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

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‘Train Conductor’ Free for the Time Being

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FreeAppADay just took their mission to a whole new level. DIYGamer’s 2009 iOS Game of the Year, Train Conductor — the work of Australian indie devs The Voxel Agents — has gone free on the App Store. One can speculate this will be so throughout the weekend, but it may also be free for a week or longer. The reason for all this uncertainty? Well, simply put, the promotion often runs longer than it is intended. By the looks of it, there is an almost unanimous approval of Train Conductor by those who have played it.

If you enjoy the game, then I suggest purchasing Train Conductor 2: USA for double the awesomeness in quality levels. It’ll be exciting to see what the Voxel Agents come up with next, but for now, get your butt over to the App Store and download Train Conductor.

[The Voxel Agents]


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Large Angry Birds Update Hits Android

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Everybody’s favorite bird-slinging mobile game received a large update on the Android mobile OS today with the total amount of levels increasing to an astounding 195, up from 150 originally. I’m not sure how many levels come with the paid iOS version of the game but it seems like Android users are definitely getting the better end of the stick on this game. Free with updates? Yes please.

In additional Angry Birds news, the developers, Rovio Mobile, have announced that QVGA phones are now able to play the game. Previously they were not able to. For those who don’t know what QVGA is, it’s typically a smaller touch-capacitive screen used on devices less than 3 inches.

That’s all. Enjoy your daily dose of Angry Birds.

[Rovio Mobile]


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Indie Links Round-Up: Slow Motion

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Once again, Indie Links brings us tremendous content and coverage from across the web. We get some indie pitches, interviews, reviews, opinions and of course a little bit of controversy.

The Indie Supper-Singing Spectacular (Alec Meer/Rock, Paper, Shotgun)
“So many wonderful indie games, so little unwonderful time. How is RPS to cover them all? Well, making their devs do the hard work for us is a start. A few days ago, we put out a call on the Twit-witter-wotter: tell us, indie developer man/woman-person, in around 100 words, why we should turn our sentinel gaze upon you. So some did. Here’re the funnest entries received, or at least those that came closest to fulfilling the mandate of “incredigood words.””

Sense of Wonder: Indie-fying Japan (Jeriaska/Gamasutra)
“The Tokyo Game Show’s annual Sense of Wonder Night brings together a selection of independent and experimental games from around the world. In October of 2008, PlayStation Network title PixelJunk Eden by independent developer Q-Games was chosen as a showcase finalist.”

Microsoft: new 360 dash helps indies (Fred Dutton/Eurogamer)
“Microsoft has answered concerns that the recent Xbox 360 dashboard update marginalises Xbox Live Indie Games, insisting the new set-up will work better for independent developers.”

Indie Review: A House in California by Cardboard Computer (Jeff Mattas/Shacknews)
“A House in California is a surreal trip through childhood memories that have been filtered through the opaque lenses of time and nostalgia.”

Opinion: Design Diversions – The Games as Art Debate is Dead, Long Live the Games as Art Debate (Andrew Vanden Bossche/GameSetWatch)
“‘Design Diversions’ is a biweekly new GameSetWatch-exclusive column by Andrew Vanden Bossche. It looks at the unexpected moments when games take us behind the scenes, and the details of how game design engages us.”

Redefining a Genre: Skulls of the Shogun Aims to Add Accessibility; Keep Depth (John Laster/XBLA Fans)
“The following article is based around an email interview conducted by our team with Jake Kazdal, CEO of Haunted Temple Studios. For the uninitiated, Haunted Temple Studios is currently developing Skulls of the Shogun for Xbox Live Arcade for Spring 2011 release.”

Preview: Bitejacker (Mike Rose/IndieGames)
“If you listened to this week’s IndieGames podcast, you’ll have heard us talking about an IGF entry called Bitejacker – a zombie survival shooter based on the indie gaming show Bytejacker. There were barely any details available, and we wanted answers!”

Review: Nimbus (James Murff/Big Download)
“There’s a fine line developers walk when making games with clear, focused objectives. On one side of the line is boredom, where the game is too simple and too repetitive to offer any sort of meaningful gameplay to the player. On the other in confusion, where the simplistic and entertaining core mechanic is lost amidst feature creep as the developer tries to make the game more varied and interesting. Right in the middle is the sweet spot, where a game is fun, easy to learn, and offers a great amount of variety despite its adherence to a singular mechanic. Nimbus is one of these games.”


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‘Pocket God’ 35th Update Released

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Brace yourself for… rainbows! Pocket God‘s newest (35th and counting) update, “Double Rainbow All the Way Across the Sky,” brings a new addition to the game’s rich arsenal of weather changes. With this addition, players can now draw rainbows in-game and watch over their loyal subjects’ amazement. Animations of the Pygmies reactions have been added to the story mode as well.

Also, the update includes menu changes to help newcomers navigate through the world of Pocket God. Finally, players who have purchased Pocket God Comics can obtain the second issue of “Pygmy Peril,” a “supplementary” magazine. Pocket God #3, the third installment in the four-part comic book mini-series, should be released soon.

Here’s Pocket God and Pocket God Comics on the App Store.

[Bolt Creative]

[Source: GamesPress]


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LCD Nostalgia: Flee

Flee LCDFrugal Games have just released their ode to the LCD handhelds in the form of a new Android game called Flee.

From simulated “LCD crushing” to see pixels to simple controls (and I can only assume frustration), these developers really nailed the look and feel of the LCD games that a lot of us played growing up. I think I personally owned a Castlevania one as well as a Mega Man one.

Flee is about a car chase and they’ve designed the game to literally get dirtier the more you play.

To see just how accurate the style is, check out this trailer:

You can snag an ad-supported Lite version or the full version for around $1.40 (1 Euro). Here’s the game’s official webpage.

Please read more about the developer and the game on their official site.


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The Magical Minds Behind ‘Spirits’… Spaces of Play [Interview]

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From Mr. Bounce to the award-winning Spirits, the success that Berlin’s four-piece, Spaces of Play, has had in the indie scene speaks for itself. Seeing as how we’re only days away from the release of the studio’s second title, Spirits, we at DIY HQ thought a nice e-sitdown with the auspicious devs would offer some insightful information regarding the game’s and studio’s future. Observe below:

DIYGamer: First off, let me congratulate you guys on the fantastic response that Spirits has received prior to release; you guys won the Aesthetics Award at IndieCade and got nominated for TGS’s Sense of Wonder Night. How does it feel?

Spaces of Play: Great! There was a tough competition at IndieCade which makes the honor of winning this award even bigger. Traveling to Tokyo for the Sense of Wonder Night was amazing as well. It was the first time we visited Japan, and we took the opportunity to look around a bit.

What’s the story on how Spaces of Play came to be? How long have you been working on games together?

We have known each other for a long time, we first met around 6 years ago at the Design Department of the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam, Germany. Mattias was teaching Game Design and Andreas and Marek took some of his classes. Last year Andreas and Mattias started working together to create the iPhone version of Mr. Bounce, which was originally a Flash game designed together by Andreas and Martin. Even though we have worked all together in different constellations, Spirits is the first project that involves all four of us.

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Seeing as how Spirits is Spaces of Play’s second official game, I think it’s safe to say you have already set the bar really high. Do you guys intend on expanding the team? Did you do so for Spirits?

Spirits was a very dynamic project, we didn’t know exactly how we wanted the final game to be, but we did know what we wanted it to feel like. Being a small team allowed us to experiment and work in a flexible way that would not be possible in a larger team. Therefore, we don’t know if we’d want to include more people in the next project.

Where did the idea(s) for Spirits originate from? It’s certainly unique, but did you guys draw influences from any other games?

We are influenced by other games that we love to play, but none inspired us directly to do Spirits. Instead, we mostly draw inspiration from life and other non-game sources. We tried to design Spirits from the basic design goals of creativity, player freedom, and indirect control over the characters. This last part is of course similar to Lemmings, and when people start out playing Spirits they often notice the similarity, but once they progress they see that the gameplay of Spirits evolves into something quite different.

Marek and Matteas at IndieCade. Photo by Mimi Haddon.

Marek and Matteas at IndieCade. Photo by Mimi Haddon.

I know the game hasn’t even hit the App Store yet, but what are your intentions with its future? Paid downloadable content? Free updates? Are you planning on having any Game Center, OpenFeint, Plus+, etc. integration?

There will be updates to the content, but it’s too early to say exactly how they will look.For a long time we didn’t have scoring in the game at all. We feel the game should be what you do with it. That said, we do provide a custom world ranking system per level, as well as for your total game rank. We don’t have any external API integration, because we feel it doesn’t fit so well with our game.

What makes the iOS your platform of choice? Do you intend on releasing the game on other platforms?

The iPad fits the game perfectly, but we are considering porting the game to other platforms. For the next weeks our focus will be on finishing the iPhone, iPod touch and Retina Display version of the game.

I’m really interested to know what your favorite games are and what you spend your time with when not developing. What does Spaces of Play do on its days off?

What are these “days off” you’re talking about? :D Seriously, when we don’t work on the game we try to go outside and have a walk in the park, play some soccer, go to concerts or exhibitions, or just grab a beer with some friends. But to name a few of our recent favorite games: “Braid”, “PixelJunk Shooter”, “Sixteen Tons”, “Every Day the Same Dream”, “Sleep Is Death”. We also had the chance to play a preview version of thatgamecompany’s “Journey” when we were in LA, which blew our minds.

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Let’s take it back for a second, what did you feel Spaces of Play accomplished with Mr. Bounce? Is there a sequel or new content planned for Bounce-fans?

Mr. Bounce was our first project for the iPhone under the Spaces of Play label, so we learned some things about self-publishing a game on the AppStore that should help us with the release of Sprits. Like Spirits, it blends known game mechanics with new and unique ideas, which maybe is a good way of describing how we work. If time allows, we’d love to come back to it and maybe do an update that has native support for resolutions of the iPad and iPhone 4.

Do you have any other games you’ve been working on? Any ideas for what happens after Spirits?

Everyone of us has a couple of ideas, but we not working on another game yet and haven’t decided what kind of project to do after Spirits. We will try to get some more sleep though.

Is there anything else you would like to tell the indie fans, the mainstream fans, and the world in general?

Being still is not the same as doing nothing! Rush into things slowly, and thanks for making it possible for us to work on games like Spirits.

Thanks, gents! Congratulations again. We wish you the best of luck with Spirits and hope to hear from you soon.

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There’s Spaces of Play talkin’ games, development, and even sharing philosophies. You can read our preview of Spirits here, and keep an eye out for our upcoming review. For more on Spaces of Play, check out their awesome blog which documents the creation process for Spirits.


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Aesthetically Pleasing, Benevolent ‘Spirits’ [Preview]

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Even before its release across the iOS platform, Spirits has taken home the Aesthetics Award at IndieCade and earned a Sense of Wonder Night 2010 nomination at the Tokyo Game Show. The truth is that Swedish/German developer Spaces of Play have come a long way since their earlier ported iOS effort, Mr. Bounce. This time, rather than port the game over, Spaces of Play has developed Spirits from the ground up to run on iDevices — and, man, can you feel it.

While I don’t want to give away too much in this preview since a review should be out shortly, I will go ahead and suggest the game as a must-buy from the get-go. The Aesthetics Award was no joke; Spirits is fucking gorgeous. Its 2D dynamic backgrounds are a sight to behold, and the variation in sky color throughout the levels is all the more reason to continue playing it. I should note that it would probably strike an even better chord had I owned an iPad. I was fortunate enough to try it out on the iPad at IndieCade, and, quite obviously, it looked better then than it did on my iPhone 3G S. I’m certain that the Retina display will remedy this for other iPhone owners, but if you’ve got an earlier version you’re out of luck.

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That’s not to say the stylized artwork doesn’t look good. In fact, if anything, it’s still one of the best looking games on the iOS. It’s just that, of course, HD is higher quality and has a better chance of making you cry. Regardless, there are numerous reasons you want to play this game: it sounds amazing, looks beautiful, has a challenging level design, and plays smoothly. But what’s most important in a game is gameplay, and Spirits has a unique approach.

In short, what you are trying to do in Spirits is get a specified number of spirits from point A to point B. Having played through the first 17 of 40 levels, I can already say this is a much tougher task than it may sound like. To accomplish your objective, you must tap spirits to select actions which manipulate the environment at their expense. You have four actions at your disposal:

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1. Grow – Using up one spirit to grow into a vine-like apparatus allow all succeeding spirits to walk upwards.

2. Dig – In certain areas where the ground permits, you can use up a spirit to dig in a certain direction, opening up new depths (forgive the pun) for all other spirits to move into.

3. Blow – Since spirits jump once they reach the end of a ledge, blow is extremely useful. In exchange for one spirit, you’re able to set up a strong wind blowing in the direction of your choice.

4. Block – Block is pretty much the opposite of blowing, as blocking will allow you to stifle the wind.

Not only do these actions require caution and precision, they’re also a lot of fun to manipulate. They can even be combined to double their effects. For example, if you set up two spirits to blow in the same direction, then the wind will be magnified and all succeeding spirits will travel further. Likewise, you can set spirits to blow in two separate but complementary directions, like up and diagonally. Rather than a straightforward approach where only one action will allow you to complete your objective, levels can ostensibly be solved by utilizing different methods. So, in essence, the gameplay in Spirits has a lot of depth.

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Quite possibly the best feature in the game is the ability to look around each level while paused and manipulate spirits while doing so. It’s clear the iPad is the best iDevice for the game because of this: you don’t have to zoom in and out and pause constantly to check what’s around you but rather see the entire level as it is from the beginning. Still, Spirits is an outstanding blend of puzzle and strategy.

The game felt complete, and word from Spaces of Play indicates that Spirits should be released very soon (November). Keep an eye out on DIYGamer for news and be sure to stay tuned for the interview with Spaces of Play and the review of the game once it hits the App Store. It’s not often we get must-own titles on mobile platforms, but Spaces of Play is one developer that is clearly working to change that.

[Spaces of Play]

More Screens:

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Mobile Monday: Tunnels and Tetris Pieces… ‘Retro Revolution’ [iOS]

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As gamers, we’re often easily spoiled by extravagant scenarios, luscious graphical interfaces, and a crap ton of content. But you really have to applaud the developers who manage to take one casual but awesome mechanic and turn it into an enjoyable, competitive experience that requires little more than five minutes of your precious time. Then Mike Berger’s free iOS hit, Retro Revolution, is a magical little thing.

The goal in Retro Revolution is to simply fly as far as possible through a randomly-generated tunnel while avoiding obstacles. This in itself is great since Berger has chosen Unity as the game’s engine — and Unity runs very slick on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Although there are two game modes, Classic mode and Flight mode, they are mostly the same with one major tweak. In either mode, the main gameplay mechanic involves tilting your device. In Classic mode, you are set to one altitude and tilt left or right. During Flight mode, on the other hand, tilting up or down will change the altitude while tilting left or right will move left or right. As players make it further into the tunnel, acceleration will increase, making it harder to dodge obstacles.

At its heart, Retro Revolution is just so basic it might turn some gamers off. Or, at least, make some gamers believe they won’t enjoy it. But much like Andy Qua’s oldie-but-goodie, Cube Runner, Retro Rev gets extremely competitive — thanks to OpenFeint integration, of course. True, the global leaderboards have an easy time of belittling the player (I’ve played the game’s Classic mode repeatedly and am still ranked at 45,593), but nothing about this game is impossible. In fact, it’s so accessible that just about anybody should be able to sit down and enjoy it from the get-go. And, if your competitive nature gets the best of you, you will play it several times to ensure your high score.

I still think a couple of areas can be considered for improvement in Retro Revolution, though. For one thing, the game is easy to pick up, but it seems as if the trouble will be sticking around. This isn’t a game that I would peg as downright addictive, regardless of its competitive nature. Perhaps some psychedelic imagery would help the aesthetic out. At the very least, it would keep things fresh. The music can also get repetitive, and its unfortunate circumstance is that sometimes concentration is broken. However, you can play your own music while running Retro Revolution, so that’s a rather irrelevant issue. At its price (free) and level of fun, the game is near perfection.

Retro Revolution is definitely worthy of a download, and we’re going to keep an eye out to see what Bergerbytes can come up with next.

[Bergerbytes]

Screenshots:

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Let’s do the Timewarp… Age of Zombies [Review]

age of zombies reviewHot on the success of Monster Dash on iOS platfroms, Halfbrick now brings us Barry Steakfries’ original adventure for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.  Originally released as a PSP Mini, Age of Zombies throws Barry through time to blast zombies and spout out one-lines that would make Ash Williams proud.  Halfbrick has been very successful with the $1 price point on iOS in the past, but for Age of Zombies Halfbrick is aiming high at $2.99.  And even at the higher price point, Halfbrick has another winner.

GAMEPLAY

On the PSP and PS3 Age of Zombies was a twin-stick shooter, and the iOS version carries over that control scheme quite well.  Virtual joysticks appear on-screen under your thumbs and can be easily used to move Barry and aim his gun at the oncoming hordes of undead.  It’s a control scheme found in dozens of iOS titles, and while it does mean a decent portion of the screen is covered during play, it works well with the limited options available on Apple’s devices.  Age of Zombies does a better job with it than most though by having the joysticks appear wherever you set your thumbs down.  With the iPhone’s limited screen real estate it is a huge improvement to be able to adjust on the fly what area of the screen my thumbs cover.

Barry Steakfries’ arsenal might not be the most original, consisting of genre staples like SMGs, shotguns, and flamethrowers, but the way they are used is fairly unique.  When you pick up a weapon power-up, every zombie you kill with that weapon counts toward a combo meter.  When you run out of ammo or pick up any other weapon (including another power-up of whichever weapon you are currently using) the combo is broken and you collect a score bonus based on the combo you built to that point.  This encourages a bit of restraint in terms of how you ration the power-ups that are dropped in the level, which can become a challenge when trying to balance 40+ zombies coming at you from all sides.

And of course, let’s not forget about the zombies themselves.  As Barry travels through prehistoric times, 1930′s Chicago, ancient Egypt, feudal Japan, and into the future the zombies change to match his new surroundings.  This isn’t just a cosmetic change, as certain time periods introduce new enemy types with new attacks.  This is topped with a boss battle in each time period, like a showdown with a zombified T-Rex.  Between the different zombie types and weapon-based combo system, Age of Zombies does a nice job of breaksing up what could have easily become an all too repetitive shooter.

If there is a downside to Age of Zombies, it would be the game’s length.  With only five levels (consisting of three short stages each) to the game’s story mode, it doesn’t have quite the same replayability as Halfbrick’s other iOS games.  To extend the game’s length there is also a survival mode, allowing you to enter any of the time periods and fight as long as possible to secure a place on the leaderboards.  And while the gameplay is incredibly addicting in the survival modes, the real draw for me in Age of Zombies is the story so I seldom found myself motivated enough to actually select that menu option.

STYLE

age of zombies review 2Age of Zombies looks fantastic on any iOS screen.  It looks even better than it originally did on the PSP, and that already was no slouch.  In a top-down isometric perspective, the zombies that already stole the show in Monster Dash show even more personality as they follow Barry around each level.  The levels themselves deserve recognition of their own, featuring bright colors that pop on the portable screen, but are never a hindrance in distinguishing Barry or his undead adversaries from the surrounding area.  It’s a shame that playing the game requires you to cover up so much of the screen with your thumbs, preventing you from seeing all of the detail put into every frame.

STORY

Ah, now here is where Age of Zombies shines brightest.  The evil professor Brain has sent zombies back in time, and it’s up to Barry to go back and fix the time-space continuum and save the day.  The writing is often hilarious, completely self-aware, and enough to dethrone Duke Nukem as the king of videogame one-liners.  In his review of Monster Dash, Arsen lamented the lack of story to give context to Barry and the crazy world he inhabits.  Well, Age of Zombies is exactly the story that was missing in Monster Dash.  How can you say no to robot zombies?  Yes, there are robot zombies.

OTHER

Age of Zombies is a great shooter for iOS devices.  Better than the original PSP Minis version, in fact.  Add in support for both Open Feint and Game Center, and you’ll have leaderboards and achievements to last you a long time.  The main story mode might be short, but it’s comic gold that you won’t want to miss out on.  Leaderboard addicts will love the survival mode, unlike the PSP Mini version those leaderboards are online to offer competition from around the world.  If you like to laugh, then Age of Zombies might be the only iOS action game you’ll ever need.


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‘Zombie Flick’ Halloween Update

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Well, it is Halloween. And if you’re in the Halloween mood like I am (playing Penumbra and wondering how people could think Saw is scarier) before partying, then perhaps it’s good news for you to know that Full Fat Games have released a Halloween update for Zombie Flick. Seeing as how this is a zombie game after all, I find it to be fitting.

And this isn’t just a regular Halloween update with a couple of pumpkins at the main menu, this is a full-blown update featuring over 50 new items to hurl at zombies! That includes boomerangs, frying pans, and cowbells just to name a few. A Trick or Treat costume is also available for the hero. If you’ve yet to download the game, I have to question you why — after all, it’s free.

Here’s Zombie Flick and from all of us at DIYGamer, happy (and safe) Halloween!

[Full Fat Games]