Author Archives: scousegamer88

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

Nanotale: Typing Chronicles: First Impressions

Currently under development by independent outfit Fishing Cactus based in Mons in Belgium, and available on Steam Early Access, Nanotale is a top-down RPG with a difference; the game incorporates a combat system based on typing in words to deal attacks as opposed to traditional hack ‘n’ slash RPGs made in the same vein such as Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. Even in its early stages of development, this game has made me particularly excited for its full release in light of how much potential it has. It impressed me in almost every aspect possible and although there is room for improvement in my opinion so the full potential of this title can be realized upon release, there is indeed a great deal of scope to go on to become one of the standout indie games of 2020. Going into this game in details, this is what I thought of the game in its current state:

Graphics

Unlike many other top-down RPGs, this game unusually makes use of cel-shaded visuals as opposed to other more realistic-looking top-down RPGs such as Diablo III and Victor Vran. As it stands, the world of Nanotale that has been created up to this point is one of the most vibrantly designed in-game worlds I’ve seen throughout the entire community of indie developers and the tranquil soundtrack accompanies it perfectly. Making use of a full orchestra, it changes depending on the player’s situation in lieu of RPG tradition, but it will be interesting to see how this aspect of the game is developed further as the making of it progresses. 

Gameplay

However, what I thought to be the most impressive factor of this game is its style of play. Going against almost every tradition of the RPG genre, it relies on the player having to type words in as quick a succession as possible in order to not only string attacks together but to solve environmental puzzles in order to uncover secrets and progress further across the game’s world. The combat is intense on a level that I hadn’t thought possible for a system that works the way it does. On top of that, there is also a certain degree of strategy that can be employed which makes the combat system even more varied and enjoyable. It doesn’t go against every RPG tradition, as there is also a level-up system whereby players must increase their stats to progress further and to fight more complex battles, but the way in which it has been handled by the developers has made for a very enjoyable experience up to this point. 

Controls

In addition, the game’s control scheme also presents no unnecessary complications, which going into it, I thought might’ve been the case, since I personally prefer playing these types of games with a controller. But as it happens, what concerns I thought I may have had have been addressed and I felt the game’s unique controls only add to the charm of this title; it’s a bold re-invention of RPG combat that works incredibly well. 

Lifespan

The game in its current state can only be made to last there around 4 hours, which if it stays like this, will inevitably be the game’s biggest drawback. It would be an insulting amount of time for a game within its genre to last compared to the average RPG and at this moment, it is the biggest issue that needs to be addressed. With the creation of more locations to explore and sidequests to be carried out it can potentially be made to last as much time as any big-name RPG in the Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest series’, but for the game to last any less than a minimum of 20 hours would make the entire experience seem far too fleeting. 

Storyline

The story of Nanotale revolves around a young wizard, known as an archivist, who is embroiled in a quest to heal a dying world and to discover its secrets and wonders whilst restoring an entity known as the heart of magic. It’s a spiritual successor to a game made in the same vein by Fishing Cactus called Epistory. The plot certainly has the potential to provide players with a great many twists and turns along the way and the elements such as the soundtrack and the general feel of the game’s environments can only work to add to the overall atmosphere of the story, similar to games like Ori & The Blind Forest and Ato. 

Originality

Predominantly in terms of gameplay, this is one of the most unique titles I’ve seen in a long time; the combat system works to an extent that I hadn’t imagined at first glance to have worked, the use of cel-shaded visuals makes it stand out among a lot of fantasy RPGs developed throughout the years and the unique approach to combat gives it a certain amount of challenge that will feel like a breath of fresh air to many fans of the genre, as indeed it did with me. 

Deliirious

 

Overall, Nanotale looks set to be an exciting RPG experience with potentially a lot to offer gamers in every aspect. It looks as beautifully designed as any other top game in the genre without making use of cutting-edge graphics and if the game can be made to last longer than what it currently does, there is certainly scope for it to stand out among one of the better RPGs to be released in recent years.

Q&A With Brandon Song

Among the reviews I’d written, this was one for a newly released game on Steam entitled Ato; a beautifully crafted 8-BIT Metroidvania game with a lush open world to explore and a wonderfully varied combat system. But eager to learn more about the developmental cycle of this game, as well as the numerous challenges that came with it, I reached out to the game’s lead designer Brandon Song of Tiny Warrior Games to ask for his insight to what exactly went into Ato and where the developers may be going from this point concerning future games. Here’s what Brandon had to say:

Where does your passion for Japanese culture stem from that went into developing Ato?

What I appreciate about Japanese/Eastern art is the emphasis on nature and simplicity. I took inspiration from Korean, Chinese, and Southeast Asian designs as well.

What were the most challenging aspects of developing the game? 

Developing it solo, there are a lot of tasks that I’m not good at and had to make up my own solutions to coding/technical problems. There’s also the aspect of just mental health and it can be hard to be motivated to work on a project for a long time, especially when there isn’t much reception to be had. Financially has also been a struggle because I’m basically giving up having a career and living off of savings just to make something I love.

How well has the game been received so far?

I think people like it.

What was your favorite boss fight from the game?

The Second Boss, Jin. He was the very first enemy to be created as a test. While he is one of the easier fights, I enjoy the fact that he’s a very honest opponent, covers his bases well, and gives you plenty of approach options.

What is your favorite location within Ato’s world?

Finale

Were there very many other ideas that were considered for inclusion in Ato but never made it into the final game?

Yes, a lot, but it’s hard for me to remember. The story was going to go in a bunch of different directions and there were a handful of enemy and upgrade ideas that never got made (or were just plain bad). The game was supposed to be a small game jam game but kept growing.

What Metroidvania titles are among the development team’s favorites that impacted the development of Ato?

Metroid Fusion, Super Metroid, Hollow Knight. I would also say Shadow of the Colossus.

How important has the game’s fan community been throughout its development?

While the community I have is very, very small compared to others with millions of users. They have been very helpful with finding issues, mostly because they have helped stream and record their gameplay vs just writing feedback essays saying something is bad and it’s unclear why.

 

If a sequel to Ato were ever developed, what new gameplay aspects would you think of introducing?

I don’t know

 

What’s next for Tiny Warrior Games?

Probably a medieval fantasy action platforming RPG? I feel a bit concerned because my next idea is kind of ambitious, and it probably won’t click with the people that like Ato. Also frankly I’m burnt out and keep having nightmares.

Are you looking to bring Ato to multiple platforms outside of Steam?

I wish

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

When it comes to interviews that I’ve seen online, a lot of the time they come off like they had it all figured out, life just worked out perfectly for them and success just fell on their lap. While I think some of these might be the case, usually what they neglect to talk about is emotional/mental struggle and motivation problems. At least for me, making this game was not smooth sailing and daily I had very little motivation to keep working on it. What I can say to you (the aspiring developer/artist) is that it’s normal to have bad days where you don’t like what you’re creating. But I want to tell you that you don’t need to work hard 12-16+ hours a day to make a game. The key to finishing a long term project is consistency, work daily but on those really crappy days, give yourself an extremely easy to surmount goal, and when you complete it, you can choose to keep going or not, but what matters is if you had to choose between progress vs no progress, I think this answers itself. At least…this has worked for me and often I end up continuing to work after accomplishing my really basic goal.

Do you have anything else to add?

I feel like there’s a lot of luck in this industry, both with reception, review scores, fandoms, awards, and so on. I don’t really think I can give advice when it comes to this sort of thing because I don’t have it figured out. I just want to say that there’s only so much you can do when it comes to success of this kind. Because I obviously am not as successful as _(name of famous/successful developer)_ and clearly am not making enough to live off of to keep making games. The only real advice I can leave here is that it’s very hard to tell if an idea is fun or not until it’s actually in front of you. Often, the idea has to be fully fleshed out and in a near-final state in order to get a proper opinion which can take a lot of work and energy. So I know that if there’s the stuff that isn’t quite as fun as some other stuff in Ato, an idea in your head doesn’t always turn out to be fun. I feel I should probably stop because I have plenty to say regarding advice but feel people just want the quick instant-gratification answers to their problems so I’ll just leave it here.

Thank you.

I’d like to thank Brandon for taking the time to discuss Ato and for sharing his unique insight into the developmental process of his exceptional Metroidvania title. You can follow Tiny Warrior Games via their Twitter page and their main website via the links below:

https://twitter.com/TinyWarriorDev

https://tinywarriorgames.com/

If anyone reading would also like to experience this game for themselves (Which I whole-heartedly recommend), it’s currently available on Steam:

https://store.steampowered.com/app/1096180/Ato/

I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish Brandon and Tiny Warrior Games the best of luck with Ato, as well as with future games. Though it’s unclear whether there may or may not be a sequel to Ato, it is, in my opinion, a game that is well-deserved of a sequel, but regardless it’ll be interesting to see what Brandon’s possible upcoming RPG has to offer and I wish him all the best of luck with it.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Q&A With Monster Finger Games

This week, I have been reaching out to a vast number of independent video game developers to discover new titles in the works throughout 2020. One such game is Alien Scumbags; A 2D 8-BIT side-scroller survival horror shoot ‘em up developed by Monster Finger Games operating out of Southampton, England. The game offers players a balanced blend of horror and comedy, with it being set on the Nostrami; a ship that has gone dark and is then invaded by a hostile alien race, which the players must combat to survive, whilst on the way, uncovering what happened onboard the derelict spacecraft. I composed an article details my first impressions of the game in its preliminary stages of development:

https://scousegamer88.com/2020/05/09/alien-scumbags-first-impressions/

However, I have also been in contact with the game’s principal designer James Ross, who agreed to answer a few questions ahead of the game’s release, regarding how the game’s development is progressing and what players can expect to see with the finished article. Here’s what James had to say about Alien Scumbags:

What has the developmental process been like?

The development has had its ups and downs, it’s crazy to think how much can happen in 2.5 years spent working on a game. Life can get in the way and it’s tough to push through it. One of the hardest things was creating the lighting system as ending up rebuildings the existing levels from scratch, the way the lighting looks now is so worth it though. I’ve learned a lot on the development journey, one lesson, in particular, is to always keep backing up regularly. I lost around 3 months’ worth of work just before Christmas which hit me hard, but again Alien Scumbags has come back better than before.

How close are we to seeing the finished product? 

I aim to have it finished by the end of the year, of course, we still have the game in early access as we like the idea of people who play it having the opportunity to have their say. 

Though the influences for the game’s style of play have been outlined on your GameJolt page, where do you draw influence from where the story is concerned? 

It’s a tough one as I just came up with the story out of the blue really. I watch a lot of horror films and wanted the story to reflect my love of that film genre. A lot of what created the story is the monsters that I created prior to it being created, I needed to be able to link everything together.

What has been the most exciting aspect of development? 

Seeing it grow from being a gamejam title to something that people really love to play. I would say also managing to create the lighting system was super exciting as I really enjoy playing around with the different effects I can create with it.

What has been the most challenging aspect of development? 

Staying motivated when something goes wrong, losing all my data, issues in my private life, sometimes it makes you want to throw the towel in and give up, not to mention having anxiety issues too can also give you the feeling that your game is not good enough. I have kept pushing forward though and every step is worth it when I look back. 

How important has community feedback been in shaping the game into what it is now?

Extremely important, for example, the game didn’t have an aiming reticule, to begin with, no run, no airboost, and right at the beginning no health bar. A lot of these improvements may not have happened if it wasn’t for the amazing Streamers/YouTubers and other devs that have given their feedback. 

What further cultural references are being planned for inclusion in the final game? 

The cultural references are things that tend to be added as my mind thinks of them, I can tell you that I have planned for a while to add some other gaming references including Metal Gear Solid, you will have to wait for the next update to see that though. 

How well has the game been received so far?

So far people have really enjoyed playing it, throughout its development people have found little bugs and such but the majority of people have really enjoyed it. I make sure to patch out any issues people find on streams asap as I want the game to be as polished as it can be. We have built a small community of great people and hope this continues as we continue with Alien Scumbags.

What platforms are you looking to bring the game to? 

PC is the only platform at the moment, however, we would be open to chatting with publishers about bringing it to other platforms if there was interest.

What would be next for Monster Finger Games? Have further ideas for games been considered yet?

Not sure what our next title will be following Alien Scumbags. We had started work on Super Bombardier, but who knows what the future will bring.

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

The best thing to do if you want to make something is to do it, I would also say to try and think about something small initially and work up from that, releasing a game really teaches you a lot of lessons. Above all else enjoy the journey and don’t think too much about the finish line.

Where on the Internet can people find you? 

I am most active on Twitter @kkindiegame, you can email us at:

monsterfingergames@mail.com 

We have a Facebook page too at https://www.facebook.com/monsterfingeruk/ We also have a website at www.monsterfingergames.com 

Do you have anything else to add?

I want to thank you for this opportunity, it’s been great and really enjoyed chatting, DM me anytime. I also want to say a massive thank you to every Streamer, YouTuber, Blogger and fan that has supported the development of Alien Scumbags.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank James for agreeing to answer what questions I had and to wish him the best of luck with the game. I certainly had a lot of fun playing Alien Scumbags even this early on in development and if anyone wishes to experience this title for themselves, the game is available to download from the team’s GameJolt page via the link below:

https://gamejolt.com/games/alienscumbags/312460

I hope you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed composing it and hope you all enjoy playing Alien Scumbags.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Alien Scumbags: First Impressions

Currently under development and set for future release on Steam, as well as being available on the team’s GameJolt page, Alien Scumbags is an upcoming 2D side-scrolling 8-BIT sci-fi shooter survival horror developed by Monster Finger Games; the team behind various titles released on the OUYA such as Mr. Monocle’s Travels and Super Renegade Response. Taking influence from the likes of Doom and Duke Nukem, the player must traverse through an abandoned spaceship called the Nostrami, combat an alien horde that has plagued the ship and uncover what happened aboard the vessel leading up to present events. Impressed by what previews of the game I had seen, I picked up a copy of the game in its current state and decided to give my first impressions of it before it’s full release. Here’s what I thought of Alien Scumbags:

Graphics

The game makes use of 8-BIT graphics and is set on an abandoned station out in the middle of space called the Nostrami. The game’s visual style does well to perpetuate the horrific atmosphere of the spaceship as there is superb use of lighting (or lack of) to induce feelings of tension and suspense throughout. In many respects, although the developers trace their influences for the game to the likes of Doom and Duke Nukem, and these influences are apparent (even more so as the game progresses), I was reminded more of Dead Space than most other games, as, like the former, the game does pretty well to build tension, with not only it’s visual style, but also through its soundtrack, which is the kind of technique used in top-notch horror films. The sound effects that have been used for the enemies add an even more heightened sense of horror; despite the fact that it’s interspersed with dialogue from the main character that includes a number of humorous cultural references. 

Gameplay

Whenever I sit down to play a survival horror or a game that perpetuates elements of survival horror at least, my first hope is that the efforts to make the game as scary as possible don’t work to outweigh the amount of gameplay to enjoy, which is what I’ve found to be the case with many other mainstream survival horror series’ such as Silent Hill or Outlast. But in Alien Scumbags, there is a nice balance; the player must kill all enemies between them and the next level and there are sidequests to be completed, such as collecting audiotapes recorded by various Nostrami crew members, as well as there being a number of unlockables to collect throughout the game, such as different characters. The game also requires somewhat of a strategic approach unusual for a survival horror game, as different enemies perpetuate the use of different guns and it can be easy to run out of ammo for specific weapons. I’m impressed by what this game has to offer in its current state but the developers are planning to add even more to it, which will inevitably only serve to heighten the gameplay experience even more.

Controls

The game’s controls are also easy enough to get to grips with. The developers have created a game with a simple control scheme attached to it with no unnecessary complication; it’s a nice and traditional 2D side-scroller that has players blasting through each level in order to progress to the next. The developers haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel in respect of the game’s controls, but with a game like this, it wouldn’t really be necessary. 

Lifespan

As it stands, the game boasts a total of 12 levels; a tutorial level, 9 main levels, a boss fight, and a bonus level. The estimated lifespan as things are at the moment is up to 10 hours taking what replay value there is to be had in replaying the game with different characters. However, the developers are also planning to add another 8 to 9 levels with an additional boss fight and bonus level, which would most likely accelerate the lifespan to 20 hours plus, which for an independently developed 2D side-scroller would be quite impressive.

Storyline

The storyline perpetuates a blend of horror, comedy, and references to old and modern culture. It follows the player character uncovering the events of what happened to the derelict spaceship, the Nostrami, which has been overrun by murderous alien creatures. Again, I found it as funny as I did horrifying with jokes thrown into the background, such as an advertisement for something called The Uranus Probe and items on the cafeteria menu alluding to the film Alien. But at the same time, learning about the Nostrami’s backstory is a particularly harrowing experience making for something as tense as many other survival horror games. The game’s use of full voice acting also makes for a further element of horror that no player will expect to find in an 8-BIT game. 

Originality

Although the game does conform to a lot of tropes associated with the traditional 2D side-scrolling style of play, it has elements to it that make it stand out among many others. It makes me think that this game is what would be developed if id Software decided to make Doom 3 in this style. I was attracted to this game on the basis that it’s a survival horror with not too much emphasis on horror and as much emphasis on gameplay as possible, which, in and of itself, would make it unique among many games in the horror category and I wasn’t disappointed with it; even in it’s unfinished state. 

Overall, I’d recommend old-school gamers, and fans of the survival horror genre for that matter, to check this title out for themselves before it’s full release. You can find it on their GameJolt page at the moment via the link below: 

https://gamejolt.com/games/alienscumbags/312460#video-81040

I will also be conducting a Q&A with one of the game’s principal designers James Ross soon on the blog, so keep a lookout for that. In the meantime, I hope you guys enjoy Alien Scumbags and I hope you’re looking forward to the follow-up Q&a.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

Ato (PC)

Developer(s) – Tiny Warrior Games

Publisher(s) – Tiny Warrior Games

Designer – Brandon Song

Released on Steam following a successful IndieGoGo campaign, Ato is an atmospheric Metroidvania game set in Feudal Japan whereby players take on the role of an anthropomorphic samurai fox who sets out on an adventure to rescue his abducted child from a cult of deadly ninjas. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid a game this was compared to other indie Metroidvania games; it stands as a shining example of how a satisfying and immersive gaming experience can be developed on a budget.

Graphics – 8/10

The game makes use of 8-BIT style graphics with characters and settings inspired by Feudal Japan and the diversity in environmental design is quite staggering, ranging from cherry blossom forests to sunset mountainsides to snowy tundras. The game’s environmental design is most definitely the standout feature in this game from a visual standpoint; they also do exceptionally well to add to the game’s overall atmosphere in conjunction with what situation the player character is in at any one given time. The only minor issue I had with the visuals was that at one or two points there is a small amount of slow down, but overall, it does little to hamper the experience. 

Gameplay – 9/10

The title also incorporates the use of a wide range of gameplay elements. Like many other Metroidvania games, the objective is to explore as much of the world map as possible and uncover as many items as possible. Over time, there are new abilities introduced in order for players to explore other inaccessible areas throughout the game, as well as there being secret items to be found in order to either increase the player’s health or coins to progress further. But in my opinion, the most impressive gameplay element found in this title is the combat system. 

Players also gain different weapons and abilities to use in combat ranging from including a poisoned sword, dash attacks, a spiked shield, and later on in the game, even magic abilities; it’s quite similar to Dust: An Elysian Tail in its approach to combat. The wide range of boss fights is also quite impressive; there are a few starter boss fights in quick succession earlier on in the game to give players a feel for the combat system in general, but after that, they become even more varied in design. This amount of diversity in gameplay perpetuates the standard to be found in any great Metroidvania title; it’s satisfying to play and a genuine pleasure to explore through.  

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme of the game is also simple enough to get to grips with, which was impressive given the amount of variety there is in combat; it was yet another means for me to draw comparisons with Dust: An Elysian Tail. Though it may not have a combo system like the former, there would’ve been no need to include one as each battle, be that with bosses or general enemies, is still as satisfying as it is challenging; especially on the harder difficulty settings. 

Lifespan – 5/10

The only real downside to this title is that it can only be made to last for a maximum of 4 hours, which whilst doesn’t do a game like this justice, I suppose such is the reality of the situation when a game is developed with a limited amount of funds like this was. It lasts considerably less time than an average Metroidvania game, but it lasts slightly longer than a lot of other independently developed titles in the genre, such as The Swapper and Xeodrifter. Compared to those two titles at the very least, this game blows the both of them out of the water as far as I’m concerned (in terms of both lifespan and general gameplay) so the average runtime of Ato was enough to justify a hard 5 as opposed to a soft 4. 

Storyline – 8/10

The story of Ato follows a father caring for his wife and infant child in a small house amidst a peaceful spec of land. But suddenly, the family is devastated when a group of masked ninja steal the infant child from its parents. The father then sets off on a quest to bring their child home. It sounds simple enough on the face of it, but without giving away anything that happens, the plot later unfolds into a lot darker and deeper than what the player will first imagine and things also escalate abnormally quickly. 

Although there’s either no spoken or written dialogue throughout the game, the characters’ emotions and hardships are wonderfully portrayed to convey the events of the story, which considering that this is an 8-BIT game, is even more impressive. Also, the game’s environmental design works exceedingly well to add the game’s atmosphere throughout with elements such as day-to-night transitions used to change the mood at specific times and rainstorms to add further tension to already exceedingly intense situations. 

Originality – 8/10

Between everything that this game does as well as it does, from the combat system to the environmental design to the manner in which the story is told, it also makes for a rather unique experience. In a gaming mainstream that relies heavily on cutting-edge graphics and motion capture to effectively tell an emotionally charged story, very few 8-BIT games I have played have portrayed themes and emotions, as well as this, does. Also, to at the same time keep the general focus on gameplay is welcome in a market saturated with games putting story ahead of gameplay such as The Last of Us and the Telltale games. 

Happii

In summation, Ato is a wonderful title that exceeds in almost every aspect and I can recommend it to any Metroidvania fan out there reading this review. It’s a well-crafted blend offering great gameplay and an enthralling story, which had me taken aback by just how good it is. 

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Russian Subway Dogs (PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita & Xbox One)

Developer(s) – Spooky Squid Games

Publisher(s) – Spooky Squid Games

Developed by Canadian independent outfit Spooky Squid Games and inspired by the real-life international phenomenon of Moscow’s metro stations, Russian Subway Dogs is an arcade game whereby the objective is to rack up as many points as possible by stealing food from passing commuters. To me, it’s one of those wonderful gaming ideas that was inspired by a pretty unlikely source, but at the same time making for a whole load of fun to be enjoyed in game form. 

Graphics – 7/10

The game is wonderfully varied in terms of graphics, as not only are there different types of gods to unlock throughout the game that players can use as alternative skins, but there are also different variations of Russian subways with their own unique designs and colour palettes. Variety only becomes more apparent as time goes on, since new and more challenging enemies are introduced with each stage. At first, I was pretty curious as to what would inspire the developers to make a game based on this whole visual concept, but after I did my research and found out that it’s all actually based on a very real and very prominent aspect of Russian culture (so much so that street dogs in Moscow have become pretty much a national symbol), I found myself wondering how no one had picked up on this idea before this game. 

Gameplay – 7/10

The gameplay revolves around the player controlling a street dog and barking to startle passers-by so that they drop their food allowing the dog to steal and eat it. That’s the basic gist, but there soon comes other obstacles for the player to have to contend with, uch as rival dogs who steal food first if the player misses out on it, as well as certain commuters who attack the dogs with huge fish. Players can also startle people carrying bottles of vodka that act like molotov cocktails that can be used to either eliminate rival dogs or even attack commuters so that the food they carry is cooked by the attack making the food dropped worth more points. Later on throughout the game, there are other unique commuters whose food offers special abilities that the player can take advantage of to rack up more points or one-up the rival dogs in the stage, as well as contending with bigger animals that are later introduced such as bears.

As well as there being the unprecedented amount of variety in graphic design, there’s also an unprecedented amount of variety in gameplay; just as much as any other respectable arcade franchise like Pac-Man or Dig Dug. A lot of indie developers have attempted to rehash old arcade classics by adding new features to them, like what Puppy Games did with both Ultratron and Titan Attacks. But it’s arcade games like this and Pix The Cat that really do bettger to catch the attention of arcade game fans by offering something new and this game certainly does not disappoint in that aspect. 

Controls – 10/10

The control scheme also poses no problems to the player; in fact, it’s quite innovative for an arcade game along with the general gameplay concept. Again, it’s yet another reason why this arcade game is able to stand out better than many other arcade titles developed across the indie gaming community, as many of them, including the likes of Pix the Cat, Curses ‘N’ Chaos and Hyper Sentinel are based on the control schemes of many ‘80s classics such as Defender and Pac-Man.

Originality – 7/10

I’ve already pointed out on numerous occasions that this game does well to stand out among not only newer arcade games made by indie developers, but also amongst the arcade classics of the late ‘70s and those throughout the ‘80s. It’s one of those ideas that if looked at on paper, you’d think it may be rejected immediately. But when designed for use on console and PC, it makes for something particularly special; something that players can potentially invest a great deal of time in. 

Happii

To summarize, Russian Subway Dogs is an enjoyable arcade title that offers virtually unlimited replay value, since there is not only a general story mode, but an endless mode as well. It’s a charming, addicting game that is worth investing in and I highly recommend it. 

Score

32/40

8/10 (Very Good)