Old-school first person shooter is a genre name that evokes nostalgia and fond reminiscences of teenage years spent in the glow of 15" CRTs. While there is certainly this aspect (at least for those of us who grew up with Doom and Quake), the genre is not all remakes and reboots, far from it, interesting new games appear as developers seek to refine and build on what made late 90s shooters fun. Tower of Guns is one of them, and it brings its own style to the frantic running/shooting/jumping action, with procedurally generated content and specific art direction.
The game is currently in development (the game is on Greenlight, and you can preorder it on its website and get access to a playable alpha). I asked Joe (the one man army behind Terrible Posture Games) to tell us all about his forthcoming game, art design and the indie life. Also, cats.
VGG: Hi Joe, first of all thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you tell us about Tower of guns?
"Tower of Guns is a fast paced first-person shooter with a lot of roguelike-ish elements (such as random level compositing, random enemies and loot), insane bosses, and pretty crazy powerups. I'm trying to make a lunch-break game, something that will only take you an hour to beat, but you'll spend many many hours trying to claim that victory."
VGG: You've recently released a new build. How is the game coming along?
"Well, a lot of the core technology is in place (though, not always bug-free yet). That means that from here on out the bulk of the work is adding more stuff to the game: bosses, levels, items, arenas, guns, etc. This is the exciting part of developing a game, when things progress fairly quick."
VGG: Playing the current build I was surprised by how much the skills involved are different from modern shooters, it took me some time to adjust back to the late 90s shooter mindset. How important is this old-school vibe to the overall feeling of the game?
"It's absolutely crucial to what makes ToG tick. I wanted to keep ToG as simple to pick up as possible, and while I have nothing against more modern shooters (indeed, some are awesome), most of the more recent signature mechanics have been explored to the point of stagnation. However when looking at the 90s shooter, there were tons of other routes that we could have explored instead and I wanted to peek down some of those routes with Tower of Guns. I'm certainly not alone in feeling the stagnation of the genre, of course. If you look around you'll find a lot of people
developing faster FPS games, or randomized ones, or ones with an emphasis on verticality, or replayability, or whatever. I think in the next five years the genre is going to go in some amazingly fresh directions."
VGG: There's this new game category floating around, the roguelike-like, it's been used to describe FTL and the Binding of Isaac, two games you claim as influences. Do you think it applies to ToG?
"More or Less. Probably Less, admittedly. None of us are pure roguelikes, of course, and with Tower of Guns there is a definite limit to the kinds of randomization I can pull off. I won't deny the influence those two games have had on me, but I'm also heavily influenced by Cave Story, Doom 2 and the entire bullet-hell sub-genre. I'm not aiming to replicate any of those, mind you... I'm just building something I think I'd like to play and it happens to be a mash up of a lot of my influences."
VGG: Speaking of roguelike-like, ToG will have a lot of randomized elements. How much procedurally generated content can we expect in the finished game? Generally speaking how important is randomness to the game experience?
"The randomization is pretty important to keeping the game surprising, which is most of the fun of these kinds of games. However the game is 'permutation' based randomization rather than procedural randomization. That will limit the replayability to a point, but it lends itself to far more interesting room layouts, tailored to more interesting game play. Coupled with a similar permutation based enemy population, the game should provide quite amount of replayability. Will people be playing it for months and months? I don't know, but I do know I should be able to give people their money's worth."
VGG: Background story: One of the trademarks of early shooters (doom, quake, blood) was the short backstory. It could fit on the back of a business card but was enough to provide a context for the action. Do you have a backstory for Tower of Guns? What is the reason for entering a tower full of murderous implements?
"Heh...I'm not talking much about story yet. Mostly that's because I'm constantly revising things, and I don't want to talk too much about the story system while so much is in flux."
VGG: The ToG art style has a lot of personality. Can you tell us about your approach to graphics?
"Before I went “indie” I was an artist and tech-artist in the triple A world...so art was something I was pretty comfortable with. I was also keenly aware of what kind of timesink making art can be. For many games the artwork can easily be the bulk of the development time, but there was no way I was going to be able to make the game of the scope I wanted to make if I crafted the game art using more traditional gamedev practices."
"So, regarding the art, I'll just say that every single decision I made--from the line work to the models to the animation and lighting—all of it was made to capitalize on what I could do quickly as a single developer."
"Honestly, I look at ToG's art and I see those compromises. I see the shortcuts and all the places I cut corners. I shudder. But then I remind myself; ToG isn't about that. For my next project perhaps I'll focus on a smaller-but-prettier experience, but for ToG I needed to focus on making every decision in a way so that I can actually finish this game."
VGG: You're a graphic artist by trade, not a programmer. What made you choose the Unreal engine over, say, Unity?
"That one is easy: I wanted to hit the ground running. I was extremely familiar with the ins and outs of the engine from an artistic standpoint and I knew exactly where I could save time in development if I used it. I've heard nothing but good things from Unity, but to successfully capitalize on the strengths of any engine you need to be extremely familiar with it, and I was with Unreal."
VGG: You used to work for a big studio before deciding to take a year off to work on ToG. How do you feel about life as an indie developer?
"It's certainly harder on the wallet! "
"For years I'd been setting aside some of every paycheck to try this route someday. But I'm one of those people who falls into complacency easily. Happiness can murder motivation, and 38 Studios was honestly a very decent place to work and so I always suspected I'd never “actually go indie”. It took 38 Studios imploding pretty much overnight to convince me to give it a shot...well, that, and a LOT of encouragement from my wife."
"I have learned more and done more in the last year than I would have thought possible for me and it's been amazing. Now I just need to explain to my cats that they need to stop being sick so that I can stop hemorrhaging money in the form of vet bills."
VGG: You're one of the few indies who made the trip to E3 to showcase your game. How was it? Would you advise it to other indie developers?
"Heh, There were a lot of circumstances around that trip being feasible. Getting ToG accepted into the IndieCade E3 Showcase was huge, as it made exhibiting ToG essentially free. Having friends out in LA meant that I had a couch to stay on. And finally, opening up ToG pre-orders with an “Help-me-get-to-E3 fundraiser” meant that I was able to pretty much cover the flight and car rental. If any one of those hadn't come through, I wouldn't have been able to make the trip."
"Having mentioned those circumstances, it absolutely was worth it. I met tons of other developers, tons of press, and talked to a lot of various business-y type people. Even before the show had concluded ToG was getting articles on major press sites. However, E3 isn't the only venue where those sort of opportunities present themselves—there are a lot of conventions, tradeshows, and festivals, and I'd advise other indie developers to investigate those that they can attend with the minimize of cost, both in terms of time and money. It's certainly worth going to them
VGG: Now that you're further along in the development cycle, do you have a target release date?
"My release date was officially “before the new Thief game came out”. They have finally announced their date (Feb 25th 2014), so...before that..hopefully!"
VGG: You take preorders on your website, and you've entered the game into greenlight. Will you publish the game elsewhere (such as Desura, or other online distribution channels)? Are Mac or Linux ports a possibility?
"I would love to publish elsewhere, but I've been holding off from thinking too much about that now because maintaining builds across multiple platforms involves a lot of time and energy, especially when you're talking about semi-frequent build updates of an Early-Access platform. Once I complete the game I'll see if more platforms are interested in hosting it. As for a Mac build, it's technically possible with UDK, but I can't make a promise until I do more research on it. As for Linux, I would LOVE to make a Linux port—personally I think there are many Linux users that are “kindred gamers” to myself and might enjoy a 90s-era kind of FPS. However, there are some technical issues that I don't think I'll be able to get around. If ToG does extraordinarily well I might be able to afford
the time to investigate that more."
VGG: Thank you for your time! Is there anything you'd like to add?
"Please do vote for Tog at http://towerofguns.com/greenlight.php (clicking that should prompt steam to open) Also, if you would like to preorder or learn more about ToG (and find out how to play it!) you can do so at http://www.towerofguns.com"* * *
All images are from the Tower of Guns press kit.
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Recently, Badland was part of Apple's 5 year App Store anniversary celebration. I've been enjoying the game immensely and I immediately got in touch with Johannes Vuorinen, one half of Frogmind to find out more about it. Frogmind is based in Finland.
VGG: Can you tell me a little about where the idea for Badland came about? How would you describe the game as the designer?
Vuorinen: "We had enjoyed playing these various auto-scrolling games like Jetpack Joyride and Tiny Wings. They are just a perfect fit for touch devices with their precise controls. When we started to think about our first project in early 2012, we got the idea that this "genre" could have a lot of more potential. So, we made a prototype and started to add lots of physicality and power-ups into the mix. Suddenly we had changed the gameplay to a unique and fun combination with still keeping the precise one-touch controls.Day 1: Dawn Level
"Now when we knew we had the great gameplay, we started to think about the game's atmosphere. That is how the whole world of Badland was born. We wanted the game to be an immersive gaming experience in an interesting unique world. We took nature as our main reference and started adding things to it to make it look and sound more interesting - more bad."
VGG: The game is three dollars with no In App Purchases. What made you decide to go this route? How has it worked out for you?
Vuorinen: "We wanted to develop the game of our dreams with full focus on the game itself, providing the best possible gaming experience for the player. It was much easier to keep this focus when we decided that the game is a paid game. The price is higher than 1 dollar because we think the game is a very high quality title and we wanted also the price to indicate that."Midday Level, featuring sticky traps and clones
VGG: What were some of the challenges you encountered when designing Badland?
Vuorinen: It was sometimes hard to decide when a certain feature of the game was perfect enough to be really ready. This game was and is still so very important to us so we want it to be perfect. Also, as we wanted to keep the gaming experience as clean as possible with minimal text and icons, it was challenging to decide where and what information to show to the player.
VGG: What do you love about making video games?
Vuorinen: "The fact that your work can be instantly seen on a screen and you can let anyone to play with it. It is highly rewarding."
VGG: There are more episodes of Badland planned. How long will you continue to support the game?
Vuorinen: "We have lots of plans for future updates so I can say that we are planning to support the game for a long time."
VGG: What's next for your studio? What is the gaming scene in Finland like?
Vuorinen: "More Badland! We love the game and fans love the game so we want to keep developing more Badland!
"Both the game development and gaming scene in Finland is just awesome. I think we have have a great and open developer community in Finland. We gather monthly in a local bar to share our experiences, thoughts and even game prototypes."Dusk level, getting seriously challenging
VGG: What do you like about indie gaming? What's frustrating to you?
Vuorinen: "Playing indie games is one of the best ways to discover new kind of game mechanics, graphics and audio. I really enjoy playing them. For my personal taste, some indie games are a bit too weird or challenging to learn but I am sure they have an audience too, so there's nothing wrong with those. Quite the contrary, indie games should introduce weird and absurd stuff too so that players get a good variety of games and people can get inspired."
VGG: What's your opinion of the state of the gaming industry today?
Vuorinen: "I really like how easy it is to self-publish your game globally especially in mobile platforms. It has improved massively in the last 5 years. You can totally be a two-man (or even a one-man) indie studio and self-publish your game as we did. I am not saying it is easy to get sales but at least it is easy to get the game there available for easy download.End of the line for these two clones. Night levels are the most difficult.
"With the massive rise of free to play model, games are becoming more and more like services that ask for players' money from time to time. This has been quite a big change for games in general as nowadays, for example, you cannot be sure how much the game actually costs to complete it (in a reasonably time). All in all, it's a really interesting model that has its pros and cons. Only the future tells which F2P mechanics are here to stay."
I'd like to thank Vuorinen for his time and wish Frogmind the best of luck in the future!
- [+] Dice rolls
Kerbal Space Program is one of those games that has the potential to take over the minds of PC gamers all around the world. The sandbox-style space simulator involves building realistic rockets, shooting them into space and using your Kerbals to explore strange new planets and
Squad is the Mexico City based company behind KSP and their enthusiasm for the game shows in its lovingly crafted characters and space stations. Watch their latest trailer to see the Kerbals in training on the centrifuge and flag-planting.
I contacted Squad and they were gracious enough to answer my questions and send me all of the lovely images used in this post. Bob Holtzman is the head of the PR department and together with Lead Designer Felipe Falanghe, they gave me the lowdown on Kerbal Space Program.The sun rises over KSP Headquarters
VGG: Flight sims are pretty common in video games, but you don't get a whole lot of space sims. Was that the motivation behind the creation of Kerbal Space Program, or were there other factors that lead to the development of the game?
Felipe: The idea behind KSP was something I’ve had with me since I was a child. Some friends and me used to play this (very dangerous) game where we’d take firework rockets, dismantle them, and add things like fins and struts. We also strapped little men made out of tin foil to these “spacecraft”, and those were called Kerbals. I started working for Squad developing these interactive installations for marketing and such. Some of those were really cool, but what I really wanted to do was make video games. I pitched my idea for KSP to Adrian and Ezequiel, our two founders at Squad, and spent the first months of the project in complete disbelief that it was actually happening! Now, being given the opportunity to develop KSP, which is already an incredible dream come true for me, I can’t begin to describe what it feels like to see the amazing reception players have given KSP.
Felipe: I’ve always been a simulator geek myself, but I can’t claim to be very good with math and physics. I wanted to have a space game where the physics of space were above average in realism, but worried if we overdid it, it would turn people away for being too complex. We kept that as an open question until the first public version of the game, and we saw players really weren’t daunted by the challenge. In fact, they wanted more. As for research, it was very much a learn-as-you-go type of experience. I guess we could say we’ve been learning along with the Kerbals trying to reach space.
VGG: Who is this game intended for?
Felipe: Dreamers, schemers, tinkerers... Anyone’s who’s ever picked up a screwdriver to take their toys apart to see how they work, even if they couldn’t put it back together later. Honestly, we didn’t have a very specific target audience, other than knowing we were making the game we wanted to play. We’ve wanted to make a fun game and stay true to our original idea and we have been very blessed to find a great audience that is having fun playing KSP.
Bob: If you like to laugh when you play games, you can add yourself to this list too because the Kerbals are really quite fun and help you laugh when you crash your rocket for the upteenth time.
VGG: What was behind the decision to go into Paid Alpha? How do you feel about that decision now that people have had plenty of time to play with the game and create mods?
Felipe: We knew we had a very ambitious project in our hands, and we knew it was something different, and that meant we were taking a big leap of faith with KSP, especially since it was our first game. We also knew we had a lot more ideas than we could possibly get into the game on our own, so we made the decision to not only make the game available early on during development, but also allow for mods of the game. We have the best community we could have wished for and some incredibly passionate and talented mod creators. They do amazing work. We’ve actually hired current team members from that group, which couldn’t have happened without going with a Paid Alpha model.
VGG: What do you guys think about the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena playing this game so much? Were you worried they'd find things wrong with the physics? Do they send you feedback?
Felipe: We think it’s pretty amazing and wished we were at E3 to meet them. Being space geeks ourselves, this was one of those cases where you have to hold yourself together to not squeal in delight while other people are watching. It’s really something that far exceeded the highest hopes we had for this game when we started.
VGG: What does the future hold for KSP?
Bob: We launched our update 0.21 on July 24, which is a major step forward towards Career Mode. This will be what turns KSP from its current sandbox state to a more structured game. Players will run their own space programs and need to hire their astronauts, build rockets under budget and take on contracts to earn money and reputation.
Felipe: This is the most important step forward for us, but definitely not the only one. We’re also updating the game in both visual and gameplay aspects, improving some key areas that we felt were most in need of a revision.
VGG: The physics and space are very realistic, but the Kerbals and their Solar System are not. What was the motivation to make the characters cute and funny?
Felipe: Who says Kerbals aren’t realistic? The idea was to really give players the feeling of how hard it is to launch a rocket into outer space. Science fiction is so much fun but too often the science is ignored. We knew from the start we wanted KSP to feature an above-average level of realism. When we made that decision, we knew one of our biggest development and design challenges would be finding ways to minimize frustrations. We wanted to make failure part of the fun and the Kerbals are not only a very good way to convey this sense of happily failing towards success, they and their goofy looks provide this essential factor that makes KSP more than just a game about spaceships.
Bob: If you’ve ever ridden a rollercoaster, you’ll know those photo booths at the end of the ride. Even if you don’t buy the picture, you’ll probably stop and laugh at what a ridiculous face your friends and you were making on the ride. The Kerbals allow players to watch the reaction while steering (or crashing) your rocket and spacecrafts. And even if you’ve never ridden a roller coaster, you can still relate because we all love “the look on somebody’s face” when something crazy happens.
VGG: What is the video game development scene in Mexico like? What sorts of challenges do you encounter that you maybe wouldn't elsewhere?
Felipe: The game development scene here really is pretty scarcely populated. This set us up with some unique challenges I think, but also some interesting opportunities as well. I think the toughest part is that because there aren’t many places to work on games here, all the talent tends to move out to other places, so it’s a bit of a vicious circle: There are few game studios because the talent is moving away, and the talent moves away because there aren’t enough game studios. I’d love to one day find out we started a trend that breaks that cycle. Other than that though, being able to work remotely and publish your game online means it really doesn’t matter where you live. We’ve got people from all over the world now on the team, and everyone works as if we were all just a few desks away.Claiming an icy planet for the Kerbals
VGG: What's the most exciting thing you've seen come from the Mod community?
Felipe: Asking to pick one is like asking a parent which child is their favorite! We seriously have the best community in games today. Our modders are brilliant and we’ve hired several of them to join our development team. Our aircraft features stemmed from a Mod that was created by a few of our current team members.
VGG: What's your opinion of the state of the gaming industry today? What excites you about indie game development?
Bob: As an indie these days, if you have a game idea, you can make it happen. That is without question the most exciting thing about the games industry today. Indie developers now have the same opportunities as the big names, access to the same platforms and I think a real better understanding that success doesn’t necessarily come from making the next multi-million dollar blockbuster shoot-em-up.
Felipe: The industry is heading for a big make or break moment in the near future. The big titles are getting more and more stuck on the same formula, because they can’t afford to take the risk of doing it differently, and that strategy won’t work forever. Video games are an industry and an art form born out of this very risk-taking adventure-seeking spirit we’re not seeing anymore, and I think it would be a real shame if all the future held in store for us were just new sequels of the same shooter games.
VGG: Will we see Kerbal Space Program on consoles?
Felipe: It’s something we’ve talked about but as we’re still in Alpha, our game wouldn’t even make it through the certification process on a console at this point. So the most honest answer to your question is that we hope so, but we have no idea when or if that day will come.
Bob: This goes back to your last question about indie game development, while Steam has been an amazing platform partner for us, we think the one great thing about being an Indie is we can potentially work with Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Sony to help find players for our games.
I want to thank the guys from Squad for taking time out of their very busy development schedules to answer my questions and give us all a behind the scenes look at Kerbal Space Program. The game is available directly from the game's website or from Steam. It's still in Alpha, so if you like tinkering with games in this stage, you're sure to have a good time.
- [+] Dice rolls
Wars and Battles may not be a very original name, but it's explicit, you know it won't be about goat farming or the doomed love affair of a pair of circus freaks during the Great Depression (which should totally be the subject of a game, by the way).
Wars and Battles has set itself a lofty goal, that of marrying classic board wargaming gameplay with modern tablet and desktop computer interfaces. The idea has merits, and judging from the solid array of veteran French wargame designers (such as Frédéric Bey, or Nicolas Stratigos, editor in chief of the magazine Vae Victis) working on the game scenarios, the end result looks promising.
I sent some questions to Kermorio studio to learn more about what we can expect from their first game as it enters the Kickstarter frontline.
VGG: Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. You're a new studio, Wars & Battles is your first title if I'm not mistaken, can you introduce us to your team?
"Hi, Kermorio studio is based in Paris and has a dozen members. Wars and Battles is indeed our first title, but most of our collaborators have strong experience in the videogame world, having worked for Ubisoft, Kalisto and many other studios."
VGG: How did you come up with the idea of a multiplatform strategy game?
"We had this idea when we found out no tablet or PC strategy game offered that option, which we thought was interesting and would increase the number of players in the community."
VGG: Your project is an ambitious one, you wish to allow players to play on tablets and computers at the same time, with cloud storage of games in progress and several multiplayer modes. Are you using a custom game engine or an off-the-shelf multiplatform solution (i.e. Unity)?
"We're using tools that allow us to easily develop the game on several platforms."
VGG: Wars & Battles looks inspired by board wargaming, both in the rules system (with hexagons, counters and zones of control) and in the look and feel (especially the 2D battle view). Is it something you're aiming for?
"Absolutely, our goal is to remain in the spirit of board wargames, while adding the ease of play of tablet games. We've also wanted to keep the visual aspect of board wargames by giving the play board the look of a real military map and by using counters to represent units in the 2D view. As for the 3D view, the counters are covered by a 3D model representing that counter's type (armor, infantry, artillery), similar in a way to miniature wargames. There will be something for all tastes!"
VGG: The scenario creators you list include quite a few French veteran board wargames designers. How do you work with them? Are they involved in rules development?
"Each wargame designer works on the rules of a game, for instance Frédéric Bey wrote the rules for Austerlitz and Nicolas Stratigos those for Kharkov 1943. We give them a framework by explaining what the machine can and can't do, and they write the ruleset using that framework. Some rules are based on existing board games, other are completely new. One of the aspects that interests our designers the most is the ease of use the computer brings: no more need to look at complex combat resolution tables, lay down markers or spend 30 minutes poring through a rulebook... The computer does it for you, which allows designers to create deep and complex rules a human player won't have to deal with directly. The other benefit digital wargames bring is greater fluidity in multiplayer games than in classic board wargaming.
I'd add that the rules are very deep and specific. What the computer allows is to expose those rules to the user in a straightforward way, while allowing experienced players to explore the complexity if they wish to."
VGG: The game tracks a large number of parameters (supply, reinforcements, unit fatigue, weather) but your presentation of the game insists on the ease of play for a beginner. How do you manage to have both?
"A lot of the rules are natural and intuitive for players: it's normal for a fatigued unit to be less efficient, or for planes to stay grounded during storms. A large number of those sophisticated rules are only reproducing natural mechanisms expected by the players. By the way, a strategy game such as Wars and Battles can be summed up to attack and defence capacities: by taking into account these simple factors and choosing the right strategic and tactical options a "casual gamer" can certainly win against the AI or another player who chose a less effective strategy. Of course a deep knowledge of the rules allows to better use unit capabilities, take into account terrain and weather, and anticipate. There's an incentive to know the rules well but a beginning player can have a lot of fun without questions."
VGG: The game will include an AI but seems more multiplayer-focused, with different play modes (asynchronous or semi real time). Can you tell us more? Will we be able to play locally (one machine for several players)? Will different gaming platforms be separated (as is often the case with console and PC multiplayer for instance)?
"We want to to create a powerful AI for Wars and Battles. It's certain that the development of an efficient AI is done by steps and it's something for which we have planned long-term efforts. Ideally we'd wish to offer an Artificial Intelligence able to reproduce proper tactics used during each battle. Besides, Wars and Battles will have an important multiplayer component. Our objective is to be able to play on any platform against any other platform, in asynchronous or semi real time mode. At this point we have not planned to add a local multiplayer mode."
VGG: The game engine sounds very flexible, judging from the different battles announced. Will it be possible to create other your own scenarios and/or campaigns?
"The development of a map and scenario editor is a long term possibility we're seriously looking into."
VGG: What are your plans regarding game distribution? And since several battles have already been announced, will they be available as self-contained games, as DLCs?
"Wars and Battles will only be available as a download. The game itself will be free, the battles themselves will require payment. However each battle will include a free short demonstration scenario. For example you will be able to buy the Kharkov battle and play it fully without buying the previous games. You'll be able to buy and play and replay the battles you're interested in without limitations or the need to buy a "base game"."
VGG: Two quick questions to wrap up this interview: Are you considering a Linux version?
"There are no specific difficulties in developing a Linux version but we'd like to have user feedback to gauge interest. We've started the discussion on our website and our Kickstarter project and are waiting for player input before making a decision."
VGG: Do you have something planned for the coming 100th anniversary of WWI?
"A French team like ours can't miss such an important event... We're looking into creating a game around the 1st battle of the Marne (1914): this will be a stretch goal for our Kickstarter campaign. We're also thinking about organizing a big event in September 2014 with all players who enjoy Wars and Battles."
VGG: Thanks for your answers! Do you have anything to add?
"I hope you'll enjoy the game, and don't forget to support us on Kickstarter!"* * *
Images from the Wars and Battles press kit.
- [+] Dice rolls
Jonas Kyratses is one of the most underrated indie devs, with a sizable number of games published, as well as books and essays. Together with his wife Verena Kyratses manning the paintbrush they have created a series of adventure games set in the Lands of Dream, a very personal fantasy setting inspired as much by the works of Lord Dunsany or William Blake as by politics and philosophy. If that sounds dry, it really isn't, and I encourage you to try The Fabulous Screech, it's a short flash game and will give you a fair idea of what the Lands of Dream are about.
I interviewed Jonas over email after hearing about their successful indiegogo campaign to fund a new game in the Lands of Dream series, Ithaka of the Clouds, "the story of two lovers and their travels across the Lands of Dream as they seek the legendary city of the title". He took the time to reply after escaping a horde of crazy dentists (true story).
VGG: First of all thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. You’ve successfully funded your next game in the Lands of Dream series, Ithaka of the Clouds, via indiegogo. How would you describe the Lands of Dream to someone who hasn’t played any of the games yet?
"The Lands of Dream are the world of imagination, where everything imagined is real, as are many things that have yet to be imagined... but not everything is quite as you would expect it to be. It's a world as beautiful and dangerous as the human imagination, though I should point out that it's not simply some trite metaphor *for* the human imagination. In fact, I would say that many of the learned scholars of Oneiropolis, the City of Dreams, would say that our world is an echo of the Lands of Dream, not the other way around.
Some of my games are stories from that world (as is the Oneiropolis Compendium), others are direct portals that allow you to interact with the people and creatures there directly."
VGG: In your indiegogo video you mentioned crafting, and a story based on a journey rather than exploration. What else can returning players expect?
"All the things that characterize the Lands of Dream! Philosophy, puns, connections with other stories, a love of literature and art, an insane amount of detail, mushrooms, and of course Bob the Spider. As with previous games, they can also expect many unusual design choices and enough text to fill several books. And surprises, but I obviously can't tell you about those."
"We have a special type of workflow that is called "chaos" and we find that it is very helpful. Ideas (even accidents) from the graphics change the course of the story, the story suddenly dictates new graphics, and everything influences and is influenced by the music. It would make a manager have a heart attack, but the result has a density and interconnectedness that is hard to achieve otherwise. (I'd like to point out that this is an actual choice on our part, not just laziness and a lack of organization. When we were directing a play, for example, we organized and planned everything down to the smallest detail, months ahead of time. But the Lands of Dream require a different approach.)"
VGG: Something I’m looking forward to see in Ithaka of the Clouds is the relationship between the two main protagonists, a couple of gay Trolls. How do you approach writing gay characters?
"In the same way that I approach writing any other two characters: as people. As friends, as lovers, as individuals and social creatures experiencing the world. They are not exotic or alien Others (an idea Kavafis satirizes wonderfully in his poem "Waiting for the Barbarians", a major influence on the game) but thinking, feeling beings like you and me."
VGG: All your Lands of Dream games use traditional point n’click game mechanics. What are your reasons for choosing this format?
"The simplicity of it appeals to me. It allows the games to dedicate themselves fully to the exploration of textual as well as more literal spaces; in a sense, it means the games are all about the interaction between the player and the world."
VGG: The Sea Will Claim Everything is on Steam Greenlight. Is it something you’re considering for Ithaka of the Clouds? What distribution platforms will the game be available on?
"No, I'm not really considering Greenlight for Ithaka of the Clouds. I think even Valve themselves are now aware of the fact that Greenlight is a troubled concept, though I think the intent was good. As for distribution platforms, that's still far in the future, but I'm relatively confident it will be more widely available than The Sea Will Claim Everything. It will definitely also be available completely DRM-free, because I think that's important."
VGG: Can you tell us more about Nexus City, the RPG you were working on with Terry Cavanagh? Is it really dead, or just sleeping?
"It's sleeping. Possibly in a cocoon, waiting to reemerge as a carnivorous butterfly monster. Which means I still can't reveal too much, except that it was a kind of tripped-out alternate history Western about a group of people (and a coyote) banding together to fight the Devil. While the version Terry and I were working on won't happen, I do very much hope to make the game in some form eventually. If I can find someone demented enough to work on such a ridiculously ambitious project with me, that is..."
VGG: Thanks for your time! Anything else you want to add?
"All cats are secretly communist agents. That's why I like them."* * *
Speaking of cats, I leave you with the indiegogo campaign video, which has a fair bit of explanations about the game.
Note: screenshots and images are from other games in the Lands of Dream series, since there isn't any Ithaka of the Clouds screenshots available yet beside the Troll concept art. The banner is from the Lands of Dream website.
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The Yawhg is a game that doesn't fit easily into traditional categories. While at its core it's a traditional graphical text adventure, it's a multiplayer game with a short playtime but a vast array of possible events which give it surprising replayability, and the beautiful graphics by comic artist Emily Carroll give it a lot of personality. I contacted Canadian developer Damian Sommer to learn more about the game's genesis and the team's future plans.
VGG: The Yawhg was released a few days ago and the reception was rather good. Happy?
"Very much so. The reception was MUCH better than anticipated, so I'm more than happy at the moment!"
VGG: The Yawhg was created during the Comics Vs Games game jam in Toronto. Can you tell us how it went? How did you work together?
"The entire event was a blast. They paired up game designers, like myself, Christine Love, and Farbs, and paired us up with awesome comic artists, like Emily Carroll, Steve Manale and John Martz. The games that came out of the event were amazing, and the Yawhg was only one of many.
It seemed like most of the teams from the event were separated by great distances. Emily and I basically made the entire game using only email and dropbox."
VGG: How did you come up with the idea of a multiplayer Choose Your Own adventure game?
"When we were trying to figure out what to make, Emily and I were shooting these lengthy emails back and forth, trying to get a feel for what we each wanted to make. In these emails would be lists of ideas, platformers, puzzle games, everything. Embedded in one of Emily's emails to me was "Well, we could try making a multiplayer choose-your-own-adventure game. Wait, no, how would that work?" To which I replied, "I know EXACTLY how that would work." And the game you know today was born."
VGG: Playing The Yawhg reminded me of story-driven boardgames like Talisman or Tales of the Arabian Nights, or Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf gamebooks. Were you inspired by these kind of games?
"Not at all. I had no idea those games existed when we were making the Yawhg.
The Yawhg only really has one direct game inspiration: Dungeons of Fayte. The Yawhg was actually an attempt by me to take my favourite part of Fayte, the in-town story events, and expand and focus upon them greatly. I think we succeeded."
VGG: The Yawhg plays a bit like one of your earlier designs, “On a scale from zero to space, this game is space” (a collaboration with Zoe Quinn), minus the multiplayer aspect. Will you be doing more games in this vein in the future?
"I already have! There's a Twine game I made called The Vermin Throne that uses a similar formula, but turns it into a versus game, where you're trying to kill or shame all the other players.
I have another few ideas that take a similar approach to story, but that story is supplementing other sorts of gameplay on top of it. There's two games in particular. One's a Pikmin-like, and one's a Pokemon-like. I've started work on both, but who knows where those two will end up. I might just end up combining the two. I'm not sure."
VGG: In your Greenlight presentation, you mention the possibility of porting the game to other platforms beside windows. Is there a chance of seeing a mobile version? The Yawhg could be the perfect game to play on a tablet with a few friends in a pub
"I agree! It's definitely in the cards, and is definitely possible. It's not likely to be super soon though, because I'm still dealing with fixing the PC game!"
VGG: Do you have other projects for The Yawhg?
"I have plenty. The one that's closest to being done is a card game I'm working on called Without Question. It's a card game in which each card has a rule on it that you play on other players. One example could be a card that says "You must always keep your wrists touching." Another card could be "You cannot make eye-contact with another player." All these rules stack, and make for something grand by the end of the game."
VGG: Will we have a chance to know what the Yawhg actually is?
"Some answers to what the Yawhg is, is in the game itself. "
VGG: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Is there anything you wish to add?
"Nope! Thanks for having me!"* * *
Here's the official gameplay trailer (includes laughing Canadians):
The Yawhg is available for windows PC on its website for $10. Steam users interested in the game can vote for it on Greenlight.
All screenshots by me.
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World 8 Games. The little shop, located on Vermont and 11th in Los Angeles is at the cultural crossroads of the Salvadoran Corridor and Koreatown. The building itself was a Taekwondo studio, a fitting setting for this fighting game obsessed shop. Israel told me the place needed a lot of work when they moved in, and he even refinished the floors himself. They had their grand opening two years ago, creating not just a shop, but a community hub where folks of all ages can come to play games and meet up.
Their distinctive logo is all over the place, from their large, bright orange sign out front, to the backs of the business cards and keychains. The shop itself is well placed, right in the middle of three schools. The brothers took advantage of this, offering a Happy Hour for fighting games. Monday through Friday from 3-5, gaming is only one dollar an hour. Fighting games are the passion in the shop and several large monitors sit above couches. Israel told me if the shop isn't too busy, he'll hop in and play with customers. There's even a couple of vending machines, offering cold sodas and snacks.
Owning a Friendly Local Video Game Shop is a tough business. It's clear that what sets World 8 apart is the focus on community. Israel's sister Monse runs the counter and makes an effort to learn the customer's names and preferences. While I was chatting with Israel, Monse was greeting local customers as if they were friends. Besides Happy Hour, the shop is working on a Ladies' Night. Tuesday night features Super Smash Brothers Melee and Brawl from 5-9 pm, and Friday Night is Sissy Fight Night from 6pm to close. All events are only a two dollar cover, making them the some of the cheapest nights out in LA. He really enjoys fighting games and the eSports scene. He'll be attending Evo this year in Las Vegas, and will be streaming the event live at the shop.
It's clear his mission is to get games into people's hands. When I asked him what platforms he owns, he mentioned that he usually owns a 3DS, unless the shop sells out, at which point he'll sell his if a customer wants one. GameStop and Amazon have a huge advantage over World 8: They can offer exclusive bundles. Israel told me that try as they might, it's just too difficult to get these deals, so they put together their own packages to celebrate the release of games. The Last of Us got bundled with the collector's art book, and FIFA 13 was sold with a soccer ball. He hopes to do more specials like this in the future.Monitors line the back wall of the shop.
It's always interesting to see what professionals in the gaming business enjoy. Israel told me he isn't too concerned with graphical power. He prefers a focus on storytelling. He's pretty fond of the Wii U, and owns several handheld systems. He hasn't jumped on the tablet bandwagon yet, but seems enthusiastic about what things like iPad can do. Looking into the next generation, his personal feeling is that the PS4 is more consumer and small business-friendly.
The future of gaming is morphing into something quite different right now, and World 8 plans to grow and adapt along with it. The brothers are working on getting both new consoles in the store, but before the Xbox 180, Israel told me that they were having trouble getting in contact with Microsoft in regards to becoming an “authorized re-seller.” He said that he spoke to another local video game shop who told him they're not even going to carry the Xbox One, though now he thinks that owner probably changed his mind. If you do want to get your PS4 or Xbox One from World 8, they have confirmation on all the accessories, so hopefully the boxes will be confirmed soon.The entrance of the shop displays some of the games available.
I spoke with Edgar and Israel about the Xbox One, now that they've revised the plans for the box. Both of them are now excited about the machine. Israel laughed and said “Yeah, I like them now.” But Edgar seems more cautious. “If they're willing to turn around on three years of hard work, who knows what they'll do in the future,” he explained. He talked at length about how Microsoft may have been able to follow through with their plans had they introduced them slowly, like Nintendo did with the DS and the WiFi network. He thinks the changes should have been gradual because we're very used to gaming in a certain way. “Fifteen years ago, people wouldn't use debit cards. Now they're buying coffee refills with them.” In that sense, it seems likely to Edgar that Microsoft will go with the original plans for the console, only this time, we'll see them in a few years instead of Day One.
Being a retailer right down the street from E3 made it easy for Israel to spend a day
Retro gaming is a large part of World 8 and they still buy old systems and old games. In fact, much of the shop's stock is used or older games, (though they have a case of new games in the front). These older systems are a hit in this neighborhood, which is made up of working class families. Israel said that haggling is pretty common in the shop, something the employees are happy to do.Not me!
World 8 games isn't the only locally owned video game store in LA, but they're certainly filling the niche nicely. Today, on a Tuesday afternoon, the shop was full of people, buying games (new and used) playing cards and talking with the employees. They've earned their place in the community and are standing in nicely as a substitute for the arcades of the past. If you're ever visiting Los Angeles, be sure to stop in and chat with everyone, and stick around for Happy Hour.
Note: I covered this shop because I wanted to get a story from a small business about the next gen consoles, and the ins and outs of running a small video game shop. World 8 did not ask for the profile, nor did they compensate me in any way for this story.
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This Indie Developer Focus series is going to focus on the students of University of Southern California's Interactive Media Program. These students are all part of the program and they worked on games throughout the school year. When I went to Demo Day a few weeks ago, I saw games of all types, from first person space exploration, to fighting games, to art games. USC hosts many international students, and one of them is Miguel Oliveira, from Portugal. His game is Thralled.
The game impressed me, with its striking visuals, and clever gameplay. I played it for a little while at the show. It was on the iPad, and at first I was a little lost. Oliveira approached me with a smile and handed me some headphones. The sound effects were integral to the game. The bundle I kept setting down so I could push a cart around was in fact, a crying infant. And the thunder of my shadow self stalking me from the edge of the jungle got my heart racing a little. I knew I wanted to talk with Oliveira, and he agreed to an interview.
VGG: How many people were involved in Thralled? What was your specific involvement?
Oliveira: "On and off, a total of 24 people worked on Thralled. The team was composed of USC students from various programs, except for our composer and our sound designer, who worked with us from the Berklee School of Music in Boston. We also had advisers and faculty members accompanying us throughout the process. I served as the creative director and lead designer."
VGG: Who came up with the idea and what was the motivation behind creating the game?
Going back to the theme of the game, slavery - I decided on this topic because I grew up in Portugal, which was the nation that pioneered the Transatlantic Slave Trade and under which most Africans were enslaved. It is estimated that 30 to 50% of enslaved people at the time were taken to the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Nevertheless, this is barely ever mentioned in school curricula or popular media. These were about 5 million people that my ancestors tied in chains at the holds of crammed slave ships, and forced to work for 16 hours everyday on sugarcane plantations – In my view, the topic is not talked about often enough and is not handled seriously enough, and I want to bring it up to discussion."
VGG: What are your plans for completing the game?
Oliveira: "Now that the academic year is over, Tiffanie (producer) and I are trying to reassemble a team and work on Thralled over the summer. We’ll see how it goes from there."
VGG: What are your plans for when you finish school? Will you go into video game design?
Oliveira: "I am planning to go into game design, yes! I actually just finished school, and my immediate plans are to get a game design job and keep working on Thralled!"
VGG: What started your interest in making video games?
Oliveira: "Again, I think that video games have immense potential in regards to storytelling and emotional/intellectual impact. I also think that that potential is mostly unexplored. I am interested in game development because I want to create experiences that explore interactive media’s artistic potential."
VGG: What do you want people to take away from Thralled?
Oliveira: "We want people to stop and realize thoroughly that slavery happened and that it still happens on a widespread scale, and really feel how repulsive that is. Really realizing the things that are wrong in the world might well be a good step to encourage people to make it better."
VGG: What were some unexpected challenges you faced in the creation of the game?
Oliveira: "In terms of design, it was finding the mechanics that fell in line with the plot. Since our story is told exclusively through gameplay and environment aesthetics, that was quite a challenge. However, I admit that managing the team was the biggest hurdle. The team was exclusively made of students who had other classes and commitments, and who couldn’t devote as much time and dedication as a professional team would, and managing around that was quite difficult."
VGG: Can you tell me a little about the game design program at USC?
Oliveira: "The USC Games program encompasses two fields of study - Interactive Entertainment, which is a part of the Cinema School, and Computer Science Games, inside the Engineering School. I majored in the former. The interactive entertainment program is very much focused on design, and on teaching its students such things as the iterative process of game development and the value of play testing. We embark on a number of small projects over our first 3 years in college and usually, during our last year, work together with engineers from the Computer Science program on a big 1-year project. These projects are selected from amongst a number of pitches that a faculty board must green light - Thralled was such a project."
Oliveira informed me that he was very proud the team was able to get together to make the game a reality. They've been thinking about an Android version as well, but that's far in the future. The game is also language neutral, which is nice for an international audience.
While it might be a while before Thralled is available for the public, it's still worth keeping an eye on. The game blurs the lines between serious and casual. Oliveira's development team worked hard on the visuals, the mechanics and the overall feel of the game. They took full advantage of the iPad's capabilities: players must change the orientation of the tablet in order to solve certain puzzles, the layers of graphics served to create a sense of depth and the excellent sound design pulls players into the world of Thralled. Best of luck to Oliveira and his team!
All images courtesy of Oliviera
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Catequesis is the brainchild of Spanish writer and graphic designer Francisco Calvelo and French programmer Maxime Caignart, due to be released this Fall. A rather intriguing teaser trailer was published earlier this month (which we discussed in a previous blog post), so we turned to the internet with our questions, which Francisco and Maxime kindly answered.
VGG: Thanks for taking the time to answer this interview! mandatory first question: you’re currently working on Catequesis, what can you tell us about the game?
"Hi, thank you very much for your interest in our game. Catequesis is a survival horror in 8bits, with a deep story, really scary moments and action. The story is about Daniel a 12 years old kid that will have to fight against a curse that grows inside a building. We are doing the game for PC, Mac, Linux and Android."
VGG: You label the game “Action RPG” and refer to Legend of Zelda. How will that work? Will there be levelling up mechanics, or is it more RPG in the sense of interacting with NPC and fulfilling quests to advance the storyline?
VGG: You say the game is inspired by HP Lovecraft, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Japanese horror and catholicism, and all those elements show up in the trailer you’ve recently released. Can you tell us how you work with such different influences?
"Ha,ha, it is really easy for me, I'm a Spaniard, and here we have Catholic roots, this is present in every aspect of your life, even if you don't believe in god, at the same time I'm 31 years old, so I ate everyday Dragon Ball, Saint Seya, Ranma 1/2... I grew up loving anime and playing Atari and Super Nintendo. After that I started to love films and make films too, I was shocked by a lot of great filmakers, and the more disturbing, the more I love them. So , you can see, I don't pick random subjects I only mix the things I love, the things that my own brain has been mixing subconsciously for a lot of years."
VGG: You’re a French programer and a Spanish writer and graphic artist. How do you organize your workflow? Do each of you has a set list of tasks or do you both work on story, graphics and gameplay?
(Max) "Fortunately, each one of us only works on his field of knowledge. We have tools that help to easily integrate graphics into the game, an editor that allows any non-coder to create maps and test various things. So the process of coding and designing is well separated. We use a source control system to share new content, new builds. As we're a small team, we have a pretty loose organization. Each one is responsible for his own work and organize it as he wants. We also use a tracking system to list important tasks, and bugs. And emails, a lot of them!"
VGG: There has been a number of successful indie games mixing horror with a retro aesthetic, such as Home or Lone Survivor. Would you say you are inspired by these? What are your reasons for going for a 8 bit look and feel?
"We love Home, and Lone Survivor, they are a big influence for us. There are some more, a lot of people making scary games with RPG maker and others. Well the 8bits is for two big reasons, it is easy to draw... I mean, the pixel art is hard, but it is harder in 16bits than 8bits, I want to make a big game, a long game, a serious game, and the only way to not spend 10 years making the graphics was with pixel art. And I love the "indie" label, when you show pixel art you are screaming you are indie."
VGG: The trailer’s music is a chiptune rendition of a classical music piece from Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. Is it something that will also be in the game?
"Well, it is not decided yet, the OS will be a really important part of the game and we are testing musicians to get the right one. Sergio de Padro made a great chiptune version of Albeniz, and it would be great to have more classical Spanish pieces for the game, but we'll see."
(Max) "Now that's an interesting technical question. The game is coded in Java and OpenGL (using Jogamp). There's no framework used, almost everything is homemade, so we have the hand on every technical part of the game. Java runs on Linux, Mac and Windows, it's a cross platform language. For Android, there'll be a specific port to handle the difference between a desktop OS and a mobile OS, that'll be basically the display, the inputs and the sound. (I discussed this topic in my blog, that's a bit technical - ed. note: this post):
display : To keep a retro-feeling to the game, we ensure that a low number of pixels are displayed. But in reality, the game uses the native resolution of the device, everytime. We apply a smart zoom on the game, so that the game looks the same on any device. And of course there are a few OpenGL tricks !
sound : For the desktop, Jogamp provides everything needed to use OpenAl, the sound brother of openGl. For android devices, there'll be specific code
input : This is the most fun part. This is not as tricky as it seems. In the game, every kind of input is mapped to a generic action. So touching the screen above the hero, pressing the up arrow on your remote, or even sliding the finger up always lead to the "move up" action. No magic here.
There's even a possibility to port the game to browsers, using WebGL. But that's another story."
VGG: You’ve published screenshots and screencasts showing the Catequesis Editor. Do you intend to publish this editor at some point? Would you be interested in fan add-ons and mods?
(Max) "As I said before, the idea behind the level editor is to allow someone with no programming skills to create a world. So user generated content is basically possible. A few months back, we took the time to think about crowdfunding. Creating your own quest was something we thought about, as a kind of reward for backers. We finally dropped the crowdfunding idea and postponed the idea of user generated content. This is something that requires a lot of extra work, including tedious documentation, support for those tools and includes adding a secured way to allow extra content in the game. Long story made short, probably not for Catequesis, but maybe for another game "
VGG: Thank you for your time!
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