Indie game news, reviews, previews and everything else concerning indie game development.

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What do Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, and Mystic River Have in Common? Keys of A GameSpace

While you are at it, add A Town Far Away, Black Hole, and American Splendor to that list, too. All of these served as inspiration for the team of Keys of A GameSpace, an expressive game whose development was lead by French Professor Sébastien Genvo. The story of a young man and the lives around him unfolds in this point-n-click game, with a few puzzles that are elementary to solve. The game keeps you more intrigued about unraveling the character’s past than it does gripping you with gameplay.

I feel that Genvo’s team largely achieves its goal of showing how games can be a major medium of expression. Be forewarned, the topics dealt with in the game are for a mature/adult audience. You guide a man from his childhood to adulthood, help him earn his first kiss, and ultimately find out where the father that abandoned him went to and make a life-altering decision with a pair of scissors.

The music and art is pretty spot-on. A gorgeous piano plays at times; other moods usher in fitting melodies. The colors are lush; however, the animation is a little crude, but not central to the game. I found the faceless protagonist eerie at first, but reconciled that in order to immerse a gamer into the role, it was a smart art design.

My only gripe with the game mechanics is that I had to right-click to select a “hand” motion, left-click to open a door, and then right-click again to walk through the door. Going through doors is a central plot device, and maybe it was a metaphor for people willfully choosing something, but following through with it; however, I just found it slowed down the pace of the game.

I also could have done without the creepy fetus, then again I suppose that says more about me. The English translation also had a few bumps. Most did not disturb the flow of the story, but I felt a few times as if something was lost in translation.

Can you spot all the hints at the adolescent’s sexuality?

At first after completing the game, I wrestled with the protagonist being a gamer/game developer. I wondered why he couldn’t be just a normal guy neglecting his wife. I felt this would immediately alienate the people that would play the game: namely, gamers. Then I realized that having the story center around a gamer is effective for the point behind Keys of a GameSpace.

I walked away with thinking the lesson is that people have choices in life as they do in games. These choices have consequences. Just as gamers analyze what to do in a situation on a game, they should do so in real life when confronted with certain issues or challenges.

The developers’ thoughts clarify one of take home points : “We also hope that our game will help the victims of psychological distress and that it will make some individuals think twice before they try to commit terrible crimes. These individuals will be able to experience through our game the consequences of their wrongdoings.”

I created what the developers describe as the only possible paradoxical ending out of the four possible ones. Maybe it was because I felt it was a game, just as I wouldn’t in real life jump on a turtle and make it pop out of its shell.

Maybe it was because I don’t think what I did in the game was a crime…

Tell us in the comments below what ending you achieved after you play Keys of A GameSpace (PC only) for free.


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Sense of Wonder Night in Video: Part 2

Our look at the experimental, fascinating games of Sense of Wonder Night 2011 at the Tokyo Game Show continues with three more titles, none of which have been covered here so far. The three titles are KuraKuraMaze by ZacoZaco/Yoshimi Kurihara, Leedmees by Orihara Nagayo, and I’m Gonna Be God of the Forest by Isao.

In Kurakura Maze, which is now freely available on iPhone and iPad, players don’t have to look at the screen in order to understand the play space. As they physically move with an iDevice in hand, the game makes noise to signify when a player runs into a wall or increases the sound as players approach the goal.

Towards the end of the presentation, ZacoZaco shows off what would make for a racing, FPS, hide-in-seek, and battle fighter type of games in the Kurakura sense.

Next we have Leedmees a Lemmings looking full-body action puzzle game that uses Kinect. Whereas many Kinect games are momentary reaction types (think of all the sports minigames), Leedmees is using the whole body as a way to interact with the stage and the characters.

There’s a challenging team mode where the players’ limbs are interchanged on each other’s bodies, taking timing and cooperation to a whole new level. Leedmees is available for on XBLA for 800 MS Points.

In the final game today, we look at I’m Gonna Be the God of the Forest which seems mostly like real-time strategy game. This game world observes a food chain that players must help to flourish. When creatures are killed, they leave behind nutrients (in the form of a blue ball) that combine with others things to spawn different creatures. However, if there are plants around that blue ball, there will be no spawning.

Species of creatures will also die off if there are too many, so players have to keep an eye on that to. The creator notes Natural Selection and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which both inspired him to create a game where sometimes it is necessary and beneficial to kill your own creatures.

The ultimate goal is to keep the animals respawning to kill the giant enemies of each level.

We’ve now looked at half of the wonder-full games. Be sure to catch up if you missed part 1 of SOWN 2011. The next installment is coming soon.


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Finland’s Finest Indies in MindTrek 2011′s Indie Game Awards

First off, is that a kick-ass mascot for this year’s MindTrek, or what?! Indies continue to be celebrated around the world; such is the case at the 15th edition of MindTrek, a Finnish digital media and business conference. The event is organized by the Finnish Center of Games Industry of Neogames and Game and Media Brand Investment Fund from Mediatonic. The great thing about indie awards is that they gather some of the best talent we’d otherwise not hear about!

The main prize will be a trip for two to San Francisco to Game Developers Conference in March 2012 and a chance to negotiate for Mediatonic Funding. The former part of the prize means we’ll potentially get to meet at least the winners at next year’s GDC!

While we’ve reported on two of the five, there are three we’ve never written about. Here they are, along with what seems to be the judges’ preliminary comments:

The Swapper (also in Geoff’s coverage of Indiecade finalists)
“Amazing audiovisual atmosphere. Physics, graphics and audio well balanced. Fresh approach to traditional side scroller adventure genre.”

Driftmoon (an RPG we’ve covered)
“Competes in very difficult genre which has the most demanding but also most loyal users. Fascinating story offers possibility to prevail.”

Carrotia is a labyrinth puzzle game with crazy cute rabbit designs that rival MindTrek’s current mascot.


“In Japanese there is a word “kawaii” which means cute (in Finnish “ihqu”). The character of this game is the definition of that word. IP has excellent expanding possibilities.”

Journey of Blobos (hopefully we’ll hear more about this title).
“Well polished high quality iOS game. Brings something new to well-worn Physics based games field.”

Jackals, a side-scrolling real-time 3D single/multiplayer arcade game, with a booming narrated trailer I feel compelled to share:

“Ambitious and brave effort to enter into the most mainstream game genre of all. Does it all and then some.”

MindTrek’s website says the winner will be informed on 9/21/2011, but news of that has yet to surface. Hopefully these developers will stop by in the comments section to tell us more about their titles!


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Canabalt’s Essence Squished into 16KB: C64anabalt

Website RGCD has tasked its readers with creating a game in 16KB to fit a C64 cartridge for their annual competition. Develper Paulko64 has stepped up to the challenge. As one might guess, it’s a demake of Adam Saltsman’s hit Canabalt, aptly named C64anabalt. Paulko64 has a lot to consider, scaling down a game 800 times its size (Canabalt is a 13.5 MB iPhone game, not sure of the browser version).

Paulko64 has an eye for classic indies; he or she seems to have demade VVVVVV for a similar contest.

One grey area (palette pun) I’ve stumbled upon is in the contest rules:

8. The applicant owns their work, so therefore submitted games will *ONLY* be released for sale at an agreed price via RGCD if the coder expresses a desire to do so.

While the certainly owns all the code he wrote to replicate Canabalt, I would think the game wouldn’t even be up for negotiation of selling. Still, I am sure creator Adam Saltsman is more than likely flattered and will be interested, like us, to see how much of his game can be scaled down to 16KB by the contest’s deadline of November 30.

[RGCD contest]


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Meganoid Dev Continues Retro Platformer Crusade with Stardash

Orange Pixel’s Stardash is a challenging platformer available now on Android and iOS (universal app). These GameBoy inspired aesthetics are definitely for those who have missed (either in the nostalgic sense or the being born into gaming a little bit later than us old folk) good ole fashioned, knuckle-biting game design.

Stardash presently spans four worlds, with nine levels and one temple in every world. The game offers replay through earning multiple stars; players have to collect all the coins in a level and run through the level within the time limit to earn extra stars.

Don’t be turned off by the virtual control scheme shown in the header picture above. The Android version is playable with Touch, Hardware keyboard, GameGripper, Xperia-Play, or Wii-mote (how cool is that?!).  The iOS playable with Touch-screen, iCade / iControlPad, or the Joypad app.

Stardash is available now Android Free (with Advertising) version , $2.17 (weird price?!) Android Advertising-free (Paid), or via the all in-one $1.99 iOS version.

Interested in sprite-based fun? Follow the developer on Facebook/Twitter. For those that want a little more color in their platformer, try the dev’s highly lauded Meganoid.

[Orange Pixel]


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Turn-Based Rougelike: Mysterious Castle for iOS and OSX

Jeremy Jurksztowicz (eclectocrat) has released a full version of his graphical, turn-based rougelike Mysterious Castle for OSX and iOS. The game purports to be both fast-paced and turn-based and playable in both short and long bursts. From what I see, the menu system is clean, the pixels are pretty, and the battles are somewhat frantic (within the confines of being turn-based).

Mysterious Castle presents dialogue choices and environmental obstacles to overcome, set in a procedural content generated world with an overhead map. The trailer does a great job of illustrating what the game has to offer:

In meeting the Annual Rougelike Release Party 2011 deadline, Mysterious Castle joins a couple dozen other rougelikes in the event (in case you want even more rougelikes in your life).

Players can purchase Mysterious Castle for $2.99 via the iTunes store, however it’s not recommended for iPads right now and is only tested to be iPhone 4 compatible.

The current download via IndieDB for OSX seems to be limited to Intel Macs (and the developer warns of some LION incompatibility). Those who grab the game for free are encouraged to donate via Paypal.

Thankfully, Jeremy is committed to porting the game to Windows once he receives enough donations to purchase the OS (or if someone can donate XP or higher).


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Sense of Wonder Night 2011 in Video Part 1

Tokyo Game Show hosted the fourth annual Sense of Wonder Night last week, allowing experimental games to have their spotlight. Ten titles were given ten minutes each to present what essentially makes them wonderful.

Today I wanted to look at two of the titles. Taplib and Solstice were very innovative titles that I believe at least one will make you shake your virtual piko-piko (the noise makers at the event).

Taplib from Yanagihara Takayuki is a route exploration block puzzle game with highlights on autonomous performance. Each block in the puzzle grid has a diagonal on it that connects to a larger route. The route is explored, or cleared away, as the user taps blocks.

All the other blocks that exist on the route, that is the diagonal path, of that tapped block also disappear.  However, if the tapped block is surrounded by a line, the block’s diagonal is rotated 90 degrees and the block is revived. The game’s autonomous performance comes from the user generating BGM and sound effects from how the game is played.

It’s insane to watch at full speed, and it’s still mind boggling at the 1/4 speed shown in the video. Have a look:

The second game today is Solstice from students at Digipen, some of whom are also working on Nitronic Rush (that crazy neon racing game I showed off last month). Solstice is an Kinect-controlled, music driven, interactive fable combining various creation myths.

It’s interesting to hear the creation themes behind the game, however, the audio from the game didn’t pick up very well to coincide with what the guys were saying. Apparently by waving one’s hands, in addition to controlling the flying aspect, piano sounds play in the game.

The music creation seems both incidental and crucial. It seems the former in accomplishing the game, as players seem to only need to collect fragmented pieces of the sun to win. However, it seems crucial to the overall ambiance, the kinetic and aural experience, that the team is trying to create.

Interested persons can hear Solstice better on the team’s official website. Solstice will eventually be out for PC, since it uses the Microsoft Kinect SDK that was released in June.

That’s it for today. Great presentations from Japan and America! There’s even more sense of wonder ahead, so “let’s pikopiko” again tomorrow!


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Steam Helps You Get Your Midweek Hump On

Two Midweek Madness sales are going on right now through Steam, with both focused on indie games. Each bundle contains five games for the price of one, and their sale has less than 48 hours remaining.

One of the bundles is aptly titled the Indie 2D Bundle and have some of the best 2D games all rolled into one from Gaijin Games, Nicalis, Over the Top Games, Ronimo Games, and 2D BOY. This bundle is $9.95, which makes each game less than $2!

The 2D titles are the following:

  • Swords & Soldiers HD (RTS)
  • World of Goo (puzzle)
  • BIT.TRIP.RUNNER (action platform)
  • Nightsky (action-puzzle)
  • Nyxquest: Kindred Spirits (platform)

The Indie Strategy Bundle also works out to being less than $2 a game, with hits from 11 Bit Studios, Hidden Path Entertainment, Puppygames, Cadenza Interactive and Coffee Stain.

The five strategy titles are the following:

  • Anomaly: Warzone Earth
  • Defense Grid: The Awakening
  • Revenge of the Titans
  • Sanctum
  • Sol Survivor

$20 for ten games!? I hate to sound like an old fart, but that was unheard of in the olden-timey cartridge/retail only generation. Thank Asura for indie bundles!

Source: IndieGames


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Maze Mover: iPad/PlayBook Treat from AlmostLogical Software

We don’t get to hear about PlayBook games often enough. Fortunately, I am 1 for 1 when it comes to stumbling across indie PlayBook games that deviate positively from the norm. AlmostLogical Software has released today a puzzle within a puzzle game called Maze Mover for both the PlayBook and the iPad.

For $1.99, players are treated to over 60 puzzles with challenges beyond solving the puzzle; there are rewards for both the fastest time and the fewest moves. Maze Mover has some interesting twists to help it stand out among other puzzle games: the puzzle itself can be manipulated by both the player and the environment.

As seen in the trailer, players can move the puzzle pieces to help the ball escape, or they can use markers on the environment such as the arrows to spin the pieces around. I wished the trailer showed a little more so I could tell people more about it, but at $2, the mechanics look fun enough for me!

Maze Mover was created by a team of three: the game by Devin Reimer, graphics by Calin Reimer, and music by Liam Berry. Devin seems rather pleased with using Adobe’s AIR to develop the game, and hopefully he will exapnd on his experience with that in the future.

Buy Maze Mover for $1.99 on BlackBerry’s PlayBook or Apple’s iPad today.


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Japan Game Awards 2011 Announces Amateur Award, Finalists

The Tokyo Game Show occurred this past weekend, sustaining its position as the second largest game show in the world and setting a new attendance record with over 222,000 attendees. During the Tokyo Game Show, the Sense of Wonder Night (a Japanese version of Experimental Gameplay Sessions) and the Japan Game Awards took place. During the latter event, amateur developers were recognzied along with AAA industry professionals. 11 amateur finalists were announced.

I figure there has to be something to learn from these titles; so let’s start looking at some today! Surprisingly, only one out of the 11 recognized amateur titles is a Mobile game; the rest are PC titles.

First off is the Grand Prize winner, CONECT, from team Trident++ from the Trident College of Information Technology. Konami judge Akari Uchida stated, “The play has a clear concept with a general theme that can be understood by anybody that is at the same time very original.” CONECT is seems playable with an Xbox controller, possibly hinting that the game was made in XNA.

CONECT is a puzzle game that involves a robot plumber to achieve different missions at each stage, such as repairing pipes leaking steam or supplying electricity by connecting plugs.

Interestingly, the Konami judge offered both reasons why it won and how CONECT can improve:

“The simple while the difficulty and sense of achievement increases with skill level, and the player can also easily imagine how the fun will expand in the future,  which makes this game very appealing… The framework is well developed, but it would be even better if it can be polished into a complex but beautiful object. Of course, that is difficult to achieve with a puzzle. It would be even more wonderful if collected into the background skyscrapers! There is a great sense of achievement in giving form to one’s work.”

One honorable mention that caught my eye is from Team TripleO at Niigata Computer College called The Brave Man Who Was Here Ran Away. I particularly enjoyed how the game begins; the title screen resembles hordes of other turn-based RPG fight scenes. Once the player chooses “Game Start,” the hero quickly runs away. I also observed that the option for “fight” is grayed out, showing that it is not even an choice.

The Brave Man Who Was Here Ran Away is Canabalt for wimps. However, this specific wimp has a horde of friends who can use magic to hurt or heal and weapons to stop the Magical King from catching the fleeting man. There are also traps and other creatures on the screen to avoid.

Judge Hideki Osada of Enterbrain stated, “This title was good for its unique concept in addition to the very simple horizontal scroll jump action and semi-aggressive RPG jobs (warriors, wizards, monks). The added tension of being chased by demons in the stage while operating the main characters while at the same time using companion jobs to hold up the demons increases ones desire to play this game.”

What do you think of these games? Do you want to see and hear more about the various titles featured in this award show? Let me know in the comments, and I will continue this week!