Thursday, 25 October 2018

Design Musings – Choices

If you boil any game’s design down to its fundamentals, they’re basically about given the player choices to make.  These may be thoughtful moves made after considerable thought in a turn-based strategy to choosing a direction in a narrative game to making a split-second decision in a racing game, but it’s all the same principle – games have to force the player to make choices.  If these choices seem unnecessary, arbitrary or valueless, then you’ve lost the player.

To combat this some games now seem to be turning to having hardly any actual gameplay, but strong (and often branching) narratives – this isn’t a style I’m a particular fan of but many people are and, assuming the story, character and choices are interesting enough, it still works.  But since my tastes are towards what you might call more traditional gameplay mechanics, I want to spend a moment to consider a few classic games.

Although game design has obviously moved along considerably over the years just as processing, graphical and sound capabilities of the computers and consoles we play games on has, the games that helped create the video gaming industry in the first place are still very playable today.  Why?  Because they give the player choices to make, and those choices still engage us.

I want to consider 3 classic games – Space Invaders, Pacman and Asteroids.  All games that have been around forever and remade more times than we Liverpool fans have said “next season we’ll win the prem”.  On the face of it, all extremely simple games – perhaps some may even think of them in terms of being “primitive”.  But are they really?  If you examine the core mechanics, they are constantly forcing the player to make choices.

Space Invaders, for instance, is a simple “shoot the aliens without getting hit”.  But… do you use the shields for defence, or do you shoot through them to get a better hit rate?  Do you only take out the stragglers at the edge or take them out line by line?  Is it worth taking the risk of going into open space to get a good shot at the flying saucers at it speeds overhead?    How long dare you wait to take risks before you find the invaders are moving too fast for you to cope with?

Then dear old Pacman… ah, a game that has kept us playing for many years.  Just collect all the dots to finish the level – simple.  Except… do you take a chance to get those few close to the ghost cage now, or wait till it’s clearer?  Do  you use the power pill just to keep out of trouble, or aggressively go after the ghosts for extra points?  Is it worth taking the risk to go after the bonus fruit?  Can you get to those last few dots before the ghosts regenerate?  Do you have time to eat that ghost just before it stops flashing?

Finally, Asteroids… many games have added embellishments to the game but few have captured the perfect mix of smooth controls, tricky and compelling gameplay of the arcade original.  Scattergun approach or more careful selection of which asteroids to take out?  Start a level slowly or go hell for leather?  Move around freely trying to evade the roids or try to stick in the same position to allow concentration purely on rotation and shooting accuracy?

What we can extrapolate from these three example is that the introduction of only one or two extra elements can give a gameplay a massive amount of extra depth.  For instance imagine Pacman without the ghosts, or with the ghosts but without the power pills… it simply would be so much less of a game.  The other thing is that the core mechanics of such games allow distinct playing styles rather than forcing the player to adopt the one style that will actually work.  This makes it more than “a” game – it becomes “my” game to each player.

Obviously some types of game do lend themselves more to having varying game styles than others, but the essential idea carries over into basically every genre (as a slight caveat to that statement, in some games “solving” something effectively replaces making a choice).  I always admire games that you can win using significantly different gameplay styles (or, allows you to solve a problem / puzzle in more than one way).

Just to expand on this idea further I would like to talk about one of my own games for a bit.  I am rather proud of the core game mechanics of this game, which I feel illustrate my point well – at the same time I am well aware of a rather horrible error I made with the level design that largely negates these core mechanics!  The game I am talking about is Space Tunneler Deluxe.

It all started as a game jam entry.  While the “deluxe” version does add some nice enhancements, it doesn’t change any of the core gameplay.  Basically, what you have to do is fly your ship through some tunnels in space without, you know, crashing and burning.   It’s about as simple conceptually as you can get.  However, you also have a shield that you can use if you get in trouble.  The thing is, this shield has to recharge before you can use it again.  The faster you are travelling, the faster it will recharge – but, crucially, if you are travelling at the slowest possible speed, it will not recharge at all.  This leads to the player having to make some snappy (or, once they know the level layout, premeditated) choices as to when it is useful to use the shield, and when it might actually cause you more problems than it solves.  You see, not only is the shield recharge linked to the speed your ship is travelling at, but guess what?  Your hull repair only works when your shield is fully charged.

That’s right, I am a truly horrible masochistic and horrible person.  I did that to the player, and I’m not even sorry.

This was all well and good and, while happily playtesting the game and congratulating myself on what a good gameplay mechanic I had created, I encountered a problem.  After a while, it didn’t matter how good you were, the later levels were essentially impossible to complete.  Even with my in-depth knowledge of how the game worked, I just couldn’t do it.  Because of the way I designed the levels and time constraints of the ham I felt that redesigning the level would be impractical, so I did what any decent person would do – I added a shop.

Now this was good in one way as adding tokens to collect in the early levels gave the game a bit of extra substance – and of course being an evil vindictive type of game designer (although being evil and vindictive is pretty much a prerequisite of being a game designer anyway) I placed many of the token in such a way as to make the player have to decide whether it was worth the risk of crashing.  Also, when I came much later to making the game save your progress, these tokens caused me no end of trouble, but that’s another story. 

So, we now have a shop.   I’m actually quite pleased with the shop aspect of the game.  The downside of this is that really, some upgrades MASSIVELY outstrip the others in usefulness, and even with setting the prices in such a way as to reflect this, the player really only has very limited options as to how to use their tokens for upgrades if they want any real chance of being able to get to the very end of the game.  I also had to swap the order of a couple of levels to make it possible to get through one of them!  (Level 5 was okay without buying power ups, but level 4 was insane…  so now when you’ve got stuff at the shop, if you can get past level 4, level 5 will seem ridiculously easy…)

Anyway, at this stage I’m not going to go back and change the game again, I have new games to make.  But it is a cautionary tale I suppose that even if you get your core mechanics spot on, if your level design sucks it’s still going to mess up your game.  I think overall it ended up being a pretty decent game and since I added 5 difficulty levels the easier ones should slightly overcome the game’s inherent difficulty (whether multiple difficulty levels is proof of bad design is quite another issue!).  There are also some extra mechanics such as your speed affecting how quickly your score accumulates and infinite attempts possible but each one costing you points.  At the point of writing this I’m still waiting for someone to challenge my own high score…


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my cogitations on this aspect of game design.  It’s not supposed to be a “this is how you should do it” type of article; rather it’s an examination of other games and my own game in terms of how player choice can be incorporated and, as the title suggests, me “musing”. 


Should you wish to boldly go where very few have gone before and mayhap even attempt to beat my high score, you can try Space Tunneler Deluxe



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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

King of the Word released

No, it's not about standing with your arms outstretched at the front of the Titanic, it's a real-time strategy game with a bit of RISK thrown in - with up to 12 players vying for supremacy.



Available now from Steam (30% off during launch week)





Monday, 22 October 2018

BlindSweeper

This is a game I made for #audiogamejam3.  It's Minesweeper, but you can only navigate the minefield using your hearing...


You can download the game on GameJolt or Itch.

You can find all the entries here.

$102 Adventure Game Challenge - RESULTS

The 23 entries have been judged, and we have a winner!


The death and the vampire takes top spot.


My own choice for #1, The Zmart Home, takes second place.


See all the results


This game jam was hosted by Stand Off Software

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Gardens Between - Gameplay Video

Mysterious Realms - coming soon

Mysterious Realms is a dungeon crawler RPG with a very unique combat system - being released on Steam on 25th October 2018.



Two ArenaNet devs made an indie, VR game

Spokane, WA USA FunnerSoft announced that PlanTechtor will be available for purchase on Steam starting early 2019. Intense VR action meets deep strategic planning in PlanTechtor.

PlanTechtor is definitely a passion project. It was developed on the side while they continued to work a full time job. They love games that let the player min-max their strategy, and so designed that as the core element of PlanTechtor.

Lester and Isaiah are both veterans of the gaming industry; having worked on AAA games for 15 years each. Combined they have shipped 16 titles across 6 platforms. Isaiah is the design director for all of ArenaNet. Lester has spent his career as a programmer. Earlier this month Lester left AAA behind in order to focus on PlanTechtor full time.

"After putting nearly 2 thousand work hours into PlanTechtor; I was still having fun play testing it. That's when I knew I needed to give it all my focus." - Lester Bloom

Check out the Steam Store page.




Game Reviewer Simulator (!!)

Well I suppose it had to happen sometime - I get asked to review a game about reviewing games! :-D  Like most things I suspect the game is more fun than the real thing...


Start your own company, hire reviewers, buy consoles and review new games.

Grow from a little studio to a big company.





Available on Itch

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Solo-developed Executive Assault 2 out now on Steam Early Access

18 October, London, UK - Wannabe intergalactic CEOs: get ready for cosmic domination as space combat/strategy title Executive Assault 2 has make its long-awaited landing onto Steam Early Access.

Created by solo indie developer Robert Hesketh of Hesketh StudiosExecutive Assault 2 is the sequel to Executive Assault, which was critically praised for its unusual combination of real-time unit command gameplay and fast-paced FPS action as players seamlessly jump into the boots of different units at the click of a button. Executive Assault has garnered a “Very Positive” Steam rating from over 1,000 reviews since launch.


With the Earth destroyed, players must grab their suit and tie as they begin life as a CEO of an inter-galactic corporation whose business objective is to take over planets in a bid to accumulate as much wealth as possible in a galactic wild west of chaos and lawlessness. Gamers can customise their corporation as they see fit, with the emblem and company, unit and product names all set by the player. 

The gameplay is split into two distinct types: real-time, top-down strategy known as Tactical Mode and first-person, fast-paced combat action called Direct Control mode.

In Tactical Mode players leave behind their assault rifle in favour of a control panel as they command their fleet aboard the bridge of their space station. From there, players can research over 60 technologies and build 14 different units including 12 ships and multiple soldiers – all of which can be upgraded with 28 different skills in the game’s diverse upgrade tree. With their army prepared, players set-out to assassinate multiple rival corporation CEOs in order to take over nine large-scale system while battling against the various environmental factors, including ion and asteroid storms. Once a system is secure, players can then create multiple types of outposts to yield various materials. This includes mining outposts to mine minerals, research outposts for new technologies and defensive outposts for improved fortifications.


In Direct Control mode, players take control of any individual unit, whether that’s a ship soaring over the planet Tarkonis or a high-grade military soldier deployed on an enemy transport ship.  Each unit has a plethora of weapons to equip including blasters, rifles and explosives. Turning the tide in battle is the game’s super-weapon, the Monolith – capable of destroying an entire star-system at the push of a button.

All business leaders need good allies to be successful, and that’s why players can team up with friends and other players worldwide in the game’s PvE multiplayer mode. One player assumes the role of CEO and tactician and the other, a soldier or ship unit, with all the loot split straight down the middle. Those with loftier ambitions can embark in PvP, pitting players against one another in a bid for total planetary dominance.



Ectolibrium - Trailer and beta key offer

Ectolibrium is coming to Steam Early Access in January - for a limited time anyone joining the game's Discord will receive a Steam beta key for Episode One.

Check out the trailer below:

Friday, 19 October 2018

The Watchmaker

The Watchmaker is an action adventure set in a strange steampunk world of giant clock mechanisms, where time has gone mad. Join Alexander, a clock tower keeper, on his quest to restore time to its natural rhythm!


Available now on Steam




Train Valley 2 goes electric with its biggest update yet

Train lovers, enjoy the landscape and views and please stay in your seats for just a little while longer -- for this train is about to reach the Electric Era! Indie studio Flazm is happy to announce that its train management and puzzle game Train Valley 2 is about to receive a new major update. In this new content, players will be able to build their railroad networks in 10 new exciting levels set just with electricity as its main theme. These new levels feature a whole new game mechanic and a new resource: you have to feed power plants (fuel, hydroelectric, and nuclear plants) to keep them working to produce electricity for other buildings in the map. Build new tool factories and oil refineries, pump lakes to make your trains cross the valley in new daring railroads, decorate your levels with dozens of new items available in the Level Editor, and see how Tesla’s tower strikes your tracks with their lightning – all in Train Valley 2!


KEY FEATURES

  • Create your railroad network across 10 new levels set in the Electric Age 
  • Build up to 2 different power plants and keep them working to produce electricity for other production buildings in the map 
  • Work in 8 hi-level production buildings, including oil refineries, chemical plants, rolling mills and new tools factories
  • Enjoy special events such as using the pump to lower the water level in the lake or Tesla’s tower striking your rail tracks with lightning!
  • Use dozens of new decoration items in the Level Editor




Wednesday, 17 October 2018

New Release - "The Hex"

In a creaky old tavern, in a forgotten corner of the video-game universe, a storm is raging. An anonymous caller suggests that there is a murder plot. Six video game protagonists are the only plausible suspects...

  • Control the six patrons and explore The Six Pint Inn
  • Delve into the memories of these cast-aside game protagonists to learn the truth of their past
  • Learn the identity of the would-be murderer... as well as the victim


This looks like a wonderfully strange game, but then you'd expect that from the developer of Pony Island!




The Hex - Screenshots





Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Legend of Tobimaru - Kickstarter Launch

The Legend of Tobimaru is a 2D action platformer game that sees you playing a ninja on a journey to defeat the enemies that destroyed his village and collect the fragments of his Protector’s Orb.


The game takes inspiration from retro classics such as Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man, as well as classic fighting games such as Street Fighter II. It is a 2D action platformer with combat inspired by fighting games and challenging combat puzzles. It has a linear progression with minimal backtracking to differentiate it from Metroidvania games.

It is a retro-style game with modern twists. We've implemented modern techniques that weren't used in classic games, such as advanced camera control, parallaxing backgrounds using perspective cameras, and dynamic scene loading.


If you want to see the game in action there's an Alpha Demo available.

It will initially be released on PC with a Linux version to follow.

Check out the Kickstarter Campaign for more details or to pledge.  A pledge of $15NZ (about $10USD or £7.49GBP) bags you a digital copy of the game.




Grand Strategy RTS Hybrid 'AI War 2' - Early Access Now Out

October 15th, 2018 -- Arcen Games is excited to announce AI War 2 is out today in Early Access for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms!

AI War 2 is a grand strategy RTS hybrid against an overwhelming, inhuman enemy who has conquered the galaxy. The enemy has made only a single error: underestimating you. You must steal as much technology as you can, take enough territory to fortify your bases and launch your attacks. But every conquest you make turns the attention of the AI ever more in your direction... so choose your targets with care.

AI War 2 is the epic sequel to 2009's space strategy hit, AI War: Fleet Command -- critically acclaimed for its dastardly AI and totaling nearly 2 million units sold, with more than 650,000 base game sales and 1.15m expansion purchases made to date.


What's New and What Are We Working On?
We still have a lot we want to add, and even more we want to polish, but the current version of AI War 2 is already vast:
  • Many optional factions, each with their own goals and strategy, creating a living galaxy.
  • Polished gameplay mechanics, representing everything learned from the original AI War: Fleet Command's six expansions.
  • Redesigned UI, currently going through iterations.
  • Over 1700 lines of spoken dialogue from more than 25 actors, and more to come for the AI itself.
  • 1.5 hours of new music added to the 4.5 hour score included from the original AI War: Fleet Command.
  • A ton of map types, with a lot of sub-options to make them even more varied.
  • Crazy moddability, with many levers available in easily-accessible XML.
  • Multiplayer is temporarily disabled, but still being implemented.
  • Multithreading for modern performance, and a codebase that will not summon an elder god. 

AI War 2 Early Access is available today for $19.99 with launch discounts on Steam and Humble Store, and coming soon to other PC shops.
 
To find out more, visit: https://arcengames.com/aiwar2/

About Arcen Games
Eclectic indie developer since 2009. Strategic thinking in everything -- even our action-oriented games.


Monday, 15 October 2018

Visitors of the first, second and third kinds...

Indiedev Nicky Nyce, who drew and animated the awesome Fembot from Captain Disaster in: Death Has A Million Stomping Boots, has a much greater legacy in the realm of scifi pointandclick adventure games - he is the creator of the highly-rated Visitor trilogy. If you like scifi pointandclicks these are definitely games you'll want to check out (and they won't even cost you anything!)



The Visitor

The Visitor is about an alien named Agent Moss, he's from the Omega 1 Earth Abduction Unit. One night over New York City his saucer strikes the Statue of Liberty and malfunctions. After entering the escape pod at the last second, Agent Moss lands in young Danny Myers backyard.

Can you help Agent Moss gather the tools he needs in order to phone home? Can you help young Danny Myers finish his chores before his crazy brother throws him another beating?

How can a being from another universe, that abducts humans, help Danny Myers miserable life?

Lots of puzzle solving, fun animations, 120 sounds, 60 inventory items, animating look and interact icons and hours of game play in this comedy slash drama, with a pinch of spooky on the side.

Two playable characters....Danny and the visitor Agent Moss

***Find a way to prank your brother and you will recieve a special cutscene at the end of the game!***

Ratings:

Visual: 79%
Immersion: 78%
Puzzles & Pacing: 78%
Overall Enjoyment: 80%



The Visitor 2

Juicing up his story to gain fame, Agent Moss told everyone how he fought off giant spiders, growling dogs, hissing cats and an army of humans by using only his bare hands and large pulsing brain to escape earth. 

After hearing his amazing story, Omega 1 turned him into a special agent. Now Moss and two of Omega 1's best, are sent to find a saucer that went down somewhere on earth 5 days ago. The problem is, the humans have got to them already, and they're now being held in some sort of lab/military base. Agent Moss is now thrust into this life threatening situation, and knows full well that he's a fraud. 

Wishing he was back to his old job of abducting humans from a safe distance, he must now venture off with his fellow aliens, Slug and Scar, to find these downed agents. Help these aliens complete their mission and return home safely. 

  • Three playable characters 
  • Switch between 2 of them at almost any time 
  • 50 rooms 
  • 160 sounds 
Ratings:

Visual: 87%
Immersion: 86%
Puzzles & Pacing: 85%
Overall Enjoyment: 87%



The Visitor 3

Commander Moss and his crew are back with another dangerous mission. An Omega 1 prisoner transport ship carrying two prisoners sent a distress beacon before disappearing from radar. President Gooman decides to send Slug, Scar, Commander Moss and his new human assistant, Head, to the ships last known coordinates. Moss and his crew must find this ship and rescue any survivors. Once there, Commander Moss soon realizes, there is more going on than a disabled ship. A new life form emerges and puts everyone on board the ship at risk. 

Ratings:

Visual: 89%
Immersion: 91%
Puzzles & Pacing: 87%
Overall Enjoyment: 89%



Friday, 12 October 2018

It's my game and I can self-promote if I want to...

The game I co-developed with TheBitPriest, epic sci-fi pointandclick Captain Disaster in: Death Has A Million Stomping Boots, is on sale this weekend.  You should totally buy it, because reasons.

You want ACTUAL reasons?


Well...

Reviewers have said things like:

  • "a good old school point"
  • "an incredibly in-depth adventure"
  • "an absolutely bonkers, dangerous, grand adventure"
  • "well-written with a delightful sense of comic humor"
  • "a throwback point and click adventure with a nice, comical, story"
  • "everything a point and click game should be and more!"
  • "a light-hearted comedy adventure with a few head-scratching puzzles"

... you STILL want more reasons?  Okay, check out these three video reviews:







There's a free demo available if you're still not convinced.  Get it on Itch because it's "so indie it's not available on Steam"!  Yes that's right people, we're not afraid to go against the flow.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Gameplay Video - CreaVures

An old indie game that I've rediscovered thanks to my kids finding it and loving it...  I'm not terribly good at is, as you can see! :-o


Friday, 5 October 2018

AI War 2 is coming!

October 4th, 2018 -- Arcen Games is excited to announce AI War 2 will release in Early Access on Steam October 15th for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms!

AI War 2 is a grand strategy/RTS hybrid against an overwhelming, inhuman enemy who has conquered the galaxy. The enemy has made only a single error: underestimating you. You must steal as much technology as you can, take enough territory to fortify your bases and launch your attacks. But every conquest you make turns the attention of the AI ever more in your direction... so choose your targets with care.

AI War 2 is the epic sequel to 2009's space strategy hit, AI War: Fleet Command -- critically acclaimed for its dastardly AI and totaling nearly 2 million units sold, with more than 650,000 base game sales and 1.15m expansion purchases made to date.


What's New and What Are We Working On?
We still have a lot we want to add, and even more we want to polish, but the current version of AI War 2 is already vast:
  • Many optional factions, each with their own goals and strategy, creating a living galaxy.
  • Polished gameplay mechanics, representing everything learned from the original AI War: Fleet Command's six expansions.
  • Redesigned UI, currently going through iterations.
  • Over 1700 lines of spoken dialogue from more than 25 actors, and more to come for the AI itself.
  • 1.5 hours of new music added to the 4.5 hour score included from the original AI War: Fleet Command.
  • A ton of map types, with a lot of sub-options to make them even more varied.
  • Crazy moddability, with many levers available in easily-accessible XML.
  • Multiplayer is temporarily disabled, but still being implemented.
  • Multithreading for modern performance, and a codebase that will not summon an elder god. 

AI War 2 will retail for $19.99 in Early Access, with a discount planned for launch week. 
To find out more, visit: https://arcengames.com/aiwar2/

About Arcen Games
Eclectic indie developer since 2009. Strategic thinking in everything -- even our action-oriented games.




The Legend of Tobimaru: Coming to Kickstarter on Oct. 16th 2018

I'll post again when the Kickstarter goes live, but in the meantime check out the announcement trailer:


Thursday, 4 October 2018

MythicOwl’s Trancelation launches on Early Access October 17th

Get your lingo skills ready! Trancelation, a unique neon arcade game about translating words to the rhythm of electronic music, is right around the corner as it arrives on Early Access later this month!


Trancelation is an arcade game set in a world of fractals, filled with electronic music and neon-esque atmosphere. It is designed to improve our language skills and help memorize new words. Dynamic, constantly changing environments require players to focus and carefuly asses words, that pop up on the screen. While navigating through each level, they need to watch out for enemies and closing in walls!

First announced during PGA in 2017, Trancelation received a very good feedback from the players, not only avid students of linguistics. Their first impression was that it doesn’t look like a language learning game, more like a well-designed and engaging arcade.

„I came up with the idea to create Trancelation as I was struggling to find a good language learning game. Of course there is a number of language apps, but none of them offer a fun video game experience and since I am a devoted gamer – I wanted to address that by creating one myself.” – says Piotr Korgul, a lead developer behind Trancelation.

Due to polished gameplay mechanics, the game is very much targeting fans of other, fast-paced ‘bullet hell’ games, aiming at pure fun experience. For them, developers prepared an ‘Arcade’ mode, in which there are no word-associated tasks, just pure, skill-related gameplay – still full of different types of enemies and power ups.


The game will be available on Early Access October 17th, with most of the features already implemented in the current version. MythicOwl is looking to build on the feedback provided by its community and realease the full game around Q1 2019. Meanwhile, feel free to add it to your Wishlists on Steam.

MAIN FEATURES
• A one of a kind mix of classic arcade game and language learning platform
• Fast-paced, engaging gameplay set in a neon, fractal world
• Word association challenges to boost your linguistic skills
• Challenges designed to help you recall foreign words immediately
• A soundtrack that mixes the best of the electronic and trance genres
• An energetic atmosphere drowned in neon esthetics
• The possibility to create your own vocabulary lists and share them with others – infinite amounts of new content!





Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Warriorb

Warriorb is about a mighty spirit who is trapped inside a ball - the game mixes Netroidvenia inspired level design and exploration with unique "ball-based" platforming and challenging combat.


The first chapter (which is about 6-8 hours of polished gameplay) can be played by anyone who joins their Discord channel for a limited time (I don't have any info on when this limited time ends unfortunately).  See the official website for more info.


Check out the trailer below:



Screenshots: