15 Dec 2011

Announcement: DIY Reporting

I just thought I'd write up a quick post to let whoever reads this fine publication know that things may slow down to a crawl on the site leading up to Christmas. It's obviously a busy period for everyone personally - and it will be for me - but for once I've got a reason to halt activity here which isn't exclusively 'I'm feeling a bit lazy'.

No, sir. This time I'm not being productive because I am being productive. You see, I've been asked to contribute to the indie gaming coverage over at the excellent DIY Gamer blog which, besides making me feel incredibly honoured, also means that I will likely be batshit busy for the forseeable future. This could be the first step towards a career in something I love so I'm taking the whole thing by the nuts and running with it... however painful or strangely erotic that may sound.

That's not to say things won't get written on here. I'll still be completing the odd review (in particular the overdue Trine 2) and definitely continuing my Terraria diary, just... not right now.

11 Dec 2011

Here's an idea: Influence

My first impressions of Blanket Fort Games' Influence, prior to playing, were pretty neutral. It looks lovely - you can see that from the shots on this page, and particularly the ones shown here - but it also seemed as if it might be tame, too mellow to keep me from the many other IGF entries for any great length of time.

Happily, I was wrong. Although Influence may be simple enough to play (no keys or clicks required, only mouse movement) very rarely was I able to perform anything other than frantic hand-twitching whilst my eyes darted from corner to corner of the arena in search of my next victim or escape route. It is, thankfully, deceptively good.

Ideas form the theme of the game. Despite essentially being a deathmatch experience, Influence does try to recreate how certain thoughts can take on a life of their own, consuming alternate thinkers, pulling passers by into their ranks and, in certain circumstances, completely dominating anyone who might oppose them. Each id in the game must be captured for victory and doing so simply requires your followers to exceed the enemy's numbers whilst you convert them.

The music in the game is soft synths and sporadic piano key presses, all dynamically generated by the little ids in each army. Joyfully, capturing the opposition en masse will create a flourish befitting the effect of consumation and growth. You can even save the song at the end of each battle, which is nice option, particularly if you're the kind of person who revels endlessly in your own glory.

By its tranquil approach to RTS gaming, Influence is particularly reminiscent of Eufloria. It's just as straightforward but also as cutthroat as that title. The game is primarily a multiplayer experience, although you are able to set up custom matches against some incredibly aggressive AI opponents. I wasn't able to find anyone online to play it, but I was using the demo version and whether this is reflective of the online population in the full game I'm unable to say. LAN is also an option.

[via IGF]

Influence is currently available in demo form, here. You can also purchase the full game here for £6.00.

9 Dec 2011

Meet and eat: The Visitor Returns

Here's a quick browser game to start your day off, and hopefully one that will have you vomiting into your cornflakes. The Visitor Returns allows you to live out your wildest The Thing fantasies - goring, assimilating and imitating your prey in the name of saving your own slithering behind after crashlanding onto Earth.

The game takes place beside a remote US trailer home. With all the scavenging wildlife that such a setting provides it won't be long before you're squirting stink clouds and crawling up walls to tackle the really big game - the human inhabitants.

It's a nice little puzzler and, if you've got the stomach for it, one that offers a variety of grizzly ends for its final terrified victim. The solutions are fairly straightforward, but the results are so well animated that you're desperate to push on just to see what the little monster will come up with next.

You can play the game via the developer's website, here.

[via JayIsGames]

8 Dec 2011

Losing weight: Cold Equations

The IGF Main Competition is a natural breeding ground for experimentation. With Cold Equations we have a project which experiments with the idea of failure within games - how we deal with it and what it means when we do all we can to succeed but still can't achieve a satisfactory endgame. What do we expect when we enter into a game? Without thinking, we need to be the hero. We need to win the day, to rescue the girl, to shoot the mad Russian in the face (the western mainstream's idea, not mine). Cold Equations challenges this expectation.

In this respect it has a good deal in common with Krams Design's Egress, which I covered last month. Both games take the standard point-and-click approach and force it in a new direction. It's also something you'll be wanting to play again and again to test the game's parameters, to see if somehow you are able to make things go your way.

The plot of Cold Equations is based on a sci-fi short story of the same name. In it we find ourselves aboard an emergency supply vessel sent out from the mothership to provide much needed medical supplies to a small group of desperately ill colonists on a nearby planet. Problems arise when a stowaway is discovered onboard - a young girl whose presence pushes the craft over its weight limit. Carrying such cargo it will be unable to reach its destination and communications to outside help are unavailable. Where do you go from there?

Your first thoughts and, of course, your only option is to get things shifted from the craft. You have about three minutes to lose the weight of a child. You can spend some time talking to her, from which you'll discover her intention to see her brother on the destination planet and how she was only expecting a fine for hiding onboard, but none of this will help you both to survive.

The game is available to play online, here, and I advise you do so before reading any further into the story it's based on. You can read the developer's thinking behind its creation after your first play.

[via IGF]

Cross-platform: Fader

"This is Fader. It is a game about space, confusion, duality, triality and escape". I was contemplating leaving this post entirely to that one line from developer, Chris Makris, but Fader is definitely a title that warrants some further discussion.

Another entrant to IGF this year, it is a game of iconical indieness. A two-tone, minimalist, thinking man's platformer. I know that we have so many of these sorts to choose from currently (and, no doubt, many more to see release in the next twelve months) that the market should be saturated with idea clones and copycat visuals, but it's a testament to this sector of the industry that so many fresh ideas can still be retrieved from one base mechanic - that of making a little man jump around on a 2D plane.

So, take Fader - here the idea is one of duality, as described in the quote above. You control two characters onscreen, one above the other, but in essence you only really control one. That is, your actions on the keyboard will be reflected by both characters at the same time. Intriguingly they inhabit separate planes of existence so, when one hits a door but the other looks to have free reign to proceed, neither can move. And there's your headfuck.

I love the concept, but I'm also enjoying how incredibly threatening the game comes across in the video below. There's something disconcerting in the way the ghostly audio combines with the transposed layers of existence. And there are some great sci-fi zapping and buzzing sounds that just seem to hang in the air when the player interacts with doors, lifts and switches.

Having the two characters at cross-purposes but needing to work together is a novel concept and I think it reinforces a theme which is prevalent in computer games: Escape. We always seem to be running from something, whether it's the Half-Life Combine, or the ghosts in Pac-Man. We're constantly trying to break free from constraints placed upon us and here, imprisoning the player in two settings at the same time seems to make it so much more tangible.

We'll see how it plays on release, but Fader is something I will be keeping a very close eye on.

[via IGF]

Keep on running: InMomentum

The recent deluge of indie bundles has provided me with a chance to go back and check out some releases that I'd missed over the last twelve months. Usually I'd read the reviews, watched the videos, became eager to play and.. ach, was too skint to pay for any of them. Well, the three-thousand-four-hundred-and-twenty-five bundles we've had in the last week have helped to fix that situation. These days - these last few days in particular - we've been able to buy a shed-load of indie gems for practically nothing.

Well, InMomentum was one such game that I'd spotted when it was released last month. Purchased through bundle new-blood, The Indie Gala, it was the first of the games on offer that I loaded up yesterday to play. It's a fairly simple concept. You're a virtual runner within some kind of simulation. You need to get from point A to point B in as a fast a time as possible. There are other things to worry about like orbs and checkpoints but traveling onwards is pretty much your main concern. It's like Mirror's Edge, but also not at all like that game.

On offer are the abilities to wall-jump, double-jump and gain momentum to travel further faster, usually through the air to another set of abstract objects on which you're intending to run along. At first it feels clunky. At first, when the controls aren't mapped to your liking and you haven't yet had a good enough feel of the way you can interact with the world, you fail and fail hard.

I was cursing my luck and gnashing my teeth at first. I was trying to figure out how anyone but a seasoned Quake 3 deathmatcher could navigate such treacherous paths at a velocity greater then that of a three-legged cat.

And then it clicked - and I was flying forwards, bouncing from wall to wall and using the inbuilt ability to slow time to heave myself across gaping chasms to fall with the grace of a young, athletic pigeon. Your association with the controls in InMomentum becomes entirely unconscious, it's twitch gaming in the sense that I could feel my brain twitching as it struggled to keep up with what I was seeing onscreen. And that sensation is the draw of the game. There are online leaderboards to beat and you're able to hook up with other thrillseekers online, but I was happy to play just for the rush of retaining the momentum in every movement I made.

So it seems a fantastic game - there's not a singleplayer campaign to speak of, but it doesn't stop you from giving the odd half an hour here and there to improving your first-person gaming skills. That said, I'll wager you'll never come close to this guy's silky platforming abilities.

7 Dec 2011

Square peg, square hole: Block Planets

What's the biggest block you've ever encountered? A breeze block? A shower block? New Kids on the Block? Come now, let me show you something bigger than all three of those things - something that happens to be neither weighty, wet nor talentless...

It's Block Planets!

Why the exclamation mark, you ask? Well, it just looks like the sort of game which would misplace punctuation in a bid to entertain. Just like me.

Block Planets by Finnish indie team, BetaDreams, is a bold and rather attractive three dimensional puzzler. Played out on large cuboid worlds the aim is to rotate planets and maneuver a small eight-cornered friend through various tricks and traps in search of its other half. What happens when the lovers meet? Block babies, or awkward flat kisses, I'm guessing.

From the trailer below it's looking rather adorable, although I'm still unsure as to whether the player has control over the world or the block buddy, or both. Time will tell I guess - the game is nearly out of beta so a full release is forthcoming. In the meantime, Block Planets is entered into the indie DB Indie of the Year Awards which ends in just under four days so if you like it, vote for it.

[via indieDB]

6 Dec 2011

Opening minds: A Closed World

Over the next few months I’ll be browsing the list of IGF entrants, found right here, and giving some thoughts on a few which happen to have caught my eye. First up, A Closed World.

This is very much a game made with the intention of changing preconceptions. It’s a cornerstone of indie development, this ability to put forward ideas that challenge how we view gaming and, sometimes, the world around us. The topic of study here is homosexuality and the struggles that people have against those they love - family or friends - who can’t understand their way of life, and certainly can’t condone it.

The game, currently in prototype, begins: ‘Has it ever occurred to you just how much of our lives is affected by the answer to a very simple-sounding question?’ and then proceeds to ask you your gender. Shortly after you’re dropped into a forest with another simple-sounding choice - either you fight the monsters or you wander alone forever. It’s blunt, but fits effectively. There’s no threat here if you don’t want there to be. You can exist and you can remain unharmed, or you can fight your personal demons and remain true to yourself.

Monsters are dotted about signifying different relationships within the character’s life. Interacting with them will initiate conflict, but not before providing a snippet of an argument in order to provide a subtext for the forthcoming battle. And then you’re required to take part in not so much a heated exchange of words, as an exchange of differing ideas and beliefs. The general rule to grasp here is that ‘passion defies logic, logic challenges ethics and ethics sway passion’. You’ll be fighting monsters with these rules as they defy your sexuality and it provides a sizable indication of just how frustrating and appalling these sorts of circumstances can really be.

Beating your demons will advance the story of a young gay couple trapped by their parents’ prejudice. After that you’re left to wander the woods forevermore, or keep fighting.

It’s a great idea, well suited to the stylings of a stripped-down JRPG. The analogy isn’t stretched, although it is far more of an idea than a game. The battles are intentionally mediocre - you’re supposed to get a feeling of the desperation of such a situation. It’s commendable - not particularly enjoyable, but enlightening. It’s also one of those remarkable little games that highlight just how much further games have to go in order to accurately reflect the world around us.

EDIT: There's a really good written response by Game Director, Abe Stein, to the criticisms recently levelled at A Closed World largely regarding the opening question mentioned above. As a point of interest, in my experience I took it as a fairly meaningless (but pointed) proposition. The game brings up a list of things that gender affects and then proceeds to portray something that largely obscures the male/female divide. As in, it means everything and nothing at all, particularly in this instance.