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

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Jon Blow And Chris Hecker Push Game Design Ideas With The First ‘Depth Jam’

Depth Jam

From May 17th to May 20th, four developers rented a house in California and worked intensely on their games. Those developers were Jonathan Blow, Chris Hecker, Daniel Benmergui and Marc ten Bosch. The games they worked on were The Witness, Spy Party, Storyteller and Miegakure respectively.

The plan was to, well, Chris puts it well over on the post about it all – “our goals for the Depth Jam were to go deep into the design of a specific part of each of our games, answer a specific design question, or solve a specific design problem.”

The idea came from Blow and Hecker discussing the problem of game jams, they say that they’re good things but ultimately lead to shallow games that don’t advance game design much, if at all – only the very rare occasion. These thoughts led to the GDC 2012 rant by Hecker entitled Please Finish Your Game. So they came up with an alternate to this in which they decided they would have to go to a retreat somewhere, pick only a handful of people and work on games that they had already put a many number of hours in.

The Witness

The original plan was to actually include someone from thatgamecompany to work on Journey at Depth Jam but by the time they actually got around to arranging it properly, it was too late for that to happen. So after talking with Daniel about Storyteller they invited him over instead.

Once they had found a quiet place to conduct the Jam, they all met up for those few days with some questions about their games which they would present to the group and then discuss in two hour sessions and possibly implement later in the day. It seems that the games they were working on have been changed a little bit as a result of the Depth Jam, but how they have isn’t revealed too much.

Chris discussed Spy Party in terms of advanced Sniper play and deductivity with the highlight/lowlight mechanic. Daniel was left with a tough decision with Storyteller as he wanted to take the game in a new direction so he created some more puzzles to be discussed at the jam. When it came to Marc and Miegakure, his main concern was the game’s world – whether it should be compact or more illustrative, he also had a couple of levels to try out from later in the game. Jonathan Blow’s changes and ideas with The Witness have not been revealed. They do say that there will be a post-mortem of the event though and will reveal in much more detail what kinds of things they did with their games via their various blogs at a later date.

Depth Jam

They’re hoping that the idea will catch on in some form, leading more developers to focus on pushing game design on their bigger projects, as well as having the fun meet-ups and creating their smaller games in the other game jams.

More information about the Depth Jam is written down over on Chris Hecker’s website.


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Spy Party Priced for Early-Access Beta

Spy Party developer Chris Hecker has revealed a two semi-tier pricing for his indie superstar title. For $15, players can have early access to the Spy Party Beta. Chris provided his rationale for the pricing: “$15 has become the de facto price point for AAA Indie Games, and it’s almost certainly what I’ll price the final game at on the various platforms, assuming XBLA, PSN, and Steam are still operating when I ship in 100 years.”

The latter part of that statement should indicate where Chris is in terms of shipping a final product. However, thanks to the beta, eager fans don’t have to wait until that hyperbolic centennial milestone.  When Spy Party does release, beta purchasers will get it for free on PC.  Chris is pretty confident he’ll be able to give out a key for activating it on Steam or another digital distribution platform.  ”If/when I end up doing a MacOS port, you can have that version too as part of the deal, in case you’d rather play there.”

Fans have also offered to pay much more than $15, to whom Chris has been happy to oblige. For $50 or more, fans can get the same beta access AND their name in the credits. In wanting to keep Spy Party a player-skill game, Chris has shied away from rewarding those higher donors with ”badges or stars next to their name in the game or in the forums, or any exclusive gadgets in the game, or a special plaid jacket, or a fancy hat.”

Want to get caught up on the player versus player phenomenon? Check out DIY’s earlier Spy Party coverage.


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SpyParty Early-Access Beta Sign Up Starts Now

SpyParty‘s psychologically intense espionage gameplay has finally reached a point that developer Chris Hecker is comfortable to share with the general public. For those of you just joining the wonderful world of indie games, please check out DIY’s in-depth coverage of this new genre-defining destined hit.

To that effect,  SpyParty now has a sign up for early access to beta testing. The developer needs the game to be in people’s hands for longer than brief convention intervals to be able to “balance and tune the game to the intense player-skill depth I’m striving for.” Chris Hecker will do so by “using real data and feedback from a large number of players over a long period of time.”

The current plan is that beta access will cost $15.  The blog states that “this will let you play the beta as much as you want as I update it over SpyParty’s development, and also get you a copy of the finished game when it’s released on PC.” Given how successful SpyParty has been at seducing the general media and gamers, this beta price isn’t probably far off from what its actual price may be. If anything, $15 for SpyParty is probably a deal!

The sign up page is here


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PAX East: Chris Hecker on Spy Party’s Public Expo, Realism [mini-view]

Spy Party never ceases to create a long line of intense onlookers. DIY, and every other indie site, has been drooling over and covering Spy Party from Chris Hecker for a good while. PAX East presented me the opportunity to meet Chris and talk a little bit about the game. He felt the large lines were bittersweet. The attention was great for him, but it also meant most people are not getting to the advanced content he was working on. However, that didn’t sway some people from coming back to see the new maps.

DIYGamer: So how are things progressing with Spy Party this year?

Chris: “Well, it was an IGF finalist, so that meant it was going to be on the show floor. So, I decided I’m going to put a bunch of stuff in and trying to get it done for GDC. I got it mostly done. I fixed a bunch of bugs between GDC and PAX.

“It’s not really a good show floor game, actually. There’s a four-page manual. It’s a really depth-based game. So it’s great that people play the game, but it sucks people can’t play the game the way it’s meant to be played. You know, two hours in, you’re still learning stuff.

“It’s really important to me that everything is fine-tuned right now, because I’m doing that depth-first thing. And I can make it accessible later. I’m lucky in that most of the stuff I do actually plays ok for beginners, too. It’s a little confusing still, but that’s why the first map has only four missions.”

“Not many people do these deep player-skill games these days. It’s much more about avatar skill, grind your guy up. It’s hard to test these things. You need someone who’s been playing for 10+ hours.”

What are your thoughts on the IGF outcome?

“It’s a fun show. It was great to have it on the show floor. Two girls and three guys ran the booth the whole time for me. I thought I would lose to Minecraft, and I lost to Minecraft. So that’s pretty much expected.”

Are you shopping around for publishers?

“Not exactly. The best strategy for me is to make the game so freaking awesome that they all come begging me to put it on their platforms. But if you show it too early [to publishers]… that’s part of the reason I show the game a lot and talk to press a lot. It’s never too early to start building awareness of the game. The kind of press and exposure I want is this: people come up and play the game and are like ‘that was totally awesome. Let me go tell my friends.’ There was no line yesterday.”

Were there any people that asked about the graphics?

”I got a couple people telling me that I have to keep the graphics. The graphics are ugly. But they have a certain charm, I guess. Eventually it will be really polished. The Incredibles is a big influence… really stylized, not trying for realism. Realism is a total trap. Even with 200 people you can’t really do realism. But I want to make it timeless. You wanna envoke that 60s Casino Royale kind of thing, but not be 60s.”

************

I was happy to babysit Chris’s laptop for him to do another interview. The interview clocked at about 8 minutes, which lasted the duration of one round. Eight minutes sounds pretty intense to be locked in a battle with one person, meticulously watching his or her every move. And the fans keep coming back for more. Spy Party is definitely onto gaming gold.

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Spy Party Seduce Target Mode Detailed

spyparty_seduction

Chris Hecker has revealed the new Seduce Target Mission for his upcoming one-on-one espionage title Spy Party. The mission is one of several new items the developer is putting together for GDC next month.

While it’s still being tweaked, in the playtest version of seduce target mode spies must get into a conversation and flirt with a target three times without being detected by the sniper.  The latest playtest Hecker ran produced some interesting results for both the new mode and new maps that he provides metrics for.

The dev plans on adding one more mission to what’s currently been revealed for the latest build to show off alongside the game competing for IGF’s grand prize. He also mentions that he moved to this mode after deciding to put the Poison Drink Mission on the back-burner, so that’s another playmode we could see down the road.

Spy Party is still very much in development (the balancing must be painstaking), but we’re hoping to have something to play at some point this year.

[Spy Party]


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Two New Spy Party Maps Revealed

Spy_Party

Chris Hecker has peeled the curtain back on a pair of new maps in development for his highly anticipated 2-player espionage title Spy Party. Let us discuss said maps.

The first area “Balcony” (pictured above) may very well end up a living hell for the spy. The space is very small and only holds 7-8 people total, making it a cinch for the sniper to keep an eye on all the characters at the event. This makes the task of either placing a bug on the ambassador or contacting the double agent for the spy incredibly difficult to pull off undetected.

veranda-side

The “Veranda” map is quite a reversal, offering the spy a wide area with 22 characters to blend in with. Plants, bookshelves and statues are spread throughout and several conversations are constantly taking place. Additionally, the sniper can never view the entire level from a single position, so their eagle eye will have to stay quite active to pick up on the spy’s movements/actions.

Both should be good additions to the much more balanced ballroom map we’ve seen the game demonstrated on prior to these new reveals. Now if only Hecker would reveal when we could get our hands on the darn thing.

[Spy Party]


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Top 10 Break Out Indie Games of 2011

Monaco 6

Check out our Top 10 Break Out Indie Games of 2012!

This is easily one of my favorite posts of the year. In fact, since about June I’ve been looking forward to crafting this piece. Last year I came up with a similar list of games and, while they weren’t all correct, I’d say I nailed at least 4 and a half of them:

  • Super Meat Boy
  • Joe Danger
  • Max and the Magic Marker
  • Shank
  • Puzzle Bots (the half point for being in PAX 10)

Not too bad of a percentage, if I do say so myself.

So, while you may be pondering what indie games are even being released next year, allow me to thrill you with my predictions for 2011′s break out indie games.

(Alphabetically)

Bastion

Bastion001

I’m sure, as you’ve probably surmised by now, that I’m absolutely in love with Bastion in both gameplay and artwork. Just check out my glowing preview from this past year’s PAX 2010 to get a good indication of my thoughts on the game.

Still, despite my personal opinion, it also makes sense that the mainstream media and consumer would be interested in the game. It’s very polished, offers a unique storytelling mechanic, and is overall an easy sell for people on both the Xbox 360 and Playstation Network. In fact, I’d be surprised if Bastion wasn’t picked up as an exclusive for one of the two consoles.

[Super Giant Games, Trailer]

Faraway

Faraway001

Faraway was a game that I wasn’t able to play until this past year’s IndieCade and remains the only mobile game on this list. While I’ve no doubt there will be many popular indie mobile games next year, I believe Faraway stands out above everything else I’ve seen thus far in it’s unique, almost ambient, styled gameplay.

Oh and for those who took that as “yet another art game” I assure you that Faraway tries to do nothing than offer itself as a fun, addictive mobile game, of which I believe will absolutely capture the minds of attention of mobile gamers everywhere.

[Steph Thirion, Video]

Fez

Fez001

Is anybody really surprised Fez is on this list? Fez is a game that was originally promised in 2010, but, unfortunately was pushed back to 2011. No matter though, the game has long been awaited by mainstream press and consumers alike.

The game itself features a unique puzzle platforming type gameplay that has you shifting the world around in order to move Fez in and around obstacles. It’s certainly a unique angle to take on a game and one that seems to resonate with all kinds of gamers.

[Polytron Corporation, Trailer]

Monaco

Monaco 4

Monaco. There’s so much to say about this game and only a couple of paragraphs to say it in. Coming out of nowhere at the 2010 IGF to win the grand prize was certainly a good start to what has been an amazing year for the game and its owner.

Today, Monaco is constantly reported on the mainstream press and maintains a stronghold on the consumers’ eye for 2011. Now if we could only figure out what platform the game is due to come out on we’d be set. Look for Monaco to be one of the premiere indie games next year.

[Pocketwatch Games, Trailer]

Retro City Rampage

RetroCityRampage001

Okay, so Retro City Rampage is still “planned” for a release in 2010. I can see the official reports that were listed a couple months ago. However, I have it on good authority that this game may be slipping to early 2011.

Regardless of when it actually ships, though, Retro City Rampage will be the must-own WiiWare release of the year. There’s not many of them each year, but I can guarantee you that this will be one of them. It has enough open world action, combined with classic video game satire/humor to make any old school gamer sit up and take notice.

[Vblank Entertainment, Trailer]

Slam Bolt Scrappers

slamboltscrappers3

Born out of MIT’s Gambit game lab, Slam Bolt Scrappers maintains its place as one of the most interesting PSN games of 2011. When the game isn’t trying to be a Tetris-like puzzle game, it’s trying to be an action game. It’s absolutely insane. The best part is that the game seems to mesh the two genres so perfectly. It’s chaotic, yes, but fun as hell.

Of course, obviously the game has a lot going for it and because of that the mainstream and common gamer has seemed to take notice. When it ships in early 2011 this could be the PSN game everybody compares themselves too.

[Fire Hose Games, Trailer]

Spelunky (Xbox 360)

spelunky-xbla-02

Who wouldn’t have guessed this game would make the list? While it’s not necessarily an original game, Derek Yu is updating the graphics and adding enough new features to it so that it will certainly feel like a fresh new game.

Of course, that’s not to say it wouldn’t sell were the game not being revamped so much. Spelunky is arguably one of the most popular PC indie games, up there with the likes of legends Cave Story and Knytt. When this game hits XBLA next year, expect it to make waves.

[Spelunky World]

Spy Party

SpyParty001

I’ll be honest. I don’t know a terribly large amount about this game. I wasn’t able to play it at PAX and I, unfortuantely, have not been able to talk to Chris (the developer) about it. What I do know, however is that the game constantly had an incredibly large crowd surrounding the Chris’ PAX booth at all times. If that’s not indicative of success I don’t know what is.

But aside from all that, the game does have a fairly unique premise in its spy/assassin party premise. The one thing I could see holding this game back is a niche release on PC. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of distributing support the game gets in 2011.

[Spy Party]

Tales from Space: About a Blob

AboutaBlob002

Fresh from new developer Drinkbox Studios, About a Blob is destined to be the other exclusive PSN game that has people talking. From the onset the game immediately feels like a sort of 2D Katamari, but with oodles of charm and a character who you’ll immediately fall in love with.

Recently picked up by Sony’s indie funding initiative, expect a decent amount of marketing to be used on this game, not to say the press isn’t already aware because we most certainly are.

[Drinkbox Studios, Trailer]

The Witness

TheWitness001
Two words: Jonathan Blow. The second game from the legendary creator of Braid – arguably one of the greatest indie games ever created — The Witness immediately has a different feel to it. That’s not to say it won’t be as good however. If we know anything about Jonathan Blow it’s that he knows how to create an interesting game premise.

Of course, being that the game is being created by none of than the same guy who created Braid, you can bet the mainstream media won’t let this one go without showering it with tons of press.

[The Witness]

And that’s it! Those are my picks for 2011′s break out indie games. Note that I’m not necessarily saying they will be the best or most fun. I have no way to indicate if these games will actually be any good upon release. However, given their status right now I’m feeling pretty good about my predictions.

Did I leave one off? Do you have another game you think will do better? Let me know in the comments!


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Indie Links Round-Up: Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

spyparty_indie_linksIndie Links flexes its muscle for the third time this week, I like this whole M,W,F thing–we’ll see if we can keep it going consistently. Plenty to check out today, including more info on GameStop’s acquisition of Kongregate. Highly anticipated titles (Shank, Trine 2), innovative games (Spy Party), explanation and exposition…it’s all here, enjoy.

Interview: What GameStop’s Kongregate Buy Can Mean For Indies (Leigh Alexander/Gamasutra)
“GameStop’s acquisition of indie Flash game and social hub Kongregate represents a gain in the major brick-and-mortar retailer’s strategy to stay in step with fast-evolving digital trends. And while the small-developer community ethos of Kongregate might initially seem at odds with the corporate retail change, the companies see it as a net gain for all involved.”

Ten Super Cheap Xbox Indie Games You Have To Play (Matt Miller/GameInformer)
“We’ve all been there. Microsoft points never manage to come out even; just like carnival tickets, you always have a few left over. But what to do with that extra change after you buy some big new Live Arcade game or DLC expansion? We’ve gathered together 10 of the best Xbox Live Indie games that cost between 80 points ($1) and 240 points ($3) for you to explore.”

Spy Party Hard: Hands On With Spy Party (Kieron Gillen/RPS)
“Andy “Monaco” Schatz’s cat is being slowly broiled alive. It crawled behind the oven, which was in the process of cooking Macaroni & Cheese. It’s only later that Andy’s Delightful Wife is alerted by the frantic yelping of a distressed pussycat. We’re about to play SpyParty at my hotel room when the alert comes through, leading to a frantic cross-San Diego dash to try and rescue the pipping-hot cat from its furnace-crammed state. The Andy is trying to get his landlord on the phone, to see if there’s any reason why they can’t just pull the oven around. He’s failed. Meanwhile, Spy-Party-dev Chris Hecker is insisting that it’ll be fine, and we should just act immediately heft the cooker to release it. Let’s do this thing! We do this thing, and the cat runs free. I’m not sure this is a metaphor about Chris’s position in the industry or SpyParty or how he’s a man capable of making hard decisions swiftly, but it was too good not to share. And I wanted something to separate this initial report of SpyParty from all the other pieces online, because I’m basically going to echo what they all said. This is looking like something genuinely startling.”

Interview: Trine 2 and Beyond- Exclusive With Frozenbyte (Uğur Yurtsever/Tom’s Hardware)
“As you’ve already known from the great announcement just before E3 2010, the surprise was Trine 2 and it should be the revenge chance for us to get some cool details about the game. We loaded our most powerful weapons with old womanish questions and fired it directly to Helsinki, Finland… Frozenbyte headquarters of course!”

COLUMN: Abbott’s Habit: Blood, and Steel, and Bacon (Michael Abbot/GameSetWatch)
“Abbott’s Habit is a monthly GameSetWatch column by writer and Brainy Gamer blog author Michael Abbott. This month, he looks at DeathSpank and the evolving role of comedy in games.”

‘Shank’ Interview: Jamie Cheng CEO of Klei Entertainment (The Gaming Liberty)
“We recently threw a few questions at Jamie Cheng, the founder of Klei Entertainment. Jamie and his team at Klei are about to unleash Shank on PSN, XBLA and PC and look set to have a monster on their hands. This game is going to blow you away. Here’s what Jamie had to say about everything from Shank to God of War, Digital Distribution, Double Dragon and why playing Shank renders playing boardgames obsolete…..sort of…”

Hands-On: Arvoesine (Derek Yu/TIGSource)
“Arvoesine is a new platform game from Alastair John Jack, the creator of the entertaining platformer RPGs Ainevoltas 2 and Final Vision. The game puts you in control of a little Roman soldier who can attack with a sword or spear, and has a shield to defend himself with. The goal of the game is to make your way through five short stages, fighting a boss at the end of each stage.”

Interview: Ron Gilbert On The Synthesis Of DeathSpank (Chris Remo/Gamasutra)
“Designer Ron Gilbert is best known for his landmark LucasArts adventure games Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, but his career has also encompassed children’s games at Humongous Entertainment, and he served as producer on Chris Taylor’s ambitious large-scale RTS Total Annihilation. His latest game, DeathSpank, debuts on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network a few weeks ago, and represents the addition of the action-RPG to his repertoire.”

Nuclear Dawn Dev Diaries: In the shadow of Russia (tcviper/IndieDB)
“With the trailer preparations and raw footage shoots done, we can finally resume our scheduled transmissions. Let’s take things up a notch, as we reveal one of Nuclear Dawn’s most treacherous maps.”

Interview: Nitrome’s Annal on Keeping Their Retro Flash Game Ideas Fresh (Michael Rose/GameSetWatch)
“Continuing his series of interviews with notable independent game developers, Mike Rose catches up with the Brits behind popular retro-style Flash game site Nitrome, discussing their approach to free browser gaming and their inspirations.”