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

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‘Hotline Miami’ Hands-On Preview

Seldom has the term ‘Videogame violence’ been so appropriate. Hotline Miami is a game about the kind of stylized neon hyper-aggression that you can only get in videogames. A clean and orderly building becomes a canvas, and in a frenzied burst of activity, you paint it with redder-than-red blood and slightly-too-purple brains layered over turquoise shirts and sharp white suits, all while flashing score indicators leap out of the bodies of your fallen foes, and a score multiplier creeps higher and higher with each brutal, successive murder.

Hotline Miami is the first commercial outing by prolific punk game developer Cactus. Teamed up with graphic artist Dennis Wedin and published under the surprisingly indie banner of Devolver Digital, it’s probably safest to describe the game as a tactical shooter after an all-night cocaine binge. We won’t spoil anything about the rather mysterious storyline, but you can look forward to stepping into the shoes of a very dangerous man with a collection of rubber animal masks, who travels around Miami by night, massacring whole buildings full of heavily armed thugs.

The controls are tight – mouse to aim, WSAD to move and the space bar is all you need – and the gameplay is laser-focused. The current preview build only contains about half the levels and presumably not all of the gameplay elements that’ll feature in the full game, but it’s plenty to get a handle on how it works. Your goal is to kill absolutely everything and everyone that moves across a series of buildings – many with multiple floors – using whatever weapons you can scrounge up on the premises. The big twist is that unlike most action games, you’re just as fragile as the enemies. One good hit and you’re dead, and the enemies are just as fast and twitchy as you are, too.

Your only two advantages are that the enemies move in predictable fashion (each of the handfull of enemy types – white-suited grunts, attack dogs, heavier soldiers, etc – sharing the same AI), and that you’ve got an omniscient overhead view of the level. You’re unarmed, and you know that behind that next door is a medium-sized room with two enemies in. One has a baseball bat, standing in the center of the room, and the other guy is patrolling with a shotgun. If that gun goes off, everyone in the area will hear it and – as there’s three guys with rifles just across the hall – almost certainly kill you, so you time your attack just right.

You wait for the perfect moment and kick the door open, smacking the shotgunner full in the face as he passes by. He falls over and drops his gun, but he’ll be up in a moment. The guy with the baseball bat pauses for a fraction of a second as you charge in, long enough for you to get in a punch. He falls too. You grab the bat, straddle him and smash his skull open. The shotgunner has picked himself up, though, and grabbed his gun. Not having the time to cover the distance, you throw the bat, knocking the shotgunner down again, slumped against the wall. This time, you finish him with a boot to the face.

That’s three seconds of gameplay, spanning just one, simple room, and you’ve got another six ahead of you on this stage alone. Any pause, mistake or hesitation would have meant instant death, and put you back at the start of that floor. It’s hard to be frustrated even when you can die so easily, though – the game drops you back into the action as fast as Super Meat Boy or Trials – and there’s fun to be had in experimenting with different approaches, different playstyles and different routes through each area. There’s very rarely just one ‘correct’ solution.

There’s a complex scoring system, unlockable masks (each with a small but useful character perk attached) for hitting certain point quotas, and some clever variety in the levels themselves. The whole thing is incredibly tightly designed, and held together by an aesthetic that not only works in the games’ favour, but accentuates each kill and death by depicting it in the most garish, lurid palette possible. The music is rather brilliant too, as you can hear from the gameplay trailers.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Hotline Miami, with it already winning ‘best of show’ and ‘audience favourite’ awards at trade-shows. Now that I’ve had a chance to play it, I can see why people are so excited. Keep your eye on IGM for a full review once we get our hands on the final build.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – ‘Hotline Miami’ Hands-On Preview


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‘Hotline Miami’ Coming To Gamescom & Steam, Says This New Trailer

Not the biggest of surprises, but Cactus’ first commercial outing under the Dennaton brand – backed by Devolver Digital – is coming to Steam. Hotline Miami looks to be an interesting take on the top-down shooter, wrapped in 80s style and with an unmistakably Cactus vibe to it all. Here’s the new trailer, with a little bit of an announcement attached:

While I’ve not been able to play this myself yet, early reports have described it as a much more tactical, considered game than the psychedelic 80s aesthetic would suggest. You’re just as fragile as the enemies, and they outnumber you 30 to 1, so every level is an excercise in precise, fast, planned takedowns as you go room to room, collecting gear and picking off guards. Trials meets Hitman, perhaps. We’ll be systematically stabbing people until we find someone with a preview build to confirm this all first-hand.

There’s already a lot of excitement surrounding the game. It won the Eurogamer ‘Game Of The Show’ award when it was first demoed in public, and it looks like those accolades will keep on rolling in if the noises from the grapevine are anything to go by. No release date on the game yet, but those lucky enough to be at Gamescom this year will be able to try it out.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – ‘Hotline Miami’ Coming To Gamescom & Steam, Says This New Trailer


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Prickly Heat – Cactus Goes Commercial With ‘Hotline Miami’


Jonatan ‘Cactus’ Soderstrom is a strange man. Quiet, elusive, timid, and creator of a great many sense-pummelingly ‘punk’ games over the years. His output to date has included interactive music videos, disorienting nightmare mazes and Swedish redneck simulations. The vast majority of his output has been freeware, but his latest game – Hotline Miami – looks to be bigger, higher-budget and more involved than his usual fare. Just no saner. Here’s the neon-pastel debut trailer:

Teaming up with graphic artist Dennis Wedin, Hotline Miami looks to be taking on 80s crime fiction in psychedelic, hyper-violent style. Miami Vice, Scarface and more spring to mind, although I have a feeling that things may well turn a little more abstract as the game goes on, if the gut-heaving, reality-bending end of the trailer is any indication. The Cactus/Wedin team-up are currently calling themselves Dennaton Interactive Design Of The Future, and the game (once complete) will be published and distributed by Devolver Digital, the silly people who have been backing the Serious Sam franchise, along with its lo-fi indie spinoffs.

The full game is set to be 20 levels long, have 35 different weapons to brutally murder people with and 25 ‘game-altering’ masks to wear. There’s no set release date on this one, and information beyond this is slim. There’s an official site for the game, but to say it’s kinda spartan right now is understatement of the week. There’s also a twitter feed, which might be a better bet to follow. I’ve liked everything Cactus has produced to date, and this one looks to be bigger and more twisted than usual, so I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – Prickly Heat – Cactus Goes Commercial With ‘Hotline Miami’


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Freeware Game Pick: Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf

It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from prolific Swedish weirdo Cactus, but as of today he’s back and in fine form with Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf. Teaming up with the almost equally demented band Fucking Werewolf ASSO, this is what would happen if you took the concept of I MAED A GAME WITH ZOMBIES IN IT!!!11 and filtered it through Cactus’ perpetually psychedelic mindspace.


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Indie Links Round-Up: Picture Perfect

Indie_Links_round_up_cow_clickerAnother pile of Indie Links for you to sink your hands into. Let’s hope you do so with the same curiosity and vigor as Dr. Ellie Sattler when she sank her hands deep into the mound of dinosaur feces in Jurassic Park.

…Good movie.

A Simple Guide to Game Development Contests (Matt Hackett/Lost Decade Games Blog)
“I hear about game development contests relatively often, but it’s almost always too late to enter. I end up just being frustrated and wonder: “Where do people find out about these contests?”…So you found out about an upcoming contest and you’re interested. Should you try to put a game together to enter into the contest?”

Team 17: PSPGo Failed Because Of Price (James Chalmers/inc gamers)
“Studio head Martyn Brown revealed that digitial distribution dramatically helped the team with the releases of Worms 2: Armageddon and Alien Breed Impact.”

Interview: Cow Clicker Yields Ruminations On Social Gaming’s Tense Battle Lines (Leigh Alexander/GameSetWatch)
“When Ian Bogost launched the satirical Cow Clicker on Facebook, he didn’t expect to unearth massive conflict around the burgeoning social game space — nor to field the largest volume of criticism from his own colleagues. What does it all mean? Our own Leigh Alexander investigates…”

In-Depth: Skulls Of The Shogun Team On Going From EA To Indie (Ryan Langley/GamerBytes)
“The folks at Haunted Temple Studios went from EA-sized teams to a four-man operation, and they talk to our own Chris Remo on the transition and what they’ve learned while making their turn-based strategy game Skulls of the Shogun.”

Suisoft’s Gravity Core Game Project Postmortem (Gary Marples/Suisoft)
“The initial spark of Suisoft (and Gravity Core) stems back many years to an eight year old obsessed with computers and arcade games. The concept of being able to write code into a machine and make it do ‘stuff’ by itself was a concept much too intriguing to ignore. The typical modus operandi for family holidays would be to spend too long in darkened arcades playing the latest games (Ikari Warriors and Tiger Heli spring to mind) then arriving home clutching scribbled game designs and constructing imitations of the games.”

Preview: Life/Death/Island, Norrland by cactus (Tim W/IndieGames)
“Here is cactus’ presentation from No More Sweden 2010, where the Swedish developer demonstrates two of his most recent projects to NMS attendees. The first video shows a large chunk of Life/Death/Island, and the second part (which we’ve included after the break) features scenes from the upcoming freeware release Norrland.”

The Golden Coin Progress Update #1 (Damian Bernardi/IndieDB)
“The Golden Coin (TGC) is a free offline singleplayer 3D RPG in medieval-fantasy style.”

Review: NeonPlat 2 (JimmySH/TIGSource)
“White platforms need more neon, so in NeonPlat 2 Platdude takes his neon-painting pants to run and fill the platforms until his own doom. Soon, the screen overflows with baddies.”

Fire Hose Games – Getting to Know Your Developers [GTKYD] with Eitan Glinert (Alexis M/Gaming Bits)
An interview with Fire Hose Games founder Eitan Glinert on upcoming PSN title Slam Bolt Scrappers.

Baby Castles To Host Super HyperCube, Katawa Shoujo (Eric Caoili)
“NYC’s indie game arcade Babycastles will host another wicked party next week featuring a musical performance by chiptune artist Glomag and a selection of playable indie titles picked out by video games journalist and GSW contributor Matt “Fort90″ Hawkins.”


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Cactus declassifies Ultra Mission

Ultra MissionEveryone’s favorite painter of cognitive dissonance, Cactus, has just revealed his latest opus, a sort of dark and droll puzzle-Robotron called Ultra Mission.

Your task is to rescue the hostages through any means necessary. Use WASD to move; use the mouse to aim. Left click is shoot; right click is kaboom. You can destroy pretty much anything. The trick is to destroy the right things, and avoid being destroyed in the process.

As a Cactus game, it’s pretty tough and tends to reward thinking outside the box (as it were). The presentation is clean and simple, with lots of particle and blur and atmospheric effects to add to the texture. It’s tracked with nifty-weird module music, and there’s not much nonsense to it. You fail the mission, the game politely asks you not to do what you just did, and you immediately try again.

You can download Ultra Mission here. If you like your desktop icons where they are, beware of screen resizing.


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Daray Manning’s Baggage

baggage Undoubtedly Rockford Illinois’ premiere indie game developer, Manning betrays his Cactus/biggt heritage, as well as a touch of Eugene Jarvis, in his skewed-n-crackly platformer study Baggage. The game is one of those hardcore S&M things, where you die a dozen times just to work out how to get past an obstacle. The generous aspect is that modern indie convention of infinite lives and just trying again without a pause. Yet the game does a good job of instilling a certain dread, both though its difficulty and through its presentation.

Just about every line could use a carpenter’s level, resulting an a dissonant Dutch angle effect. Likewise, every solid surface is filled with an ever-changing static and the background (and sometimes the foreground) is filled with an ominous orange fog. Your character is tiny; the levels are comparably large on the screen. Each has a sort of strange, one-straw-short-of-familiar shape to it. Ostensibly helpful text scrolls across the screen, though it spends more time taunting or giving inane protips or generally being bleak.

You can only jump and double-jump. Whenever you touch a spike, you die. When you die, you die in a sudden explosion of pixel flame, accompanied by a deafening Robotron-esque “CHAAGF!” It will make you jump, especially if you didn’t expect to mess up. You will want to avoid messing up, to avoid being startled.

All in all, a neat, expressive entry to the dev scene. Although a deliberately simple riff on the now-familiar art platformer, there’s something delightfully organic here. You can download Baggage or play it online at YoYoGames’site.


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Cactus takes you to Norrland; reservations open

cover Space Fuck! and Krebswelte designer Cactus has joined Messhof in the realms of insane public display art games.

Last Friday, Cactus debuted the Swedish love letter Norrland at an art exhibition at Kulturbygden in Sollefteå. The game seems like an inscrutable collection of minigames that illustrate various aspects of Swedish life and culture, filtered through the mind of Cactus and a sort of Atari-meets-Grindhouse visual scheme. Wonder at the hunting, the fishing, the sexual uncertainty.

At the event, Cactus had ten hard copies of the game for sale. Nobody bit, so he has chosen to put the games for sale on eBay. It turns out there’s a larger audience online than in person, so good luck getting your bid in. Once all the hard copies are sold, Cactus intends to put the game online for the joy of you and me and three of your closest friends. That should be fairly soon, so I suggest a bit of short-term stalking.


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Cactus’ Krebswelte updated

KrebsWelte2'IGF Nuovo Award winner and Space Fuck! designer Cactus has released an update of his older… well, maybe the best term is roguelike platformer, Krebswelte. In Krebswelte you jump and aim and shoot; every bit of the level geometry is destructible (though it slowly refills, to prevent you from painting yourself into a corner); few objects are helpful, though treasure allows you to buy weapon upgrades, all the better to destroy your world.

The levels are randomly generated; as in a roguelike the only constant is an increase in difficulty from level to level, and only a single life to die… sort of. Usually. There are a bunch of quirks that make exceptions to the rules, and they’re best found for yourself.

The game is simple yet charismatic. The occasional NPC will chip in with a droll “Hello sir!” or “Fuck off!” There are far more particle effects than required, which actually slows down the game on some weaker computers despite the game’s otherwise minimalist presentation.

Improvements include the ability to reload by hitting “DOWN + Z” (or “R”), an increased rate of treasure chests, and a bunch of less obvious performance fixes.

You can download the game at Cactus’ blog.


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Impossible Castle: Dungeon [Freeware]

dungeon_freeware []From indie minds Mr. Podunkian and cactus comes one of the more difficult games you may ever play: Dungeon. Pretty simple stuff, an ultra low-end graphics platformer where you move through screen after screen of increasingly frustrating obstacles keeping you from the precious right edge of the screen. Be ready to use the standard platform controls of run, jump and die (repeatedly).

Though the game can be unforgiving at times, it does have a sweet side. Each room has its own title which adds a lot to a game that lacks really any other plot or text for that matter.

Dungeon weighs in at 3.5 MB and is available for download now.