Q&A With Playful Fox Games

 Whilst looking for new, up and coming games on social media and the like, I stumbled upon a charming-looking game a few weeks ago entitled Animal Bar and I immediately became curious to find out more. Animal Bar is a simulation game whereby players manage a bar vacated and ran by anthropomorphic animals and must accumulate as much profit as possible by serving customers and even interacting with them socially to keep them satisfied and coming back. Players must pay attention to customer needs based on their preferences and personalities in order to periodically build their bar from the ground up, upgrade equipment and expand the business. Outside elements also play a key role in the gameplay, as the moods of customers change depending on either what time of day it is or even what the weather is like and the player must adapt accordingly to suit whatever mood the customer finds themselves in. Thoroughly intrigued to find out more about this promising game, I got in touch with Ryan Dunnison, the director of Playfox games; an indie studio based in Vancouver, Canada. He had a lot to say about the current developmental state of the game as well as the studio’s planned Kickstarter campaign to fund the game. Here’s what he had to say about Animal Bar:

What were the influences behind your game? 

There are simply too many to list all of them, but maybe if I give a bit of background it could help. Animal Bar is an idea that evolved from a few different sources. One of the pieces of the groundwork was a pitch that a colleague of mine was working on at East Side Games, which we later tried to re-pitch together. After he departed, I tried to rework the idea and come at it from another direction. Ultimately the pitch didn’t take off but the idea stuck around in the back of my mind.

More recently, when Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was announced, several of my coworkers and I discussed what sort of game we expected from the final game. In discussing this, it brought back my thoughts to the game I’d pitched at my previous office, and I began retooling and refining it as a concept further.

At each of these steps I’d done research and found that there were many management based experiences in cafes and bars on mobile, and a few narrative-focused games set in those locations coming out in the indie world such as VA-11 Ha11-A, Read Only Memories, and more recently Coffee Talk, but there wasn’t a good example of a game that had both elements in focus, and this is ultimately the space we decided to create.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

Totally smooth sailing… I joke, I’ve never seen production go perfectly smoothly, and I’d be frightened that we’d done something horribly wrong if it did, to be honest.

This has definitely been a different experience from other teams I’ve been on. It’s been an exciting and sometimes challenging learning process, dealing with both the business side and development side of things. On the development side, we focused on building a strong foundation from the get-go, which is something that I felt was very important. We’ve got some great concepts and positive reception so far from those we’ve demoed to, which we try to do pretty regularly to get feedback and to check in on whether or not the tone and direction are resonating, and that’s been really reassuring.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Depending on whether we secure some additional funding, we’re hoping sometime in the next 6-9 months, but this isn’t set in stone.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

For me personally, I always enjoy the prototyping process, where you see things starting to come alive. However, the most exciting moment so far was getting a positive response from Nintendo. This was a nerve-wracking process of pitching to various friends and local indies, refining the pitch and tracking someone down to talk to. It was very gratifying to see that there was an interest there. This was what we were waiting on to determine our launch platform and ultimately decided on our final scope.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?  

It’s hard to pinpoint a single hardest challenge as development has many hurdles that you must overcome, and I think that it’s a bit different for each person on the team. I think I’d just say that stress is the number one most challenging part of development. Each new problem that comes up requires a solution, and sometimes there are issues that you simply cannot solve, and each of these takes a toll on you as an individual, and if one person is stressed, then this adds to the team’s stress, and when people are determining how much time to spend on a project, you want to remove any barriers to working as much as possible, which makes stress the enemy.

 

Have any of the development team worked behind the bar, and if so, did these experiences play a part in development?     

So, the “bar” experience in this game is sort of an amalgam of a coffee bar/tea bar experience with a typical liquor serving bar (sans liquor) and diner. Thanks to several well-known TV shows, many people, including myself, have this sense of this homey and warm place where the bartender is a great person to bounce ideas off or be a shoulder to cry on. We wanted to bring that idea of that experience together with workings of a coffee/tea/soda bar.

I worked at Teavana before it was bought by Starbucks for half a year, where it really strengthened my interest in tea, and although I hadn’t really had an interest in coffee, it’s very apparent there’s this whole culture built around coffee, especially here in the pacific northwest. My father was getting quite involved in his coffee excursions around the Greater Vancouver area and decided he wanted to take a barista training course, which my brother and I joined him in. We brought soda in to get closer to the liquor bar experience and because it’s another point at which these beverages sometimes intersect.

In terms of bar experience, one of our artists worked in a bar in town and being in the game industry all of us have been to our fair share of bars and have various viewpoints on which we like and which we don’t and why.

 

How well has the game been received so far? 

The reception so far has been very positive. For anyone who’s come up to play our game wherever we’ve shown it they’ve said that they liked the idea. I think there have only been one or two people I’ve talked to who didn’t really have much to say about it. The caveat is that it’s been in a state where there simply wasn’t a whole lot you could do, so I had have had to do a lot of explaining and engaging with the people playing the demo, which always skews things a little bit. I look forward to when we get a tutorial into our demo so that the game can explain itself, but that’s probably a few months out still.

 

As well the game being set in the bar, will there be scope for exploration of the outside world as well?

For launch likely, the answer to this will be no. We do have some ideas in mind for how we’d go about expanding this, and it might make some good expansion content down the road, but it all depends on money and time.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Our launch platform is going to be Switch, although we do plan to broaden to other platforms in the months following launch. There are a number of reasons we made this decision, but the big ones are, accessibility and visibility.

The Switch is unique when it comes to accessibility in that there are several built-in control schemes that you can work with right out of the box. This poses some challenges, but also means that if we can make sure that all possible control schemes are supported, then it should help us in porting to other platforms down the road.

If you’re an indie developer these days visibility is incredibly important and hard to get, many marketplaces these days are incredibly oversaturated, and most have very poor mechanisms for surfacing new content that isn’t AAA. The Switch is getting more and more content but is still newer than a lot of other platforms, which means there’s somewhat less competition than some other platforms, and additionally they have a great built-in feature for highlighting new games and indie games with their built-in news feed.

 

Besides the issue of identity, will morality mechanics be implemented in the game? 

Hmm, this is a bit of a tough question to answer. The choices that the player is presented within our game are meant to be generally challenging questions to answer in that the options should present equally good options. These choices, or dilemmas as we call them, are generally about personal growth and do often have to do with identity in the broad sense (choosing a path to walk in life). This does mean, however, that some choices will have clear and obvious decisions for you based on your own biases that you bring into the game with you. Whether you would call these moral questions or more questions of your own identity is up for you to decide.

 

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

Lots! Which is one of the reasons I teach part time… To people looking to get into the industry, play a lot of games, particularly a large spectrum of different genres and from different periods of time, and do it with an inquisitive eye. Really think about why certain mechanics and stories were made in the context of the genre and time period in when they were made.

The other piece of advice I’ll give you here is, don’t start a company until you’ve worked in the industry long enough to have seen some successes and failures with enough repetition to know how to avoid common missteps, and then get all of your legal stuff done up right away. I created Playful Fox Games as a sole proprietorship initially, with plans of making a few small apps, and ultimately ended up shelving those projects because I felt that I needed some more knowledge and experience before really diving in.

 

Where about on the Internet can people find you? 

Check out our website at playfulfoxgames.com for information about Animal Bar and our team. Track our progress on twitter at twitter.com/playfulfoxgames, and join our growing community on discord at discord.gg/playfulfoxgames.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

We’re looking to do a Kickstarter in the near future, so please keep an eye out for it! Thank you very much for this interview, it’s been a pleasure.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to thank Ryan for sharing everything that Animal Bar has to offer thus far in this early stage of development and wish him and Playful Fox Games the best of luck with this wonderfully unique-looking title. The indie development scene has always been populated with innovative games throughout the eighth generation and this one certainly seems to be no exception. I hope you enjoyed reading about this game as much as I enjoyed interviewing Ryan and I can’t wait to get my teeth sunk into the final product upon release.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Ori & The Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One & Switch)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Microsoft Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Gennadiy Korol

Created by a massive collaboration of developers worldwide over a period of four years, Ori & The Blind Forest is a Metroidvania game following the adventures of the game’s titular character Ori and companion Sein as they set out to restore the forest of Nibel, which has come under threat having lost the balance between three elements; waters, winds and warmth. After having played this game almost 100%, I was enthralled with it from beginning to end. Everything from its art style and soundtrack to it’s direction in terms of gameplay and story made for one of the most standout gaming experiences of the eighth generation. 

Graphics – 10/10

Similar to games like Cuphead and Child of Light, the game features entirely hand-drawn graphics, though in this case influenced largely by the works of Hiyao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Locations within the game range from a mixture of light-filled and dark forest settings to vibrant, sunny glades, icy chasms and fiery volcanic formations. No matter the specific location, however, everywhere in this game has a level of eloquence to it in one way or another and it all highlights the meticulous dedication the development team showed to bringing the project to life. The accompanying soundtrack perfectly fits every location, as well as every situation the player finds themself within the game; be that whilst peacefully traversing through sunlit greenery or whilst having to dash away from a volcanic eruption. But even during moments of both absolute tranquility or absolute calamity, the game still maintains that same level of eloquence throughout; in my case, so much so that I didn’t care how many times I died in moments of urgency, which was a lot. I thought it was worth attempting that many times just to soak up the game’s wonderful atmosphere.

Gameplay – 8/10

As a Metroidvania, the game follows most of the typical tropes you would expect to find in a game of the genre; most notably having to gain all manner of different abilities to access each area as the play progresses. However, Ori & The Blind Forest offers players a very interesting spin on things with a unique combat system encouraging players to strategize in accordance with what enemies they’re up against. Combat can also even be a means to access new or hidden locations throughout the game. There is also an ability tree that players can use to upgrade pre-existing abilities or learn new ones by gaining experience in combat, giving the game an RPG feel to it. The combat isn’t as intense as what it is in other Metroidvania games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or Dust: An Elysian Tail, but it demands almost as much from gamers as enemies become stronger over time and different abilities need to be used to overcome them. The game also demands a fair bit from players in the respect of exploration, as there are many challenging platformer obstacles to traverse and puzzles to be solved throughout. It challenges players, but not to the point of it becoming inaccessible. 

Controls – 10/10

As in many Metroidvania titles, the staggering variety in controls becomes more and more apparent as the player progresses through the game with the different abilities to learn and incorporate throughout. At first, I thought that it may become a problem, as the same buttons are used for different abilities in varying different respects, but all it is is a matter of getting used to strategizing in accordance with whatever situation the players may find themself in. It reminded me a lot of Metroid Prime in that respect because although that game was a first-person shooter, it doesn’t entirely feel like one in many respects and I found it to be the same case with Ori & The Blind Forest; it’s a Metroidvania game, but there are certain instances in which it doesn’t feel like one in the respect of its control scheme, further adding to the game’s sense of uniqueness. 

Lifespan – 5/10

To complete the game to 100% can take there around 12 hours, which to me, is undoubtedly this game’s biggest drawback. Although this game was undeniably a labor of love and that it shows in every little detail, it just seemed to me a criminally short amount of time for a game of this quality to last. It’s in this aspect where I’m desperately hoping that this is where the sequel, Ori & The Will Of The Wisps comes in; similar to the transition between Onimusha and Onimusha 2. 

Storyline – 8/10

The game’s story follows Ori, a guardian spirit that fell from the Spirit Tree of the forest of Nibel. Ori is later found by a forest inhabitant named Naru, who adopts Ori and raises her. Later, Naru dies of starvation and Ori is left to fend for herself. She later becomes embroiled in a quest to restore the forest of Nibel, which has begun to deteriorate since the forest has lost balance between the elements of waters, winds and warmth. Matters have also been worsened by the fact that the core of the Spirit Tree had been stolen by a demonic, shadow owl named Kuro. Throughout, Ori has to traverse the forest to restore the three elements and the core of the Spirit Tree, whilst coming under the threat of the forest’s many dangerous creatures and natural obstacles whilst also avoiding the clutches of Kuro.

The game’s story, as well as it’s art direction, was also heavily inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki; it’s vivid, fantastical and packed with emotional moments that will have players on the edges of their seats. But it also perpetuates a sense of moral ambiguity;, especially towards the end. So much so that I found myself questioning who the real hero was and if the villain truly is a villain at heart. This works to separate it from the works of Studio Ghibli as moral ambiguity isn’t that prominent a theme in the works of Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata and others who worked for the company and it’s something new to compliment a story that was heavily inspired by the two aforementioned film directors. 

Originality – 8/10

Whilst critiquing the control scheme, I mentioned that there are certain instances in which the controls make it feel like more than a conventional Metroidvania game. But this can be said for every other aspect of Ori & The Blind Forest in addition. It’s largely unconventional in its gameplay, it’s scenery, it’s soundtrack and its story. Ahead of playing it, I knew that I was in for something special with this title, but I wasn’t quite prepared for exactly how special it would turn out to be. Everything from its combat system to it’s environmental design to its themes of loss, tragedy and moral ambiguity make it stand out from most of every other game I’ve ever played. 

Happii

Overall, Ori & The Blind Forest is a must-have not only for Metroidvania fans, but for gamers in general. It’s a title that has had every element handled with a degree of love and care that every standout game should have and whilst it didn’t last as long as what I thought it had the potential to, it’s certainly worth at least one playthrough. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Echoes of Aetheria (PC)

Developer(s) – Dancing Dragon

 

Developed by the same team behind the critically acclaimed indie RPGs Skyborn and Deadly Sin I & II, Echoes of Aetheria is yet another turn-based RPG released by the company making use of the increasingly popular RPG Maker gaming engine used in the development of other indie RPGs such as Chronicles of Dark Lord and Remnants of Isolation. Compared to the two aforementioned indie RPGs, it ranks somewhere in the middle in my opinion; it has charm in most aspects, but not as much charm or as much intensity or complexity as Chronicles of a Dark Lord, but much more immersing and thankfully longer than Remnants of Isolation.

 

Graphics – 7/10

Reminiscent of the steampunk setting of many of the later instalments of the Final Fantasy series starting with Final Fantasy VI, it features excellent use of 16-bit pixel art, as well as variety in location and enemy design. Whilst taking place primarily in various different town and cities, there are also places outside regular civilization to explore, such as caves, forests and desert tombs. Hand drawn graphics were also implemented in addition to represent characters during dialogue sequences, which also give it a further feel of uniqueness to it.

 

Gameplay – 8/10

The gameplay differs slightly from most other RPGs made with the RPG Maker engine. Rather than playing out like a tradition turn-based RPG like Chronicles of a Dark Lord does, the battle system requires having to move players round the battle stages like pieces on a chessboard; a play style similar to From Software’s own turn-based RPG Enchanted Arms. It necessitates arguably a greater level of strategy than in the traditional turn-based RPG, but also has the same sense of gameplay addiction to it as well.

 

Controls – 10/10

Turn-based RPGs generally don’t have any issues with controls as a given it would seem. This game has even less problems than most in terms of controls, since because it was made for PCs, there is also the facility to use the mouse during gameplay, giving players more choice than most other games of it’s kind. It doesn’t matter which style of controls the players happens to prefer; the title plays out just as well using either method, and there have been no necessary complications with it to hinder the overall experience.

 

Lifespan – 6/10

The game can be made to last about 15 to 20 hours, like most RPGs made on the same engine, I’ve noticed. To me, whilst it’s still longer than the average mainstream release, falls way short of the length that a game of it’s kind can be made to last. It’s nowhere near as criminally short as I found Remnants of Isolation to be when I reviewed it for the site last year, but games like these are always worth making last a long as possible for several different reasons besides sheer gameplay addiction.

 

Storyline – 7/10

The story of the game follows Lucien, whom whilst attempting to rescue the bride of a royal wedding held in commemoration of a truce between two previously warring nations, meets a cast of varied and compelling characters, as they attempt to clear their names amidst a government conspiracy against them accusing them of high treason. The game’s story is political and somewhat dark in tone, similar to Capcom’s fourth instalment of the Breath of Fire series; albeit, the story in this game is nowhere near as dark. Nevertheless, it has the feel of an epic story and well written dialogue to match that players can come to expect with a game like this.

 

Originality – 6.5/10

Though it may not go down as being revolutionary in terms of setting new standards for the turn-based RPG genre, the game does have it’s own distinct charm that sets it apart from a fair few others, such as the different combat style and the need to strategize that whilst synonymous in games like this, is presented in a slightly different way. Though Enchanted Arms may have had infinitely more variety in it’s take on this style of fighting than in this game, it can nevertheless provide abundant entertainment in gameplay for how unfortunately short it lasts.

Happii

Overall Echoes of Aetheria is one of the better indie RPG experiences I’ve come across in recent years. It has a pretty well written story, addicting gameplay and a visual style not synonymous of most RPGs developed today.

Score

44.5/60

7/10 (Fair)

Remnants of Isolation (PC)

Developer(s) – Team Isolation 

An indie turn-based RPG developed with the popular RPG Maker engine, the same engine used to develop other indie RPGs, such as Chronicles of a Dark Lord, Remnants of Isolation has a story and an artistic direction different to that of many other games of its kind. Unfortunately, the game does have its fair share of faults and drawbacks, unfortunately making it dwarf in quality compared with some of the great titles of the genre, such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. 

Graphics – 8/10

The most interesting thing about the game in my opinion is the visuals and the conceptual design. Taking place in a mysterious and enchanted prison, it features imagery and characters inspired by a multitude of different cultures and mythologies; most prominently, medieval fantasy. But aside from that, there are also quite a few uniquely designed monsters, such as the Twisted Sentry as well as many of the varied boss fights that take place throughout. 

Gameplay – 6/10

The game plays out very much like a traditional turn-based RPG, such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest; it’s addictive, and satisfying to level up characters. Instead of using money as currency, however, the player must collect souls in order to make better equipment and buy items. The biggest problem with it, however, is the fact that unlike most other games of it’s kind, which have many different playable characters with different abilities, there are only two in this game, thus it doesn’t have anywhere near as much variety as many of the great games that inspired it. It’s especially underwhelming to me, as I have played RPGs, which make use of the same engine, but that have much more substance to them. 

Controls – 10/10

The game incorporates as simple a control scheme as can be found in a video game, and as such, I’m at least satisfied to report that there are no issues with playing the game to address. Many turn-based RPGs over the years have modified the overall formula with varying degrees of success, but over the years, it has been refreshing to see a resurgence of games to incorporate the basic structure of this formula; and this game is no exception. 

Lifespan – 0.5/10

The worst aspect of this game, however, is it’s cripplingly short lifespan. At a stretch it can be made to last about 2 hours, which for a turn-based RPG is deplorable in my opinion. Normally, this kind of game can be made to last considerably longer; some of which surpassing the 100-hour mark, but due to this game’s lack of substance and variety, it lasts only an extremely small fraction of the time that a standout game of its genre can be made to last; even irrespective of the fact that this game was intended to be played multiple times.

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story is particularly well written, and made even more immersing by the fact that there are multiple endings to be triggered. It follows two prisoners, Celesta and Melchior, as they resolve to find a way out of their prison together, in a somewhat similar fashion to Ico. They both need each other to stay alive as they encounter danger after danger throughout the prison. It’s engrossing to see how their relationship develops throughout the course of the game, and how it impacts the rest f the story. 

Originality – 2/10

The only vaguely original mechanic this game has going for it is that of using souls as currency to both buy items and upgrade equipment. Some may say the mechanic of fusing magic together may be something new to the genre, but Final Fantasy IX incorporated a similar, and frankly more satisfying mechanic between the characters Vivi and Steiner, and overall, did little to add any real uniqueness to the game’s combat system. Other than souls as currency, the only way in which the game stands out is in both its artistic direction, and how short it is. And the latter of the two makes it stand out for largely the wrong reasons. 

Niiutral

Overall, Remnants of Isolation does have elements of redeeming value, but as far as an immersing gameplay experience goes, there are far better turn-based RPGs out there. To make a game of it’s potential as short as they did was in my opinion criminal, and if the developers decide to make a sequel, or another turn-based RPG, they need to make some dramatic improvements in my opinion. 

Score

33.5/60

5.5/10 (Below Average) 

Ironcast (PC)

Developer(s)Ripstone Games, Dreadbit & Polygon Hearts

Ironcast is an indie game, developed with the likes of Candy Crush and Jelly Splash in mind, but offers something extremely different; blending it with customization options as well as turn-based RPG combat. For me, it has been one of the best games released on Steam this year so far, since it goes far beyond the level of enjoyment that a simple puzzle game can bring.

 

Graphics – 7/10

Aside from having a fairly decent range of different robots to command with each playthrough, the game is set in an alternative reality, where the English are still warring with the French by the year 1886, and England has taken on more of a steampunk theme during the Industrial Revolution. The only gripe I have with the game’s visuals is that the setting of each individual stage can become somewhat repetitive after a while. But where the game’s visuals truly excel is in the level of detail of the robots, as they either generate shields, fire weapons or take damage.

 

Gameplay – 7/10

To progress through each fight, the player must match u different symbols together to collect four different kinds of main resources for their robot; coolant, weapons, energy, and repair substance. These are used to maintain and defend the robot during combat, as well as take down the opposing robot on the other side of the screen. After each battle, the player earns experience points to gain upgrades, as well as money to buy improved weapons and armor. With its Roguelike approach to gameplay, it offers a great deal of entertainment value, as well as a challenging learning curve for players to adapt to in order to progress.

 

Controls – 10/10

Since it’s a turn-based puzzle game exclusive to PC, there was never going to be an issue with the game’s controls, since the scheme is as straightforward as it could possibly have been. It’s actually quite interesting to learn new ways of joining icons on the puzzle board in order to gain as many of the resources on it as possible. Anyone who as ever played Jelly Splash will have a lot of fun with this game in particular.

 

Lifespan – 10/10

As I alluded to, this game incorporates elements of the Roguelike genre of gaming, similar to either Rogue Legacy or Tower of Guns, which gives it infinite replay value. Since there are quite a few gameplay options and different styles of play to explore, this makes it all the more meaningful and varied. It has been very refreshing to see the resurgence of the Roguelike genre within the indie industry, and this game is most definitely one of the prominent examples of which.

 

Storyline – 7/10

The basic premise of the game’s story, as I mentioned, is that the English and the French are at war, and a new ability to wage war has been born in an alternative reality to our own. Soldiers are now fighting with machines known as Ironcasts, and the player character is on the side of the English and must do everything in their power to stave off the French advancement. It’s a pretty typical story, reminiscent of any story in either the Battlefield or the Call of Duty franchises, but although there isn’t any spoken dialogue, the characters still have a lot more personality than many of the characters in any of the aforementioned examples at least.

 

Originality – 7/10

For the longest time, I would look at games such as Candy Crush and Jelly Splash and think that there surely must be some way to modify the same existing formula to make even more remotely interesting than what those games are. Alas, the developers of this game have come up with a very interesting answer to that question, and have made possibly the most interesting puzzle game I’ve seen since Tetris. If this is the kind of gaming experience that Ripstone Games can conceive, I’m looking forward to what they can possibly go on to do in the future.

Happii

Overall, Ironcast is an immensely pleasing title, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a Steam account. It’s an interesting puzzle-based RPG, which can be enjoyed at player’s leisure as opposed to them having to wait for hours at a time for lives to regenerate.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Blake Speers

Once again scouting Kickstarter for new and exciting-looking video game projects on the indie scene, I came across a wonderful-looking 2D side-scrolling platformer called Mira’s Brush developed by Canadian developer Blake Speer. The premise of which is that the game’s titular character Mira is tasked with restoring color to the world of Chromaland. The game boasts a number of very unusual and potentially ground-breaking gameplay features such as changing an enemy’s color and stealing their shape in order to gain new abilities; similar to Kirby when he swallows enemies. The developer has also outlined plans on his Kickstarter page to include alternative routes throughout levels, secrets to uncover, varying degrees of difficulty for both seasoned and entry-level gamers and an array of what could turn out to be some very intriguing boss fights.

I got in touch with Blake to see if he would answer a few questions I had about the game and this is what he had to say about Mira’s Brush:

What were the influences behind your game?

Short answer: Jumpman (C64), Kirby’s Adventure (GB), Epic Mickey, Mario Odyssey/Galaxy 2

Longer Answer:
I was one of the first generations of kids to grow up beside home video game systems. Back in 1982, when I was a toddler, this guy Randy Glover had the idea to make a “clone” of Donkey Kong but got carried away playing with the physics and game mechanics. The result was “Jumpman” a game with more unique mechanics from level to level than I’ve seen in a game since until maybe Mario Galaxy. Basically, every level had a new kind idea, including one where you shoot clones, an all-black level that appears as you clear through it, and one where you throw javelins at dragons that look kind of like somebody crushed the Pink Panther in a pixelated trash-compactor. I was obsessed with that game as a kid, and when I turned 16, a friend and I made my first big game, Flags of Doom, kind of an awkward Windows 3.1 clone of Jumpman, but with all new levels.

Flags of Doom came out back in the days of trading bootleg floppies, and if you search hard on the Internet you can find a tiny number of people that played it and liked it. It ended up on a couple of those free software CDs that come with magazines in Eastern Europe.

Until Mario Galaxy came out, I didn’t see another game with that kind of premise. Mario games have always been inventive, but something felt really fresh about the compendium of Galaxy 1 and 2. When I decided it was time to make a game that people might actually intentionally play, I went through my big book of ideas (I have a lot of ideas, most of which are totally unworkable) and found a concept for color stealing that was a bit like a Kirby game. I decided to take the same experimental approach I’d seen in Jumpman, Flags of Doom and Mario Galaxy, and jam it with the power stealing gameplay of Kirby games and the color mechanics of stuff like Epic Mickey and De Blob. 

Around that time I got into Mario Odyssey and I loved the open-ended sense of exploration, with so many options for beginner and more advanced players. That’s when I decided on a very open-ended option-heavy exploration style, where you can basically pop into any level and beat it OR just farm secrets for that completion line. Beating the whole game should be “easy” but finding some of the secrets will mean taking the harder path.

 

What has the developmental process been like? 

I’m a dad with a regular job in an office. I like my job, it’s interesting enough. I also have two kids, one in Kindergarten (Nursery in the UK) and one in Grade 3 (Year 2 in the UK). The development has been spotty, learning the Construct 2 engine (easier than pure coding, of course), playing with the edges of what is possible.

I’ve basically been working every morning until I have to leave and every night once the kids are asleep until I’m essentially asleep at the screen. It’s tough, but I love the challenge of it.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

Based on my current level of progress and how much is still on my checklist, I should have a final version in late October and be ready for launch mid-December. I’ll have some demos to testers along the way.

 

How instrumental has the opengameart community been in terms of the game’s conceptual design? 

Fundamental. All my basic tilesets come from there originally. I’ve since done a bunch of edits for different terrain and to make them stand out a bit, but without those sets and a few key enemy sprites, I’d still just have a prototype. I am learning to push-pixels and slowly getting better but I still turn to the opengameart community often for inspiration or templates.

Part of my goal with this Kickstarter is to enlist more help to make the art stand-out a bit more, make it more unique to this game, and then give some of that art back to the community in the form of original tilesets.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

I absolutely love when an idea finally works. This isn’t one of those “mob and jump” platformers with a lot of repetition. Almost every level I’m learning something new about scripting, about game physics, and every level I bang my head against the screen until it finally works.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The hardest part for me is all the fiddly bits, UI and physics. I love designing levels, but a lot of the coding and art is beyond my own abilities, which means a lot of research, practice, and reaching out for help.

 

Have you had much experience with art, and if so, did those experiences have an impact on the development of the game? 

I’m not a visual artist by any stretch of the imagination. Even my scribbles are outside the lines. I did take art-history in high school and my wife used to work in art galleries. She took me through the various galleries of Europe in our 20s (we were working and living in England at the time) and showed the history behind some of our favorite pieces.

Each world of Mira’s brush is “inspired” by art movements, but I wouldn’t say most gamers will notice, it’s not in-your-face, more just the theme of each world. For example, the first world is inspired by local indigenous art and local artists of renown like Emily Carr (who also acts as the jumping-off point for a boss in the game). The second world is a mash-up of “primitivism,” cave-art, and the neon aesthetic of the ’80s and ’90s, but again, you’d hardly notice while playing. It’s just a way of breaking up the worlds in a way that’s different from the “ice world,” “fire world,” “desert world,” “clouds.”

 

How well has the game been received so far? 

I would say all the response has been super positive, but we have a very small number of people that have seen it at all yet. The few that follow closely are exuberant, so hopefully, I can meet their expectations.

 

Was there a particular genre of music that I influenced the game’s soundtrack? 

The game was composed entirely with Beepbox, a web-based tool for writing 8-bit (and now 16-bit) choons, and I tried to keep it poppy and fun. The music is really classic “game-music” in style. I’m still learning, and only the best stuff I can make ends up in the game. All my stuff is heavily inspired by the great Chiptune artists from the midlands to the north half of England and from Ireland, people like Rob Hubbard, Marin Galway, Tim and Geoff Follin, Ben Daglish, David Whittaker, etc. I’m not at their level, but they inspired me to learn and try.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to? 

Right now the game is for PC only. If I make my stretch-goals, I’d love a Switch port, and maybe a PS4/5 store item as well. Nothing is off the table if I get the funding for it. For now, Steam.

 

What has been your favorite area of the game to have designed so far out of so many vibrant and colorful environments?

Hard to say. The urban/modern art world (Tagspire City) is just gorgeous, thanks to the help of a dude called GfxKid, but the best looking levels are in Trois Kingdoms, a world-spanning Egyptian, Greek and Medieval art history with rich purple castles and dark, orange temples. Also, I’m just starting the design of Abstraxis, the abstract world, and the gameplay in that world is going to be nuts.  

 

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

Listen. As of this year, I just turned 40. I have kids, a regular job and other hobbies, but I didn’t want to wait until I’m retired to start getting these games out of my head. Start now, and set yourself a weekly schedule so you get stuff DONE. My own family gets prizes (dinner out, or maybe doughnuts) when I hit a major milestone, and I don’t want to let them down. It pushes me to keep going.

Also, if you’re younger, don’t be afraid to take a regular boring job. I like my boring job, and it fires me up to get creative in the off-hours. Plus, it pays the bills which is how I’m able to focus on getting funds to improve the game rather than make rent. Every dollar of the Kickstarter will go directly toward development, which really makes the whole project more stable and achievable. I work slower than if I quit my job, but the game at least is safe, nobody’s going to come and repossess my computer.

 

Where about on the Internet can people find you? 

Mira’s brush does have a YouTube channel, and I do frequent Reddit, but the best place to follow progress is on Twitter, @MirasBrush – that’s where I’m most active, sharing everybody’s awesome projects and uploading new chiptunes daily.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

No, I really enjoyed this opportunity and hope people check out the game. My Kickstarter isn’t charity, I don’t want a cent for me, it’s all about making the best game I can so people want not just to play it, but complete it.

Thank you!

-Blake

 

 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Blake for agreeing to speak about his game and to let you know that the Kickstarter project is live now and you can back it via this link to help bring this awesome-looking project to life:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mirasbrush/miras-brush-the-cute-colour-based-platform-game

I hope you guys had as much fun reading about Mira’s Brush as I did talking with Blake and discovering this potentially wonderful game and I wish Blake the best of luck with the campaign.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

 

Overlord (PS3, Xbox 360 & PC)

Developer(s) – Triumph Studios

Publisher(s) – Codemasters

Director – Lennart Sas

PEGI – 16

Released in the early period of the seventh generation of gaming, Overlord puts the player in the shoes of a demonic tyrant on a quest to expand his power wherever possible and to hunt down each of the heroes who had destroyed his predecessor with the help of his army of minions. It’s an action-adventure RPG relying heavily on real-time combat and unit control comparable to Nintendo’s Pikmin. During the seventh generation, I spent a great deal of time playing this game as it was one of the most unique titles around at the time In my opinion.

Graphics – 7/10

The conceptual design of the game was very heavily influenced by the writings of JJR Tolkien and the Middle-Earth mythos. The setting and characters are seemingly ripped straight from The Lord of the Rings Complete with dwarves, elves, trolls and even hobbits; albeit they’re always referred to as halflings In the game. The elven habitats are also quite reminiscent of Warcraft III. In terms of the technical side, the graphics were pretty much above average compared to what was being showcased at the time, but as a fan of Tolkein’s work myself, I was quite impressed with how good a job the developers made to perpetuate elements of such and combine them with the dark fantasy elements which I will soon elaborate on. 

Gameplay – 8.5/10

The game is an immersing action-adventure RPG centered around combat to defeat oncoming enemies, puzzles to solve in order to progress through each level and complete each set objective, raising, developing and modifying an army of minions and creating and customizing a base of operations in the form of a huge dark tower, again reminiscent of Barad-Dur from Middle-Earth; the overlord himself ostensibly being a carbon copy of the Dark Lord Sauron. 

This all gives the game all the enjoyability and variety in Gameplay that players can come to expect of a typical game within the genre and it makes for an insanely enjoyable experience. But I would above all recommend players finding and playing the Raising Hell edition released on the PS3 as it comes with additional side quests to complete. 

Controls – 9/10

The third-person combat mechanics are simple to get to grips with, as well as general movement; although additional mechanical are implemented during combat, or doesn’t feel too much like a mixture between turn-based and real-time combat that the Final Fantasy series has unfortunately adopted over the last few installments. The only minor gripe I had with the controls was that the minions can be a little awkward to control at times which can make it easy to accidentally lose minions in some pretty calamitous ways. But after a while of playing, it doesn’t pose too much of a problem In the end. 

Lifespan – 7/10

The game also has a more than adequate Lifespan, requiring an average of 30 hours to complete to 100% counting the Raising Hell quests. Whilst it is a fairly long-lasting experience, the main issue that I took umbrage with to a small extent was that because the game has a fairly linear progression, it made it feel as if everything to do in the game, especially the objective of having to build the tower, would’ve worked far better if it had been part of an open-world game instead. I’m not entirely sure whether or not that was addressed in Overlord II, as I’ve only played it briefly, but nevertheless, it’s worth investing the required amount of time in the original title. 

Storyline – 7/10

The story of Overlord is that the new overlord, elected by a group of minions to rule them, is out for revenge against the warriors who dispatched the previous overlord, whilst expanding his newfound power and growing his minion army. Although it can be simply summed up in its basic premise, what makes the game’s story particularly interesting is the use of dark fantasy and black humor as I alluded to earlier. The minions provide a level of comic relief that certainly wouldn’t be found in Lord of the Rings, segregating it somewhat from the writings that inspired the game’s conceptual design. There are also minor plot threads introduced that deal vaguely with the aftermath of war and what it means for the people of the land the overlord wishes to conquer, but the comedy certainly outweighs any message of moral ambiguity. 

Originality – 9/10

Despite the fact that this game certainly had its influences in terms of both Gameplay and conceptual design, and that it seemingly had its fair share of detractors as a result of which, it regardless provides a level of uniqueness to the fantasy/dark fantasy genre that was a breath of fresh air at a time when the PlayStation 3 had not long been released and there was a certain level of dissatisfaction with launch titles like Ridge Racer 7 and Lair. It was exactly the kind of game the PlayStation 3 needed at the time before many other great games were subsequently released on the system and ostensibly not very many games like it since have been released. 

Happii

Overall, Overlord is a unique, immersing and fun title with a wicked sense of humor to match. It’s as wonderful and fantastical as the books it drew influence from and at the same time provides a gaming experience that has never truly been seen again since. 

Score

47.5/60

7.5/10 (Good) 

Super House of Dead Ninjas (PC)

Developer(s) – MegaDev Games

Publisher(s) – Adult Swim Games

PEGI – 12

Developed as a browser game and later ported to Steam, Super House of Dead Ninjas is a 2D platforming roguelike with randomly generated elements making each playthrough a unique experience. Players must fight their way through hordes of enemies whilst descending a tall demonic tower to defeat the game’s end boss. Expecting a very casual experience, I was delightfully surprised to learn what an addictive game it truly is and ended up spending a lot of hours playing it. 

Graphics – 7.5/10

The game adopts 8-BIT graphics to create a dark fantasy world inspired by medieval England and feudal Japan. Although the game’s setting and scenery can become somewhat repetitive after a while, where this game’s conceptual design truly impresses is in the wide variety of monsters to fight. As the player progresses through the game, new enemies constantly appear for the player to have to contend with as well as differently designed versions of previous enemies to keep the variety in check. The game’s bosses are also superbly varied, which again makes each playthrough wonderfully tense as players must strategize on the spot. The game’s soundtrack, whilst I thought it was enjoyable to listen to, I also thought it was a little out of place. Personally, I think a soundtrack that was more akin to the game’s opening theme would’ve fitted better. 

Gameplay – 7.5/10

The objective of the game is to descend a huge tower whilst hacking and slashing a path through a plethora of enemies in order to reach the bottom where the game’s end boss is waiting. To do so is an insanely addicting experience and since the game is for the most part randomly generated, each playthrough offers a new challenge every time down to the positions of enemies, the layout of each floor and the boss type the player encounters at the end of each segment. The purpose of each playthrough is to collect each of the unlocked weapons and concept art so that gameplay varied is furthermore increased offering players scope to either try new playthroughs using different kinds of weapons or to eventually mix and match weapons and abilities in order to find the best way of traversing the tower as quickly and as unharmed as possible. For such a simplistic concept, it’s staggering to discover just how much variety and how replay value there is to be had with this title. 

Controls – 9.5/10

As the game is built on a formula that has been around for almost half a century, it’s to be expected that there shouldn’t be any problems with the controls and for the most part, there isn’t; for as fast a paced game this is designed to be, everything is set up for players, particularly more seasoned ones, to make it flow as naturally and as fluently as possible. The only one minor gripe I have with the control scheme is the duck mechanic. It took me a while to figure out how to duck and dash at the same time and to do so using a controller is slightly awkward, which did make me unnecessarily die a lot of the time before I finally discovered how to do it, by using both analogue sticks at the same time. Even then it can mar the experience down somewhat, but thankfully, there are generally speaking very little instances within each playthrough that dont call for the use of ducking and dashing so it’s by no means a problem to make the game unplayable. 

Lifespan – 10/10

Although seasoned players will be able to beat this game within ten minutes, the randomly generated content makes for an entirely new experience every time, giving it virtually unlimited replay value. Although some players may seem like all purpose to playing the game is lost once all weapons and abilities are unlocked, this, however, is only the beginning as players can also choose to play through the game using these different weapons every time and effectively give themselves the new challenge that comes with this. 

Storyline – 6/10

As there is only the basic premise, which I’ve already covered, the game offers fairly little in terms of story. It’s very reminiscent of how story in video games would typically be told in old 8-BIT games of the third generation; usually, players would have to rely on the manual to learn more about it, whereas with this game, more details on the story can only be found on the game’s official website or on the Steam page. But with that, there comes the security of not knowing there are no ridiculous plot holes or bad voice acting at least. 

Originality – 7/10

Although the game copies a formula that has existed for a long time, few games provide this much simplicity in design and this much variety in the gameplay at the same time. The game’s enemy design also does well to keep the game fresh throughout without things getting too repetitive and the entire basic premise in and of itself is also fairly unique. There is certainly scope to expand on the game mythology if ever the developers were to make a sequel and the original game would’ve provided enough of a springboard to make that happen. 

Happii

In summation, Super House of Dead Ninjas is an immersive, addictive and insanely fun game to play. It can be played for countless hours thanks to the wonderful amount of variety in gameplay and it’s a title that I can’t recommend enough. 

Score

47.5/60

7/10 (Good)

Q&A With Peyton Burnham

Following another Kickstarter excursion, I came across yet another great-looking game boasting a massive amount to offer players in terms of gameplay, story and wonderful-looking scenery; Rose of Starcross. Inspired by classics such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Undertale and others, the game is a top-down turn-based RPG platformer making use of an intricate 8-BIT art style and conceptual design heavily inspired by Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe series, of which I am personally a big fan of.  Wanting to learn even more about this ambitious title, I got in touch with the game’s designer Peyton Burnham who had a lot to say about the game, as well as it’s development cycle and challenges to have been overcome. Here’s what Peyton had to say about Rose of Starcross:

What were the influences behind your game? 

Way too many to list, honestly! As far as games go, the most obvious ones at first glance would probably be Zelda, Mario, the Toby Fox games, the Mother series and the Souls series for sure but I would mostly just say “games” in general. I take plenty of cues from stuff like Bayonetta to Silent Hill and Resident Evil so really it’s just whatever I love, which is a lot! Same can be said for other media like music, film, and TV!

What has the developmental process been like?

Pretty weird! This is (arguably) my first game so learning EVERYTHING from the ground up has happened during the development process. For a very long time I was fighting my own limitations, getting rid of old systems that were broken, and getting exponentially better at everything so it’s been hectic and super frustrating! But I’ve gotten to a point where I feel confident in my abilities and the base systems I’ve set up for the game! Recently things have been going much more smoothly and I expect that to more or less remain throughout the development.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I would say 2-3 years. Like I said I’ve only just recently gotten a good flow and process so it’s hard to judge how long certain things should take. So between feeling like I’ll be getting into a good pace and the fact that the game will be pretty sizable, I think that 2-3 years is a solid prediction.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Getting to write my music, choreographing cutscenes to it, and then seeing that actually happen in the game is pretty exciting! That’s mostly because I’ve been a musician longer than I’ve been anything else so it’s really cool to get to write music that gets to go with other things. Also, just getting to make a game that I really like is insanely exciting!

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?  

Aside from when I was basically learning how to program and always having to fix stupid and weird bugs, the most persistent challenge has been art 100%. And ESPECIALLY animation. It’s hard, man! Luckily I’ve found an animation method that works for me, but still. 

What has been the most frustrating aspect of development? 

See above! But here I’d also like to add in… marketing! Marketing is a lot of frustration for a ton of reasons. It’s not fun, I can’t work on the game while I’m focusing on it, I feel awful if I DON’T do it, and it’s SUPER IMPORTANT! So a perfect storm of frustration.

As a Steven Universe fan myself, I was chuffed to have confirmed my suspicions that this game drew influence from the show. Do you plan to implement gameplay features reminiscent of the abilities of the Crystal Gems?

I have TONS of gameplay ideas and a few major mechanics that I didn’t introduce or fully exploit in the Demo and it’s very likely some of that stuff might be similar to things you’d see in the show! I don’t normally directly go “oh hey that would be awesome to do in my game.” It’s normally a situation where I just put something in the game because it’s just in my head from watching stuff and playing other games. So short answer… maybe!

How well has the game been received so far? 

As for the few people who’ve actually played it or seen trailers/let’s plays, really well! The people who like it seem to care about it a good bit and want it to succeed which is incredibly flattering and cool.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Right now the plan is PC(Steam and DRM-Free) and the Nintendo Switch!

Will the final game have an even more varied colour palette than what’s been showcased so far?

Absolutely! The main first area is very purple indeed but every major area will similarly be based on different colors. Plus I’m doing a ton of mini-dungeons that’ll just let me do whatever I want color-wise so that’s exciting! Just don’t expect a huge amount of green.

Out of so many wonderful-looking locations, what has been your favourite area to have in the game so far?

I am soooo excited to work on ALL of the major areas that come after the demo. Since it’s my game I got to very selfishly pick all of my favorite types of places! But I will say, the first area after the demo really has my heart in it. It’s cold, cozy, and moody and I love working on it. That being said I seriously can’t wait to get to Demon City.

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

There’s tons of advice out there that’s much better than what I could give and also a lot of similar/repeated advice out there. So I’ll try something more practical and design related! While learning to make games it can be SUPER tempting to put everything you know how to do into your games. Try not to get caught up in showing off what you can do as a programmer or how many features your game has. Try to make decisions for your game that don’t just add to it but enhance it! Harmony is important! We’ve all played games that have stamina bars, crafting, and experience points that don’t need them, right?

Do you have anything else to add?

I could definitely say thanks to the people supporting me! Anyone just following me and my game on twitter, anyone supporting my game in any way, and my incredible parents who any of this would be totally impossible without! So thanks! Oh and if you feel like it, consider helping out my game on Kickstarter! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/roseofstarcross/rose-of-starcross

As well as the link to the Kickstarter page, you can also download a demo of the game via this link:

https://peytonburnham.itch.io/rose-of-starcross-demo

You can also follow the development of the game as it happens by following Peyton on Twitter:

@peydinburnham

I’ve briefly played the demo myself and I’ve been particularly impressed with what the game has to offer at even this preliminary stage of development; especially considering that we are still a fair distance away from seeing the finished article. I thoroughly recommend anyone reading this to try the demo out for yourself and to back the Kickstarter campaign, which as of this writing, is there about halfway towards reaching its goal. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Peyton for agreeing to answer my question and wish him the best of luck with the game as well as to thank everyone who took the time to read about Rose of Starcross.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Ultimate Demolition Derby (PC)

Developer(s) – 3Romans

Publisher(s) – Global Star Software

Released back in 2005 and seemingly taking a majority of influence from Destruction Derby, Ultimate Demolition Derby is a racing game featuring four distinct game modes and a cast of different characters to choose from. However, especially compared to most other racing games that had been and gone since before this title was released, it falls way below par of what I was expecting. I was perhaps anticipating to play a game made in the same vein as Destruction Derby, but with an interesting twist from what I’d read of it prior, but what it offers is an extremely limited and seemingly rushed gaming experience that fails in every aspect.

Graphics – 2/10

To begin, the game’s visuals fail both on a technical and conceptual level. There are four tracks in the game, which whilst come with their own distinct features and art directions, still feel particularly empty and unimaginative; especially compared to the likes of some of the best in the genre including Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing and ModNation Racers. Ostensibly, it doesn’t even hold up against the original two Destruction Derby games in terms of conceptual design. The game’s only remotely commendable feature is the small variety in car design, as each driver has a distinct car and theme to it; like Twisted Metal but nowhere near as wonderfully varied. In certain levels, the frame rate also drops dramatically in courses where there isn’t even a great number of things included to seemingly eat up the game’s memory, which really made me wonder how that was possible whilst running on Windows XP. 

Gameplay – 1/10

As per mentioned, there are four game modes to choose from ranging from simple round-the-track races to battle mode, but the premise remains the same for all four game modes; the player must eliminate all the other opposing cars to have the best chance of winning. There are also weapons and items to be used in the game to maintain an advantage similar to Mario Kart. but although so far I have loosely compared this game to the likes of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal, this game couldn’t hold a candle to either of them and where this is most evident in is in the game’s play. Offering no purpose or incentive for winning whatsoever, there is no satisfaction to be had whilst playing, which is all the more unforgivable since this game came out in 2005 and by that time, the likes of Mario Kart: Double Dash and Gran Turismo 3 had come and gone and both those games, as well as many many other racing games that came before, had had insanely more to offer players than what they’re given with this sad excuse of a game. 

Controls – 4/10

The controls in the game are also a complete mess as the poor turning mechanics can force players to make one unintentional error after the other. It’s especially annoying since every course in the game has at least two ramps to drive over and the turning mechanics really cause a massive problem when the player is in mid-air. It also doesn’t help that it takes a  very little amount of damage for the car to explode. With these two faults combined, it almost makes the game unplayable; not that it is actually worth playing in the first place, of course. 

Originality – 0/10

As I mentioned before, the game’s only saving grace in terms of any aspect is the amount of variety in character design, but again, comparing it to the many racers that had come and gone by this time, it falls way too short of what any genuinely dedicated development team should strive to deliver to players. The courses have next to no originality about them either. Some of the original development team would later go on to contribute to later and better games, such as Lords of the Fallen, but this is definitely a dark stain on their CVs.

Furiious

Overall, ultimate Demolition Derby is one of the worst racing games I’ve ever played; if not the worst. It’s a lacklustre game that fails to deliver in every single aspect and it deserves to be as thoroughly obscure as it is today. 

Score

7/40

1.5/10 (Painful)