Now here’s a paradox – an overwhelmingly atmospheric game set on the moon? Likelier than you think. We’ve covered Routine (from the fittingly named Lunar Software) a couple of times before, but now it’s really shaping up to be something special. A semi-roguelike-esque first person horror/exploration game. You’ve got one life, an uncertain environment around you, and a mission to discover why a moon-base has gone silent. Here’s some appropriately intense new footage:
And let this be a lesson to you: Gunfights in space are a very bad idea, even worse than gunfights on Earth. I’m digging what I’m seeing so far – what looks to be a rather more serious ‘hard’ sci-fi setting. No outlandish monsters, although some rather imposing robots and guys with guns. The game promises to be a more tactile experience than most, with Deadzone aiming (think along the lines of Red Orchestra or Arma) and little to no HUD. No health points, either. Injury is going to be handled more realistically here, too. Oh, and as mentioned, you’ve got one life. Death resets everything, and things might play out very differently next time round.
There’s no fixed release date yet for Routine, although the developers have ballparked it for 2013. Keep an eye on IGM for more big reveals as they happen, as well as the official site for the game.
Gravity – the Gay Force – it brings us all together, and stops us from floating off into space. It causes the tides and we’d have 100% less falling-related injuries and casualties if we were to abolish it. Force: Leashed by Kepuli Games isn’t about eliminating gravity, but you do get to control it, albeit in limited form.
Working a bit like Cipher Prime’s Auditorium, but first-person and 3D, and grungy and industrial instead of abstract and musical. Your goal in Force: Leashed is to guide streams of particles from their emitters to a target. To do this, you place floating ‘attractor’ crystals with their own gravitational power, and use them to bend the path of the particle stream to a target goal. Enough successive hits on the target, and your path opens to the next areas, where you do it again with a little more complexity.
Of course, it’s never that simple. The attractors you place (a very limited number of them) are colour-coded, and certain walls will change the colour of the particle stream when bounced off, so you might need one red attractor to bend the stream into a blue wall, then use your remaining blue attractors to bend it the rest of the way to the exit.
This gets more complex the further you play, with ‘wind’ in effect in some areas, blowing certain colours in a certain direction, or emitters that spit out alternating blue & red particles, requiring some more creative attractor placement. While each level does expand a little on a single concept, each new stage usually introduces some fresh element to the gameplay. It shouldn’t take a huge amount of time to conquer the 11 levels (each of which has multiple stages), but there’s some brainteasers in there.
Of course, being developed so quickly, there’s unrefined elements here. There’s some misaligned textures here and there, and the actual movement physics of the particle stream is a little unpredictable. The attractors feel like they might exert a little too much force in too small a radius, often requiring you to slingshot the particles to their target, rather than just precisely bending their course. Still, it’s all very consistent, even if not the most intuitive.
Force: Leashed was originally an entry into the 7 Day FPS development contest, although there’s really not much in the way of shooting going on here. It was later re-entered into the Assembly 2012 game-dev competition and came away with the silver medal. While I think there could have been more done with the aesthetic (it’s all rather Half-Life 1, although it runs on an updated Quake 1 engine), this is a really nice piece of work and worth your time if you’re looking for something brain-teasing to play.
This isn’t the longest or most polished game, but it’s an impressive show of what can be done in a short time these days. The release of this also reminds me that Assembly 2012 has come, been and done this year. While the results pages haven’t yet rolled out on Demoscene hub Pouet.net, the contest results themselves are in. Force: Leashed is good stuff for sure – we’ll be taking a look at Lavalanche, the #1 prize winner soon.
Force: Leashed is freeware and available to download from the official site now for Windows, Mac & Linux PCs.
It’s been a few months since we last checked in on William and his luminous friends in Okugi Studios’ upcoming tower defence, Shad’O. When we last saw the Shad’O it was coming along quite nicely, showing off a different style of tower defence that set it apart from its oversaturated genre. The screenshots were a nice way to show off just how gorgeous this game actually is, but didn’t give us much in the way of gameplay footage to get drool over.
This problem has been corrected.
The art style is as impressive as I remember. The brilliant contrast between the dark fog of forgetfulness and the bright light of William’s memory give each level a dramatic feel to them that I just love. Whether you try to return the light to a dark forest full of evil looks or warm a barren snow covered land, Shad’O looks to be an incredibly visual experience.
The thematic elements of the game are equally present in the creatures. The dark ones look like something out of a child’s nightmare, while the luminous would look at home on a kid’s TV show. The boss creatures are on an entirely different level though, the detail in their design and animation is several steps above that of the regular minions They just look downright imposing when it comes down to it.
The gameplay in the video certainly isn’t anything to ignore either. While the several of the genre’s standards like the upgrade and spell system are here Okugi put a nice twist on the genre. Having to strategically think about using your stored light to drive back the fog and place the turrets adds another layer of depth to the tower defence experience that I’m quite interested to try out.
Combine all that with the story of how William fell into the dark like he did and you have one very interested writer. Shad’O will be available on September 4th at Steam, Desura, GameStop, Amazon and more. If you want to see some more of Shad’O you can take a look at Okugi Studios’ site.
Indie Royale may not be as big and burly as other indie bundle sites, but they’re not really trying to be. Their mission statement focuses more on increasing coverage of obscure, lesser-known indie games. Today, they’ve rolled out yet another bundle of six for a variable Pay What You Want price-tag. Here’s what’s on offer this time:
So, first up is Sol: Exodus. An old-school (although leaning towards the arcade side of things) space shooter that I’ve heard an impressively broad range of things about. From what I can gather, it was rather ropey at launch, and through a series of major updates has improved significantly. It’s unlikely to dethrone any of the genre classics, but there’s a fair bit of spaceship shooting to be done here.
Second is All Zombies Must Die. Again, mixed vibes on this one. It’s a more open-world, involved sorta arcade zombie-shooter than it’s predecessor Burn, Zombie, Burn, and that seems to have been a bit of a double-edged sword. What it gains in freedom and variety, it loses in terms of sheer score-hunting focus. Still, reviews for it have been generally positive, and there are definitely worse ways to spend your time shooting virtual zombies.
Third is Cubemen. RTS meets Tower Defense in an abstract, blocky world populated by… well, little men made of cubes. Heard solid things about this one, and there’s much more of a competitive edge than usual for the genre, as you’re often going up directly against enemy forces, positioning your little cube-people in order to get the best weapon coverage while keeping covered from counter-fire.
Fourth is the weird one of the bunch. Squids is apparently a rubberband-flinging artillery puzzle RPG. One description I’ve heard is Angry Birds meets Final Fantasy Tactics. Never played it myself, but with a description that downright weird, I feel compelled to at least give this one a try. The art-style is bright and cute, and the theme already has me quietly humming ‘Under The Sea’ to myself. But you probably don’t have that problem… right?
Last is another pair of XBLIG refugees. This time, the Platformance series – Castle Pain & Temple Death. Cute little minimalist platformers with an interesting twist – the entire game takes place on a single screen, normally viewed up-close. You can zoom all the way out to see the entire game-world, and the level design takes advantage of this clever interconnectedness from time to time, with older areas being changed by your actions, opening new paths. Simple, twitch fun. Also rock hard and maddeningly frustrating. Not for casual play, then.
The first three games are all Steam activated (All Zombies Must Die being Steam-exclusive), while the rest are Desura-only. Sadly, the only games in this bundle to offer Mac support are Cubemen & Squids. Everything else is Windows only. As standard for Indie Royale, there’s some additional music if you’re willing to pay a few dollars over average, although any unlocked game-related goodies are usually covered by the base price.
Not Indie Royale’s greatest offering, but for a few dollars, it’s still good value. Check it out.
GZStorm have made a bit of a reputation for themselves as class clowns, with productions such as Vidiot Game and the legendary Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden. You’d be excused for thinking their latest $1 outing on both XBLIG and PC to be another weird, wacky and whimsical exercise in demented comedy. Well, the weird part is right, but The 4th Wall isn’t wacky, or comedic. Not even close.
Not even the developer can firmly classify The 4th Wall, although they kinda settled on describing it an as an ‘Abstract Horror Puzzler’. The best description possible, I think. It’s a first-person, abstract, minimalist horror/puzzling and not much else. There’s no intro, no setup, no story, but I think that works to its advantage. I don’t think they could cram any plot into the ridiculously small XBLIG file-size anyway – the game weighs in at a hair over 2 megabytes.
You begin on a large, flat plane. A wall of solid white to your left, a hissing wall of static to your right, and what might be a wall of darkness in front of you. Above, dangles a strange white… cord of some description. Beyond that, you know nothing. You navigate in traditional first-person fashion, although your interaction with the environment is largely limited to moving around and bumping into things. At first, nothing happens, but you might spot something moving, or a faint cue in the patterns on the floor, and you follow it.
Everything changes. The environment is ripped away from you and replaced with something else. You find yourself floating in endless black space with gazing eyeballs looking back at you, and the only escape being a solid pool of light in the far distance, which you travel towards… and fall into, and down, back onto the ground, and it all goes black. And then you’re back again, but there’s an outline of a body on the floor, and what looks like blood dripping from the slightly reddened cord above you. And then you notice something else, just moving in the corner of your vision.
And that’s the essence of The 4th Wall. There’s plenty more things to find, and interesting ends for your character to meet, and a strange sense of progression as your successes – or deaths, even – seem to add up. There’s shades of LSD: Dream Emulator here, although with a more nightmarish edge to it. It’s an experience, really – not so much a game, and more an exercise in exploring a hostile, abstract environment. There’s some light puzzle elements, but it can largely be boiled down to trial and error and a dash of intuition.
Due to the ridiculously small file-size, we’re not dealing with graphical or audio nirvana here, but the clanking footstep sounds, the odd, scattered audio cues and the overpowering hiss of the static wall are all it really needs. While there’s a few familiar elements of other things here – LSD or Yume Nikki, perhaps – this is a unique experience, and that by itself is worthy of a look.
Being as weird, experimental and as cheap as it is, it doesn’t seem fair to give The 4th Wall a numerical score. What I can do is recommend you at least try out the demo for PC or 360, and if the strange, oppressive atmosphere catches your attention at all, throw a buck at the developers. The quick-developed prototype version of the The 4th Wall is also available to download from GZStorm’s site too, and completely free, but they highly recommend that you play the newer version first.
Freedom Planetby GalaxyTrail isn’t officially a Sonic fan-game. Sure, there’s Hedgehog-like characters and they occasionally run fast, but there’s no Sonic here, no Robotnik and no rings. There are health bars, melee attacks, and interesting character abilities like a Sparkster-esque chargable air-dash. Frequent boss battles, too, to the tune of several per level. There’s also a bouncy soundtrack and a lot of pretty intricate platforming. Not convinced? Here’s some gameplay footage:
The playable demo currently contains one stage (split into several acts), although it’s pretty long and has multiple boss encounters. As a full sixth of the final game, it’s definitely enough to give you an idea of how the game is shaping up. It definitely went and put the game on my radar. As an additional challenge, there’s a time-attack goal time of 6 minutes and 15 seconds to complete the level – if you can beat it, it unlocks a second character to play as.
From what I’ve played so far, I’m really rather pleased with how this is shaping up. It’s classic 16-bit platforming with nice chunky sprites, bounding along at 60fps solid with bright and colourful environments and an upbeat soundtrack. It sounds like the game is aiming to be a commercial release (hence the important ‘not actually a Sonic game’ deal). If they can keep up this level of quality for the rest of the levels, I reckon it might just be worth a few bucks. You can grab the demo for Windows PCs on the game’s IndieDB page here.
Having been a gamer since the early 80s, I can often look at something and tell you in fairly clear terms that it’s X + Y, or has design elements clearly owing to Z. I can’t do that with Arcane Kids’ student project Zineth. I honestly haven’t played anything like this, and describing it is going to be tricky. Even better is that it’s free, and you can experience the indescribable oddness of it all for yourself.
The only point of reference I can reach for here is Jet Set Radio on the Dreamcast/XBox, and only then because it’s a game about skating that has rail-grinding and wall-riding. Beyond that similarity, this is something completely unique. The game drops you right into the thick of things without so much as a readme file or a manual, and the only guidance you’re given at first is that you might want to plug in an Xbox 360 controller – the default secondary gaming device, these days – for optimal control.
Fortunately there’s an in-game tutorial, although it begins with one of the most unique startup sequences ever – you need to configure your cellphone. The one in-game, that is. In addition to skating around an enormous technicolor abstract desert/obstacle course, you’re going to be fiddling with your phone, playing games on it, tweeting and reading emails pertaining to the scrawled, hand-drawn magazine that you(?) are producing. Or at least collating and delivering.
The whole thing feels like a postmodern dream. All the chaos and noise and lights of modern life crammed into one place, and wrapped around a gameplay framework emphasising movement, freedom and ridiculous speed. The skating itself is remarkably detailed, with there being gravity control (helpful for speed downhill), wall-riding that lets you leap higher and higher, and even some time manipulation.
You leave an impressively long trail behind you as you skate, and at any point you can rewind up to the furthest existing end-point of that line. You can even fast-forward back through it if you really want to pinpoint when you want to return to. A handy feature, given how ridiculously fast the game is and how easy it is to miss a jump. You can also help steer landings by holding the jump button in mid-air, locking you to a slight sideways strafe instead of pivoting.
But really, put half an hour into this, and none of that will even cross your mind. What rules the experience here is scale and speed. The environment is utterly massive and wildly imaginative. While there is an invisible boundary around the crazy abstract desert cityscape (well worth crossing just to see what happens), it requires some effort just to reach it.Impossible structures tower high into the sky, leaning in improbable directions, and the rolling dunes provide ample opportunity to build up speed. Whatever the standard unit of measure here, 450-500 X per Y is really, really fast.
There are missions, characters and goals here. But I’ll let you explore and find those on your own. Zineth was only intended as a proof of concept, and never really meant to be a full experience for all of us to download and enjoy. I’m so very glad that they went further than that, though. This is something delightfully different and clever, and well worth your time if you’ve got a gamepad to hand. You can grab Zineth for Windows & Mac PCs here.
Me? I’m going to be playing more of this. Right now.
Probably my favourite shmup through the entire PS1 era was Einhander, by Square. A slower, more tactical take on the side-scrolling shooter, it had limited ammo, weapons that you could pivot around your ship, bosses that actually started out at full power and were weakened over time (instead of just getting angrier and shootier) and a really cool grungy sci-fi aesthetic. Heaven Variant by Zanrai Interactive looks to be the second coming of this classic shooter. Here’s the latest gameplay video, showing off the impressively large arsenal:
Now that’s some slick production values. Heaven Variant is built on the UDK engine, which is clearly a flexible piece of kit, given how well it seems to be handling side-scrolling shooting. The high production values are all the more surprising when you consider that Zanrai Interactive are a three-man team. One artist, one coder, one modeller. To think that a tiny studio using a freely available engine can rival the might of Square? Well, we’re back at ‘golden age of indie gaming’ again, aren’t we?
Maybe I’m just a sucker for wildly impractical sci-fi weaponry, but I dig any starfighter design that takes a sword to a laser and missile fight. There’s no real ETA on when this one will be out, but I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground in a most un-hawklike (they don’t do the ear-to-ground thing, do they?) way right up until it launches. You can follow the development on the official dev-blog here, too.
Now here’s a surprisingly nice piece of news. Stealthy demolition game Dynamite Jack has already been a reasonable success on PC and iPads, but is now making the jump to Apple’s smaller, even more handheld device. It’s not going to be a separate release, but rather a Universal upgrade to the existing iPad edition. While that’s nice news in of itself, here’s something nicer: For 48 hours after the launch of the updated build (Happening tomorrow, 9th of August), any existing owners will get a copy of the PC version completely free, both in DRM-free and Steam formats. Here’s the official blurb, straight from the developer’s mouth:
Dynamite Jack is coming to the iPhone this Thursday! I’ve made it a Universal update to the iPad version. What this means:
- ALL features included: the main game, the map editor, and all the community maps
- Community maps now include 250+ new maps to play!
- Price $2.99
- Release: Thursday, Aug 9
- Universal update: all iPads, iPhone / iPod touch 3rd gen and newer
So here’s the special launch promotion: for 48 hours following the launch, I’m going to have a big link in the “Community Maps” section to a page where all iOS players can get a code to download Dynamite Jack DRM-Free for Win/Mac/Linux AND get a Steam code for Win/Mac. I always get a handful of emails from people saying “I bought it on the iPad, can I get it on the PC free?”, so I figure, hey, this is a great way to sort that
As a bonus piece of good news, that Community Maps section apparently boasts over 250 fan-made levels. Nothing to be sniffed at. And here’s a trailer, just in case you’ve forgotten what the game looks like:
It’s great to see a developer embracing multi-platform development this much. It really does seem to be the big new thing, and the willingness to give away other-platform versions is heartening to say the least. You can read more on the official site here. Those with the iOS version, make sure not to miss out on that free deal starting tomorrow.
We’ve finally hit the point where XBLIG games are jumping ship to PC before they’ve even come to XBLIG. They Bleed Pixels by Spooky Squid Games has long been one of the most eagerly awaited releases on Microsoft’s beleaguered indie development platform, but it looks like it’s going to be hitting our big desktop boxes before then. Check the spooooooooooky announcement trailer OF DEATH:
And here’s another (older) trailer, showing more of the gameplay and featuring a bunch of guest levels by other indie developers. Also, Ponycorns and an apology for the game running late.
Doubly amusing: The game has since missed the second release window they put forward in that trailer. Oops? Either way, the game looks great. A mixture of hardcore spike-dodging platforming and a vaguely Devil May Cry-esque combo system, all wrapped in slightly tongue-in-cheek Lovecraftian horror stylings. Just look at that little girl’s gleeful smile as she grows mystical blood-spikes instead of hands.
Looks like they’ve dropped the XBLIG release plans entirely, but given the pitiful sales figures on there for anything that isn’t Avatar Minecraft Zombiefest 2012 these days, I’m not surprised. No fixed date on this one (probably for the best), but with an official Steam Windows/PC release window worked out, their vague guesstimate of ‘soon’ should probably be accurate enough for now. Keep an eye on the official site and (of course) IGM for more details as they surface, writhing unfathomably from the blasphemous, tenebrous depths.