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

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Heroes Rise: The Prodigy

Heroes Rise: The Prodigy is an interactive fiction game for PC, Kindle, iOS, Android, and Linux. You play as a young would-be hero, in the Powered world of Millennia City, but when the game opens, you are an underpaid, part-time videogame tester, so low-level the execs don’t even know your name. (I’ve actually been in that position, and I loved the industry nod from author Zachary Sergi.)  Since your famous Powered parents were jailed after a botched operation, you’ve been living quietly with your gardening Grandma, under an assumed name. But all that will change when you get your hero’s license….

The game is a text-based adventure, using ChoiceScript, in the vein of Choice of Romance, and Choice of the Vampire. I love interactive fiction games. I’ve played a lot of Adventure, Zork, and similar text-only games, so I’ve spend a lot of time trying to open doors with  Use Key, Turn Key, Unlock Door, and Use Key With Lock where Use Key In Door was required.  ChoiceScript, though, avoids the most frustrating part of  IF games by providing multiple choice options instead of asking users to enter text.

Heroes Rise presents a scene, with full descriptions and developed characters, and asks the player how they react to that scene. Do you want to fight defensively, offensively, or with total disregard for any collateral damage? Do you want to work with the police or avoid them? Be polite or a brat? Do you follow the laws for Powered heroes all of the time, or only when they line up with your plans anyway, or do you and your Powers deliberately flout the laws of basic humans?

Good gameplay has been described as “a series of interesting decisions”, and Heroes Rise moves beyond an electronic version of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book by asking players about their motivations as they make choices. Are you taking this on to rid the world of evil, get revenge, make money or get famous? This aspect makes it easier to connect with one’s character, and adds to that willing suspension of disbelief that all good superhero stories require.

Identifying with one’s character is quite easy, after you’ve chosen your name and gender, customized your herosuit and powerset, and chosen a personality for your omnipresent MeChip virtual assistant.  You also impact interpersonal relationships by the dialogue you choose, making the characters and relationships so much more engaging.

My only complaint is a common ChoiceScript annoyance. I couldn’t find anyway to save the game partway through, besides leaving open the browser window in which I was playing the game, an inelegant but effective workaround. It’s not always practical to play through in one sitting. I was also frustrated when I got to particularly interesting narrative forks, and wanted to save the game at that point, and try the second one later. It didn’t seem like fun to try to remember everything I’d done to get to this stage in order to recreate my existing game, and then try the other choice.

Overall, Heroes Rise: The Prodigy is a great interactive superhero adventure story. With the Kindle or iPad edition, this is a grown-up and streamlined version of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure paperbacks we read in grade school.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – Heroes Rise: The Prodigy


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3D Blaster Master Tribute ‘Helena The 3rd’ Adds Co-op, 90% Off This Weekend

Blaster Master holds a special place in the hearts of many NES-era gamers. Sadly, I’m British – the land Nintendo largely forgot until the SNES – so I wasn’t exposed to it until years later. Grumbling aside, it was a compelling mix of non-linear (vaguely Metroid-esque) platform shooting in a bright red and remarkably agile tank. You even got to jump out of the tank from time, exploring certain passages on foot.

Helena The 3rd (the unusual title being a reference to the oddly named tank – Sophia the 3rd – in Blaster Master) is all that and then some, and now for Windows, Mac & Linux PCs. A cute cel-shaded look, mouse aiming instead of digital 8-way targeting, and a mix of side-scrolling, third-person and first-person stages. It was originally released quite some time ago, although the developer seems to have been actively supporting it ever since.

A built-in level editor was one of the key post-release selling points, and there was a recent Kickstarter to help fund the latest addition to the game – full online/networked co-op. The Kickstarter failed (and hard), but the co-op got added anyway. To celebrate the release of the new version, the price of the game has been slashed by an enormous 90%, putting it at approximately $1 or your regional equivalent. You can read more about the game on IndieDB, and snag it while it’s on sale this weekend via Desura. There’s a playable demo available if a buck is still outside your ‘impulse buy’ price range, too.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – 3D Blaster Master Tribute ‘Helena The 3rd’ Adds Co-op, 90% Off This Weekend


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Knytt Underground is coming to PS3 / PSN later this year

Indie game developer Nifflas and production company Green Hill just announced a partnership with Ripstone Publishing that will bring the latest version of Knytt (pronounced Knight) to the Playstation 3 Console.  For those of you that have never played Knytt.  Stop reading this right now and go download Knytt Stories.  Seriously do it.  It’s free.

So now that you’ve played Knytt, you should be really excited for the rest of this story.  Knytt Underground is the grander sequel to the massively popular freeware games Knytt and Knytt Stories.  As you can see from the images, Knytt Underground is already looking beautiful.  Nicklas Nygren, Creative Director at Nifflas states:  Knytt Underground is the biggest game I’ve ever developed and is the first game where I feel that I have a story to tell. It’s about the big questions; trying to understand life and our place in it – and failing completely.”  That along with a few images is all that’s really out there about Knytt Underground, but I expect there will be a large 2D landscape to explore freely similar to Knytt Stories.

Knytt Underground will be available on PlayStation®3 and PlayStation®Vita later this year, but is also coming to Windows PC, Mac, and Linux.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – Knytt Underground is coming to PS3 / PSN later this year


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Indie Royale’s ‘July Jubilee Bundle’ Launches

One path to drain your wallet into indie gaming ends, and another opens. Indie Royale are back with yet another bundle, and this one – as with their last few – looks to be a genuinely good mix of games. Especially good for RPG fans; despite filling up only a single slot in the lineup, the Geneforge saga is no less than five huge games by veteran CRPG studio Spiderweb Software.

So, as with previous Indie Royales, this is almost all for the developers. Steam and Desura keys offered where available, and direct downloads whenever possible too. There’s only a couple of games here with Mac support, and none for Linux, so this should be considered a Windows bundle. Here’s what the pack includes:

Puzzle Agent – Telltale’s take on the Professor Layton series. Not their greatest, as some of the puzzles are kinda awkward, but the Fargo Meets Twin Peaks atmosphere and twisted humor help hold it together. Uses the art and setting of cartoonist Graham Annable’s ‘Grickle’ world to great, and occasionally disturbing effect.

The Geneforge Saga – Five full length CRPGs by one-man uberstudio Spiderweb Software. While not exactly pretty games, there’s some genuinely interesting gameplay here, with you playing as a Shaper – part wizard, part genetic engineer – trying to piece together the secrets behind a research-facility island gone silent long ago. Rather than raise a party, you grow your own minions and customize their stats. Each game has multiple main plot routes and there’s five of them here. Expect to invest 100+ hours to get through the whole series, easily.

Oniken – I’ve only played the demo of this one so far, so seeing it in this bundle has put a big grin on my face. It’s a NES-style platformer done in full late-80s style. This means big burly anime dudes slicing up giant evil robots and posing menacingly against flaming backgrounds. The demo was rock solid, like a blend of Ninja Gaiden and Strider. Can’t wait to dig into this.

Mutant Storm Reloaded – I’ve been a long-term fan of PomPom Games, and Mutant Storm was the game that really put them on the map for me, and this is their updated remake. Robotron updated with wibbly graphics and some very distinct-yet-awesome Retro sounds. A nice scoring system, too. Clear enough levels without losing a life and your score multiplier rises, but so does enemy speed. Much more creative level layouts than most twin-stick arena shooters, too.

SWIFT☆STITCH - Sophie Houlden’s clever one-button maze puzzle game. Navigate a fairly complex 2D arena, collecting target stars along the way by using just your a single key to switch between movement in two directions. Much more complex than it sounds, as the levels are remarkably intricate, and contain multiple warp points and barriers that reverse the two directions you can move in. Very nice soundtrack, too, and does a surprising amount with simple vector graphics.

UnEpic – I’ve not played this one, but I’ve heard plenty about it. A slightly tongue-in-cheek Metroidvania platform RPG that seems to have racked up a lot of positive reviews, and has been repeatedly rejected for release on Steam, despite being a fairly consistent seller on Desura. UnEpic is brought up regularly as a key example as to why Greenlight needs to launch sooner, rather than later. Also included in this bundle are a few bonus in-game items for UnEpic via a special unlock code, presumably to give new players a bit of a foot up.

Oddly enough, this bundle just about fills up my Summer wish-list. Mutant Storm Reloaded was among the high-ranking ‘wants’, as was UnEpic and Oniken, so I’m making out like a bandit on this one. If you think the devs of these games deserve a little extra money, then throw a little extra cash at the bundle – it’s Pay What You Want stuff, after all. Those who pay over the average push down the ‘base’ price for others, plus get a chiptune album as a little sweetener.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – Indie Royale’s ‘July Jubilee Bundle’ Launches


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World of Goo “Sequel” – Little Inferno goes up for Beta Preorder

From the Designers of World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth, comes Little Inferno!  The game just went up for preorder and early paid beta access over on Tomorrow Corporation’s official website.  Unfortunately, there is no real information on the actual gameplay mechanics but it is described as a game where you throw your toys, credit cards, screaming robots, etc into the fire and play with them as they burn.  It certainly sounds interesting and experimental, but what else could you expect from Kyle Gabler (2D Boy – World of Goo), Allan Blomquist, and Kyle Gray (Henry Hatsworth) – a small division of the Experimental Gameplay Group.  Tomorrow Corporation was kind enough to post a teaser video for their paid Beta / pre-order announcement:

The game is planned to release on Windows, Mac, Linux and Nintendo’s next console the Wii U, but for $15 you can get first crack at it.  There’s no playable build yet, but the Windows Beta should be coming soon.  You will receive an early look at the game’s soundtrack immediately after purchase with beta builds of all the versions and the final game to eventually follow.  Are you feeling adventurous? or are you like me and want a playable beta or at least some gameplay footage before you cough up any cash?

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – World of Goo “Sequel” – Little Inferno goes up for Beta Preorder


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Freeware Game Pick – ‘Defenders Of Avalon’

Arthurian myth is pretty great, at least according to this little bit of no-brainer shootage. Arthur, the magic god-king that soared through the skies, slaying hundreds of undead menaces and the occasional bikini-clad evil warrior lady was a pretty rad sort of dude. As was his long-haired and probably quite handsome compatriot, Merlin. Together, they dodged many bullets and exploded all of the evils of ancient Britain. And so goes The Tale of King Arthur: Bullet hell edition, also known as Defenders Of Avalon.

DoA is a solid, respectable take on a genre that requires quite a deft hand at game design, and is free for Windows, Linux & Mac PCs. While I think that the movement could be a little smoother and tighter, and the player hitbox a tiny bit narrower, this is a forgiving enough bit of mindless action. The graphics are simple but sharply rendered, and the multi-stage bosses are quite satisfying to fight, especially in their later, more aggressive forms. You have a health bar instead of the usual one-hit-kill system, and a generous number of lives, although it’s still not a walk in the park, as you can probably see from the screenshot below.

You’re also given the option of playing as Arthur himself, who has a wider shot pattern and a melee alternate attack, or Merlin, who has narrower, more focused shots and a chargable shot alt-fire. After a few plays, I found myself vastly preferring Merlin, as his ranged damage output just seems to be far higher than even focused, close-up fire from Arthur. Either way, it’s down to personal preference, but the design of most shot patterns rewards safely staying out of reach, so Arthur’s melee attacks are somewhat reduced in effectiveness. You can download Defenders of Avalon from its official site here, although genre fans who want something a little more refined might want to take a look at the recently released StellaVanity demo.

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – Freeware Game Pick – ‘Defenders Of Avalon’


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Award-Winning Roguelike ‘Tales of Maj’Eyal’ Updates To Beta 41

41 is a big number, but Tales of Maj’Eyal (aka TOME 4) is a big game. A huge one, even, and still growing. This is a fully graphical roguelike that goes beyond the genre’s normal constraints, and tells a proper RPG story in an enormous open world. Each dungeon level is randomly generated, but the overworld and general quest goals remain the same each time, although even those can vary depending on which race/class combo you pick. Beta 41, subtitled ‘Flash Of The Blade’ is mostly a balancing, tweaking and crash-proofing build, but the highlights mention a mysterious ‘events’ system.

Tales of Maj’Eyal is available to download for Windows, Mac & Linux, plus the source-code is laid bare for anyone who wants to try compiling or porting for themselves, just in case the pain and suffering inflicted on you by the random number generator-god isn’t terrifying enough. The game is completely free, although you might want to throw the developer a few bucks if you like it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: ToME is one of the best roguelikes out there. Play it.


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Spritely: New ‘Crystal Catacombs’ Gameplay Trailer Emerges

Get your action platformer boots on, ladies and gentlemen; you’re in for a bumpy ride now that Levels or Lives have released over four minutes’ worth of new gameplay footage for The Crystal Catacombs.

The latest trailer showcases not only the background exploits of the game’s protagonist, Captain Vasil Ravencraft, but also an ample sample (assonance shreds!) of platforming and dungeon combat goodness. And if that weren’t sufficient, you’ll get a welcome look at a few of the creatures great and small that you’ll expect to encounter too, ranging from small, green reptilian beasts to full-fledged bipedal lizards. Take a look for yourself.


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‘The Journey Down: Chapter One’ Slashes Price By 50%

I rather liked The Journey Down: Chapter One, back when I reviewed it back in May. Still, at the time of writing, I wasn’t aware of the pricing, and was assuming that it would be $10 or less. For such a small adventure the launch price-tag of 15€ did seem a bit steep, especially considering the growing competition from the likes of Wadjet Eye and Telltale. As of today, my recommendation that all adventure fans run out and buy this one can be wholeheartedly reiterated, as SkyGoblin Games have permanently slashed the price to a more reasonable 7€ , or your regional equivalent, perhaps more befitting the short, episodic nature of the game. Here’s the official announcement video:

Now all that remains is the long wait until the next chapter is released. SkyGoblin promise that it’ll be longer, more involved and darker than the first outing, with knuckleheads-for-hire Bwana & Kito getting to explore a mysterious town at the edge of the (flat) world itself. Somehow, I don’t think we’ll see much of the ‘Underside’ itself until Chapter 3, but if the quality of writing, puzzles and general easygoing charm of the first episode continues? Well, that’s worth waiting for. You can find The Journey Down at the new lower price over on Desrua for Windows, Mac & Linux PCs.


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3DS Indie Hit ‘Mutant Mudds’ Rejected By Steam – Are Valve Doing Enough?

It’s been common knowledge for quite some time that Valve’s approval system for indie developers wanting to release a game via Steam is an arcane, obscure process, possibly involving divinations using animal entrails and/or throwing darts at an annotated board. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of high-profile games come, get rejected and go. Even Derek Yu’s IGF award-winner (and already solidly-selling) underwater Metroidvania Aquaria was flatly refused, and only upon repeated attempts did the game get an audience with the king, so to speak. The latest casualty of this seemingly random approach to distribution is Mutant Mudds, a massive critical hit on the 3DS (see that panel of scores above), but apparently not good enough for PC.

So, what can be done? Right now, Valve claim that they’re working of improving their approval process and how they interact with developers, but clearly there’s still some issues. According to Mutant Mudds developer Jools Watsham (via Twitter), the rejection was flat and simple. “Steam is not a good fit for distribution” for the game, allegedly. While there may be some issues in the game coming from a handheld, Mutant Mudds wouldn’t be the first retro-styled platformer on the service by any means, with Cave Story, Eversion, Tobe’s Vertical Adventure and many more sharing virtual shelf-space.

It has been said that getting some positive press for your game is a key part of getting Steam approval, but apparently that’s not enough in this case – the game is currently the 9th highest rated game on the 3DS, according to Metacritic. Admittedly that’s not the greatest praise ever levelled at a game (poor old 3DS), but it’s certainly not to be sniffed at either. Our man-with-many-hats Chris Priestman put together an article not long ago, covering a few key ways to get your game one of those lucrative Steam distribution deals, but it does still seem to be largely up to luck of the draw at the moment.

I’ve heard it suggested that the Steam approval process is largely one of quality control, although that’s a rather questionable statement when you consider that some spectacular shovelware has been approved in the past. One notable example being Bad Rats – an Incredible Machine clone with a non-deterministic physics engine so bad that even the developer’s own solution can fail a dozen times before working. More recently, the only reasonable explanation for the risible Revelations 2012 getting a Steam release is because it uses Valve’s own Source engine.

Award-winning. Undeniable quality. Initially rejected.

Of course, it goes without saying that Steam isn’t the be-all and end-all of indie distribution. Far from it. Other major digital distributors like Gamersgate are an option, and GOG.com is branching out more and more into indie gaming. The Humble Store seems to be a good storefront for self-distribution as well (and seems to have solid ties with Valve), and there’s plenty of other options besides. A Steam distribution deal does offer it’s own set of advantages, such as good long-term sales potential and access to promoted deals, which tend to spike sales for much longer than the discount is in play. It remains undeniable that it’s a very good place to be if you’re looking to sell big on a smaller game.

So, what can Mutant Mudds‘ developer do? If past stories are any indication, then persistence is key. Keep applying, and keep spreading the word of the game and the planned PC launch. Interacting with the indie press is always a good start, and trying to get blogs and magazines to cover the story. As for what the indie press can do to change this sad state of affairs, not just for this game but for others? Well, we can make noise, too. Spread the word of such seemingly arbitrary dismissals. Beat the drum and let Valve hear that they’ve still got work to do. I’ve heard it suggested that a possible solution would be hiring a panel of ‘Indie Tsars’, to help pick out the wheat from the almighty pile of chaff that is the weekly submissions. Either way, something clearly still needs to change, so we’ll keep beating this drum until it does.