Archive for January, 2011

Games of 2010: L’Abbaye des Morts

Ok, I’m sure nobody’s too surprised to see this one on my list! 😛

While I love the game’s beautiful ZX-Spectrum asthetic, the thing that makes this game so wonderful is how well that gels with its setting – you play as Jean Raymond, a Cathar monk in 13th century France. Scrolls scattered around tell the grisly tale of the expulsion by the Catholic Church one sentence at a time, working perfectly as both a storytelling and a gameplay device, holding everything together through some really powerful moments where the game and story break apart, and finally reunite.

L’Abbaye des Morts is free, and available to download for windows at locomalito’s site.

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Games of 2010: Cactus Block

Just a really quick one today – Cactus Block is a very clever and incredibly simple game made in 2 hours for Klik of the Month. It’s a tiny platformer where you progress by placing blocks for yourself with the mouse. However, randomly, sometimes these blocks are deadly cactuses.

Cactus Block is free, and available for windows at Glorious Trainwrecks. (Press F4 for fullscreen mode.)

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Games of 2010: Space Funeral

I love RPGs – at any given moment I’m making several of them, in fact. I think a big part of my affection for the genre is that it often feels so alien to rest of gaming – my favourite RPGs have long drawn out interactive dream sequences, characters controlling younger versions of themselves reliving tragic memories, characters entering people’s subconsciouses to fight personified nightmares, interactive time travel paradoxes, teenagers summoning mythological creatures by shooting themselves in the head, and so on. As someone who loves concept driven games, you can see why this sorta stuff appeals to me.

Space Funeral is an RPG that feels alien to other RPGs. And it’s not just the story – I love that this thing is made in RPG Maker. It means that the game comes with decades of expectations; what the default menus are supposed to say, what inns are supposed to look like; more than just the setting itself, having the game not-quite-fit into its standard tropes is what makes it feel so wonderfully bizarre.

Space Funeral is free, and can be downloaded for Windows at gamejolt.

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Games of 2010: Fish Fish Bang Bang

This game is fucking gorgeous.

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Games of 2010: Sleep is Death

That video I’ve embedded above the first part of a great little documentary of Jason Rohrer and Chris Crawford meeting at the 2009 IGF. The rest of it is available on this youtube playlist.

A lot of the documentary is about Storytron, Chris Crawford’s impossibly ambitious 17-years-in-the-making toolset for creating “Storyworlds”, interactive fiction games about interacting with incredibly complex “actors”. These are games about people, rather than games about things – as the IFWiki puts it, “a Storyworld is more concerned with modeling actors’ actions and reactions and their emotions and inclinations rather than the game world geography or the mundane objects that populate it.”

Near the end of the documentary, Jason tells Chris that at some point, he’d really like to try making a storyworld. Chris tries to talk him out of it, but he did it anyway – Sleep is Death is essentially Jason Rohrer’s take on Storytron. It solves the hard AI problem by simply using another human player.

I’ve only really had two or three very satisfying games of it – I generally make a mess of things when I’m the storyteller, and it can be a very slow game to play as the active player – but I think it’s an absolutely incredible concept. I wish I’d thought of it myself!

Sleep is Death costs whatever you want to pay for it, and is available at http://sleepisdeath.net/.

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Games of 2010: Fractal

Honestly, when I first tried the Fractal demo, it didn’t really do much for me. The basic mechanic of the game is kinda neat, but when I first played I had no intuition about what the results of my moves would be, and the chain-reaction heavy design of early levels made the game feel arbitrary. It wasn’t until I saw it again at Indiecade (where it was a finalist, and runner up for Best Sound) that I gave it a proper look. As it turns out, it’s actually an incredibly clever and well designed little game, and I’ve been totally hooked on it for the last few months.

What won me over is the brilliant “puzzle” mode (which is sadly not part of the demo). It starts with simple instructive levels, demonstrating the game’s main concepts with puzzles built around a few neat realisations. By the time you’re half way through the puzzle mode, you’ve developed that necessary intuition you need, and the main campaign mode becomes something far more enjoyable.

The other thing that won me over; the amazing soundtrack, which might be the best procedural music I’ve ever heard in a game.

Fractal costs $9.99, and is available at http://playfractal.com/.

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Games of 2010: Super Crate Box

I first played this at this year’s BIGJam, where JW was showing it off and getting feedback from other designers. It’s incredibly addictive. Nobody who played it could put it down.

The basic concept is super simple; enemies spawn endlessly, but you don’t get score for shooting them – you get score by collecting crates. Each crate you collect gives you a new, random weapon, which means that every couple of seconds you’ve got to adjust to how that changes the gameplay. JW is incredibly prolific – the majority of his games he throws together in a couple of hours, but this he spent months meticulously tweaking, and it shows. This year’s IGF nominations were announced today, and I was absolutely delighted to see this get recognised for Excellence In Design.

Super Crate Box is free, and can be downloaded for Windows or Mac at http://supercratebox.com/.

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Games of 2010: REDDER

This blog post contains spoilers. REDDER is a short game, and I strongly recommend just playing it if you haven’t already.

I love REDDER because it makes explicit a difficult to articulate feeling I often have when I finish exploring well designed videogame worlds. It’s actually the same feeling I had when I got to the end of Final Fantasy VII, my favourite game, and found myself trapped in a huge world of NPCs that would forever repeat the same lines. Staring in the sky at that meteor.

This happens eventually with any kind of non linear, open game – at some point, you will have seen everything there is to see, done everything you can do, and there is nothing left except to trigger that final mission. Or wander a broken world like a ghost.

It’s uncomfortable. It exposes the strings holding the world together, it completely breaks your immersion with the world and it’s all the more powerful if that world is worth caring about in the first place, like it is in REDDER.

REDDER is free, and can be played online at Newgrounds here.

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Games of 2010: Minecraft

One new thing I’d really like to do this year is to write about other indie games I like on this blog. It’s something I used to do years ago, but at some point I let it slip… Anyway, as a place to start, I thought it might be a good idea to write about some games I really enjoyed in 2010. I’m gonna try doing one a day for the month, but we’ll see how it goes.

First up: Minecraft! I’m not doing these writeups in any kind of order, but even if I was, Minecraft would probably still be the first post.

My first “real” minecraft world was a pre-biome frozen winter world, covered with ice and snow. I’d played the game enough to understand the basics, and liked my spawn point in this one enough to call it home.

Before I’d really established any kind of shelter, I came across an open cave directly below a sheet of ice, and decided to explore. It led all the way down to magnificent lakes of lava near the bedrock. But I got so lost on the way down that I wasn’t able to find my way back. I was stuck underground, carrying precious materials I’d gathered over the course of a few hours, and dangerously low on health and torches before I discovered a huge vertical shaft that just seemed to go up forever – so, I slowly scaled it, making a staircase of cobblestone as I went. Eventually, though, I hit a ceiling.

I figured I had to be pretty close to the surface, so I decided to punch through it – only to come up under the ocean floor. Feeling brave and lost, I swam up.

Right away, I knew I’d made a mistake. It was pitch dark underwater where I emerged, and I couldn’t even find the tiny hole I’d punched for myself to get back into the cave. So, I swam up. Only to knock my head against a huge sheet of ice. I desperately tried to smash through, but it was no use. I drowned.

If you haven’t already “gotten into” Minecraft, it can be kinda hard to explain why it’s so compelling. Mostly it comes down to stories like this – the time I spawned beside a floating island, or the first time I found a mossy green tile and what I found after that, or the time my portal back from the Nether unexpectedly sent me right into a dungeon swarming with skeleton archers…

Minecraft’s story doesn’t come from clumsy cutscenes, it emerges directly from its mechanics; it’s a game where you make up stories for yourself as you go along, a world where unexpected and wonderful things happen as you build in it. This game is revolutionary. It’s without a doubt the game I’ve played the most of this year, and the one that’s most inspired me as a game designer.

Minecraft is in beta, and costs 14.95 EUR. It’s available at http://minecraft.net/.

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Stop and Reflect

Happy new year, guys!

This has been a hell of a year for me. Frankly, I find it hard to really believe how well things are going now, considering how things were looking near the end of 2009. It’s amazing how much has changed in just a year.

Things were pretty bad for me just before IGF submissions last November – far worse than I’d let on at the time, in fact. Last year I’d basically given up my ambitions to be an indie game designer full time, because I’d run out of money. The only reason I was still making games was because I was unemployed, couldn’t find a job, and didn’t really have anything better to do.

At the start of 2008 I’d taken out a loan for 15,000 euro, but that only lasted a bit over a year. I spent six months in 2009 on unemployment benefit. By November I was utterly broke – my credit card was maxed out, my bank account completely overdrawn – I was borrowing money from friends and family just to pay rent and make loan repayments. I eventually just ended up moving back in with my parents. Things were pretty bleak.

The only thing I really had going for me was VVVVVV. It started out as just a small side project, but I was having so much fun with it that I just kept letting it get bigger and bigger. I figured it was probably going to be my last game as a full time indie, after all, and I wanted to make something I could be proud of.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I finally released it. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and probably made a mess of the release in a lot of ways – having so much of the game available in the beta was a big mistake; I really should have done more to try and make sure it wouldn’t be leaked. Assuming I’d just be able to build a Linux version without any complications was really stupid. And $15 was a seriously misjudged price.

Nevertheless, despite my fumbling, things actually worked out! On the first day, I sold 312 copies of the game. By the end of January, I was up to close to 2000 copies! Not only had I made enough to get myself out of trouble and pay back what I owed, but I had enough to keep making games for the rest of the year. Things slowed down after that, but by the time I launched on Steam in September, I was up to 3000. I don’t think I’m actually allowed to talk about my Steam sales figures, unfortunately, but it’s doing quite well there too.

I’m not in this line of work to make money – all I want to do is make enough to live on, and thanks to VVVVVV, I’m now doing that. It’s the best game I’ve ever made, and I couldn’t be prouder of it.

I’m sorry, I’m rambling… (there’s a reason I don’t talk about this sorta thing too much!). I’ll try to wrap up.

I’m starting 2011 in a very different position to how I started 2010, and it’s down to more than just money. Last year I was completely isolated from fellow game designers, now I’m living with two other game designers I hugely admire, in a beautiful little city with a flourishing gamedev scene. I’ve won an award for my work. I’m working on one of the most promising projects I’ve ever been involved with. I make a living doing what I love. 2010 has been a very important year for me, and I’m incredibly optimistic about what 2011 will bring!

This post was supposed to be about 2011, not 2010, but I suppose that can wait awhile. Thank you to everyone who’s enjoyed my work and supported me! It’s been a great year 🙂

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