Developer(s) – Nintendo R&D1 & Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s) – Nintendo
Director(s) – Satoru Okada
Producer(s) – Gunpei Yokoi
PEGI – 7
Released at around the midpoint of the third generation on the NES to generally positive reviews, selling best in America, Metroid became a favorite among fans of the original NES, and of course, would go on to become one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises along with the likes of Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. I was excited before first going into this one some years ago because it wasn’t a game I got to experience at the time of its release, and I was very much looking forward to seeing the beginnings of this franchise after hearing what I had done through word of mouth. But although I do think it is one of the better games released on the NES, and that I can understand why so many people regard it as a beloved classic, to me, the series did get better as it went on; especially as this game suffered from a lot of limitations that the era of gaming in which it occupied presented.
Graphics – 10/10
The best quality this game has, in my opinion, is the visuals. Set across an expansive alien world, it presented something extremely different from what Nintendo was putting out at the time, which mostly involved worlds made up of anthropomorphic animals and contemporary fantasy settings. Although there were plenty of games with sci-fi elements on the NES, such as Abadox, Contra, and Metal Gear, it was indeed interesting to see the makers of the console try their hand at it themselves, and the end result is one of the best-looking games on the system. The game’s soundtrack, composed by Hirokazu Tanaka, also compliments the game’s atmosphere in a way that also goes above and beyond that of which many other NES games attempted.
Gameplay – 6/10
Although the original Metroid is generally described as an action-adventure, ostensibly it’s a Metroidvania, although that term at the time had yet to be coined, of course, until Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night were both released many years later. The player must navigate their way through an open world, collect items, upgrades, and new abilities, and defeat bosses in order to unlock new areas, and ultimately face off against the end boss. But as this particular genre of game was yet to be built on, it suffers from limitations such as there being no in-game map, which in the Metroidvania genre, has become a staple element. Being a by-product of its time, players were reliant on either a strategy guide or even drawing up rough maps for themselves to make sure they don’t get lost or explore an area twice needlessly. It’s enjoyable to play with a strategy guide, but a nightmare without one.
Controls – 7/10
Another area where problems exist is also the control scheme. As the game also has a lot of sequences whereby players must jump up vertically elongated areas, this presents issues because the game’s jump mechanics can feel quite inconsistent. Super Metroid had the same problem, as well as a few others, but not to the same extent as the original Metroid does. What’s also sorely lacking is the ability to shoot diagonally, which again, would be something that would be greatly improved on with future Metroidvania titles.
Lifespan – 7/10
The game can be made to last around an hour and a half, which in all fairness, whilst that seems like nothing compared to games today, was actually a fair bit of time longer than the average game in the late 80s. In this respect, the original Metroid was somewhat ahead of its time, along with the original Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Again, it may be down to the limitation of what hardware was being used back then that the game couldn’t have been made to last longer than what it does, but the lifespan did manage to break some new ground at least.
Storyline – 7/10
The story of Metroid is that the Galactic Federation has sent a bounty named Samus Aran to the planet Zebes, which is infested with mysterious hostile aliens known as Metroids, in order to take out Mother Brain, a biochemical life form controlling the Space Pirates, who were responsible for the Metroid outbreak. Not a lot of that is made clear throughout the game, as in lieu of third-generation tradition, players had to read the manual in order to learn as much about the narrative as possible. But the reveal that Samus is in fact a woman is considered to be one of the most iconic moments in gaming history, as the concept of a female protagonist was pretty much unheard of in video games at the time.
Originality – 8/10
It’s for that same reason, as well as its contemporary sci-fi setting, style of play, and accompanying soundtrack, that Metroid stands out as being one of the most unique titles on the system. Although the series would go on to reach greater heights, and that the character of Samus Aran would go on to become even more admired by gamers everywhere, this is where it all started, and for many gamers, this title broke a lot of new ground in ways that no one could have expected. Satoru Okada would go on to become one of Nintendo’s most iconic figures until his retirement in 2012, and it’s not hard to see why with the legacy he and the late great Gunpei Yokoi have left behind with the release of titles like this.
Overall, Metroid, whilst it indeed has too many flaws for me personally to be able to label it as such, is still considered by many to be a classic and an NES favorite, and for good reason. It was a Metroidvania before the genre was even properly conceived, and no game had played anything like it at the time.
Publisher(s) – Namco & Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Director(s) – Seiichi Ishii
Producer(s) – Hajime Nakatani
PEGI – 12
Beginning as an internal experiment at Namco for modeling 3D characters, and later going on to become an early break-out hit on the original PlayStation as well as tearing up arcades everywhere, Tekken was Namco’s answer to the greatest fighting game series at the time such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter (indeed, with many of the original Virtua Fighter team going to design This game). I wrote a more in-depth article going into the facts about the development of the original game, as well as the Tekken series in general for ActionAGoGo a while back in my 10-Hit Combo series:
But as far as I’m concerned, although the best of the original Tekken trilogy would be yet to come, the first game in the series remains a favorite among fans of the original PlayStation, and for good reason.
Graphics – 7/10
For what started out as a simple experiment, It’s amazing to see what the game would later go on to be in every aspect. In terms of the visuals, it features a memorable cast of characters with stages set in real-life places, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the countryside of Windemere, England, and the landscape of Athens complete with the backdrop of the Acropolis. The scenery would go on to become more diverse with later installments, but each area is represented well for the time on a system with limited graphics by today’s standards.
Gameplay – 7/10
The game centers around the player characters competing in the King of the Iron Fist tournament for global supremacy in the field of martial arts. Playing out much differently from a traditional fighting game, and not making as much prevalent use of combos as many other fighting games at the time, it provided players with a very different experience to what they would have been used to at the time. The style of play has gone on to be modified and perfected throughout the rest of the series, but for the starting point, it plays out much more fluently than Virtua Fighter. There is also a host of unlockable characters to acquire in the home console version, giving it that much replay value.
Controls – 10/10
Again, for what was to become the introduction to a beloved series, it’s surprising how well the controls were handled considering the fact that the same developers had previously worked on a fighting game that had arguably worse controls on a system that was comparable in power to the original PlayStation in the Sega Saturn. The fact that it runs on 80 frames per second really helped to achieve the desired effect, but although it may have seemed, even at the time, a step back where fighting games were concerned due to the lack of a defined combo system, the developers handled the control scheme as well as what could have been expected within its confines.
Originality – 7/10
The aspect in which this game stands out above all else is in its unique cast of characters compared to most other fighting games. Compared to Virtua Fighter, introducing fantasy and science fiction elements also helped to distinguish it from the former in infinitely significant ways. Characters from the Tekken series have gone on to become iconic video game characters, such as Yoshimitsu, Heihachi, and King; and this is where it all started.
Overall, the original Tekken, whilst not being my personal favorite from the first three games (my favorite being Tekken 2), was nevertheless the ideal starting point and a gaming experience that still very much holds up. Its quirky characters, excellent game design, and somewhat stern level of challenge have had fighting game fans revisiting it for over 20 years, and will also do well to entertain players for generations to come.
Disclaimer: This interview contains some strong language. Anyone who is offended by such content is advised against reading this interview.
The fifth generation of gaming is one of the most beloved periods in the medium, with consoles such as the Nintendo 64, the original PlayStation, and the Sega Dreamcast going on to become among the most popular and well-received platforms in the history of video games. However, come the end of the fifth generation, as the transition to the sixth was being made, among the last games published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 was Conker’s Bad Fur Day; a game which garnished critical acclaim upon release and has since gone on to become a favorite among fans of the console. I was lucky enough to have an interview this week with the lead programmer of the game; Chris Seavor. Chris joined Rare back in 1994, where he was tasked with developing for the Killer Instinct series initially; he then went on to not only work on many Rare games on the programming side of things, but also voice many characters created by Rare, such as Spinal from Killer Instinct, Gruntilda of Banjo Kazooie and Banjo Tooie, and of course several characters in Conker’s Bad Fur Day, including Conker himself.
After having left Rare in 2011, he most recently established Gory Details Ltd with former Rare collaborator Shawn Pile, and together have developed both Parashoot Stan and a dark adventure game named The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, and as of this writing, there is also a new game in development from Gory Details, said to be a twin-stick dungeon-bash title. I had a lot of questions for Chris concerning his early life, his time at Rare, the development of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, as well as the ultimately canceled sequel, and of course, his work at Gory Details Ltd and what gamers can expect from their new project. Here’s our in-depth interview: The Twelve Tales of Chris Seavor:
Where did your passion for video games originate from?
Playing them as a kid… That and board games…. A friend had been bought Dungeons and Dragons for Christmas (the pink edition which I still have) and he couldn’t understand it so he gave it to me… It was a revelation. This is where my love of ‘game mechanics’ came from which then evolved into video games when I had access to a BBC Micro and eventually the eponymous Spectrum 48K.
What games would you play as a child and how would they go on to influence you as a developer?
Ironically the first game I ever bought was Knightlore. I got it from a mate for half price. 5 quid I think. My favorite game from childhood though is RebelStar Raiders which was a turn-based squad game where you had to infiltrate a base on the Moon. Still holds up. Obviously, Ultimate games were in there, but also John Ritman’s variants on the genre like Head Over Heals, which brilliantly introduced a second character to add a cooperative element to the puzzle solving. Quite groundbreaking. The list is huge though; Elite, Paradroid, Out of the Shadows, The Hobbit, Lords of Midnight, Bards Tale, Chuckie Egg, Monty Mole, etc. Oddly though, I never really liked Manic Miner or Jet Set Willy as I found them too difficult. What a scrub eh?
What consoles did you own early on?
None. I was at college when the NES and SNES and Mega Drive came out, so had little money and was too busy drinking and dossing around on the beach (I was at college in Cornwall for 4 years, then Bournemouth for 1). Games kinda left my life for a long time…… Next device I bought after my C64 was a SNES whilst working at Rare just to play Zelda and DKC, so yeah!
What is your earliest memory of game design?
I would design whole RPG systems for tabletop gaming. My 2 favorite systems were MERPS and Warhammer Fantasy RPG. MERPS for its crazy crit tables (and the lore) and WHRPG for the gothic world-building. Loved em to bits. I stole from both. I also wrote a Fighting Fantasy novel, but only got as far as about 100 entries before losing track. Those things are hecka-complex to write.
Were there any development companies you aspired to work with before you went to work with Rare?
Psygnosis. I didn’t know who Rare were, to be honest… Psygnosis were in Liverpool as well, so I could stay with the parents and save some cash. Lazy fucker I was. I had an interview with a few; EA, Psygnosis, and Rare included. Not sure what happened with Pysg, but EA offered a job eventually but I’d already started at Rare and liked it. Mainly because I’d made some friends and to be honest, that’s always the most stressful part of starting out somewhere new: being alone. The job turned out okay too 😉
Where there any other careers you attempted to pursue before going into games design and game voice-over work?
Not attempted, but I’d always planned to go into the film industry. My actual skill set was 3D graphics (a career path very much in its infancy in ‘93, unlike now) so film / TV seemed a natural fit. Games I never considered and in the end just sort of fell into it with a chance conversation with a long time friend Ady Smith (Rare, Eidos). Ironically Ady is teaching game stuff down at my old college in Cornwall now.
What was your upbringing like? Did your parents have any positive or negative reaction to your enjoyment of games, or was there even an element of that during your childhood?
I’d have to say it was pretty negative when I was 13 -15. I always like to remind my Mum of a comment she made once after I spent a whole day playing The Hobbit on the big TV.. ‘You’ll never make any money playing games all day…. It’s not a proper job’. She’s right about one thing though… It’s not a ‘proper job’, thank the maker!
Did any facet of your childhood go on to influence you as a developer, similar to how traveling through the forests of Kyoto inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to create The Legend of Zelda?
Not directly. I’ve always loved the cinema experience and would watch every movie I could… I guess that helped in later life. I read a lot of Horror and SciFi, not so much fantasies apart from Prof T the bulk of it back then was, to be blunt: Shit. I read a lot of Fantasy today though, the grim, dark stuff. It’s so much better nowadays.
What was it like for you to experience the medium of gaming taking off back in the 70s and 80s?
It just was… You don’t really know you’re IN something when it’s happening around you… Like DKC or the N64 period at Rare. It was just a job, and you were hoping your game would sell more than the other Barns did. Only now looking back do you realize the fondness people have for that time, and the games we’d made as a company… It’s kinda weird as I don’t think of it in those terms.
Was the aspiration to become an actor or voice-over artist from an early age as well, or was that something that manifested later on?
Nope. I’m not a voice actor, I’m a 3d Artist / Game Designer. The voice work was a time saver and for practical issues. It seems to be its own thing now in games, with big names getting involved… Fair enough I suppose, but I think it’s a waste of money. Keanu Reeves is a great guy by all accounts but he can’t act for shit. Spend the money on some unknowns who need the break instead… To be honest, I think the influx of big Hollywood names into the games industry is largely down to the egos of the Production Managers, Execs, and Bosses… It’s the only chance these people will ever get to hang out with the Stars!! Also, BAFTA can try and inject their dull game awards ceremony with a bit of glitz and glamour… Game development has little glitz, even less glamour. And then of course there are Mr. Keighley’s Game Awards… I mean, really? I rest my case, your honor. Here’s the proof it’s a bullshit waste of money .. Name me one person who bought Cyberpunk 2077 because Keanu Reeves was in it? You found one?? They’re a fucking liar.
Who were your inspirations where your voice acting was concerned?
Again, no one really. I just did some silly voices based on accents and the range of my voice. Conker’s voice came pretty easily, in fact, I think I just did it instinctively the first time Robin and I were in the studio.
Were there any teachers you had at school who would have a lasting impression on you where your career was concerned?
Absolutely not, Fuck those idiots.
My teachers tried to tell me that the best years of my life would be my school years, but I disagree with them; my best years have been everything that came afterward. But did you enjoy school when you were a kid?
Absolutely not. Fuck those idiots even more… School was shit. Sadists and morons. I fucking hated it with a vengeance. Imagine trying to encourage 14-year-old lads to enjoy reading then dumping Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park in their lap. WTF!? Stephen King, Tolkien, Sven Hassel first… THEN Jane Austin, in later life, when you have enough life experience to relish in its satire.
What was the best piece of advice you were given as a child?
That kind of thing only happens in YA fiction… I never much paid any attention to adults as a kid. I think I became aware of how flawed they all were at a very young age. The one bit of advice I do remember was from my Nan: ‘Christ lad, don’t get old…’
Rare had been renowned for their sense of humor with hidden jokes and Easter eggs in their games and Conker was no different. But where did your sense of humor stem from early on?
I wasn’t particularly funny as a kid. In fact, I was and still am almost terminally shy. I still find it stressful to group up with people in games and be expected to have a conversation, even in chat. (except when I’m shouting abuse 😉 I think my humor stems from looking at life’s absurdity and just laughing at it all. People can be so fucking dumb, so finding comedy gold in the actions and words of others is a never-ending resource. I’m a pessimist and a cynic. That’s where my humor comes from I think….. Plus I’m a bit weird and apparently lacking intact (although I am usually told this after the fact…)
How did the opportunity to work for Rare first come about?
Shared petrol money and a day out from Uni. I just turned up and they offered me a job. That’s it really.
What was your first day at Rare like and what were you tasked with working on initially?
It was fine… I was pretty nervous but that went very quickly…. I shared a room with Kev Bayliss, and we got on fine. Still do (which is amazing for me 😉 ) My first job was to sketch out and start building the environment for Sabrewulf in Killer Instinct.
In terms of working on the Killer Instinct series, what are you most proud of?
Killer Gold I reckon… Just because it was my first experience with actual polygons in a game, rather than pre-rendered. A whole other kettle of fish. I had to convert my original Nurbs Models from KI2 to work in the new engine. First game out from Rare with actual live 3D models… Quite proud of that. And they look okay I reckon, particularly Spinal’s Slave Galley…. (Early nods to Sea of Thieves there ;)) joke.
Did you ever come up with any ideas for any additional characters for Killer Instinct or Diddy Kong Racing?
I did a couple of characters for Killer Instinct 2 (arcade) which were not used. Fully modeled one of them, a Vampire Prince with long white hair. Even did a set of animations. I wish I still had the frames but nope… All gone.
How rewarding was it seeing your work come to fruition with the release of a game at Rare?
Best thing ever… Really, everyone should try it.
Are there any interesting stories about how the voice of Spinal first came about?
Same as Grunty really.. Scream and Cackle. I’m a one-note pony when it comes to baddies.
The concept for Gruntilda’s voice, I’d imagine, would’ve been one of the most straightforward ones to have had to come up with, but was that the case? Was there another different approach taken where she was concerned?
I just screamed and cackled… That’s what witches do right? 😉
How exhilarating was it knowing you had just voiced a major Nintendo villain at the time?
It was 10 minutes of work, and the tight arses didn’t even give me a free copy of the game… To this day I have never owned a copy of Banjo. Not sure but think it’s probably the same sample they use in the new Smash?? Maybe?
Who was your favorite character to have voiced before Conker?
The ones that didn’t have me coughing my guts up and no voice for 2 days. Conker. it has to be him really… Death, Conkula, Frankie, any with interesting dialogue and motivations.
Which additional character in Diddy Kong Racing (with the exception of Conker) do you feel would’ve been worthy of a spin-off series?
I don’t care enough about Diddy Kong Racing to be honest. Wasn’t there a Tiger? The Tiger then.
What were the Stamper brothers like to work for?
They were great, very hands-on when needed, very hands-off when we were getting on with it. I mean, things could from time to time get fractious but it was usually just clashing egos (mine mainly) Tim’s passion for games when I first joined Rare was in his very being. All he cared about was the game/games. Chris, I saw less of because he tended to be the business side of things, and was a software guy anyway. They had a certain dynamic as brothers, sort of like a video game boss ironically. The whole was greater than the sum of its parts… (hmm, sounds like shade, but I don’t mean it in that way)
Were there any Rare games that you would’ve liked to work on, but never got the opportunity to?
From a purely mercenary cash standpoint? Oh DK 64 and DK Racer. They made fucking TONS of cash for the teams. But creatively? Nah, I’m happy the way things were. But what about Goldeneye, You say!? Cashwise? Nah… old deal. Creatively?? I think I would have done things to stop it from being the game it is now. Not good things… I was still in a DOOM 2 mindset at the time.
Were you scheduled to work in some capacity on Rare’s canceled game Project Dream before it later became Banjo-Kazooie?
Nope. Definitely nope…
If you could’ve voiced any other Nintendo character (or Rare character) at the time, who would it have been and what approach would you have taken to do it?
Never really thought of it. The only character I would love to have voiced which Rare (almost) got to do was Harry Potter. It would have meant I’d have been the first person to perform that character in media. A good one for the CV. Plus I think I’d have made a decent enough game out of the books (only 3 were out at the time) as I was already a big fan, had I been asked… Nevermind.
Who were the funniest people in the Rare office to work with?
That’s a tough one. Everyone pretty much made me laugh, sometimes unintentionally… Grant Kirkhope has ‘funny bones’ just because of his outlook on life and his rock ‘n’ roll stories. Robin’s funny as well, particularly when he’s drunk……. Martin Hollis has a very dry sense of humor and Noz always made me laugh at his various woes over the years…Doaky though, he’s just sick that man.
What was your reaction when you first heard about Microsoft buying out Rare?
Yay!! EA and Activision were the 2 other main contenders. Whatever criticisms people have for MS, I have no doubts whatsoever Rare as a studio would not exist now if they’d succeeded. Nintendo though? They made a great off by all accounts, and already owned nearly half the company… I don’t even want to think about that.
What made you come to the decision to leave Rare back in 2011?
I didn’t. I was happy to stay but things were, shall we say, engineered to make sure I didn’t….. Long story, not a pleasant experience, and some of the people involved, one in particular can go fuck themselves. They know who they are; not that things didn’t turn out well in the end… I got a nice fat cheque to send me on my way and here we are.
What is your opinion on the current state of Rare?
At the time I left it was not very good, what with a combination of Don Mattrick and his cronies not to mention that Kinect abomination. I was 90% sure we would be shut down within a few years… Since then though, along came Sea of Thieves .. Amazing what can happen when you just let a team get on with things and stop fucking them about. I think they’re in a very strong position now, although they really do need to mine that IP goldmine a bit more … Baffles me that they don’t.
What was the developmental process like early on during when the game was supposed to be either Twelve Tales or Conker 64?
I was only doing art at that point, and the direction the game was taking design-wise was not something I could influence. We were essentially trying to make a Mario 64 type platformer. It was…. Fractious.
How did you initially feel after being moved up to the project’s leader by the Stampers?
They knew it was what I wanted so they gave me a chance. Seemed to work out, although I think I was expected to fail.
What was it like working with Robin Beanland?
Yeah, okay. We don’t really get along 😉 Nah, he’s always been a talented bastard, unlike me who’s been winging it for years…. I think we get on workwise because we understand what we both want versus the limitations of the medium. It’s important to temper your expectations and ambitions with what’s actually possible. Plus we both like lager and vindaloos. Although age has finally caught up with me on both counts there.
What was the feeling across the team following the game’s showcasing at E3 1998?
Was that the BFD first showing? I remember the TT one being a fucking disaster. The BFD one was as good as it got. Great stand by Nintendo, free beer, most of the team was there too so it was a decent crowd. And no interview pools, which I really hate… There’s nothing like a bunch of bored games journos asking tedious questions for 12 hours straight to break your soul.
What was the revised pitch to Nintendo like when the intention changed to make the more mature game it turned out to be?
I don’t know. I pitched it to Tim and Chris, not Nintendo. I didn’t work for Nintendo; I worked for Rare, but I’m sure some discussions were had. To be honest, if T+C were happy with what we were doing then Nintendo would have been too. Rare was the golden goose at that point don’t forget, and it gave us a good deal of leverage.
What was the feeling across the development team when the project was finally finished after the long development cycle the game had?
We went home for some sleep. Then I went to Edinburgh for the New Year and got completely smashed. I also bought a sword which I then had to carry around all night. There’s a great restaurant on the Royal Mile called The Witchery, it’s basically like something out of Harry Potter. The maitre’de rather than scowl at me and my sword she kindly took it and hung it in the coatroom citing an old rule of no swords in the dining area. (I think she might have been joshing me )
How rewarding was it to see the game garnish as much critical acclaim as it did?
Validation. And relief. I wish we’d have launched in Japan too… I think they’d have liked a pissing, drunk, cute squirrel.
How did the voice for Conker come about?
It was the first voice I did. No process, just came out fully formed on day one…. One of those things I guess, The lisp was to add a curtness that belied the character but apart from that it was spontaneous.
Where there any other references to popular culture that were planned to be included in the game, but never made it, apart from the Pokemon reference?
There were a few levels that got cut, but that was for the sake of time rather than censorship. Pokemon is the only really notable one. There are a few easter eggs though… more than a few. Oh, wait there were two scenes cut from L&R for, reasons. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
What was the feeling about experiencing the game’s ending for the first time, as it provides such a stark contrast to the comedy perpetuated throughout most of the rest of the game?
I had that ending in mind right from the very start. If we were going to subvert the genre then let’s go for it. I don’t think I agree with the premise of the game being a comedy in a light sense. The game is DARK all the way through, and the laughs tend to stem from the misery and bad luck of others and the unintentional actions of the protagonist. I make it clear right in the very first shot of his eyes on the throne that this won’t end well for Conker.
What would you change about the game if you had the opportunity?
I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe pare things back a bit to get a lower rating (which actually wouldn’t be as much as you think) or maybe not… It is what it is. I do regret not doing the fake outtakes after the credits, I had that planned quite early on when we’d started experimenting with 4th wall breaking stuff in the game. Just not enough time, sadly.
How satisfying an experience has it been seeing Conker’s Bad Fur Day being updated for new audiences in the form of both Live and Reloaded and Rare Replay?
Yeah, it gave me a chance to make a PVP combat game which is a difficult thing to get right.. I also added a narrative thread through it as an experiment to a further idea (Getting’ Medievil). I think it worked quite well… They shut the servers ages ago though….. Rare Replay I had nothing to do with… It’s a thing I guess. Sold well, so says a lot about there being plenty of old-school Rare fans still out there spending money.
As it’s one of the most outlandish stories I’ve heard in all of gaming I have to ask; whose idea was it to come up with the Conker’s Bad Fur Day condoms campaign?
Not me. It’s a bit tacky, literally 😉
What new Gameplay elements were planned for inclusion in Conker’s Other Bad Fur Day?
More of the same really…. Who can say? That’s the kind of detail you get to when at the coal face and we didn’t get that far.
Early concept art has since been released on the Internet of the Conker sequel, but what other new types of locations and characters were planned to be included?
About half the game was completely new areas and the other half was updated and evolved areas from the original. The structure was pretty much the same, hub world, then smaller story worlds…. Familiar, extended with a fine blend of old and new.
Have you further developed the idea of a sequel since leaving Rare?
Nah of course not. No point.
If Rare ever called you back to develop the sequel to Conker, would you do it?
Depends on what I’m asked to do. If it’s just to read someone else’s lines then nope. If they want me to write and direct it, then maybe, but it would be a lot of work and cost a lot of money for something so niche. Who can say.. MS have got deep pockets. Risk wise it makes a lot more sense to make BK3 and they haven’t done that either, so go figure.
How did the idea come about for you and Shawn Pile to establish Gory Detail?
Boredom, plus I knew if I didn’t do something with all the time I suddenly had then I’d go insane. Shawn was the same I think, but you’d have to ask him. We’d actually talked about it long before mainly as a creative outlet, never really thinking it would happen. Then circumstance changed and here we are.
What were the influences behind Parashoot Stan and Rusty Pup?
Stan is a cliché, which was the point of the character. The kid pretending to be the hero but actually IS the hero. Rusty Pup is forged from a similar fire influence wise but is a lot more subtle. It’s actually set in the same world as Stan if you look closely but is a lot more tragic. No one has decoded Rusty Pup yet, which I’m fine with but it isn’t some vague metaphor or opaque fable. It’s a series of events, in order, which really happens. The clues are all there.
What were the most exciting aspects of developing the games?
‘Exciting’ is not a word I’d use to describe game development. A bunch of execs off to some launch party or awards ceremony to get drunk might disagree but that’s not development.
What were the most challenging aspects of developing the games?
Getting past pre-production and into full production. Until your that factory, churning out assets and regular versions there’s always a nagging feeling at the back of your mind this might be canceled any second. Pre-production is nice creatively and full production is a grind, but the security of the product is a huge weight off your mind. (hey, that rhymed!!)
How satisfying had it been seeing both these games garnish what commercial and critical acclaim they have?
Commercially? Yeah right, we’re millionaires now Rodders. Critical, well I think they’re great little games (Rusty not so little) Labour of love, both of ’em. I wish more of the mainstream media had bothered to review Rusty. We sent out a ton of codes. They claim they support indies etc, but they don’t really… Not really. I actually had one outlet say they weren’t interested unless I gave them an interview about our next game which I’d pitched as a Conker Spiritual Successor. It was kind of a publicity stunt (though true in essence). Needless to say, we said no. If I was in the games biz to make lots of money I’d have crawled my way up the corporate ladder, squeezed the right prostates, and jumped ship every time I fucked up. I’d rather be poor. I’m fine though but no more Porsche’s. Not this week anyway.
Were there any ideas planned for inclusion in either game that were later scrapped or reworked?
Yeah, loads. Rusty had a whole crafting system and twice as many mechanics including mind control baddies, loads more platform types, and a whole extra world… it was just too much, and the crafting would have made testing all the possibilities pretty much impossible. Stan was going to have 2D side-scrolling mini-bosses where he landed on a large Zeppelin and would run through with guns blazing. We just didn’t have the time and I also felt it was a bit jarring with the rest of the mechanics.
Is there any DLC planned for Rusty Pup in the future?
I did some stuff, even made some assets. It was an extra chapter, a deeper area with shorter, very difficult one-shot puzzles. A haunted house theme. But it would have taken 6 months to make, largely down to me and was and also totally free. Time is precious, so I decided it was best spent on developing the new IP.
What can you tell us about Gory Detail’s third project?
It’s coming on okay. I spent the bulk of last year preparing assets and I’m pretty happy with the tone and look of the game. It’s a typical twin-stick dungeon bash game but with a twist… Fast-paced, silly characters voiced by me and lots and lots of bad language, blood, and guts. COVID didn’t help though. At some point you need to sit with people and point and talk… I’ve not seen Shawn for a year now. Still, we’re not slaves to publishers and huge wage bills so it’s not a problem. You really only want the stress of making the game, which is more than enough.
Would you still like to see Urchin be brought to life under Gory Detail?
Yes… But we can’t call it that. Anyway, games aren’t the only medium in which to explore interesting narratives. 😉
Have any of the former Rare alumni at Playtonic Games had any advice to share with you and Shawn or has there been any general conversation between you all?
Yeah, we’ve chatted a few times… Gavin has been really helpful and made some gracious offers of help with production but the studio environment isn’t something I find appealing… It’s just me. I’m an old fart. In the future though, who can say? They’ll certainly have first dibs on the next game we do if they want it.
What are your opinions of the indie development scene today?
Business-wise, it’s very healthy for a lucky few, but for most I suspect it’s a struggle in a saturated market. Getting eyes on your work is increasingly difficult, and for the very small indies such as Gory, it’s almost impossible. From a gamer’s point of view, it couldn’t be any better. There’s a lot of good stuff out there and with the big boys taking fewer and fewer risks with their products, ironically people are turning away from their games as they tend to be over-produced and under-developed.
What genre of game have you and Shawn never undertaken before that you would like to do one day?
I have folders full of stuff. I think the next game though will be our last probably, as its core game is just the beginning. It’s designed around mini self-contained storylines, like the chapters in Conker. So if it’s a success I’ll be happy to just keep making and selling new Chapters as DLC so long as people still keep buying them. That’s the plan anyway.
Which pre-existing video game character would you like to see make a cameo in either Parashoot Stan or Rusty Pup?
They’re not that type of game, particularly Rusty. The next one though… I have plans for lots of cameos, although not very complimentary ones. 😉
Do you and Shawn find that having creative freedom is one of the best things about developing games for yourselves?
It is. It’s the price you pay for having to fund everything yourself. We’re not averse to having a publisher, just not during development. Finish the game first, then see if anyone fancies tackling all that marketing, support stuff I fucking hate doing.
Have Rare since reached out to you following the establishment of Gory Detail or the release of the two games?
Only for Conker stuff. I’m happy to do it although I suspect it was a last resort. I was sent some recordings of a guy they’d hired to mimic Conker and it wasn’t very good. Point is, they tried to do it with someone else and must have realized the fans would not accept a fake Conker. Heh! I also offered to do other voices, for the Young Conker app, but they already had someone for them. Just Conker for me…
What have you been most proud of throughout your career?
Rusty Pup… So far. I filled that game with my very soul.
Is there any advice you would be able to offer any aspiring developers who may be reading this?
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something.. …. It might be true, but the best way to find out isn’t by shrugging, but by trying to make it work and then finding out they were wrong.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Chris for agreeing to answer my questions, and for sharing so much about his storied career and what we can expect to see from him and Gory Details Ltd in the future. If you’re interested in what Gory Details has to offer, you can view their steam page via the link below:
You can also keep up with Chris’s posts on Twitter via his Twitter handle:
A full review of The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup can be accessed via the hyperlink, but in the meantime, I’d also like to wish Chris, Shawn Pile, and Gory Details the best of luck with their current games as well as their new upcoming project… MARVELLOUS!!
First released back in 2002 and then later ported to a wide variety of different systems, Platypus is a scrolling bullet-hell shooter that makes use of digitized sprites and scenery to create a claymation effect, similar to games like ClayFighter. When I first picked this game up some time ago, I first got the impression that it was a particularly unassuming title, as it was insanely cheap and the box art looked quite substandard. But when I started playing it, I was immediately enthralled with it and largely taken aback by just how good it is. When I subsequently did my research on it, I later found out that not only did it spawn several ports to different consoles and even mobile phones, but that it also got a sequel five years after the release of the original. Researching this game also made me understand what a labor of love it is for many different reasons.
Graphics – 8/10
To reiterate, the game adopts visuals inspired by claymation, making it a particularly quirky-looking title. It’s vibrant, colorful and it also has a decent amount of variety in both level and enemy design. I was also ready to argue that the game’s first two levels look somewhat similar to each other but after finding out the process behind the making of this game, I knew that I would’ve been far too over-critical. The game’s designer, Anthony Flack, cited that at the time of the game’s development, there had been limited availability of plasticine in his home county of New Zealand. Therefore, he used one lump of it to create every scenery element and individual sprite within the game, photographed them one by one, and used photo editing software to color them in various different colors. Personally, I’m amazed the visuals of this game were essentially the work of one man and how well it panned out given the outlandish creative process behind it. The soundtrack is also particularly impressive, comprising of remixes of tracks from old Commodore 64 games; it’s a pretty tokenistic thing for any Commodore fans playing the game who may spend time trying to figure out which game each individual track is taken from.
Gameplay – 8/10
The game is also particularly fun to play; albeit challenging. It plays out very similar to the likes of Defender or Gradius, with players able to grab a variety of different power-ups throughout in order to gain a foothold against hordes of oncoming enemies. But what makes this game different from the aforementioned examples is that the power-ups, throughout certain instances within the game (especially the boss fights), become more or less a necessity, adding to the game’s sense of challenge. It’s difficult but not inaccessible, as although players may struggle at first, the general strategy is simple enough to exploit. The boss fights in each level are also pretty well throughout. For example, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the first boss fight was inspired by the Forever Train from Star Fox 64.
Controls – 10/10
As I always point out with games like Platypus, what cannot be tolerated in a game that relies heavily on individual skills to get through, are problems with the control scheme because, in a massive way, it negates the point of having a challenging title and makes it pretty much unplayable? I was very happy to discover in this game that there are no issues with the controls, which although was to be expected since the formula has been tried and tested for many years throughout various generations of gaming, it’s always reassuring when a player dies in-game, it will be down to awareness of their surroundings whilst playing.
Originality – 8/10
Although this wasn’t the first game to use digitized sprites or even claymation, Platypus is one of the games that make players think that it’s far too distinctive to be unheard of on an unjustifiable scale. It blends classic side-scrolling shooting action with a quirky, colorful, and unique art style, which certainly will have made it stand out within the circle of independent PC developers throughout the early 2000s and it’s still an experience that remains quite distinctive today.
Overall, Platypus is a fun, great-looking game with a great deal to offer in terms of both and replayability. It’s a game that I thought would most likely be another write-off from the word go, but it ended up being something far more special than that and I whole-heartedly recommend it.
Whilst spending the last 4 to 5 years collecting old PC games at a ridiculously prolific rate, there was always bound to be a mixture of obscure gems, adored classics, and immediate write-offs, as with any video games console. But with old PC games, the balance has been particularly interesting to behold. But I’ve found that not many PC developers perpetrate this balance quite like the developers in question in this review. Megaware games were an outfit based in the Netherlands, who made their business selling mostly games based on classic arcade titles, which in terms of quality were very much hit and miss. Eventually, they would break the mold and make a couple of unique titles of their own, such as Sleepwalker and Alien Logic until the company shut down as of 2007, but in this review, I’m going to be looking at one of their worst titles. Gunpad is ostensibly a 3D version of Pong, only players are also able to attack each other whilst knocking the ball back and forth. It sounds interesting in concept, but when I witnessed just how badly this game was programmed, it felt like a massive disappointment in the end.
Graphics – 4/10
Gunpad only disappointing in terms of badly it was programmed, however; rather it was disappointing from the ground up. The game has only one stage to play in and because of that, as well as other aspects, it becomes very repetitive very quickly. There wasn’t even any music composed for it. Whilst I may be able to appreciate that Megaware may have been operating on a budget, I’ve met developers at Expos who sold games door-to-door back in the 80s when they were children that had better graphical quality than this. Whilst the visuals may be about average for the time on a technical level, the developers would’ve simply been better off making a 2D version of Pong with multiple levels than blowing all the budget on what we were given.
Gameplay – 2/10
Gunpad simply involves racking up more points than the opposition whilst avoiding their attacks. I couldn’t even be bothered to find out what buttons to press to attack back since the developers even neglected to add a menu to show which buttons did what. After 3 games, I called it quits. The only thing that can be done to heighten the experience is to adjust the difficulty settings, but even on the lowest difficulty settings, the game is unreasonably punishing as very little time is given to react before the start of a round. It’s baffling to me how developers can sometimes screw up making a game based on blueprints that have existed for decades. Pong was created by one guy and first released in arcades back in 1972, which makes this all the more embarrassing for the 5 people who worked on this game.
Controls – 9/10
The control scheme works well enough, but the biggest problem is the camera angle that the game employs throughout. This is actually a 3D first-person version of Pong and as such, it becomes needlessly complicated to determine whether or not the player makes contact with the ball; especially when it veers towards corners.
Originality – 3/10
The only thing that this game has going for it against the original Pong is that the player can attack their opponent, which whether or not this hinders the CPU’s ability to bat the ball back I don’t know since again, I could truly be bothered to find out since I was already jaded by how lacking this game truly is in all aspects.
Overall, players need to steer clear from Gunpad, which won’t be too hard, as I think this review may be the first legitimate review of this game on the internet. It was incredibly disappointing in terms of every aspect involved, but at least I can say that I’ve had some fun reviewing some dross.
Paying homage to the original 1978 classic arcade title, the updated version of Space Invaders, released back in 1999, was far more than a simple remake; the developers rebuilt the game from the ground up, giving it a new lick of paint in terms of visuals and concept design and giving players much more to play for than a high score. Recently, I reviewed an example of how not to revive a classic arcade franchise in Dig Dug Deeper. But to counteract that, I thought I would write a review of an example whereby the developers got it right and Space Invaders 99 certainly got it right. Although I do have to say as a prerequisite that I did spend a lot of time playing this game when it was first released, it’s an experience that still holds up to this day.
Graphics – 8/10
From a technical standpoint, Space Invaders 99 is more or less on par with most PC games released at the time, as well as what was being showcased on fifth-generation hardware; which makes it seem all the more disappointing to know that there was a canceled Dreamcast version. It makes me wonder how the graphics would’ve possibly been updated for early sixth-generation hardware. But nevertheless, it’s in the conceptual design where this game truly comes into its own. The developers redesigned everything from the player’s ship to the enemy ships and added new graphical features such as the selection of different levels to progress through, as well as a series of boss fights. The soundtrack that was composed for the game also fits the game’s atmosphere perfectly, sounding foreboding yet otherworldly at the same time.
Gameplay – 8/10
Having the template of the original game to work with, the general formula is the same; players must destroy incoming alien ships before they reach the bottom of the screen. However, what makes this incarnation of the game stand out from the original version is the plethora of new gameplay features, including a variety of different weapons to use, boss fights at the end of each level, and a surprising amount of unlockables, including a port of the original game thrown in for good measure. It also exemplifies how new gameplay features can coincide with new enemy designs, in that different weapons are accessible by killing four of one enemy type in a row. Players also have to strategize differently in accordance with each boss fought throughout the game. It’s a lot like Titan Attacks, only released over fifteen years earlier.
Controls – 10/10
On console and PC and like the first game, the control scheme is easy to get to grips with, even for entry-level players, not coming with any unnecessary complications or the kind of silly oversights that came with the likes of Dig Dug Deeper. They’ve also been updated in accordance with the additional gameplay features available to be taken advantage of, which only makes this game all the more impressive.
Lifespan – 10/10
Although the main game can take less than 2 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty settings, it’s a game like Star Fox 64, which although it can be rushed through, it can also be played and enjoyed on far more than one occasion and in a relatively short span of time. It is most definitely a game good enough for repeated playthroughs; add to that the fact that the original game can be unlocked, thus increasing the game’s longevity even further. Whilst most kids I knew at the time were playing Gran Turismo 2, I was hooked on this.
Storyline – 6/10
The game’s story is simply a basic premise; Earth is under attack by alien invaders and a sole fighter pilot is tasked with repelling them. But what makes this game’s story excel beyond it being a simple basic premise is how it is portrayed. There’s a cutscene for both the start and the end of the game, which portrays the player-characters struggles and triumphs, as well as a foreboding portent at the end. Of course, players ought not to be looking to play a game like this to immerse themselves in the story, it’s just a small tokenistic thing added to the game to give it that extra push over the line and it does make the experience all the more enjoyable for it.
Originality – 7/10
Although this game largely copied a blueprint that had been around since 1978, this version of the classic arcade game didn’t simply copy the formula but reinvented it with the inclusion of the many new graphical and gameplay features it has. It was games like this that also would’ve been instrumental in setting the precedent for many indie developers to do the same, such as with Titan Attacks and Ultratron. It’s a shining example of how a team of developers doesn’t simply revamp a classic game for the sake of it, but also to make the gameplay experience their own.
Overall, Space Invaders 99 is a wonderfully crafted and highly recommended take on the original arcade version of the game. It’s wonderfully innovative and charming labor of love that shows the developers all put 100% into making it, evidenced in every detail.
Dig Dug Deeper, released at the start of the century and 19 years after the original game, was an attempt to bring the popular arcade game into a new era of gaming, sporting 3D graphics and combining elements of both Dig Dug and Dig Dug II, and adding one new gameplay feature along the way. But after playing 10 minutes of this game, it became very clear within that short span of time that the 3D take on Dig Dug fell well short of its immensely popular predecessors and that the inclusion of 3D graphics was much more of a gimmick than what it ought to have been for the time.
Graphics – 5/10
The game’s visuals from a technical standpoint are comparable to that of early PlayStation 2 games such as Eternal Ring or the original Summoner, albeit with not as much variety as even either one of the aforementioned. The stronger point regarding the game’s conceptual design is the variety of levels there are. Each of the five planets the player must traverse throughout is themed differently, though the first two levels are suspiciously similar to one another. But the weaker points to make about the visuals are that the same enemies keep repeating throughout each world, which demonstrates a lack of imagination on the developer’s part. Ultimately, this makes the idea of having multiple themes worlds all the more redundant as a result since players would most likely expect different themed worlds to be much more attached to the gameplay than what they are and maybe even pose different kinds of challenges as a result for players to adapt to each level. But because the enemies repeat, all the different kinds of levels there remain simply something to look at and as a result, will most likely leave players less invested in the game.
I’ve scored the gameplay low for largely the same reasons I’ve already discussed. The game involves the player traversing from planet to planet and eliminating the monsters burrowed underground and in each planet’s overworld in addition, like Dig Dug II. This is done on each planet until the player reaches the end. It plays out much like the original two games, though ironically, it feels like there’s much less to play for since the high score in the original arcade game was put in place to be beaten by the next person who played the cabinet. However, because this game is fractionally more story-driven, it makes the high score system redundant as well, since whilst players are trying to immerse themselves in the story, the high score becomes secondary. The problem being is that this game falls painfully short on the story as well as gameplay and thus all supposedly essential elements of the game are neglected making the experience feel much more finite. The one gameplay feature that was added was the inclusion of different power-ups for the player to take advantage of, but it’s pointless given the fact the enemies all behave the same throughout the game anyway.
Controls – 8/10
Playing out in pretty much the same manner as the first two games, Dig Dug Deeper also follows the same control scheme of going from world to world burrowing underground and eliminating enemies before they escape from the tunnels. But whilst neither of the original games had any issues in regards to the controls, somehow, the developers messed this up as well, since the controls at times can be particularly unresponsive; most prevalent when trying to burrow in different directions underground. It may be argued that it was due to the developers having to make the transition from 2D to 3D, but even so, to program a game this badly after having supposedly followed a blueprint that had been around for 19 years at that point, it’s quite embarrassing to see that the developers had issues in regards to the controls.
Lifespan – 3/10
Overall, the game takes around 25 minutes to complete depending on how much the player adapts to difficulty as well as coping with the control issues. It may be made to last longer for the seven people who at point might still be worrying about their high score, but the original arcade game has retained its popularity for over 30 years for a reason; it’s far superior.
Storyline – 1/10
The story of the game is basically the gameplay concept; traverse each planet and kill monsters. The only viable story element is that the character’s name is Taizo Hori and I had to look up the game on Wikipedia to find that out; the developers couldn’t even be bothered to mention that. But because the game has this less than acceptable story attached to it, again, it devalues the rest of the game by not putting an acceptable amount of focus on elements that matter most.
Originality – 4/10
The most original thing about this game is its variety in level design, which whilst on the face of it might seem like a step up from Dig Dug II since that game only had generic islands due to the graphical limitations of the time, it’s far too difficult to become invested in the fact that this game has variety in level design since it’s far more of a fleeting experience than the former in every other aspect.
In summation, Dig Dug Deeper is a game to be avoided at all costs. I played it after having heard from word of mouth that it was a quirky attempt to bring Dig Dug into the realm of 3D gaming, but unfortunately, it turned out to be far too weak an attempt at such.
One of the most highly anticipated games of 2017, following its initial showcasing at E3 four years prior, Cuphead is a traditional side-scrolling run and gun game with an eye-catching and unique conceptual design and gameplay that is as challenging as it is satisfying. I first sampled this game at Play Manchester 2017 shortly after its release, and realized thought while it is indeed very challenging, it’s also a great deal of fun, and one of the better indie experiences of last year.
Graphics – 10/10
The game adopts the visuals style of the golden age of American animation of the early 1900s, having been influenced by classic cartoons such as Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop among many others. The game’s visual style was the most noteworthy aspect of it when it was first showcased, and arguably still is. Although the game’s playstyle is extremely enjoyable beyond its visuals, I believe it’s still the game’s finest point. Though plenty of games based on cartoon animation have since come and gone, few games have ever looked as compelling as Cuphead does.
Gameplay – 8/10
As stated, the game revolves around players running and gunning through a selection of side-scrolling levels, but the most prevalent feature in the gameplay is the numerous boss fights throughout, which for the most part, are extremely well handled, and come with a fair amount of challenge to match. I had an extremely difficult time trying to pick a favorite boss fight in Cuphead because each one of them is memorable in its own right. But in the end, I decided to pick out Grim Matchstick as being my favorite, as for me, it provided the best blend of both challenge and individual conceptual design. Other outstanding boss fights in this, in my opinion, included Dr. Kahl’s Robot, Djimmi the Great, Ribby & Croaks, and Cali Maria.
Controls – 10/10
With every intentionally difficult game, I review, I always look at the controls with a greater sense of importance than other games, because control schemes in these kinds of games in my personal opinion are largely hit and miss, and can greatly affect the sense of challenge the game has to offer. For example, the original Mega Man was intentionally difficult, and like most players who have played it will testify, it is a particularly challenging game. But I personally found there to be some issues with the controls; especially in Guts Man’s stage where there is precision platforming required. Thankfully, however, Cuphead does not have these issues. If mistakes are made, it will be down to the player’s individual skill, which is the way it should be.
Lifespan – 6/10
The biggest gripe I have with the game is in its lifespan. The game, dependent on the player’s skill, of course, can take there around 6 hours to complete to 100%, which for the amount of time it took to finish, seemed somewhat uneven to me personally. I can’t deduct too many points from it in this aspect, however, for two reasons. It lasts longer than most classic games of its kind, and the development time was clearly put into getting every other aspect of the game right. It would have been nice to have a few more side-scrolling levels added to balance out the number of boss fights, but nevertheless, it’s a somewhat reasonably long game, and for the time players will spend playing it, they will thoroughly enjoy it for what it is.
Storyline – 7.5/10
The story follows the titular character Cuphead and his friend Mugman, who against the advice of their master, The Elder Kettle, wander off far from their home, and come across a casino. They find themselves on a winning streak at the craps table when they are suddenly interrupted by the Devil, who raises the stakes. If they win one more roll, the pair will get all the loot in his casino. But if they lose, they must forfeit their souls. Cuphead agreed but rolls a snake eyes, and after pleading for their lives, the Devil makes Cuphead and Mugman a deal; if the pair can claim the souls of numerous runaway debtors for the Devil, he may consider pardoning them. The game’s story is simple in structure, but fairly unique in concept at the same time. It even has multiple endings, given the player’s choice. It’s the story, as well as its visual design, that makes it clear that this game was quite simply a labor of love.
Originality – 8/10
The Moldenhauers created this game based on their own experiences of watching classics Disney and Fleischer cartoons in their youth, and in Chad Moldenhauer’s own words, they sought to mimic the more subversive and surrealist elements of the classic cartoonists of the day. And subversive and surreal are some of the best words that I can possibly use to describe this game. It was enough to raise a lot of eyebrows at E3 2014 with its own unique conceptual design, and it has impressed a lot of gamers since its release, including me.
Overall, Cuphead is a visually stunning and delightfully challenging game with a lot to offer both veteran gamers with an appreciation for their routes, and for newer generation gamers, who may be curious about experiencing some of the beginnings of video game design. Though it took an unusually long time to be released following its initial showcasing, it turned out to be more than worth the wait, and it comes highly recommended from me.
Following on from Play Manchester 2016, one game that has continued to impress gaming audiences since I first laid eyes on it is Hyper Sentinel; an arcade shoot ‘em up inspired by 2nd and 3rd generation classics such as Defender, Cybernoid, and Uridium. Showcased at many expos, and being the subject of a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, the popularity of the game has been on the rise, and is set for full release later on this year on multiple platforms. Curious to find out more, I’ve conducted a Q&A with the game’s creative director and CEO of Huey Games, Robert Hewson, and the game’s principal developer, founder of Four5Six Pixel Jonathan Port. Here’s what they had to say about Hyper Sentinel:
What were the influences behind your game?
Jon:The most obvious visual influence is to Uridium, the twist and flip maneuver have never really been used since, so I thought it would be fun to have that in. In terms of gameplay, major influences are Defender for its frantic action and speed, Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum) which you could sweep back the plane wings to speed boost. I loved Cybernoid and its dramatic explosions, so there is definitely some influence there. More recently Resogun, I like the way the enemies surround and suffocate you if you don’t keep on top.
What has the developmental process been like?
Jon: Development has gone very smoothly. I’ll often implement some features and then let Huey Games take a look. We’ll then go through a short iterative design cycle until the feature feels right. Using this process, some features make it in, and some get left out. It’s about making a game that feels consistent throughout. To get such close design feedback from a publisher, but still have the freedom to create your own game has been an absolute pleasure.
Rob: It has been a genuine pleasure to work with Jon on the iterative process of enhancing and polishing the game. We seem to be on the same wavelength the whole time, I don’t think we’ve disagreed on any of the feedback we’ve given and it is always a delight to get a new build and see all the little touches Jon has added.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
Rob:We are on track for an early summer release now that Kickstarter has passed its funding goal. Of course, there is still a week left on the campaign so we are hoping to hit a few more stretch goals too! You can check out the campaign at www.hypersentinel.com.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
Rob:I think there was a moment after we’d been through a few rounds of iterative improvement when the boost and the dodge abilities came together, and the compelling loop of the gameplay was suddenly brought to life. After that, tweaking the way the enemies behave, the way the power-ups spawn, and all those little details so that they work elegantly with those core mechanics, that is when we began to realize we’d found the fun, which is always the best moment!
Jon:Seeing people play your game at an expo and come away thrilled to have played it. When you are so close to the development of a game you never really know until you stand away and just let people play it on their own. It’s a scary moment as you take your game to its first public showing, but to see people really enjoying your own game is a special moment.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Jon:Hyper Sentinel was originally developed on an Apple Centric platform. In order to get the game out to a wider audience, we needed to move the codebase to an engine that could target multiple platforms. The move to the Unity engine was the greatest technical undertaking. Most of the code has been re-written entirely from scratch to get the best out of that environment. We could have gone down the route of a quick code port, but we decided early on that we should do this right to make the best game possible.
Has your father Andrew had any input into the game?
Rob:Not so much. He attended the first meeting with Jon and could instantly see the potential of the game, but he is taking more of a back seat these days. His wealth of experience is there to tap into when we need it, but that is mostly on the business side.
What impact has your father had on your career as a developer in general?
Rob:I don’t think he really pushed me to pursue a career in the games industry, if anything he was a sobering influence because he knew first hand just how difficult it could be. However, there is no doubt that being surrounded by games from an early age – climbing through the shelves in the Hewson warehouse, attending trade shows, collecting posters and stickers – it clearly left its mark. I remember drawing the Hewson logo and dreaming up game ideas with my friends, so I caught the bug early. By the time I actually got into the industry dad had already left, and although I probably talked to him about it on occasion he considered it a closed chapter in his life. Until I convinced him to write his book, that is.
How well has the game been received so far?
Rob:It has been exceptional. Everybody who plays the game seems to enjoy and appreciate it. One of the most exciting things to see is that it is not just older retro gaming fans who love it, we had loads of kids coming back time and again to play it at the shows we have attended, which is a pleasure to witness.
Jon:The greatest thrill is to see people genuinely excited to play the game. Hyper Sentinel is a hi-score game at its heart, and it’s great to see people putting in so much time to stay on top of the score leaderboard!
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Rob:So far we can confirm Steam, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, and Amazon platforms. Hopefully, we can add even more to the list soon.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Rob:Figure out what the hook is for your game, the thing which makes it stand out from the crowd, and polish, polish, polish. Once you’ve finished polishing, polish some more. When you think you can’t polish any further, get some feedback, realize you were wrong, and carry on polishing.
Jon:Did Rob say polish? If there is one thing I have learned from Huey Games it is that a great game doesn’t happen instantly, it’s a process of building over and over from a simple core concept. For aspiring indie developers, the most important thing is to finish your game, and that takes an awful lot of hard work and time. If you know you have a great game, just keep going until you get it into people’s hands.
Where about on the Internet can people find you?
Rob: The game has its own website at www.hypersentinel.com (which currently goes directly to the Kickstarter while the campaign is live) and you can visit our company page at www.hueygames.com.
Do you have anything else to add?
Rob:Thank you for having us and a massive thank you to everybody who has supported us along the way!
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both Robert and Jonathan for agreeing to our Q&A session to say congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign Hyper Sentinel has had and to wish them the best of luck with the game upon release. From what I played at Manchester, Hyper Sentinel seems like a particularly enthralling game, a compelling homage to the 80s classics the developers drew inspiration from, and I can’t wait to play the finished article.
The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.
The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.
Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.
Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:
Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.
Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.
The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.
One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.
WWE 2K17: First Impressions
The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.
The Tomb Raider Panel
In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.
The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.
Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.
Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions
As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.
As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.
Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.
In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.