SHELTER

It was in the rapids that I lost my first cub.

There was no warning, just the sudden sense of shock as a vast wave swept through our pack, submerging us all in a rolling tide of water. Darting to the shore, I immediately counted my remaining children, silently noting a missing face. Waiting for a few moments, I clung to the hope that it had perhaps gotten itself stuck on some kind of branch or stone and would soon appear, so we could continue on as a family… However, there was no choice but to continue trekking through the wilderness – if not for progression’s sake, but for the hungry four that trailed, squealing at my feet.

Shelter is not in any form a conventional game release. Developed by independent studio, Might and Delight – best known for 2012’s Pid – it is, essentially, a badger life simulator. With no emphasis on controls or direction, the game places you into the role of a mother badger (or, sow), who must care for her five, individually patterned cubs that dance playfully around their earthy sett. Digging roots and catching smaller prey, you must keep your family fed as you travel the land, fending off danger and always keeping a close eye on the safety of your pack.

The true aspect that instantly attracted me to Shelter was its beautifully simple art style. Rendered in a very basic, I-hate-to-say-retro ruggedness, the game relies heavily on its immersive world and bright, organic patterns that certainly draw you into an atmosphere of pure, untouched nature. It becomes very clear how much Might and Delight opted to focus on character and personality throughout this experience, creating a game that feels almost as if you are playing through an intricate landscape painting – whereas, say, a studio that had tried to emulate realism in its graphics would have fallen far short of the mark, leaving us with a cold, artificial copy.

Shelter is a world that drinks deeply from your sense of concern and nurturing, quickly cementing a strong bond to your pack, without the need for introduction or additional information that most modern games rely so heavily upon. An atmospheric, acoustic soundtrack drips and fades along your journey, complimenting each subtle note of season, whilst also inspiring fear and dread with every passing danger. It is these small, immersive details that all combine so perfectly into an experience that can become heavily entwined in emotion throughout play. The huge sigh of relief as you finally manage to pounce on that elusive fox you’d been stalking, giving your cubs that little, extra boost; the careful, measured steps through the undergrowth, terrified of the hawk that circles above – the little moments and spikes of sentimentality that shape every minute along the way.

This is not by any means a long game – I counted roughly four or five stages in total – however, it certainly warrants the time spent exploring and indulging in its rich, lively environments. The gameplay itself could perhaps be compared to one giant escort mission, but it is important to note that the cubs are by no means a burden upon you, rather travelling companions that you honestly feel indebted to protect. In full circle, I began this review detailing the death of one of my own, and it was a hard blow of loss that far surpassed any other title I have played of similar ilk.

Beside being a great new addition and real victory for Steam’s Greenlight, Shelter inspires an appreciation of the hardships within nature and, ultimately, motherhood itself – a must play for any who wish to escape the decaying, urban shadow that haunts so much of our lives, for a small glimpse into the untouched circle of the animal kingdom.

Buy it on steam here or from the website here

Visit Might and Delight’s website here

10,000,000

‘Action’, ‘RPG’ and ‘Indie’ are three genres you have probably seen banded about a little too much recently – and there is no exception in the case of EightyEight Games’ debut PC port, 10,000,000, which washed upon our digital shores earlier this year.

Taking note of its iOS origins, I plunged into 10,000,000 with grave expectations of disappointment. “Just another failed crossover”, I began to tell myself as I flicked between screenshot after screenshot of crudely pixelated dungeons and monsters, “There is no way I am about to earn my money’s worth of enjoyment”. Well, uh, it would seem I was wrong. 8 hours overall playtime wrong, in fact.

A very simple game with little need for instruction, 10,000,000 actually does manage to work on a number of levels above its classification. On one hand you have the blatant RPG elements of grinding for experience and upgrades, the other a basic three-in-a-row matching puzzle, which earns the resource for the former. So, where does all this elusive ‘Action’ fit in, I hear you cry? Running atop it all is your tiny, fedora-equipped self, forming what is essentially a progress bar rife with chests to plunder and a variety of monsters to swing at. Whenever an obstacle is in your path, the correct tiles must be matched in order to continue, i.e. swords and staffs will deal damage, whilst keys unlock. Bearing in mind that your enemies are as eager for you to fail as you are to succeed, gameplay quickly becomes fast-paced and intense as that back wall – your only form of death – edges ever nearer.

Of course, there are a number of items to collect along your journey (food, for instance, gives you a little bump forward, allowing for last minute recuperation), however the main goal lies in the game’s title: 10,000,000 points must be achieved in order to gain your freedom. The developers’ original intentions aside, this is where we begin to break the fourth wall a little, and it certainly wasn’t hard to see links between our protagonist’s endless struggle and my own in playing this title. With every attempt I grew both stronger and more confident, all the while pushing for a higher score; that one step closer to victory.

It is important to note here that 10,000,000 carries the high addiction rate of most successful mobile titles and, already being a big fan of similar puzzle classic, Bejeweled, it certainly captivated my attention for the time that it lasted. This is a game that is very comfortable within its genre and will by no means make any move on trying to change that. All in all, a fun, challenging title that is extremely humble in both its motives and its pricing – worth checking out for any lover of its ilk.

Visit EightyEight’s website here

Buy it on Steam here

Buy it for iOS here

MERCENARY KINGS: NEW PROJECT FROM TRIBUTE GAMES THAT NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT!

Earlier today, Jonathan Lavigne’s blog, Pixeltao, revealed the future of Mercenary Kings – the upcoming installment from newly-fledged developer Tribute Games (Wizorb). Since its demo showcase at Dream.Build.Play, a lot of people – myself included – have been very excited about this game, which combines the arcade style and fun of Metal Slug with RPG elements of crafting and character customisation. What they need, however, is your support.

With a project just launched on Kickstarter, Tribute Games are looking for $75,000 to fund and create Mercenary Kings, which will include the art of Paul Robertson (best known for his work on 2010’s Scott Pilgrim game, alongside the founders of Tribute Games), as well as local cooperative play (online tba). With hopes for releasing on both PC and console, any donations and backing will all be extremely helpful in bringing this title to our screens and up to its full potential. Credits and rewards are offered for generosity.

LINKS

Tribute Games website

Mercenary Kings Kickstarter page

Pixeltao blog

Paul Robertson’s Tumblr

STEAM GREENLIGHT – THE NEW PLATFORM FOR INDIE DEVELOPERS?

Valve sure has been busy recently, what with the highly anticipated release of Source Filmmaker (click here), working to provide a secure Linux service and, of course, the irresistible siren that is the Steam Summer Sale (it just takes your wallet and stamps all your money into the ground – like a school bully, except you’re actually really pleased about it). However, all of those could be completely individual, standalone posts – what I’m really here to talk about is Steam Greenlight.

In the past, if a small developer wanted their game to be sold on Steam, they’d have to fill out an application form (like this one) and wait about for that all important ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – but, all that is about to change. Steam Greenlight intends to switch all that responsibility to us, the community, in a fancy new voting system which, I imagine, will borrow heavily from its well received Workshop success. Indie developers will now be able to submit their games/demos/screenshots at any stage of production, allowing for voters to pick and choose who they would like to see in the marketplace. This, of course, is a brilliant change to the old system and really creates a lot more opportunity for any upcoming or existing projects to become accessible to a much wider audience – around 40 million, in fact.

Greenlight’s development is an honest reveal of what Steam has always been about – acknowledging the shifting interests within games and allowing for companies, big or small, to be a part of it. Other portals, such as Indievania (click here), will be able to merge and advertise to the masses what they have to offer. However, with any form of freedom, issues will arise.

Duplicates, false submissions and the possibility of virus-laden software may be found within the flood of new applications – or, as Rock, Paper, Shotgun pointed out, ‘a billion joke listings for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 will instantaneously appear’ (article here), which obviously brings to mind the question of ‘how will Greenlight be moderated?’. I emailed Valve with questions concerning this, however have had no response as of yet – I guess we’ll all have to wait and see for ourselves.

Steam Greenlight is intended for release in August this year.

Visit the Steam Greenlight page here

Catch the Steam Summer Sale here

DELVER

Still very much so in alpha development, Chad Cuddigan’s Delver is a Minecraft-esque roguelike that has a huge amount of potential for the future. Currently running on both Windows and Android, the beauty within this release is its simplicity, applying very minimal, easy to learn controls through each level of its descending dungeons.

Atmosphere is definitely a key feature within Delver – often leading you through dark, claustrophobic tunnels, each holding a selection of unforgiving beasts and baddies intent on your demise. At this stage there are only three varieties of weapons: daggers, swords and wands – however, that isn’t such an issue, with each holding its own power, ability and design. Wands are the only ranged weapon currently implemented, but hold a lot more effectiveness than the average blade, allowing you to take out oncoming enemies from any distance in a satisfying explosion of pixel blood. Each wand has a limited number of charges, however, and so must be used sparingly in combat. Armour throughout the game also relies on much the same principle as the weapons, increasing in defence depending on its style and class.

There is a colourful selection of potions to be found, however it would seem that all but one heal your character – despite each description declaring an unknown effect. This has no real downside on gameplay, but it would be nice to see a bit more variety in how each colour corresponds to your character – especially if there were overall attack/defence stats included. Each potion could perhaps carry its own positive/negative effects, allowing for you to focus more heavily on a certain style of play – for example, using speed and attack, but lacking in defence.

Another feature that I would love to see included would be durability. With a lot of low grade armour and weapons scattered about each level, it seems a little bit of a waste to ignore a use for them. If each weapon, in the same sense as the wands, had a certain number of uses – or hits, in the case of armour – there would most certainly be a much more increased sense of difficulty and desperation – especially on the lower levels, where gameplay can be pretty comfortable at this current stage of development.

All in all, I highly recommend trying Delver out – It’s a nicely made, fun little game that takes little knowledge or computer power to run and I will most definitely be following with each future update.

Download Delver for PC here

Buy Delver for Android here

Follow Delver‘s development blog here

THE FUTURE OF INDIE GAME DEVELOPMENT WITH JONATHAN LAVIGNE

In a society suffocated by franchise and corporate hegemony, the gaming world has become swamped in sequels and re-releases, all looking to control the largest market share. However, there is still a single lantern shining within its murky depths, as independent developers have begun to regain a foothold across the console spectrum.

I spoke with ex-Ubisoft Game Designer and co-founder of Montréal-based Tribute Games, Jonathan Lavigne, to catch a glimpse into the future and the workings of Indie game development.

Where do you see Indie game development in the future, as opposed to the bigger franchises and established companies?

Indie game development is getting more and more support. There are competitions like the IGF or Dream Build Play, portals like Indievania to sell your games, and first party companies and publishers are being increasingly more opened to indie developers (like Microsoft with XBLIG, Steam with its wide selection of indie titles, and Sony with the recent release of the Playstation Suite).

That being said, indie game development won’t overthrow big traditional game franchises and larger companies. It has its own niche market and it’ll soon (if not already) generate enough money to allow passionate developers to be able to make games on their own rather than be forced to work for a big studio.

 Ninja Senki, Lavigne’s highly praised 2010 action platformer, was heavily influenced by classic NES formats, such as Mega Man or Metroid. Click the above image to download the game for free!

Is there an increasing audience for this market of games – and if so, is there enough to actually support a company?

– I think that game journalists reflect the increasing interest of gamers for indie development, and they’ve been really supportive and willing to talk about them in the last few years. So yeah, there is definitely a market and it potentially can be enough to support a company – however, a lot of people are still unaware that independent game development exists, so there’s still work to do to promote indies.

Why  do you think so many recent Indie titles been so heavily based upon nostalgia in terms of graphics and style?

– A lot of indie developers are in their late or early twenties, so they want to share the love they have for the games they grew up with. Also, with actual technology and the development tools available, it’s more convenient for small teams to work with 2d graphics and 8-bit sounds and music rather than go full 3d HD and have to hire an orchestra.

Are the older, classic genres destined to resurface over modern game types?

– Maybe not, but there are definitely many genres that were simply lost in translation from 2d to 3d back in the 90s. I believe that a lot of new ideas can come up from old 8-bit or 16-bit generation games. Indie developers are already making it happen and it’ll keep going for sure.

Jonathan Lavigne’s work can be found at Tribute games, Or at PIXELTAO, his personal blog.

Tribute Games’ Wizorb review here.

TOY SOLDIERS

Following in the footsteps of many other titles this year, Signal Studio’s Toy Soldiers has joined the invasion of Xbox Live Arcade games being ported to PC, already gaining a strong new fan base with its Steam release.

A deadly combination of tower defence, hoard and survival, Toy Soldiers has definite attraction for bringing an interesting new style to its genre that is reminiscent of old Army Men titles, however with a lot more depth and direction: each piece and detail within the game has been designed to emulate the look and feel of painted miniatures, all captured atop a variety of replica battlefields.

Using a multitude of upgradeable gun and infantry placements, you are tasked with fighting off swarms of enemy soldiers and vehicles, all intent on invading your toy box. The ability to control individual pieces is certainly what sets this game apart from others within its genre, allowing for precise, tactical aiming and speed – as well as using biplanes and tanks to freely roam the environment.

My main criticism of this game lie in its settings – with extremely limited options, not much can be done to configure graphics or speed, which caused a highly frustrating lag to descend every time too many units were in play, but there will (hopefully) be updates and fixes to this in the future.

Overall, Toy Soldiers is fun, addictive and educational, following the progress of real battles across the First World War with a confidently antique aesthetic. Allowing you to easily switch between units or full bird’s eye view, there are potentially a lot of different strategies that can be used throughout, combining tactics, speed and prediction to manipulate the course of war.

The campaign itself is restricted to single player, but the included DLC’s allow for multiplayer combat in a selection of unique maps and scenarios – and all for a very reasonable price.

Visit the website here

Buy it on Steam here

– I forgot to mention that this game is only playable through the Windows Live overlay, so be prepared for the DRM and stress that it comes with.
 Lag issue can be fixed by turning off hardware acceleration of sound in DxDiag, but the music will not work properly (Start > Run > dxdiag).