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

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Rainy Day Deal – Strangeloop’s ‘Vessel’ 66% Off Today Only

Here’s a handy public service announcement to everyone who likes nice things such as steampunk style, fluid dynamics, clever puzzles, platforming, mutton-chop-sporting inventor heroes and fantastically moody soundtracks. As of just a couple hours ago (so you’ve still got almost a full day) Strangeloop Games’ excellent Vessel went on sale for $5, down from its regular $15. The game is on Steam, but buying direct from the official (Humble Bundle-run) store not only gets you a Steam key, but also a DRM-free version to do with as you please. Double the fun, better for the developers, and cheaper for us Euro-dwelling folks to boot.

Our resident inventor Gerrard Winter went and reviewed it a while back and found it to be a lengthy, deep and satisfying bit of gaming. His two core complaints – glitchy animations and poor platforming – have since been addressed by an impressive series of patches and updates for the game, so you can feel free to add a few percentage points to that final score in your head. It’s a surprisingly varied and expansive game for a small indie release, and the graphics are spectacular in motion, albeit a little odd looking in screenshots.

It’s a bloody good game, and something I’d wholeheartedly recommend to almost anyone, but if you’re still on the fence after all this enthusiastic poking and cajoling, then there’s a playable demo available on Steam as well. Be warned that the demo is based on the original/pre-release codebase, and isn’t nearly as tuned, optimized and refined as the post-patch release. Just remember – buy it direct from Strangeloop, if you can. Better for the developers, and you get a Steam key for your troubles anyway.


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Blow Up Your Brain With ‘Gateways’, Released Today On PC

Gateways

If you’d like to kindly step this way, we’ll just sit you down on this chair, carve a hole into your skull and forcibly remove your knotted brain while you play Gateways. Sound good? Let this be a warning to the rest of you too – if you play Gateways you’re about to say bye bye to your loose grip on sanity and what little understanding of physics you thought you had. You can thank Smudged Cat Games for such a tortuous treat, who hasn’t long released The Adventures of Shuggy on PC, but somehow managed to cram two brain stretching fun-filled gaming experiences on to our monitors in as many weeks.

Yes, it’s June 22nd (two little ducks for you bingo players) which means that Gateways has been released on PC. You people who are waiting for it on your Xbox 360, sorry, you’re going to have to wait until later in the year. This is of course the 2D Portal-like, which takes the idea of using ‘gateways’ to not only move from place to place in quick succession, but to also change size, travel through time and flip gravity. Seriously, if you haven’t tried out the game before now, or even watched some gameplay, your head will expand due to the mushroom cloud exploding between your ears.

Just in case walking through gateways to such tremendous effects wasn’t impressive enough, you’ll have to solve puzzles using this advance technology as well of course. It’s pretty tricky stuff at times, but you can get through it with at least some of your brain intact…hopefully. No, in all honesty, you will make it through just fine because there are power orbs to collect and with these you can buy hints, but you should only do so if you’re really stuck.

Currently, Gateways is only available for Windows and costs $10 to purchase, which you do so over on the official website. Prefer to try a demo out first? Well, alright then, here you go.


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Bundlemania – Groupees ‘Be Mine 3′ Bundle Rolls Into Town

Now this is just getting a little silly. You can’t swing a cat without someone snatching it, bundling it up with a bunch of other indie cats and selling it at a discount price. Groupees are back again with their third ‘Be Mine’ Bundle, and while it’s an unusual bunch, it looks to be worth the money yet again. 7 games for a minimum of $4, one more if you stretch to $6, and an as-yet-unrevealed ‘cult classic’ to be unlocked later, if sales continue apace. Let’s look at the games.

First up, we’ve got the most questionable choice in all this, but still easily recommendable. The first two Oddworld games; Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus. Platform puzzle adventures in the style of Flashback/Another World, and set in a charmingly dark, twisted and humorous alien world where the peaceful, nature-loving Mudokons plot rebellion against their profit-driven industrial Glukkon masters. These games are notable for their impressive difficulty, amusing conversation system, and having a fart button. Here’s the original, nostalgic TV commercial for the game from back in the day:

Next, and my personal reason for jumping on this bundle like a rabid ferret is Avernum: The Second Trilogy. While Spiderweb software (ostensibly a one-man outfit) are busy remaking the first three Avernum games to bring them up to modern spec, the second half of this ridiculously huge saga of individually massive old-school RPGs is up for grabs. Each of these three games is normally $5 on Steam individually. Set in a sprawling underground prison-nation, each game is notable for being very open-ended and having multiple core plot threads, each leading to their own conclusion. As the second trilogy doesn’t seem to have a trailer of its own, here’s one for the recently released Avernum 1 remake, to set the scene:

The newest item in this bundle is Hamilton’s Great Adventure. A block-hopping puzzle-adventure game by Fatshark. While you’ve no doubt seen a few games like this before, the production values for this particular specimen are sky high. Reviews were generally favourable for this one when it was first released, so I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can get through this one before my brain melts into bubbling meat-slag, as it tends to do when I make any attempt to win a puzzle game.

After all that, we’ve got Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45. While the more recent sequel might have received some pretty scathing reviews (and from what I’ve heard, recent updates haven’t improved it much), the original Red Orchestra is still a rock solid multiplayer shooter. Leaning very much on the realistic side of things, with very deadly gunplay and not even a crosshair (or fixed reticule, for that matter) to help you, it goes a long way to capturing the horrific meatgrinder atmosphere of those frozen Russian battlegrounds. Originally a mod, it was the winner of Epic’s Make Something Unreal contest and graduated to the status of full retail game.

Lastly is the bonus game, included if you pay $6 or higher. Garshasp: The Monster Slayer. An action-adventure/brawler patterned very much after God of War and the modern Prince of Persia games, and apparently based on Persian mythology. Sadly, it seems to be a bit of a low-budget knockoff, and hasn’t exactly accrued many positive reviews. In fact, mockery of the game seems to be impressively widespread. Instead of your regularly scheduled trailer, here’s Bro Team’s take on the game. Be warned, their videos are loud, dumb, dripping with sarcasm and potentially NSFW:

There’s also the now-customary bunch of indie albums included in the mix, and as with most successful bundles, there’s also a charity aspect to it. It seems to be a little more specific and personal than most. Rather than pouring money into the Red Cross or Childs Play, 20% of takings (or 80% of all payments over $25) go to paying the exorbitant medical bills of a 13-year-old girl with cancer. It’s ridiculous that fundraising like this even has to happen in first-world nations, but it’s the sad truth of the matter.

Anyway, cancer (and Garshasp) aside, this is a solid bundle, and ridiculously cheap if you’ve any interest in the Avernum series. I’ll be buying this all right now. Everything in the bundle is for Windows, and every game activates on Steam. And just in case you wanted double the Garshasp, that activates on Desura, too.


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Fight!: ‘Battle High 2′ Gameplay Footage Outed

Mattrified Games have spilled the beans on some of the gameplay mechanics avid fighting game enthusiasts can expect to experience when Battle High 2 gains an official release.

In a short gameplay trailer, footage of an agile, red-headed charactre named Michelle is showcased, along with a basic representation of how the fighting engine and combo system will function. Bear in mind that the following video sequence has been taken from an early build of the game, meaning that it probably won’t be completely indicative of how the end product will shape up.


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‘Secrets of Grindea’ Scoops Top Honours At Swedish Game Awards

Pixel Ferrets’ Secrets of Grindea has been presented with the Game of the Year award at the recent Swedish Game Awards ceremony.

The retro RPG, which features co-operative play for up to four simultaneous users, impressed the judges with its charming graphical style and the substantial depth with which its loot system has been crafted. The game will be released on PC, either during late 2012 or early 2013.


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Nature Doesn’t Stand A Chance: ‘Environmental Station Alpha’ Trailer

Environmental Station Alpha

Hip-hoppity, golly gosh! Hempuli, that developer of magical things, has released a trailer for his 6 month old project, Environmental Station Alpha to make sure that people know about it. So, if you’re “people” then you need to know about this (no really, it’s pretty dashing stuff). The game started out as a “dream game” for Sir Hempuli – a simple metroidvania with powerups and the like – but he wanted to make something a little more original. Ideas not entering through his brain door, he soon decided to just start making the game anyway in as simple way as possible.

So don’t expect anything mind blowing here, just a lot of plush pixel porn accompanied by some rather spiffing music from Roope “Noby” Mäkinen. Seriously the music from the trailer is worthy of some of our pennies right this instance – where do we sign? Ah, it’s a free download on this page, marvellous! On the other hand the game is not available yet and nor will it be for probably about half a year longer, presuming progression continues as it has been so far.

See? That was a nice trailer, wasn’t it? To recap – you’ll be playing as a brave robot adventurer who is sent to investigate the signs of life being shown at the titular isolated nature reserve which was thought to be entirely defunct. You’ll land, walk to the right and then investigate at free will which area of the station you want to investigate first. It’s going to get nasty the further you venture into this overgrown ecosystem, but powerups to be found on the way will help you, oh steel hero.

Now that you’ve seen the game in action you might be inclined to keep up with its development. If you do there are two portals that need concern you: the official blog of Hempuli and the TIGSource development thread. Good luck, brave adventurer!


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‘Indie Zone’ Lineup Revealed For Games Britannia: REPLAYED Festival

Gunpoint

Oh hey, Britannia – I know that place. Well, if you reside on this island of bizarre weather patterns, tea and stuck up biff-boffs, then you might well be interested in a spot of indie game playing and the meeting of their tea-sipping hosts. We are of course referring to the Indie Zone at the Games Britannia: REPLAYED festival, which is to take place at the Magna Centre in Rotherham this July 7-8th.

Basically it’s a big celebration of British games with aims at raising of awareness of various resources available to those that want to get in the industry as well as showcasing some of the best examples of British games. Now, over here we all know that the best games are indie games, so if you make your way over then you should most certainly check out the UKIE sponsored Indie Zone to see the following developers and their bracketed games:

More information on all the events at the Games Britannia: REPLAYED festival can be found on the official website.


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Getting Better: Robert Yang, LGBT Content, And Identities In Indie Games

Condom Corps XL

At Tuesday’s Rants panel at the Games For Change festival, game designer Robert Yang opened his talk by introducing himself as a practicing homosexual, and began a rapid-fire talk about identity in indie and serious games. He talked about his work on Radiator – the series of experimental semi-episodic single player mods for Half-Life 2a single-player mod for Half Life 2. For those that don’t know Radiator has the player sitting in a therapist’s office, being berated by their husband. It’s about gay divorce.

Yang also mentioned work on another game, Condom Corps XL – a sex-ed game in which the player looks through the windows of a building to the sight of men in their underwear. The player’s task is to shooting condoms of the correct size at the men’s bulges. Yang describes it as a play on the macho bravdo of mainstream shooters. It’s also an interesting play on the male gaze – both taking on the role of the lecherous viewer, and subjecting men to that appraising view.

Ok, so I probably wouldn’t play a package-size game, but it raises good points. Why not have handsome male NPCs ending up in strategically ripped clothes as often as female NPCs seem to?

Yang referenced Anna Anthropy, author of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters and designer of indie games with overtly LGBT content. Anna Anthropy’s games are very personal, and offer another, underrepresented identity. Another shout out went to Christine Love and in particular for her work on Analogue: A Hate Story – a game about transhumanism, marriage, loneliness and cosplay. Yang was shocked but very pleased to see such an interesting and complex game was sitting next to the likes of Call of Duty on Steam. A clear sign that changes in what games are and what they can be is taking place.

As an often-sidelined female player and designer, it’s quite easy for me to get caught up seeing gamer identity as either Mainsteam Male, that stereotyped angry 18-24 year old with a collection of AAA console titles, or the Female Other, forgetting how many other identities don’t even get a mention. A while ago, one of my players commented on some dialogue and characters that I’d developed for Next Island, laughing at an unrealistic age gap between a young woman and her much older suitor. It wasn’t meant to be personal expression; I’m constantly aware that I provide creative ideas on someone else’s project, according to a company’s vision, and yet, that piece of my experience slipped into the games’ content.

Radiator: Handle With Care

Yang seems enthusiastic about the future of queer themes and identities in games (I don’t think you can follow Jane McGonigal as a speaker, and then say anything negative about games). I’m glad that this shift towards more forms of identity and more nuanced identity is happening, especially in the realm of experimental indie games, and I hope it will continue to make its way into more mainstream games, such as Yang’s example of Mass Effect.

The indie game community is constantly growing, as new tools and tech allow more designers into game creation. More identities, more stories and more backgrounds coming into game creation can mean new experiences for us as players, and an example that mainstream games may want to follow. It’s great that indie games allow the freedom for these kinds of explorations to take place and continue to further the potential of the medium and human expression. You should most certainly check out the rant in Yang’s own words on his blog.


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Many More Orcs Must Die On July 30th

Orcs Must Die was a very pleasant surprise. Less traditional tower defense, and more like a hybrid of Tecmo’s underrated Deception series, and Toys For Bob’s obscure (but brilliant) The Horde, and super polished to boot. The only consistent complaint levelled at it was that even after DLC, the multi-route nature of the levels felt like it could do with a second player to spread the load. That’s exactly what Robot Entertainment are bringing to the table in Orcs Must Die 2, and it’s due out next month.

There’s a full press release up on the official site where you can read many bullet-points about shiny new features and content. Right now, there’s no price tag set, but I’d personally be surprised it was more than $15 at launch. They also mention that owners of the original PC version (suggesting very strongly that OMD2 will be a Steamworks title) will get some bonus unlockables in the sequel.

It’ll be interesting to see how the sequel shapes up, and whether the game will be sufficiently well balanced to support both solo and co-op play. Still, the original OMD was shockingly polished for a smaller downloadable title, and Robot Entertainment are far from being an amateur studio. We’ll be trying to weasel a review copy out of their impenetrable, spike-laden fortress soon.


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Zero To Hero: ‘Captain Disaster’ Gunning For 2012 Release

If there’s one thing that this trailer has crowbarred into my blackened mind, it’s that the galaxy can muster a collective scream of terror if the one thing standing between its residents and catastrophe is an emaciated numpty from Birmingham.

Captain Disaster, a point-and-click adventure game undergoing development in the capable hands of David Seaman (no, not THAT David Seaman), along with his accomplices, Taxler Endiosk and Robert McManus, looks set to weave a tale of menacingly cringeworthy comic silliness with a novelty sketch of a male reproductive organ etched in for good measure. It follows the exploits of the hapless titular protagonist, who’s saddled with the unenviable task of having to sort out an intergalactic kerfuffle of epic proportions.