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

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Indie Intermission Day 24 – LD24 Second Place ‘Super Clew Land’

super clew land title

This is the second place finalist in LD24 and is quite a great little title from Team Clew. Super Clew Land is a great evolving platformer where you play as this green blob creature which evolves as it eats more insects. The gameplay is great fun as you navigate around, with each evolution being slightly more difficult to achieve and with each a new talent is unlocked.

The gameplay features a lot of traditional styled jumping puzzles seen in all classic platformers, however Super Clew Land actually adds extra dimensions. The evolution works well however the innovative part about the evolution is the way that every time you eat a creature you obtain “protein blocks” which you must build with the arrow keys arranging them in the correct colours. This additional innovation really puts this game ahead of many of the other awesome titles in LD24 and makes its second place totally justified (if not first place).

super clew land SS01

Overall the gameplay is great with the evolution allowing you to unlock new areas and eat new food types and it is a whole load of fun.

The visuals are generally great and do really throw back to the greats such as Mario (The title should give this away), with a very similar style that is indeed great. The colour schemes and graphical choices overall are great and really add a lot to this game making it definitely one to play.

super clew land SS02

On top of this the music is great and very in keeping with the theme, in fact I feel it adds a lot to the game. It is always great to see awesome music choices in jam contest games because I understand this is hard to get them in, but if executed well it really sets the game above all the competitors.

Average play time – 30 minutes

Super Clew Land is a great title and the second place winner of the LD24 jam. It can be played here, and the link to the original LD post is here.

If you are a developer with A fun indie game that can be played over a coffee break, we want to hear from you! Private message us on twitter @IndieGameMag or shoot us an email at editors@indiegamemag.com with the subject “Indie Intermission” and you could be our indie intermission pick of the day!

Source: The Indie Game Magazine – Indie Intermission Day 24 – LD24 Second Place ‘Super Clew Land’


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Download Feztival: ‘Fez’ Soundtrack Now Available For Purchase

As was first revealed last week, Fez was to be the latest indie darling to receive the downloadable soundtrack treatment. And now, without further ado, it’s here and ready to rock your world.

Created by Disasterpeace, Fez‘s music is probably best described as a chiptune throwback to the soundtracks of the 8-bit console era. There’s certainly a hint of Mario, Zelda and Contra in there, but there’s enough zing and variety to allow Fez to stand out as a melodious chunk of symphonic goodness in its own right.

Of course, this mesmeric soundscape isn’t the first highly-acclaimed indie game-related musical collection to have been released this month, following on from both Journey and Botanicula. Heck, you could even add the recently released PC port of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and you’ve got quite possibly the greatest month in the history of downloadable video gaming music.

Fez‘s soundtrack can be purchased and downloaded for $7 through Bandcamp right now. It’s available in .FLAC, .mp3 and supposedly “just about any other format you could possibly desire,” so the power of choice is in your hands. You could also check out our review if you’re still in the Fez mindset.


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Mari0 Brings Portal/Portal 2 Mechanics to Mushroom Kingdom

This looks all sorts of fun. Super Mario Bros. invaded by gameplay elements from both Portal and Portal 2. We’re talking about the mustached plummer with a portal gun here. Sound good enough on paper?

Wait until you see it in practice.

Maurice Guégan and Sašo Smolej, the two-man team currently developing the gamer’s wet dream into a playable reality, have been cranking up media as of late to keep everyone drooling. Presumably on the cash readied to pass along to these guys if/when they decide to accept it from all of us in exchange for getting to play what they’re showing off.

From the screenshot above, you can surmise co-op multiplayer will be in the mix on top of having the entire Portal puzzle-game spirit built into the original Mushroom Kingdom (all from scratch mind you.) Not just two players either, the dev claims it’ll support local multiplayer up to the number of joysticks you can plug-in to your computer. What a gem this hybrid of two classics could turn out to be.

No release date as of yet, but we’ll be keeping a keen eye on this one. The latest test footage video shows off lasers and a bit of fun you can pull of with an Aperture Science Portable Quantum Tunneling Device against an unfortunate Koopa Troopa and a handful of hapless Goombas:

[Stabyourself.net (we at DIYGamer do not advise or condone doing that) via GameSetWatch]


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Fangame Jamboree Part 1: Too Many Plumbers?

My, that's a lot of plumbers!

My, that's a lot of plumbers. (Not a fangame, but relevant!)

Ever sit around all day waiting for a plumber to turn up, only to find that there’s been fifty of them just standing around in your back yard all this time? No, not a bizarre dream, but a rough description of the feeling I had, discovering that not only is gaming icon Mario here on the PC, but has been broadly established for quite some time.


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Compelling a Complete Performance [Editorial]

hand_washing So somewhere after the early ‘90s game design became affected, vertical, content to build on established concepts for their own sake and so distort them out of all the representative or practical value they might have had. This became exacerbated after the industry’s multimedia and “virtual reality” phases, and the eventual rush for polygonal majesty. Early polygonal games were expensive to make, and only so many polygons would fit on the screen. Contemporary hardware could hold only so-large an environment in memory. It took developers about seven years to figure out what that extra Z-axis meant for controls, a sense of space, and all the assumptions about design that had built up since the mid-’80s.

In the short term, developers relied on the novelties of real-time animation and 3D space. They built modest, often jury-rigged, playpens where the dodgy collision, imprecise movements, weird cameras, and minimal detail would be less likely to stand out. Either that or they went hard in the other direction and used 3D animation to glam up familiar 2D twitch-based design. Those games were, of course, struck with the same technical limitations as their free-roaming cousins.

The Dog and Pony Show

So a couple of new conventions appeared to make the most of this paper-thin, wobbly, and empty new space. One of them, I like to call completion-compulsive design. This trope has its basis in the tile-smashing of Breakout and the dot-munching of Pac-Man: to succeed, you do everything there is to do. Fair enough, in a self-contained example like Space Invaders: the entire premise is built around destroying the aliens before they reach Earth. But what about all those platformers that followed in the wake of Mario 64, that asked you to roam around and find five thousand otherwise-useless widgets?

You could call the collection aspect a reward for mastering the game’s controls and expressing a sense of curiosity. That’s a bit disingenuous, though; the widgets rarely do much more than increase a counter in the corner of the screen, or open the next area. There’s no tangible reward here, and any ineffable reward is connected only tenuously to the play mechanics. At best the widgets, if you found enough of them, would unlock a special item or ability or game feature. Either way, mainstream game design took a sudden dive for the inane.

If a designer chose to reject the Z-axis meandering of the main flock, what you would often see was a hardcore performance-compulsive design. Games like NiGHTS took the high score tables and social competition aspects of early arcade games and exaggerated them to a ridiculous degree by assigning (often bizarre) letter grades and often limiting progress until the player had shown sufficient technical mastery.

One major difference is that scores are a relative, rather than an absolute, measure of prowess. The other difference is that with traditional score tables the only way you’re being graded is against your peers. They’re also a descriptive record, that tends to more reflect than affect the way the game itself plays. By comparison, receiving a letter grade suggests that unless you’re playing perfectly, you’re not playing properly. This mentality whiffs of an uncomfortable sense of elitism and exclusion, much as how the completion compulsion makes you feel like you’re not really dedicated unless you waste your life fiddling with minutiae.

Dopamine, Sweet Dope of Mine

Both tropes originate in a desperation to find something interesting for players to do when developers have scant resources at their command and scant command over their resources. Each is a way to milk more “play value” out of limited material by telling players that unless they waste all of their time, they’re just wasting their time. Unless they’re scouring the material over and over again, pouring in vast amounts of personal resources for a very small reward, they’re not doing it right. They’re not getting everything there is to get out of the game — whereas maybe if they invest that last arbitrary bit of effort and unlock everything there is to unlock, they will discover a cool secret that justifies some small portion of the expenditure. Usually not.

This mentality is ancient, as videogames go. It harks back at least as far as the smoke-filled dens built to milk Space Invaders players of their last yen. Yet it also is a perversion of those mechanisms. Unlike the dots and tiles and score tables of the early ‘80s, these tropes are not an organic side effect of the give-and-take causal relationship that forms a videogame. They are a caricature of the least healthy aspects of traditional reward structure, taken to an affected extreme and detached from context. It’s like distilling crack from cocaine, with many of the same consequences.

No form of obsessive-compulsive behavior is healthy, and any encouragement is harmful. It’s around here that videogames become toys of cheap manipulation, and that their warped psychology starts to have questionable health effects both on players and on the medium as a whole. In their hard-line failure to meaningfully reflect the causal relationship between the player and the gameworld, these tropes both undermine the medium’s expressive potential and severely limit the appeal of the medium outside the hardcore and the deranged. Thus the slow onset of the phenomenon that Satoru Iwata dubs “gamer drift”.

Dropping Out

Although the mainstream industry is still recovering from this OCD fit, I have noticed that indie games often seem less affected by these attitudes. I guess it’s not too surprising. The tropes only arose in a significant way in response to endemic confusion and conservatism over a changing technical paradigm. Indie games aren’t exactly post-technology, but their budget and their scope tend to be low enough that any design problems are more a case of implementation and clarity of concept. If they have a price, the games are selling mostly on the basis of their ideas — which makes content for content’s sake a fairly low concern.

And frankly, indie designers are in no place to take their audience for granted. The indie game culture is more or less a meritocracy, so every player who a game bores is one less mouth to spread the word. The games that I have seen deal with an obsessive-compulsive premise, such as I Wanna Be the Guy or biggt’s Uin, generally do so with an ironic or deconstructionist understanding that glories in the inanity of these presumptions about the player’s time and interest.

Of course, it could be the boring stuff just all flies under my radar.


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FiNCK thrown into the Web

finck As of yesterday, Within a Deep Forest and Knytt designer Nifflas has unleashed his briefly-awaited, user-supported, toss-’em-up FiNCK. As reported earlier, the game’s abrupt announcement and release are due to an impulsive yet inspired development cycle, brought on by affection for the odd man out of the NES Marios.

FiNCK (“Fire Nuclear Crocodile Killer”; yes, it’s nonsense) has the same grab-and-toss mechanics as Super Mario Bros. 2 and a few other gems like Rescue Rangers, and Pastel’s much longer-coming Life+. Perhaps understandably enough, considering the free level editor and Nifflas’ existing fanbase, the game only comes with five (in effect) demonstration levels.

Of course if you want to play your custom levels, that’s four bucks; if you want a copy of the soundtrack, that’s another three. Again, with the development scene around Nifflas’ earlier Knytt Stories, which one might compare to a modern-day ZZT, you can see the reasoning here. I guess time will show how that pricing model works out.

The game is as elegant and simplistic as all of Nifflas’ work, if maybe a bit more rudimentary than usual — deliberately so. The mechanics feel a bit floatier and less refined than in, say, Knytt. The visuals are pared down and a little rougher than they need to be. And again, the levels are barely there, and seem mostly to exist to demonstrate the mechanics for future level editors. And yet the enhancements and additions to the basic Doki Doki ruleset are seamless, and you can tell he’s been thinking about a game like this for years.

Oh, the music is as atmospheric and nifty as ever. Thus the extra soundtrack option.

All in all, FiNCK comes off like a neat little experiment that Nifflas whipped up and then tossed to the community, to see what happens. (The controls are even set up like an NES emulator.) Given the tools and motivation, maybe they can make him the SMB2 sequel he’s always wanted to play.

You can download FiNCK here.


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EDITORIAL: A Life Worth Living

nintendogameboy Some of the typical themes to indie games, and art games, and deconstructionist games in general, include violence, death, and loss. I find it interesting that the deeper problems of game design, toward which the more thoughtful game authors are drawn, so closely mirror a boilerplate list of human concerns. At least, metaphorically speaking.

Of the three, death and loss, and the association between the two, are the bigger concerns — perhaps because in the short term, with such a narrow communication bottleneck, it’s more worthwhile to hand out monosyllabic verbs for the player to sling around: shoot, run, jump, grab. Let players use the grammar they know, while you precisely sculpt a context to lend the discussion an illusion of eloquence. Thus we have Half-Life 2, and Resident Evil 4.

Grim Amusement

In classic design terms, death and loss are the same. You either win a game, or you lose. (Early on, “winning” just means you haven’t lost yet.) You lose a game by dying; loss means at least an existential death, in that you’re no longer playing. If you’re allowed several lives, then often death is the metaphor for even a small loss, in that each death sets you back — indeed, it’s often the only setback that matters.

Later on, battery backup and memory cards changed things a little. Instead of games being an all-or-nothing challenge, they were a slow and awkward slog to the top: keep chipping away, keep saving at every opportunity, and eventually you’ll be king of the mountain. A player’s progress became a sort of permanent virtual property, rather than a matter of fleeting skill and experience. And now loss takes on a bigger meaning. Since starting over would mean losing all their hours of “hard work”, games got longer and larger so as to feed the player new “content” for as long as he retained interest — thus further reducing the chances of a replay, as that savefile grows all the more priceless.

Granted, on the surface of it death and loss barely factor into social games like Animal Crossing or certain text or graphical adventures like Myst, but those are specific and defiant structures, with the former laying bare that modern relationship between property and progress (in videogames as in life) and the latter born from the imaginative, exploratory side of role playing games — as compared to the simpler systemic representation (your points, your rules) with its focus on violence, loss, and death.

Entry Fee

Today, with so much investment in the content, designers like Hideo Kojima want players to see the whole game — which creates a weird conflict, since the only real fail condition that people are accustomed to in a videogame is death. How can designers tell a huge, linear story if the player keeps dying and getting booted out of the game — or at least thrown back, to replay the same sequence over and over again? The goal and the method don’t match.

Some games, such as Naughty Dog’s later platformers, stick a band aid on the problem by eliminating lives. Others just make it nearly impossible to fail. Others put the responsibility in the player’s hands with unlimited quicksaves. You can find clever examples everywhere in between, from smart checkpoints to the teamwork-focued revivals in Gears of War. Really, though, no one has a clue what to do about death and loss.

The most progressive games — Dead Rising, Pac-Man: Championship Edition — spend their time experimenting with it, and sometimes they find some narrow, specific answers. Gradius V finds an answer that suits its own premise, though it wouldn’t really work in Super Mario Bros. I guess that’s the best that anyone can hope for; a specific solution to the specific problem at hand.

Introspection

And that is, I guess, where indie games come in — generally very specific problems explored by specific people in a specific way. And gee whiz, do they spend an awful lot of time exploring this issue. Braid exists to undermine the sense of absolute consequences that you’d expect from a glance at its format. Passage is just one long trundle toward death, with a few gamey metaphors for our individual pursuits and hang-ups on our way to the grave.

Uin, which we reviewed last week, abandons the traditional life/death structure in favor of a weird afterlife cycle. When you lose all your energy, you wake up in an unsettling zone far above the normal gameworld. An inscrutable figure, all shadow and flicker, looms over you. Tiny shadows of everything you’ve ever killed skitter around your feet. To the left is an enormous door, with bolts that progressively glow when you exterminate a species. If you jump off the cliff to the right, you wake up by your latest save point. It’s easy to take this area as pure metaphor, until eventually you unlock that door and the lines blur. Evidently this purgatory zone is a real area, in relation to the rest of the game’s space. Or it has a consistent and tangible component. It’s inscrutable, which fits the odd dream logic of Matt Aldridge’s games. It’s also uniquely functional.

Hero Core also stops counting, and lets you save at any time. When you die, you retain all your progress and simply reappear at your latest save point. When you pass a save point all your energy is restored, and by holding in both buttons you can warp from save point to save point. The effect is that death is only a momentary setback, and that the tools for preventing loss also serve to prevent repetition (a more tangible form of loss, in the form of lost time) by allowing the player to hop around at will and within reason.

Love+ is another two-button game: jump, and set your respawn point. You get a hundred lives, and you can spend them however you like. So you do your own cost-benefit analysis; what’s more important; one life, or — as above –five minutes of my own very real time?

The Feeder Bar

I’ve this mantra that I pull out whenever it’s convenient. The worst thing a videogame can do is assume I’ve got nothing better to do than to play videogames. What I find refreshing about indie games is that they tend to be succinct in a way that games used to be up through the mid-1980s. Rather than assume I’m invested by virtue of the fact I’m playing a videogame (or perhaps by virtue of the fifty dollars I’ve plopped down), they make their point, they elaborate as much as they feel they need to, and then they move on.

And yet 1980s designs are typically overwhelmed by a model of loss dictated by a simple financial model. In the arcades, the most clever games — like Gauntlet, in which you never stop dying — were the ones that got you to keep pumping in the quarters. Even home console games have their heads in the same place; the only difference is that removing the moment-to-moment demand for spare change makes the loss model a little arbitrary.

You could argue that failure and continual replay justify the large up-front investment by preventing the player from playing through the whole game at once. By the time the player has finished with the game, he has practically memorized it. Old-school gamers brag that they can practically play Super Mario Bros. blindfolded. This kind of rote drilling, though — in its way it’s just as much of a time sink as the linear, content-based design that memory cards brought about. And once memory cards did arrive — well, pretty much from the moment that Zelda hit — it became clear that playing at will, in the comfort of one’s home, dictated a different kind of approach.

Limiters

So until fairly recently, death and loss have been more associated with financial models than with the expressive needs of design or consideration for the audience. Little surprise, then, that the basic language is so eccentric and absolute. Compare with the record industry, and its constant battles against convenience and flexibility. First audio tape was the villain, then it was clumsily exploited. Then CD-Rs were the villain, and then the Internet. The concern isn’t so much about playing to natural patterns of use and modes of communication as it is about constraining the audience, controlling the message so that it fits what you know has worked before.

Granted, game design is effectively behavioral psychology in a can. It’s always about convincing the audience to do what you want, and making them think it’s their own idea. It’s just that the motivation behind that puppetry tends to reflect on the form it takes. So long as the form keeps looking pretty much as it does now, with its limited, black-and-white pings and largely specific and pre-determined pongs, and its enormous games demanding enormous investment from all parties, I’m not so sure there’s a real answer to the problem.

When commercial designers like Keiji Inafune (Dead Rising) start to experiment, the audience tends to look at its financial outlay and balk. If they just paid sixty dollars for a game, why should it keep telling them to restart and lose all their progress? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to milk the game for everything it’s got? What a rip-off. And the people who complain do sort of have a point. By paying such a huge fee up-front, they put a certain amount of trust in the game, and they dictated what they wanted from it.

Shades of Gray

In the circumstances of their design, indie games tend to do give the form space to breathe and to tinker, that isn’t really available in the commercial sector. A person whose only concern in communicating is illustrating his own ideas will tend to speak freely, and more or less as an equal. In design terms, death and loss have been central concerns, often central annoyances, from the start. Give a life-long player a chance to reexamine the form and it’s only natural that those are amongst the first structures under the microscope.

I would say that the first step toward growth, in art as in life, is doing away with absolutes. That means separating loss from death, and allowing the two concepts to breathe. Failure doesn’t mean the end of everything; it’s just a setback. And there are all degrees and types of failure, each with its own unique implications. This is how we learn. In videogames, death is usually our guiding force; the sole way we learn, or the major threat at our heels. In life, death is the end of learning and rarely so much a threat as an eventual fact. In life, our guiding force is our emotions. We act to minimize unwanted feelings and to reinforce positive ones. It’s the secret weirdness of our emotions that makes our behavior so erratic, so strange, that determines our understanding of the world.

Absolutes are facts, and so not particularly compelling. It’s the capacity to make things better or worse — that’s what makes a life, and the lack of it is what makes a videogame a poor model of a life.


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Flag or Fix: Addicsjon

addicsjonArvi Teikari’s free downloadable title Addicsjon shows what happens when Mario gets a little to into his mushrooms. In this concept platformer, it’s up to you the player to lead your junkie away from his pills and to the end of the level flag. Problem is, the junkie wants his pills and at times will work against you.

It gets worse if he actually gets his fix, bringing blurred vision and the virtual shivers into play. The game is a quickie, offering only five levels for you to trip and trudge through.

The game is available for download here.