In yet another attempt to scout out more indie games with the potential to make waves upon release, I came across a science-fiction first-person shooter that definitely fit the bill. Space Invader Kreature, SIK for short, is an FPS boating top-of-the-line visuals and intense gun combat with some RPG elements including upgrading things like health, speed, shields, and more. Developed under Ajal Game Studios based in Sinaloa, Mexico, A Kickstarter for the game is currently live, and judging by what I’ve seen so far of this game, deserves to gather momentum as it progresses in my opinion. Eager to find out more about what players can come to expect from the finished game, I contacted Brisia Aguirre of Ajal Game Studios to learn what sci-fi series’ went on to influence its conceptual design, where the developers expect to be following the Kickstarter campaign, and details of what the developmental process has been like so far. Herre’s what Ajal Game Studios had to say about Space Invader Kreature:
What were the influences behind your game?
We love to play multiplayer shooters, particularly the CoD franchise. Although this game is strongly influenced by this game. We also had influences from other classics such as counterstrike and of course DOOM the father of this genre.
What has the developmental process been like?
It has been both a pleasure and a nightmare. We were academics and research is so different from game development. We had to learn more about marketing, testing, iterations, and different gaming concepts that we did not know in advance. Although time does help, we still struggle sometimes when there is a bug or something unexpected happens.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
Right now we are close to finishing an alpha version but for a complete product, there is still work to be done. A project like this requires updates because people are used to new maps, gameplay and characters so we will finish the core by the end of 2021 but the development will continue as we increase the number of players and the add ons.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
The teamwork. We have been working together since 2017 and it is a dream come true to be able to work with your close mates. It is a really diverse group because we come from different backgrounds and the fact that we are based in a rural place like La Cruz, Sinaloa, Mexico makes it more unique. Who would have thought that after our project manager studied video game development at UCL in London, she would find her tribe in such a random place?
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Money, it is hard to find funding for such a venture. We are so grateful for finding our main investor Ramón Campos, he has been so supportive and believes in this project that is Ajal Game Studio.
How well has the game been received so far?
The people who get to know the game love it, they like how they feel so immersed and love the graphics and the gameplay. The fact that we designed the enemies makes it more unique and engaging but also they like that it reminds them of games like CoD so it is easy for them to understand the game mechanics.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
We will start by launching for windows, in stores like Steam, Gamejolt, and itch.io, which last 2 are known for having a wide number of indie games and have been really supportive of this community.
Were there any other particular facets of science fiction that influenced the conceptual design of SIK?
Yes, we watched a Russian movie called Coma. We were thinking about our main character and the worlds that are hidden in his dreams. When we saw this movie, it connected to what we wanted to do. Exploring the mind has always been a present topic of sci-fi, we wanted to explore this theme to make SIK different from the other shooters.
Have there been any ideas at this stage of development that has since been scrapped or reworked?
Of course! You always start big! We started with a horror concept, making the nightmares and the story of Elizabeth and Steve but in those days our in-house illustrator left our team and it was really hard to continue so we focused on the shooter part and made it more active. We love the idea of a more frantic game and something that we could test as a team.
As academics, have you found the development of this game harder than progressing through a university course?
Academia is hard! You need a lot of passion and time just like development but I think that there were also many activities in academia that were so time-consuming like politics and all that which is the place where the funding comes most of the time. So even though developing is hard we pretty much prefer it over academia but let’s be clear, we still love that part and would be glad to join academic projects.
How instrumental has player feedback in terms of shaping the course of the project been?
If we want to build something that is appealing, feedback is a MUST, we appreciate the time that testers have put into our game because they helped us so much by being honest on the spots that were not attractive and implementing some of those ideas to what we have done so far.
Have there been any other fellow indie developers who have reached out to you to offer advice?
We are fortunate because we have a great network and other indies gave us so many insights particularly in terms of Unreal, which is the engine we are using and it was the first time we developed with this software and it was hard to understand some of the technical features.
If you had the opportunity to develop a game with any company or for any franchise, which would it be, and why?
It is such a hard question haha, I think we could go with Rockstar and GTA. this one because of the huge details and easter eggs and how real it is. Also Activision’s Call of Duty because of the quality of their visuals and how engaging their games mechanics are and how professional their level design is, or, lastly, Soma by Frictional Games, the gameplay was so different and interesting. We like bizarre games.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Please be patient and never stop studying. Game development evolves so fast and is good to keep informed about new assets or technology that can be helpful. Also, be sure to learn about business because after all, you will be selling what you do if you choose to do it as your main gig then you definitely need to learn your art but also how to market it.
We are looking for people interested in testing our solo player mode. If you would like to receive the demo please send an email to email@example.com. Thanks!!!
Thank you to Brisia and Ajal Game Studios for taking the time out of developing this game to answer my questions. If you think you’d like to back Space Invader Kreature, you can do so by clicking the link below:
Space Invader Kreature looks like a very promising FPS indie game releasing within the ninth generation with a lot to offer players in terms of both gameplay and story, and I can’t wait to start playing the final product! In the meantime, I hope you guys enjoyed learning more about SIK as much as I did to bring this game to the attention of as many gamers as possible.
Fallout 3 released in 2008 following a long dispute between Bethesda and Interplay over the rights to the franchise, was developed on the same engine as Bethesda’s previous seventh-generation hit, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but provided a very different take on the RPG genre, incorporating first-person shooting elements, as well as many of the gameplay elements from the original 2 Fallout games. Although I think the best of the Fallout series was yet to come following both the release of this game, and Fallout: New Vegas. The third game in the series is a moderately enjoyable title, despite the fact that it was such a radical departure from the original Fallout formula, (which in and of itself caused quite a divide between fans), and regardless of its flaws, still does fairly well to hold up.
Graphics – 9/10
In stark contrast to the world of Tamriel from The Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3, like in the original series, is set in the post-apocalyptic USA following a resource war fought between America and China, but the third is specifically set in a post-war Washington DC known as the Capital Wasteland. As such, several Washington landmarks are darted across the land, such as the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building, but the environment is heavily irradiated and the city is in ruins. The visuals of this game are its most striking feature, going beyond what Oblivion delivered on the technical level, and providing something that most RPG fans at the time wouldn’t have been accustomed to, since although the first 2 Fallout games sold relatively well among the circle of PC games in the late 90s, the series didn’t find its way into the top echelon of games until the release of this title. The entire atmosphere of the game is wonderfully dark and gritty, and a lot of the locations found around the Capital wasteland make the player feel things emotionally that they will not expect to feel going into it.
Gameplay – 7/10
The game is an RPG first-person shooter hybrid; a lot like Borderlands without the use of cel-shaded visuals. Players level up using the SPECIAL system that had been perpetuated since Fallout 1, and experience points are also spent on improving attributes such as computer hacking, lockpicking, and proficiency in various different types of guns; again in a somewhat similar fashion to Oblivion’s character progression system. The game also has a new take on turn-based combat with the inclusion of VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), which allows players to scan enemies and aim for specific parts of the body that may be more vulnerable than others in order to gain the upper hand in battle.
Especially when the player becomes stronger over time, using VATS can feel extremely satisfying, and watching the cinematic kills has become a beloved feature of the series since. But besides this, there are a plethora of secrets, side quests, and different locations to discover throughout the Capital Wasteland that will have players hooked for many, many hours. What I would recommend is that players find a copy of the Game of the Year edition, since not only will they be treated to even more content, but this version also fixes the game’s biggest flaw, which is the inability to play past the end.
Controls – 6/10
The biggest problem with this game, however, is its control scheme; especially in the early stages of the game. Because the player character is not yet necessarily proficient enough in shooting or accuracy, the lack of accuracy can become a particularly big problem; in some cases, even to the point where players may switch off early doors. It’s no wonder Bethesda later enlisted the help of id Software to hone the FPS mechanics with Fallout 4 because it is a big problem that presents itself in a very profound way in this title, especially given the countless amount of FPS games that came before it. Mercifully, the game gets better to play as the player character progresses level by level, but patience can potentially wear thin with some players as well. The Pip-Boy system can also take a little bit of getting used to at first, but that doesn’t pose anywhere near as much of a problem as the shooting does early on.
Lifespan – 10/10
Given everything, there is to do in this game, and the DLC, it can take way beyond 100 hours to complete, which is long enough for any gamer to enjoy. It easily outlasts Fallout: New Vegas, since, in that game, there’s hardly anything to do in comparison, but it also greatly outlasts the original 2 Fallout games. It’s no wonder the fanbase was largely split down the middle when this game came out since despite being such a departure, there was plenty to enjoy with this game.
Storyline – 6/10
The story of Fallout 3 takes place 200 years after the US is destroyed in the nuclear war with China. The player character is an inhabitant of Vault 101, and after reaching adulthood, his/her dad James, voiced by Liam Neeson, leaves the vault, causing the rest of the inhabitants to descent into chaos. After being hunted down by the rest of the inhabitants, the player character is basically forced out of the vault into the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Capital Wasteland and resolves to find his/her father. It sounds simple in scope, but events later unfold into something far bigger when it’s discovered why James left the vault and the number of different factions that become involved in the situation, such as the Enclave and the Brotherhood of Steel. As well as being pretty compelling, it also stays remarkably true to the source material of the original games and provides players with a fairly engrossing experience in terms of story.
Originality – 7.5/10
What makes Fallout 3 game as unique as it is are a lot of things, such as the different approach to first-person RPG combat, the contemporary settings not normal for an RPG, and the amount of controversy this game created at the time. It becomes obvious very early on that game goes places where other developers would dare not go at the time. Places such as the Dunwich Building and Tranquility Lane make for experiences that I’d never felt playing a game before, and several of the other vaults darted across the Capital Wasteland have their own sordid stories to tell. A majority of this game’s story is told through its lore, and it’s awesome to experience.
Overall, Fallout 3, whilst not in my opinion is the timeless classic that other gamers tend to praise it as, is still a very enjoyable gaming experience, and in my opinion, better than the original Fallout. It’s not the best entry in the series (in my opinion, that would be Fallout 4), but it’s still a very respectable entry despite its flaws, and one of the more unique western RPGs ever developed.
Developed by Rare to coincide with the Bond film of the same name starring Pierce Brosnan, and created by a core team of nine people, Goldeneye 007 was received as being on the best games on the system, helping to establish a lot of the standards associated with 3D first-person shooters along with the likes of Quake and Duke Nukem 3D. Although I personally prefer Rare’s spiritual successor Perfect Dark for a number of reasons, there’s no denying that the original Goldeneye is and forever will be a Nintendo 64 classic; certainly one of the best games on the system and probably one of the best first-person shooters of all time.
Graphics – 8.5/10
The game is set across the same locations the film is set in, albeit with a few unique ones added in for good measure, as well as the multiplayer arenas. The graphics for Goldeneye, namely facial textures, have become a meme over the Internet in comparison to today’s graphics, but the fact of the matter is that these visuals were revolutionary at the time, with intricately designed levels that keep faithful to the original film as well as branch out to give players an entirely unique experience at the same time.
Gameplay – 9/10
A traditional 3D first-person shooter, the player is reliant on a range of firearms in order to shoot through hordes of enemies to progress, but it is also objection-based with players having to carry out specific tasks to complete each scenario, which was relatively unique for a game of its kind back then. Doom had features similar to this, but not the same scale. The multiplayer mode has also become insanely popular with gamers over the years with the facility to choose from a range of different Bonds and Bond villains from other Bond films as well as Goldeneye; indeed the character of Oddjob had become synonymous with gaming in general since. It’s a licensed game that not only uses the license but celebrates it in wonderfully extravagant ways.
Controls – 7/10
The biggest problem I had with the game was the controls. Players must rely on the c buttons in order to move the character as opposed to the analog stick, which caused confusion for me at the time and can potentially cause confusion for players looking to try it out for the first time, as FPS games have evolved greatly since the release of this game. It’s an even bigger problem for me, especially when comparing it to Perfect Dark, which posthumously solved this problem by having the analog stick be the means to move around, but that being said, it doesn’t make the game unplayable by any stretch of the imagination.
Lifespan – 7/10
To complete Goldeneye 007 to 100% will take around 20 hours, which for a linear FPS is excellent, especially when comparing it to other games of the genre that would go on to last considerably less time like Halo 4. But beyond that, the multilayer model has provided unlimited playtime to many, many fans of the game over almost 25 years so players looking for a long time will want for nothing where this title is concerned.
Storyline – 8/10
The game simply retells the events of the film, whereby James Bond is tasked with stopping a Russian crime syndicate from recovering and using the secret Goldeneye weapons program. In terms of storytelling in video games, the plot of the film is as well relayed as what could’ve been expected at the time, with much of the film’s dialogue being used and all of the main character’s purposes and personalities intact. In the unique campaign levels, there are certain moments that also add to the overall story in addition, so things are kept relatively fresh in this respect to help it.
Originality – 9/10
Speaking of uniqueness, at the time this game was like a breath of fresh air for gamers playing on the Nintendo 64, who at this point would’ve been more used to 3D platforming adventures and quirky racing games. Goldeneye, along with many other future releases on the system like Turok, Jet Force Gemini, or Mortal Kombat 4, would provide players with a multitude of different Gameplay experiences on the system that deviated away from the kind of game that Nintendo would develop internally. The game itself would also go on to become of the most influential games in the genre in addition, with many developers citing it as a major influence on future games.
Overall, Goldeneye 007 is definitely one of the best first-person shooting games of all time; it’s enjoyable to play, still stands out from many other FPS titles, and as fans patiently wait for the remaster that this game deserves, revisiting this classic still holds up. To this day regardless.
Released some years after the original game to widespread critical acclaim, Portal 2 is considered one of the best titles of the seventh generation, perfecting the formula of the original game and expanding on it in many different ways. Whilst I had a few issues to address where the game was concerned myself, it is still a decisive improvement over the first title and still holds up as being one of the more unique gaming experiences of the last decade or so.
Graphics – 8/10
One of the most notable improvements in the conceptual design of the game over the first. A lot of the settings were pretty much identical to one another in the original game before the end of GLaDOS’s trials, but in the second, the replication of textures and scenery is much less noticeable. It reminds me very much of the same improvements made with Skyrim over Oblivion, where every ruin or cave no longer looked the same as one another and had a lot more individual diversity to them. The inclusion of new enemies to have to deal with only adds to the conceptual design of the overall series in addition.
Gameplay – 8/10
The core gameplay has remained the same as that of the original; the player must use the Aperture Portal device to create portals in order to solve puzzles and progress through the game. However, far more elaborate puzzles have been included that build on the premise of the original game, which has helped to diversify and broaden the entire concept. The inclusion of a plethora of easter eggs to discover throughout the game also does exceptionally well to expand on the mythology of the series, whilst at the same time, further linking it to the Half-Life universe. The ending boss fight is also handled wonderfully differently from that of the original game.
Controls – 10/10
There were no issues with the control scheme of the first game, and as the second game was built using the same engine and including the same principle gameplay features, there aren’t any issues to be had in the second game either. It’s actually quite impressive to me how the developers managed to further build on the concept of the original game without having to alter anything about its control scheme. They managed to keep things as simple as possible whilst developing a game to be as intricate as possible.
Lifespan – 4/10
Where Portal 2 still doesn’t excel is unfortunately in its lifespan. The second portal game can be made to last a maximum of 3 hours, not counting multiplayer. This is the only factor whereby decisive improvement was not made but was for me, needed the most improvement in order for it to stand among the very best games ever developed. Maybe one day Valve will get around to making a third game in the series, but inevitably, this game’s short lifespan has left gamers, including me, wanting so much more.
Storyline – 9/10
The game’s basic story is not too dissimilar to that of the first. The game’s main character Chell remains trapped within the Aperture Research Facility and must find a way out. This time, however, she is up against a new threat in addition to the facility’s supercomputer GLaDOS, but also a sociopathic drone robot named Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant. Wheatley appears as a friend at first, but his true intentions soon become clear and it is up to Chell to stop him and find a way to escape Aperture once and for all. The story, as well as most of every other aspect of the game, is also made even more diverse with its further developed sense of dark humor. Although GLaDOS still contributes to that side of it greatly, so does Wheatley, and it’s hard to pick a favorite out of the two.
Originality – 9/10
As I alluded to before, the original Portal presented players with a new outside-of-the-box way of playing a puzzle game originally dreamed up by a group of programming students who were later scouted by Valve after their work on the game Narbacular Drop. But the second portal game went above and beyond what the original offered to players by keeping the concept fresh with new mind-bending puzzles to solve and backstory to discover. There are many why these games have gone on to become cult classics, and the main reason I attribute to that is because of how well it stands out from every other game that has been developed before and after.
In summation, Portal 2, whilst still far too short in my opinion, is an enjoyable time for the criminally short time it lasts and will provide players with a far more stern and entertaining challenge than its predecessor. Before they became focused on the maintenance of Steam, Valve was renowned for giving players something new to play that they hadn’t played before, and Portal 2 certainly does not disappoint in this respect
For my first Q&A of 2021, I reached out to Arizona-based developer and comic writer Scumhead regarding his newly posted and successfully backed Kickstarter projected entitled Vomitoreum. Vomitroeum is a Metroidvania-style first-person shooter, similar to Metroid Prime, but is heavily influenced by artists such as Zdzisław Beksiński and Dariusz Zawadzki, as well as what has been the mainstay of Scumhead’s developmental portfolio, eldritch horror; the subject has been a staple in a mast majority of Scumhead’s work such as his comic Blackseed and previously developed games like Orogenesis and the two games in the Shrine series. Wanting to find out more about this fascinatingly surreal-looking title, I asked Scumhead a few questions about his upcoming game and what players can expect to see of the finished article. Here’s what Scumhead had to say about Vomitoreum:
What were the influences behind your game?
Well, of course, there’s Metroid. Metroid Prime to be specific, as there is a huge lack of first-person Metroidvania games that take advantage of 3D space. Dark Souls would be another one since It’s my favorite game- taking inspirations less from the difficulty and more from the interconnectedness of the world and atmosphere. For artistic inspiration, the main artist I’m pulling from is Zdzisław Beksiński and Dariusz Zawadzki. Other than that, my inspirations come from all over the place.
What has the developmental process been like?
Challenging. We’re breaking GZdoom and doing things it’s not really meant to be doing, and somehow it’s functional. The art side of things has been an absolute blast, but it’s been a challenge to get this to flow in the engine.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
The Demo is roughly 1/8th of the final game, unpolished of course. It took about 3 months of work to get everything to where we are now, but it’ll go faster once we build out the project’s skeleton. Just getting mechanics to work and feel good so I can get back to workin’ on the good stuff is top priority right now.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
For me, it’s been the visual presentation. Adapting Beksinski and Zawadzki’s artwork into a playable format has been a great challenge, as well as using their styles as a starting point to create my own work. However, the most exciting part was realizing that a dream project like this was actually possible in the engine.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Game feel. The visuals are all there, it’s just the gameplay that has been a big challenge. It’s still a work in progress, but making the game feel good to play has been tough.
How rewarding has it been already seeing this game develop into what it is now?
Very rewarding, it’s been a dream project for me since I was a young teenager. Finally being able to create it has been wonderful. How well has the game been received so far? Mostly positive, the most valuable stuff is the bug reports. I have a feeling the final game will be much more positively received because all of the elements will be in place for a complete experience.
Have there been any early ideas considered for inclusion that have since been scrapped or reworked in?
I generally lay out the entirety of my games before jumping fully into them, so other than a few sprites and models, not much has been cut. Mostly they were just improved from their base ideas.
You posted on Twitter recently that pitfalls in the game are now designed to send players back to their original position to relieve frustration, and rightly so in my opinion. But how challenging are you looking to make this game for players?
I have a really hard time with balance. It’s why playtesting will be so important. I find myself making encounters too easy and platforming sections too hard. Fixed the platforming part but making encounters a challenge without being terribly frustrating is going to be a big learning experience for me.
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Windows, Linux, and hopefully Mac.
If you had the chance to work with any mainstream developer of your choice, who would it be, and why?
I’m not sure I’d take the chance. I think the best thing about this project is that it’s a bunch of indie types coming together to make a really disgusting game. I worry that a mainstream studio would get in the way of that.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Make stuff. You can try and improve by yourself for eternity, but it’s honestly better to just learn as you go along. People can see the improvements you make from title to title, and you will have a big catalog of stuff people can play and that you can look back on. Getting started is the hard part, but if you love game development it won’t matter how good or bad your projects are.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Scumhead for taking the time out to talk to me regarding this ambitious-looking title. Vomitroeum, under its wonderfully disturbing exterior, looks like it will have a lot to offer gamers upon release and I’m very much looking forward to what the final build of the game has to offer. You can also check out Scumhead’s Patreon page here if you’d like to become a patron of his:
Created by Jonathan Blow, the man behind the classic indie title Braid and released back in 2016 following an initially planned release on seventh-generation hardware, The Witness is a first-person open-world puzzle game requiring the player to solve a plethora of puzzles throughout in order to progress to new areas across a variety of different themed locations throughout. At first glance, I actually thought that I would hate this game; like it would be another generic story-driven title with a minimalist amount of things to do, similar to Proteus or Gone Home. However, after playing it, I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought I would for various reasons.
Graphics – 8/10
First of all the visuals, though not quite cutting edge on a technical level, are wonderfully varied and well throughout out on a conceptual level. Each area of the world map focuses on a central theme; for example, there is one based on Japanese culture, one in Ancient Egyptian culture, etc. How each area is also additionally integrated into the gameplay is also unique on a level that I’ve rarely seen in gaming. Jonathan Blow used similar traits whilst developing Braid, but to see these traits implemented in a 3D open-world game as opposed to a 2D side scroller is particularly interesting.
Gameplay – 7/10
The Witness revolves around the player having to solve a base series of puzzles in order to progress through the game. In addition to a series of main set puzzles in each area, there is also a plethora of hidden puzzles players can encounter, which in many cases, the player must use surrounding areas of the world around them in order to solve. For example, simple things like tree branches can be angled in front of a puzzle in order to reveal a solution, and designs of buildings in a lot of cases are also the basis of entire puzzles within the game. Although the entire objective of the game can become repetitive after a while, the puzzles within are varied to the point that they will quite easily hold the player’s interest for the duration. Puzzles primarily center around interacting with computer screens throughout the in-game world and drawing lines through on-screen obstacles to get from the start point to the endpoint, but over time, different elements are introduced such as having to draw two lines at once and drawing them through and around different obstacles on each screen.
Controls – 10/10
The control scheme is that of any standard first-person video game centering on only a few basic functions and as such poses no unnecessary complications. Getting to grips with the controls is particularly straightforward; though there may not be as much innovation in this aspect of the game as there is in the core gameplay mechanics, it’s simply a reassurance that the developers were able to get the fundamentals right before developing the game into what it became.
Lifespan – 9/10
Another aspect of this game that I was particularly surprised with was how long it lasts. Normally, with games like this with no combat elements or other additional gameplay mechanics of well-known titles, they only tend to last less no more than a few hours given how little there is to do in them; games like Journey, Shape of the World, and Contrast. But contrary to that, although there is only essentially one objective in this game, it can be made to last hours upon hours since, despite this one objective, it takes a great deal of time to accomplish to 100%. Even completing the main story mode can take up to 25 hours. I was impressed with this title, as well as surprised, because of this.
Storyline – 6/10
In The Witness, there isn’t actually a forward-going narrative and therefore, nothing exists to resolve itself. But rather, the game focuses more on back-story and is left quite open to interpretation in this respect, since the world that exists within it clearly has some kind of history attached to it, given certain elements such as the natural formations and abundant evidence of man-made civilization based on numerous different cultures, but what that history is exactly isn’t really explained in a definitive way. But this in and of itself gives the game its own relatively exciting dimension; if the point of art is truly to create debate, then this game can potentially do a good job of that.
Originality – 8/10
In the circle of independent game development, in particular, The Witness stands out from many in a lot of different ways, on a technical, graphical, and fundamental scale. It provides the player with a very unique twist on puzzle-solving and lasts a great longer than many games of the same ilk. I was pleasantly surprised by this game in most of every aspect and it’s been a while since I’ve experienced an example of this. Particularly throughout the eighth generation of gaming, very few games have taken me by surprise as this one has.
In summation, The Witness is a vast, enjoyable, and refreshing gaming experience that I’m happy to say that I can recommend after playing it myself. Jonathan Blow had already earned a well-deserved spot in the history of independent development with Braid, but this game is a clear further example of what innovation he is capable of presenting to players.
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.
First released on Steam Early Access back in 2014, and going on to see both digital and physical releases on multiple platforms, Ziggurat is a Roguelike first-person shooting dungeon crawler, somewhat reminiscent of Tower of Guns, with a heavy emphasis on combat, player character development, and above all, challenge. After having played Tower of Guns, I had fairly high expectations of how good this game would be, and how it would do the things is does; overall, I was not disappointed.
Graphics – 8/10
The game takes place in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world bearing resemblance to game series’ such as Warcraft or Baldur’s Gate. The graphical quality of the title is stunning, especially for a game developed independently, but more importantly, it also does extremely well to break away from games that were clearly taken as an influence by incorporating a massive variety of unique creatures and boss characters, such as Sir Arthur and Lady Audrey. Cutting edge graphics can mean much less if there isn’t variety in conceptual design, but this game has both.
Gameplay – 8/10
The basic premise of gameplay, along with the game’s story, is that an apprentice wizard must take on the challenge of the Ziggurat in order to graduate from his order. Players must undertake increasingly difficult tasks of ascending the floors of the Ziggurat, which are filled with dangerous monsters and challenging obstacles throughout. Players can take advantage of a massive choice of different weapons, spells, and perks that can found across the game in order to survive for as long as possible and to try and eventually graduate from the wizard’s order. Locations, enemies, and bosses, in Roguelike tradition, are procedurally generated, and thus does each playthrough provides a new set of challenges every time, keeping the game insanely fresh, and giving it virtually infinite replay value, which can make for hours upon hours of fun.
Controls – 10/10
Belonging to a genre that has dominated the video gaming market since the sixth generation, Ziggurat’s controls are perfect, providing no unnecessary complications, straightforward control mechanics, and incorporating all aspects of gameplay seamlessly. The fact that the player character moves faster than in most other first-person shooters also provides quite a lot of fluency for players who have mastered it after a while, as it can become quite satisfying to be able to effectively dodge a wide variety of simultaneous enemy attacks. By the same token, it can also provide an equal amount of challenge to newcomers, since it can be quite easy to rush through unexplored areas, and accidentally fall for a number of given obstacles such as lava pits.
Originality – 7/10
Though Ziggurat is not the first game of its kind to incorporate the basic premise of gameplay that it does, it stands out for a massive number of different reasons; the variety in gameplay combat options it provides, as well as its conceptual design and artistic direction in terms of visuals. Although it’s clearly not without its influences, it provides a marvelous gaming experience that greatly shines throughout the indie developer community, and it’s certainly worth playing again and again.
Overall, Ziggurat is a highly enjoyable game, filled with challenge, entertainment, and a staggering amount of replayability. It looks great, it plays out wonderfully, and stands out as one of the better gaming experiences on eighth-generation hardware.
Twelve years in the making, and finally released to positive reviews in mid-2016, the re-vamp of id Software’s classic shooter Doom presents players with an experience more akin to Doom 1 and 2, deviating away from the survival horror approach taken with Doom 3, and given an overhaul in visuals as well as having numerous different features thrown in for good measure. I thought that whilst it was pretty light on story, again alluding to the first two games, it was overall a fairly decent gaming experience worth at least one playthrough, and was left relieved that it didn’t become another Duke Nukem Forever, as it easily could have been if history has gone another way.
Graphics – 10/10
The game runs on the id Tech engine; one of the most advanced gaming engines on the market. And as a result, it looks nigh-on flawless in terms of technical performance. It’s certainly one of the best-looking video games I’ve seen throughout the eighth generation so far; if not, the best. The conceptual design is also very well handled, as it looks even more akin to the classic box art than any other Doom game to date, with the red skies and terrains of mars, and the hordes of demons players must have to contend with. Although the game itself plays out much like the first two games in the series, I like that they also kept the scary atmosphere and limited lighting in UAC facilities, which were established in Doom 3.
Gameplay – 7/10
Controls – 10/10
Handled by the godfathers of the first-person shooting genre, id Software, it was expected that there would be no issues with the game’s controls; and so there aren’t any. Doom’s controls are handled just as well as any other modern FPS game and present players with no unnecessary complications.
Lifespan – 10/10
The campaign can typically last up to around 13 hours, which whilst isn’t exceptional is still much longer than the average FPS story mode. But on top of that, online multiplayer and the SnapMap feature will provide players with unlimited replay value, so the game will, in essence, last as long as the player’s interest, which given what this game has to offer, should be a considerably long time; especially veteran fans of the series.
Storyline – 4/10
As I said, this game is light on story; even in the campaign mode. The plot is that an unnamed space marine is traversing through the planet Mars, and is on the way to eliminating as much of the demon horde as possible. There are slight instances of character development and a couple of different plot threads, but not enough to make it stand out from other games in this respect. Arguably, there didn’t need to be a story for it to work, and that does apply to a certain extent, but given how id Software have previously demonstrated that they know how to tell at least an interesting story, as evidenced with both Rage and Wolfenstein: The New Order, I still can’t help but feel that this game fell short in this respect.
Originality – 6/10
Another aspect that the game falls short on slightly is in terms of uniqueness; partly in conjunction with the fact that this is simply a second re-telling of the events of the original game. It’s also due to the fact that Doom does essentially play out like a standard first-person shooter, and that there are no unique mechanics within the gameplay itself outside the SnapMap feature. It could be argued that id Software may have wanted to keep things simple for the sake of delaying the game any more than they already had done. If true, the game was made to suffer slightly in terms of originality.
In summation, however, Doom is a solid first-person shooting experience, and I would recommend it to both veterans and newcomers. It’s longer than the average shooter, and while it does play out a lot like an average shooter, there are enough additional gameplay features to keep players busy vanquishing the demon horde for a long time.
Publisher(s) – Ubisoft, Marvelous Entertainment & Feral Interactive
Director – Elisabeth Pellen
Producer – Julien Barés
PEGI – 16
XIII was a game based on the comic book of the same name written by Belgian novelist Jean Van Hamme. According to then Ubisoft president Laurent Detoc, the game would create “a world so unique and enthralling that gamers will become instantly engaged”. Even with a very new form of visual presentation in video games, I wouldn’t entirely agree with this.
Graphics – 7/10
The graphics were fairly well done for the time. This was, after all, the first-ever comic book style first-person shooter. Its visual style is indeed the best thing about the game not only that, but it is also very well polished. I couldn’t see any glitches or anything like that whilst I was playing through it. I think the weak point about the game’s style is that the settings are extremely similar to that of games like Perfect Dark and Goldeneye 007, which would suggest that influences were somewhat too obvious. For example, the level whereby rooftops have to be traversed in order to elude police recapture was very similar to the opening level of Perfect Dark in conceptual design.
Gameplay – 5/10
Although this game was revolutionary for its time in terms of visuals, it wasn’t in terms of gameplay. Even for the time, this is a first-person shooter, which plays out pretty typically for most games in the genre. Any element of challenge in the game is presented through the stealth mechanics, which again, are not as elaborated on as those found in games like Metal Gear Solid, or the first Sly Cooper. The game also has a small amount of incentive and variety, as the more the player progresses, the more the main character’s memory is regained, thus yielding more skills as the game progresses. But even so, this game can become very boring very quickly, in my opinion.
Controls – 7/10
The movement in this game is also particularly stiff. It can become an unnecessary chore to aim at times, and the auto-aim system can be particularly confusing, as the crosshair doesn’t fix itself onto targets properly. Also, the grapple hook used to traverse buildings or mountains can be difficult to get to grips with at first. But other than that, the game plays out fine in terms of controls.
Lifespan – 5.5/10
Typical of any standard first-person shooter, XIII can be finished within 6 hours. Visuals alone are never enough to keep people playing a video game. At the end of the day, it’s all about the gameplay, and there wasn’t enough of it in XIII to make it last as long as it may have been able to. The problem with developing linear first-person shooters, or even linear games in general, is that very few of them have side quests and therefore contain next to no replay value apart from playing through it on a harder difficulty.
Storyline – 7/10
The game’s story is about a man named XIII, who wakes up on a beach with amnesia to find out he is the prime suspect of the president’s recent assassination, and he must fight his way through the FBI, the CIA, and the criminal underworld in order to uncover his identity and clear his name in the process. The game’s story is actually not bad, to be fair. There are a few decent twists and turns to it but the voice acting is a bit off. The standout performances, in my opinion, are that of both David Duchovny and Adam West, who play XIII and General Carrington respectively. This was based on a fairly popular comic book series, so it was always bound to have some depth in the story, at least. But overall, I think the developers chose to concentrate more on that and visual style than on gameplay.
Originality – 7/10
Obviously, the most significant features of this game are the stylized visuals, which would become a stable part of game franchises in the future, and the pretty compelling story. But as I keep pointing out, it’s all about gameplay ultimately, and there wasn’t enough innovation in that department to keep it enthralling in my opinion.
Overall, I think first-person shooting fans should play through this game at least once, but I think it should probably be left at that. It’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the novelty wears off after a while, as there doesn’t seem to be enough substance in gameplay to keep it entertaining throughout.