No 9 (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, 3DS, PC & Android)

Developer(s) – Comcept & Inti Creates

Publisher(s) – Deep Silver & Spike Chunsoft

Director(s) – Koji Imaeda & Kinshi Ikegami

Producer – Nick Yu

Released following an immensely successful Kickstarter campaign and a series of delays, Mighty No 9 is the brainchild of Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune, as well as several personnel from the development team of the original game In the series. Highly anticipated by Mega Man fans, it was released in mid 2016 to mixed to negative reviews by critics and gamers alike, and dramatically failed to live to it’s budget and expectations. Having played it, I can under stand why many of the original Kickstarter backers were deeply disappointed with this title.

Graphics – 6/10

Although the game was an independently developed venture, the visual quality of the game does not match the budget the developers were given by backers of almost $4,000,000. Besides which, the game also suffers from a number of technical issues; especially concerning the Wii U version of the game. One of many insults to the backers is that the developers clearly didn’t send the time needed to polish the game before it was released to markets; especially coming as it did from a team of developers who experienced internal frustrations themselves from Capcom’s powers that were. From a conceptual standpoint, the game also fails to impress, with the developers seemingly taking basic elements and ideas from the Mega Man series, and building upon them in a very half-hearted manner.

Gameplay – 5/10

The game’s play also doesn’t live up to Mega Man standards, let alone those of the industry as a whole. Intended to present players with the traditional level of challenge the famed series was known for, this game at times can be even more unnecessarily unforgiving, as many casual players may struggle to get past even the first level. At least with Cut Man’s stage in the original Mega Man game, it was an appropriately fair introduction to the rest of the series, but with Mighty No 9, it seemed to have been designed with only veteran Mega Man players in mind, which for a lot of potential newcomers, causes needless problems.

Controls – 8/10

The original Mega Man game did suffer from minor issues with the controls in terms of unresponsiveness. But Mighty no 9 suffers with the same problem, but to a slightly greater extent, again, causing a lot of unnecessary frustration, potentially to both newcomers and veteran Mega Man players. Even throughout the fist level of the game, there are a great deal of platforming obstacles the player has to overcome in order to progress, during which unresponsive controls can cause a multitude of different issues at different points in the game; especially as it is based on a number of lives the player has, hearkening back to old-style gaming.

Lifespan – 5/10

Clocking in at around 6 hours, despite the fact that funding for the Kickstarter project was supposed to have been enough to reach stretch goals required to bring DLC to the game, Mighty No 9’s lifespan also criminally short; especially for a modern game. Most 2D platformers that are typically developed by Nintendo for example can be easily be made to last 15 to 20 hours given enough substance in gameplay; New Super Mario Bros U and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze are textbook examples of this. Six hours may have been impressive by 1987 standards, when the original Mega Man game was released, but in this day and age, especially against other kinds of games, it doesn’t hold up the same as it once may have done.

Storyline 3/10

Basically mirroring the plot and basic premise of Mega Man, the game’s story centres around a robot named Beck, the ninth in the Mighty Number android line-up, who has been tasked with eliminating his fellow Mighty Number robots after they have been infected with a computer virus; almost identical to how Mega Man must neutralize the robot masters. Almost every aspect of Mighty No 9 story was taken directly from that of Mega Man’s, as was the conceptual design, and has had not a great deal of real thought put into it. It’s especially underwhelming given the fact that the main appeals the developers wanted this game to have also failed to live up to thei respective expectations.

Originality – 3/10

Taking everything into account, the only hints of uniqueness this game has about it is in the conceptual design, which whilst may have been heavily borrowed from the Mega Man series, does minimally well do stand out among other games in general; but certainly not enough to make it do so to any great extent. Although this game certainly does not spell the end for challenging 2D side scrollers, since the likes of Rogue Legacy continue to impress gamers everywhere, it spells a particularly grim future for Comcept, as their latest project, Red Ash, failed to each it’s Kickstarter goals

Angrii

To sum Mighty No 9 up, I would describe it as a gaming travesty; a middle finger to Mega Man fans, as well as the Kickstarter backers. Though it may have been a once-promising game to players, especially those who played the beta, the end product is certainly something to be forgotten.

Score

30/60

5/10 (Far Below Average)

Q&A With Huey Games

Following on from Play Manchester 2016, one game that has continued to impress gaming audiences since I first laid eyes on it is Hyper Sentinel; an arcade shoot ‘em up inspired by 2nd and 3rd generation classics such as Defender, Cybernoid and Uridium. Showcased at many expos, and being the subject of a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, the popularity of the game has been on the rise, and is set for full release later on this year on multiple platforms. Curious to find out more, I’ve conducted a Q&A with the game’s creative director and CEO of Huey Games, Robert Hewson, and the game’s principal developer, founder of Four5Six Pixel Jonathan Port. Here’s what they had to say about Hyper Sentinel:

 

What were the influences behind your game?

Jon: The most obvious visual influence is to Uridium, the twist and flip manouevre has never really been used since, so I thought it would be fun to have that in. In terms of gameplay, major influences are Defender for its frantic action and speed, Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum) which you could sweep back the plane wings to speed boost. I loved Cybernoid and its dramatic explosions, so there is definitely some influence there.  More recently Resogun, I like the way the enemies surround and suffocate you if you don’t keep on top.

What has the developmental process been like?

Jon: Development has gone very smoothly. I’ll often implement some features and then let Huey Games take a look. We’ll then go through a short iterative design cycle until the feature feels right. Using this process, some features make it in, and some get left out. It’s about making a game that feels consistent throughout.  To get such close design feedback from a publisher, but still have the freedom to create your own game has been an absolute pleasure.

Rob: It has been a genuine pleasure to work with Jon on the iterative process of enhancing and polishing the game. We seem to be on the same wavelength the whole time, I don’t think we’ve disagreed on any of the feedback we’ve given and it is always a delight to get a new build and see all the little touches Jon has added.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Rob: We are on track for an early summer release now that the Kickstarter has passed its funding goal. Of course, there is still a week left on the campaign so we are hoping to hit a few more stretch goals too! You can check out the campaign at www.hypersentinel.com.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Rob: I think there was a moment after we’d been through a few rounds of iterative improvement when the boost and the dodge abilities came together, and the compelling loop of the gameplay was suddenly brought to life. After that, tweaking the way the enemies behave, the way the power-ups spawn and all those little details so that they work elegantly with those core mechanics, that is when we began to realise we’d found the fun, which is always the best moment!

 

Jon: Seeing people play your game at an expo and come away thrilled to have played it. When you are so close to the development of a game you never really know until you stand away and just let people play it on their own. It’s a scary moment as you take your game to its first public showing, but to see people really enjoying your own game is a special moment.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Jon: Hyper Sentinel was originally developed on an Apple centric platform. In order to get the game out to a wider audience we needed to move the code base to an engine that could target multiple platforms. The move to the Unity engine was the greatest technical undertaking. Most of the code has been re-written entirely from scratch to get the best out of that environment. We could have gone down the route of a quick code port, but we decided early on that we should do this right to make the best game possible.

Has your father Andrew had any input into the game?

Rob: Not so much. He attended the first meeting with Jon and could instantly see the potential of the game, but he is taking more of a back seat these days. His wealth of experience is there to tap into when we need it, but that is mostly on the business side.

What impact has your father had on your career as a developer in general?

Rob: I don’t think he really pushed me to pursue a career in the games industry, if anything he was a sobering influence because he knew first hand just how difficult it could be. However, there is no doubt that being surrounded by games from an early age – climbing through the shelves in the Hewson warehouse, attending trade shows, collecting posters and stickers – it clearly left its mark. I remember drawing the Hewson logo and dreaming up game ideas with my friends, so I caught the bug early. By the time I actually got into the industry dad had already left, and although I probably talked to him about it on occasion he considered it a closed chapter in his life. Until I convinced him to write his book, that is.

How well has the game been received so far?

Rob: It has been exceptional. Everybody who plays the game seems to enjoy and appreciate it. One of the most exciting things to see is that it is not just older retro gaming fans who love it, we had loads of kids coming back time and again to play it at the shows we have attended, which is a pleasure to witness.

Jon: The greatest thrill is to see people genuinely excited to play the game. Hyper Sentinel is a hi-score game at its heart, and its great to see people putting in so much time to stay on top of the score leaderboard! 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Rob: So far we can confirm Steam, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android and Amazon platforms. Hopefully we can add even more to the list soon.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?

Rob: Figure out what the hook is for your game, the thing which makes it stand out from the crowd, and polish, polish, polish. Once you’ve finished polishing, polish some more. When you think you can’t polish any further, get some feedback, realise you were wrong and carry on polishing.

Jon: Did Rob say polish? If there is one thing I have learnt from Huey Games it is that a great game doesn’t happen instantly, it’s a process of building over and over from a simple core concept. For aspiring indie developers the most important thing is to finish your game, and that takes an awful lot of hard work and time. If you know you have a great game, just keep going until you get it into people’s hands. 

Where about on the Internet can people find you?

Rob: The game has its own website at www.hypersentinel.com (which currently goes directly to the Kickstarter while the campaign is live) and you can visit our company page at www.hueygames.com

Do you have anything else to add?

Rob: Thank you for having us and a massive thank you to everybody who has supported us along the way!

 

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both Robert and Jonathan for agreeing to our Q&A session to say congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign Hyper Sentinel has had, and to wish them best luck with the game upon release. From what I played at Manchester, Hyper Sentinel seems like a particularly enthralling game, a compelling homage to the 80s classics the developers drew inspiration from, and I can’t wait to play the finished article.

Q&A With Space Lizard Studio

In my ongoing bid to discover and bring to light up and coming independent developers and exciting titles for the future, a studio I came across at Play Manchester last year was Liverpool-based Space Lizard Studio who were showcasing their 2D side scrolling shoot ’em up title Dragon Bros. A love letter to third and fourth generation classics such as Contra and Metal Slug, it features wonderfully crafted 8-BIT visuals, as well as intense and challenging gameplay. After playing it in Manchester, I was eager to find out more about the game and the people who developed it, so I contacted Space Lizard’s Gabriele Caruso and agreed to answer a few question I had about Space Lizard Studios and Dragon Bros. These were his answers:

What were the influences behind your game?
Given that the 4 of us were all born in the 80s, I guess pixel art games and retro action shooters are continuously haunting our thoughts. I am a big fan of Turrican as well as Contra, Metal Slug or the epic Midnight Resistance (I loved the aiming on that one). We wanted to create something similar to what we used to play as kids, with PROPER difficulty and a “plug and play” approach, but we have also considered the modern twist and took inspiration from extremely cool games like Bro Force, Super Time Force and Mercenary King (ah, and the roll system in Dark Souls too).

What has the developmental process been like?
This is our first game in Pixel Art and for our artist, well, it was the first time for him to draw at super low resolution. He did great in the end. We had hundreds of ideas during the development cycle on possible extra features to implement in Dragon Bros. A team could potentially spend unlimited time on improving a game. The hard part was actually to keep the focus on our goal and stick to our original vision.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?
The game will be released this Spring, we are just fixing few minor bugs and getting some paperwork done.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
People involvement in the project. We’ve been exhibiting in several game conventions and the most exciting part is when people try your game for the first time and have fun. The way how others experience the game is fascinating and listening to the feedback helped us making the final game more accessible and fun in general. Sometimes you just need to see things from a different point of view.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Being self funded is hard, what gives you strength is people’s appreciation. Besides that, one of the biggest challenges we have experienced was the development of the Adaptive Music levels. We had to design and implement a custom system to handle the synchronization between the music and the in-game events. Some traps and enemies move in sync with the soundtrack and that took some time to get it right (especially when the Audio guy is extremely picky :D). We are so proud of how it came out that now we are willing to make plenty of new rhythm games…maybe.

What do you think of the current state of video games development in Liverpool?
There is a lot of indies in Liverpool and in the UK in general. I think it’s a growing community and an amazing environment. I am sure some good stuff will rise and shine all over the world.

How well has the game been received so far?
I’d say not so bad! People love it, especially kids. Plenty of youtubers have reviewed the game so far, gave us good feedback during the Steam Early Access and they still do right now.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Xbox One for sure, but we don’t exclude porting the game to PS4, mobile or even Switch. It all depends on how it goes after the spring release.

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Be creative, always. Team up with others and start creating stuff, no matter what. As long as you enjoy what you do and have a strong passion for games you are capable of great things.

Where about on the Internet can people find you?
People can find us on either our Steam page: http://store.steampowered.com/app/506150/ or web page: http://spacelizardstudio.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/spacelizardstudio/
Twitter: @SpaceLizardSt
If you feel like you want to drop us an e-mail: spacelizardstudio@gmail.com

Do you have anything else to add?
Yes, in your opinion, who would win in a fight between a grilled Bacon & Eggs Sandwich and a Hot Dog with Mustard?

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Gabriele and Space Lizard Studio for taking the time to answer what questions I had and to wish the best of luck with Dragon bros upon it’s release in spring. And in answer to Garbiele’s question, there’s no doubt I’ve gotta go with bacon & egg sandwich

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88