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


‘Guncraft’ Preview – Win The War One Block At A Time


Sun Tzu once wrote, “All warfare is based on deception.” He also wrote, “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” Sun Tzu was certainly wise and an impressive general, but can his tactics be applied to videogames? Traditionally, it is difficult to deceive in videogames; the battlegrounds are established, the boundaries are known and it is often suicide to feign weakness. However, what if you could alter the battleground at will? That is the central principle behind Guncraft that goes beyond destructible environments, although they do feature. In Guncraft, it is possible to build structures, defences and immovable objects that alter the battlefield, how players will play and how battles will play out.

The best way to describe Guncraft is Call of Duty meets Minecraft, and it’s a description you will likely see a lot. The team is well aware of the Minecraft comparison as you can see from the beta launch trailer. As in Minecraft, players can tunnel their way through objects, build using a variety of materials and create magnificent structures. For the pacifist, there is the Free Build mode, which can also be played in multiplayer. This gives players access to all building materials and as much of everything as their little pixelated heart desires. Unfortunately, unlike the creative mode in Minecraft, players are unable to fly so some thought and forward planning is required for certain projects.

As the name implies, Guncraft adds guns from assault rifles to sniper rifles, along with grenades and melee weapons. The main game modes are Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, which are pretty straightforward. The main difference to a more traditional deathmatch game is that players can leave their own mark on the environment. To restrain players from popping up a never ending stream of blocks, there is an in-game currency used to purchase blocks and ammo. Don’t get too attached to anything you build in the competitive environment though; absolutely everything can be destroyed and levels are reset to their default state after each round. However, you can use the environment to your advantage by destroying blocks to launch sneak attacks or construct on-the-fly traps.

The default levels are diverse and interesting. Players can currently choose to wage war around the CraftTower and nearby supermarket, on the Star Wars themed EmpireStrikesCraft, in the house from Home Alone, in New Haven, on the Egyptian themed TempleOfBlock, in Winterfell, or on a blank canvas. It’s the little touches that really complete these maps and show the care that has been taken with them. The supermarket in CraftTower is stocked for whenever the war is won and the victors need refreshments, while EmpireStrikesCraft features AT-AT Walkers, turrets and laser shots in flight.


The game has that familiar cube-based Minecraft look in terms of graphics and it works well. Everything is distinctive and easily identified. Stairs do cause some issues however and it is a little unusual to have to leap up them. Hopefully the sound will be tweaked in future versions. Currently, each block is placed with a metallic clang, which is a little disconcerting when you’ve just planted a flower. It’s a small gripe and will certainly be altered for final release.

More updates are planned with a Capture the Flag mode to be released in the next version. The team has also promised unique never-before-seen game modes, extensive leaderboards, clan support, chat rooms and more. Anticipation is building for the full release of Guncraft; a mix of a first person shooter and Minecraft should be a great title. It is certainly shaping up well so far and it will be interesting to see the developments that are in store.


Exato Game Studios has successfully financed the project via Kickstarter. The PC beta is currently ongoing and there are some tweaks and additions expected for the final version. A launch for the full release has been pencilled in for some time in June. The team also hopes to bring the title to the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace, but a release date has not been set yet. The team can be followed on Facebook and Twitter for further developments.


Learning The Craft: ‘MinePackage’ Offers Chance To Create ‘Minecraft’-Esque Games

If Minecraft is the king of the indies, it’s fair to say that there are a huge number of would-be princes out there. Mojang’s wildly successful title has paved the way for a seemingly incessant supply of pretenders, each trying, and ultimately failing, to replicate their bounteously voxel-tastic source of inspiration. Thanks to a user posing under the pseudonym of jc_lvngstn on the Unity forums, however, budding creators now have the opportunity to use Minecraft as the basis for their own intellectual gaming endeavours.

Entitled MinePackage, the program in question is an open source toolkit that’s been around for over a year now, yet which has received surprisingly little attention considering its generally favourable reception amongst its users. Rather than settling for blasé Minecraft clones, MinePackage encourages seasoned Minecraft users to use the utilities laid out in its toolbox to generate their own unique gaming concepts within a Minecraft-inspired universe. As such, it’s possible to have a go at crafting (aren’t I a comedic goldmine?) a theoretically unlimited range of gaming genres, all safely wrapped up in a familiar package.

MinePackage can be downloaded on its official SourceForge page.


Editorial: Craft Service

i_am_errorOver the years, game design has calcified. If I were to pick a turning point, I might point at the SNES — a system of broadly appealing games that delivered exactly what people expected of a videogame, challenged few perceptions, and established the status quo for 2D console-style game design. Since then it’s been hard to get past the old standards — the prettied-up enhancements of Super Mario 3, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid that added little new in terms of expression or design language, yet that refined the hell out of some proven favorites.

You could say that the SNES was the epitome of Miyamoto-styled design (even in games by other developers), and you’d have a reason for saying that. Namely, it was the Miyamoto Box: Nintendo’s reward to Miyamoto for the broad appeal of his NES catalog. Meanwhile Miyamoto’s opposing force, in Gunpei Yokoi, was rewarded for his invention of the Game Boy by having his studio removed from mainstream console development to support his brainchild. The message was clear: Miyamoto’s way was the successful one, so he would be in charge of everything important from here on.

The thing is, Miyamoto is just one voice. He had a few brilliant ideas in the mid-1980s, all born out of a particular context and in response to particular problems. And then by the turn of the ’90s he was pretty much dry. All that was left was to codify his ideas, turn them into a near law of proper design — regardless of context — and then sit back to admire his work, while new generations carefully followed his example as if manufacturing chairs or earthenware pots. A videogame was a videogame, much as a chair was a chair. It was a thing, an object, with particular qualities and laws.

Thing is, videogames aren’t things; they’re ideas. A game mechanism exists not in a vacuum, as a fact, but as a solution to a problem. Mario jumps so as to make use of the vertical space on the screen. He attacks by stomping on enemies or punching from below out of economy; his main defining trait is his ability to jump, so there’s a practical effect to both the upswing and the downswing. What makes Super Mario Bros. so effective, on a systemic level, is the tangibility of the player’s exploration. Compared with earlier games, it is revelatory to lump so much behavior onto physically touching the environment. The game is both visceral and curiously intimate.

That isn’t to suggest that jumping is the best use of vertical 2D space, or that leaping on or leaping into creatures or objects is an ideal way of interacting with an environment. This isn’t to suggest that the game’s level progression is ideal. Just because (given the right powers) you hit blocks in Super Mario Bros., and (given the right powers) you burn or bomb or lift blocks in Zelda, and (given the right powers) you shoot blocks in Metroid, that doesn’t mean that a chain of special powers and tiles, blocking the player’s path, is an ideal game structure.

You get the idea. One way or another, most mainstream games have evolved from the Miyamoto model. Not just on consoles, either; Carmack and Romero’s debt to Miyamoto is well-recorded, and fairly obvious in Keen, Wolf3D, and Doom. In a more sophisticated sense, Valve’s debt to Doom brings the theories to present on both shores. Granted, Valve tends to be more contemplative than most, with Half-Life 2 almost being a Super Mario Bros. style State of the Art address. Yet in its deconstructionist brilliance, it pretty well shows up the lack of ideas elsewhere. Even six years later, there’s not much been much advance on, or even equal to, the game’s grasp on player psychology.

There are some solid reasons for this lack of progress. For one, commercial videogames are expensive, limiting their potential audience to people who like “videogames.” For another, any established audience tends to drift toward the familiar. The most a fanbase ever wants is a slight twist on its object of attachment, or else it becomes unrecognizable. Remember how much people hated The Adventure of Link, for the NES — in some ways is one of the bravest and most sophisticated sequels ever made. The reason? It was too different from the original Zelda. So the third game was pretty much exactly like the first again, except prettier and a bit more polished, with a few new gimmicks. And to this day, gamers won’t shut up about it.

Another problem is of the cart-before-the-horse that is technology. Mainstream games keep getting more and more expensive and difficult to make, just to make use of all of the processing power of each new generation. Yet for all that processing power they’re not exploring many ideas that were impossible ten, fifteen years ago; they’re too concerned with just making back their investment — which means selling to as broad an audience as possible, where the audience has a very specific idea of what it wants.

In the wake of Nintendo and Sony, that audience has gotten large enough to command a certain voice, suggesting that there is an outlet for these expensive monstrosities, yet it’s too small and narrow to leave much room for alternative perspectives. Nintendo got around the problem by targeting non-gamers and people who haven’t played games in years. Which is brilliant in principle. And then, being Nintendo, they didn’t do much of anything with the idea. Oh well.

But now we have alternative channels. We have the Internet, we have cheap design tools, we have communities of individuals who grew up on videogames and who think in game design the way that New Wave auteurs thought in film. These aren’t people with a huge budget, or an audience to placate; all they have to please is themselves, and maybe a few peers. And videogames are a palette through which to explore their ideas. The atmosphere lends itself to asking questions — why do so many games revolve around killing and death? Why is Mega Man so hard? What’s the point of RPG statistics? What does all of this mean, anyway?

And so somehow, right now, and as of the last few years, it seems all the important questions, and most of the relevant answers in game design, are coming not from the institutions with the budget and the influence to command attention, but from a handful of hack programmers, putting in a few hours after their day jobs or between term papers — the way it used to be, twenty-five, thirty years ago. Videogames have gone through the maelstrom and come back to zero, a bit confused but also just a little more mature.

If videogames are an exchange of ideas, perhaps it’s best that exchange is between individuals.