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Found 188 results

  1. For as long as combat games have been around, there have been plenty that put players in the driver’s seat of all kinds of vehicles, from apocalyptic race cars, military fighter jets, and space ships galore. For players wanting a more nautical experience, pickings have traditionally been slim, especially if they wanted to go beneath the ocean’s surface and face the depths below. The team behind Aquanox: Deep Descent are on the case with an expansive prequel to the original Aquanox games of 2001 and 2003. Quick refresher for those of you, like myself, who might have missed the original deep sea shooters. Aquanox takes place in a world besieged by nuclear war and resource scarcity. After humans leech everything possible from the surface, the few remaining survivors fled to the depths of the sea, scavenging and fighting for as many supplies as each faction can grab. Their strength comes in the form of submersible combat ships, complete with a small army’s worth of firepower and technology to aid in the fight against the hazards of the deep. Extra Life got the chance to preview a hands-off demo for Aquanox: Deep Descent from developer Digital Arrow and publisher THQ Nordic. In Aquanox: Deep Descent’s single-player mode (10-12 hours long, according to the developer), players will build up a home base full of upgrades for their ships and the community. Ships are fully customizable, with players spending credits earned completing missions and scavenging resources on upgrades for engines, armor, weapon loadouts, electrical systems, and more. Ships are already divided into classes, though, like the light scouting class, the fighter, or the siege ship. For example, siege ships are primarily the tanks of Aquanox, built to take and deal massive damage while sacrificing ease of movement. Aquanox: Deep Descent’s single-player mode also acts as a drop-in-drop-out co-op mode. When a friend joins, they can choose one of the four available main characters to play as, along with their ship’s traits. Combat in Deep Descent moves much like a space flight simulator (think Eve: Valkyrie or Elite: Dangerous), but with the added twist of water impacting movement. Natural momentum carries a ship further and in a less direct way than an airplane might, meaning every dodging maneuver against enemy ships must be calculated for maximum advantage and minimal damage. The last thing you want is to crack open the hull of your ship on a rock or a poorly dodged torpedo. You’ll also be able to maneuver in any direction, opening up possibilities for offensive or defensive strategies. To hear it from the developer, Aquanox: Deep Descent may, to some players, feel like a more tactical round of Unreal Tournament, flitting around the environment to land a carefully aimed shot at a distant target. From a hands-off perspective, the comparison certainly carries some weight, as victory often goes to the player who can not only maneuver more strategically around their opponent, but also who can react faster and with more precision, balancing combat in a way that, while perhaps not perfect, fits within its own world just fine. Like those quirky combat games, Aquanox will also feature a variety of weapons that will have players adopting unique strategies. There’s the Shrapnel cannon, which launches a close-range burst of debris at opponents for devastating damage. There’s the the Hazard, or “Gooey,” which launches canisters of explosive bio-chemical liquids that stick to enemies and can later be detonated. Then there’s the high-powered Shard rail guns that let players snipe from afar, making the vast expanses of empty water a threat to all. Secondary weapons include mines, as well as mortar fire that can strike from above. Other secondary weapons perform specific actions like automatically firing at enemies within range or from any side, giving you the chance to slip away. All these abilities will be available in Aquanox: Deep Descent’s multiplayer mode as well, which includes solo deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and a domination mode. To Digital Arrow’s credit, what we’ve seen thus far of Aquanox’s updated world looks impressive. For fans of “aerial” style combat games, the amount of customization and the frenetic pacing of these seadog fights are impressive. For those wanting a more exploratory adventure, the game’s visuals certainly hold up, and obviously look more impressive than its predecessors. While a game like Subnautica is incredibly expansive, Aquanox’s style seems decidedly more pronounced, with the darkness of the ocean depths shimmering against plant life and wreckage. Aquanox: Deep Descent is scheduled for a 2017 release date on PC. View full article
  2. For as long as combat games have been around, there have been plenty that put players in the driver’s seat of all kinds of vehicles, from apocalyptic race cars, military fighter jets, and space ships galore. For players wanting a more nautical experience, pickings have traditionally been slim, especially if they wanted to go beneath the ocean’s surface and face the depths below. The team behind Aquanox: Deep Descent are on the case with an expansive prequel to the original Aquanox games of 2001 and 2003. Quick refresher for those of you, like myself, who might have missed the original deep sea shooters. Aquanox takes place in a world besieged by nuclear war and resource scarcity. After humans leech everything possible from the surface, the few remaining survivors fled to the depths of the sea, scavenging and fighting for as many supplies as each faction can grab. Their strength comes in the form of submersible combat ships, complete with a small army’s worth of firepower and technology to aid in the fight against the hazards of the deep. Extra Life got the chance to preview a hands-off demo for Aquanox: Deep Descent from developer Digital Arrow and publisher THQ Nordic. In Aquanox: Deep Descent’s single-player mode (10-12 hours long, according to the developer), players will build up a home base full of upgrades for their ships and the community. Ships are fully customizable, with players spending credits earned completing missions and scavenging resources on upgrades for engines, armor, weapon loadouts, electrical systems, and more. Ships are already divided into classes, though, like the light scouting class, the fighter, or the siege ship. For example, siege ships are primarily the tanks of Aquanox, built to take and deal massive damage while sacrificing ease of movement. Aquanox: Deep Descent’s single-player mode also acts as a drop-in-drop-out co-op mode. When a friend joins, they can choose one of the four available main characters to play as, along with their ship’s traits. Combat in Deep Descent moves much like a space flight simulator (think Eve: Valkyrie or Elite: Dangerous), but with the added twist of water impacting movement. Natural momentum carries a ship further and in a less direct way than an airplane might, meaning every dodging maneuver against enemy ships must be calculated for maximum advantage and minimal damage. The last thing you want is to crack open the hull of your ship on a rock or a poorly dodged torpedo. You’ll also be able to maneuver in any direction, opening up possibilities for offensive or defensive strategies. To hear it from the developer, Aquanox: Deep Descent may, to some players, feel like a more tactical round of Unreal Tournament, flitting around the environment to land a carefully aimed shot at a distant target. From a hands-off perspective, the comparison certainly carries some weight, as victory often goes to the player who can not only maneuver more strategically around their opponent, but also who can react faster and with more precision, balancing combat in a way that, while perhaps not perfect, fits within its own world just fine. Like those quirky combat games, Aquanox will also feature a variety of weapons that will have players adopting unique strategies. There’s the Shrapnel cannon, which launches a close-range burst of debris at opponents for devastating damage. There’s the the Hazard, or “Gooey,” which launches canisters of explosive bio-chemical liquids that stick to enemies and can later be detonated. Then there’s the high-powered Shard rail guns that let players snipe from afar, making the vast expanses of empty water a threat to all. Secondary weapons include mines, as well as mortar fire that can strike from above. Other secondary weapons perform specific actions like automatically firing at enemies within range or from any side, giving you the chance to slip away. All these abilities will be available in Aquanox: Deep Descent’s multiplayer mode as well, which includes solo deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and a domination mode. To Digital Arrow’s credit, what we’ve seen thus far of Aquanox’s updated world looks impressive. For fans of “aerial” style combat games, the amount of customization and the frenetic pacing of these seadog fights are impressive. For those wanting a more exploratory adventure, the game’s visuals certainly hold up, and obviously look more impressive than its predecessors. While a game like Subnautica is incredibly expansive, Aquanox’s style seems decidedly more pronounced, with the darkness of the ocean depths shimmering against plant life and wreckage. Aquanox: Deep Descent is scheduled for a 2017 release date on PC.
  3. The studio behind Killer Instinct is primed to bring another hard-hitting action experience to fans of properties like Attack On Titan and Shadow of the Colossus. Extinction drops players into the role of one of the world’s last Sentinels, warriors tasked with protecting the realm from towering, bloodthirsty ogres. Through a mix of high-speed movement and careful precision, players will have to find each ogre’s weak spots before they level the world. Extra Life got the chance to preview an early build of Extinction at E3, with Iron Galaxy and publisher Maximum Games showing off the basics of combat and just how we’ll be tearing down these monolithic monstrosities and their smaller minions. Iron Galaxy started our demo off in a modest village with a smattering of stone towers and houses. As Avil the Sentinel, we’re gifted with the ability to leap great distances and slice through ogre flesh and armor with a swing of a sword. Several ogres are bearing down the center of town, smashing entire buildings with their feet and fists. Iron Galaxy says each level will be completely destructible, and it certainly shows in the path of carnage each ogre leaves behind them. The only shortcoming is that each building leaves a perfectly squared pile of ashes, though it’s unclear if Iron Galaxy will add in some sort of destructibility physics so it looks more natural. As for the buildings that aren’t crushed, however, Avil can make great use of them by bouncing from canopies, gliding alongside walls, and dashing up them as well, similar to games like Prototype and Metal Gear Rising. When Avil makes it to his first giant ogre of the day, order of business dictates that he needs to dismember as many of its limbs as possible. He has to act fast, though, considering each limb can regenerate as long as the ogre still possesses its head. Avil strikes each limb’s armor, shattering it in one powerful swing, then ripping flesh apart moments later. All the while, the ogre is taking great swipes with its fists and stomping its feet in an attempt to smash him. Once the ogre is damaged enough, it slumps over, letting its wounds heal, allowing Avil to leap up its backside and slice it across the neck, cutting its head off and evaporating the body into valuable energy that Avil can absorb for his own benefit. You’d be forgiven for noticing the similarities ripped right from Attack On Titan, including the need to cut each giant’s nape, but in fairness the ogres do possess enough individuality among them to make them a little more entertaining than the awkward-looking Titans. And it won’t just be one ogre at a time. Iron Galaxy has shown off groups of ogres attacking from different directions or in packs, adding to the difficulty. There will also be a number of smaller minions (including human-size ogres and winged beasts) scattered about the map to distract you from bigger threats. Through it all, though, the visual aspect of combat does look entertaining, to say the least. Leering up at a giant from underneath its toes feels daunting, especially when those toes are closing in at high speed. That these creatures can be scaled relatively easily, in an environment with hundreds of variables to consider, means players will hopefully be more focused on the fun of the experience than battling the control scheme. The only possible downside to Extinction’s gameplay thus far is whether or not performing the same executions will get stale, and whether or not Iron Galaxy can instill a bit more life into these levels so we can feel like we’re saving the world, not just building after building. It’s fine that the world of a game called “Extinction” feels a little barren, but hopefully players will feel like they’re fighting for something instead of being the sole human left on the planet. Beyond the world-building, hopefully we’ll get a few more moves at our disposal for dispatching ogres, as the same combination of leaping, slicing, and wall-riding might feel played out by the time Extinction hits its third or fourth level. There’s still plenty more to see before Extinction releases sometime early 2018. View full article
  4. The studio behind Killer Instinct is primed to bring another hard-hitting action experience to fans of properties like Attack On Titan and Shadow of the Colossus. Extinction drops players into the role of one of the world’s last Sentinels, warriors tasked with protecting the realm from towering, bloodthirsty ogres. Through a mix of high-speed movement and careful precision, players will have to find each ogre’s weak spots before they level the world. Extra Life got the chance to preview an early build of Extinction at E3, with Iron Galaxy and publisher Maximum Games showing off the basics of combat and just how we’ll be tearing down these monolithic monstrosities and their smaller minions. Iron Galaxy started our demo off in a modest village with a smattering of stone towers and houses. As Avil the Sentinel, we’re gifted with the ability to leap great distances and slice through ogre flesh and armor with a swing of a sword. Several ogres are bearing down the center of town, smashing entire buildings with their feet and fists. Iron Galaxy says each level will be completely destructible, and it certainly shows in the path of carnage each ogre leaves behind them. The only shortcoming is that each building leaves a perfectly squared pile of ashes, though it’s unclear if Iron Galaxy will add in some sort of destructibility physics so it looks more natural. As for the buildings that aren’t crushed, however, Avil can make great use of them by bouncing from canopies, gliding alongside walls, and dashing up them as well, similar to games like Prototype and Metal Gear Rising. When Avil makes it to his first giant ogre of the day, order of business dictates that he needs to dismember as many of its limbs as possible. He has to act fast, though, considering each limb can regenerate as long as the ogre still possesses its head. Avil strikes each limb’s armor, shattering it in one powerful swing, then ripping flesh apart moments later. All the while, the ogre is taking great swipes with its fists and stomping its feet in an attempt to smash him. Once the ogre is damaged enough, it slumps over, letting its wounds heal, allowing Avil to leap up its backside and slice it across the neck, cutting its head off and evaporating the body into valuable energy that Avil can absorb for his own benefit. You’d be forgiven for noticing the similarities ripped right from Attack On Titan, including the need to cut each giant’s nape, but in fairness the ogres do possess enough individuality among them to make them a little more entertaining than the awkward-looking Titans. And it won’t just be one ogre at a time. Iron Galaxy has shown off groups of ogres attacking from different directions or in packs, adding to the difficulty. There will also be a number of smaller minions (including human-size ogres and winged beasts) scattered about the map to distract you from bigger threats. Through it all, though, the visual aspect of combat does look entertaining, to say the least. Leering up at a giant from underneath its toes feels daunting, especially when those toes are closing in at high speed. That these creatures can be scaled relatively easily, in an environment with hundreds of variables to consider, means players will hopefully be more focused on the fun of the experience than battling the control scheme. The only possible downside to Extinction’s gameplay thus far is whether or not performing the same executions will get stale, and whether or not Iron Galaxy can instill a bit more life into these levels so we can feel like we’re saving the world, not just building after building. It’s fine that the world of a game called “Extinction” feels a little barren, but hopefully players will feel like they’re fighting for something instead of being the sole human left on the planet. Beyond the world-building, hopefully we’ll get a few more moves at our disposal for dispatching ogres, as the same combination of leaping, slicing, and wall-riding might feel played out by the time Extinction hits its third or fourth level. There’s still plenty more to see before Extinction releases sometime early 2018.
  5. For years, I’ve curiously eyed Farming Simulator as an intriguing oddity. Unlike more whimsical takes on farming like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this series presents the profession in a realistic light. I used to wonder “Who wants spend hours cutting grass and driving a slow tractor in a boring, real world?” I doubt I’m alone in that thinking, and while outsiders may laugh at Farming Simulator, the series boasts a strong and dedicated following of players more than happy to sow and reap the digital fruits of their labor. What about these games appeals to the fanbase? I had an opportunity to unleash some of my long-burning questions to Martin Ravo, PR representative at developer Giants Software. In turn, I gained some insight about the staff’s cultivating background and the franchise’s unique fansbase of actual farmers. We also touched on how real-world agricultural advances could affect the series’ future. So I've always wondered. How do you guys go about choosing what new crops to add? What separates one crop from another in terms of which is more interesting to grow? Is it the type of location where it needs to be grown or the method that goes into growing it? Martin Ravo: There are various factors, actually. Of course, we get feedback from our community. We also see where people are playing. We usually add new maps to the game with expansions over the new game, and then it might make sense to have the crops in there that fit with the new environment. Of course, it's also the amount of time we need to implement it. Because let's say you put a completely different new crop in there, and we don't have the equipment for it. Then you also need to add the equipment, which makes things a bit more complicated. So let's say for the sunflowers. We put them in and you use similar equipment for what we already had, but you have different headers for the harvesters, so we had to add these too. So it's not just the crops. It's other things that are coming with the crops, so we have to consider this. On the other hand, if you wanted to include new equipment, [then] that could also be one of the factors. Like, "hey, this thing looks cool, let's put it in the game," but then let's say it's a harvester for some other crop that we don't have in the game yet - then we would need to add the crop. So it kind of goes hand in hand. It's location [and] community. We could think that maybe we want to focus on a different community for a different area because the game is, by now, like a worldwide phenomenon. So we have Eastern Europe and Scandinavia [with] Europe our strongest market. United States, South America, Australia; people are playing it everywhere. Also Asia, we're also there. Eventually, we would like to get something in the game for everyone. But one step after another. And speaking about that phenomenon. What do you think it is about Farming Simulator that grabs people? Because I always feel like from the outside looking in you kind of look at it and you're like "Well why would I want to do that?" But I hear so many people say that when you pick it up and you start playing, there's something about it that just grabs you. What do you think that is about the series? Ravo: Again, I think there are various things. You feel rewarded very quickly. You start playing it and then [maybe] you realize how you have to do something, then instantly you're like "oh cool, now I know how to do it so now I'm going to go on and maybe do the whole field." And then you sell your crops; you get money; and then you go, "what am I going to do with this money now?" You spend it or you think about how to spend it. It's kind of a constant flow, and you also don't have a lot of negative emotions. It's not like as in some other games where you feel frustrated because you lost or something like that. There's kind of almost a relaxation factor to a degree of like "Oh, I just got my farm. I can just plant these things..." Ravo: You're going with the flow. Yeah. It’s rewarding but you can just kind of chill out. Ravo: Yeah. There's actually one example that I had here at E3 where some guy said he wouldn't ever really consider himself as a gamer that much. He's here at E3, but still. He said "you know, I don't play that much. I'm not really like the typical gamer." Then he told me he played the game [for] 400 hours. So you don't consider yourself a gamer? And I think there's kind of a group that are not really seen as gamers by other companies or maybe by the media, but they do like to play video games now. It's [a different kind of] video games. Not the games that have been known for years, but they also like to play games. And they enjoy [Farming Simulator]. They don't want to mess with other players, play online, and get defeated or beaten by the computer. Kill things. Ravo: Yeah. They do enjoy video games, but a different style of game. And of course the third group [that loves Farming Simulator] are the farmers. We have a lot of farmers who play, people who grew up on a farm, and they love the tractors and all the other machines. That's also why we work closely with all the manufacturers [of farming equipment]. We have over 80 brands licensed so far, and we try to recreate them as authentically as possible with good graphics and parts that are moving so that everyone who knows these tractors can be proud of them. "oh, this is a tractor I always wanted on my farm and I can now play it in game, I really don't have the money for it," it's like in the racing games when you buy a big sports car, and then you go on the racetrack. You couldn't do that in real life. But here in Farming Simulator, as a farmer, you can also try out different tractors and kind of find your favorite tractor. Are the manufacturers of the equipment super involved? Do you have to always go back to them to make sure the tractor feels the way its supposed to and they go, "okay, that's right," or, "you need to fix this, this isn't quite right?” Ravo: It's more about the visuals. I’m not so much involved with it... but when it comes to how they look like, we're really in a constant dialogue with them. For example, I work for PR marketing, so when we do screenshots in early versions and suddenly someone notices that there's a sticker or a logo missing where it should be on the machine or there's one part that is sticking out a bit or maybe even they've changed the machine. That also happened. We put the machine in the game, and then the manufacturer changed the machine afterwards and we're like, "oh we can't release it like that because it doesn't look like that anymore." So we got feedback from them and then we removed that part and changed it so it looks like the machine when it actually came out. So it's more about the visuals. When it comes to the handling, I would say the only way they could give feedback is when playing the game. Do they ever come in to playtest and see how it feels? Ravo: Yeah because to be honest, we're kind of tuning the machines up to the launch because it's a long process. So if you would play them [a] month before the game comes out, they would feel sluggish anyways. So it's like just right before launch basically when the machines get tuned and we fix them. But in general, I think they are quite happy with how the machines feel in the game. It's more about the visual aspect and we really need to work closely with them. Does anyone on the team get to drive any of the real machines? For research purposes? Ravo: Yeah, of course. And not just for research. I mean, a lot of our employees were actually farmers or they come from a farming background. Some were modders before; farmers that modded their favorite tractor into the game. Sometimes we reach out to them and [get them to] work for us. So we have several people with a farming background. Not just a handful- it's actually probably more than 50% that do know a lot about farming and they've been on a farm or their parents were farmers. So that's where we also get some feedback. That's an interesting little scene that I don't think a lot of people aware about: gaming farmers. I don’t think many people would put those two together even though why not? Why wouldn't a farmer want to play video games? Especially now in this modern generation, younger farmers grow up with video games. That's interesting to me. Ravo: To be honest, I think there are a lot of farmers out there, let's say all of them, generally, [that] love their job. Or I would hope that people love their job, not just farmers but everyone. They love farming, they are farmers because they love it, and that's also how we want to treat them with the game. I think when the game came out, a lot of people were kind of smiling and laughing like “what? A game about farmers?" But farmers do take their jobs seriously, and we also take the game seriously. They know that when they play the game. It's something they can be proud of because the machines are recreated in authentic way. Also, the workflow itself: cultivating, harvesting, all these kinds of things; they treat the genre with respect. It's the same with other games too. I always say football players play football games, soldiers play combat games, soccer players play soccer games. It's their job, why would they [want to] play in the evening? Because the game [is] fun, and they know something about it. It's the same with the farming game. If you put a farmer in front of Farming Simulator, he knows what he has to do. Someone else has to kind of work his way through it first. So they just sit down and they can relax and it doesn't feel like work for them. It's the best case of, "oh, I can actually do this work without actually having to physically go out there and bust my butt trying to get the job done." And it's cool for newcomers, people who have never been on a farm. Do you guys have a big fanbase of people saying, "hey, I don't know what that's like at all and this is my only real window into that world because I don't have a farm or I've never seen one?" Because I feel like farming’s become less and less in the public perception a little bit. And this kind of brings that to the forefront, at least in video games, for younger players. Ravo: I think you mean there's a lot of players who learn a lot about farming who play our game. We do simulate things. Even I learned a lot about the processes and the workflow. Like how to make silage, when to make it, and get told off when I use a plow on the wrong side when I [make] a screenshot. Then I'll ask them, my co-workers, “okay, why would we use it like that?" and then I understand it better. And I think [there's] a lot of things you can learn about, and it's quite an interesting topic, actually: how the farming industry is changing at the moment. There's a lot more technology getting into the machines. Tractors are almost robots by now, to be honest with you. I imagine this robotic alien, we place so much technology in there. But then again, it's not just about pressing a few buttons. You have to know a lot [about] how to optimize your yield or which height you actually have to harvest. Weather, for example, is also something [along with] GPS-controlled tractors. There's so much going on in the genre. It's going to be interesting for the next few years even with our game because of course we also keep track of all these things. Is that something you keep in mind? You're always having to pay attention to the industry as it evolves to try with every new entry to have it as relevant as possible. And with things becoming more mechanized, do you think it's an issue of players not being able to hop into a tractor and drive it around anymore because eventually you just hit a button and just kind of program it to do its thing? If manual labor in general becomes less of a thing? Ravo: It could be. I don't know, I would have to talk to the guys who know more about the industry itself, but that's kind of what I see right now. Technology [is] being used more and more in all these machines and we have to see where it goes. I mean generally, it's assisting a lot, it also increases productivity usually. But what I just saw recently, we also have like farm days where we also get to try out these tractors for example... You go to a farm? Ravo: Yeah. And it's not that easy. It's easy in our game to drive a tractor than it is in real life. And what I'll say is I still have a lot of respect–”still” is the wrong word–I would say I have even more respect for farmers now after playing the game and then reading up on what they actually have to know. And the thing is, to them, it's not a game. It's their life, and their income depends on what they do. If you do something wrong, you get less harvest and you get less income. So it is really vital for them to know all of these kind of things. It's just insane what you have to know as a farmer, to be honest. So what would you say to someone that's never played Farming Simulator and has always been curious? What would you describe as the hook to get them interested? Ravo: I would just say if you want to have a good time and relax, give it a try. Because the one thing I really like about the game is that it doesn't tell you what you have to do. You make the decisions. You decide what you want to do next. You decide the pace you want to go with. Nothing really stresses you out, and that's like something I would say like you would give it a try and then you will feel like instantly getting pulled in. A memory that I always have is when I wanted to catch up with an old friend of mine, an ex-colleague from another company. I said, "hey, let's have a Skype chat!" and he said, "well, you work [on] Farming Simulator now, right?" and I was like, "yeah, I do. We can do Skype but we can also do Farming Simulator at the same time.” Turns out he had already played it like 80 hours and that evening his plan was to mow some grass for the cows and I could help him with that. So we ended up doing a chat on Skype and mowing grass at the same time. He mowed the grass, I picked it up, and we fed his cows and suddenly three hours were gone. So you can have a good time with friends in the evening. You can have 16-player multiplayer and you don't have to beat each other all the time. You just have fun together. If you want to flex your green thumb and till the fields, you can pick up Farming Simulator 18 now for Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, and Android. Farming Simulator 17 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This interview has been edited for clarity. View full article
  6. For years, I’ve curiously eyed Farming Simulator as an intriguing oddity. Unlike more whimsical takes on farming like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley, this series presents the profession in a realistic light. I used to wonder “Who wants spend hours cutting grass and driving a slow tractor in a boring, real world?” I doubt I’m alone in that thinking, and while outsiders may laugh at Farming Simulator, the series boasts a strong and dedicated following of players more than happy to sow and reap the digital fruits of their labor. What about these games appeals to the fanbase? I had an opportunity to unleash some of my long-burning questions to Martin Ravo, PR representative at developer Giants Software. In turn, I gained some insight about the staff’s cultivating background and the franchise’s unique fansbase of actual farmers. We also touched on how real-world agricultural advances could affect the series’ future. So I've always wondered. How do you guys go about choosing what new crops to add? What separates one crop from another in terms of which is more interesting to grow? Is it the type of location where it needs to be grown or the method that goes into growing it? Martin Ravo: There are various factors, actually. Of course, we get feedback from our community. We also see where people are playing. We usually add new maps to the game with expansions over the new game, and then it might make sense to have the crops in there that fit with the new environment. Of course, it's also the amount of time we need to implement it. Because let's say you put a completely different new crop in there, and we don't have the equipment for it. Then you also need to add the equipment, which makes things a bit more complicated. So let's say for the sunflowers. We put them in and you use similar equipment for what we already had, but you have different headers for the harvesters, so we had to add these too. So it's not just the crops. It's other things that are coming with the crops, so we have to consider this. On the other hand, if you wanted to include new equipment, [then] that could also be one of the factors. Like, "hey, this thing looks cool, let's put it in the game," but then let's say it's a harvester for some other crop that we don't have in the game yet - then we would need to add the crop. So it kind of goes hand in hand. It's location [and] community. We could think that maybe we want to focus on a different community for a different area because the game is, by now, like a worldwide phenomenon. So we have Eastern Europe and Scandinavia [with] Europe our strongest market. United States, South America, Australia; people are playing it everywhere. Also Asia, we're also there. Eventually, we would like to get something in the game for everyone. But one step after another. And speaking about that phenomenon. What do you think it is about Farming Simulator that grabs people? Because I always feel like from the outside looking in you kind of look at it and you're like "Well why would I want to do that?" But I hear so many people say that when you pick it up and you start playing, there's something about it that just grabs you. What do you think that is about the series? Ravo: Again, I think there are various things. You feel rewarded very quickly. You start playing it and then [maybe] you realize how you have to do something, then instantly you're like "oh cool, now I know how to do it so now I'm going to go on and maybe do the whole field." And then you sell your crops; you get money; and then you go, "what am I going to do with this money now?" You spend it or you think about how to spend it. It's kind of a constant flow, and you also don't have a lot of negative emotions. It's not like as in some other games where you feel frustrated because you lost or something like that. There's kind of almost a relaxation factor to a degree of like "Oh, I just got my farm. I can just plant these things..." Ravo: You're going with the flow. Yeah. It’s rewarding but you can just kind of chill out. Ravo: Yeah. There's actually one example that I had here at E3 where some guy said he wouldn't ever really consider himself as a gamer that much. He's here at E3, but still. He said "you know, I don't play that much. I'm not really like the typical gamer." Then he told me he played the game [for] 400 hours. So you don't consider yourself a gamer? And I think there's kind of a group that are not really seen as gamers by other companies or maybe by the media, but they do like to play video games now. It's [a different kind of] video games. Not the games that have been known for years, but they also like to play games. And they enjoy [Farming Simulator]. They don't want to mess with other players, play online, and get defeated or beaten by the computer. Kill things. Ravo: Yeah. They do enjoy video games, but a different style of game. And of course the third group [that loves Farming Simulator] are the farmers. We have a lot of farmers who play, people who grew up on a farm, and they love the tractors and all the other machines. That's also why we work closely with all the manufacturers [of farming equipment]. We have over 80 brands licensed so far, and we try to recreate them as authentically as possible with good graphics and parts that are moving so that everyone who knows these tractors can be proud of them. "oh, this is a tractor I always wanted on my farm and I can now play it in game, I really don't have the money for it," it's like in the racing games when you buy a big sports car, and then you go on the racetrack. You couldn't do that in real life. But here in Farming Simulator, as a farmer, you can also try out different tractors and kind of find your favorite tractor. Are the manufacturers of the equipment super involved? Do you have to always go back to them to make sure the tractor feels the way its supposed to and they go, "okay, that's right," or, "you need to fix this, this isn't quite right?” Ravo: It's more about the visuals. I’m not so much involved with it... but when it comes to how they look like, we're really in a constant dialogue with them. For example, I work for PR marketing, so when we do screenshots in early versions and suddenly someone notices that there's a sticker or a logo missing where it should be on the machine or there's one part that is sticking out a bit or maybe even they've changed the machine. That also happened. We put the machine in the game, and then the manufacturer changed the machine afterwards and we're like, "oh we can't release it like that because it doesn't look like that anymore." So we got feedback from them and then we removed that part and changed it so it looks like the machine when it actually came out. So it's more about the visuals. When it comes to the handling, I would say the only way they could give feedback is when playing the game. Do they ever come in to playtest and see how it feels? Ravo: Yeah because to be honest, we're kind of tuning the machines up to the launch because it's a long process. So if you would play them [a] month before the game comes out, they would feel sluggish anyways. So it's like just right before launch basically when the machines get tuned and we fix them. But in general, I think they are quite happy with how the machines feel in the game. It's more about the visual aspect and we really need to work closely with them. Does anyone on the team get to drive any of the real machines? For research purposes? Ravo: Yeah, of course. And not just for research. I mean, a lot of our employees were actually farmers or they come from a farming background. Some were modders before; farmers that modded their favorite tractor into the game. Sometimes we reach out to them and [get them to] work for us. So we have several people with a farming background. Not just a handful- it's actually probably more than 50% that do know a lot about farming and they've been on a farm or their parents were farmers. So that's where we also get some feedback. That's an interesting little scene that I don't think a lot of people aware about: gaming farmers. I don’t think many people would put those two together even though why not? Why wouldn't a farmer want to play video games? Especially now in this modern generation, younger farmers grow up with video games. That's interesting to me. Ravo: To be honest, I think there are a lot of farmers out there, let's say all of them, generally, [that] love their job. Or I would hope that people love their job, not just farmers but everyone. They love farming, they are farmers because they love it, and that's also how we want to treat them with the game. I think when the game came out, a lot of people were kind of smiling and laughing like “what? A game about farmers?" But farmers do take their jobs seriously, and we also take the game seriously. They know that when they play the game. It's something they can be proud of because the machines are recreated in authentic way. Also, the workflow itself: cultivating, harvesting, all these kinds of things; they treat the genre with respect. It's the same with other games too. I always say football players play football games, soldiers play combat games, soccer players play soccer games. It's their job, why would they [want to] play in the evening? Because the game [is] fun, and they know something about it. It's the same with the farming game. If you put a farmer in front of Farming Simulator, he knows what he has to do. Someone else has to kind of work his way through it first. So they just sit down and they can relax and it doesn't feel like work for them. It's the best case of, "oh, I can actually do this work without actually having to physically go out there and bust my butt trying to get the job done." And it's cool for newcomers, people who have never been on a farm. Do you guys have a big fanbase of people saying, "hey, I don't know what that's like at all and this is my only real window into that world because I don't have a farm or I've never seen one?" Because I feel like farming’s become less and less in the public perception a little bit. And this kind of brings that to the forefront, at least in video games, for younger players. Ravo: I think you mean there's a lot of players who learn a lot about farming who play our game. We do simulate things. Even I learned a lot about the processes and the workflow. Like how to make silage, when to make it, and get told off when I use a plow on the wrong side when I [make] a screenshot. Then I'll ask them, my co-workers, “okay, why would we use it like that?" and then I understand it better. And I think [there's] a lot of things you can learn about, and it's quite an interesting topic, actually: how the farming industry is changing at the moment. There's a lot more technology getting into the machines. Tractors are almost robots by now, to be honest with you. I imagine this robotic alien, we place so much technology in there. But then again, it's not just about pressing a few buttons. You have to know a lot [about] how to optimize your yield or which height you actually have to harvest. Weather, for example, is also something [along with] GPS-controlled tractors. There's so much going on in the genre. It's going to be interesting for the next few years even with our game because of course we also keep track of all these things. Is that something you keep in mind? You're always having to pay attention to the industry as it evolves to try with every new entry to have it as relevant as possible. And with things becoming more mechanized, do you think it's an issue of players not being able to hop into a tractor and drive it around anymore because eventually you just hit a button and just kind of program it to do its thing? If manual labor in general becomes less of a thing? Ravo: It could be. I don't know, I would have to talk to the guys who know more about the industry itself, but that's kind of what I see right now. Technology [is] being used more and more in all these machines and we have to see where it goes. I mean generally, it's assisting a lot, it also increases productivity usually. But what I just saw recently, we also have like farm days where we also get to try out these tractors for example... You go to a farm? Ravo: Yeah. And it's not that easy. It's easy in our game to drive a tractor than it is in real life. And what I'll say is I still have a lot of respect–”still” is the wrong word–I would say I have even more respect for farmers now after playing the game and then reading up on what they actually have to know. And the thing is, to them, it's not a game. It's their life, and their income depends on what they do. If you do something wrong, you get less harvest and you get less income. So it is really vital for them to know all of these kind of things. It's just insane what you have to know as a farmer, to be honest. So what would you say to someone that's never played Farming Simulator and has always been curious? What would you describe as the hook to get them interested? Ravo: I would just say if you want to have a good time and relax, give it a try. Because the one thing I really like about the game is that it doesn't tell you what you have to do. You make the decisions. You decide what you want to do next. You decide the pace you want to go with. Nothing really stresses you out, and that's like something I would say like you would give it a try and then you will feel like instantly getting pulled in. A memory that I always have is when I wanted to catch up with an old friend of mine, an ex-colleague from another company. I said, "hey, let's have a Skype chat!" and he said, "well, you work [on] Farming Simulator now, right?" and I was like, "yeah, I do. We can do Skype but we can also do Farming Simulator at the same time.” Turns out he had already played it like 80 hours and that evening his plan was to mow some grass for the cows and I could help him with that. So we ended up doing a chat on Skype and mowing grass at the same time. He mowed the grass, I picked it up, and we fed his cows and suddenly three hours were gone. So you can have a good time with friends in the evening. You can have 16-player multiplayer and you don't have to beat each other all the time. You just have fun together. If you want to flex your green thumb and till the fields, you can pick up Farming Simulator 18 now for Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, iOS, and Android. Farming Simulator 17 is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac. This interview has been edited for clarity.
  7. Immediately, Strange Brigade establishes the kind of game it wants to be. There’s a delightful narrator guiding your way and describing the various baddies you’re about to face. Those enemies materialize in the form of a deluge of classic movie/Skull Island monsters. Our heroes fight threats to civilization itself in a 1930’s “safari into danger.” It’s marvelously over the top and an homage to the films of yesteryear and adventure itself. At E3 2017 I got the chance to demo Strange Brigade in its early form. While playing, I spoke with the the developers about the film influences behind it as well as the tone they were going for. Movie series like Indiana Jones and The Mummy were cited, as well as the bold stylings of Saturday Matinee. Strange Brigade is not meant to be taken too seriously, and the devs stressed the mix of action, comedy and spookiness to create the ongoing atmosphere of an "upbeat action adventure." The map I played had a mixture of ruins with tombs and a whole lot of mummies and other undead. Puzzle elements were present with secret areas with extra loot to be found. Gameplay will be enjoyable for those well versed in taking on many enemies and finding creative ways to destroy waves of ‘em. I played solo, but could see the appeal of co-op. Strange Brigade may prove to be a game without any extraordinarily unique features, but the attention to aesthetic detail will keep it fun. It’s thoroughly charming, and the focus on co-op for up to four players will extend its playability. We don’t have a release date yet for Strange Brigade, but it will be coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. View full article
  8. Immediately, Strange Brigade establishes the kind of game it wants to be. There’s a delightful narrator guiding your way and describing the various baddies you’re about to face. Those enemies materialize in the form of a deluge of classic movie/Skull Island monsters. Our heroes fight threats to civilization itself in a 1930’s “safari into danger.” It’s marvelously over the top and an homage to the films of yesteryear and adventure itself. At E3 2017 I got the chance to demo Strange Brigade in its early form. While playing, I spoke with the the developers about the film influences behind it as well as the tone they were going for. Movie series like Indiana Jones and The Mummy were cited, as well as the bold stylings of Saturday Matinee. Strange Brigade is not meant to be taken too seriously, and the devs stressed the mix of action, comedy and spookiness to create the ongoing atmosphere of an "upbeat action adventure." The map I played had a mixture of ruins with tombs and a whole lot of mummies and other undead. Puzzle elements were present with secret areas with extra loot to be found. Gameplay will be enjoyable for those well versed in taking on many enemies and finding creative ways to destroy waves of ‘em. I played solo, but could see the appeal of co-op. Strange Brigade may prove to be a game without any extraordinarily unique features, but the attention to aesthetic detail will keep it fun. It’s thoroughly charming, and the focus on co-op for up to four players will extend its playability. We don’t have a release date yet for Strange Brigade, but it will be coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
  9. There’s something to be said for a well-built role-playing game -- even better if it’s one with a visually pleasing aesthetic that communicates everything it needs to. Too many RPGs these days find themselves buried under menus and woefully implemented combat mechanics, or repetitive dungeon-diving. Battle Chasers: Nightwar feels like the rare RPG to sidestep all the bluster and bulk for something entertaining and at least mildly fresh. Based on the original Battle Chasers comic by Joe Madureira (also known for his work on Uncanny X-Men) and developed by Airship Syndicate (comprised of former Darksiders developers), RPG fans of any stripe should get a kick out of this action-packed world. I got a hands-off demo of Battle Chasers at E3 2017, where the developer took time to show off the world and combat systems. Taking place an undetermined amount of time after the original Battle Chasers comic left off on a cliffhanger, players can create a team of three (from a total of six optional characters) to do battle with vicious creatures and loot randomly generated dungeons. There’s Garrison, a swordsman with a tragic past, Gully, a nine-year-old girl who inherited a pair of massive, magical boxing gloves after her father disappeared, Calibretto, the iron giant war golem with a heart of gold, and more. The first thing players might notice is that despite Battle Chasers decidedly JRPG-esque nature, it’s characters play off of old tropes for inventive combat and character building. Instead of the lumbering, mechanical Calibretto acting as the team’s tank, it’s Gully’s magic gloves that provide the massive damage, and Calibretto’s intrinsic ties to nature that provide healing spells. Though each dungeon will be randomly generated, players will have to strategize before ever stepping foot into one. Each dungeon has different difficulties to choose from, modifying the number of enemies, traps, and the layout you’ll find, but also affecting the size of its reward. Once inside, players navigate an isometric layout filled with beastmen, animated skeleton warriors, and worse. Players can give themselves an advantage by luring enemies into the dungeon’s ancient traps before battle, shaving off a few key health points. Once in battle, characters take turns dealing damage or casting spells, with a queue on the left hand side telling you who will go during the next several turns, all based on stats like speed and initiative. Characters share a single “overcharge” gauge that essentially acts as magic fuel for special attacks. This gauge can be accrued over time, and each character has three separate levels of overcharge attacks so you might want to save it for a boss or particularly rough group of enemies. Garrison can unleash a devastating series of sword strikes on a single enemy, for example, while Calibretto is focused on damaging multiple enemies with his massive chaingun arm. Each character will have unique abilities they can use only a set number of times to solve puzzles or advance deeper into a dungeon, such as Garrison’s dash move or Gully’s punch, which allows her to knock down walls hiding secret areas. Every step taken begins to feel like a measured one, weighed against risk versus reward dilemmas. Players can locate treasure chests with rare loot inside, or opt to teleport it deeper into the dungeon. You’ll have to find it again, and the loot will be twice as beneficial, but you’ll lose it if you die before reaching it. Rare gear can also only be crafted within certain dungeons, giving players another incentive to take a deep dive. Amidst all of this, Battle Chasers possesses a striking art style, and not just thanks to Madureira’s illustrations. Even as they’re awaiting their turn in battle, characters bob and weave with an animated feel that helps bring them to life in a way few RPGs of either hemisphere achieve. This is especially apparent during attacks, when the weight of each character can be felt in their motion. Calibretto, the hulking mass that he is, barrels down on enemies with a decimating right hook, smoke billowing behind his trail, and enemies bouncing back with appropriate force. Even enemies get in on the action, with monsters similar to Dark Souls’ mimics (beasts that impersonate treasure chests for a sneaky bite attack) lashing out their engorged tongues with wicked style. It’s unclear how closely Battle Chasers will stick to the original comic series’ lore. Developers at Airship Syndicate say the plot will follow the party’s adventures in a world being sucked dry of its mana. After being shot down from the sky by pirates, the group will have to adventure across a massive island, finding themselves roped into a war against an evil vampire lord bent on conquering the world. Battle Chasers certainly isn’t shying away from the cheese of its inspirations. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is due out October 3 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and the Nintendo Switch for $29.99. A Steam sale currently has the game listed at $26.99, though it’s unclear how long that will last. View full article
  10. There’s something to be said for a well-built role-playing game -- even better if it’s one with a visually pleasing aesthetic that communicates everything it needs to. Too many RPGs these days find themselves buried under menus and woefully implemented combat mechanics, or repetitive dungeon-diving. Battle Chasers: Nightwar feels like the rare RPG to sidestep all the bluster and bulk for something entertaining and at least mildly fresh. Based on the original Battle Chasers comic by Joe Madureira (also known for his work on Uncanny X-Men) and developed by Airship Syndicate (comprised of former Darksiders developers), RPG fans of any stripe should get a kick out of this action-packed world. I got a hands-off demo of Battle Chasers at E3 2017, where the developer took time to show off the world and combat systems. Taking place an undetermined amount of time after the original Battle Chasers comic left off on a cliffhanger, players can create a team of three (from a total of six optional characters) to do battle with vicious creatures and loot randomly generated dungeons. There’s Garrison, a swordsman with a tragic past, Gully, a nine-year-old girl who inherited a pair of massive, magical boxing gloves after her father disappeared, Calibretto, the iron giant war golem with a heart of gold, and more. The first thing players might notice is that despite Battle Chasers decidedly JRPG-esque nature, it’s characters play off of old tropes for inventive combat and character building. Instead of the lumbering, mechanical Calibretto acting as the team’s tank, it’s Gully’s magic gloves that provide the massive damage, and Calibretto’s intrinsic ties to nature that provide healing spells. Though each dungeon will be randomly generated, players will have to strategize before ever stepping foot into one. Each dungeon has different difficulties to choose from, modifying the number of enemies, traps, and the layout you’ll find, but also affecting the size of its reward. Once inside, players navigate an isometric layout filled with beastmen, animated skeleton warriors, and worse. Players can give themselves an advantage by luring enemies into the dungeon’s ancient traps before battle, shaving off a few key health points. Once in battle, characters take turns dealing damage or casting spells, with a queue on the left hand side telling you who will go during the next several turns, all based on stats like speed and initiative. Characters share a single “overcharge” gauge that essentially acts as magic fuel for special attacks. This gauge can be accrued over time, and each character has three separate levels of overcharge attacks so you might want to save it for a boss or particularly rough group of enemies. Garrison can unleash a devastating series of sword strikes on a single enemy, for example, while Calibretto is focused on damaging multiple enemies with his massive chaingun arm. Each character will have unique abilities they can use only a set number of times to solve puzzles or advance deeper into a dungeon, such as Garrison’s dash move or Gully’s punch, which allows her to knock down walls hiding secret areas. Every step taken begins to feel like a measured one, weighed against risk versus reward dilemmas. Players can locate treasure chests with rare loot inside, or opt to teleport it deeper into the dungeon. You’ll have to find it again, and the loot will be twice as beneficial, but you’ll lose it if you die before reaching it. Rare gear can also only be crafted within certain dungeons, giving players another incentive to take a deep dive. Amidst all of this, Battle Chasers possesses a striking art style, and not just thanks to Madureira’s illustrations. Even as they’re awaiting their turn in battle, characters bob and weave with an animated feel that helps bring them to life in a way few RPGs of either hemisphere achieve. This is especially apparent during attacks, when the weight of each character can be felt in their motion. Calibretto, the hulking mass that he is, barrels down on enemies with a decimating right hook, smoke billowing behind his trail, and enemies bouncing back with appropriate force. Even enemies get in on the action, with monsters similar to Dark Souls’ mimics (beasts that impersonate treasure chests for a sneaky bite attack) lashing out their engorged tongues with wicked style. It’s unclear how closely Battle Chasers will stick to the original comic series’ lore. Developers at Airship Syndicate say the plot will follow the party’s adventures in a world being sucked dry of its mana. After being shot down from the sky by pirates, the group will have to adventure across a massive island, finding themselves roped into a war against an evil vampire lord bent on conquering the world. Battle Chasers certainly isn’t shying away from the cheese of its inspirations. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is due out October 3 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and the Nintendo Switch for $29.99. A Steam sale currently has the game listed at $26.99, though it’s unclear how long that will last.
  11. Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat was something of a pioneer for modern tactical shooters when it first arrived as a Half-Life 2 mod a decade ago. Conceived by Canadian Army veteran Andrew Spearin and supported by Red Orchestra mod founder Jeremy Blum, Insurgency: MIC made a name for itself by focusing on hardcore realism and infantry warfare. Elements such as a lack of crosshairs and deadlier gun behavior (players could die in one or two shots) resonated with a segment of the first-person shooter crowd, giving rise to a passionate following. A sequel to the mod, simply titled Insurgency, was one of the earliest Steam Early Access titles when it became available in March 2013. The game exited Early Access and launched in early 2014 going on to sell over three million copies. With strong sales, the opening of a new Amsterdam studio, and a growing staff, developer New World Interactive channeled all of their talent and resources into crafting an ambitious sequel, Insurgency: Sandstorm. Sandstorm aims to improve on the aspects that brought Insurgency to the dance while diversifying the experience to reach new players. I had a chance to speak with Spearin, creative director on the project, about the new features coming to Insurgency: Sandstorm and how it differentiates itself from the original game. Same Hardcore Approach, New Twists Insurgency: Sandstorm retains the realistic gunplay that made the series into, as Spearin jokingly described, the “Dark Souls of shooters.” He went on to elaborate on what he meant, saying, “We're keeping the same recipe that we've established. So it'll be the same weapon handling that Insurgency has, which means that there's no cross-hair. There's a free aim area where you can point your weapon within, so you can't just put a dot on your screen and hit the [trigger] consistently. You have to rely on your weapon sights to aim accurately and control your recoil, that sort of stuff.” A new ballistic system introduces realistic bullet drop, travel time, and ricochet. Sandstorm also adds environmental interactions such as ladder climbing, vaulting, and door breaching. One example is that players can shoot the hinges off doors and kick them down. New World also plans to incorporate features from its other title, Day of Infamy, such as fire support which allows players to call in bombers for artillery support. A progression system that bestows cosmetic items to players as they climb the ranks is also planned. And, of course, mod support will continue to exist in the PC version of Sandstorm. “Restarting our mod roots, it's very important for us, and we want to grow the next generation of indie devs through our platform,” said Spearin. Adjusting To The Console Audience In addition to PC, Insurgency: Sandstorm is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This marks the series’ first appearance on consoles. When I asked about the potential difficulty of translating the franchise’s hardcore controls to a console layout, Spearin told me that the team is mindful of the challenge and aims to adjust the controls without losing Insurgency’s signature realism. “We're looking to auto-aim and the typical shooter console features that are wired to make it a little easier for a controller. “Spearin stated firmly before going on to affirm that the series would not lose its signature style, “But at the same time, Insurgency benefits from minimalism, and in its design that kind of heightens the realism and intensity, not necessarily an overcomplexity. So if you look at a game like ARMA where yeah, every key on the keyboard does something. But when you play Insurgency, it's still very basic controls. So we want to maintain that simplicity in our approach to the design. That's what makes it easier to translate over to the consoles.” A Graphics Overhaul Being a Half-Life 2 mod means both Insurgency and its mod predecessor were developed using the Source Engine, which limited the scope of the maps. For Sandstorm, New World Interactive has switched to Unreal Engine 4, with the team citing the graphical difference as “night and day” compared to the earlier titles. Unreal 4’s tech granted designers the horsepower to craft more visually impressive maps that are also more spacious than Insurgency's compact arenas. Players Won’t Have To Only Get Around On Foot Over the years, a segment of fans have requested that vehicles be added to Insurgency. However, the limitations of Source Engine made it impossible to do so. Sandstorm finally grants this wish, but if you’re a purist concerned about the game going the route of Battlefield, take solace in the fact that players won’t be obliterating buildings with tanks or flying around in helicopters. “We are still focused on that infantry combat, kind of close quarters but it's going to be a little wider. Spearin explained. “It's going to be primarily pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns and transportation trucks, that kind of thing.” Sandstorm is being designed with vehicles in mind, with appropriate game modes such as a convoy ambush. Enriching Competitive Play Spearin assures that multiplayer will maintain the same tweaks and balancing the team has spent years perfecting. Like the current Insurgency, Sandstorm’s online multiplayer supports up to 32 players. The game also features a competitive 5v5 mode and a separate co-op focused mode that will support up to eight players. New World Interactive has taken the popularity of eSports into account, with Spearin stating “Our own community with Insurgency has been very demanding about a lot of features over the years. Like matchmaking, ranks and leaderboards. So we are investing that effort into Sandstorm for that competitive crowd.” Weaving A Thoughtful Narrative A cinematic story campaign is Sandstorm’s most significant addition. Played alone or with up to four players cooperatively, Sandstorm tells the tale of a female paramilitary soldier who, as a child, was enslaved by radical insurgents along with her sister and best friend. When a skirmish erupted during a violent sandstorm, the wall to their prison was blown open by fire, which allowed the girls to escape. However, the protagonist and her sister became separated in the disorienting storm. Fast forward to present day, the protagonist and her best friend now fight against the forces that once oppressed them. One day the women uncover vital information that drives them to break away from their squad and set off on their own journey. Joining them is a former US veteran of the Iraq War who volunteers with the rebel force, and an adventure-seeking French citizen with zero combat experience. Spearin describes their quest as a “road trip across the desert,” where they’ll encounter a variety of people and locations and bond through the hardships the journey brings. Spearin stated the story drew inspiration from several different sources, including current events unfolding in present-day Iraq and the Iraqi war documentary Peshmerga. New World Interactive’s goal is to ditch the mindless nature of shooters and help players to understand who they’re pointing a gun at and why. “We wanted to highlight [the conflict in Iraq] because in the news you hear like oh, U.S. and NATO are supporting the Kurds, and not many people really understand what that means, who these people are and why.” Spearin continued, “In a way, that's what people want: to immerse themselves in a mindless time period with games. But when you come out of it, you can look at the real world and think ‘Oh wow, I have a better understanding of what's going on now’ or ‘I want to start learning more.’” New World Interactive hopes to hold a closed alpha for Insurgency: Sandstorm later this year, with a full release scheduled for sometime in 2018. With the move to consoles and the addition of a cinematic story mode, it’ll be interesting to see if the game can find a new player base in the ultra-saturated shooter market. Spearin feels confident that Sandstorm’s more grounded, thoughtful take on the genre will not only help it stand out, but provide a welcome change from the norm. “In order to stand out you have to do something innovative. You need to catch people's attention in a different way. I think when a saturated market exists, fans are looking for something different. They get tired of the same old franchise regenerating the same old gameplay with a different skin on top, right? They want somebody who is taking the challenge and the risk to come up with something new. Now it's like ‘let's bring that to more people.’” View full article
  12. Insurgency: Modern Infantry Combat was something of a pioneer for modern tactical shooters when it first arrived as a Half-Life 2 mod a decade ago. Conceived by Canadian Army veteran Andrew Spearin and supported by Red Orchestra mod founder Jeremy Blum, Insurgency: MIC made a name for itself by focusing on hardcore realism and infantry warfare. Elements such as a lack of crosshairs and deadlier gun behavior (players could die in one or two shots) resonated with a segment of the first-person shooter crowd, giving rise to a passionate following. A sequel to the mod, simply titled Insurgency, was one of the earliest Steam Early Access titles when it became available in March 2013. The game exited Early Access and launched in early 2014 going on to sell over three million copies. With strong sales, the opening of a new Amsterdam studio, and a growing staff, developer New World Interactive channeled all of their talent and resources into crafting an ambitious sequel, Insurgency: Sandstorm. Sandstorm aims to improve on the aspects that brought Insurgency to the dance while diversifying the experience to reach new players. I had a chance to speak with Spearin, creative director on the project, about the new features coming to Insurgency: Sandstorm and how it differentiates itself from the original game. Same Hardcore Approach, New Twists Insurgency: Sandstorm retains the realistic gunplay that made the series into, as Spearin jokingly described, the “Dark Souls of shooters.” He went on to elaborate on what he meant, saying, “We're keeping the same recipe that we've established. So it'll be the same weapon handling that Insurgency has, which means that there's no cross-hair. There's a free aim area where you can point your weapon within, so you can't just put a dot on your screen and hit the [trigger] consistently. You have to rely on your weapon sights to aim accurately and control your recoil, that sort of stuff.” A new ballistic system introduces realistic bullet drop, travel time, and ricochet. Sandstorm also adds environmental interactions such as ladder climbing, vaulting, and door breaching. One example is that players can shoot the hinges off doors and kick them down. New World also plans to incorporate features from its other title, Day of Infamy, such as fire support which allows players to call in bombers for artillery support. A progression system that bestows cosmetic items to players as they climb the ranks is also planned. And, of course, mod support will continue to exist in the PC version of Sandstorm. “Restarting our mod roots, it's very important for us, and we want to grow the next generation of indie devs through our platform,” said Spearin. Adjusting To The Console Audience In addition to PC, Insurgency: Sandstorm is coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4. This marks the series’ first appearance on consoles. When I asked about the potential difficulty of translating the franchise’s hardcore controls to a console layout, Spearin told me that the team is mindful of the challenge and aims to adjust the controls without losing Insurgency’s signature realism. “We're looking to auto-aim and the typical shooter console features that are wired to make it a little easier for a controller. “Spearin stated firmly before going on to affirm that the series would not lose its signature style, “But at the same time, Insurgency benefits from minimalism, and in its design that kind of heightens the realism and intensity, not necessarily an overcomplexity. So if you look at a game like ARMA where yeah, every key on the keyboard does something. But when you play Insurgency, it's still very basic controls. So we want to maintain that simplicity in our approach to the design. That's what makes it easier to translate over to the consoles.” A Graphics Overhaul Being a Half-Life 2 mod means both Insurgency and its mod predecessor were developed using the Source Engine, which limited the scope of the maps. For Sandstorm, New World Interactive has switched to Unreal Engine 4, with the team citing the graphical difference as “night and day” compared to the earlier titles. Unreal 4’s tech granted designers the horsepower to craft more visually impressive maps that are also more spacious than Insurgency's compact arenas. Players Won’t Have To Only Get Around On Foot Over the years, a segment of fans have requested that vehicles be added to Insurgency. However, the limitations of Source Engine made it impossible to do so. Sandstorm finally grants this wish, but if you’re a purist concerned about the game going the route of Battlefield, take solace in the fact that players won’t be obliterating buildings with tanks or flying around in helicopters. “We are still focused on that infantry combat, kind of close quarters but it's going to be a little wider. Spearin explained. “It's going to be primarily pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns and transportation trucks, that kind of thing.” Sandstorm is being designed with vehicles in mind, with appropriate game modes such as a convoy ambush. Enriching Competitive Play Spearin assures that multiplayer will maintain the same tweaks and balancing the team has spent years perfecting. Like the current Insurgency, Sandstorm’s online multiplayer supports up to 32 players. The game also features a competitive 5v5 mode and a separate co-op focused mode that will support up to eight players. New World Interactive has taken the popularity of eSports into account, with Spearin stating “Our own community with Insurgency has been very demanding about a lot of features over the years. Like matchmaking, ranks and leaderboards. So we are investing that effort into Sandstorm for that competitive crowd.” Weaving A Thoughtful Narrative A cinematic story campaign is Sandstorm’s most significant addition. Played alone or with up to four players cooperatively, Sandstorm tells the tale of a female paramilitary soldier who, as a child, was enslaved by radical insurgents along with her sister and best friend. When a skirmish erupted during a violent sandstorm, the wall to their prison was blown open by fire, which allowed the girls to escape. However, the protagonist and her sister became separated in the disorienting storm. Fast forward to present day, the protagonist and her best friend now fight against the forces that once oppressed them. One day the women uncover vital information that drives them to break away from their squad and set off on their own journey. Joining them is a former US veteran of the Iraq War who volunteers with the rebel force, and an adventure-seeking French citizen with zero combat experience. Spearin describes their quest as a “road trip across the desert,” where they’ll encounter a variety of people and locations and bond through the hardships the journey brings. Spearin stated the story drew inspiration from several different sources, including current events unfolding in present-day Iraq and the Iraqi war documentary Peshmerga. New World Interactive’s goal is to ditch the mindless nature of shooters and help players to understand who they’re pointing a gun at and why. “We wanted to highlight [the conflict in Iraq] because in the news you hear like oh, U.S. and NATO are supporting the Kurds, and not many people really understand what that means, who these people are and why.” Spearin continued, “In a way, that's what people want: to immerse themselves in a mindless time period with games. But when you come out of it, you can look at the real world and think ‘Oh wow, I have a better understanding of what's going on now’ or ‘I want to start learning more.’” New World Interactive hopes to hold a closed alpha for Insurgency: Sandstorm later this year, with a full release scheduled for sometime in 2018. With the move to consoles and the addition of a cinematic story mode, it’ll be interesting to see if the game can find a new player base in the ultra-saturated shooter market. Spearin feels confident that Sandstorm’s more grounded, thoughtful take on the genre will not only help it stand out, but provide a welcome change from the norm. “In order to stand out you have to do something innovative. You need to catch people's attention in a different way. I think when a saturated market exists, fans are looking for something different. They get tired of the same old franchise regenerating the same old gameplay with a different skin on top, right? They want somebody who is taking the challenge and the risk to come up with something new. Now it's like ‘let's bring that to more people.’”
  13. Dead Alliance is a game in search of an identity. Equal parts Call of Duty, horde mode, and MOBA all in the same breath, the competitive undead shooter banks its success on finding a player base with a love of all three genres and then some. Not only do you have to worry about a team of enemy players firing bullets at you, you also have to contend with the ravenous horde of zombies roaming around each map. But have no fear, for the combatants of Dead Alliance aren't running in without some nifty tools to turn the undead into your buddies. I recently got the chance to play a preview build of Dead Alliance; more specifically the game’s team deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes. At a glance the game might appear little more than another competitive shooter, replete with armored dudes toting heavy machine guns and more body armor than a presidential meet-and-greet. There’s also the maps, which range from an uninteresting warehouse to a seaside port town, that all look as dilapidated and overgrown as you might expect. Thankfully, the developers at Psyop have injected this melting pot with enough variety in terms of gameplay and strategic options to warrant at least a chance. In Dead Alliance’s multiplayer modes (including team deathmatch, CTF, free-for-all, and king of the hill), players are outfitted with a standard variety of weapons (assault rifles, machine guns of the bulky and sub variety), but are also given special tools called “Zmods” that influence the zombies found on every map. If you’re losing sight of your enemies, throwing the P.A.M. grenade at a group of zombies will force them to run for the nearest competitors, giving you ample room to hose them down while they’re fleeing from the horde. The L.R.A.D. attracts nearby zombies to a single point, allying them to your team, while the Trailer flare lets you string along a group of zombies while it’s in your hands. Those tools, coupled with a few that repelled zombies, made for chaotic firefights and a few tense retreats as zombies swarmed my team. At times, the game can feel like a well-measured bit of chaos. Hunting down enemy players through MOBA-like lanes of traffic is frantic, and often the team on the receiving end of the horde has little time to react. Dead Alliance’s overall pacing also plays a role, as players only move at a fraction of the speed you might in a game like Call of Duty or Titanfall. This means a dead sprint will only keep zombies off your back for as long as you keep running, but it also means that evading enemy fire is more a matter of getting the drop on someone than actual mechanical skill. During our demo, it often felt like our victories were due to easy manipulation of choke points more than anything else. It’s difficult to tell from two rounds if the game will have much depth, but at this rate, Dead Alliance risks players losing interest more quickly than most. Dead Alliance is out August 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $39.99. View full article
  14. Dead Alliance is a game in search of an identity. Equal parts Call of Duty, horde mode, and MOBA all in the same breath, the competitive undead shooter banks its success on finding a player base with a love of all three genres and then some. Not only do you have to worry about a team of enemy players firing bullets at you, you also have to contend with the ravenous horde of zombies roaming around each map. But have no fear, for the combatants of Dead Alliance aren't running in without some nifty tools to turn the undead into your buddies. I recently got the chance to play a preview build of Dead Alliance; more specifically the game’s team deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes. At a glance the game might appear little more than another competitive shooter, replete with armored dudes toting heavy machine guns and more body armor than a presidential meet-and-greet. There’s also the maps, which range from an uninteresting warehouse to a seaside port town, that all look as dilapidated and overgrown as you might expect. Thankfully, the developers at Psyop have injected this melting pot with enough variety in terms of gameplay and strategic options to warrant at least a chance. In Dead Alliance’s multiplayer modes (including team deathmatch, CTF, free-for-all, and king of the hill), players are outfitted with a standard variety of weapons (assault rifles, machine guns of the bulky and sub variety), but are also given special tools called “Zmods” that influence the zombies found on every map. If you’re losing sight of your enemies, throwing the P.A.M. grenade at a group of zombies will force them to run for the nearest competitors, giving you ample room to hose them down while they’re fleeing from the horde. The L.R.A.D. attracts nearby zombies to a single point, allying them to your team, while the Trailer flare lets you string along a group of zombies while it’s in your hands. Those tools, coupled with a few that repelled zombies, made for chaotic firefights and a few tense retreats as zombies swarmed my team. At times, the game can feel like a well-measured bit of chaos. Hunting down enemy players through MOBA-like lanes of traffic is frantic, and often the team on the receiving end of the horde has little time to react. Dead Alliance’s overall pacing also plays a role, as players only move at a fraction of the speed you might in a game like Call of Duty or Titanfall. This means a dead sprint will only keep zombies off your back for as long as you keep running, but it also means that evading enemy fire is more a matter of getting the drop on someone than actual mechanical skill. During our demo, it often felt like our victories were due to easy manipulation of choke points more than anything else. It’s difficult to tell from two rounds if the game will have much depth, but at this rate, Dead Alliance risks players losing interest more quickly than most. Dead Alliance is out August 29 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $39.99.
  15. Since 2013, Path of Exile has treated fans of action role-playing with a steady stream of content at the entry price of free-ninety-free. Developer Grinding Gear Games is giving its followers even more to love with the free-to-play title’s sixth and largest expansion to date: The Fall of Oriath. In addition to beefing up the PC version, the expansion, along with the entire Path of Exile experience, debuts on Xbox One later this year. After having an opportunity to take a look at the new content, here are some of the things fans can expect. I spent some time with a slice of the Xbox One version of the game, giving me the chance to test drive the remapped gamepad controls. I had previously only dabbled with the PC version of Path of Exile, and my inexperience with mouse and keyboard controls hindered my enjoyment. The reworked console controls were a welcome change for players like myself. Combat, item usage, and navigating the tweaked UI felt like I was coming home to a comfortable bed with that gamepad in hand. The Fall of Oriath’s story centers around the return of the gods of Wraeclast, who seek to reclaim their hold on the world. These gods serve as the adversaries players will face off against. One arduous bout I tackled was against a seemingly human foe who revealed himself to be a towering, radiant deity midway through our battle. Boasting a rapidly regenerating shield, scores of minions, and bullet hell-style projectile wave attacks, it was an overwhelming and challenging encounter. I witnessed another battle against the sea god, the Brine King, who drained the surrounding ocean to unleash pirate ghosts and water elementals against his targets. You read that right: Pirate. Ghosts. The Fall of Oriath features 24 bosses of this caliber with which players must contend. While Path of Exile’s original campaign runs roughly 20 hours, Grinding Gear promises The Fall of Oriath to run 40-50 hours across six new acts. The designer I spoke with stated, “Basically, the idea there is that for a retail game this would probably be a sequel, but for free-to-play you don't really do sequels. So we're just adding a lot of content to the base game.” That content includes a bevy of new skill gems and unique items, the specifics of which Grinding Gears plans to reveal in the near future. Additionally, The Fall of Oriath introduces Pantheon, a system that lets players harness the abilities of the gods they battle. A new league event is also slated to begin roughly around the launch of the new content. Leagues are special events that occur every three months and shake up the game rules, such as increasing the attack speed of all enemies. The Fall of Oriath closed beta features all existing content plus Acts 5 through 7. The expansion arrives in full on PC this month. Xbox One players get their chance to lose countless hours surviving Path of Exile’s dark and compelling world when it hits Microsoft’s console this fall. View full article
  16. Since 2013, Path of Exile has treated fans of action role-playing with a steady stream of content at the entry price of free-ninety-free. Developer Grinding Gear Games is giving its followers even more to love with the free-to-play title’s sixth and largest expansion to date: The Fall of Oriath. In addition to beefing up the PC version, the expansion, along with the entire Path of Exile experience, debuts on Xbox One later this year. After having an opportunity to take a look at the new content, here are some of the things fans can expect. I spent some time with a slice of the Xbox One version of the game, giving me the chance to test drive the remapped gamepad controls. I had previously only dabbled with the PC version of Path of Exile, and my inexperience with mouse and keyboard controls hindered my enjoyment. The reworked console controls were a welcome change for players like myself. Combat, item usage, and navigating the tweaked UI felt like I was coming home to a comfortable bed with that gamepad in hand. The Fall of Oriath’s story centers around the return of the gods of Wraeclast, who seek to reclaim their hold on the world. These gods serve as the adversaries players will face off against. One arduous bout I tackled was against a seemingly human foe who revealed himself to be a towering, radiant deity midway through our battle. Boasting a rapidly regenerating shield, scores of minions, and bullet hell-style projectile wave attacks, it was an overwhelming and challenging encounter. I witnessed another battle against the sea god, the Brine King, who drained the surrounding ocean to unleash pirate ghosts and water elementals against his targets. You read that right: Pirate. Ghosts. The Fall of Oriath features 24 bosses of this caliber with which players must contend. While Path of Exile’s original campaign runs roughly 20 hours, Grinding Gear promises The Fall of Oriath to run 40-50 hours across six new acts. The designer I spoke with stated, “Basically, the idea there is that for a retail game this would probably be a sequel, but for free-to-play you don't really do sequels. So we're just adding a lot of content to the base game.” That content includes a bevy of new skill gems and unique items, the specifics of which Grinding Gears plans to reveal in the near future. Additionally, The Fall of Oriath introduces Pantheon, a system that lets players harness the abilities of the gods they battle. A new league event is also slated to begin roughly around the launch of the new content. Leagues are special events that occur every three months and shake up the game rules, such as increasing the attack speed of all enemies. The Fall of Oriath closed beta features all existing content plus Acts 5 through 7. The expansion arrives in full on PC this month. Xbox One players get their chance to lose countless hours surviving Path of Exile’s dark and compelling world when it hits Microsoft’s console this fall.
  17. Laughter filled a small corner of the crowded convention space. In the middle of the largest show aimed at putting gaming's biggest and flashiest on full display, laughter is often in short supply. Excitement? Oh, you better believe it! Smiles? All over the place. Cheers? Constantly ringing out. But laughter is a rarer thing. So when I heard laughter from around a tiny booth tucked away on the show floor of E3 2017, I knew I had to investigate. And that's when I found it - a game so pure and good that it improved my life with its simple existence. Disco Bear. Players control the titular disco bear, a polar bear who loves to dance. After suffering an embarrassing, traumatic incident in 1977, Bear leaves the dance floor for good. Five years later, he comes out of retirement to bust a move one last time to save the local roller skating rink. The characters are all still images of animals in various poses of varying ridiculousness. The gameplay isn't deep, merely using the arrow keys to boogie to the best of the player's ability. The idea appears simple on paper, but the humorous execution leaves players smirking and laughing along with the comedic narrative. Disco Bear isn't the most complex game ever created, but it is certainly an incredibly effective game at achieving its goals. While I watched people play it in that E3 booth, everyone was smirking and chuckling as they wiggled their way through Disco Bear's adventure. I can honestly say that my life is better for having played it, and that's not something that can be said for a lot of games that I've played throughout my life. I had an opportunity to talk with Katie Pustolski, a graduate student at the University of Southern California and one of the co-creators of Disco Bear. Here's what I learned. Could you tell me a little about Disco Bear? I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Katie Pustolski: [Brian Handy and I,] we made this within a course of 15 weeks. The project is a heartfelt story about a bear being asked to dance again. It's an interactive narrative, it's very simple controls; it's only arrow keys, and there's no objective, no challenge, it's really just kind of a cute, silly experience. One of our experience goals was actually just to make people laugh, and smile, and it seems to be working really well! We've been getting a lot of positive feedback. The best thing about showing this game is seeing everybody's reactions. Certain people react differently, but there are certain points within the story where most people just burst out into laughter, or it's so unexpected--they weren't expecting the girl in the beginning to die. It's dark humor. So how did you actually go about and get pictures of the animals? Did you get those online? Pustolski: Yes. A lot of searching online; we tried our best to find images under creative commons licenses so that we can actually use them, cut them out and whatnot. Actually, during the credits, we have this giant wall of text that credits to all the pictures that we found online, and we did the same with sounds. We also have a music composer on the project who made the music, who is not here, but he is Bill Piyatut. He is not at the table at the moment, but yeah, other than that, we had Eileen Mary O'Connell who is a comedic consultant, so we asked her about comedy, and how do we try to make this funny, what can we do better? How did you decide on "Disco Bear"? That seems like a very specific thing, or alternatively, a very random thing. Pustolski: Oh yeah, so random. So during the ideation phase, when Brian and I were brainstorming, we knew we wanted to do something funny. Something with comedy, and spoil the space because this is a space within gaming and interactive media that's not touched on a lot. We're fans of awkward physics games like Octodad, but we didn't really want to do awkward physics, we wanted to experiment with other forms. Other forms of awkwardness? Pustolski: Awkwardness, and something to get a really good reaction from the player that's silly and fun and makes people smile. A little bit whimsical in a way. And we found through prototyping that simple interaction, such as playing with the arrow keys, was enough to get people smiling and laughing at a bear just dancing on the screen. One of the inspirations for this project was Colin's Bear. I'm not sure if you're familiar with it? It's like this small video on YouTube, I believe it's around 10 years old, but don't quote me on that because I'm not sure when it came out. This student made an animation project, but didn't feel like he got a lot out of his animation class, so he fulfilled all the requirements for the project within 20 or so seconds with this awkward dancing bear [laughs] and at the end it says 'Thanks for nothing.' That was one of the inspirations, and then of course, it just went from there, from that prototype of a dancing bear and simple interactions, expanded it, and it became what it is today. A lot of people approach video games and they have these grand visions of castles in the sky and giant wars and sweeping stories. So what made you focus on a dancing bear rather than a bigger, more hyperbolic experience? Pustolski: Brian and I worked on smaller projects together in the past for school, and we found that we have very similar humor. And again, during the ideation phase, we were trying to figure out what are we doing for this project? Ok, how about comedy? Ok, we we have a similar sense of humor, let's give it a go, let's try something in this area, because again, it's not touched on much. we wanted to experiment a little bit. So the base goal, just make people smile, make people laugh. Pustolski: I really like making people laugh and smile, so it just fit. How did you wind up at E3 with this game? Pustolski: It was actually Brian's idea to submit to IndieCade and we submitted it, and I guess they did some kind of judging and it was picked! And suddenly, we were here! And we're showing at E3, and this is great because this is my first time showing a game at a show or a festival; I'm a newbie at this. But Brian helped show a different project last year so he did something like this last year; he has more experience showing than I do. He's very good at showing games to people, and I'm still working on that. What is it like? Because not everyone gets to show off a game at E3. I'm sure there are good parts, and probably not so great parts. Pustolski: Good parts is networking with people, and obviously seeing people's reactions to the game. So far we've gotten a lot of positive feedback, positive responses and that's fantastic. Bad part, it's very tiring! And I go home, and my feet feel like they're on fire, but it's totally worth it. Would you ever considered making an expanded retail version of Disco Bear? Pustolski: We haven't discussed anything beyond what we already have, but this next year, Brian and I have to work on our thesis projects. Disco Bear can't be your thesis project!? Pustolski: Well, it doesn't count, because we have a full program, and a full year of working on our thesis. And it's individual too. So Brian has his own project he'll be working on, and I have my own project. How can people play Disco Bear? Is it out? Pustolski: Ah! Yes! It is out online right now at discobeargame.com. It is based in the browser. It's not mobile, it's only desktop/laptop because you need the arrow keys to play, but otherwise it's free, and you can go online right now and play it. --- Go out and play Disco Bear - it will at the very least improve your day with a ridiculous dancing bear. View full article
  18. Disco Bear Will Dance into Your Heart

    Laughter filled a small corner of the crowded convention space. In the middle of the largest show aimed at putting gaming's biggest and flashiest on full display, laughter is often in short supply. Excitement? Oh, you better believe it! Smiles? All over the place. Cheers? Constantly ringing out. But laughter is a rarer thing. So when I heard laughter from around a tiny booth tucked away on the show floor of E3 2017, I knew I had to investigate. And that's when I found it - a game so pure and good that it improved my life with its simple existence. Disco Bear. Players control the titular disco bear, a polar bear who loves to dance. After suffering an embarrassing, traumatic incident in 1977, Bear leaves the dance floor for good. Five years later, he comes out of retirement to bust a move one last time to save the local roller skating rink. The characters are all still images of animals in various poses of varying ridiculousness. The gameplay isn't deep, merely using the arrow keys to boogie to the best of the player's ability. The idea appears simple on paper, but the humorous execution leaves players smirking and laughing along with the comedic narrative. Disco Bear isn't the most complex game ever created, but it is certainly an incredibly effective game at achieving its goals. While I watched people play it in that E3 booth, everyone was smirking and chuckling as they wiggled their way through Disco Bear's adventure. I can honestly say that my life is better for having played it, and that's not something that can be said for a lot of games that I've played throughout my life. I had an opportunity to talk with Katie Pustolski, a graduate student at the University of Southern California and one of the co-creators of Disco Bear. Here's what I learned. Could you tell me a little about Disco Bear? I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Katie Pustolski: [Brian Handy and I,] we made this within a course of 15 weeks. The project is a heartfelt story about a bear being asked to dance again. It's an interactive narrative, it's very simple controls; it's only arrow keys, and there's no objective, no challenge, it's really just kind of a cute, silly experience. One of our experience goals was actually just to make people laugh, and smile, and it seems to be working really well! We've been getting a lot of positive feedback. The best thing about showing this game is seeing everybody's reactions. Certain people react differently, but there are certain points within the story where most people just burst out into laughter, or it's so unexpected--they weren't expecting the girl in the beginning to die. It's dark humor. So how did you actually go about and get pictures of the animals? Did you get those online? Pustolski: Yes. A lot of searching online; we tried our best to find images under creative commons licenses so that we can actually use them, cut them out and whatnot. Actually, during the credits, we have this giant wall of text that credits to all the pictures that we found online, and we did the same with sounds. We also have a music composer on the project who made the music, who is not here, but he is Bill Piyatut. He is not at the table at the moment, but yeah, other than that, we had Eileen Mary O'Connell who is a comedic consultant, so we asked her about comedy, and how do we try to make this funny, what can we do better? How did you decide on "Disco Bear"? That seems like a very specific thing, or alternatively, a very random thing. Pustolski: Oh yeah, so random. So during the ideation phase, when Brian and I were brainstorming, we knew we wanted to do something funny. Something with comedy, and spoil the space because this is a space within gaming and interactive media that's not touched on a lot. We're fans of awkward physics games like Octodad, but we didn't really want to do awkward physics, we wanted to experiment with other forms. Other forms of awkwardness? Pustolski: Awkwardness, and something to get a really good reaction from the player that's silly and fun and makes people smile. A little bit whimsical in a way. And we found through prototyping that simple interaction, such as playing with the arrow keys, was enough to get people smiling and laughing at a bear just dancing on the screen. One of the inspirations for this project was Colin's Bear. I'm not sure if you're familiar with it? It's like this small video on YouTube, I believe it's around 10 years old, but don't quote me on that because I'm not sure when it came out. This student made an animation project, but didn't feel like he got a lot out of his animation class, so he fulfilled all the requirements for the project within 20 or so seconds with this awkward dancing bear [laughs] and at the end it says 'Thanks for nothing.' That was one of the inspirations, and then of course, it just went from there, from that prototype of a dancing bear and simple interactions, expanded it, and it became what it is today. A lot of people approach video games and they have these grand visions of castles in the sky and giant wars and sweeping stories. So what made you focus on a dancing bear rather than a bigger, more hyperbolic experience? Pustolski: Brian and I worked on smaller projects together in the past for school, and we found that we have very similar humor. And again, during the ideation phase, we were trying to figure out what are we doing for this project? Ok, how about comedy? Ok, we we have a similar sense of humor, let's give it a go, let's try something in this area, because again, it's not touched on much. we wanted to experiment a little bit. So the base goal, just make people smile, make people laugh. Pustolski: I really like making people laugh and smile, so it just fit. How did you wind up at E3 with this game? Pustolski: It was actually Brian's idea to submit to IndieCade and we submitted it, and I guess they did some kind of judging and it was picked! And suddenly, we were here! And we're showing at E3, and this is great because this is my first time showing a game at a show or a festival; I'm a newbie at this. But Brian helped show a different project last year so he did something like this last year; he has more experience showing than I do. He's very good at showing games to people, and I'm still working on that. What is it like? Because not everyone gets to show off a game at E3. I'm sure there are good parts, and probably not so great parts. Pustolski: Good parts is networking with people, and obviously seeing people's reactions to the game. So far we've gotten a lot of positive feedback, positive responses and that's fantastic. Bad part, it's very tiring! And I go home, and my feet feel like they're on fire, but it's totally worth it. Would you ever considered making an expanded retail version of Disco Bear? Pustolski: We haven't discussed anything beyond what we already have, but this next year, Brian and I have to work on our thesis projects. Disco Bear can't be your thesis project!? Pustolski: Well, it doesn't count, because we have a full program, and a full year of working on our thesis. And it's individual too. So Brian has his own project he'll be working on, and I have my own project. How can people play Disco Bear? Is it out? Pustolski: Ah! Yes! It is out online right now at discobeargame.com. It is based in the browser. It's not mobile, it's only desktop/laptop because you need the arrow keys to play, but otherwise it's free, and you can go online right now and play it. --- Go out and play Disco Bear - it will at the very least improve your day with a ridiculous dancing bear.
  19. I tapped the colored light pads on a MIDI drum pad in a near daze, a melodic, electronic track pulsed through my ears. My avatar, a rotoscope image of a woman, jogged down neon tinted lanes dotted with music notes, inexplicably morphing into a unicorn and then a cosmic squid. Despite trying to maintain focus on hitting the beats in perfect rhythm, my mind couldn’t help but melt into a relaxing state of electronic zen. That sensation defines Roto Color Rhythm: a music game that wants its players to mellow out instead of testing their reflexes. “Part of what we're trying to also do is look at the meditative, relaxation aspect,” explained designer and Blue Volcano CEO Brendan Votano. “So the initial idea for the game came from ‘what do I want to play after I get home?’ After either a stressful day or going to a concert, going to see a music festival, I just want to chill out and relax.” I was able to sit down with Votano and programmer Roger Sodre to give Roto Color Rhythm a whirl. As with most rhythm/music titles, the core mechanic has players hitting notes across lanes. Roto Color Rhythm stands out, not so much because of its gameplay, but for its indie soundtrack, psychedelic presentation, and focus on translating the immersion of attending a live electronic concert into the interactive space. “One of the things we were really seeing when it comes to music games is they might be fun to play but they don't immerse people in that experience like going to a concert,” Sodre stated. “Like, really just kind of being there and enjoying it and just feeling that rhythm, feeling that flow, and just having a good time. It's more about ‘how fast do I hit the pads,’ ‘what's my ultimate score,’ ‘don't screw up,’ and we kind of felt people don't resonate with that. And that's something we really wanted to address with this game is ‘let's all have a good time.” One of the game’s major pillars is the myriad of options players have to engage with it. Roto Color Rhythm can be played using traditional controllers, computer keyboards, tablets, and even Guitar Hero/Rock Band instruments. For those who want to to achieve the full DJ experience, the game impressively supports a plethora of professional equipment such as drum pads and piano keyboards. “We're trying to recreate that experience, so we're using the MIDI controllers, which a lot of musicians use to create music.” Votano explains. “So if it plays, it feels like they're part of that creation process. You're using the same tools as professional musicians.” Me playing Roto Color Rhythm using a finger drum pad I played using an Akai-branded finger drum controller that sported nine pads on a 3x3 grid. Blue Volcano programmed the button’s colored lights to correspond with that of the game’s note lanes (red, blue, and green), making it easy to know which rows to hit. Any button within a row would activate the appropriate lane (a red note could be hit using any of the three pads in red row, for example) though each had a secondary mixing functionally. Votano encouraged me to avoid hitting the same set of pads as well as experiment with the various knobs and sliders, which had their own sound bending effects. Such configuration is possible with any equipment plugged into the game, so players can set up their controllers up to function as they see fit. Since I’d never messed with DJ equipment prior to playing Roto Color Rhythm, it felt legitimately cool to not only play DJ master but to feel like I was competently doing so. Despite its focus on providing a relaxed experience, I found that Roto Color Rhythm still maintains some element of challenge. The shifting camera angles and cosmic-neon art effects occasionally distracted me from following the notes. More uptempo songs featured more complicated patterns that had me rapidly tapping the pads on the MIDI controller. Much of that challenge stemmed from my unfamiliarity with the peripheral – using a gamepad or Rock Band guitar would have created an even more laid-back experienced – but a relaxed groove began to sink in once I started getting used to the control setup. Songs continue largely uninterrupted when you mess up. There are no jarring sound effects or visual cues indicating a mistake, which let me kick back and actually enjoy playing/listening to melodies without the fear of failure. With Roto Color Rhythm’s main hook in place, Blue Volcano is still designing the modes that will keep players returning for more. In addition to unlocking songs through an undetermined single-player/career-type mode, players can access a song’s individuals “stems” after completing it. For non-musicians, stems are the individual elements of a song such as the drum portion, the guitars, etc. A planned Remix mode will allow players to take a stem of music and combine it with other unlocked stems from different songs and mix them to form something original–just as real DJ’s do. Roto Color Rhythm's soundtrack primarily puts a spotlight on the indie electronic scene, though other styles are represented including progressive rock, alternative pop, and even some metal. Why the focus on indie electronic? Simple: It’s the scene that the team enjoys most. Votano and Sodre regularly attend such concerts around their home of Austin, TX. If they hear something they think would be a good fit for the game, they’ll reach out to the artist in hopes of getting them on board, sometimes at the show itself. Additionally, since DJ’s typically rely on heavy visualization elements in their shows, the genre plays perfectly into the game’s trippy presentation. A still-evolving roster of talent lend their tracks to the game, including Zebbler Encanti Experience and Eyelid Kid. Blue Volcano also goes the extra mile to ensure Roto Color Rhythm brings the niche electronic scene to a wider audience in a similar manner that Guitar Hero and Rock Band created countless new fans of rock music. Each artist has a their own information page in the game that includes their touring schedule and links to their social platforms. Players can also access an overlay menu with the performer’s info while playing a track if they ask themselves, “just who is this?” during gameplay. A performer’s music video typically plays in the level’s background. “...All these other elements related to the band are always sort of in your face,” says Votano. “So that's part of our give back to the artist as well. We want this to be win win for both of us.” Collaborating with more obscure acts also eliminates much of the “red tape” that comes with working with a giant label. According to Votano, bigger performers could say “We like the idea, but unfortunately we have to talk to our manager, who has to talk to our label… who could ultimately just say no or that this is the asking fee and that's it. I can't imagine trying to get, like, a Katy Perry track to show right now, you know what I mean?” In addition to enjoying it alone, Blue Volcano wants Roto Color Rhythm to be a social experience that anyone can hop into and have fun with regardless of their experience with video games. Votano and Sodre tested this by stealthily setting the game up in local bars, and then observed people, gamers or otherwise, take turns playing it. The public’s response? Everyone had a good time. “That's another big element to this. In the karaoke kind of style, as soon as someone goes up and does it, their whole table's going ‘woo!’ and then ‘who wants to come up next?’” said Sodre. In addition to playing with music equipment, the game can even be configured to work with lighting and other external equipment for those looking to create the ultimate party experience. Blue Volcano projects Roto Color Rhythm’s release for February 2018. Roughly 30 tracks will be in the initial release, though Blue Volcano has a two-year road map for regular updates post-launch (the team is toying with the idea of regional packs such as “The Sounds of LA,” for example). The team hopes one day the game could even be bundled with MIDI controllers to get potential users out of the gate. Thus far, Roto Color Rhythm feels like one of the most unique and authentic music offerings on the horizon that genre enthusiasts and indie electronica fans alike should definitely keep on their radar. View full article
  20. I tapped the colored light pads on a MIDI drum pad in a near daze, a melodic, electronic track pulsed through my ears. My avatar, a rotoscope image of a woman, jogged down neon tinted lanes dotted with music notes, inexplicably morphing into a unicorn and then a cosmic squid. Despite trying to maintain focus on hitting the beats in perfect rhythm, my mind couldn’t help but melt into a relaxing state of electronic zen. That sensation defines Roto Color Rhythm: a music game that wants its players to mellow out instead of testing their reflexes. “Part of what we're trying to also do is look at the meditative, relaxation aspect,” explained designer and Blue Volcano CEO Brendan Votano. “So the initial idea for the game came from ‘what do I want to play after I get home?’ After either a stressful day or going to a concert, going to see a music festival, I just want to chill out and relax.” I was able to sit down with Votano and programmer Roger Sodre to give Roto Color Rhythm a whirl. As with most rhythm/music titles, the core mechanic has players hitting notes across lanes. Roto Color Rhythm stands out, not so much because of its gameplay, but for its indie soundtrack, psychedelic presentation, and focus on translating the immersion of attending a live electronic concert into the interactive space. “One of the things we were really seeing when it comes to music games is they might be fun to play but they don't immerse people in that experience like going to a concert,” Sodre stated. “Like, really just kind of being there and enjoying it and just feeling that rhythm, feeling that flow, and just having a good time. It's more about ‘how fast do I hit the pads,’ ‘what's my ultimate score,’ ‘don't screw up,’ and we kind of felt people don't resonate with that. And that's something we really wanted to address with this game is ‘let's all have a good time.” One of the game’s major pillars is the myriad of options players have to engage with it. Roto Color Rhythm can be played using traditional controllers, computer keyboards, tablets, and even Guitar Hero/Rock Band instruments. For those who want to to achieve the full DJ experience, the game impressively supports a plethora of professional equipment such as drum pads and piano keyboards. “We're trying to recreate that experience, so we're using the MIDI controllers, which a lot of musicians use to create music.” Votano explains. “So if it plays, it feels like they're part of that creation process. You're using the same tools as professional musicians.” Me playing Roto Color Rhythm using a finger drum pad I played using an Akai-branded finger drum controller that sported nine pads on a 3x3 grid. Blue Volcano programmed the button’s colored lights to correspond with that of the game’s note lanes (red, blue, and green), making it easy to know which rows to hit. Any button within a row would activate the appropriate lane (a red note could be hit using any of the three pads in red row, for example) though each had a secondary mixing functionally. Votano encouraged me to avoid hitting the same set of pads as well as experiment with the various knobs and sliders, which had their own sound bending effects. Such configuration is possible with any equipment plugged into the game, so players can set up their controllers up to function as they see fit. Since I’d never messed with DJ equipment prior to playing Roto Color Rhythm, it felt legitimately cool to not only play DJ master but to feel like I was competently doing so. Despite its focus on providing a relaxed experience, I found that Roto Color Rhythm still maintains some element of challenge. The shifting camera angles and cosmic-neon art effects occasionally distracted me from following the notes. More uptempo songs featured more complicated patterns that had me rapidly tapping the pads on the MIDI controller. Much of that challenge stemmed from my unfamiliarity with the peripheral – using a gamepad or Rock Band guitar would have created an even more laid-back experienced – but a relaxed groove began to sink in once I started getting used to the control setup. Songs continue largely uninterrupted when you mess up. There are no jarring sound effects or visual cues indicating a mistake, which let me kick back and actually enjoy playing/listening to melodies without the fear of failure. With Roto Color Rhythm’s main hook in place, Blue Volcano is still designing the modes that will keep players returning for more. In addition to unlocking songs through an undetermined single-player/career-type mode, players can access a song’s individuals “stems” after completing it. For non-musicians, stems are the individual elements of a song such as the drum portion, the guitars, etc. A planned Remix mode will allow players to take a stem of music and combine it with other unlocked stems from different songs and mix them to form something original–just as real DJ’s do. Roto Color Rhythm's soundtrack primarily puts a spotlight on the indie electronic scene, though other styles are represented including progressive rock, alternative pop, and even some metal. Why the focus on indie electronic? Simple: It’s the scene that the team enjoys most. Votano and Sodre regularly attend such concerts around their home of Austin, TX. If they hear something they think would be a good fit for the game, they’ll reach out to the artist in hopes of getting them on board, sometimes at the show itself. Additionally, since DJ’s typically rely on heavy visualization elements in their shows, the genre plays perfectly into the game’s trippy presentation. A still-evolving roster of talent lend their tracks to the game, including Zebbler Encanti Experience and Eyelid Kid. Blue Volcano also goes the extra mile to ensure Roto Color Rhythm brings the niche electronic scene to a wider audience in a similar manner that Guitar Hero and Rock Band created countless new fans of rock music. Each artist has a their own information page in the game that includes their touring schedule and links to their social platforms. Players can also access an overlay menu with the performer’s info while playing a track if they ask themselves, “just who is this?” during gameplay. A performer’s music video typically plays in the level’s background. “...All these other elements related to the band are always sort of in your face,” says Votano. “So that's part of our give back to the artist as well. We want this to be win win for both of us.” Collaborating with more obscure acts also eliminates much of the “red tape” that comes with working with a giant label. According to Votano, bigger performers could say “We like the idea, but unfortunately we have to talk to our manager, who has to talk to our label… who could ultimately just say no or that this is the asking fee and that's it. I can't imagine trying to get, like, a Katy Perry track to show right now, you know what I mean?” In addition to enjoying it alone, Blue Volcano wants Roto Color Rhythm to be a social experience that anyone can hop into and have fun with regardless of their experience with video games. Votano and Sodre tested this by stealthily setting the game up in local bars, and then observed people, gamers or otherwise, take turns playing it. The public’s response? Everyone had a good time. “That's another big element to this. In the karaoke kind of style, as soon as someone goes up and does it, their whole table's going ‘woo!’ and then ‘who wants to come up next?’” said Sodre. In addition to playing with music equipment, the game can even be configured to work with lighting and other external equipment for those looking to create the ultimate party experience. Blue Volcano projects Roto Color Rhythm’s release for February 2018. Roughly 30 tracks will be in the initial release, though Blue Volcano has a two-year road map for regular updates post-launch (the team is toying with the idea of regional packs such as “The Sounds of LA,” for example). The team hopes one day the game could even be bundled with MIDI controllers to get potential users out of the gate. Thus far, Roto Color Rhythm feels like one of the most unique and authentic music offerings on the horizon that genre enthusiasts and indie electronica fans alike should definitely keep on their radar.
  21. Ever been curious about how the shops in RPG’s obtain their wares? Moonlighter aims to answer that burning question. The game stars Will, a shopkeeper with big dreams of becoming a hero. When he’s not running his business during the day, he “moonlights” as an adventurer, exploring caves, fighting monsters, and collecting treasure. Moonlighter’s design reflects Will’s double-life, dividing its gameplay into two disparate halves: top-down, action-adventure and market simulator. So far, it seems that developer Digital Sun has managed to weave both ideas together in a harmonious and fun way. The dungeon crawling sections sport elements of roguelites, with procedurally generated room arrangements and the loss of your loot upon death. Will wields two weapon types, which can include swords, spears, and bows, to hack and slash his way through monsters in search of treasure. Traps litter certain rooms, and others house special portals that teleport players to different, more challenging levels. While moment-to-moment gameplay features little out of the ordinary for genre enthusiasts, the various systems around it help Moonlighter stand out. Inventory management features a lot more than just shoving stuff into a bag. Multiple rows can hold items, but only stuff stored in the top row (representing Will’s pockets) will stick with him should he fall in battle. Thus, keeping your most valuable stock up top is highly recommended. Warping out of dungeons requires players to sell a certain amount treasures on the spot. You’re giving up some loot, but the hefty cost of death might make a speedy escape worth the cost, especially if you’re sitting on a good haul. Like a good businessperson, you’ve got to spend money to make money. My favorite menu element are special “cursed” items that come with various effects and create a near meta-game out of inventory. Some stipulations are relatively minor, like object that can only be kept in the bag’s bottom row. Others can be very useful, such as a curse that transforms itself into 10 duplicates of a nearby material. Curses can even work in conjunction with each other. One curse masks an item’s identity until you exit the dungeon. Another curse can dispel the ability of another, adjacent cursed object. When I moved a hidden item near a curse-remover, its identity was revealed, saving me from having to make the trip outside. Not since playing inventory Tetris in the Resident Evil series has dinking around my baggage felt this engaging. After getting my feet wet with combat in the brief prologue, Moonlighter began teaching me the ins and outs of running a storefront. Collected loot can be put up for sale at whatever price you deem appropriate. However, a product’s worth won’t be determined until customers scrutinize your inventory, so determining prices creates an initial guessing game. Cute emoticons express whether customers feel something is too cheap, too expensive, or priced reasonably. My personal favorite emote is a sort of pouty face indicating that an item’s expensive but they’ll begrudgingly buy it anyway. If a patron turns their nose up at something, you’ll need to lower the price. If someone bites the bullet on a big ticket item, you can continue charging that fee since you know people will drop the dough on it. I got a real kick out of seeing patrons open their wallets to my sometimes hilariously lofty prices. Once a sale has been made, a helpful ledger records the values for sold merchandise for future reference, eliminating that early guess work. Additionally, the book orders inventory by price, giving you a clear idea of the values of stock compared with each other. My immediate concern with shop gameplay was that it would eventually grow repetitive once the values of most goods were established, but the developers assured me that Will’s business, as well as consumer demands, evolve over time. As profits increase, the store can expand, allowing for a larger stock of merchandise as well as letting more customers visit. You can even decorate to create an atmosphere of fanciness, which might allow you to charge higher prices (the team cited the presentation of Apple stores as a humorous comparison). As customer tastes change, a once-hot commodity may not fetch a passing glance. Conversely, a cheap material could suddenly skyrocket in demand, justifying a price hike. Furthermore, some customers may even ask Will to carry certain goods, creating sidequests. It remains to be seen if these scenarios occur often enough to shopkeeping interesting in the long run, but it’s reassuring to know the same motions won’t be repeated ad nauseam. Will’s business isn’t the only game in town. The town of Rynoka is home to a blacksmith that sells and improves armor/weapons, as well an “overpriced” item store. A witch’s shop is the only business that remains open at night, selling potions, weapon enchantments, and holds nightly sales. Certain materials are better left off the show floor and used to trade at these stores. The devs stated some players even use the inventory of merchants as a point of comparison when determining how to price your own stock. I was definitely amused by the idea of intentionally undercutting the expensive item shop, for example. After business concluded for the day and I dove back into a dungeon. Moonlighter’s primary loop became clear: explore labyrinths, gather treasure, sell said treasure, purchase better equipment/upgrades, visit tougher levels, repeat. More difficult floors open up after several runs with richer rewards. But you’ll need superior gear to survive, but new equipment generally sports high price tags, providing incentive to maximize profits at the store. I realized Moonlighter’s hooks were digging in when I entered a typical combat room in which clearing its enemies would normally cause treasure to appear. However, nothing did, but instead of feeling slighted, the materials left behind by the slain foes was reward enough. I excitedly thought “Oh cool, I can sell these in my shop!” As a Zelda fan, it doesn’t take much to get me on board with similarly designed experiences. Engaging in the doldrums of managing a business, however, was a different story. When I learned Moonlighter was as about selling goods as it was exploring dungeons, my initial enthusiasm dropped a bit. Setting prices, waiting around for customers–it all sounded rather dull. By the end of my hour-long session, my tune changed. Moonlighter has the potential an engrossing and enjoyable spin on the action/RPG. The shop mechanic is a neat angle that’s backed by solid roguelite gameplay, all wrapped in a charming pixel art presentation. I look forward to opening up shop when Moonlighter arrives later this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac. View full article
  22. Ever been curious about how the shops in RPG’s obtain their wares? Moonlighter aims to answer that burning question. The game stars Will, a shopkeeper with big dreams of becoming a hero. When he’s not running his business during the day, he “moonlights” as an adventurer, exploring caves, fighting monsters, and collecting treasure. Moonlighter’s design reflects Will’s double-life, dividing its gameplay into two disparate halves: top-down, action-adventure and market simulator. So far, it seems that developer Digital Sun has managed to weave both ideas together in a harmonious and fun way. The dungeon crawling sections sport elements of roguelites, with procedurally generated room arrangements and the loss of your loot upon death. Will wields two weapon types, which can include swords, spears, and bows, to hack and slash his way through monsters in search of treasure. Traps litter certain rooms, and others house special portals that teleport players to different, more challenging levels. While moment-to-moment gameplay features little out of the ordinary for genre enthusiasts, the various systems around it help Moonlighter stand out. Inventory management features a lot more than just shoving stuff into a bag. Multiple rows can hold items, but only stuff stored in the top row (representing Will’s pockets) will stick with him should he fall in battle. Thus, keeping your most valuable stock up top is highly recommended. Warping out of dungeons requires players to sell a certain amount treasures on the spot. You’re giving up some loot, but the hefty cost of death might make a speedy escape worth the cost, especially if you’re sitting on a good haul. Like a good businessperson, you’ve got to spend money to make money. My favorite menu element are special “cursed” items that come with various effects and create a near meta-game out of inventory. Some stipulations are relatively minor, like object that can only be kept in the bag’s bottom row. Others can be very useful, such as a curse that transforms itself into 10 duplicates of a nearby material. Curses can even work in conjunction with each other. One curse masks an item’s identity until you exit the dungeon. Another curse can dispel the ability of another, adjacent cursed object. When I moved a hidden item near a curse-remover, its identity was revealed, saving me from having to make the trip outside. Not since playing inventory Tetris in the Resident Evil series has dinking around my baggage felt this engaging. After getting my feet wet with combat in the brief prologue, Moonlighter began teaching me the ins and outs of running a storefront. Collected loot can be put up for sale at whatever price you deem appropriate. However, a product’s worth won’t be determined until customers scrutinize your inventory, so determining prices creates an initial guessing game. Cute emoticons express whether customers feel something is too cheap, too expensive, or priced reasonably. My personal favorite emote is a sort of pouty face indicating that an item’s expensive but they’ll begrudgingly buy it anyway. If a patron turns their nose up at something, you’ll need to lower the price. If someone bites the bullet on a big ticket item, you can continue charging that fee since you know people will drop the dough on it. I got a real kick out of seeing patrons open their wallets to my sometimes hilariously lofty prices. Once a sale has been made, a helpful ledger records the values for sold merchandise for future reference, eliminating that early guess work. Additionally, the book orders inventory by price, giving you a clear idea of the values of stock compared with each other. My immediate concern with shop gameplay was that it would eventually grow repetitive once the values of most goods were established, but the developers assured me that Will’s business, as well as consumer demands, evolve over time. As profits increase, the store can expand, allowing for a larger stock of merchandise as well as letting more customers visit. You can even decorate to create an atmosphere of fanciness, which might allow you to charge higher prices (the team cited the presentation of Apple stores as a humorous comparison). As customer tastes change, a once-hot commodity may not fetch a passing glance. Conversely, a cheap material could suddenly skyrocket in demand, justifying a price hike. Furthermore, some customers may even ask Will to carry certain goods, creating sidequests. It remains to be seen if these scenarios occur often enough to shopkeeping interesting in the long run, but it’s reassuring to know the same motions won’t be repeated ad nauseam. Will’s business isn’t the only game in town. The town of Rynoka is home to a blacksmith that sells and improves armor/weapons, as well an “overpriced” item store. A witch’s shop is the only business that remains open at night, selling potions, weapon enchantments, and holds nightly sales. Certain materials are better left off the show floor and used to trade at these stores. The devs stated some players even use the inventory of merchants as a point of comparison when determining how to price your own stock. I was definitely amused by the idea of intentionally undercutting the expensive item shop, for example. After business concluded for the day and I dove back into a dungeon. Moonlighter’s primary loop became clear: explore labyrinths, gather treasure, sell said treasure, purchase better equipment/upgrades, visit tougher levels, repeat. More difficult floors open up after several runs with richer rewards. But you’ll need superior gear to survive, but new equipment generally sports high price tags, providing incentive to maximize profits at the store. I realized Moonlighter’s hooks were digging in when I entered a typical combat room in which clearing its enemies would normally cause treasure to appear. However, nothing did, but instead of feeling slighted, the materials left behind by the slain foes was reward enough. I excitedly thought “Oh cool, I can sell these in my shop!” As a Zelda fan, it doesn’t take much to get me on board with similarly designed experiences. Engaging in the doldrums of managing a business, however, was a different story. When I learned Moonlighter was as about selling goods as it was exploring dungeons, my initial enthusiasm dropped a bit. Setting prices, waiting around for customers–it all sounded rather dull. By the end of my hour-long session, my tune changed. Moonlighter has the potential an engrossing and enjoyable spin on the action/RPG. The shop mechanic is a neat angle that’s backed by solid roguelite gameplay, all wrapped in a charming pixel art presentation. I look forward to opening up shop when Moonlighter arrives later this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Mac.
  23. Among the giants of gaming with their colossal booths was a haven for the indie crowd at E3 2017 in the form of Indiecade. The goal of Indiecade is to give indies the spotlight–a great juxtaposition considering the commercial, triple-A nature of E3. One such game being showcased was called Borders. Borders has its players navigate as an immigrant trying to cross the U.S./Mexico border with many dangerous obstacles in between. At its core, the game is simple in both its controls and graphics, but it's the message behind it that makes it a powerful piece. The 2D side-scroller intends to not only demonstrate the storytelling prowess of video games but also hopes to shed light on the risks facing illegal immigrants. Developer Gonzalo Alvarez (artist, creative director, art direction, and animator) created the game alongside Jon DiGiacomo (engineer, level designer) and Genaro Vallejo Reyes (game, level, and sound designer) after they met each other at another Indiecade event. Development of the game spanned a seven-day game jam with Reyes being the only team member with prior game development experience. Alvarez's inspiration came from his own parent's stories of crossing the border. "They get excited to see all of the little things," Alvarez said standing beside a demo of the game on the E3 show floor speaking about his parent's reaction to the game. In Borders, players have one goal: get to the border. In between there and the starting point, though, are plenty of border patrol and a constant risk for dehydration. Again, the experience is straightforward (you run and duck into the occasional bush) but it is very addicting. Borders is still a game, and it can be easy to get sucked up into the standard gaming goals: dodge the enemy, make it to the end. But the landscape is littered with constant reminders of its political purpose. Skeletons are left in wake of the players failed attempts symbolizing the sometimes fatal nature of crossing the border for immigrants. This feature was even more startling in the E3 demo since everyone who had played the game and died had their markers piled up along the path. Needless to say, there were a lot of skeletons. Borders gained attention after an art exhibit showcased it in arcade cabinet form earlier this year. Major news outlets covered the game, and long story short, the attention earned it a featured spot at E3. "It is surreal," said Alvarez about being at E3, "if it wasn't for Indiecade I probably wouldn't be a game developer." The game is available now on Windows, Mac and Android marketplace. Depending on the platform, Borders is either $.99 or name your own price. The three devs formed a game company called Macua Studios and are currently working on a non-political game called Paleo Hunter.
  24. Among the giants of gaming with their colossal booths was a haven for the indie crowd at E3 2017 in the form of Indiecade. The goal of Indiecade is to give indies the spotlight, a great juxtaposition considering the commercial nature of E3. One such game being showcased was called Borders. Borders has its players navigate as an immigrant trying to cross the U.S./Mexico border with many dangerous obstacles in between. At its core, the game is simple in both its controls and graphics, but it's the message behind it that makes it a powerful piece. The 2D side scroller touts the mission of not only displaying the storytelling prowess of video games overall but also hopes to shed light on the risks facing illegal immigrants. Developer Gonzalo Alvarez (artist, creative director, art direction, and animator) created the game alongside Jon DiGiacomo (engineer, level designer) and Genaro Vallejo Reyes (game, level, and sound designer) after they met each other at another Indiecade event. Development of the game spanned a seven-day game jam with Reyes being the only team member with prior game development experience. Alvarez's inspiration came from his own parent's stories of crossing the border. "They get excited to see all of the little things," Alvarez said standing beside a demo of the game on the E3 show floor speaking to his parent's reaction to the game. Playing the game you have one goal, get to the border. In between there and the starting point though are plenty of border patrol and a constant risk for dehydration. Again it's straightforward, you run and duck into the occasional bush, but it is very addicting. Borders is still a game and it can be easy to get sucked up into the standard gaming goals, dodge the enemy, make it to the end. But the landscape is littered with constant reminders of its political purpose. View full article
  25. Brawlers are one the main genres I cut my teeth into during my formative gaming years. Favorites such as Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and the TMNT series let me gleefully take out my aggression by taking down scores of goons, one uppercut at a time. The genre had an amazing heyday in the 80’s and early 90’s before plummeting off a cliff in the following decade. Then Castle Crashers came along in 2009 and suddenly a wave of new brawlers punched their way into the scene, many of them featuring the RPG elements that Behemoth’s successful title popularized. But once that Renaissance came and went, brawlers began to slide out of favor again. I think that’s largely because there hasn’t been much meaningful innovation in the format since then. Enter Redeemer , a top-down beat 'em up created by Russian development team Soboka Studio and published by Gambitious Digital Entertainment. The team's goal is to breath new life into the genre or, in their words, “make a brawler for 2017”. The game puts players in control Vasily, a former top-notch mercenary once employed by an evil corporation who has since walked away from that blood-stained life to find peace within a monk monastery. However, after decades of solitude, the corporation has tracked and located Vasily at his new home, sending the reformed monk on a brutal quest for revenge and redemption. After getting some hands-on time with Redeemer at E3 2017, I almost had to be physically pried away from the controller. The game was a blast, hitting all the right notes for a brawler fan such as myself. Here are the biggest takeaways from my session: Combat Is Deeper Than Mere Button Mashing The brawler genre’s primary appeal, mindlessly punching the snot out of bad guys, has also been its greatest weakness. You can only mash that same hit button so many times before it grows old, especially when every enemy can be toppled in the same manner. Redeemer looks to solve that problem by offering a more refined combat system that emphasizes player skill as well as a variety of methods to put people down. Imagine the Rocksteady Batman combat system applied to a top-down brawler. That pretty much defines Redeemer’s fisticuffs. Chaining together punches and kicks to form bone-crunching combos while performing split-second counters gives combat a similar flow to that of the Caped Crusader’s. Fighting felt great thanks to the smooth animations and transitions, as well as the satisfying sense of weight behind every blow. Different enemy types require different tactics–players can’t mindlessly punch their way through everything. I learned that quickly after certain adversaries blocked my barrage and responded with vicious counter-attacks. One way around them is by using two special attacks that can either drop enemies directly in front of players or a ground-pound that wipes out everyone around you. Since roughly 30 enemies could be on-screen at any time, those room-clearing attacks will be valuable. When opponents are vulnerable, executions moves let players finish off the opponent in savage fashion. Vasily can also perform stealth kills. I entered a room occupied by a couple of soldiers and snapped their necks from behind, preventing them alerting their comrades. Though not a stealth game by any stretch, I appreciate the option to quietly pick off certain foes before going in guns blazing. Speaking of which... Guns Are Helpful (And Deadly) Extensions Of Yourself Vasily’s fists are lethal weapons in their own right. However, that doesn’t stop him from picking up a hot piece and laying down fire. During my demo, I grabbed machine guns and mowed down targets with the tight twin-stick controls, which felt as gratifying as knocking someone’s teeth out. Players can wield arms ranging from handguns to high-tech laser rifles. Even though melee combat is Redeemer's bread and butter, gunplay didn’t feel like an out-of-place or neglected feature. One of the slickest maneuvers in the game is a “John Wick” style move where Vasily can swiftly disarm armed foes and turn their weapons against them. Not only is the action simple to perform, but I felt like the coolest guy ever by rushing a room filled with thugs packing heat, John Wick-ing the nearest goon, then smoothly popping off rounds to the remaining guys without breaking a sweat. Your Surroundings Are Your Best Friend Anyone who’s watched enough Jackie Chan films knows the martial artist is nigh invincible when surrounded by objects he can use to his advantage. Vasily is no different. Deadly environmental kills that evoke Mortal Kombat in their brutality can be performed near highlighted objects. When I wasn't impaling soldiers on tree branches I used them to feed the flames of stone furnaces. Upon entering an area, I gleefully twiddled my fingers Mr. Burns-style plotting how and where I was going to make the most of my surroundings. Additionally, crates and other objects Additionally, crates and other objects and weapons (including sledgehammers and stun batons) can be picked up and hurled, which can be a life-saver when you need to attack from afar but don’t have a firearm. As the developer kept reminding me “crates are always your friend.” The Premise And Tone Is Delightfully Dumb In case you forgot, the game’s premise is a soldier-turned peace-loving monk who embarks on a murder rampage. The campaign's three chapters begin with Vasily taking on human soldiers and escalate to punching mutated monsters in the face. I played a section of the third chapter, which was set in a science fiction-style facility and was gunning down failed, hostile experiments with a laser cannon–while still wearing dusty monk robes. Redeemer has an absurd atmosphere and I love it. The game also sports a fair amount of style thanks to to the comic-illustrated cutscenes and exaggerated character models courtesy of Unreal Engine 4. Redeemer’s single-player campaign consists of three chapters. A two-player horde-style Arena mode will also be present, and Sobaka Studio isn’t ruling out adding co-op play to the campaign after the game launches. I found the game to be a riot and look forward to spending 4-5 hours laying the smack down on fools. Redeemer is slated to hit PC between late summer and early fall of this year for $14.99. Console versions are being considered post-launch. View full article