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


The Indie Difference – Comedy

[This editorial was originally published in issue 31 of The Indie Game Magazine in March 2013]

The Indie Difference is a new editorial series intended to highlight specific elements that make independently-developed games special. The series is a celebration of the indie gaming hobby, with a particular focus on what differentiates indie games from their big budget, AAA counterparts. This time it is Comedy that falls under the spotlight.

If you’re reading this, then you’re presumably a pretty avid fan of indie games. We all have our own reasons for getting into the wonderful world of independent videogames, but it is likely we all have one thing in common — we turned to indie games because they offered something that mainstream releases didn’t. For me, indie games provided an escape from the po-faced, humorless realism with which the AAA industry has been obsessed this console generation. My discovery of the smaller, self-funded projects opened my eyes to the fact that there was more out there besides hokum, gritty action — videogames could actually be funny!

By their very nature, independent titles are clearly better suited to comedy than AAA releases. For starters, humor has proven a risky business in the mainstream games market; most big-budget comedy games of this generation have either been commercial flops like Brutal Legend, or lowest-common-denominator tie-ins like Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse. In this climate, it’s very difficult for a publisher to take a punt on a comic title with any confidence. The resulting lack of humor in the market has left it up to indies to fill the void, their smaller budgets and lack of publisher-reliance giving them more leeway to explore niche themes.


To get a perspective from within the industry, I contacted some independent developers whose games heavily feature comedy. First up is Andrew Goulding of Brawsome, developer of Jolly Rover and MacGuffin’s Curse. He suggested that the stagnation of the mainstream market was just a result of sensible business decisions by publishers.

“The rising cost of AAA development makes publishers risk averse.” he said. “Sequels and licenses sell, so do big genres, such as FPS, so anything that’s not one of those can be hard to get made with AAA publisher money. There are also smaller publishers in the casual/mobile space, but they generally have even smaller margins, so they want to spend a little amount on something that might be a big hit. Sequels, licenses and big genres in this space also apply. Publishers are a business, out to make money, so are after hits, so whatever is popular at the time will be what they want to invest in. This just makes good business sense. So yes, in a roundabout way indies are important for working in niche genres and creating new ones.”


As is the way of the world, business concerns naturally outweigh the search for creative fulfillment in the publishing business. However, in the indie space this is often reversed, with small teams working on games with individual passion and little concern for their resulting popularity. This creative community atmosphere is obviously great for nurturing and encouraging less common forms expression, such as comedy, and gives the resulting works a far more personal feeling than would be possible in a triple-A game. I contacted Jesse Ceranowicz of GZStorm, developer of surrealist comedy title Vidiot Game, to ask him his thoughts on how implementation of comedy differs between mainstream and indie releases. Unexpectedly, he defended the current state of humor in videogames.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say triple-A titles are distancing themselves from humor”, he said. “Franchises like Saints Row and Borderlands (just to name a few) employ humor in various ways and are quite successful at it. Indie developers tend to embrace humor in slightly stranger ways, but that’s mainly due, I think, to the fact that indies work in such a closed-in environment. That is to say, they work in such small groups, if not on their lonesome, that their humor cannot help but be geared more towards their own inside jokes and such.”

He raises an important point here, as it’s important to remember that humor isn’t completely lacking from the AAA landscape. The two examples he gives, Saints Row and Borderlands, have both enjoyed widespread popularity, managing to successfully avoid the curse of comedy. However, I maintain that there remains a distinct difference between how humor is implemented in independent and mainstream productions. When looking at it from this perspective, one could say that Saints Row: The Third and Borderlands 2 are the gaming equivalent of the big-budget, crowd-pleasing comedies which have a broad appeal in their catch-all brand of humor. Not necessarily a bad thing, sure, but meanwhile games like Frog Fractions and Vidiot Game represent the slightly more niche comedic efforts which have a significantly narrower audience, but are ultimately more rewarding for those in the know. It is their independence that gives them the edge. Their freedom to dabble in surrealism and in-jokes gives them the all-important feeling of something hand-crafted and personal, something which I feel is very difficult to convey in a game developed by a huge team.


In games like Saints Row, there’s the unshakable feeling that the inclusion of comedy was a decision made at a marketing level. It helped to give THQ a unique selling point and to differentiate their franchise from the oft-imitated Grand Theft Auto. Not to detract from the humor — Saints Row: The Third is a barrel of big, dumb, thoroughly enjoyable laughs — but it felt like the result of a focus group. Conversely, the comedy of indie games is often obscure, surreal, and feels human. The appeal is in its absurdity and unpredictability, the feeling that anything and everything can happen, creating more and more amusing gameplay dynamics and scenarios.

Frog Fractions is a great example of comedy that only an indie could have created; a multi-genre arcade game which evolves as you play, posing as an educational game for children. Even more incredibly, it was so bizarre and funny that it attracted mainstream attention, and ended up being promoted by major gaming websites such as Destructoid. Does this suggest that humor can be used to create a buzz around indie games, and help attract new players? Sparsevector, developer of Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, certainly thinks so, and this became clear when he told me of his development experience.

“Humor is a pretty big part of my game, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure“, he said. “In the game you control a 19th century wagon party facing surreal and bizarre dangers as they journey west. I think a big part of the appeal of the game is the dark humor in seeing your party die off one-by-one in strange and surprising ways. At its core my game is a simple side-scrolling shooter with some twin-stick shooting segments mixed in, but I think with the game’s unusual theme and humor I was able to draw in players outside of the traditional shmup fan base. While the humor doesn’t really affect the game’s mechanics, it has a big effect on the feel of the game.”


All other entertainment mediums have strong comedic presence, so why shouldn’t games? The growth and development of humor in videogames — nearly all of which is now coming from indies — is surely conducive to the growth of the medium as a whole. Humor has a great quality of attracting people, and could help games to find an audience outside from the typical ‘gamer’. This has certainly been the case with Frog Fractions, and by the developer’s own account it is also true of Super Amazing Wagon Adventure.

It’s the indefinable human touch which makes the comedy of indie games so great. Never afraid to be nonsensical, silly, or even self-indulgent, you can always count on indie devs to deliver the unexpected. I think it’s a great step forward that humor is showing signs of revival in the mainstream games market, and I have the utmost respect for titles such as Borderlands and Saints Row. However, I think the gaming comedy renaissance will come not from the big publishers, but from the bedroom coders and small studios who are willing to go the extra mile.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – The Indie Difference – Comedy


‘Jolly Rover’ Developers Reveal More Details About ‘MacGuffin’s Curse’

“Swiping the Lupine Twine Amulet was supposed to be an easy heist. But when I accidentally put it on, I ended up with incredible strength and the worst body hair problem I’ve ever had.”

Brawsome and Green Stripe Snake, the two developers behind the lighthearted, point-and-click adventure, Jolly Rover, comes a “werewolf comedy puzzle adventure”. MacGuffin’s Curse is a puzzle game with “the logical challenges of the classic top-down Zelda games with the quick-witted dialogue and sidequests of a vintage point-and-click adventure”.

The player is Lucas McGuffin, a thief and werewolf. He finds himself in a high-tech lockdown and must find a way to escape and lift the curse. In order to solve these puzzles, players will have to utilize and master the two forms.

Since our last post on MacGuffin’s Curse, we’ve learned a bit more about the gameplay of the game. “MacGuffin’s Curse uses a unique puzzle mechanic which is similar to the classic puzzle ‘sokoban‘.” From what we’ve seen thus far, it seems that the skills that trade off between characters most likely alternate between traversing the environment and pushing objects around it.

A hint system similar to the parrot from Jolly Rover is also present in the form of P.I. Strump. What I really liked about Jolly Rover was that the hint system was accessed by giving crackers to the parrot. That way it kept me from relying on the hint system and using it only when I really needed it, keeping me from getting stuck in the plot. I’m sure Brawsome will have another clever way to work the hints.

MacGuffin’s Curse is currently being developed for Mac, PC and iPad, and will be released on April 19th. You can look forward to our review in the near future. To learn more, check out the MacGuffin’s Curse website or follow


Indie Story Pack for $4.99 from Steam, Amazing Deal


This is a GREAT deal from Steam. For a mere $5, you can get some of my own personal favorite indie games. Games which, by themselves, would easily be worth $5. Instead you’re getting all five for $5. Amazing. The games included are:

  • And Yet It Moves
  • Gish
  • Jolly Rover
  • Puzzle Agent
  • Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale

The cream of the crop of this batch of games has to be Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale. It’s a great game that really showcases an traditional JRPG from a different perspective. Our own review of it was quite favorable, and our helpful walkthrough has proven very handy for many indie gamers. If you’re looking for a fun treat for yourself this Thanksgiving day, then look no further.

Sale last until tomorrow, November 26th, at 10:00am PST. Get it while the gettin’ is good!



Indie Weekend Sales: A Proper Mess


[Update] Indie Bundles and Star Ruler discount have been added.

Indie sales are here to make the many downers of September a little easier to bear. Take part in some of the solid savings offered across the following digital distributors:

Steam carries an eclectic grouping of discounts this weekend; as Scott pointed out earlier in the week, Brawsome’s adventure game Jolly Rover is 50% off (alternatively: Direct from Brawsome or D2D.) Train sim RailWorks goes for $20 off its standard $50 tag, while you can grab the music-powered casual game Rhythm Zone for 33% off ($10 normally.) Additionally, Exosyphen’s Hacker: Evolution titles have been added to the digital distribution service and given a 25% discount.

GamersGate is offering an even bigger discount on the original Hacker: Evolution title, dropping it by 50% down to just $10.

Impulse offers a solid discount on Blendo’s latest Air Forte, taking the $15 title down to $10.50. Star Ruler is $5 off at $20.

Also, don’t forget about those Indie Bundle Offerings Peter posted on.


Avast, Jolly Rover on Sale for Those Who Talk Like a Pirate

Avast, ye too can talk like a scurvy dog in Jolly Rover

Talk Like a Pirate Day is a glorious day for average people to briefly live out their fantasies of life on the high seas.  Verbally, at least.  And what better way to celebrate than with a pirate-y adventure game?  No, I’m not talking about Monkey Island, but rather Brawsome’s indie adventure Jolly Rover.  A couple of months back Mike had some very kind words for the game in his review, so if you haven’t picked the game up already, the holiday may be the perfect excuse to give it a whirl.

But don’t think that just because you can pretend to be a pirate that you should pirate the game.  As a matter of fact, Jolly Rover is on sale from now until Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th) for the price of $4.99, which is an absolute steal.

To take advantage of this deal, just head over to the purchase page on the official Jolly Rover website, or go through Steam, Adventure Shop, or Direct2Drive.


Finalists Announced for Freeplay Awards

Freeplay_FinalistsA month back Arsen posted on Freeplay IGF announcing the inaugural Freeplay Awards, an indie competition running alonside their August festival in Australia. Now, just over two weeks away from the event, the finalists for the competition have been revealed.

Several of our down under developers (and friends) check in as finalists for multiple awards including The Voxel Agents for Train Conductor, Brawsome for Jolly Rover and Farbs for the Captain Forever series. Other stand-outs that we’ve seen before include Alexander Bruce’s Hazard: The Journey of Life (mentioned in our E3 Podcast.)

The winners will be announced during the Freeplay Indie Games Festival 2010 taking place August 14 and 15 at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne. Congrats to all the finalists recognized, the full list follows:

Best Australian Game

Up Down Ready (Sword Lady & The Viking), Jolly Rover (Brawsome), Colourbind (Finn Morgan)

Best International Game

Bo (Mahdi Bahrami, Iran), TryFail (Anders Højsted, Denmark), Last Hope (Yellow Jam, Brazil)

Best Design in a Game

Up Down Ready (Sword Lady & The Viking), Hazard: The Journey of Life (Alexander Bruce), Train Conductor (The Voxel Agents)

Best On-Paper Design

Epic Adventure (Tobye Ryan), iCrazy Man (Timothy Ryan), Galaqua (Katie Murphy)

Best Art in a Game

Captain Forever series (Farbs), Hazard: The Journey of Life (Alexander Bruce), Doodle Find (KlickTock)

Best Concept Art

Exodus (Fiasco Studios), City Ruins (Evan Raynor), Speed Demon (Catbus Interactive)

Best Technical Innovation

Captain Forever series (Farbs), Colourbind (Finn Morgan), Up Down Ready (Sword Lady & The Viking)

Best Game Writing

Captain Forever series (Farbs), Hazard: The Journey of Life (Alexander Bruce), Transumer (PVI Collective)

Best Audio

Train Conductor (The Voxel Agents), Gamebook Adventures 1: An Assassin in Orlandes (Tin Man Games), Jolly Rover (Brawsome)


Indie Links Round-Up: Socially Aware

Indie_Links_NDAOur latest set of Indie Links gathered from far and wide consists primarily of conversations and connections between developers/enthusiasts and gaming journos/bloggers. There’s really nothing more easy going out there than those who work in the indie slice of the industry. Often, both sides reach out to one another often to form both a business and personal relationship and we all benefit for it. Check out today’s picks.

The Worth(lessness) of NDAs (IndieFund)
“It’s been almost two weeks since we opened up the submission process and the response has been fantastic, if somewhat overwhelming. We’ve gotten over 70 applications so far and we’re working through them as best we can. Please be patient with us… we will get back to you. One thing that has come up a couple of times is a request to sign an NDA, and that’s actually the focus of this post. We do not sign NDAs and would like to share the rationale behind this decision.”

Inteview: Andrew Goulding on Jolly Rover (Martin Mulrooney, Philip Jong/Adventure Classic Gaming)
“Jolly Rover is the debut adventure game from indie developer Andrew Goulding and his company Brawsome. Goulding is no stranger to the games industry, having worked for years as a game tester, programmer, and producer. Although comedy pirate adventures are certainly not unique to the genre, Jolly Rover seems to have taken on a new twist to an old theme by casting all of the game’s main characters as canines. Indeed, it is this unique design choice that makes Goulding’s game different from the competition.”

Unity Giveaway Contest Winners (Henley/IndieDB)
“Our Unity contest has come to a close, with over 50 entries and 10 amazing finalists, the quality of entries has been amazing. We asked for original concepts and we had an amazing response but in the end there can only be 2 winners.”

Interview: Dejobaan Games’ Lambe, Jaitley On Doing Things A Little Different (Mike Rose/GameSetWatch)
“Mike Rose sits down with two of the principals from super-quirky independent developer Dejobaan Games — creator of AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity and The Wonderful End of the World – to reference upcoming title ooo! ooO! oOO! OOO! and their unique way of approaching game creation.”

Talking Shop: Carpe Fulgur On Recettear (Alec Meer/RPS)
“The demo of Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale is one of the best things I’ve played in a while. A Japanese indie game pitching an RPG shopkeeper as the star… well, you can read all that in the last post. Given the slightly unusual nature of the project – it’s only available here thanks to a third-party translation company- I thought I’d chat to said translators about the why, how, who and what next. Interesting stuff – there’s this whole vein of (slick) indie gaming that we otherwise hear nothing about. Take it away, Carpe Fulgur’s Andrew Dice.”

LIMBO Review (Jeff Mattas/Shacknews)
“Playdead’s action-based, puzzle-platformer, LIMBO, [is] out for Xbox LIVE Arcade and to put it bluntly: prepare to die!”

Tom Jubert Talks Projects, Plots, Penumbra (Lewis Denby/RPS)
“At the Develop Conference in Brighton last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a beer and a chat with Tom Jubert, perhaps most famous for writing the excellent horror adventure series Penumbra. They’re dark and sinister games whose writing, and the structure of their storytelling, were often their strongest asset. Read on for Tom’s thoughts on the writing process, tales of game design tribulations, and his involvement in a major new title.”

Alhóndiga Bilbao Announces International hó Play Competition (Eric Caoili/GameSetWatch)
“Spanish culture and leisure center Alhóndiga Bilbao has announced hó Play, a new project that aims to present and promote video games that “stand out for their originality, creativeness, and innovation.”"

The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Delve Deeper (Justin McElroy/Joystiq)
“This week we talk Lunar Giant Studio’s Adam Eidukas (Lead Developer) and Neil Wickman (Creative Director / Lead Artist) about how Adam FULLY beat Final Fantasy with just the thief. … Oh, also they made a game.”

Interview: Riot Games’ co-founder talks about Season One of League of Legends (John Callaham/Big Download)
“The game didn’t get a lot of attention from the mainstream game industry or the media when it launched last October but today it looks like League of Legends has been a huge success for its developer/publisher Riot Games. The company made the free-to-play multiplayer RTS-action game with some of the people behind the popular WarCraft III mod Defense of the Ancients.”


Jolly Rover Holding Its “Christmas” Sale

Jolly_Rover_DemoYou can now snag the pirate adventure Jolly Rover for 50% off its usual price down to a price point of $10. Mike recently shed some positive light on the adventure tale in his review, so if you’ve been waiting for a chance to pick it up, there is no better time than now.

All you need to do is snag the discount code from Jolly Rover’s website and input it in the ordering page. You’ll then be sent a Steam download key in order to add the game to your library.

The sale runs from today through July 25th at midnight (though I think that’s Australian midnight which actually places the hour at 7am Pacific Standard time on Sunday, which would be 12pm Eastern and 5pm GMT).

So there’s no better time to hit the high seas than now.


Arrrrrrrrrrrrrf!… Jolly Rover [Review]

jollyrover1With Lucasarts releasing special editions of the wonderful Monkey Island point-and-click adventures, now is as good a time as any to get in on the adventure gaming action. Jolly Rover is a homage of sorts to the iconic swashbuckling series, featuring pirate dogs, clever puzzles and plenty of treasure.

With some hilarious, fully-voiced dialogue, unique puzzle ideas and enough collectables to keep both casual and veteran adventurers happy, Jolly Rover comes as a bolt from the deep blue to deliver quality point-and-click gaming which is well worthy of your time.


Jolly Rover plays out like an adventure title from The Curse of Monkey Island era, with incredibly simplistic controls. Players click on items and scenery, and Gaius will interact, spouting his thoughts and picking up anything he deems useful. Hovering the mouse over the screen shows which parts are selectable, depending on whether or not the name of the item pops up.

Moving the mouse to the bottom of the screen shows the inventory. Items from here can be selected then used with anything in the current scene, or simply examined. The idea is to gather together every available item, then use what you have to move the storyline forward. If you’ve played an adventure game before, you’ll know what to expect.

What really shines through with Jolly Rover is the amount of effort the developers have put into ensuring the player is never completely stuck for too long. When a player hovers the mouse pointer over items which are yet to be examined or have new uses, the text will show purple rather than white, signifying that there’s something to be done with it.

jollyrover2There are also a variety of hints and tips available for those who are finding the going tough. Gaius’ parrot friend can be fed a cracker, at which point he’ll spew up clues and answers to the latest head-scratcher. For those who would rather not be given clues, it is not essential to ask the parrot anything – in fact, there’s an achievement for completing the game with no help whatsoever.

The simple and casual-leaning element to the game is reinforced with the top ‘score’ bar. Players are given a rank, which is constantly changing and means absolutely nothing. A score is also on display, harking back to adventure games of old – again, it means nothing, as it doesn’t state what the maximum score available is.

The top bar also shows what your current quest is – of course, this means that there is only ever one mission at any one time, which any adventure gaming veteran will know is not usually the case in a game of this calibre. Again, this is a far more casual affair than your usual point-and-clicker, yet at the same time is really doesn’t lose any of the charm as a result.

Make no mistake - Jolly Rover oozes charm and wit. Gaius throws out genuinely humorous remarks about situations and characters, and some of the puzzle ideas definitely put a smile on my face.

In many cases, you can feel the inspiration the team has pulled straight from the Monkey Island games. Without mentioning the blaringly obvious pirate setting, lots of the dialogue plays with old MI gems and Gaius sometimes even refers to the fact that he knows he is in a game – a trick which Mr. Threepwood would occasionally dabble with.

There is even voodoo magic involved – although Gaius goes one step better than Guybrush and actually gets to play with it himself, leading to some really interesting learn-then-recreate situations and tongue-in-cheek chanting.

jollyrover3Not everything is quite so perfect, however.
Sometimes upon selecting a part of the scenery, Gaius will make a remark, then leave it be. Hover over it, and the text will now be white to show that it is no longer useful. Yet later on, after the story has unfolded a little more, previously useless items will begin to show as purple again and this time Gaius will grab them, as he has now found a use for them.

This would be fine, expect that the white/purple divide can be a little offputting. Once an item has turned white, that should surely mean that it is no longer useful, period. Any other adventure gaming character would just grab the item anyway, in the hope that it will prove valuable later on, but this method of play can lead to some confusing results.

There is also no way to manually save. The game apparently auto-saves when you quit – yet, a number of times when I shut the game down, I’d later return to find that an item or two were now missing from my inventory, and I’d have to go and grab them again. Allowing the player to save exactly at the point they are up to is a must in adventure gaming, and it’s surprising that this is not implemented here.


Jolly Rover really looks the part, with lovely cartoon visuals and a unique cast. The game is filled entirely with dogs, the majority of whom are pirates. I mean, when was the last time you played a game brimming with canines, let alone canine pirates! It really adds to the comedy value and makes some of the jokes even funnier than they should be.

The general scene layouts and interface are understandably reminiscent of the majority of 2D adventure games – in fact, it feels a lot like the game has been built right on top of the previously mentioned Curse of Monkey Island. I can’t be 100% certain, but I believe that the text used throughout the game is the exact same fonttype used in Curse. It is a really nice clear font however, so you can’t really blame Brawsome!

The entire game is voice-acted, with some quality actors roped in and plenty of brilliant lines delivered. It’s always a worry when dialogue is voiced in a smaller production like this, as the quality can sometimes be rather grating. No such problem here – it’s all a joy to the ears and the game definitely thrives for it.


After the death of his clown father, Gaius James Rover goes to live with his uncle at a plantation. It is here that he accidently creates the brew ‘Jolly Rover’, which soon becomes one of the most prized drinks in all the Caribbean.

Gaius quickly becomes bored, however, and goes back to his dreams of wanting to start his own circus and follow in his father’s footsteps (pawsteps?). While his uncle is away, a contract comes in which would potentially leave Gaius with enough money to fulfil his dream. Unfortunately, this is his first step into the world of pirates and cutthroats, and he soon finds his dreams hampered. Your job is to get him out of his predicament and back on the path to his juggling-based dreams.

It’s all very silly – for example, his father died of a blow to the groin after a loaded cannon joke goes horribly wrong. It also makes you really feel for Gaius – he is a rather posh-talking pup in the midst of a band of rapscallions, and yet he manages to fare pretty well. That feeling of ‘a fish out of water’ is always present, giving the game a lot of personality.


I had a great deal of fun with Jolly Rover. It suffers from the same problems that the majority of adventure games have - getting stuck can be a bore, and sometimes it feels a little slow-going – but it’s definitely one of the better adventure games I’ve played in recent times.

It’ll take you several hours to see it all the way through to completion, and even then there are pieces of eight, crackers and flags to collect, which unlock Steam achievements and open up concept art, bios and the soundtrack.

If you’ve been looking for a ‘proper’ adventure game to get your mitts around, look no further. Jolly Rover is funny, charming and clever, and will keep you hooked right through to the end.


Jolly Rover Demo Arrives

Jolly_Rover_DemoBrawsome has released a playable demo for their dog o’ the sea adventure game Jolly Rover, now available for download through ModDB.

The free offering allows quite a bit of the game to play, around 1/3 of the title in all which equates to about two hours of gameplay to make your way through. Currently the installer is only for the PC, but since the game does have a Mac client Brawsome head Andrew Goulding mentions that anyone interested in a Mac demo “let me know” and he’ll “get on it.” A supply and demand offer, with the ball in your court people.

The demo weighs in at 126 MB, from the desciption:

This be the Jolly Rover demo! This here demo be givin’ ye a right fair go o’ Jolly Rover, some be sayin’ it be around 2 hours o’ gameplay! Yaharr! That be a mighty demo!

This is quite a large demo of Jolly Rover.

This demo gives players around 1/3 of the game to play for free. If you’d like to buy the full version, please check out the site at

It contains an installer for PC. Want the Mac version of the demo? Let me know, I’ll get on it =0).

I sincerely hope you enjoy the demo =0).

I’d be happy to hear from anyone about their thoughts on the game. Tell me, tell your friends, tell the world!