Elemental Focus

March 4, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations: Part 4
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 6:33 pm

I don’t want to sound like Homer Simpson, food critic, where everything is amazing, but the latest lot of games just happened to be a good lot for the most part.

Monster RPG 2
Price: £1.19/$1.99
I suppose its no surprise that with a name like Monster RPG 2, this is one of the most generic games I’ve ever played. Not tongue-in-cheek satire of the genre, straight up everything by the book RPG.

Monster RPG 2 rolls the RPG story dice and goes with “best friend possessed by mysterious artifact”, you start a journey following his trail of destruction and start picking up other group members (which seem to have little to no backstory or personality) and you basically need to make progress across the land in spite of the random battles. The biggest problems are a lack of autosave and dying sends you back to the last save point (First time through I hadn’t saved yet by the first time I died which happened surprisingly suddenly) and a lack of explanation for many of the items in the game, although they’re all so generic, you can probably work it out yourself anyway.

It’s not a horribly bad game and if you’re an RPG fan and want something new to play (or at least is technically new) there might be something for you here, but in general you can probably play something else more interesting

3 stars

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KrissX
Price: £3.49/$4.99

KrissX is a puzzle game based around swapping letters in a crossword to make full words again. I really don’t know what else I can say about it, its really not that complicated.

It’s surprisingly fun and there’s little to criticse. The game’s main failing is that it’s really rather easy. The hints system means on most occasions you could guess the word with even having the letters in front of you, but if you switch it off, on a few occasions you have no way of knowing which anagram the game is actually looking for. This means the challenge is based more around speed and not making unnecessary swaps. Still, it’s worth a look, if only for the somewhat sneaky trial-only level.

4 stars

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Neon Prime
Price: £0.60/$1.00

Neon Prime is a vertical spaceship shoot em up, enemies come from the top of the screen and fire down at you and you shoot back up. The whole game uses vector graphics and bold colours, so looks very crisp. It also has its own (non-IndieCity) leaderboard system which keeps track of recent scores as well as all time scores. It also allows you to use an Xbox controller, which I decided against (although I had to unplug it shortly after making this decision as it rumbles heavily every time you die).

The game is very active with plenty of enemies on screen and lots of things being fired at you. You need to be moving your own ship constantly and have to take enemies down in bursts of shots. There are also boss/bonus levels at the end of each round with a slightly different style of gameplay. The first one is space invaders style game (which also strips you of all of your upgrades) and the second puts you in a rotating box of enemies which you need to slowly whittle down.

My main problem with Neon Prime is the lack of enemy movement in the levels I encountered. Aside from the boss/bonus levels, only some enemies will occasionally move and even then its not very quickly. As a result, the only challenge in shooting them is avoiding their fire while getting beneath them You only ever really need to use the ships ability to go up and down the screen if you’ve let an enemy get by and its in the way of moving left and right. With this fairly bare bones approach, while reasonably entertaining, it doesn’t achieve much more than other similar games.

4 stars

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Didgery
Price: £3.00/$4.80

I’m not normally compelled by card games in quite the same way as some people do, undeniably so given the stats you can rake up about the amount of hours people play solitaire for, but Didgery was different for me. In Didgery, you’re given a grid of cards and have to build up a chain. For a card to follow in a chain, it must be adjacent (including diagonals) to the last in the chain and either be of the same suit but lower than the previous card, or the same number in a different suit. Finishing a chain removes the cards from the board (and with large chains can cause explosions removing other two, but scoring lots of points). Obviously removing cards means you can’t use them in future chains, so tactical play is required throughout. There are also special cards which mix things up just a tiny bit and you’re against a clock as over time energy drains from each suit. If it gets too low, it starts bleeping at you and you need to remove cards of that suit from the board with a chain quickly.

So as such you have the combination of trying to calculate what your best current chain is, balanced with setting up bigger chain in the future, balanced with the time pressure. In addition to such a compulsive mechanic, the game is very highly polished and has very soothing and appropriate accompanying music. I found myself playing Didgery for quite a while, constantly saying “one more round, one more round”, which is the sign of a very good game.

5 stars


February 15, 2012

Leaving XBLIG
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 5:49 pm

As I hinted at in the Diamond Digger post mortem, I have decided to stop developing games for the Xbox Live Indie Games service. For the time being, I will be focusing on PC development, primarily for IndieCity. This little article isn’t supposed to be a complaint about XBLIG or what Microsoft is doing with it, but it is now clear that the service is no longer what I want to develop for or need to distribute my games on and is more effort than its worth.

So what follows are my main reasons for leaving the service:

  • Userbase
  • I first started working on an XBLIG game back in 2009 before the two most recent Xbox dashboard updates. While the sales figures of the top games weren’t as high back then (this is pre-minecraft clone time), there was debatedably a lot more people trying different games on the service. These days the sales figures are inflated by minecraft games and older games that already have a critical mass following, there aren’t actually many people trying the new games.

    The actual userbase of people who will try new releases (not even buy them) now seems to be down to well under 1000. Even with a relatively strong conversion rate, this just isn’t enough of a market to develop for. I know that theoretically there are over 10 million Xbox Live Users that could potentially buy the game, but these people don’t actively seek out the good XBLIGs and kotaku is pretty much the only major site that still does reviews (in the form of a fortnightly round-up).

    At the very least, most people I know own a PC and would be able to play the game, where as a lot of people I’ve spoken to interested in my games don’t even own an Xbox. By switching to PC I’m unlikely to be missing out too much of a userbase as most Xbox owners can also play the games on PC and a greater proportion of people who find out about the game are able to play it on PC.

  • Connection
  • Following on from the previous point, traditional forms of advertising seem to do little to affect sales on XBLIG due to the disconnection of media. People are likely to read reviews or see adverts browsing their computer so can’t easily download the game to play there and then. Even if they go to the marketplace link (which surprisingly few people do) and set up the download, people often forget about this by the time they get to their Xbox).
    This disconnection works the other way as well, as when browsing through games, it is difficult to tell which are the quality titles. I went over this a little bit in the pricing article a while back.

  • Updates and Peer Review
  • XBLIG requires all games to go through a peer review process where 8 other developers check over your game for bugs. This takes a bit of effort on the developers part because to be fair to other developers you need to review at least 8 other games yourself (although normally you have to do at least double this). It’s a necessary evil to stop broken games getting onto the service, although often some things will slip through. IndieCity has a similar system, but instead use a smaller number of selected testers from the community. The biggest problem I had with this with Diamond Digger however was that I’ve made less money from Diamond Digger than I would’ve done if I’d spent just the time reviewing other people’s games at a job with minimum wage, let alone all the time creating and porting the game.

    But most crucially, the peer review process causes an unnecessary faff when it comes to fixing small problems with the game. For a start, you have to wait at least a week before making a patch and even then you have to go through the 8 review process again. This means that its in a developers interest to put off fixing something in a game until they have a collection of fixes or not bother at all depending on the size of the problem.

    In contrast, IndieCity allows updates to a game to go straight to the player without any additional testing, which, although in theory is open to abuse, means that the time between a bug report and a fix for it is normally very short. If a developer accidentally introduces a new bug, then it only requires another quick update. If this were to happen on XBLIG, there’s a possibility that this could take a month of work to properly solve.

    Note: I’m against developing a game that NEEDS to be patched, but if bugs are present, patching is preferable to losing the full experience of the game. Especially as an independent developer with a limited time to test and only a couple of set-ups to test on, often things will only come up once the game is in the public domain and its very important to me to be able to fix this sort of thing quickly.

  • Features
  • While I don’t intend for all of my games to be high score based, I think its really important to cultivate competition in the community. In a game like The Cannon, I think it adds a lot to the game when you’re competing against other people for the top spots on the high score list. Its impossible to create anything more than hacky implementations of high score boards on XBLIG, where scores are shared between people online.

    Being able to use the achievement system IndieCity offers is a nice touch as well, as from my point of view it lets me see how people are playing my games.

    I’m not a huge fan of releasing the same game but with different sets of features, so having to cut high score and achievements from an XBLIG version of the game seems like a shame.


February 14, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations: Part 3
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 6:52 pm

After being inundated with a single request, here’s another round of my IndieCity demo reviews, letting you cut through the growing crowd of games on the platform and know what’s worth giving a go.

Punish the Birds
Price: £0.60/ $0.90

“All the fun of Duck Hunt, without the annoying dog.” – is a quote used the description of Punish the Birds and pretty much says it all about the game. Duck hunt was fun for one reason: the NES zapper, bringing light gun gaming to homes everyone. Even with the zapper, it probably would’ve been entirely forgotten about if it wasn’t for that dog. That dog added character to the game. If you mention duck hunt, most people will remember the dog before they remember the ducks.

But back to this game. You shoot birds with your mouse, like a bazillion other little flash games. Most of the bazillion other flash games also do it much better. It’s not painful to play, its just not great and by no means the best of its kind.

The artwork is obviously from mspaint and the whole thing has a very much ‘my first game’ stink to it. There are only 6 levels although as far as I can tell, you can get most of the content from just the demo, which eases the concept of charging for it. I’d also like to think that the aiming is a little off, but I’m probably wrong about that.

Rating: 2 Stars

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Your Doodles are Bugged
Price: £3.49/ $4.99

In doodles, your aim is to guide little hoppy bugs through levels to a little honey pot at the end. The game starts with drawing along dotted lines to give the bugs a path to their goal, later leaving you to work it out yourself and then limiting the amount of ink you can use. The graphics are nice and bouncy, but that’s a given where this ‘drawing’ style of gameplay is involved.

The problem with doodles is that you have to rely on the bug things and thus you have the problem that occurs with almost every single escort mission ever created has. Unlike the efficient predictability of lemmings, the bugs move slowly along the ground and jump at random intervals. This means the game swings wildly between being unchallenging and boring and difficult and frustrating. Also, I could never tell whether they pile on top of one another or not. They don’t appear to, but once I put a large amount in a hole, a greater proportion would get away.

While you can have some silly fun with the early unlimited ink levels, elaborating on your pathways by drawing snake and the like, once it stops being easy, the game quickly dissolves into a repetitive action of a short amount of progress followed by trapping the bugs in a hole.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Influence
Price: £6.00/ $9.00

In influence, you start of with an orb that follows the mouse. The concept is simple, you need to influence neutral and competing orbs, which you can only do so in groups smaller than your current group. Competing orbs can also convert you if they have a large group so you need to be careful to avoid these.

The gameplay is actually quite rich as both sides will often be going for the same neutral orbs leading to potentially risky manoeuvres and you need to balance going after small groups or trying to split orbs off of big groups. There is a music creation element where each colour orb has its own ‘voice’ and as each team grows they become a greater part of the game’s symphony, but this didn’t resonate with me as anything more than a neat effect.
The whole game is just iterations of this competition with various user chosen settings though, so the gameplay quickly becomes ho-hum. While there is an on-line mode, the game doesn’t hold much of a user-base and I was unable to find any games.

My experience with Influence was also somewhat adversely affected by its incompatibility with my computer, despite the specs indicating I should be ok. Even with the graphics settings turned down, the game often became slow and jittery. Given what’s going on on screen, this is a bit of a surprise as while the graphics are somewhat fancy, they shouldn’t be destroying my graphics card.

I’ve also got to take issue with the price on this one, while the demo is somewhat entertaining and a pleasant experience, the full game is definitely not worth the cost.

Rating: 3 Stars

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Fluttabyes
Price: £3.00/ $4.40

The first thing you notice with flutterbyes is that it’s stunningly pretty, the game is just rich with colour, although perhaps this is to be expected for a game themed around butterflies. Aside from the graphics, it’s really rather simple, you add different coloured butterflies to the board to match lines of 4 or more and the above butterflies will fall down to fill their place. There’s all the normal combo stuff of matching larger lines, multiple lines at once, creating combos and quickly matching multiple lines with subsequent butterflies, so you need to have some tactical play to reach the higher scores.

You’ll gradually learn how to set up the best combos the more than you play, so the game takes a little persistance. As far as I could tell the whole thing remains fairly basic, ladybirds appear in the demo which don’t appear to match with anything, so I don’t know whether other things like this are thrown in once you’re playing for a little while. As the butterflies can be placed anywhere, there’s also not the same sense of progression you get with games like bejeweled where it starts to get difficult to clear blocks from the bottom. The game consists of a regular mode, which you lose if you go too long without making more than basic matches and an endless mode, which removes this restriction. There’s really not much more to the game other than just playing the basic mode over and over again. Luckily, the game makes use of the IndieCity leaderboards, so it’s not all for nought and its a game that encourages healthy competition. I spent a little while on the leaderboard in the demo and I now hold the top spot 😀

Rating: 4 Stars

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Swift*Stitch (Full game)
Price: £4.20/ $6.00

Swift-Stitch can be controlled with only a single button. There are a couple of small caveats to this if you want to make things easier, but you can do everything with only one button. It’s a very simple idea where and hitting certain coloured gates will reverse you direction. There are a couple of additions in the form of teleporters and arcs, but the jist is that you will travel in a different direction when you’re holding down the button and when you’re not.
It’s a concept that works really well and you’ll find yourself crashing yourself into walls and knowing precisely why every-time, even if you brain told you something else the split-second before it happened.

From a developer perspective, swift-stitch is very frustrating to review. The game is basically to the book of good game design, with neat effects, fast resets, a host of options for the user to customize and lots of guides to where your arrow will go next. The amount of content and opportunity for re-playability even justifies the higher price-point than a lot of other games on the service. However, it’s just lacking a bit in the fun department and certain levels just don’t give me that compulsion to keep trying to finish them. From a personal perspective, I despised any of the levels which use arcs as they movement is harder to judge than the straight lines and it still seems difficult to know where you’re going to end up even with the guides. Heck, I had more fun replaying the earlier levels on impossible speeds than retrying arc-based levels. I can understand the need for variation, but it feels like the wonderful simplicity of the game is removed by it.

Rating: 4 Stars

Over the coming days, I will be adding a leaderboard to the site of all of the IndieCity games that I have demoed. Once that’s up, I’ll actually remember to add links to go directly to the games. So be on the lookout for that!


January 17, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations Pt. 2
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 7:44 pm

Continuing where last week left off, here are my opinions on five more IndieCity games, giving you reasons to get involved.
All impressions are either based on the demo or the full game if its available for free. That means that you can have all the same experiences without paying a dime and you might find something you really like.

Walking Bobby and Tommy
Price: £1.80/ $3.00
At some point last week after playing Hyperspace Invaders (which I now realise I never did a snippet on), I came up with a list of the most recycled game ideas. It went something like:

    Pong
    Snake
    BMX tilty games
    Pac-man
    Space Invaders

Shortly after coming up with the list, I had second thoughts about pac-man being on there, but here we are, round-up number two and already there’s a pac-man clone. I say pac-man clone based entirely on what its trying to be though, not what it is. The gameplay is slow, the graphics are bad and unclear and the game is just dull. Even the 2 player mode and different maps don’t redeem it. It’s no fun, the graphics are bad and its a shameless rip-off.
Rating: 1 Star

Lag
Price: Free!
Lag is pretty much the reason that I don’t like those little events where people go off and make games in 24-48 hours. Sure, the idea of the event itself is neat, sometimes the games have interesting ideas and its an impressive show of ability, but the practice is fundamentally flawed. People claim that these events give people total freedom to try new ideas, but the big restriction is any idea has to be implementable and playable within that period. This means that most of the time, while a playable games is output, they’re just not much fun to play.
Which brings me to lag, which was created at such an event and is available for free. You control a slowly growing green blob, around which rotates a little blue blob. You have to dodge bad guys and pick up crates, both of which move across the screen. You get more points for picking up crates with the blue blob, as its harder to so. However, every bad guy you hit increases the lag at which the blue guy follows you. It’s a neat idea, but once the lag is above 30 or so, you will just keep running into things making matters worse and once you ignoring the blue guy, its just a dodge game with fairly sluggish controls. In addition, even though the game is score based, there also aren’t any global leaderboards, so you’re only ever competing against yourself.
Rating: 2 Stars

Astro Taxi 2
Price: £1.79/ $3.00
I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t want to like Astro Taxi 2. It’s a flash game style simple concept with even worse art. It’s basically a 2d crazy taxi in space (ok, that does sound quite cool, but I’ve definitely seen a few of these types of game before). You also expect a certain quality from a sequel (or at least something with a 2 in the name), I’d hate to see what Astro Taxi 1 was like. But despite all of that, it’s actually quite fun to play. The controls are tight enough so you have complete control to zip around the map, the landing gear mechanic hits the balance between making landing challenging and not making it tedious and while the levels don’t offer a humongous amount of variation, there are 30 different ones in the full game. However, based on the original points, £1.79 is really overcharging.
Rating: 3 Stars

Vortexball
Price: £1.60/ $2.60
Vortex ball is another simple concept, but its very cleanly presented with vectors. You control a ball around a maze and have control over accelerating it left and right, while gravity takes care or down. Bouncing off angled walls help you gain height. In general, its pretty fun, but suffers from a couple of small design floors. Given how easy it is to lose control of the ball, the levels are just slightly too long so as to be frustrating and often you’ll bounce off a ceiling straight down into a hole. It can also be quite tedious and frustrating trying to bounce up onto a ledge when you lose momentum. It even loses its seamlessness at times, as the seams of the walls of the levels themselves provide a large source of bugs. The concept seems as though it could get very tired throughout the course of the game, but there are only 23 levels, so its unlikely to last very long based on the four given to you in the trial.
Rating: 3 Stars

Hyperspace invaders
Price: £2.80/ $2.60
Here’s the aforementioned Hyperspace invaders. It’s not fair to call it a space invaders clone, it just happens to have space invaders as one of its modes. The main mode, called soul grinder, gives you a ship at the bottom of the screen constantly firing and spawns lots of things you have to take down at the top, like some other old arcade classics. The game is pretty, eye-melting pretty and the variation in enemies keeps things interesting. There’s so much going on on the screen though, it can be a little tricky to keep track of and you can get taken out by a rogue enemy that you didn’t notice behind all of your shooting and the numerous pick-ups and having only one life aggrevates this a bit. (although it can’t be that bad, I was definitely getting better at the game).
As with a lot of the games this week, it still seems a little overpriced, but its probably the best value for this week and the full game includes a remake of paratrooper as well, which is one of my old favourites.
Rating: 4 Stars

And that wraps up this week. When I have some more money to spend, I might buy the games I’ve given 4 and 5 stars and give updated impressions at a later date.


January 11, 2012

Indie Game Pricing
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 11:22 pm

Note: I’m not going to claim to be any sort of expert on economics. These are just my views on the subject

With the recent changes to XBLIG lifting the restrictions on 80pt games, every game on the service is now dropping to the minimum price or being left by the wayside. Conversely, PC indie games prices seem to be all over over the place, crossing the middle ground between free and budget retail releases. So why are XBLIGs being forced down by the market?

It all comes down to the three tier structure. An XBLIG can be priced at 80, 240 or 400 points ($1, $3 or $5 dollars), which is decided by the developer. Because the price is decided by the developer, the price is not an indication of actual value, its either how much the developer thinks its worth or how much the developer thinks it will sell at. As there is little correlation between price and quality on average, the cheaper games instantly become better value from a consumer perspective.

A lot of people who buy indie games go straight through their xbox and are fairly unaffected by reviews and other press on the internet, so they’re mostly going on the demo. Of course, the demo might also not make it clear how much content there is in the game, so a player can’t always be entirely sure, they might be getting ripped off, or there might be a lot more content that they don’t realise (I think this happened with The Cannon a bit). This means that even the demo sometimes isn’t a good indicator of quality, so the player would again side with the lower priced games.

Even when a game does get a lot of good press from outside sources, if it’s selling at 240 as opposed to 80, someone looking at buying it will instead think that they could get 3 other games for the same price. Without a 160 point price point, the contrast is much more stark. Given the number of games at 80 points, they could also buy 3 games that are just as good, if not better than the one at 240. (Of course, for the same reason, the temptation for a developer to charge 240 is quite high, because they only need to sell a third as many copies to make the same amount of money).

The iPhone market is very similar (and is debatedly where the ‘dollar for a game’ trend started). A small selection of games can get away with being more than a dollar, but only the ones with a good reputation or a large amount of backing will do any well (such games would end up in the arcade, not indie games, on the Xbox).

So why haven’t PC games followed suit? Well, things are a little trickier. The PC market is quite spread out, there’s no proper hub for Indie Games for the same market conditions and pressures to arise. To add to this, more people are swayed by reviews on the PC. If you read a review on a website, there’s normally a link to download the game right there and conversely if you’re looking for PC games, you’ll probably be browsing the internet looking for them. Reviews make it very clear if a game deserves its price point, so developers are more likely to charge accordingly

The only large PC game market is Steam and, ignoring sales, they will rarely charge less than $5 for a game. In addition to this, the pricing of games on steam is normally a much closer representation of quality of the game as the whole thing is fairly closely managed.

In addition to the above, PC games currently have a slightly harder time getting down to the dollar mark. Xbox uses a points systems (as much as many people hate it) which means the transaction fees for the ‘one dollar’ are fairly small and iTunes manages it by grouping several of your purchases into one transaction. But for an independant PC developer? They don’t have quite the same low transaction costs and normally have to charge at least $2 before they’re getting a fair proportion of the consumer’s money.

So I guess this leads in to saying if something like IndieCity (for example) takes off and starts using some sort of credits system, then indie PC title prices could also tumble. Well, if this means more people buying cheaper games, then bring it on!

(wow, ok, didn’t mean for quite that level of subliminal text at the end there, but I guess its ok)


January 10, 2012

IndieCity Recommendations
Filed under: Article,IndieCity — Chris @ 2:15 pm

At the moment, IndieCity has something of an entry barrier to new players. It doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t need a high powered computer, but even just the request to download a client seems to put a lot of people off. If they’ve come to visit for only one game, it suddenly seems far too much effort to go through.

So I’ve been playing through a bunch of IndieCity demos, to find out what gems there are in the growing library and today I bring to you my first set of recommendations, every one of which you can try for free. Of course, I’m not going to recommend my own two games, that would be silly (and goes without saying). I feel kind of cheap not buying the full games to review, but being a games reviewer isn’t exactly my job and I’m skint, so meh.

Firstly, the games/demos that didn’t seem to work for me. These seem to be specific to me and I haven’t heard anyone else complain about them, but all of them either crashed on start-up or were entirely unplayable.

  • Didgery
  • Blazin Aces (the whole game is free and I’ve heard good things about it, so don’t let this put you off)
  • Dysnomia

The next lot are in order of bad to good and are accompanied by the star rating I gave them.

Monkey Labour
I can see the appeal to monkey labour. It’s all set in an old-style LCD game, complete with the classic surround and large squishy-looking buttons. Previously an iPhone game, it would turn your whole iPhone into the LCD game, complete with those dancing colours you get when you press the screen. As an experience on the iPhone, it’s actually pretty clever. But as a game, played on a pc, its just not there. You move left and right dodging bricks, that’s about it. Sure, when these LCD games was all that we had, this would probably would class as one of the better ones, but these days you may as well pick up the real thing in a car boot sale for pennies…
Rating: 2 stars

MotorHeat
I like racing games and motorheat looked as though it would appeal to me. Wrong again, Powell. It’s a simple concept, you drive down a long windy road dodging other cars like a souped up version of some arcade classic. However, it also seems to be badly implemented. While the rest of the game runs smoothly, the car seems to stutter across the track and the control lag matched with the high speed of the game makes the game unplayable at times. Getting out the way of other cars isn’t an option because if you see a car ahead of you in the same lane, that’s it, you’ve already had it. Even if you’re lucky enough to survive a while, the game quickly becomes quite boring.
Rating: 2 stars

Laser mazes
Contrary to MotorHeat, I opened up lazer mazes to horrendous hand-drawn menus and Kevin Macleod music. Not the best of starts. In addition, you start playing the game and movement is slow and jumping is all floaty. However, I actually found myself enjoying it. You play a little robot with a laser gun and have to progress through levels composed of lots of lines. There are various things shooting you and the laser shots bounce off certain types of walls, so you have to be quite agile to dodge all of the bolts bouncing around (hindered by the aforementioned movement trouble)There’s good user of colour coded buttons and walls, which you need to keep hitting to balance your own safety with the ability to progress through the level. I still don’t know what I feel about having to use somewhat broken physics to help progress through the level though…
Rating: 3 stars

Novavon
Another simple idea, but this time well implemented. In Novavon you have pairs of portals, one red and one blue (at least to as far as the demo goes). You have to catch orbs of light (sometimes colour coded) in one portal and these are then fired back out from the other portal. As all portals of the same colour are rotated by the same key, things can get a bit frantic. The game itself is also very pretty although sometimes the graphics of the game obscure some of the orbs, making it impossible to catch them before its too late near the end of the end.
Rating: 4 stars

Mobiloid
Mobiloid is a gem. Go and download the demo for it now! In addition, the full game is on sale and is a steal for only £3.
If you’re still here, you play a small robot in a facility where you have to find new pieces for the robot in order to progress. However, each new piece isn’t automatically added, it goes into your library of pieces that you can use at a later time. You are free to edit the robot at any point in order to add pieces to get past a certain obstacle or take pieces away to reduce weight and increase speed. The nature of the game means that even early on, there is normally more than one way to solve a problem and the solutions always make you feel clever. Controls and the physics of your robot are all based on how you set it up, so gameplay also remains particularly varied.
Rating: 5 stars

And lastly, I’m not going to give Buccaneer a rating because its relatively expensive and I was so bad at the demo I couldn’t even get past any of the first levels. It’s pretty though.

I might do a couple more of these in the future, there’s quite a lot of potential.


January 4, 2012

Fun and Realism: A Delicate Balance
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 8:19 pm

With computers becoming more and more powerful, developers have more power to play around with than ever before. Given this wonderful opportunity, a lot of developers are pushing to make their games as realistic as possible, but this seems to lose sight of what creating our own games really allows us to do.

By creating a game, you are creating a whole new world. This world does not need be identical to the world around us. In a lot of games we are presented with scenarios that are unattainable (or inadvisable) in real life, hence their draw to us mere mortals, but often almost every other factor is based off of the real world. With so much flexibility to tweak environments to create the most entertaining experience, why focus on realism when trying to create anything other than a straight up simulation?

Realism enforces strict limits on what a game world is like and what a player can do. For example, you can only move so fast, gravity is a certain value, you can only carry so many things, there are only three perceivable dimensions and time is linear. Sometimes, these factors can enhance game-play, only being able to carry certain items at once means the player has to be strategic with what they carry, but other times they just cause a hindrance, such as requiring more trips back and forth to store and collect items. These choices in design should be motivated by fun, not by realism.

Developers making realistic games will often forego some simple elements of realism for the sake of the gameplay (for example, the Bag of Holding) but when so much of the rest of the game is rooted in realism, if this isn’t explained within the context of the world, it leads to players asking ‘why?’ When the rest of the world is like our own, these elements stick out like a sore thumb, sometimes impeding the experience a developer is trying to deliver.

On the other side, not trying to conform to the rules of the real world gives a wealth of freedom to explore worlds that could never exist in ways that aren’t physically possible. Ideas like time travel or multi-dimensional travel, which have been explored thoroughly in both film and literature, have only recently been touched upon in gaming (such as in the real time strategy game Achron).

Even just tweaking the rules of real life to your hearts content can provide you with a much more entertaining game. In Super Mario Bros., Mario can jump several times his own height, obviously ignoring any sense of realism. However, if he could only jump as high as a normal person how different would the level design have to be? Would the game be anywhere near as fun?

Realism does have its advantages though, even if these often don’t directly increase the fun factor. A realistic world provides players with a sense of familiarity. Ideas of causality and effect that players have by living their own life can be applied in game without too much trial and error. If a game world has a different set of rules, then these need to be relayed to the user in some form, but if the world is like our own, this is unnecessary. How many game tutorials remind you that if you jump, you will fall back to earth again? Realism can also provide juxtaposition, putting a couple of unrealistic features in an otherwise realistic game. As mentioned before, this can be done badly and jerk a player out of the experience, but if done well, it highlights the unrealistic features much more and invites the player to mess around with them.

Portal is probably the best example of a realistic style game which does things that could only be achieved in a video game (at least with current scientific understanding). While the world and the physics in general in the game are realistic, the key game mechanic, creating portals, is something utterly impossible in real life. This mechanic is thrown into a sharp relief from the rest of the game, placing significant focus onto it. Other aspects of the game also break realism as the developers see fit, such as the lack of fall damage (albeit explained by the in-game science), all to improve the player’s experience with the game. The unrealistic aspects of the game also remain entirely consistent with the scenario that is supplied, maintaining the players experience.

In all, while creating games allows developers to entirely break reality if they so wished, some rooting in reality must remain in order to avoid confusing the player. However, when a decision needs to be made about game mechanics, the route taken should be to make the game fun as opposed to forcing realistic unless you can keep that thread going the entire way through your game.


December 3, 2011

IndieCity
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 11:21 pm

In a rare weekend update, I want to talk a little about IndieCity, because a couple of recent developments would indicate that it’s launch is now imminent.

As I’ve mentioned before, our current plan is to release our PC games through IndieCity. This is a newly developed hub for independent developers to put their games onto the reach a wider audience, a bit like steam, but for indie games (and easier to get onto).

The Cannon is already one of the 29 games on the system and you can find the game page here: http://store.indiecity.com/game/Cannon (you can’t buy it yet though). In addition, Diamond Digger should be up before Christmas.

Although there has been no official word of a launch date, there is now a countdown timer on IndieCity’s blog. The timer ends at midday (GMT) on Wednesday 7th December. At the very least this is when they’re expected to be letting some gamers in to test that their systems work, before going fully open to the public.

We’ve chosen to use IndieCity because they provide a good hub for people to find our games, they provide tools for Achievements and Leaderboards and we get 85% of whatever our games make (compared to 70% on XBLIG). I also believe that the creators of the system are far more keen on helping the developers promote their games than Microsoft ever have been with XBLIG.

To any other developers thinking of releasing a game soon, it’s also worth bearing in mind that they’ve currently got a little challenge running. If they reach 100 games on their system by the end of the year, revenue share goes up to 90% for a month (and the challenge continues, with the possibility of a 100% revenue share for a month in the future).


October 27, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary Symphony
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 11:02 am

On Tuesday evening, Jonathon and myself were lucky enough to be able to go to the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony in London. Needless to say, it was a wonderful experience and it was great to see some of the greats of Nintendo come out and talk to the crowd. Eiji Aonuma, producer of the Legend of Zelda series since Ocarina of Time, came out to talk about the music and what it means for the series, as well as introducing a new trailer for skyward sword. At the end of the concert, Koji Kondo, the composer behind many of Nintendo’s great pieces of music, also made a surprise appearence and played a beautiful piano solo of Grandma’s theme from Wind Waker. However, not to take anything away from all of the great music and the wonderful orchestra, there was one non-music moment in particular which I particularly enjoyed as both a games designer and a gamer.

During the concert, they had a huge display behind the orchestra showing off clips from the games as was relevant to the music at the time. It was kind of big and obvious so everyone who wasn’t listening to the music with their eyes closed would be watching the screen. Near the beginning of the second half, the concert were playing a series of short themes from various corners of all the different games, including the original theme for the dungeons. Naturally, they were showing clips from the original Zelda to accompany this.

So, on the screen, the player ventured into the first dungeon, turned right to go into the door on the right in the first room…

…and missed, running straight into the wall just below the door. Not deterred, he tried again, going up and turning right again, only to overshoot the door and go straight into the wall on the other side. It took the player three or four attempts to actually go through the door, just overshooting the door and trying to go through the wall instead each time. This little event caused pretty much the entire theatre to burst out laughing. What’s interesting is that you could tell that this laughter wasn’t so much of a ‘ha ha, what and idiot’ kind of laughter than a ‘I’ve done that exact same thing so many times’ kind of laughter. Almost everyone else in the theatre had had that exact same experience when playing the original game (and this is the Apollo theatre, so its a LOT of people).

Of course, video games often provide brilliant experiences that everyone who plays them shares, but its these sort of completely unscripted moments, moments that are entirely down to the overall game design, that are unique to videogames. Very rare is it that you have an experience (particularly a slightly dumb one like this) that almost everyone else who’s played the game shares. It’s down to things like this that made the concert feel particularly special, because in addition to having the wonderfully orchestrated music from a game series with debatably the best music in video games, we were all enjoying it with thousands of other people with whom we share the experiences we’ve had playing the games, including our host for the evening, the beautiful Zelda Williams!

The special edition of Skyward Sword is being released with a CD of music from the concert and I HIGHLY recommend you pick it up. Hopefully all of the tracks from the set list are included, although a couple of the special other songs may miss out.

P.S. In a similar vein, I’m going to London MCM expo this weekend. I’ll probably take some time to talk about relative experiences from that event as well.


September 22, 2011

In Defence of Total Miner
Filed under: Article — Chris @ 12:07 pm

Disclaimer: Total Miner will be the ‘clone’ game I talk about here, end of disucssion. The views represented in this article are not the same as Jonathon’s.

Particularly on XBLIG, when publishing a game, you’re very much competing directly against all the other games on the service. Most of the traffic goes to top downloaded and top rated, so unless you can break onto those lists, sales figures are going to look fairly poor. As such, it’s fairly understandable why developers get upset when games they don’t feel deserve to be up high on these lists remain there for weeks upon weeks.

For example, the top five top selling games at the time of posting are Fortresscraft, Total Miner, Angry Fish, Castle Miner and Dead Pixels. A lot of people, particularly developers, would say that only one of those games actually deserves to be in that list (Dead Pixels, duh, and deservingly so that it’s up there). Of course, it’s worth remembering that the driving force of the top selling lists is how many people are buying them, so if anyone is to ‘blame’ for such a situation, it’s the consumer.

Regardless of the reasons people find Minecraft fun, it has been a very successful indie game story. Mojang and Notch have grown up around the game and are already working on their future projects. People seem to attribute all of the success of these ‘Minecraft clone’ games to the fact that they’re very similar to Minecraft, but if they’d been developed in a market where it didn’t exist, given the success of minecraft in the first place, it would be very different.

The question is then raised: “How are they selling so well when there’s a superior product on the market, the original Minecraft?”. Well this is all a matter of opinion. Total Miner is really no similar to Minecraft than a lot of FPSs are to one another (to be honest, that’s still too much for my liking, but I’m making a point here). Total Miner firstly provides a solid goal, to hit the bedrock and builds its game-play around that. While you can manually give yourself the same goal in minecraft, it’s a much easier task as you can build straight down until you either hit it or fall in a pool of lava. Blueprints (making crafting easier and giving a sense of progression), cave-ins and shops all help to differentiate the experience. Heck, when I first played Total Miner, I actually got far more of a ‘miner dig deep’ (an XBLIG launched near the start of the service and before minecraft existed) vibe.

In my opinion, one very important factor here is price. Minecraft is currently $15, yet Total Miner (and the others) are all only $3 and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think the difference in the prices you’re paying really shows in the differences of the games. Heck, you could buy all three ‘clone’ titles on indie games and still have leftovers from the same money used to buy Minecraft. There’s a completely separate issue here as to whether XBLIG has driven prices down or whether Minecraft is too expensive, that’s for another day, but those price figures are clear.

From my own personal standpoint, I really like to see indie games take the innovation route, exploring new ideas and providing unique experiences and as such this will always be what I try to do. However, the amount of criticism games like Total Miner get is too damn high. In some cases there may be a lack of honor, depending on how the developers deal with the situation, but its unfair to call them out for things like copying styles as you can do the same thing with Minecraft and Infiniminer if you so wish.

P.S. Back to paragraph 1: Dating sims and lower quality than flash games staying on the best selling list still bugs me.


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