Smaller Games Look to be a Big Deal in the Next Generation

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Though gamescon isn’t typically known for being a flashy spectacle of triple A games (that would be E3), it still has to be considered odd that on a day marked as the next major battle between Sony and Microsoft, the focus was instead on indie games.

Both companies devoted large parts of their presentation time to how the new consoles will handle indie games, with Microsoft’s approach being the bigger deal simply because no one had any idea exactly how the Xbox One would be releasing indie games, after some ominous announcements regarding their stance on the topic.

Long story short, anyone interested in developing indie games for the Xbox One needs to register with Microsoft to do so, and get their approval. If you get that approval, they provide you with the development kits to get started, which for an indie developer is a pretty big deal.

While the system will be limited at first, the idea is to use the feedback of these regulated developers to help build a system that will ideally let anyone who owns and Xbox One make games for it. The exact hows, whens, and whys of this transition remain something of a mystery, but developers who’ve already been working with the system seem excited about the potential of it, so even though the average gamer may have no idea what the hell any of this means, they apparently can expect some good games out of it.

Sony on the other hand has been continuing their keep it simple policy, and just seem to be inviting every major indie game of recent memory to be a part of the PS4. Highlights include “Rouge Legacy,” “The Binding of Issac,” and the upcoming “Hotline Miami 2.” It’s an approach that may lack ingenuity, but you have to appreciate its ability to be clearly explained in a few sentences.

Ultimately though it’s still too early to tell which of the two will be claim victory in the indie arms race, but it’s becoming more and more clear that indies are gaining some serious muscle in the gaming world, and the time has never been better to be a programmer or designer with a little means and the right idea.

Naturally that means the obvious  winner would be the gamers who get to reap the benefits this movement towards encouraging original concepts in and encouraging fresh talent brings. So…yay us.

What does “Earthbound”, the Vice President of the World, and a Homeless Guy Have in Common? That Would be New RPG “Citizens of Earth”

It’s not uncommon for good ideas to not translate into good video games. However, even in instances where creative games bomb spectacularly, they can still lead to very memorable experiences.

Even though we don’t have much to go off of regarding it at this time, it still seems like recently revealed indie RPG project “Citizens of Earth” is guaranteed to at least be a memorable experience as it has not one, but several very interesting ideas forming its basic blueprint.

It comes to us from developer Eden Industries who crafted one of those aforementioned brilliant, but flawed, games with their first title, “Waveform”, and has players taking the role of the Vice President of the World in his quest to rid his small home town of various weirdos and presumed evil doers. Now being a politician, and not wishing to get his hands dirty, the VP takes on a “team leader” approach and recruits denizens of the town to fight his battles for him. The character types range from body builders, to baristas, to homeless guys, and each not only brings unique attributes to combat, but when left out of your party, can provide certain abilities based on their character type with services like discounted items in their shops, town expansions, and exploration rewards.

Few specifics are known about the game, but it is confirmed that it will be much in the style of a classic JRPG, only with no random encounters (enemies will be viewable on the game world) and a combat system that will allow for battle restarts for party member swaps. Other than that, the games creator’s are sooner to talk about the broadstrokes and style of “Citizens of Earth”, and it’s easy to see why, as the game uses concepts from some of the greatest games of all time. It’s party leader influencing combat mechanic is straight from “Pokemon”, the expanded party, and their unique abilities, are reminiscent of the “Suikoden” series, it’s got a hyper Americana sense of character and environment design that reminds me of the artwork from “Fallout”, and best of all the entire game, from the humor, to the enemies, to the  basic design, borrows heavily from my favorite game of all time, “Earthbound”.

No a great idea doesn’t always mean a great game, but when you are taking your cues from games that are both some of the greatest of all time, and in some cases the most criminally underappreciated, and using them to enhance what is already a unique story concept, you come away with something that stands on its own, and looks to be an always welcome breath of fresh air for the medium. In any case fans of classic RPGs, and bold games in general, should set aside time to keep an eye on “Citizens of Earth” as it progresses, and aims to start a Kickstarter campaign later this year.

How Valve is Making Sure Gamers Get the Games they Want, But Only if it Helps Children’s Charity

Valve may be my favorite video game company in the world.

It really has nothing to do with their games either. I mean, I’m as big as a fan of “Half-Life,” “Left 4 Dead,” “Team Fortress 2″ and the rest of the lineup as anyone, but it’s more the general vibe of the company that appeals to me so much. They’re living proof that it is possible to maintain a respectable bottom line, without having to sacrifice artistic or personal integrity. Maybe it’s their supposed ‘no bosses’ atmosphere at the office, but you actually do get the impression that they make moves for the benefit of their fans and not their figures.

Case in point is the new Green Light section on Steam. In case you weren’t aware, Steam Green Light allows indie developers a forum to submit their projects to for approval to be featured on Steam. The games are voted on by the users, and run the virtual gamut of just about every genre and concept you could possibly imagine. It’s similar to Kickstarter, with the key difference being that most of these developers aren’t asking for money, but rather the kind of exposure to open consumer minds that only Steam can provide.

With any open market of this magnitude, there is naturally going to be problems. Already cases of false titles (more than a few “Half-Life 3s” have been pitched) and morally improper game concepts have been reported, plus you just have the general onslaught of pitches that leads to hard worked ideas being buried under a pile of half-hearted hopefuls.

Valve may have found a solution to the problem though, and it comes in the form of a “pay to play” type entry fee. Now for a developer to feature their idea, it’s going to cost $100 dollars. In the grand scheme of things, most developers can easily write this off as a minor investment in their own project, with the potential reward being worth far more than that figure. And in case you actually believed that Valve would do something like  pocket the money, you forget who you’re dealing with.  They’ve announced that all proceeds from this fee will be donated to the Penny-Arcade sponsored charity Child’s Play.

Only Valve could manage to solve a nightmare of a logistical problem in a way that somehow manages to help children’s charities. It’s that surreal level of forward thinking and personal responsibility the company has that even makes me believe that their newly rumored venture into the physical console market that their pet project “Steam” is slowly helping to destroy, might somehow work after all.

GAME REVIEW: Resonance

Once banished to the “back in the day” wing of the video game hall of fame, adventure games have seen an increase in popularity in the last couple of years due to titles ranging from the evolutionary equivalent (“Heavy Rain“) to the pure point and click (the Telltale collection).

Resonance,” from Wadjeteye Games, is part of the latter. Rather than try to update and gentrify the genre for a new audience, though, the developers have gone the route of nostalgia and created an experience that is artistically and fundamentally similar to the original crop of adventure titles that helped popularize the genre in the early 90s.

“Resonance” is the story of four people (that you control, anyway) who find their lives intertwined by the search for a brilliant scientist’s prototype for a new electrical device that looks to have caused mass destruction in several major cities across the globe. Their reasons for the pursuit are all different, but it becomes clear very quickly that all of them will need each other, not just for their own benefits, but for the greater good as well.

More than any technical aspects like graphics (though the art style is quite good for what it is), the biggest draw of any good adventure title has always been a great story, and that’s why I’m happy to report that “Resonance’s” plot is indeed a great one. It contains all of the twists, turns, and old fashioned intrigue you would expect from such a conspiracy setup, and it constantly manages to move the player and its characters from interesting scenario to interesting scenario with very few lulls. The real driving force of the game’s story is its characters. You control each of them independently and in groups throughout the game, and along the way you really do get a great feel for their unique circumstances and individual motivations behind their journeys. I hate to use the old cop out, but to go into any further detail would ruin the number one reason to play this game.

Unfortunately, the quality writing of the overall plot does not extend to the game’s dialogue. While there are clever lines and quips sprinkled here and there, the actual script seems weak and relies mostly on predictable and heavy-handed lines and poorly-timed jokes. A good part of the title is voice acted, but the performances do little to cover for the weak script. It’s not like any of them are horrific, but you will rarely meet a character that doesn’t come across like they’re reading straight from a script. Considering the great narrative the game is working with, the actual conversations that build it should have been stronger. Maybe I’m spoiled by classic adventure tiles like “Grim Fandango” and ”Curse of Monkey Island” having some of the best dialogue bits in gaming, but there is still little here that makes itself memorable.

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Terraria devs turn to new sandbox project

Tiyuri's new game.

Screenshots popped up over the weekend showing off the newest project from Tiyuri, one of the developers of indie hit Terraria. The game looks to be a step either forward or backward from Terraria’s old-school graphical style, depending on your point of view. Tiyuri has been fairly transparent about the scope of the project so far, even though the game is still in the early stages of development.

“We plan for there to be a main quest inside the sandbox world. Depends how much time we have of course,” Tiyuri said on his Twitter account. For now, I’m tentatively excited. From the looks of the UI, the game appears to be inspired by some dungeon crawlers. Tiyuri is using the Diablo 3 method of control, binding skills to the left and right mouse buttons and offering hotbar slots as well.

If there’s one thing I would like to see updated from Terraria, it’s the inventory management system. While the game did offer some nice options for moving items in and out of chests, I was constantly amazed at just how quickly my inventory would fill and how much time it could take to find what I needed.

I’m also hoping these aren’t the final graphics. I’m not sure what it is, I just don’t like them. They lack the flair that made me love Terraria’s design.

Overgrowth combat looks incredible

I’m not sure where I heard about Overgrowth but I haven’t been able to stop watching combat videos ever since. Overgrowth appears to be a forthcoming action/adventure title from indie dev Wolfire Games. The star? A ninja bunny. Sounds like a win if you ask me.

I have a serious soft spot for slashers, particularly slashers that don’t take themselves too seriously. This game looks like the perfect blend of crazy kung-fu antics and super silly shenanigans. I mean, you play as a bunny.

Be sure to head over to the Wolfire Games page to check out development progress. By pre-ordering the game you can get access to the Overgrowth beta.

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