Scarygirl, the wonderful looking cartoon platformer by ludicrously accomplished illustrator Nathan Jurevicius, has been released, today, for free, in your web browser. This means that you can play it without even going through the annoyance of even downloading it. This also means you have absolutely no excuse not to play it. What, you’ve got work to do? That’s not an excuse, that’s an occupation. Or something. Just go play it, it’s worth it for the intro video alone. Still not convinced? What if I told you it was a wonderfully accomplished, perhaps slightly too imprecise with the controls but worth looking at anyway because of the gorgeous visuals platformer? I don’t think you’re in a position to remark on my convoluted descriptions. Fine, look at this trailer then go and play!
It seems Webcomics are all the rage at the moment. Dead Space had one, Mirror’s Edge another, and I’m sure there are countless others that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Zeno Clash, indie darling and oddball extraordinaire, is the latest to colour their universe with some pretty pictures and clever dialog ahead of its April release. They’ve managed to keep it interesting, non-plot specific and somewhat amusing, what with it featuring squirrel death. I really hate squirrels. I think it has something to do with them stealing all my winegums when I was at school, and mutilating my apple juice. It’s really unsporting, and very rude. The images are below, but you can also find them high-res here.
The website for Max Payne 3, the second sequel to the frankly brilliant original Max Payne, has gone live, declaring it will be coming out this winter. It’s in development by Rockstar Vancouver, and appears to be taking Max out of New York and placing him somewhere… ‘else’. That this ‘else’ is ‘a city full of violence and bloodshed’ is only fitting really, as Max himself is also filled with violence and bloodshed. They kind of go hand in hand, those two. Of course, after the events of Max Payne 2, where literally everything goes to shit for him, he’s definitely going to be traumatised enough to grow a beard and move somewhere else. Maybe we won’t have any Captain Baseball Bat Boy hijinks, but hey, maybe there can be other mascot-based hilarity.
The fact Remedy aren’t developing it is a worry, but the fact that Rockstar are does go some way to assuaging such feelings. They’ve got heaps of money and clever technology, not least Euphoria, and while it’s not the acclaimed Rockstar North team, it’s bound to at least be somewhat enjoyable. I just hope they realise that Max Payne isn’t really about the slow motion deaths and walls of dead riddled with bullet holes, but it’s the atmosphere and noir-esque feel of the game that really made it so fun. If they keep the comic-book style narration, then hopefully they’re on the right track. The main worry I have so far is the lack of ‘PC’ at the bottom of the website teaser image. They do know it started here, right?
Spurred by Liegh Alexander’s recent post on SexyVideoGameLand, and a few choice words from our interview with Edmund McMillen a while ago, I’ve started to think about just what Indie means now. I don’t think it’s nearly as clear cut as it has been in the past, and the rate at which it is growing and diversifying is only making it more difficult to classify. Of course, there’s always the fear that by lumping something into a genre you diminish its own voice, but that’s an discussion for another day. Instead, I’m interested in exploring the attitudes and perceptions of what constitutes exactly what makes a developer or game ‘indie’ and what makes it just ‘independent’.
There’s a few different approaches to this discussion, and they’re all valid. ‘Indie’ could just mean a small team, a few people with little money but lots of vision and talent, making something brilliant, original and creative that lights the communities on fire, like 2DBoy (love you!). It could mean something made by a developer without a publisher, funded by them so they reap all the profits, like Introversion. It could mean something thrown up on some sort of distribution service like Steam or Xbox Live, so it’s given the audience it wouldn’t normally have, but at the same time sacrifices a portion of the profits, like The Maw or Pixeljunk Eden. The point is there are many different ways you can get your game out there, and there are many different types of developer who have all been called ‘indie’ at some point or another. The things they have in common is that they are largely independent, and their games are all creative and different from the AAA titles.
I think there is a separation between how developers see ‘indie’ and how consumers see it. Talking to McMillen, he claimed that ‘Working with a publisher I’ve learned a lot about what really goes on behind the scenes. Even if you’re indie, you’re really not indie; you’re Independent. No longer indie. Super Meat Boy Wii isn’t indie… it’s Independent.’ The difference between ‘indie’ and ‘independent’ is one of money; if you can afford to pay all the fees associated with a big release, then your game slips away from ‘indie’ and into ‘independent’. From the other side, we don’t, for the most part, know how these games are made. We just know about who makes them, and perhaps in a few cases, get to play the game during its development to help out with beta testing. Thus to the community the games are characterised by how they play, and how they look. You expect the games to be a little buggy, or if not merely quite limited in how long they take to play and how they look. Something like Spelunky only retains your attention because of its procedural nature coupled with its addictive and sadistic death mechanics. If it had been 3d and covered with bloom, no matter how much fun and clever it was, it would no doubt lose its ‘indie’ tag.
So it would seem it’s a case of ‘lo-fi’, as Liegh Alexander puts it. Low production costs and small teams mean the game is simple yet enjoyable, and often revolves around a core mechanic but not much else. While this would seem true of the majority of games recognised as ‘indie’, there are exceptions, such as Flashbang Studio’s 8 week games. They have a reasonable sized team and the games they produce are often wonderfully original and fun to play, but have often a surprising amount of polish and graphical charm, yet retain the feel of an ‘indie’ title. A game about an Aptosaurus dreaming of a Brontosaurus with a jetpack could only be made as an indie game, because no one would want to make it for anything but pure enjoyment. So perhaps instead the ‘indie’ name applies to the concept of a game rather than the production values.
You don’t see many FPS or Strategy games coming out of the indie scene. The few that I can think of off the top of my head (Gravity Bone, Zeno Clash, Stalin Vs the Martians) depart heavily from the conventions of the genre, be it aesthetically, mechanically or satirically. They take the norm and play with it, coming up with something entirely different from what was there before. The rest tend to head towards platform and puzzle territory, sticking with clever physics mechanics, things which will work on a 2d plane. I keep coming back to the word ‘simple’, and, fundamentally, that is the common characteristic of an ‘indie’ game. There are, of course, exceptions, but for the most part an indie game is about a simple mechanic executed in interesting ways. World of Goo, the recent poster-child for the indie scene, is the perfect example of this.
You build things out of goo balls. That is, in essence, the entirety of the game. The fact that 2D Boy did such a brilliant job of playing with that concept to keep it fresh and exciting all the way through it’s many chapters is a testament to their accomplishment as developers. There isn’t really a whole lot going on in the game, and you’re often only focused on a few key points on your structures, but the simple nature of the game keeps you entertained in a far more relaxing way than the vast struggles of an RTS like Empire: Total War or the adrenaline fueled rushes of an FPS like Far Cry 2.
This isn’t an easy discussion to close. The perceptions of the indie scene are changing constantly, and depend almost entirely on where in the situation you stand, whether developer or consumer, it would seem it doesn’t boil down to any one thing. Money is a factor, mechanics are another. How many people make the game has a greater effect than it would appear at first. You can’t even say that when you put all these things together you have a sure-fire formula for what constitutes ‘indie’. Sometimes certain things matter, other times they don’t at all. In the end, it’s one of those situational things that moral philosophers always bang on about. Those liberal bastards.
This is a whole new tact for Steam: a pre-release sale that only lasts 24 hours. Zeno Clash, the oddball melee-heavy fps from developers ACE Team, is reduced from £14.99 down to £7.49 (that’s $19.99 down to $9.99 for our US readers.) for 24 hours only, which means that at 8pm (GMT) tomorrow (Friday the 20th) it’ll go back up to 25% off the full price until release. I’d guess this is a clever ploy to get a rather large amount of people who had a little interest in the game grab a copy while it’s on the cheap, but I doubt anyone is going to be complaining.
It’s an interesting concept though, as the ‘impulse buy’ doesn’t really apply, as you’re not getting the product you want. It’s like running into your nearest gaming retailer and ordering a dozen games while drunk. It’s not really something you’d do. Either way, you are getting the game cheap, which, judging on how interesting the game looks from the trailers, and from all the good little tidbits we got out of ACE Team in our interview with them, well worth a purchase. You can purchase it through Steam, or through the Steam website, here.
Different Kind of Pitchfork for This Mob – Loud Crowd
I’m sure this is the sort of thing Kieron Gillen has happy dreams about at night; a rhythm game about dancing which features the likes of Cut Copy, Santogold and Ladytron (and a whole bunch of other Pitchfork front page stuff) while keeping a very comics-esque aesthetic. The fact it’s all browser based, free to play (with micro-transactions down the line) and is very addictive to play is surely only icing on top. Of course, I had to make the most ridiculous looking afro-sporting, jumper-wearing, belly-protruding dancer possible, just to get all these people to stop dancing for me. Pity it didn’t work.
Loud Crowd is developed by a mix mash of people from Harmonix (the guys behind the first few Guitar Hero games, and the subsequent Rock Bands) and Turbine, MMO veterans of Lord of the Rings Online fame. That means the rhythm games are fun to play, and the online backend works, for the most part, pretty smoothly. It’s particularly important in something like this, where beats are king, and if you have the slightest lag you’re going to fail. For the most part it works wonderfully, but occasionally I did have a few combo-breaking lag moments.
There are two games available at the moment. One is a hit-the-arrow-keys-in-sequence dancing rhythm game, and the other is a DJ scratching one, driven by whatever music is playing, but mainly focusing on you collecting dots while avoiding combo breakers. Both games work cleverly, and have multiple difficulty settings that allow you to wrack up more points. The most clever thing about the whole site, though, is that the music never stops. There’s no artificial track start when you begin a dance section; it just formulates your moves depending on whatever song is playing at the moment, and you go along with it. It makes the whole thing very seamless, and without those forced breaks, it takes a song you don’t like to stop you playing, which is very clever of Conduit Labs (the developers), but dangerous to how much work you get done as a result.
There’s also a social interaction side to the whole thing, allowing you to talk to other players, dance for them and charge up your battery to allow you to go into Blast Mode, that lets you complete a challenge without playing it, unlocking clothes, tracks and… stamps? Apparently you can stamp other players to demonstrate how you think of them. Or something. I didn’t even figure out that section for a while. You can also request tracks with the in game currency you accumulate, and semi-customise your avatar.
It’s very barebones at the moment, but Conduit Labs have stated that they want to create the game with the community (in a recent interview with GameSetWatch), rather than just push out a finished product that people might not like. The game is currently in a beta stage, but it’s definitely very playable, and it will be very interesting to see how it evolves.
Wallace & Gromit Demo Released. Does Not Contain Cheese.
The Demo for the new, Tell Tale Games developed adventure game version of Wallace & Gromit has been released, and you’ll be pleased to know it’s rather good. It’s simple, amusing, and contains fingerprints. It features the first part of the first episode they’re releasing, called ‘Fright of the Bumblebees’, and involves substituting pepperpots for chess pieces, tickling a giant queen bee and tricking a crazy old veteran into giving you his snail.
The animations are largely solid, although sometimes the mouth movings suffer a little too much from Tell Tale trying to stick to the claymation look of W&G, and just coming off as slow framerates. Similarly, the voice acting is mostly good, except for Wallace’s voice being ever so slightly off. I think it’s one of those things that’ll get better as the series get on, as by the end of the demo I wasn’t really noticing it. The graphics, too, are pretty good, with the aforementioned fingerprints being there, but not in your face. And, of course, as with previous Tell Tale games, the puzzles are simple, but enjoyable. You can grab the demo here.
The Last Express: The Game, The Movie, The Movie-Game
I’ve heard a lot about The Last Express in the whisperings that plague my floorboards at twilight. They say that it’s a brilliant, overlooked adventure game. They say that it features some rather cool and swanky rotoscoping technologies. They say they need more cheese before they can fuel the expansion into the living room. They say a lot of things. So, when I found out some clever sod (the clever sod who made the game, no less), had remixed the whole thing into a watchable cartoon/film, I was rather pleased. As it meant I could enjoy the game without having to find it, play it, and devote more than the absolutely necessary time to it. Then I found out it was 70 minutes long. 70 minutes! That’s a proper film! Nothing for it, really, but to watch and enjoy. Each clip is below, and there are quite a few of them.
Playing Cryostasis is like putting your entire music collection on shuffle and not being able to hit the ‘next’ button. It’s a long trawl punctuated by brief sparks of brilliance and intrigue that almost excuse the vast, insurmountable wall of problems that places itself directly between you and the game it so desperately wants to be, and hints at throughout. Cryostasis is bad because at moments, it’s so so good. It’s the dirtiest of teases.
The premise is simple, and profoundly confusing. The fact it doesn’t really matter who you are or why you’re even on this dead, frozen ship or even why you’re able to slip into the past through the corpses of those dead aboard does help it somewhat, but it does make you think. There’s a set of little narrated pictograms that you find scattered throughout the metal innards of the boat that tell a story quite separate from the one you are experiencing, but, of course, it all ties in together. The premise isn’t at fault here. The reasons you’re there don’t matter. The reasons the corpses are there really does.
This whole ship is a frozen catastrophe. Things went badly wrong, they hit something and everything fell apart from there. Literally, in some sections. You find out about what happened both through living the last moments of the crew, and through peeking voyeuristically into the past, glancing down from a walkway to see the First Mate have a go at the Captain for being reckless, or glancing out into the open wastes, only to have your view swung up to the deck of the ship, where the crew are steeling themselves for a collision. It’s masterfully done, and really gives you an incentive to move on.
The problems begin to arise when the game introduces combat. You see, the game runs like QWOP. I turned almost everything down and I still couldn’t aim to save my life, which, quite often, I really was doing. You’ll die a lot in Cryostasis. The whole ship is full of weird frozen zombies that want nothing more than to have you dead. There’s little reasoning behind them, apart from the generic ‘dark forces’ that usually drive zombies. The fact that they’re so bastarding hard to kill is a bit of a kick in the teeth, but I understand it. Survival horror needs hard enemies, otherwise it’s not hard to survive, or particularly horrifying when they come at you. But when every move of the mouse freezes the screen and forces it all to tear about, I can’t fight very accurately.
This only becomes a real problem when firearms are introduced. That they’re all from World War 2, and thus weak and terrifyingly slow to reload doesn’t help much. It’s when the bloody zombies get guns too that it gets nigh on impossible. Every fight is repeated until you know where they’re going to come from, and where to put yourself so they can’t shoot you too well. It’s lazy design, and there’s no fun in it. You’ll be looking forward to finding a new body, just to break up the monotony of the present.
The past really is great though. Every memory, while extremely linear, is exciting and interesting. This ship had a hundred heroic moments before it died, and you get to play through most of them. You’ll be desperately fixing doors to stop flooding, creating huge metal washers in a metalshop while the smoke seeps in, threatening to choke you. You’ll fight the zombies, but in far, far more interesting ways than in the present. Every single moment in the past was infinitely better than those in the present, and when the enemies start to get mind numbingly, frustratingly, difficult, each body presents an escape.
I’m going to make a confession. I didn’t finish Cryostasis. I really, really wanted to, but the horrendous speed with which the game ran, coupled with a horrifically hard section, meant I could never get past it. I want to know what happened on the North Wind. I want to know about the lost tribe that’s talked about in the pictograms. But I can’t, because the game decided that it’d be more fun to present me with an extremely hard section than let me enjoy a story. Really, that’s what Cryostasis’ main flaw is. It’s trying to be a shooter at the same time as being an exploratory quasi-adventure game. Is it really so bad to just have a set of experiences that you live through in the medium of a game? I understand that, if you took out the shooting elements, you wouldn’t be left with much game that was still a ‘game’, but I’d really like to see what would happen if such a game was made.
Ultimately, I can’t justify recommending Cryostasis. I really did enjoy my time with it, but the frustration of not being able to see it through, and the utter boredom I experienced moving through rooms that all looked the same, praying for the soft woosh of a muffled heartbeat that signified a body in the room outweighs the enjoyment I savoured finding out about what happened. If they really wanted to retain the combat, they could easily have just made it all the same difficulty. There didn’t need to be a curve. Cryostasis is a victim of low self-esteem. It didn’t think it could get by on the story alone driving the player, and so it’s made it progressively harder. Gaming conventions have taken another victim, and it really does make me sad.
Is It a Bird? Is it a Plane? Oh wait, Both? H.A.W.X. Demo
So often I find myself starting these impressions thingymajigs with a confession. Today’s confession is that I’m not very good at flight sims. I’m not using that in the broad sense of ‘anything that has you flying a plane.’ I’m using it in the sense of trying to simulate what flying is, down to which knob gets turns at which point, otherwise you go headfirst into the nearest bit of dirt, with accompanying explosions. What I am good at, however, is the arcade flying games, like Ace Combat, and.. well, I’ve not played many other’s like Ace Combat. So when I played Hawx (screw those bloody dots and that silly capitalisation. I’ll do it for the post title, but no more), I was rather pleased that it was like Ace Combat, but, well, more fun.