Author Archives: scousegamer88

Ori & The Will of the Wisps (PC & Xbox One)

Developer – Moon Studios

Publisher – Xbox Game Studios

Director – Thomas Mahler

Producer – Blazej Zywicyriski

Following on from the success of Austrian developer Moon Studios debut title Ori & The Blind Forest, Ori & The Will of the Wisps is another expansive Metroidvania title making use of wonderfully crafted hand-drawn visuals and adding new gameplay elements building on the concept perpetuated by the first game. Personally, I was hooked on this game from start to finish, and whilst I have my nitpicks to address, I was far from disappointed with it. 

Graphics – 10/10

The visual style of the game once again makes use of a hand-drawn art style, taking place in new forests separate from that of the first game called Niwen. Like the last game, it has a variety of different land biomes. Including snowy mountains, barren deserts and dark spider-infested caves. It once again also makes use of a traditional orchestral soundtrack; albeit each individual track does better than Blind Forest to suit the tableau of each different area. 

The game in terms of visual style is certainly a lot more varied than the first, as Blind Forest’s individual areas were mainly different sections of forest with some exceptions, such as Mount Horu. But in Will Of The Wisps, there are areas like Luma Pool, Baur’s Reach, and Windswept Wastes that perpetuate far more of a sense of variety than in the original game.

Gameplay – 10/10

Another area where variety is a lot more prevalent than in the first game is in the gameplay. The combat system has been given a massive overhaul with Ori being given far more combat options than in Blind forest, including a sword for fast-paced combat and a hammer for players preferring power over speed. A lot of the older abilities acquired in the first game are also added for good measure, but they’re acquired earlier on to reacquaint players with classic mechanics in preparation for the introduction of new mechanics throughout the rest of the game. 

Another very welcome addition to the series with the second game is the inclusion of boss fights throughout; they present a level of challenge that wasn’t seen with Blind Forest and add even more depth to the gameplay that is more prevalent in and reminiscent of other Metroidvania titles such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Guacamelee. There are also various sidequests to be undertaken throughout, which is something else that was desperately needed for improvement over the first game. It all makes it even more enjoyable to play than Blind Forest and less of a criminally fleeting experience 

Controls – 10/10

Players will be able to move from the first game to the second without skipping a beat; the core mechanics are the same as what they were in Blind Forest, but even with the introduction of a plethora of new mechanics, the game’s control scheme presents no issues. In this game, it was even more vital for the developers to have gotten the control scheme right with the introduction of time trial sequences involving a lot of intricate platforming and the developers did a flawless job of getting the controls right. 

Lifespan – 6/10

To complete the game 100% takes slightly longer than its predecessor, clocking in at just over 15 hours of gameplay. Although there is the inclusion of so many new gameplay features, I think more of the same could#ve been added to pad out the game even further. But again, my biggest criticism of this game, as it was with Blind Forest, is that it doesn’t last anywhere near as long as what it had the potential to do. Although it’s less of a fleeting experience than the first game, it’s still not long enough of an experience in my opinion. 

Storyline – 7.5/10

Picking up where the last game left off, Ori, Naru, and Gumo are now caring for Ku; the baby owl that hatched from Kuro’s last egg at the end of Blind Forest. After repairing Ku’s damaged wing with one of Kuro’s stray feathers, Ku flies with Ori on her back and the pair crashland into the forest of Niwen. Ori then becomes embroiled in a quest to restore balance to the forest of Niwel by seeking out forest spirits called wisps, whilst also confronting new threats, including a deformed and hateful owl named Shriek.

The story of Will of the Wisps draws a great deal of comparison to that of its predecessor, with Ori Basically having to do the same thing as what she had to do in Blind Forest; just within another forest. Although the themes of loss and tragedy are present and are presented in different ways to the original, there are other elements that are a lot more straightforward than they are in the first game. There’s not much moral ambiguity involved in the second game like in Blind Forest; the player will know who the hero is and who the villain is; where Kuro was a much more sympathetic villain, Shriek, whilst having underlying reasons for being the way she is, is a lot harder to empathize with.

However, there are certain plot threads throughout the story, especially around the mid-way point, which contribute to the narrative in extremely positive ways, and whilst not being anywhere near as unique as the first, certainly makes for an enjoyable story overall. 

Originality – 7.5/10

The game originality was probably the hardest aspect of it for me to cover. In certain areas, it does stand out from other Metroidvania titles, such as it’s combat system and inclusion of sidequests. But in other aspects, it fell short of other aspects in which the first game excelled in; most notably the story. Overall it was a fairly unique game, but I can’t help but feel that there is still a lot more untapped potential for this series overall. Without spoiling any details in regards to the ending, all the signs seem to point to there being a third game sometime in the future, and I think that there is still room for improvement in both the first and second games. 

 

Happii

In summation, however, regardless of the amount of criticism I’ve given Ori & The Will Of The Wisps, I still think that it is fractionally better than Ori & The Blind Forest. The one aspect that it excels in compared to its predecessor is the gameplay, which is, after all, the most important aspect of any game. Its story is unoriginal compared to Blind Forest and it’s relatively short lifespan can still leave players wanting more at the end of it, but that’s not to say that it isn’t worth playing through from beginning to end.; it certainly is. 

50/60

8/10

(Very Good)

Q&A With Silver Bullet Games

Last month, I came across another great-looking indie game in development called Isle of Spirits and gave an account of my first impressions of it:

https://scousegamer88.com/2020/05/12/isle-of-spirits-first-impressions/

and following further developments made to it since I last visited the concept, I have yet another Q&A to share. Isle of Spirits is an open-world survival game made in the same vein as titles like Minecraft and Don’t Starve, whereby players must build settlements and adapt to each respective environment and overcome the world many dangers; natural or supernatural occurrences. Developed by Silver Bullet Games based in France, it is still currently in the beta stages of development, yet shows a great deal of promise in terms of what to expect from the final product. I recently got in touch with the game’s principal designer Kevin Drure and asked him a few questions regarding the game’s development and what to expect from its final release. Here’s what Kevin had to say about Isle of Spirits:

 

What were the influences behind your game? 

Isle Of Spirits was mainly influenced by survival games like Don’t Starve and casual games. I was playing Don’t Starve when I was asking myself why most of the games of this genre were addressed to gamers.

 

What has the developmental process been like?

It was quite straightforward. I did have a clear vision of what the game should focus on, I designed and programmed the game myself. The sound design was done by Alexis Laugier, a freelancer. I showed him the game early as the sound design was very important to me, and we built a really great ambiance for the different game paces. I worked with another freelancer too, Noemie Bezier, for the user interface. She progressively created a whole theme matching the Isle Of Spirits universe.

 

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Designing a survival game for casual, while keeping some challenge and letting the player discover the game himself was really exciting. But my best moment was seeing the game coming alive during the first playtests for the alpha, I was watching players testing the earliest playable version of the game.

 

Are there more natural or supernatural occurrences planned for inclusion in the game?

No, I try to keep it simple for the player to manage.

 

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

On the technical side, it was to get good graphics while running at 60fps for a fully dynamic game low-mid end device. All the elements of the map (and chunks of the map itself) can be moved at any moment, we can’t precalculate anything.

 

Do any of the development team have any experience of outdoor survival, and if so, did any of that have an impact on development? 

Not at all. We prefer a safe and welcoming house

 

Would you be open to the idea of the game being open to modding?

It would be awesome to see players making the game their own game, the game has not been designed to get external content, but with some work, it should be possible to tweak the isle generation using a save file.

 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Isle Of Spirits is released first on Windows/Mac/Linux and Xbox One. I hope to be able to make a Nintendo Switch edition, but I can’t promise anything for the moment.

 

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

My only advice would be “get a game idea you really enjoy, and stick to it”.

 

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

Mainly on Twitter (@games_bullet), our own website (silverbulletgames.com), and Discord (invite link on our website). We would love to see people joining our Discord server to chat with them!

 

Do you have anything else to add?

I really hope players will enjoy the game and I would love to see their feedback on our Discord server.

 

I would also like to take the opportunity to thank Kevin for sharing what he can about this promising upcoming survival title. Isle of Spirits will not be your typical Minecraft or Portal Knights clone and promises a new type of challenge for players expecting the things they will expect going into this game. I hope you guys enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it and I will be bringing you guys more new content in the coming weeks so keep a lookout.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Q&A With Thom Glunt

Recently, one of the many indie games that I have been playing and enjoying is the Steam Early Access title Soviet Jump Game. After my friend Antonia linked me to a Game Grumps playthrough of it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6xb8KDYOHM&t=943s

I began playing it for myself and since I’ve hardly been able to put it down. Soviet Jump Game is a 2D side-scrolling battle royale whereby players compete against each other in a last-man-standing battle by either stomping on each other or using various different power-ups acquired across a game map with several different biomes inspired by the culture and history of the USSR. After playing the game for some time I then wrote a first impressions article, but I also decided to reach out to the game’s principal designer Thom Glunt of Fantastic Passion based in California.

I had a lot of questions about this game for Thom ahead of its full release, as I’ve not been as excited about an upcoming indie game as I have been about Soviet Jump Game for a long time and I wanted to find out as much information about it as possible. Thom got back to me with the answers recently and here’s what he had to say about Soviet Jump Game:

How did the general concept of the game first come about?

By late 2018 it felt like Battle Royale’s have pervaded every genre of video game and I thought it would be funny if someone made a BR as a classic side scroller. Then I realized that I would really like to play that so I talked to Game Grumps and they were psyched on it too.   

How has it been to experience such an influx of interest surrounding your game and the huge fanbase it has already garnished even before its full release?

I just hope it brings people some joy.

How did your association with Game Grumps and their publishing of Soviet Jump Game come about?

It’s a boring story. 

Would you like the relationship between you and Game Grumps to continue in the future?

I have nothing but good things to say about them. They’ve been a great partner and have trusted us to make the game. I’ve approached them a few times for input and ideas and between Arin, Vernon, Greg, and Brent (and others) I’ve always left a good idea or new perspective on something. 

Is there anything you can share in regards to any possible new content to be added to the game before its full release?

I think with the Daily civic duties and party feature we are going to hold off on adding major new features until release. We’ve been focusing on Bug fixes, network optimization, polish, and a bit of future content for the time being. 

What’s next for you and Fantastic Passion?

Right now we’re just focused on making SJG and giving it the attention it deserves. When that’s finished I plan on climbing some mountains while I figure out if the next game will be a Fantastic Passion game or another game with my friend Stephen as Pixel Titans. 

What other genres of gaming would you and the rest of Fantastic Passion like to develop for in the future?

I want Fantastic Passion’s focus to be on smaller fun games that we can develop in a year and a half on average. That way we can play with some unique ideas and try to keep things fun.

 

 

To me, Soviet Jump Game has one of the catchiest video game soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time. What was it about Alex Yoder’s music style that led to you choosing him to compose for the game?

First off Alex is a beast! It was his amazing soundtrack for CRAWL (Check it out!) and a recommendation from Barney Cumming and that was all I needed to reach out. I am pretty picky when it comes to what I look for with music for my games. I was lucky to work with Amos Roddy (ToyTree) on my first game (STRAFE®) and he set a high bar. Receiving a new track from Alex is like Christmas. I get psyched and have to share it with the team, we may have some new tracks coming soon.  

What are yours and the development team’s characters of choice whilst playing?

My opinion changes weekly but right now I like Lil Jojo, Harrison seems to main Spots, Nick likes Artem and that’s all I can remember off the top of my head.

Do you and Fantastic Passion see Soviet Jump Game developing into a series of games further down the lines?

To be honest, I have no idea, I’m just taking it as it comes. 

If you had the chance to develop for any mainstream development company or work on any gaming series, which one would it be?

I’d love to make a demake of Rage with id software. Since it was their only current IP to not exist in the 90’s I would like to make that game had a Rage been made in 1998 after Quake 2. 

Would you be in favor of the idea of Soviet Jump Game being open to modding?

I don’t think it’s a good idea for this one, but I like the idea of modding in general. 

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


If you love videogames like truly love them and want to make them I trust that you’ll find a way. Inspiration is infectious. If you are psyched on making a game and can get some momentum other people will want a ride. Also, luck and privilege are factors unfortunately, it’s rarely easy.

I’ve won 88 out of 191 games so far, having racked up 628 kills, 10540 coins, and dealt 1241 damage at level 26. Could I be considered a loyal servant of the state?

Yes.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thanks to everyone who’s played the game or shared it with a friend! We hope you’ll like what we have in store. Stay safe and healthy out there. 

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Thom for taking the time out to answer what questions I had about the game; especially since the developers seem to have been hard at work with recently as the game has recently undergone a lot of graphical changes compared to the previous build. If anyone reading wishes to check this title out, it’s free to play via the link below:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1072710/Soviet_Jump_Game/

If anyone also wants to check out Alex Yoder’s website and his various works, here’s the link:

http://www.alexyoder.net/

I’ve been playing this game a lot over the last few weeks and I cannot wait for what the final build of the game will have to offer, as can’t everyone else who has played this exciting upcoming title. I hope you guys enjoyed reading this Q&A as much I enjoyed writing it and I’ll be back soon with my next article.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

 

Soviet Jump Game: First Impressions

Although I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet in search of upcoming titles in development, there are still those that I fail to notice as they gain momentum across a widespread community of fans; even whilst the game is still in the early stages of development. I need to give a shout-out to my friend Antonia Fraser AKA Dolly Mix Cosplay for recommending this one, as, without her suggestion, I wouldn’t have even known this game exists. It’s entitled Soviet Jump Game and in my opinion, may become one of the most beloved future indie games in recent years once it sees full release and continues to garner popularity at the rate that it is now.

Developed by California-based outlet Fantastic Passion and published by Dan and Arin of the YouTube channel Game Grumps and currently on Steam Early Access as a free download, Soviet Jump Game is a 2D side-scrolling battle player vs player MMO, which has players battling against each other by either jumping on one another, Similar to how enemies are defeated in traditional Super Mario games or using various power-ups that can be found throughout the game’s map. After playing this for only a few short days, I’ve become hooked on it. I don’t normally player multiplayer games, generally preferring the single-player experience, but this game may very well be instrumental in changing my perception of how I view MMOs.

Graphics

Adopting a traditional 8-BIT visual style, the game’s conceptual design is largely inspired by Russian culture and the way of life under the Soviet Union before it’s dissolution back in the early 90s. There are several references to historical figures and events that happened during the USSR era, such as heads of Joseph Stalin that act like Thwomps from Mario, moving platforms in the form of tetrominoes from Tetris and stage designs alluding to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. As a long-time Tetris fan and coming off the back of recently playing Russian Subway Dogs in particular, it stands as yet another example to me of how Russian culture has had a significant impact on video games. The scenery is very well designed and the game’s soundtrack threw me with just how stellar that is in addition; certain aspects of it reminded a lot of Shovel Knight in fact; another game soundtrack I think extremely highly of. 

Gameplay

The gameplay is extremely simple in its basic premise, but exhilarating on a scale that I didn’t think possible going into it. It’s simply a matter of the last man standing at the end of each round, including around 38 different players at once generally speaking, battling to stay alive, eliminating other players and collecting tokens used to purchase new characters or customize the characters players already have with new skins, emotes and taunts. I’m biased towards this game to an extent, due to the fact that I’m relatively good at it, having now won 30 games in only a few days of playing. Speaking honestly, multiplayer games generally tend to put me off, since, by the time I come to play one, there is already an influx of people playing who have mastered it and are easily able to dispatch me, bogging down the experience. But probably because this game has much less of a learning curve than an MMO first-person shooter for example, I found that it was easy to get to grips with and learn how to improve with more experience. There’s also a great sense of satisfaction to be had after winning a game to have won out over so many other people at one given time. 

Controls

As the gameplay concept is simple, so too are the controls. The biggest learning curve there is involved with this game is understanding how each power-up works and how they can be best employed to suit the player’s situation. The controls are perfect; as responsive as what a game like this is needed.

Originality

For a game that adopts so many traditional gameplay features that have been seen time and time again throughout the industry, it’s staggering how much this game stands out despite its obvious influences. Where it does stand out is in its conceptual design as well as it’s a differing approach to gameplay compared with other 2D side-scrollers. It almost feels like a genre of its own with how it plays out. It’s also unusual for a side-scroller to have this much variety in terms of unlockable material and gameplay elements and for it to have virtually unlimited replay value. 

Overall, Soviet Jump Game, upon release is set to be a beloved indie classic and I recommend anyone reading to give it a try. The game seems practically complete, but if there’s even more than Fantastic Passion has to add to this already robust title, then I’m excited to think of what the final product will have to offer in comparison to the game’s current build. 

Q&A With Fishing Cactus

Whilst looking all over the Internet for new upcoming gaming experiences within the indie community, where they have been available, I have tried out either demos or reviewer copies beforehand and given my first impressions on how the game is during their current stages of development and given a subsequent assessment of what I believe the final product can bring to the table. One such game has been Nanotale: Typing Chronicles. Developed by Belgian outfit Cactus Games and acting as a sequel to a previous game made in the same vein called Epistory, Nanotale implements an extremely unique style of combat for an RPG, with players having to type in words to string attacks together, to cast spells or even to solve puzzles to progress throughout the game’s open world.

Wanting to know even more about this insanely distinct project, I contact Fishing Cactus in the hope of securing another Q&A for the site. I received a response from Fishing Cactus’ PR manager and the development team had answered what questions I had regarding the game and they made for some particularly interesting reading. Here’s what Fishing Cactus had to say about Nanotale:

Where did the idea stem from having a gameplay system revolved around typing in the first place, back with Epistory? 

For our very first game, we wanted to do something different from what you can find on the market. One of our Game Designer had the idea of challenging the Typing genre. The rest of the team was not very convinced about it since all the Typing Game we knew where boring and educative while others like Typing of the Dead were more gimmicks. He did a prototype of it and we were all convinced about the potential of the idea. 

You can play the first proto here:

http://epistorygame.com/prototype/

What has the developmental process been like?

We didn’t plan to do a new typing game at first. Epistory was a success and we were afraid to fail at making it better. But, we decided to do it after getting a lot of emails from the community asking us for a new one. It was like “that’s OK. The community is behind us. They will guide us”. So, we asked them how they wanted that new typing game and we developed Nanotale according to what they liked less and more in Epistory, what they would like to see improved, etc… 

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

We just released the second update of the game. The final game is planned for October 2020.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

The Cellular Automata! Cellu-what?

It’s a way of simulating a world using a divide and conquer strategy. Instead of having a massive “World Simulator™” it’s often easier to simulate each object when making a game, This strategy goes further by dividing the world into uniform cells. Each cell has a state and a set of rules to change, if possible, into another state. Cellular automata are used in a very wide range of scientific domains, including computer science, mathematics, physics, and many others. The most famous is probably Conway’s Game of Life, it has only four rules and two states and you can already see a lot of patterns emerging from its simple concept.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Having the game translated in 11 languages during early access. It was a bad idea and represents a lot of work but we really wanted to do it for our community. Also, players seem pickier when they can play it in their own language. It’s hard to have something that works perfectly in all these languages but I think we are doing OK with it thanks to the community who helps a lot locating bugs. 

Which RPG series’ had the most impact on the development of Nanotale?

None. I admit that for Nanotale, we mostly started from Epistory and continued following what our community wanted. 

There is a great emphasis on the beauty of nature in Nanotale. Does any of that stem from the personal experiences of the development team?

Not really. We just wanted to have fun and create something different from Epistory but as memorable. 

How well has the game been received so far? 

Good! The community is really happy and people who discover Nanotale love it and usually by Epistory after trying Nanotale. 

Have there yet been any ideas considered for the game that have since been scrapped?

Many of them. We always start with too many ideas then you cut according to your budget. Many of the new things we have in Nanotale come from what we had to cut from Epistory. Maybe the next typing game will have what we had to cut from Nanotale. 

The thing is, that if we don’t cut, the game would never go out. And we really have to stick to deadlines. For our community and for the team working on the project.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Windows, MAC, Linux

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

I just want to say that it’s OK not having exactly the game you wanted for the first time as soon as you take pleasure working on it and don’t disappoint your community. 

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

Steam: https://store.steampowered.com/app/944920/Nanotale__Typing_Chronicles/

Twitter: @nanotalegame
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nanotalegame
Instagram: @FishingCactus

Do you have anything else to add?

Don’t hesitate to add us to your wishlist!!

I hope you guys check this game’s Steam page out too; as I said in my first impressions article, Nanotale is one of the most unique-looking RPGs I’ve seen for quite some time and having played it, it brings a certain level of satisfaction to be had whilst playing with its very different take on what an RPG should be. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Fishing Cactus for agreeing to answer my questions and to wish them the best of luck with this potentially game-changing title.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Q&A With Liam Dehaudt

Whilst scouring the internet for new indie game prospects, I came across another title that caught my attention slate for release in the near future. The Meldstorm is a 2D side-scrolling rogue-lite with item synergy elements. Players will be able to customize their own weapons on the same level as games like Mothergunship and Fallout 4 with the game revolving around the player character (either a knight, rogue or sorcerer depending on the player’s choice) undertaking the deadly pillar trials; a series of tests requiring combat with an ungodly number of alien enemies and puzzles to solve. Wanting to know more about this game, I contacted its sole developer, Liam Dehaudt, and put forward to him a series of questions regarding how development has progressed and what players can expect to see when the game is fully released on Steam. Here’s what Liam had to say about The Meldstorm:

What were the influences behind your game? 

Risk of Rain influenced the item system but I wanted more deliberate combat (less but more powerful enemies) so I borrowed a lot from Gungeon’s enemy feel, except as a platformer.

What has the developmental process been like?

It’s fun, it started as a hobby but became a bit more. I’ve worked on a few projects before so this is like a test to put everything I’ve learned together. Of course, there are ups and downs but that’s to be expected.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I honestly don’t really know. I would have a few months of development left but since I just got a job it’s most likely going to be a while longer. Let’s say late 2020 to early 2021 but that’s a super vague guess.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Programming is my jam so making the big systems has to be my favorite part. I had a ton of fun making the mods interact with the weapons, and making a general system to create new weapons easily.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Marketing is tough and makes me want to pull my hair out sometimes. I’m quite new to it so I’m learning a ton, but for now, I’m still pretty clueless.

What has been your favorite boss fight to have created so far?

The final boss is cool and pretty different. I got some cool feedback from Reddit that helped me make him look a lot cooler too. You get the first phase to learn his attacks, then he spices things up in the second.

How well has the game been received so far? 

People seem to like it. The few players I’ve had try it had fun. Like mentioned prior I am struggling with marketing which I think is slowing me down a lot but I think my current audience likes what I’m doing

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

PC/Mac first, if the response is good then I’ll consider everything else.

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

Manage the scope of your game to something doable. Try to stand out. Aim for the top but expect not to get there. Reach out to people who are working on stuff you like.

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

I post all my work on twitter, you can also DM me there if you want: 

https://twitter.com/TheMeldstorm

Also if you like my game, wishlist The Meldstorm:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1220300/The_Meldstorm/

Do you have anything else to add?

Have a nice day ^^

I also want to thank Liam for agreeing to this Q&A and hope you guys enjoyed reading more about The Meldstorm as much as I enjoyed drafting it up. The Meldstorm looks like a very promising game with virtually an infinite amount of replay value and I’m certainly excited for what the final game will have to offer players compared to its current build. I will draft up a review of it upon release, but in the meantime, I wish Liam the best of luck with his debut title.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Axiom Verge (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo Switch)

Developer(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Publisher(s) – Thomas Happ Games

Developed solely by former Petroglyph Game engineer Thomas Happ and five years in the making, Axiom Verge was released back in 2015 to overwhelming critical acclaim from critics, garnishing a plethora of favorable reviews and received a nomination for best indie game award for 2015 at The Game Awards. I felt no different about this game; it is most definitely one of the better Metroidvania games that I have had the pleasure of playing through delivering in every aspect.

Graphics – 9/10

The game is set on a planet called Sudra and in lieu of Metroidvania tradition features many varied and wonderfully designed environments with a lot of different enemies to contend with throughout. There is also a species of giant humanoid robots called the Rusalka, which are unlike most things I’ve ever seen in sci-fi. Most gamers will immediately be reminded of Super Metroid when looking at his game, as indeed I was. But there are elements of the conceptual design that reminded me of other games too. For example, the environments, which look almost alive with floors and walls moving and pulsating, reminded a lot of Abadox for the NES, although in the case of Axiom Verge, there’s even more attention to detail put in. The Rusalka also adds a certain eloquence to the conceptual design of this game, reminding me in particular of the film Ghost in the Shell. 

Gameplay – 9/10

The game plays out ostensibly like a traditional Metroidvania game, with the player having to navigate through a 2D open world and constantly backtracking to reveal new areas or secrets hidden within the game. But what makes Axiom Verge as exciting to play as it is is it’s combat, with the player being able to find a variety of different guns throughout and to strategize according to whatever enemies are in front of them. The world of Axiom Verge is reasonably big, so there is a lot of backtracking involved as players gain new abilities to access new areas. There is also a speedrun mode for more adept players who wish to complete the game in record time, which gives the game some additional replay value. 

But regardless of whether players may be veterans or entry-level, it’s a reasonable challenge I thought; not too hard to the point of being inaccessible but not too easy either. More important than that, however, the game is extremely satisfying to immerse in; backtracking to old locations is always fun as the opportunity to experiment with new weapons constantly presents itself and there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had in this respect. The boss fights are also as intense as that of any Metroidvania game, again requiring players to strategize according to what weapons they may have as well as enemy attack patterns. 

Controls – 9.5/10

The game’s control scheme also presents no problems for the most part; it essentially uses the blueprint of Super Metroid in its general gameplay and weapons system, as well as how ammo and health works. The one minor gripe I had with the controls, however, concerns how the address disruptor works. 

The address disruptor is a gun that either corrupts or de-corrupts enemies or certain walls. This is a tool that needs to be used in order to bypass certain areas of the game. The problem is with it is if a player removes a certain section of wall and not another if the player fires again it can reverse the process for the section of the wall that’s already been removed, leaving the player having to slowly reverse the process again in order to traverse through walls. However, it’s something that’s easily rectified anyway and I can’t fault the developer for trying something new. More important than my concern is that this is a game mechanic unlike many others seen in the Metroidvania genre and it adds more to the game than what it takes away. 

Lifespan – 7/10

On average, the game can be made to last there around 15 to 20 hours, which for a Metroidvania game is fairly impressive. A sequel is currently in development and is scheduled for release in the autumn of 2020, so here’s hoping that the lifespan is increased with the new game. Without giving the end away, I think there will be a great deal of scope to expand the lifespan for the sequel, but the first game lasts more than an adequate amount of time

Storyline – 8/10

The story follows a scientist named Trace, who is running a lab experiment in New Mexico. Suddenly, something happens in the lab that causes an explosion; after which, Trace wakes up on the planet Sudra and finds himself embroiled in a one-man fight for survival, all while uncovering the wonders and mysteries behind the planet Sudra and to help the Rusalka defeat the entity known as Athetos. As the story progresses, it unfolds into something a lot deeper, which makes for a story, which like the visuals, is unlike a lot of things I’ve seen in sci-fi.

IGN gave this game a somewhat less favorable review than me, citing several problems they found with the game that I whole-heartedly found myself disagreeing with; one such criticism was that they thought the story was forgettable. But in my opinion, the story is anything but forgettable. The most prominent theme throughout the story involves moral ambiguity; the intentions and the character of the Rusalka most definitely comes into question more than once and will make the player think whether what Trace is doing is right, which once players play through it, will make them anticipate the sequel even more. 

Originality – 8/10

Again, the originality of this game has been brought into question by many other reviewers, due to it’s obvious similarities to the likes of Super Metroid and Xeodrifter; the game clearly has its influences and most fans of the genre will be able to identify them from the get-go. But outweighing its similarities to other games is its differences; the conceptual design of this game really makes it stand out from other titles in the genre and its soundtrack is exceptional, sound even more otherworldly than Super Metroid in my opinion. Its story, as I said before, is also not as straightforward as Samus Aran striving to defeat Ridley, but rather making the player question what happens at the end was for the greater good; not just for Trace, but for the planet Sudra. 

The fact of the matter is that this game comes into its own with potentially massive mythology to be spawned from it with the introduction with even more games and scope for an even bigger plot to unfold along with it and in my experience, with the exception of games like Dust: An Elysian Tail and Ato, there haven’t been many Metroidvania games that have made me feel like what I felt after having played this one through to the end. 

Happii

Overall, Axiom Verge is definitely a must-have for fans of the Metroidvania genre; it’s also a must-have for any fan of science fiction. It’s a very enjoyable game with variety in combat and conceptual design with an extremely memorable story and a lot of promise as a big gaming franchise for the future. 

Score

50.5/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Q&A With Little Ricebowl Games

Continuing on with my efforts to uncover new games coming out of the indie community, another Kickstarter project I came across this week was a simulator RPG named The Kingdom of Gardenia. Under development at Little Ricebowl games based in Birmingham, the game put the player in the shoes of Roman, a former soldier who has come to Gardenia looking for work. Stumbling across a job advert for a groundskeeper, Roman applies and the game begins. The player must plant flowers, hunt food, and interact with the townsfolk by catering to their needs in accordance with what their favorite flowers are and what food they like to eat. Along the way, the game’s main story also starts to unfold the further the player progresses, which is somewhat unusual for a simulator game. My first thoughts were that not only does it encompass elements from Stardew Valley (which was one of the developers principal sources of inspiration), but Dark Cloud also sprung to mind to a certain extent as not only does have an element of simulator games to it as a georama game, but it also has a rich story as an RPG.

But eager to find out more about the game, I contacted the game’s core designer Paul Trochowski to get a clearer insight into the development of the game and what players can expect to see with the finished project. Here’s what Paul had to say about The Kingdom of Gardenia:

What were the influences behind your game? 

I got the idea for the concept of the game after playing Stardew Valley a few years ago. I’m a huge fan of the game and I really liked the notification about the train passing through town, which you then run towards, to see if it drops any packages at the station. This got me thinking about having a train station as the focal point of the game and the player getting excited about who would be getting off the train each day.

Going back to my childhood days, I was first introduced to gaming with the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The art style and soundtrack were so iconic, and I loved the challenge of the boss battles with Bowser. I could never beat them as a child and I only properly beat the game recently when I played it on the Nintendo Switch! I’m working on a challenging boss battle for my game that will hopefully keep people coming back for the amazing satisfaction you can only get from beating a tough boss. There are also some adventure and puzzle-solving elements, inspired by games like A Link to the Past.

What has the developmental process been like?

I started out by learning how to make basic pixel art, I would sit with a mini laptop on my daily commute and draw NPCs, flowers and trees, a little bit at a time, then carry on in my lunch breaks and after work. Over time I realized I had enough content to start thinking about learning how to code and making the NPCs move around with some basic AI. I don’t have a background as an artist or a computer scientist, so learning both areas was a huge uphill battle for me, but also amazingly satisfying when I started to see things come together.

The game is based around a day/night cycle and train schedule, this became really difficult to put together with the more NPCs I started to create, as I found they would clash at certain points that I hadn’t anticipated and I would have to go back a re-work huge sections of their paths/timings. Each new visitor to the kingdom is a huge amount of work, but I’m planning on adding more visitors overtime via free content updates.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I’m at around 80% completion at the moment. I had originally planned on completing the game by April, but unfortunately, I fell really ill with coronavirus and had to put the release back a few months. I’m running a Kickstarter project to help fund production costs and the release of the game.

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

I would have to say putting in the sound effects, the game doesn’t really come to life until you start investing in some better quality sound effects and tweaking the settings to improve the audio. I still have a lot of work to do in this area but hearing footstep sounds change when the player moves from wood to the path to grass is really exciting for me.

Another exciting moment was when a colleague from work did some playtesting for me. Seeing someone new play the game for the first time was a great buzz, and I took away a lot of great ideas for how to improve the gameplay mechanics and things that were missing that the player needed to get accustomed to the world of the game, like adding in a compass! At one point I had a message in the game that tells the player to head east, but I hadn’t put in a compass yet!

Where did the inspiration come from where the soundtrack is concerned?

My favorite game soundtrack would have to be Undertale, Toby Fox is a musical genius, I’ve listened to that soundtrack so many times and I never get tired of it. I used to play guitar in a local indie band, we had some minor success and got some national radio play, but it didn’t quite work out. After leaving the band, I really missed creating music and was looking for another outlet to start recording again. You’ll hear a lot of guitar in the soundtrack, I’ve tried to work in some sounds inspired by some of my favorite guitar bands, like Thin Lizzy and The Strokes.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Solving coding problems! The soil tiles took me a long time to work out, all the possible iterations of what happens to the surrounding tiles when you dig holes in the ground was a challenge for me, but it felt great once I’d finally solved it.

I also came across a number of frame rate slow down issues with collision checking for the trees, I wanted all of the trees to turn semi-transparent when you walk behind them, so you can see where you’re going. Some of the trees in the game are really big and there were way too many collision checks going on, but I think I’ve fixed it now. Interestingly. they decided to avoid this problem entirely in the latest Animal Crossing game. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the camera angle issues of not being able to see behind trees!

  

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

How well has the game been received so far? 

A lot of people have shown interest in the Kickstarter project and given some great positive feedback to images and posts about the game on Instagram and Twitter. We have a small following at the moment, but I’ve been really pleased to see that people are genuinely getting on board with the concept of the game and eager to find out more about the story and the world of the game.

There has been some feedback too from fellow developers, who have warned me against putting a game out with such a stripped back, retro art style, insisting that I get a designer in to improve the look of the game. My motivation for continuing with this art style, which I know is going to be an acquired taste, comes from the overwhelmingly positive reception that Undertale received, despite the minimalist look of the game. There is something unique about a game that has been made entirely by one person, I’d be worried that the character of the game would be too far from my original idea if I get someone else to re-work all of the sprites. 

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

Initially, the game will be released on PC and then I’ll be looking at a Mac/Linux version before moving on to Switch. I might consider a mobile version after that, but porting to each new platform will bring significant challenges for me as a new developer, so I may need to get some outside help with this.

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

Making a game can at times feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. You will come across design or coding problems that you feel like you’re never going to get past. But stick with it, come back to it the next day, and the next – don’t listen to people who tell you it’s not worth all the effort, there’s nothing more satisfying than solving problems that you previously thought were impossible. And when you’ve got something you’re happy with, which you’re ready to share with people, it’s a great buzz to find out that there are people out there who like your work and want to follow the project.

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

You can check out my project on Kickstarter: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/kingdomofgardenia/the-kingdom-of-gardenia

You can also follow the progress of the game through these links:

Website: www.kingdomofgardenia.com 

Twitter: @LittleRice_bowl

Instagram: @LittleRice_bowl

Facebook: @kingdomofgardenia

Youtube: Little Ricebowl

Do you have anything else to add?

I would ask people to please check out the Kickstarter page for The Kingdom of Gardenia and back the project if you like what you see. I’ll be working hard to finish the game and spread the word over the next few months. Thanks so much to everyone who’s supported the project so far!

Made in GameMaker Studio 2

As always, I’d like to thank Paul for sharing his insight into this wonderful-looking game and hope you guys will check out the Kickstarter project as well as Paul’s additional links to more information about the game as development progresses. The Kingdom of Gardenia looks to be a particularly promising game in my opinion and I can’t wait to see what the finished will have to offer players. I’d also like to wish Paul and Little Ricebowl Games the best of luck with the project. 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Isle of Spirits: First Impressions

Out of the many independently developed video games that I’ve come across over the last two weeks, there was a title that has seemingly been predominantly inspired by Minecraft, which has put many hours into the former, I was looking forward to discovering for myself. The first of these game was entitled Isle of Spirits; developed by the French indie outfit Silver Bullet Games, Isle of Spirits offers players a top-down procedurally generated survival experience, whereby players must travel from island to island, gather resources and establish settlements in order to survive, whilst also contending with natural occurrences that act as obstacles for the player such as monsoons and fog, as well as supernatural phenomenon including spirits that attack in unlit places. Impressed by what I’ve played of the game in its current form, I decided to give an account of my first impressions of it. Here’s what I thought of what the current build of Isle of Spirits has to offer:

Graphics

The game’s visual style is extremely reminiscent of Minecraft, with general terrain being entirely cube-based, but where this game differs to Minecraft in respect of its environmental design (at least different from the original texture pack) is that there is much more use of lighting and shadow in conjunction with what the day-to-night cycle dictates at any one given time. The main character sprite is also drastically different from that of Minecraft, taking more of a humanoid form; be it a placeholder or the final intended design at this point. If an option were to exist to customize the player character, it would add an extra level of depth to the conceptual design, but the game in its current state looks generally impressive. 

Gameplay

The game plays out like a mash-up between Minecraft and Don’t Starve since it relies not on the player thriving, but surviving in one harsh environment after the other. The obstacles the player has to contend with (natural or supernatural) adds a heightened sense of tension compared to the more easy-going style of play predominantly associated with Minecraft. As in Don’t Starve there will inevitably be a learning curve with this game, especially if players haven’t played the former, but this only adds to its challenge, making it a potentially memorable experience. It’ll be interesting to see if over time, like what Klei Entertainment did with Don’t Starve, there is scope for expansion of what obstacles can be put in front of the player

Controls

The game’s control scheme is also not over-complicated either; be that with using either a mouse and keyboard or a controller. If the developers even decide to expand the content of the game, there wouldn’t be any need to expand on the game’s control scheme, as it already handles as well as any other game of it’s kind. Tweaks may be made here and there to accommodate for the inclusion of more complicated demands, like what Mojang did over time with Minecraft, but it would by no means be a necessity. 

Originality

It’s easy to think that at first glance, this game is simply another Minecraft clone and that has very little to offer in terms of uniqueness; especially as the industry seems to be somewhat over-saturated with titles like this and the advent of games like Portal Knights and Dragon Quest Builders. But the majority of them do have the individual elements that make them stand out and Isle of Spirits is no exception; even in its early stages of development. It requires players to be a lot more on their toes than with the games of the same ilk that offer more in the way of repetition and as every playthrough is procedurally generated, it offers virtually infinite replay value. 

Happii

Overall, Isle of Spirits looks set to offer players a very immersive gaming experience upon release. It has a lot to offer even in its current form and it will be exciting to see what the final product has to offer. If anyone reading wants to find out even more about the game, you can check out Silver Bullet Games’ website:

http://www.silverbulletgames.com/

Or follow them on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/games_bullet

In the meantime, I hope you guys are just as excited for this game’s release as I am.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Q&A With Louis Agoglia

Whilst scouting for new, upcoming indie titles last week, I came across a promising-looking game called Dusk Tactics, Heavily influenced by the Tactics Ogre series, Dusk Tactics is a 2D isometric tactical RPG reliant on player’s skill to customize characters with unique weapons and abilities, as well as employing different job classics to suit different foes throughout the game. Conceived initially back in 2011, the project is wonderfully varied and ambitious in scope to the extent that I wanted to learn about the project. I, therefore, got in touch with the game’s creator, Louis Agoglia to ask him for some details regarding the developmental process and what players can expect from the final game. Here’s what Louis Agoglia had to say about Dusk Tactics:

 

What were the influences behind your game?

The main influence behind Dusk Tactics are games like Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, Tactics Ogre: Knights of Lodis, and the Final Fantasy Tactics/Advance series. I’d say the entire genre could be considered an influence as I’ve played hundreds of tactics/strategy (SRPG) games over the years.

What has the developmental process been like?

It’s been long! This project started with me doing research, taking notes, and writing down ideas as far back as 2011 with coding beginning in early 2018. One decision I made was to create my own engine, so my development process has been somewhat longer. I felt that since this is my “dream project” I wanted to have full control over the execution. I had a certain vision that benefited from creating a custom engine including how the story was told, which led to the creation of a “cutscene engine”. When I went public with the project toward the end of last year (2019) the reception was beyond anything I could have imagined, and that alone has fostered a positive feedback loop of sorts.

How close are we to seeing the finished product?

That’s a tough one, I had a certain schedule in place and then 2020 happened and I think it sort of shook a lot of people up. Right now the engine is pretty much complete, with the ‘game’ itself being in the early stages of development. I am working on a closed alpha demo, the release of which I am hoping to get out sometime this year. As for the finished product, I want to be realistic about it, so I have to say my current goal is for a 2022 release window. A lot of the work that still needs to get done consists of art and sound/music assets, both of which I currently have people working on and both of which will take a good amount of time, but while they’re being created I hope to have the majority of the game finished. Overall percentage-wise I’d say I’m near 60% when discussing the entire project.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development?

Getting to see some of the ideas I’ve had for a tactics game since 2011 sort of come to life is probably the best part of the process. I wrote so much in the early years, pages, and pages of notes that covered various ideas and mechanics as well as a background for the story/lore. If I didn’t have such a strong background in gaming, this project might have become more of a book as I’ve always enjoyed writing. All in all, the game will be very rich in lore and story, and will have some pretty neat (hopefully balanced) mechanics that both borrow from older games and add a little innovation here and there. Specifically, seeing two characters I created, Alton and Emma, start off as basic ideas and turn into fleshed out characters was really awesome. Both the 2D portraits and the sprites were done extremely well and I look forward to seeing them in the many scenes I have planned for the story!

Have many of the developers you have interacted with across social media offered advice in regards to the development of Dusk Tactics?

In terms of art, @jmitchell1628 and @nixpixgames were extremely helpful, the latter of which I will continue to work with. When I wrote about some technical issues a few months ago, many people were eager to lend a hand and some went even further, such as @retromatn (who is also working on a tactics RPG!) who actually created a sample program to detail his ideas!

Early on, I happened upon a game in development, Lawmage Academy, and beyond being a great game in and of itself, the developer @LawmageA is an overall amazing person. Following them early on helped me learn a lot about how to use social media the right way and also what to expect from various events like releasing a demo or going to your first convention! It helped to have someone just talking about their experiences!

I consider myself very lucky that I witnessed the creation of @IndieWorldOrder which is an amazing group of developers, content creators, artists, etc who have come together to help one another out! Without people like @ancalabro and @labsskull, I doubt I would have as much exposure as I have had, it really helps out when you have people who are truly passionate about game development. I’ve worked on a side project with @bluegoogames in which we created a “twitter follower” horse race. Stuff like this really helps with project burnout and it was a lot of fun! You can see it here, also feel free to join!: 

http://www.nicmar.nu/race/?race=2

What has been the most challenging aspect of development?

It would probably be the scale of the project. While I’m only in my third year of development, the thought of another two years is pretty overwhelming, but it is my dream project so I’m also trying to enjoy the process for what it is! Bigger challenges would be the overall “how will I balance this?” question which tends to pop up a lot. I know I’m going to spend a lot of time after I am “done” so to speak, balancing game mechanics and various Jobs, skills, items, etc. It’s pretty daunting, haha.

How well has the game been received so far?

I’ll feel more confident about this when I have a playable demo out, but so far what I have experienced is way beyond my expectations. As a huge fan of the tactics genre, I felt I kind of had an idea of what people wanted, but I never expected it to be this popular! I honestly hope it holds up when people get their hands on it, and if anything I feel like I have an obligation to make sure it does!

 

Have there been very many ideas considered for the game and have since been scrapped?

Early on I had a bad case of feature creep, where I really had some grand designs for the game that over time would be tested by the reality of the situation. At one point I had plans for around 100 Jobs or Classes and I even had the name of the game being “Hundred Tactics”. This would make for a pretty crazy issue of balancing, let alone design and depth! One of my favorite parts of RPGs, in general, is the Job/Class system so it was very important to me to have it be something at the forefront and while it is, I have since lowered the number of Jobs to a more manageable amount at ~30.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?

First and foremost the game will be released on PC. Windows, Linux and Mac releases will be the main focus at the beginning. I would love to see Dusk Tactics on consoles, and I may leave that up to a stretch goal in fundraising. Since the game is coded in Java it will take some work to get it up and running on consoles like the Switch (easily my #1 choice) so it will depend on having the funds necessary to either do it myself (most likely) or farm it out.

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

For those who have yet to decide whether or not to pursue game development, there’s only one reality: you won’t get anything done without starting! It’s not easy, but if you are really interested in it, then you need to take that first step! Technically you should start small to increase your chances of completing the project. I only had a few projects before this one ranging from very small arcade-style mobile apps to some FOSS (Free Open Source Software) role-playing games I worked on. Working on open source projects early on was a great way to learn how to work on a schedule, working with a team, using project management software, and more. I feel like there’s a lot of information online that should suffice when it comes to preparing yourself to start a project. While it’s important to plan things out as best you can, remember you can’t plan everything. If it’s a medium to large-sized project and you’re a solo dev, then I can say the best thing is to get into a schedule and keep track of things like burnout and feature creep. The former happens to everyone and sometimes requires taking breaks while the latter brings up the need for a well-designed plan for what you want to accomplish!

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

The project’s main website:

http://dusktactics.com 

It is a major source of information about Dusk Tactics, however, I tend to update more frequently on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/dusktactics

There is a forum: 

http://dusktactics.com/bb/

It will be used more in the future to conduct closed alpha testing and I would like to post more frequent updates to it.

Do you have anything else to add?

One thing I was very wary of at first was social media. I didn’t have much experience with it as I never really got involved with Twitter outside of game development. There’s a lot to learn, but the biggest takeaway is that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it! Promoting your project is something I am still learning about and it’s an area where a lot of developers including myself sometimes feel like we are in over our heads. A fellow game dev @bluegoogames created this video that honestly details a lot of what it takes to get a good following behind your project: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEmuwU0UhU8&t=3s

With that being said I want to thank Scouse Gamer 88 so much for the opportunity and for the great questions!!

 

I would also like to thank Louis for taking the time out to answers the questions I had about Dusk Tactics and wish him the best of luck with the title. A new tactical RPG would be a breath of fresh air for the industry as the genre has remained somewhat dormant over the eighth generation of gaming, and I feel the release of a game Dusk Tactics would be an ideal catalyst to revive the genre and perhaps even take it to new heights of popularity.

Again, you can follow the links left by Louise to track the development of the game and hope you guys enjoy playing it upon release. But in the meantime, I hope you guys had as much reading about Dusk Tactics as I did covering it.

 

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88