Q&A With Joe Mirabello

Today brings a developer interview that has been a long time in the making, and one that I’m thrilled to be bringing to you guys. One of the bigger success stories in the circle of independent video games development throughout the eighth generation was the studio Terrible Posture Games. The company was founded in Boston Massachusetts by industry veteran Joe Mirabello, who previous to this had worked with 38 Studios, working on titles such as Titan Quest and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. After 38 Studios went bankrupt in 2012 following the release of Kingdoms of Amalur, despite the game’s overwhelming critical success, Joe and a number of programmers formed Terrible Posture, and together developed the breakout indie hit, Tower of Guns in 2014, which garnished positive reviews from critics and wowed gamers with its variety in combat, catchy soundtrack and quirky sense of humor.

The ideas perpetuated in Tower of Guns would then later be built upon massively with their subsequent release, 2018’s Mothergunship, which built on the basic premise of Tower of Guns but also introduced a number of new mechanics, such as gun building and a more cohesive story mode. Most recently, Terrible Posture has been developing an episodic gamed named 3 out of 10, described by terrible posture as a playable sitcom and centering around the ill-fated game studio Shovelworks, with the game being much heavier on story than the two former titles, but at the time still perpetuating the same level of humor that Terrible Posture has come to be known for.

With myself having been curious to learn more about Terrible Posture for quite some time, I reached out to the company’s founder Joe Mirabello and requested an interview with him, and he agreed, much to my excitement. So this is what Joe Mirabello had to say about Terrible Posture Games:

 

Where did your passion for video games originate from?

From playing games, of course! And from reading comics and watching movies. As a kid growing up, games and books and movies all kind of blended together into a creative mush; I had limited amounts of time I was allowed to stare at a screen, and so I filled up the gaps with drawing, writing, and creating my OWN games and movies… just on paper.

I can’t quite say when, but sometime between the ages of 7 and 10 I switched from enjoying experiencing stories/games to wanting to MAKE stories and gameplay for others to enjoy; whether that was writing my own Choose-Your-Own-Adventures, making levels in Hyper Lode Runner, or trying to teach myself QBASIC; I found the very act of creation itself to be addicting. Even today, when I get caught up in making something it feels less like work and more like play.

 

Did you have aspirations to develop art for video games from an early age, or was there anything else you wanted to design art for before you decided to go down that route?

Oh, I want to make everything. The lines between art and story and even code are very blurry to me since they all scratch that creative itch… and I feel like you could have flipped a coin and I just as easily could have ended up making comics or films instead of games.

That said, while I did love art from a young age and wanted to work as an artist in some trade, this was in the 90s and you have to understand that no one knew you COULD even be an artist for games back then. The idea that the games were made by people with jobs? Wild! Games were magic, made by magicians only. As I grew up I started modding PC games a little and gradually that route kind of began to reveal itself but it wasn’t until college that it really dawned on me that game art specifically was a valid career path. At that point, I was already studying art and had become quite proficient in working with computers… so it was a natural transition to start messing with game art pipelines.

 

Among the first of your works was designing the art for the Titan Quest games for Iron Lore Studios. What game in the series was your favorite to have designed for?

There was only one game in the TQ series, and then an expansion pack. While I worked on a lot of the art for both titles, the first one was my entry into the industry and it wasn’t until the expansion pack that I was trusted with more ambitious assets like characters, monsters, and some set pieces. I loved making monsters specifically.

 

Were there any elements of the Titan Quest series that influenced your later work?

Honestly, the biggest lesson from Titan Quest for me was that sometimes there is extreme value in quantity. I was tasked with building hundreds of weapons on the game. To hit my deadline I would have to make them fast. Really fast. Sometimes eight or ten of them a day. And the thing is; I wanted to spend days on each one, and could have…. I could have made those weapons look amazing… and the game would have been worse for it.

The leads knew that the game’s success relied on a large number of unique special items; not just a handful, but tons. “Quality not Quantity” is a nice and easy motto to remember.. but can be the death sentence for making an actually good game. The flip side of that phrase is recognizing precisely when “Quantity is itself a Quality” of importance. It’s not every game, but with a game like Titan Quest, that mindset was crucial. While I can work with either mindset, the mark of my progress as a developer has been learning when I need to be deploying one strategy over the other.

 

One of the biggest projects you’ve worked on to date was of course Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. What was it like to work on that game, and what approach did you take to designing what art you did?

I actually didn’t work on Reckoning! I mean, I guess I helped concept out the base world, and some zone concepts were shared between the two games technically but I can’t claim any credit for anything in the game. While the Reckoning team was working away on a single-player game, I was on the MMO team at 38 Studios.

 

What was it like to work with Todd McFarlane?

Todd was hilarious. All of us, including himself, would poke fun of him for wanting to put chains and skulls on everything. I didn’t get to know him too well; as he would only check in periodically with each team, but even still I picked up a few interesting art fundamentals from him. Having grown up loving his artwork, it was pretty cool to know he knew my name, even if only for a short while. I doubt he’d remember it now after all these years. 😀

 

Has Todd reached out to you at any point since the founding of Terrible Posture?

Nope! Every couple of years I get to either see or chat with RA Salvatore though, who was the NYT bestselling writer and third celebrity involved with 38 Studios. He’s very cool and offered some feedback on early builds of Tower of Guns.

 

How rewarding was it to see Kingdoms of Amalur garnish as much critical acclaim as it did at the time?

I felt really happy for the team down in Baltimore. They were kicking their own butts into high gear in order to get Reckoning out the door and it was a heck of a rough development cycle for them—predating that team’s relationship with 38 Studios actually. They should be proud of all the work they did.

 

Of course, 38 Studios folded shortly after the release of the game. What was the experience like on the last day in the office?

It was rough for a lot of people. There were people who were heartbroken. There were people who were in incredibly dire situations financially, medically, or emotionally. Curt Schilling, the celebrity that ran the studio, kept leading everyone on like there was going to be some last-minute financial solution to keep us all working, but it never materialized and toward the end, a lot of people felt conflicted and betrayed.

For my part, I felt guilty; like perhaps I hadn’t worked smart or hard enough. I also felt extreme guilt because there was so much stress and hurt amidst my colleagues… and I did not feel the same. I felt guilty because I was already thinking about “going indie” someday… and the whole closure of 38 was literally the kick I needed to start making Tower of Guns.

 

Were there any further projects planned by 38 Studios following the release of Kingdoms of Amalur, and any information about that which you can share with us?

Well, I was on the MMO project.. that project was the one that started it all, and then Reckoning came along while we kept plodding away on the MMO. There’s some video footage around the web if you look around enough. It was an ambitious project and I spent years working on the technical systems for the environment team, working closely with engineers on terrain, lighting, cinematics, dungeons… it always felt like I was working on something different there and I was quite proud of the visual richness of the world we’d created.

 

Do you still keep in touch with any of your former colleagues at 38 Studios, or have any of them since gone on to join you at Terrible Posture?

Oh, we keep in touch. When a studio as big as 38 implodes, which does happen from time to time in this industry, the team scatters all at once. In a way, it leads to a network of former coworkers, all looking together, and all sharing the same, well, trauma. I would happily work again with many of these people, and I like to think many would want to work with me again. And, in an instant, we scattered all over the world. This network was crucial to helping a lot of the team find new jobs at other companies, both right after the closure and then later, throughout our careers.

As for me personally, I did end up working with a couple of former 38 Studios folks. Most specifically, Chris Zukowski, Master of all things Tech Art and Beyond. He and I have worked closely for years now as a duo, both on Mothergunship and on 3 out of 10. I’ve also gotten a lot of them to help playtest, occasionally help with a little art or sound, and similar things. I would not be surprised if I work with more of them in the future.

 

How exhilarated were you to see Kingdoms of Amalur remastered recently for eighth-generation consoles?

I felt amused, actually. Reckoning’s rights were purchased by THQ Nordic, which used to be just “Nordic Games” or something like that… but they seem to be going around buying everything I’ve ever worked on. They bought the rights and remastered Titan Quest as well! And the rights to the THQ name itself, who published Titan Quest! It’s like they are chasing me! If they are true completionists maybe they’ll ask if they can remaster Tower of Guns someday!

 

Where did the name Terrible Posture come from?

I earned that name through years of hard work not sitting up straight.

 

The impression I got from playing both Tower of Guns and Mothergunship was that the team had a lot of fun during development putting a lot of humorous and random things into the final game. Is having fun one of the main focuses for you and the team while making a game?

Hah. I’m glad the games have that impression. Not all parts of making a game are fun, but generally speaking, if you’re not enjoying the work then that will be reflected in the final game. Enjoying yourself is crucial to making something that fosters, well, joy.. which is what we wanted from both of those games.

 

Of course, going from designing games for others to designing games yourself would’ve come with its own series of complications and challenges. But what was the feeling around Terrible Posture when Tower of Guns went on to become as successful as what it did?

Honestly? It’s been such a whirlwind that I haven’t been able to take a step back and take stock of it. I went from being solo and thinking that Tower of Guns was just a sabbatical to suddenly having a second career on my hands. It’s been a fun, wild ride and I have no shortage of other ideas to bring to people in the future, so I sure hope we can continue to do what we do.

 

I remember Mothergunship being a pretty big deal for an indie game at the time. What was it like seeing that game receive as much critical acclaim as it did; especially when compared to many of the mainstream games you worked on?

It’s interesting that you say that; we were seeing a wave of other excellent titles coming out around then and were intimidated. It was simply a more crowded place to make games than it had been when Tower of Guns was released. That said, I am pleased so many people have enjoyed the game, as it really was a blast to make. I still think future games could even go further though; Tower of Guns and Mothergunship were popular, but I don’t feel like they broke into the mainstream the same way a game with a multi-million dollar marketing budget does. It would be wonderful to work on that sort of game again someday.

 

What was it like for you and your team to make the transition from developing more traditional games to something a little more akin to a visual novel with 3 Out of 10?

3 out of 10 isn’t really a visual novel as much as a playable sitcom… and it was really a labor of love. We had wanted to work on something more story-based for a while and we had a blast developing a unique pipeline and content creation toolset. In a way, me and Chris Zukowski, saw an opportunity to do interesting things using Unreal 4, storytelling, and fast iteration animation, and when we presented the project to Epic, they saw the vision as well. That aspect of the project; working closely with Epic Games to make something completely different, was the chance of a lifetime.

 

What’s next for you and Terrible Posture?

We’re always working on interesting things, most of which I can’t talk about just yet, but I can say that we recently partnered with a company named DJ2 to start working on a television adaptation of 3 out of 10. The project is a natural fit for TV and we’re eager to see where that goes, but we also know that the TV industry moves at a much different pace than games… so we’re keeping ourselves plenty busy with other projects as well.

 

Is there any genre of game that you haven’t yet tried to develop that you might like to at some point?

Well, due to the nature of 3 out of 10 we were able to explore a TON of different genres; puzzle games, rhythm games, Zelda clones, pinball, platformers, car combat… heck, even a physics-based-stealth-quasi-golf-game where you put around a pet crate.  That said, I have always wanted to work on a stealth FPS.. so perhaps someday that will be in the cards (although I’m not working on one currently).

 

If you had the opportunity to work with another developer on any franchise of your choice, which one would it be, and why?

Oh, man. That’s a tough question. Honestly, I consider myself lucky to be working with Zuko, my coworker I mentioned earlier. He and I work very well together and we do pretty awesome stuff. That said, there are other developers I really admire and would love to work with someday. For example, I’d love to work with EdmundM on“The Maxx” game or a horror game with Kenneth Scott. I’d love the chance to make a Tremors game. Or to work on a new Thief game. Or to revive the No One Lives Forever franchise, a criminally forgotten series.

 

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

Unfortunately, the route I took to get into the industry isn’t the same one most developers take now; back in the early 2000s you simply had to show up and be moderately skilled in a technical discipline (like game art is/was) and the industry would pluck you up.

The show-up-and-be-skilled part is still partly true, but the base skill level is much much higher these days. That said, another tactic I used; teaching myself as much as I could through tutorials, side projects, modding scenes, and online communities has become even more viable than it was 20 years ago. These days, the knowledge of how to make games isn’t nearly as gated and tools like Blender, UE4/5, and similar are ever-more accessible. So, today the trick is not getting discouraged. It takes time to gain skill. It takes work and momentum and motivation to keep going. Find ways to give that motivation and you’ll have half the work done.  For example; make a lot of smaller projects so you will finish them. Or, instead, enter game jams, which have a set deadline. Or, instead, join a mod team for some project, where you will have teammates. Or enter an art station contest. Or basically, do whatever it takes to fool your brain into not freaking out about what you don’t know and to just create—that’s the most important thing. Make terrible stuff and then edit your next thing to be a little better than the last. It’s easier said than done, but that tactic is still a valid route to improvement at most trades, game development included.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Sorry, it took me so long to reply to you! Thanks for having me though!

I’d like to take this opportunity to give a massive thank you to Joe and wish him and Terrible Posture Games the best of luck for the future. Joe and Terrible posture have produced some of the most creative and addicting titles of the eighth generation in my opinion, and I can’t wait to see where the company goes next in terms of new ideas and new projects. With the many ideas that Joe has in the pipeline, I believe Terrible Posture has the potential to go even further than what they have already gone in such a short span of time, and It’ll be very interesting to see what they come up with next. If you’re interested, you can follow Terrible Posture by subscribing to their mail list via the link below:

https://www.terribleposture.com/

But in the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed this interview because I certainly did.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

 

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Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X & Switch)

Developer(s) – Live Wire & AdGlobe

Publisher(s) – Binary Haze Interactive

Director(s) – Keisuke Okabe

Producer(s) – Junichi Asame

PEGI – 12

 

Released last month to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim, Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a Metroidvania title, unlike most others. Combining dark fantasy with Japanese anime, it presents players with challenging gameplay reminiscent of the Dark Souls series and incorporates beautifully twisted mythology that results in a roller coaster of emotion from beginning to end. Some time ago, I had written a first impressions article on this game:

https://scousegamer88.com/2021/02/01/ender-lilies-quietus-of-the-knights-first-impressions/

And I summarized my astonishment at just how good a game the developers seemed to be promising players. After finally finishing this game, I was anything but disappointed.

 

Graphics – 10/10

The game’s visuals make use of 2D sprites and environments similar to many modern-day Metroidvania classics such as the Ori games and Dust: An Elysian Tail. Albeit, Ender Lilies has a much darker atmosphere than either of the aforementioned games combined. Taking place in the sorrowful environments of Land’s End, the world had been ravaged by an evil entity known as the Blight, causing death and destruction throughout the world. Each location across the game is suitably scary and ominous, but at the same time, the game presents players with a feel of simultaneous beauty and melancholy in elements such as the soundtrack and certain other environmental designs. It’s rare that I’ve played a game that has such a stark contrast between eloquence and darkness as Ender Lilies does.

 

Gameplay – 8/10

The game is a 2D Metroidvania with RPG elements. Throughout the game, the player acquires more abilities to advance to otherwise impassable areas, in lieu of Metroidvania tradition, but new abilities in combat can also be learned throughout in the form of defeating both the main bosses and a series of sub-bosses that offer lesser, but strategically valuable abilities that can be used in accordance with either each situation in combat or for the purposes of exploration, and there’s certainly a lot of exploration to be had in this game. Backtracking is an important feature of this game, with players being able to discover many new and even secret areas within the game. But most prominent of all is the level of challenge that it presents players with. It’s not quite on the same level as Blasphemous in this respect, but it’s most definitely not a game for the faint of heart. Oftentimes, I found myself wondering whether or not I was in a more advanced area of the game than what I ought to have been, only to realize that I was completely on course to finishing it at almost all times. 

 

Controls – 10/10

As is needed in a game like this, the controls also pose no problems thankfully. If there had been any issues, it would’ve caused bigger problems than what it would in a game of reasonable difficulty, since Ender Lilies is a lot more demanding than the average Metroidvania. But any slip-ups where this game is concerned will be down to the player. It takes a great deal of skill and experience to advance through this game, but thankfully, the controls will not slow players down. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

The game can be made to last a total of 22 hours, give or take, which for a Metroidvania is a reasonable amount of time to last. It’s nowhere near on the level as what Hollow Knight can be made to last, but this puts it on par with the average 2D open-world title at least. With any luck, the developers did leave scope for expansion in the form of either a sequel or DLC because this is a series that is most definitely worth continuing after one game, but only time will tell on that one, unfortunately. 

 

Storyline – 8/10

The story of Ender Lilies focuses on a young white priestess named Lily, who after waking up in a derelict church, discovers that the world has been ravaged by entities such as the evil Blighted creatures and the Rain of Death. Aided by numerous incorporeal allies, who are the last remaining remnants of individuals who were affected by the Rain of Death, Lily resolves to put an end to the curse and thus restore Land’s end to its former glory. As I commented in my first impressions article, I noticed similarities early on between this game and Shadow of the Colossus on the thematic level, as the game seemed to perpetuate the same feeling of bittersweetness throughout. Having played through it in its entirety, I stick by my initial assessment. The game takes the player through a whirlwind of emotion that will have them on the edge of their seats as they discover the backstory of each ally acquired throughout the game and ultimately discovering the fates of Lily and Land’s End

 

Originality – 7.5/10

Although the idea of a Metroidvania RPG had been perpetuated before on numerous occasions, the elements that make this game stand out among most other Metroidvanias, as well as other games in general, is in the atmosphere that it presents throughout, as well as it’s beautifully distorted mythology. Eldritch horrors litter Land’s End throughout, the game provides players with a wonderful contrast between beauty and horror, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a video game, making it truly an unforgettable experience that players will savor for a long time. 

 

Happii

Overall, Ender Lilies is most definitely one of the best games I’ve played of 2021; it’s a weird and elegant game that will give players a stern challenge and along with that an immense sense of satisfaction, but at the same time, leave them with a profound sense of wonder after experiencing the story. It’s exactly the game that those in the Momodora series should’ve been.

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Mages Defence Header

Q&A With Happy Eagle Games

Whilst browsing social media platforms for new video game prospects, I was approached by yet another indie developer looking to bring their game to a wider audience. Mages Defense, under development at Happy Eagle Games based in Brazil, is an action-strategy game with tower defense elements set in a fantasy world reminiscent of the works of Tolkein. The main objective of the game is to protect a crystal from dark creatures bent on destroying the world. Enemies attack in waves and to defend the crystal, players must place traps in increasingly strategic ways and use the magic of the mages to beat each wave. 

Wanting to know even more about this exciting and addictive-looking title, I proposed to the game’s project leader Felix Tedesco about the possibility of conducting a Q&A for the site to ask him some questions about the direction in which development has gone, and my go, and what players can come to expect with this game ahead of the launch of a Kickstarter campaign planned for October. Here’s what Felix Tedesco of Happy Eagle Games had to say about Mages Defense:

 

Mages Defence 1

What were the influences behind your game?

One of our first influences was that Orcs Must Die. Orcs Must Die is a 3rd person tower defense and we got a lot of elements from there and definitely this game shapes ours. The other game that inspired us was kingdom rush, another tower defense game that gave us a lot of new ideas…

 

What has the developmental process been like?

The process has been fun and positive. We committed so many mistakes, more than we can count, but all mistakes we made became part of us and we learned from them. Of course, we are going to commit a lot more, but we know that is part of the plan.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

We intend to make a Kickstarter campaign in October to gather some money and finish our product. Depending on how the game goes on Kickstarter, we are planning to develop some new and unique levels and release the game early next year. Probably February or March…

 

Mages Defence 2

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

We think it was the fact that we are creating our own technique because it’s our first big game. We made a lot of mistakes in the process that made us much more ready for the next one. For the next game, we know how to avoid the mistakes we’ve made and that makes us stronger. We learn how to work as a team and to overcome problems.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

The mechanics were the most challenging part of development. At the beginning of the project, we had some trouble making it fun, simple, and functional and even after making a lot of the game, we still needed to adapt and change some parts of it.

 

There was limited information on the Internet about Happy Eagle. Can you give a rundown of the history of the company, where you’re based and what prior developmental experiences you have?

We were acting in some game jams, especially here in Brazil. We made some small games and prototypes to train our abilities and gain some experience. The name came because we are focused on creating happy, fun, and positive games especially because of the world’s problems we had. We think the main goal of life is being happy and that’s why we are focused on creating a fun and colorful game. The eagle means that we want to fly as high as possible and we are going to do everything in our control to make it happen.

 

Mages Defence 3

How well has the game been received so far?

We just showed the game to a local community at the moment… The feedback is being pretty cool and helped us to build a new perspective of the game. Because of the feedback, we think it has a lot of potential, and we are making the best product we can! We are working on a great Demo that will be ready in October for our Kickstarter campaign.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

We just have plans to bring it for PC right now. But we are open to new possibilities.

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

We are reworking on the Boss fights. We planned something that we were pretty cool with in the beginning but when we build it, it wasn’t good enough. So we are making the fight with the bosses again. The initial idea was that the bosses would fight against the player 1 x 1. but now we are bringing the boss along the waves of enemies.

 

Mages Defence 4

Are you planning to make Mages Defense into a series, or are you and the development team looking to try something new following the release of Mages Defense?

Probably. We are going to try something new. At least this is our thought at the moment. Of course, if the game reaches great success, we are going to make Mages Defense 2 and grow our team.

 

How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?

It was the most important thing! Their feedback made us change a lot of aspects of the game, including some parts of the mechanics making it more simple and easy to master. I think one of our difficulties right now is balance the game and the maps and the players are the keys to that.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?

Rockstar is my favorite company by far. I just love the idea of an open-world game where you can do everything and if I had the opportunity, I’d make a partnership with them.

 

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

Follow your dreams. Work with whatever makes you happy… Of course, that is not a possibility for everybody but go for passion instead of just money. Money needs to be the consequence, not the goal. If you are really committed to something, the money will come. Be Hunger!

 

Where on the Internet can people find you?

We are working on our other media. You can find us right now on Twitter:

 

https://twitter.com/CreativeFelix

You also can WISHLIST Mages Defense now On STEAM!

 

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1528330/Mages_Defense/

Do you have anything else to add?

We just want to thank you for the opportunity to spread our game and thanks to everyone who is helping us to make the project more and more attractive! You are awesome!!!

 

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Felix for reaching out to me and bringing this game to my attention, as well as agreeing to our interview. Mages Defense looks like a game that can potentially make for ours of addicting gameplay, and as a fan of the conventional medieval fantasy genre myself, I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the mythology behind it. In recent months, I’ve interviewed a number of indie developers originating from Brazil, including 2ndBoss Studios, Statera Studios, and Orube Studios, and the indie scene in the country is looking very exciting at the moment, and Happy Eagle is set to be another prominent example of which. I hope you guys are looking forward to the game’s Kickstarter campaign in October, and hope that you’re looking forward to playing this game as much as I am

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Astro Colony Header

Q&A With Tefel

Seeking out interviews with developers often puts me in touch with a lot of promising programmers who are working on their game solo or as part of a small team; today’s Q&A is one of those exciting examples. Astro Colony, programmed by Polish developer and former Splash Damage alumnus, Lukasz “Tefel” Czarnecki, along with a small team of artists, designers, and composers, is a relatively new Kickstarter project that has recently been successfully funded after a third of the campaign had passed. Inspired by some of the biggest names in indie sandbox games, such as Minecraft, it focuses on the management and maintenance of a space colony, whereby players must gather resources and supplies in order to expand on their colony, explore the deepest recesses of space, and spend resources on upgrades through an elaborate research system to improve the technology required to maintain the colony. I was approached by Tefel mid-week and introduced to this potentially groundbreaking title, and I was immediately interested in learning more about it. I asked him a few questions I had about the game and what it could potentially evolve into following its successful Kickstarter campaign. Here’s what Lukasz “Tefel” Czarnecki had to say about Astro Colony:

 

Astro Colony 1

What were the influences behind your game?

Originally I was inspired by Factorio when I met developers somewhere in 2014. Since then automation genre was my favorite, so I had started the development of my own automation game. When I left Splash Damage (around 3 years ago) I met Konrad who suggested that we may want to make a space exploration game with colonies full of life inspired by Space Engineers. Astro Colony is a combination of both, mixing exploration & automation and also adding destructible Voxels known from Minecraft

 

What has the developmental process been like?

I started prototyping the game in 2018 focusing on more complex problems, like movement systems for giant space stations, docking many space stations simultaneously, creating own multi-threaded grid pathfinding systems, and other conveyor / crafting systems. When every crucial mechanic for development was in place, together with Konrad we started to plan more gameplay features, adding devices necessary from the gameplay standpoint.

During this process, I realize how hard game design may be. I got stuck few times, not knowing how to solve the problem. For example, having Astronauts arriving at the colony, but not having Cook yet to prepare food for them. I had to add Hydrotonic to the mix (produced in Hydro generator) early in the game, which fills the gap and allows fulfilling early Astronaut needs before they are specialized to produce more caloric food.

 

Astro Colony 2

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

Since the beginning, we have been planning every feature of the game carefully to not overload the scope of the project, which makes us currently very confident about delivering the game next year. We have established the main game loop with everything planned and moved to the polishing stage and bug fixing. We would still like to add some additional features, but we want to make sure that everything is fully playable and well balanced before moving to the next stage this year.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

For me as a game programmer, the most exciting was to improve our Astronauts system with a shader animation, which allows adding millions of Astronauts at the same time. It was very funny to watch poor Astronauts getting stuck in narrow corridors!

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

Making sure that Voxel technology works nicely with a grid system, at the same time looking spectacular too. I am using many “tricks” to get away from Minecraft’s blocky look, but still keeping the shape where every device can be placed on the terrain precisely. Procedurally generated planets it’s a key mechanic, so I had to spend a long time to make it right! After having assisted in the development of mainstream titles such as Halo: The Master Chief Collection, what attracted you to the independent development scene? Making my own independent game was always my dream, maybe that’s why I made many prototypes in the past (my YouTube channel is full of them)!

Even before I started working in the AAA game industry, I always wanted something more! I was very excited working on Halo MCC in a fantastic atmosphere with so many passionate game developers. However I think everything got somehow predictable (not saying boring): knowing exactly what is our goal, not working on a new title but porting old ones… the situation was slowly killing my creativity. I reached the moment when I couldn’t stand it anymore.

 

Astro Colony 3

Were there any veteran developers that you got the chance to work with that offered you any advice ahead of going independent?

Yes, I met many veterans, lead developers with 20+ years of experience telling me stories about releasing games for the first generation of consoles (PSX and Xbox). Ways to advertise are now different, but challenges to overcome are still similar: you start from planning features, listen to community feedback, prepare the first MVP version which is followed by a demo and beta testing.

 

How well has the game been received so far?

During the first few days of our campaign, we’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s feedback! We didn’t realize how many people were waiting for a new automation title.

Certainly having elements similar to other successful games allowed players to immediately understand and see the potential, but many aspects make Astro Colony unique, and certainly, a breath of fresh air teases the imagination of the public.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Currently, we are focusing only on PC, to ensure the release next year! We have many requests from players to bring the game to iOS and Linux too, so we will put an extra effort to make it possible very soon.

 

What are the most prominent examples of science fiction that have gone on to inspire Astro Colony?

Some of the inspiration comes from science fiction films, like Ridley Scott’s The Martian and Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion, where the protagonist finds himself alone in space, having to find and invent ways of using resources to survive.

Nolan’s Interstellar and the French comic Valérian et Laureline (from Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières) also provided inspiration for the aesthetics of planets and environments.

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

Like I mentioned before, every feature was carefully planned. So far there was no need of removing or reworking any of the already implemented features! Some of them were extended like Asteroid Catcher being automated with the next upgrade.

But elements of the inventory that we created previously – as the floor – are actually in need of a cut: do we really need twenty different types of tiles?!

 

How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?

We’ve been working closely with some publishers, play-testing the game early to ensure that every mechanic of the game is easily understandable. We wish to open our game to a wider audience and sharing it with the community, but that will come when Early Access is released next year, so every player can give his direct feedback!

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?

Blizzard company will be definitely my choice, as I was a Starcraft programmer and a huge fan of many of their titles, like Diablo and Warcraft.

 

How have your past experiences as a developer helped you along the course of this project?

Having worked as a developer in the past helped me enormously to create a realistic schedule and system to not get lost. Previously, when I was creating other prototypes, I was too quick-tempered., creating mechanics without much plan. Now, instead, I know how important is to take your time testing mechanics, ensuring that the combination with each other creates harmony and nothing is left to chance, so every next iteration is raising the quality bar!

 

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

Don’t get into solo development too early. You will always have time for your independent project and realizing the game of your dream, but gathering experience in AAA companies is priceless and gives the basis to achieve the best!

 

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

YT tutorial and development channel: https://www.youtube.com/UnrealTefel Twitter for daily updates and news: https://twitter.com/TefelDev, and obviously Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/teradgames/astrocolony

 

Do you have anything else to add?

I really want to thank everyone who helped us to reach our goal in the ongoing Kickstarter campaign, and I cannot wait to share Astro Colony with the players!

 

I’d just like to take the opportunity to thank Lukasz for reaching out to me and bringing this game to my attention, and also to congratulate him and the team on the game’s successful backing in such a short period of time. Astro Colony looks like a particularly innovative game, so when I first laid eyes on the trailer, it was no wonder to me that this game had been funded as quickly as it was. With the potential, it has in terms of offering variety in gameplay to players, and the interest surrounding the game’s mythology, I can’t wait to start playing this game upon release. If you guys like the look of Astro Colony and would like to fund the game’s stretch goals on Kickstarter, you can do via the link above, but in the meantime, I hope you’re all as excited for the release of this title as I am.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88.

Plot of the Druid Header

Q&A With Adventure4Life Studios

Some months back, I had discovered a promising title set for unveiling on Kickstarter rooted in wonder,  conspiracy, and British humor; this week, I’m happy to say I’m able to bring it to the attention of the wider audience it deserves. Plot of the Druid is a medieval fantasy point-and-click adventure game featuring humor inspired by the likes of Monty Python and other classic examples of British comedy. Developed by Adventure4Life Studios, it tells the story of a disgraced druid’s apprentice who sets out to restore the natural order of the world as we know it. What will make this point-and-click stand out on paper (depending on how funding goes) is the fact that it is potentially set to be open-ended, as players can choose to deal with different situations in however way they choose as opposed to it having one pre-determined path. The player must also use spells learned in order to solve puzzles, interact with NPCs, and progress through the game.

Eager to know more about this prospect-filled title amidst its current Kickstarter campaign, I got in touch with Adventure4Life’s CEO Yakir Israel and asked him a few questions in regards to the game, and what kind of weird and wonderful things players can expect going into it, and how it may stand among some of the very best games in the genre, such as Monkey Island, Broken Sword or Grim Fandango. Here’s what Yakir Israel of Adventure4Life Studios had to say about Plot of the Druid.

 

Plot of the Druid 1

What were the influences behind your game? 

I’m a big fan of everything related to fantasy and comedy. I also grew up on point-and-click adventure games such as Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Simon the Sorcerer, and Monkey Island, which shape the main course of my game. When I played Book of Unwritten Tales ten years ago, I realized that the PnC genre hadn’t died, and it inspired me to make my own game with a similar fantasy setting.

King’s Quest, Harry Potter, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz all had an impact on the setting as well. More than that, Plot of the Druid has a big mixture of influencers: The whole focus on druids comes from the Asterix comics and Radagast from Lord of the Rings, the shapeshifting mechanic comes from Visionaries – Knights of the Magical Light, the art style was inspired by the 2D beautiful hand-painted Broken Sword series, and all the wacky characters in the game took inspiration from Simon the Sorcerer, Discworld, and Monkey Island.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

I’ve been working on this game for almost six years, and there were many ups and downs. I worked full-time in hi-tech and saved some money each month to pay expert freelancers for aspects of the game that I can’t do myself, but it was a very tight budget. Some of the team members lost motivation when the budget ran out. And each time someone leaves, it causes delays to find a replacement.
Luckily, since this game is my dream, I keep moving on even so and never stop making it. Now, in the last year, I can say the team has become more stable, and I’ve also gotten small investments from people who believe in the project. These helped me release the prologue, and I came to the conclusion I have to go as soon as possible to crowdfunding if I want the full game to happen.

 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

My goal is to finish it by the beginning of 2023. Right now only twenty percent of the game is done, but if the game will get funded that can boost the development process. And I can reach that goal.

 

Plot of the Druid 2

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

After the prologue was released I got a lot of feedback, and with the experience, I gained during the years I decided to rewrite some of the story elements. It was very exciting to spot parts that weren’t working very well and improve them. I was very proud of the final result.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?  

Doing optimization – I had to decrease the build size and manage the memory more efficiently. The animations are frame-by-frame, so I had to put a lot of effort into making the loading time shorter. Each load took more than 15 seconds. After optimization, it took less than 2 seconds and the build size decreased by 70 percent!

  

How well has the game been received so far? 

I would say pretty good. It’s listed as Very Positive on Steam and often I get positive messages from around the world. It’s really encouraging me to keep moving, knowing that things are going in the right direction!

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

PC is my main priority, which I think is the main audience for point-and-click games. But if I get lucky and reach certain stretch goals, I will be happy to port to mobile and consoles as well. 

 

Are there any stretch goals planned for the Kickstarter campaign?

Yes, besides the typical goals such as localization, adding voice and mobile versions, I would like to add multiple paths, two different endings, more shapeshifting abilities, CGI cutscenes, and a comic book.

 

What examples of British humor influenced this game?

In addition to the British point and click games I mentioned, Monty Python and Blackadder. 

 

Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that have since been scrapped or reworked?

When I rewrote the story elements, some of the concepts had to be removed or adapted to fit the new ideas. I kept the polished parts, which had taken lots of time and effort, and applied them in a different context. It’s funny since people that tried the first rough versions back in 2017-2018 won’t recognize the new version especially in terms of story and puzzles.

 

How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been? 

Usually, I trust my gut feeling, but of course, making a game isn’t just about the creator. The phase where the player’s feedback has the most impact is beta testing. I listen carefully to what they have to say and decide if their suggestion is practical and if it enhances the game experience, like if something isn’t clear or additional hints are needed. After the release, I tend to work mostly on major bug fixes to avoid unnecessary ripple effects.

 

If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?

I would like to make an alternate sequel to Simon the Sorcerer 2! My idea is to keep the game in the same 2D pixel style, but with a different story that starts immediately after the cliffhanger at the end, when Simon and Sordid switched bodies. So you can play as Simon in Sordid’s body at the start of the game, while you see cutscenes of Sordid in Simon’s body in the real world, trying to be menacing but no one really cares. How funny would that be?!

 

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

  1. Work on something you would like to play yourself. 
  2. Start with a small project – you can learn a lot from the dev process… you will improve later.
  3. Break your work into small milestones – each milestone achieved can boost your motivation, you will have something to show, and you can get feedback from it.
  4. Don’t wait to finish your game and then start to promote it – you need to build a community around it as soon as possible. Building a fan base takes time and effort. Spreading the word is more than 70% of a project’s success, BUT make sure the contents you send to the press are high quality!

Where on the Internet can people find you?

The best place to start is the website – www.plotofthedruid.com, from there you can subscribe to newsletters to get updates and reach our social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Discord.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

We released a free prologue last year, you can play it here:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1544570/Plot_of_the_Druid_Nightwatch/
And like I already mentioned, being funded is crucial for making the full game, please consider

backing it: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/plot-of-the-druid/plot-of-the-druid
There are cool rewards, such as an original big box version like the old school game used to have, the backers can make contributions and even appear in the game itself!

 

I’d like to thank Yakir for taking the time out to answer my questions on Plot of the Druid. Alongside names such as Lucy Dreaming, there seems to be an incoming influx of indie point-and-click adventure games, and Plot of the Druid, at first glance, looks like a game that is sure to deliver an extremely memorable experience to both fans of the genre and newcomers. If you’d like to back the game on Kickstarter, you can do so via the link provided, but in the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed this one because I certainly did.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

SG88 The Addams Family Header

The Addams Family (Super NES & Mega Drive)

Developer(s) – Ocean Software

Publisher(s) – Ocean Software & Flying Edge

Designer(s) – Warren Lancashire

PEGI – N/A (Suitable for all ages)

 

Initially released in 1992 by Software for fourth-generation hardware, The Addams Family game, based on the 1991 movie starring Raul Julia, Angelica Huston, and Christopher Lloyd, received mixed reviews when it came out, (much like the film), is described as a boring Mario clone, or Mega Magazine even advising players to either “watch a tree, or grow something instead”. Versions for older consoles, such as the NES, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and even handheld consoles were also developed, but each of these versions is like their own games in and of themselves. 

With the original port, however, it’s interesting to me how the perception of an old game can potentially change over time. If I’d been reviewing back in the time of the Super NES, I may very well have had similar concerns to the likes of Mega Magazine, but even still, my overall opinion would have been very different, since not only do I enjoy this game a lot today, but I also played the hell out of it back when it was released. I enjoyed it thoroughly back then, and I still enjoy playing it now. 

 

Graphics – 8/10

The visuals differ slightly between both the Super NES and the Mega Drive version, but both versions do exceptionally well to capture the feel of not only the 1991 film but the franchise in general. It’s one of those games based on a license that tries to celebrate the license as much as possible, and I always enjoy a licensed game for that reason. The game takes place in and around the Addams residence, which is plagued by creatures of the night that Gomez Addams must contend with. Each area of the house is uniquely designed and differentiated from one another, giving it a strong vibe of classic Castlevania games. In particular, the portraits on the walls of the portrait gallery are excellently detailed in terms of technical performance, with the characters bearing striking resemblances to the real-life actors; not only that of Raul Julia as Gomez, Angelica Huston as Morticia, and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester but also of Christina Ricci as Wednesday and Jimmy Workman as Pugsley. 

 

Gameplay – 8.5/10

Not quite a traditional 2D side scroller, the player has the option to come and go as they please throughout the Addams residence, giving it far more of a Metroidvania feel. The objective is to navigate the Addams residence and rescue each of the other family members; Wednesday, Pugsley, Grandma Addams, Uncle Fester, and finally Morticia. Throughout the game, there are several secret areas to uncover along the way, as well as different power-ups to use in order to reach otherwise impassable areas or to give the player an edge in combat. There’s also a series of pretty challenging boss fights to contend with at the end of each area; and challenging is the right word for this game, as there are also many different platforming sequences that will test even the most hardened of platformer fans. 

 

Controls – 10/10

The game’s controls are also as fluent as any good platformer was at the time. Featuring other items to use throughout, it’s actually given more variety in terms of gameplay than the average side scroller, and therefore, more functionality in terms of controls than in other games of the same ilk. There’s so much in this game to differentiate it from others in terms of controls alone that it made me wonder how even reviewers at the time couldn’t recognize that back then. 

 

Lifespan – 8.5/10

The lifespan is even longer than the average platformer, clocking in at around an hour and a half to two hours, depending on whether or not the player decides to complete it to 100%. Of course, there would be other games in other genres that would blow this amount of time out of the water, and would only continue to do so going into the fifth generation of gaming, but there’s a lot to be said for a game like this that dared to defy convention, even if it went pretty much unnoticed at the time. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The plot of the story follows the second half of the films quite closely, Tully Alford, the Addams Family lawyer, has taken over the Addams estate and captured the remaining Addams family members, and Gomez resolves to rescue them. The plot element of the film concerning Uncle Fester is also present, as he has amnesia and he is cured of it once Gomez releases him. The plot is presented nowhere near as well as what it is in the original film, but it does a good enough job setting up the premise of gameplay.

 

Originality – 8/10

It’s very easy to overlook how quietly innovative this game was back in its time. It perpetuated a lot of the same ideas that the likes of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night did birthing the entire Metroidvania genre a full two years before the release of Super Metroid. It was even quite easy for me to take it for granted back in the day since I was unfamiliar with the concepts of gaming history and even the differentiation of gaming genres at the time, but as I’ve grown older and learned far more than I knew about games since, It’s made me appreciate truly how innovative this title was. 

 

Happii

Overall The Addams Family remains every bit as much of a joy to play today as what it was back when it was released. I highly recommend this game to any side-scrolling fan who may be either looking for a challenge or looking to try a silently original game that unfortunately fell through the cracks at the time of its release. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

SG88 World of Illusion Header

World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)

Developer(s) – SEGA AM7

Publisher(s) – SEGA

Director(s) – Emiko Yamamoto

Producer(s) – Patrick Gilmore

PEGI – 3

 

Released as a Sega Genesis exclusive, unlike its predecessors Castle of Illusion and Land Illusion, World of Illusion is the third game in the series, which puts players in the shoes of not only Mickey Mouse but also his companion Donald Duck, offering two different experiences depending on which character the player chooses at the start. It was released to rave reviews back in 1992 with critics praising the graphics and multiplayer, but it also had one or two detractors in addition, which some labeled the single-player mode as dull or bland. 

Growing up, World of Illusion was the Illusion game I spent the most time on, and as a prerequisite, I enjoyed it very much back in the day. Nostalgia aside, I still enjoy playing it. In terms of quality, I put it in between the original two; it’s quite as good as Land of Illusion, but it’s slightly better than Castle of Illusion in my opinion.

 

Graphics – 8/10

The first thing to notice right off the bat compared to the other two Illusion games is that the graphics outstrip both of them on the technical side. Everything from the environments to the characters looks better than they ever had done before, showcasing in spectacular fashion what the Sega Mega Drive was capable of as the fourth generation was well and truly established. On the conceptual level, it still impresses, having been influenced by a number of Disney films such as Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and Sleeping Beauty to name but a few; similar to how Castle of Illusion was put together, but on a greater scale.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

The gameplay also follows a very similar formula to that of Castle of Illusion, being a traditional 2D sidescroller offering two different adventures; one as Mickey Mouse and the other as Donald Duck. It’s nowhere near as open-ended as Land of Illusion is, but both playthroughs offer a very different experience to one another, as Donald Duck is forced to find alternative paths across each level due to him having different capabilities to Mickey Mouse. The multiplayer is also an outstanding experience to indulge in as it requires slightly more cooperation to progress through than in other side scrollers of the time. 

 

Controls – 9.5/10

The only minor fault I found with the controls, as I discussed in my review of Castle of Illusion, was the crawling mechanics. Whenever the player character crawls, it seems way too dragged on and nowhere near as fluent as a normal movement. But as I said, it’s only a nitpick; it doesn’t hinder gameplay to the point of it being unplayable, and regular movement is as fluent as it is in any of the best platformers released at the time. 

 

Lifespan – 7.5/10

Clocking in at around an hour, World of Illusion lasts about the same time as Land of Illusion despite its linearity, which for the time is pretty impressive in all fairness, especially compared to what is essentially a Metroidvania. It racks up around the average lifespan of a game back in its time, so it may seem like nothing compared to what gamers will be used to in this day and age, but for the time, it’s impossible to complain about too much. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The story of World of Illusion is almost identical to that of Land of Illusion. It involves Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck being swept away on yet another adventure, as they are taken by an evil magician in the form of Mickey’s long-standing arch-nemesis Pete. Again, like in the previous Illusion games, the cutscenes do as good a job as what could’ve been expected to tell the story as effectively as possible, but in the respect of the game’s story, it falls a little short in terms of uniqueness.

 

Originality – 7.5/10

The aspects in which this game doesn’t fall short of in terms of uniqueness, however, are in both the graphics and the gameplay. The conceptual design, despite the fact they were inspired by several different Disney films, still feels like it’s its own cohesive idea as opposed to it feeling like a mish-mash of different previously conceived elements. And although the game isn’t quite on par with Land of Illusion in terms of gameplay, it’s necessary to appreciate the fact that the developers tried something new instead of simply giving the players the same experience all over again.

 

Happii

In summation, World of Illusion holds a lot of nostalgic value to me personally, but in the grander scheme of things, it’s still a great game to play. The multiplayer is immersing, the graphics look great, and whilst the story isn’t very original, especially by Disney’s own lofty standards, there’s more than enough here on offer to make up for it.

Score

48.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

SG88 Land of Illusion Header

Land of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Master System & Game Gear)

Developer(s) – Sega

Publisher(s) –  Sega

Director(s) – Yoshio Yoshida

Producer(s) – Patrick Gilmore

PEGI – 3

Released on third-generation hardware well into the fourth generation, Land of Illusion was brought out following the immense success of the previous Mickey Mouse game developed by Sega, Castle of Illusion, and for the most part, received the same level of critical acclaim being considered an adored classic by most who played it. Out of the original Illusion trilogy, Land of Illusion was the one entry that I never got to play, as, at this time, I was firmly immersed in fourth-generation hardware, such as the Super NES and the Mega Drive; and it’s a shame that this game never saw a release on the Mega Drive, because a multitude of reasons, it is the best in the Illusion trilogy in my opinion; superior to both Castle of Illusion and World of Illusion.

 

Graphics – 8.5/10

Where the technical side of things is concerned, the game kind of looks like a mixture of both 8-BIT and 16-BIT visuals, seemingly going above and beyond what many gamers may have thought the Sega Master System was capable of. People who have never played this game would most probably take a cursory look at it and maybe too hasty to write it off immediately as a game that seemingly came to a generation too late. But the fact of the matter is Land of Illusion looks too good to be a third-generation title. The conceptual design is also even more of an improvement on what the developers did with Castle of Illusion to me, as it borrows elements from much darker Disney films than that of its predecessor; most notably The Black Cauldron, as the antagonist is The Horned King under the guise of a new villain, The Phantom. There are certain elements of certain levels that also look to be inspired by previous third-generation classics, such as Super Mario Bros 3 and Castlevania.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

Perpetuating many of the same gameplay elements as seen in Castle of Illusion, Land of Illusion is another 2D side scroller whereby the player must traverse, explore, defeat bosses and take on the game’s end boss. What separates this game from Castle of Illusion, however, is that there’s a small Metroidvania element to it, allowing for players to backtrack to an extent with newly acquired abilities to reach otherwise impassable areas. There’s even a sidequest whereby there are a number of stars to collect throughout, giving the game slightly more replay value than the average side scroller. The boss fights throughout also provide a nice balance of challenge for players. 

 

Controls – 9/10

The biggest problem I had with the game is only a minor one, which is that the jump mechanics can seem a little inconsistent, and as a result, gameplay can be hindered to a small extent unnecessarily. The same problem exists in the next game in the series, World of Illusion, but to a lesser extent. However, the jump mechanics are nowhere near as bad enough to be able to call the game unplayable by any means. Like the last game, the controls are as fluent as what is needed to be for the most part. 

 

Lifespan – 7.5/10

Land of Illusion can be made to last around an hour, which though was the average lifespan for a game in the fourth generation, is actually quite impressive compared to other third-generation titles. The amount of backtracking the game warrants makes it slightly longer than the average 2D side scroller that was a mainstay in the industry at this time, and it does fairly well to stand out on its own as a result. Of course, other games have been released by this time that lasted considerably longer like A Link to the Past and the Final Fantasy games, but for what is a very retroactive experience, it succeeds to deliver.

 

Storyline – 8/10

The plot of Land of Illusion is extremely similar to that of Super Mario Bros 2. Mickey is reading a book one day only to fall asleep and awake again in an unfamiliar and fantastical land whereby he must recover a stolen magic crystal in order to help the inhabitants of a small village protect themselves from an entity known as The Phantom. Along the way, the player encounters several classic Disney characters to rescue, and along the way providing a greater deal of substance in the story and more memorable moments than Castle of Illusion. 

 

Originality – 8/10

Although it was released arguably three years too late, the fact of the matter is the game stands out for all the right reasons regardless of its late arrival on the Sega Master System, and for a game that at first glance would seem completely outdated, is immensely impressive. It’s amazing what developers have been able to do with basing games off of a pre-existing license before and after Land of Illusion, but very few developers took that concept to the heights that Sega took many Disney franchises in the realm of games, and this game stands out as yet another shining example of that.

 

Happii

 

Overall, I was surprised to find out that I would end up enjoying Land of Illusion more than any of the other Illusion games. It’s got a great deal to play for, for its time, the story is much more involved than in previous game, and although it seems to be Castle of Illusion that seems to get the accolade of the classic Mickey Mouse game, the fact of the matter is that Land of Illusion is in many ways superior. 

Score

50/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega Genesis, Master System, Game Gear & Saturn)

Developer(s) – SEGA (AM7)

Publisher(s) – SEGA

Director(s) – Emiko Yamamoto & Yoshio Yoshida

Producer(s) – Stephan L. Butler

PEGI – 7

Released in 1990 to overwhelmingly positive critical acclaim and later receiving a remake in 2013, Castle of Illusion was ported to several Sega consoles in both 8-bit and 16-bit and became one of the breakout exclusive games on Sega consoles before Sonic The Hedgehog was released in 1991. To me, it stands out as one of the earliest examples of how to do a licensed game along with the many other titles Disney throughout the fourth and fifth generations, including Chip N’ Dale, Duck Tales, Aladdin, and Toy Story, even spawning its own series of Illusion games before the release of Mickey Mania

 

Graphics – 8/10

The technical quality of the graphics depends of course on what system the game is being played on. For the best in this respect, the Mega Drive or Sega Saturn versions of the game are preferable, albeit the Saturn version stayed in Japan. However, all ports of the game perpetuate the same wonderful diversity in level design that even matches that of the classic Mickey Mouse cartoons that had come before it such as Steamboat Willie and The Mad Doctor, borrowing elements from the cartoon as well that of other Disney films on addition, such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Throughout, the game also presents a stark contrast of happy and serene settings at the beginning and dark and gritty settings towards the end.

 

Gameplay – 9/10

A traditional linear 2D side scroller, the player must traverse across five different levels and collect a series of gems by beating a number of bosses at the end of most levels. Once all the gems are collected, the player can then challenge the game’s end boss and rescue Minnie Mouse. There’s also a small combat element as players can collect project apples to attack with, similar to Aladdin, and the boss fights throughout become evermore creative; the final boss in particular somewhat reminding me of the final boss fight against Dracula in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

 

Controls – 10/10

The controls, in addition, pose no problems as even in these days gone by when the game was first released, the 2D side scroller had long since been mastered by developers and have remained a staple within the industry. Future games in the series would pose a couple of minor problems in this respect, notably the crawling mechanics in World of Illusion, but the controls in the original game are as fluent and as easy to get to grips with as any good side scroller released at the time. 

 

Lifespan – 7/10

The game can be completed within around 30 minutes, which whilst being nothing by today’s standards, was at that time, about the standard lifespan of a traditional side scroller. Of course, the Metroidvania and RPG genres would spawn games lasting tens or even hundreds of hours throughout the late 90s, but this is the type of game that warrants multiple playthroughs.

 

Storyline – 6/10

The plot of the game is relatively straightforward; typical of plat threads in games at the time as a matter of fact. Mickey Mouse must save Minnie Mouse who is imprisoned in the Castle of Illusion by an evil sorceress named Mizrabel. There are a fair few cutscenes in the game, which were a somewhat new addition to platformers at the time following games like Chip N’ Dale and Mega Man 2, and they helped to keep things relatively fresh in the circle of side-scroller games being released at the time. 

 

Originality – 8/10

Though the story of the game may not be a particularly standout feature, everything else about this game makes it stand out to an unbelievable extent. Its contemporary settings and style of gameplay mixing side-scrolling and light combat elements make it an extremely memorable title still beloved by gamers of the old generation and among those who played the 2013 remaster. It’s highly regarded as one of the best titles on the Mega Drive, and it’s no wonder why.

 

Happii

Overall, Castle of Illusion is one of the best side-scrollers released in the early stages of the fourth generation and remains a fan favorite among gamers for good reason. It’s an insanely enjoyable game, and it comes highly recommended by me. 

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

SG88 Heavenly Sword Header

Heavenly Sword (PlayStation 3)

Developer(s) – Ninja Theory 

Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment

Director(s) – Nina Kristensen, Tameem Antoniades & Andy Serkis

Producer(s) – Matt Hart

PEGI – 16

Released in 2007 following a slew of questionable launch titles for the PlayStation 3, such as Lair and Genjo: Days of the Blade, Heavenly Sword was a game that helped to shed light on the appeal of the console early on and can be seen as an earlier example of how cinematic video games came to evolve into what they are today, excelling in the story and doing fairly well to impress in terms of gameplay at the same time. It received a mixed reaction from critics at the time, but in my opinion, whilst not being among the best titles on the system in the end, certainly does hold up well enough.

Graphics – 8.5/10

The game’s visuals, whilst not doing exceptionally well to stand out conceptually, certainly stood out technically at the time, and as such, it did an exceptional job of displaying what the PlayStation3 was capable of on the graphical level in the console’s infancy. Motion capture was used extensively on the project for each of the actors to interpret facial expressions as well as possible, including from the motion capture master Andy Serkis. For the number of enemies that also appear on the screen at any one given time, the developers took care to make sure the frame rate didn’t drop as dramatically as what players could’ve possibly come to expect. It doesn’t hinder gameplay too much.

Gameplay – 7/10

Speaking of gameplay, Heavenly Sword is a linear hack n’ slash game similar to games like God of War and Darksiders, complete with a variety in weapon types, special abilities, and quick-time events. Indeed, the game does require a certain degree of strategy to deal with different types of enemies, in that swift attacks must be used to best fight against agile enemies, and powerful attacks must be used to best fight slower and heavier enemies. The principle is prevalent throughout the entire game, especially in the boss fights. There are also instances in which the player controls an alternative character, who wields a bow, and they can use the PlayStation 3’s SixAxis controls to steer arrows toward enemies, which I particularly enjoyed. 

Controls – 10/10

Although the small drop in frame rate can hinder the game to a small extent, the game’s control scheme itself poses no problems. Again, it was quite impressive to me how the developers implemented the SixAxis controls as well as the conventional controls. Everything moves as fluently as needed and the controls pose no unnecessary complication either.

Lifespan – 5/10

Clocking at around 4 hours, the game’s lifespan falls short of even hack n’ slash games that had come and gone before it. The game excels in technical visuals, gameplay, and story, and these are the aspects in which the developers showed off the budget, but for me, it would’ve been better spent making sure the player had as much to do in the game possible for as long as possible as opposed to being left as what a linear and one-dimensional experience it turned out to be

Storyline – 8/10

The story of Heavenly Sword centers around Nariko, a young warrior of a small tribe fighting against the forces of a relentless ruler named King Bohan. Nariko’s weapon, the titular Heavenly Sword, is actually a divine relic and a form of sentient life which Nariko suffers from an inner conflict with that culminates as the game progresses, similar to how the ring of power works in Lord of the Rings. She makes it her resolve to master the sword and use it to liberate her clansmen and drive King Bohan back. The story blends together elements of comedy, tragedy, and drama, and makes for a particularly engrossing experience in this respect. Andy Serkis’s performance as King Bohan, in particular, is outstanding, with excellent acting and well-written dialogue to compliment him. Though his character is nowhere as conflicted as his portrayal as Monkey in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, the intentions of King Bohan are made clear from the start, and Andy Serkis flawlessly conveys it. 

Originality – 6.5/10

Though the game certainly stands out in terms of story, it fails to stand out to any great extent in the respect of either gameplay or conceptual design, and the experience suffers somewhat as a result. The main focus on a game should always be on the gameplay and making that stand out more than any other element of the game, and it’s evident that wasn’t the case with Heavenly Sword. It feels very much like the story was the primary concern of the developers, and although the gameplay is not terrible by any means, it could’ve been better given more of a focus.

However, for as many criticisms I have cited over the course of the review, Heavenly Sword is a game with a moderate amount of variety, and is still pretty enjoyable to play regardless. Its story is worth experiencing a single playthrough for, and it seemed to set the precedent for more games that were even more enthralling in terms of story on the PlayStation 3. 

Score

45/60

7.5/10 (Good)