It seems that game journalists turning developer is a bit of a thing these days. Between indie blog guru Derek Yu making XBLA mega-hit Spelunky, the editor of PC Gamer UK producing Gunpoint and Rock, Paper, Shotgun editor Jim Rossignol developing Sir, You Are Being Hunted, it seems like it’s just getting easier and easier to sit down, assemble a team and put together something worth playing. With a history of picking apart other people’s games for a living, it might help direct development, too, but that’s an article for another time.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted isn’t Big Robot’s first game, but it’s their first major commercial release. Described as a very British take on the STALKER series, it puts you in the shoes of a squishy, regular human out on the rolling British moors. As the title suggests, you’re being hunted by respectable, gentlemanly killer robots and their equally deadly robot hounds. There’s even a few surly robot poachers lurking in the long grass, looking for an easy kill or a chance to stir up trouble with the groundskeepers. Your goal is simple – survival – but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy. Here’s our first look at it in action:
Being born and bred in rainy, fog-bound old Blighty, I can safely say that those are the most British environments I’ve ever seen a machine generate. They’ve absolutely nailed the look of it all – the hedgerows, the crumbling old masonry and the slightly-too-steep hills hidden beneath thick wild grass. The game is due sometime next year, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of semi-public early build before then.
Let it never be said that Trendy Entertainment slack off on post-release support. Dungeon Defenders is probably the most patched game I know of, outside of Team Fortress 2. The wildly popular third-person hack n’ slash lootfest/tower-defense blend is revving up for another big DLC push, and this time it’s free. Well, at least at first.
Due for release this Wednesday (August 8th), the Jester DLC pack is set to add yet another playable character class to the game – the titular Jester – an unusually quirky sort who can wield any weapon type in the game as well as carrying a backup, making her a melee/ranged combat wild-card. Rather than placing towers, the Jester drops gifts of varying sizes onto the battlefield. Once opened, these gifts might contain anti-enemy area effects, buffs for teammates, or even budget-priced turrets which deploy on the spot. Her secondary ability to pick up and re-deploy towers is especially helpful in this latter case.
In addition to the Jester, there’s a new chess-themed map being added – the Etherian Gameland, pictured above – and completing it will likely unlock The Fool, an alternate male character model for the Jester class. On top of all this will be four new unique weapons. This bundle will be free for all existing players to grab for two weeks. After that, anyone who missed it will have to pay $4 or equivalent. As with all previous Dungeon Defenders DLC, it won’t split the community – you can play freely on maps that you don’t own, so long as they’re being hosted by a player online that does own them.
You can read more about the Jester pack on the Dungeon Defenders Wiki here. In addition to this DLC rolling out, we’ll be taking a second look at Dungeon Defenders later this week. The game is almost unrecognisable when compared to its humble UDK showcase and iOS origins, and can honestly be considered a very different game to when it was first released. We do live in the internet age, so it wouldn’t be fair to let old reviews still stand when the game has changed so much, would it?
Slightly hazy, slightly dreamlike, In Ruins by Tom ‘NullPointer’ Betts is more a tech-demo than a game, although there’s some mild scavenger hunt elements to be enjoyed as you wander through a maze of crumbling platforms, plateaus, towers and hallways. Your ultimate goal, if it can be called as such, is to reach enough of the glowing white pillars scattered around the island landscape, boosting your ability to jump until you’re agile enough to reach the glowing tower at the centre of it all.
While not directly related to it, this also acts as a partial showcase of the terrain generation code being used in Big Robot’s upcoming Sir, You Are Being Hunted. A fine testament it is – the environments might be occasionally convoluted in their layout, but the mixture of crumbling old stonework, moss growing on ancient walls and scattered, lush greenery is heady stuff, and enjoyable to explore and see. There’s some relaxing music, and the accelerated day/night cycle doesn’t feel rushed, even though day and night pass in mere minutes.
Personally, I can’t help but think that this would make a fantastic starting point for a modern remake of The Sentinel. The towers, the looming lighthouse, the trees and glowing platforms. It strikes me that it would be a wonderful environment to play that bizarre take on hide-and-seek in. Either way, it’s strong testament to the power and flexibility of Unity as a game engine. After completing a single tour of the island (ending upon reaching the central tower), you unlock the option to customize the world generation parameters, although the default settings work out nicely enough.
In Ruins is free to download for Windows & Mac PCs, and weighs in at about 100mb. Well worth the bandwidth if you can see any value in exploring a randomly generated world for the sake of exploration and spectacle itself.
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.
Oh dear. I apparently would make a terrible horse. Possibly an even worse unicorn – that horn is a worrying liability, and an effective pivot point if they ever end up face-down on the ground, which I seem to do most of the time here. Prolific freeware developer and casual sadist Bennet Foddy has released another game, and once again, it is both cruel and unusual. Follow-up to his celebration of olympian failure, QWOP, now you can pretend to be a cantering unicorn in CLOP.
There’s not really much to say here; you’re a graceful unicorn (who is categorically Not Good At Hills) who has been told that there’s a virgin maiden just over the steep hill before him. Naturally, it is your sworn duty as a horned horse to canter this way and yon and into her innocent heart! Unfortunately, your only control over the equine protagonist is four buttons, each one bound to independently control a separate limb. Prepare for embarrassment.
It’s easier than QWOP, but that’s not saying much. Those extra two legs afford you a lot more stability when you’re not moving, but you’ve got to cover a long stretch of complex terrain, and there’s every chance that you’re going to end up flipped over and mocked mercilessly by your ‘friend’ at the start. Have hope, though! I’m sure there’s some technique to it… especially as there seems to be golden target stars floating way above the level. How do you get to them? I don’t know yet. Time to try again (and again, and again) and find out.
Stencyl seems to be the next big thing for amateur flash game development. A drag-and-drop, ‘klik n’ play’ style game creation package that allows designers with no programming knowledge at all put together playable games and export them as Flash or even iOS executables. It has already been used to create some pretty impressive things, such as Amon26′s Halloween hit Gyossait, but the biggest test of its power has come in the past few weeks.
Massive Flash portal site Newgrounds threw down the gauntlet with Stencyl Jam 2012. A $500 grand prize, several runner-up prizes of significant cash value, and all the Newgrounds fame and hits you can eat to the victors. Just make a game with Stencyl and submit it. Almost a hundred entries were completed by the cut-off date, and the voting is just coming to a close now. The winners will be announced soon, but for the time being, go check out the lineup. Even some of the lowest-rated entries are smoothed and polished experiences.
There’s some impressively complete games in there, and due to the fact that Stencyl uses fixed-size sprites rather than traditional Flash vector art, they’re much less of a strain on your CPU. It’s a pretty powerful package, all things considered, and the number of entrants to this competition suggests that it’s pretty easy to use as well. A good piece of advertising for what seems to be a great starting point for budding games designers without the knowledge and training to create their own engine from scratch.
I’ve been meaning to try out Wrack for a while. First announced what feels like an age ago, it’s the product of Final Boss Entertainment, a group of old-school, ‘first generation’ Doom modders and mappers getting together to put their own spin on the retro FPS genre. This weekend, to celebrate Quakecon, they’ve updated their preorder demo and dropped their pre-order price to a very palatable $5 for the weekend. I jumped on this deal to see just whether they’re recapturing that old-school magic, or missing the point, and to tell the rest of you whether or not it’s worth taking the plunge as well.
There’s no pretension here – you’re an all-American action hero, and there’s a bunch of alien lizard-men from Arcturus invading the planet, so you’ve got to shoot them and their robot buddies until there’s nothing left to shoot. First off, the game is still way, way off from being complete. Right now, it contains just four levels, and some key visual effects clearly aren’t finished yet – enemies spawning into an arena just unceremoniously pop into existence, rather than being heralded by a teleporter effect and a shower of particles. Other than the small handfull of levels, you’re going to find four weapons and – surprisingly – three boss battles, although one of those is wildly unfinished.
Yep, bosses. Plural. While the game is developed by Doom veterans, they’re billing this one as halfway between Doom-style FPS and Contra-style arcade game. There’s platforming, traps, pattern-based bosses which fire walls of bullets that have to be jumped over or ducked under, points, secret areas, checkpoints and extra lives. Right now those features feel a little shoehorned in, but with a little more focus on them in the HUD (some kind of indication of when you hit a checkpoint would help), I can see it actually being a fairly interesting blend.
The levels themselves are fairly standard early Doom-era stuff, albeit with a lot more coloured lighting (reminiscent of Quake 2 in places, for better or worse) and the occasional floating platform to hop across. It’s fairly forgiving platforming, and doesn’t tend to get tricky unless you’re trying to get access to all the secret areas scattered around, which often offer permanent +5 boosts to your health and armor capacities. Once you’re past the first level, there seems to be a rising focus on throwing you into thunderdome situations with a pile of ammo and waves of enemies in an arena.
Right now, I think the two largest problems with the game are an over-reliance on the scuttling spider-bot melee enemies that seem to be in EVERY room, and are just short and annoying enough to require shifting your aim, yet somehow aren’t easy to jump over despite looking only two feet tall. That, and the lack of sense of impact when fighting the space-lizards themselves. There seem to be no blood or impact effects at all when they’re hit, outside of a few red particles on the biggest type in the current build, and they don’t seem to make enough noise, vocally speaking. Maybe it’s because I’ve played too much Doom, but I like enemies that groan, scream and fall over with a gory thud.
It would seem that there are no enemies with ‘hitscan’ weapons – everything is a visibly moving energy blob that can be dodged, jumped over or ducked. After the spiders, the largest annoyance probably comes from the slightly-too-small ceiling and floor turrets, which fire diagonally up or down at you, and also don’t seem to have quite enough visual presence. If they made a loud noise and flashed a warning light at you before attacking, maybe that would help. There’s quite a few things to be tuned up here.
Still, I grumble, but the overall feel of the gameplay is solid and enjoyable. The larger arenas tend to be pretty satisfying, with you chewing through wave upon wave of fodder enemies. The bosses, as mentioned, are Contra-inspired. We’re talking telegraphed attack patterns, broad sprays of bullets, big health bars and dramatic opening poses/death-animations. You even get a first-person thumbs-down animation played after taking one of them down. It’s something I’d like to see built on in the full version – they made for interesting breaks in the action. The cel-shaded aesthetic works well for the most part, making the graphics clean and easily followed, and the music is very much in the style of the original Duke Nukem – plenty of energy without rushing you.
They’re planning on rolling Wrack out in episodic format. Almost like the old Shareware days, but probably with a smaller demo. Right now, a pre-order covers just that first episode, so your $5 will theoretically get you maybe 8-10 levels. There’s definitely a lot to be done with this one, and the game is clearly far from complete, but there’s a framework here that I can’t help but find compelling. Looking forward to seeing the final version of this once it’s done. You can get a discounted preorder now for $5 and pass your own judgement if you want here on the official site. Keep an eye round these parts for a full review once the final version comes out.
Under The Garden was a quiet, pleasant freeware surprise back in 2010. A demanding but strangely relaxing survival action/platformer game by Paul ‘Farmergnome’ Greasley. Today, the first playable build of its aquatic-themed sequel, Under The Ocean has been released for those willing to put down a $7 (or higher, if you’re so inclined) preorder on it. The game is available in both Windows and Mac flavours, and looks to be pretty fleshed out already. Here’s a little bit of gameplay footage to give you some idea of how it works:
I can safely say that this is the first game I’ve seen where you have to manually gut and clean the animals that you hunt. It’s also looking really quite polished and refined for an Alpha build, and I’m really quite digging the art style. It has the same minimalist look as the original, but extruded into complex 3D shapes – not something I expected to see, but it works. The UI looks surprisingly intuitive as well, with filling a bucket being literally a matter of dragging the bucket through water.
The current Alpha build of the game is available only to those who preorder the game, which – as with all other alphafunded projects – will get you every update from here til’ release day. If you want to get some hands-on experience with the concept of the game before putting some money down, you can download the original Under The Garden (Windows Only) here. We’ll be keeping a very close eye on this one, and hope to bring you all a more comprehensive hands-on preview soon.
Credit where credit’s due – Pixel Prospector have been doing great work for the past three years. Finding, playing and recording gameplay footage of hundreds of indie games that you might have missed out on – it’s the sort of archival site we need in this fast-moving world of indie gaming. To celebrate the site turning three years old, they’ve gone and released another of their impressively edited freeware roundups. This time, it’s a perfect showcase if you’ve got a friend or two to hand, and want something to play together. Check this out:
Almost all of these are local multiplayer games, and many of them co-op, so a gamepad or two is recommended. There’s a few online ones in there – check the youtube page for the video itself for more detail on which games support what. Of course, this isn’t their first such video – a good reminder of just how good things have been these past few years is their 2010 roundup of 235 free indie games in 10 minutes:
That is a whole lot of good stuff for a the kindest price-tag of all. Ain’t it beautiful? So many games, and that’s not even looking at the commercial side of things. So, well done to Pixel Prospector, happy third birthday, and best wishes for the future!
Today, the third expansion to exceptionally (and ever-increasingly) silly comedy roguelike/eyebrow simulator Dungeons Of Dredmor is released. While the first expansion added more depth to the dungeon (in the literal sense – it added another five floors of traps, Diggles and other strange critters), and the second one was focused on skill-sets, user customization and modding. Conquest of The Wizardlands seems to be focusing on extra-dimensional adventures and more tangential weirdness. Also, encrusting.
As with previous expansions, it’s a pretty cheap package – $3 – and should throw a whole mess of new stuff into the Random Number Generator that makes the game tick. A no-brainer purchase for fans who are still delving those dungeons, nuking monster zoos and brewing illicit moonshine when they should be slaying monsters. The feature-list is impressively beefy, too, offering a bunch of new skill tracks (including two new weapon types), a pocket dimension for mega-scale item hoarding and a variety of useful Crusts to encrust your weapons with.
The new skill sets, including Communism, Tourism and Lawyering.
All of this will be accompanied by a general update to the game, with some UI and usability improvements scattered around, as well as some refinement to core gameplay elements allowing for stealthier gameplay for those who like to sneak and stab rather than just run screaming down the corridors blatting everything they see. There are also terrifying rumours of a Diggle Hell, which is Totally A Real Place. A dark and forbidden realm, ruled over by the almighty Vlad Digula.