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

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Hands-On: Battleblock Theater [Comic-Con 2011]

[Ken Ellis begins our foray into video coverage in a short but stout series of written and video recorded Comic-Con 2011 previews. We start off with an updated look at The Behemoth's latest: Battleblock Theater. Make sure to check out our revealing interview with Project Manager Emil Ayoubkhan for more info on all things Behemoth as well. Additionally, you can check out our production team's YouTube channel to watch all the indie game footage we were able to run down this past weekend in San Diego.]

This year at Comic-Con a lot of game developers brought game demos, but The Behemoth did one better and brought arcade cabinets of their upcoming release Battleblock Theater. If there was a better way of showing off a game, I don’t want to know it!

The games premise is that a race of tyrannical, but socially refined cats have captured a group of unwary individuals. These feline abductors have them run through deadly obstacle courses that are displayed on a “stage” so all the cat people can enjoy a spot of upscale theatrical fun. The theater theme to the game is used humorously with level intros done in the style of grainy silent film from the early 40′s and load screens displaying cardboard cutout puppets of your character jumping after cardboard gems. Even some level environment items appear as cutouts of grass or explosions.

The game is played as a one to four player game, with each having options for selecting their character’s look and a specialty weapon for them to use in the level like boomerangs or bombs. These weapons are friendly-fire-friendly, so watch out or you may send your friend into a shallow grave. Though not for long since each player has infinite lives and can come back continuously through a level. This plays out in the end of the level where each player is reviewed on his theatrical merit, so helping each other out or screwing your friend until the end is up to you.

As the game’s name suggests there is an abundance of blocks primarily because all the levels are constructed from a wide variety of the darn things. Lava blocks, Smoke blocks, Grenade blocks, and every which way blocks appear in the game to either help or hinder your progress. Couple that with a variety of enemies such as gentlemen cats, birds, ravenous deer-raccoons, and the dreaded walking toast. Don’t rely on your ability to respawn infinitely, as each level is timed and a bad time can cost you the better mark on your level review.

While a far cry in genre terms from their last beat-em-up title (Castle Crashers), Battleblock Theater looks like its going to be another hit for the fast growing company. Keep an eye out for it when it releases on the XBLA.

Photos and Video Captured by Kevin Harland.


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An Informative Chat with Project Manager Emil Ayoubkhan at The Behemoth Booth [Comic-Con 2011]

Just got a chance to talk to stop by the booth of San Diego-based developer The Behemoth to check out how Battleblock Theater is coming along, as well as grab an interview with anyone who was willing from the team.  Most fortunately, ‘moth’s Project Manager and one of the original five team members, Emil Ayoubkhan was able to pull himself away from the constant transactions of the developer’s merch to throngs of eager Comic-Con fans and answer a few questions.

In the process, I ended up with a boat load of good stuff that fans of the developer definitely will want to hear. While we’ll save most of what’s happening with BBT for Ken’s preview, I wanted to pass along some info Emil shared that may be lesser known or even not known at all. Well, for all I know at least.

The first thing I noted was the upgrade in size and appearance of the developer’s booth compared to their set-up last year. As you can imagine, they’ve seen some significant growth over the past several years as a company. Emil told me (at current) the company has two offices located in San Diego, along with a satellite office in Philidelphia where a lot of the Newgrounds stuff is handled. They are now employing 19 staff, most of which were on hand to show-off the custom built Castle Crashers and Battleblock Theater arcade cabinets and, of course, sell lots of different stuff to an onslaught of fans both young and old who are looking to show their love for the team’s IPs.

So what are all the team members working on at the moment? BBT first and foremost, but they are diving much deeper into the iOS space after dipping toes with a port of Alien Hominid’s retro-fun and simple mini-game Super Soviet Missile Master. No solid information as of yet, but I was told to expect several new efforts from the developer for both iPhone and iPad over the next year or so, with initial announcement details coming soon.

He also confirmed that Castle Crashers PSN has been a huge financial boost for the company this past year and that the game in general continues to sell at rate that seemed to take him beyond words. Nothing particular on the hard numbers, but it can be deduced that the company is doing very well because of the well crafted and hilarious multiplayer beat ‘em up.

Oh, and I should mention that a title update is planned for the XBLA version to catch it up to PSN’s added content. When pressed whether the new update would contain any new content beyond what the PSN version brought, Emil simply told me that nothing has been announced as of yet, and that there will be an announcement coming soon regarding that potential goodie. Look at for that possibly as soon as PAX Prime; we’ll see ourselves when we head up to Seattle for next month’s event.

Which leads me into the next topic I bothered Emil with: Are we ever going to see The Behemoth’s games come to PC?

It turns out that Valve’s Steam contingent had paid Emil and the rest of the crew a visit no less than an hour or two before I popped in. Great news, as it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand Steam’s interest in their titles. Especially when you throw in the fact that one of those happens to be the top selling digitally distributed XBLA game ever. That fact is apparently drawing constant attention from publishers who would like nothing more than to assimilate; but The Behemoth likes itself just the way it is, and all things considered, why the hell wouldn’t they?

He did admit that a lot of what many consider their indie status had dissolved over the past few years with the great commercial successes they’ve had, along with a few forms of backing from Microsoft (specifically with general level of exposure.) However, when I asked if they still had full control of their schedule and IPs the answer was an emphatic yes, which was enough for me to decide they are still quite relevant for DIYGamer’s coverage. Regardless, here’s a good example of why they don’t need much exposure help from the likes of us at the moment:


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DIYGamer: Your San Diego Comic-Con 2011 Indie Source

Well everyone, a handful of the DIYGamer contingent sets off for Comic-Con this morning, with a car full of audio and video equipment no less.

Off the bat I freely admit there’s not a lot of actual “on schedule” indie game love going on at the eccentric and massively over-produced event. However, I’ve been busy as always setting up interviews with indie devs and other industry types and will be attending a few developer-related panels to make up for a small but exciting line-up of announced games for us to check out.

That would be The Behemoth’s Battleblock Theater (much has been updated since last year’s preview), thatgamecompany’s Journey, and Twisted Pixels’ The Gunstringer. There’s always the hidden gems too, as exhibitors from all over the world come to show off their products; never know what you’ll get (a publisher with a half dozen Japanese indie titles to show off as an example from last year.)

We’re bringing a full production crew to test out our audio/video capabilities on the road for this one. So expect some new content in those departments along with plenty of pictures straight from the event (any indie cosplay we will be snapping, where my Meat Boy’s at?)

Check back each day for new coverage, image dumps, and more! Should be a great warm-up for PAX Prime next month, where we’re guaranteed to be up to our elbows in indies and the cool folks who made them.


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Indie Links Round-Up: Blackjack

Cletus_Indie_LinksHappy hump day. A curious nickname, considering Wednesday statistically produces the lowest amount of sexual activity in the US out of all the days in the week. Friday night produces the highest, but it may surprise you Sunday afternoon is in the top five.*

Anyway, Indie Links!

How To Record And Edit Gameplay Videos (Pixel Prospector)
“Well, since I have already recorded a few hundred videos I thought it would be useful to know for many gamers and devs what recording and editing software is recommendable. On this page you will find 9 Screen Recorders and 7 Video Editors. I recorded a quick Trailer and short How To Videos for each of these programs since i think this is way more effective than writing lengthy descriptions. Moreover: At the bottom of this article you will also find a collection of Reviews for all of the programs on this page.”

Xbox Live Indie-Dome: July 19th – July 25th (Rob Rich/Crush! Frag! Destroy!)
“Hey kids! Other Rob is back in the hot seat with a host of new indie games for you to enjoy and/or lament. In keeping with our new format, each and every game will get a mention, but only the really good (or the really awful) will get a full mini-review.”

Cletus Clay – Interview with Tuna Team (DesignTaxi)
“What do aliens, hillbillies and stop-motion have in common? Nothing much, really, but game production company Tuna have combined the three in their soon-to-be released video game, Cletus Clay.”

Messhof, IGF Chairman Talk Indie Games At The Hand Eye Society (Eric Caoili/GameSetWatch)
“If you missed last May’s Hand Eye Society Social, a bimonthly get-together for Toronto’s indie game makers, rgbFilter has uploaded a great collection of highlights from the event, including bits from a talk delivered by Independent Games Festival chairman and Boing Boing contributing editor Brandon Boyer.”

We Get Into The New Game From The Behemoth – And The Possibility of Castle Crashers 2 (Dave Oshry/ripten)
“When Ripten finally had some free time during Comic Con 2010, we wandered over to The Behemoth booth to find out just what they’ve been up to since their smash XBL hit Castle Crashers. Even better, we got hands on with their new game, as well as Co-Founder Tom Fulp and lead artist Dan Paladin. They gave us the lowdown, and then some.”

Warm Gun Goes to CGDC (IndieDB)
“Warm Gun, with the help from publisher friends at ORiGO GAMES, was able to make an appearance at this year’s CGDC. Emotional Robot’s didn’t actually know that their product was going to be marketed until about 48 hours before the event. The team was contacted Wednesday evening by founder and owner of ORiGO games, Adam McClard, via Skype. The conversation went something like this…”

The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Retrofit: Overload (Justin McElroy/Joystiq)
“This week we talk with Will Storer of WAM! Games.”

The Harm Of Gaming: We Present The Facts (John Walker/RPS)
“”The perennial questions of the harm that games may be causing us and our children are extremely troubling. Every week seems to bring a new survey or study that demonstrates links between gaming and problematic behaviour, with renowned psychologists, sociologists and publicists explaining to us what it is we need to be scared of. Over the last fifteen years I have been studying this data and reading these papers, and I am now ready to publish my findings. Below is the result of a decade-and-a-half’s research, and I think will once and for all answer the questions every parent, teacher, child and teenager should be asking.”

Interview: ACE Team Spams Us With Python-Inspired Rock of Ages (Mike Rose/GameSetWatch)
“A Monty Python-inspired Tower Defense ball-rolling game? Chilean team Ace Team talks to GSW’s Michael Rose about their history, acclaimed IGF-nominated first-person action title Zeno Clash, and their unique new Python-y Atlus-published digital title, Rock Of Ages.”

Grand Heist – Update #4 (IndieDB)
“Hello, this is TheWanaB, lead designer on Grand Heist just here to give you an update on the games progress. We haven’t updated since March, so this media update is fairly significant, if only to prove we’re still working on the game. This update includes concept art of two playable classes, a video of our current level prototype, and some other various media.”

*Complete garbage I just made up.


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Preview: BattleBlock Theater [Comic-Con]

BBT_01Another Comic-Con 2010 independent gem I’d like to share a bit with you, and again it comes from The Behemoth. While I’ve already touched on Castle Crashers new features for PSN, ultimately it was still a game I was familiar with. Let’s get out of our comfort zone a bit and jump into the the developer’s upcoming multiplayer deathmatch title BattleBlock Theater. The game is simple, you as the player are forced into theatrical fights with other gladiators by oppressive, militant cats. Well it’s simple in gameplay anyway.

They had a brand new build on the floor for all to try, so a friend and I saddled up and entered what we started referring to as the “Stage of Combat.” We had a chance to check out a few modes and get some info on what’s in store for the full release coming later this year.

From what we were told, eight different arena modes along with a full single-player campaign with online co-op will be included. You can expect a lot of the goodies from Crashers too. Player customization includes tons of weapons, four head shapes and hundreds of different heads to choose from. As is The Behemoth’s style, unlockables will be plentiful as well.

BBT_02We played the “Soul Stealer” mode that has players jumping on or punching each other to take their respective souls away for collection, naturally most souls at the end wins. The “King of the Hill” mode was also fun as players tried to stay on top of certain central blocks (that would often drop away or phase out before reappearing) in an effort to stay on without dying and log the most time alive in the area.

One mode (didn’t catch the name) had us diving all over the stage in an effort to collect spawning gold bars spawning and trying to return them to a flying safe for points, all the while avoiding other players who naturally have the thought of knocking you off your block and stealing your treasure for their own point total. A game of screws to be sure, and a ton of fun because of it.

To be honest at some points it seemed much easier trying to defeat opponents by jumping on them instead of having to time your wind-up uppercut. Not exceedingly worried about it though, knowing how much The Behemoth takes pride in making a game that feels right to players. I see that issue being resolved before release as the game is still “aways off” from completion.

The game is currently slated for release in 2010 on Xbox Live Arcade and is looking like another winner from Tom Fulp, Dan Paladin and the gang.


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Preview: PSN Castle Crashers New Features [Comic-Con]

The_Behemoth_BoothWhile admittedly there wasn’t a ton of indie stuff to cover at this year’s Comic-Con in gorgeous San Diego, I was able to comb the convention enough times to find a few indie beacons floating in the vast ocean of the show floor.

One of those shining lights was the nice-sized booth for The Behemoth, who was showing off both their upcoming third title BattleBlock Theater and the upgraded Castle Crashers coming to PSN later this year–supposedly really, really soon. I was able to get some hands-on time with both and in this post, I will be touching on the ladder.

Castle Crashers debuted in 2008, taking the Xbox Live Arcade by storm and in the process (alongside Braid) raising the console digital distribution market to new heights. So, is the new feature-enriched PSN version worth the wait for PS3 owners? In a word, you betcha!

Castle_Crashers_PSNThe Behemoth has really added some nice additions including the new Volleyball minigame extrapolated from the one-time campaign experience in the XBLA version. Now, it’s a totally separate mode complete with multiple stages, settings for teams, number of players on each side, winning score, number of games and other options (check out the features list here.) Playing it with a friend against the AI, we quickly discovered strategy would be a big part of winning. A new feature we stumbled upon and quickly took advantage of was the ability to spike. When timed right, players near the net jump up and at the peak can swing their weapon sending a devastating downward strike toward the other team’s side. These become huge in scoring as it’s a nearly impossible maneuver to counter and often times the ball is in a position to be struck by whichever team gets there first.

Team Arena is another new offering, allowing players to play 2v2 or 1v3, instead of just the free-for-all style available in the original release. Teams are denoted by what the characters have strapped to their back, whether it be banners, street signs or stick bombs; just look for the bloke with your matching back-wear and you’ll know your in friendly company. Additionally, we checked out the new arrow-only arena mode–the name of which currently escapes me (Sharpshooter?)–which has you running around firing arrows at your enemies and grabbing strength power-ups and fruit to try and gain an upper-hand.

All in all, some great new features and that’s completely ignoring the already amazing campaign the title totes. Still without a release date, Castle Crashers will be a must have for Playstation 3 owners..whenever it does arrive.


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What’s Indie? Some Thoughts on Our General Coverage Blanket [Editorial]

indie_editorialThis past weekend, Steam and several other digital distributors had a variety of discounted offerings as most of PC publisher Paradox Interactive’s catalog had been put on sale. A few of these games were included in our latest Indie Game Sales feature, as during the vast majority of development they were considered to be independently funded–and as such fall under what we cover on DIYGamer.

In cases such as this, where a publisher’s name is tagged to a game we feel might fall under our admittedly amorphous coverage blanket, it’s simply our duty to exercise due diligence and figure out where the funding for the game came from. If we conclude the finances came from the developer itself, then we’re free to write on it. There’s still a ton of grey area and this certainly doesn’t explain or justify every game that’s been included/omitted from these pages, but it gives us a floor to walk on so to speak.

We’re a young and ambitious site, some of our golden rules are set and some are still evolving on the subject. In the end we’re human, and many times we’ll error on the side of inclusion if there’s no readily available information stating that the game has received funding outside of the developer’s pocket. If it’s found out at anytime that it proves to be otherwise, we’ll be the first to admit fault and correct our mistake–including full omission of the title in question if need be.

BehemothLet’s use developer The Behemoth as an example. Microsoft is considered the publisher of Castle Crashers while The Behemoth is listed as both the developer and publisher for their previous title Alien Hominid. For both games–and presumably their upcoming third effort BattleBlock Theater–the dev claims on their website “Our development is 100% self-funded with support from fans who support our cause!” with a link to their games and merchandise. Taking them at their word that indicates that Microsoft only puts funding toward the exposure of Crashers, not the development.

In that case, I consider the game to fall on the right side of our line. Some wouldn’t, and they’d be tough to argue against, but I don’t feel that if one game receives more marketing support than another it should be forced to give up its indie badge and gun.

It’s undeniable that indie games are as popular as they’ve ever been. More than ever before, the indie scene has been brought closer to the typical gamer’s foremost interests. This has been accomplished through all walks of effort and perseverance from more individuals than we may ever know our give credit to. It leads me to beg the question: Why should an indie game lose its tag when the mainstream shows interest in it?

Rock_of_Ages_ACE_AtlusA notable point of contention in what I’ve written above is that we still cover partially-funded games that come from developer’s who were previously indie/independent such as Runic Games (Torchlight), Frozenbyte (Trine) and ACE Team (Zeno Clash, Rock of Ages.) All three developers have been picked up by publishers to develop sequels (or in ACE’s case a completely new IP) of their successful independent predecessors. Must our coverage halt right then and there because of this? Honestly, the jury is still largely out on the point, but let me explain why I personally feel compelled to write on it for both myself and our readers.

We like these games, and we like the people who developed them. We’re interested in what they’re cooking up next. For me it comes back to questioning why we must stop following a developer’s path simply because a publisher has picked them up based on their past independent success. That success is what enabled them to make their next game one way or another, if they look to a publisher to relieve some of the stresses they had to deal with during independent release (outside of development of course) should we then turn a blind eye?

Obviously, if the developer is ever wholly absorbed by their respective publisher and ceases to be some form of individual entity then there’s simply no argument, it can’t and shouldn’t be posted here.

All that said, and there’s still hundreds if not thousands of individual cases that could be argued either for or against in this never ending debate. There isn’t a single authority who correctly and absolutely categorizes what is considered indie in the vast sea of games and projects out there. So instead we research facts and rely on what are gut says a lot of the time. Not an exact science, but no one has ever claimed it to be.

Again, this is just one man’s (still developing) opinion on a very, very complex subject.