This time round, we were allowed to pick our six favorites instead of just three! Even still, I found it really tough to narrow down my choices. Eventually, I voted for these six:
Artificial Nature is the ONLY game in the contest built with the Z Game editor, which is pretty surprising, really, given that this was the perfect contest for that tool. And I know the engine is designed that way and everything, but I’m still bloody impressed that this game fits into 64Kb thanks to how it procedurally stores its textures.
It’s an arena shooter, basically, and a very well implemented one. The goal of the game is to bring 100 stars to the center, which you collect one at a time as they’re dropped by enemies. It’s really quite simple, but flawlessly executed with smooth and stylish graphics and fitting atmospheric sounds.
It can’t have been easy to get this right – Last Colonists is one of the only games in the contest to use procedurally generated music, and it does so in a way that really impressed me. Enemies just “appear” every four beats or so making a line towards the colonists you’re trying to protect, playing a short sample as they do. As the screen starts filling up with enemies the music gets more complex, backed up by the quick cymbal taps from your gun. New enemies and waves bring new sounds, so the overall music it creates doesn’t get stale.
The actual gameplay isn’t bad either – hardcore mode was too hardcore for me, but normal mode was fairly enjoyable, though maybe a bit easy at the start. Definitely one of my favorites from the contest, overall.
Aside from possibly MMORPG Tycoon, Dyson is probably the most complex game in the contest. Despite this, it’s very well implemented and balanced, and feels really polished. The game starts fairly sedately, but quickly gets very difficult and intense – but even in the slow, early stages of the game it manages to be really interesting. You start out gently exploring your surroundings, capturing nearby asteroids and building up your strength. Early highlights include sending a seed to an asteroid to discover that it’s swarming with enemies. Apparently the developers are going to continue work on it, which is great, because I think it’s got a lot of potential. I expect it would make a fantastic multiplayer strategy game.
This made the maths geek in me so very, very happy 🙂 And again, it’s one of those wonderful, simple ideas that tend to impress me so much. In sin(Surfing) you control a little surfer on an oscilloscope wave, trying to outperform your own records. What really sold me was the attention to detail, like the score notation and trick names. Also sports the best soundtrack in the contest!
Rescue: The Beagles is a very simple, and very well designed game about rescuing puppys from cruel scientists who want to experiment on them. It’s fantastic. All the game elements are perfect – it’s loads of fun, incredibly addictive, features great procedurally generated levels, stylish artwork, and two fantastic soundtracks – I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t win first place in the voting by a clear margin.
The central mechanic of the game is really quite clever – there are three parallax layers moving at different speeds, and the game is about navigating between them to intercept the beagle puppies making their way from right to left, all the while avoiding or dispatching enemies and collecting items. You get score bonuses if you take out all the enemies, collect all the items, or manage to navigate the level without using ropes and parachutes.
For me the game really only has one major flaw. The point of the game is navigating the three moving planes, which is great, but dropping too far to a lower plane frequently causes death – there’s a limit to how far you can fall – go a pixel beyond it and you’re dead. This can even happen if you simply jump down a hill. For me, this almost kills the fast paced flow of the gameplay, and though you eventually get used to it, that hardly excuses the problem. It would be pretty easy to fix, too – simply have the parachute open automatically if you have and need one – as a result, you’d never die from a fall unless you’d run out of parachutes, and it that case it wouldn’t feel unfair. To be honest, you could probably go even further – the real issue in the game is time, so a more appropriate penalty for falling without a parachute might be to temporarily stun the player, leaving them vulnerable to roaming enemies and to the threat of losing a beagle.
The other thing I might change is how the soundtrack works – there are two separate and excellent soundtracks to the game by Aesque and Disasterpiece, but the player is given the choice between them. Since I liked both soundtracks, I probably would have preferred if the game handled that for me – perhaps by, I dunno, alternating the music every three levels or every other time you visited the title screen. I would have liked if the levels were shorter too – by the time you get to level 8 you have to collect about 40 puppies, which just throws up a wall which it’s difficult to progress beyond. It might be better if the levels got faster and more intense without just getting longer.
These are just little niggles for me, though – it’s only that I enjoyed the game so much that I care about any of these things. The fact is, this is the best game in the contest by a long shot. I can’t recommend it highly enough. If we only had one vote instead of six, I wouldn’t even have debated giving this one my vote.
Another game that falls into the simple-but-very-well-executed category that tends to win me over 🙂 There’s not much to it, really – you’re trying to get back to your home in the sky by jumping through levels composed of clouds, thunder storms, gusts of wind and floating enemies. While I did feel that there could have been more variation to the random elements, I liked what was present. In a contest largely populated by technical experiments, Minus really stood out for me as something different.
Of course, there were loads of other games in the contest I considered voting for: (this isn’t even a complete list, but I had to draw the line somewhere…)
|Space Shot – Pacian
The only joke game in the contest, believe it or not. The procedurally generated aspect of the game primarily comes from the random insult generator, which basically just strings together lots of vaguely naughty words to create insults like “Ear Hugger”. Every so often though, it hits gold and comes up with a classic like “Motherwad” or “Fuck Fucker”.
Despite the gameplay clearly being an afterthought, it’s actually quite a bit of fun to play – there’s a bit of skill involved in positioning yourself safely and dispatching the enemy spaceships, and the first time the fast shooting ones appear it’s genuinely nerve wracking. The upgrade system works really well too, giving the game a feeling of progression – something key that’s sadly missing in many of the entries to this contest. Things taper off a bit once you’ve completely leveled up – at that point, the game doesn’t really get any harder, and the only thing left to do really is start again.
|Biocosm – Toastie
This is gorgeous, but unfortunately it’s so buggy that it’s practically unplayable. My very first turn involved gently driving into a specimen, which sent it hurtling into space and flipped my buggy onto it’s back! That experience aside, though, I really loved the atmosphere of the game and the beautiful landscapes it generates. With a bit more work on the actual gameplay there could be something really cool here.
|Loboton – grickmin
I almost voted for this. It’s so simple, but really quite addictive. It’s another shooter, this time nothing but bosses. (there’s a word for that, isn’t there? A “Treasure”, maybe? Anyway.) The basic gameplay is spot on, but the problem is that there’s very little variation in it. It’s fun to see the expressive procedurally generated faces appearing, but they’re all basically the same, except that the later ones fire more disgusting skinflakes and the occasional practically invisible missile at you. I feel like there’s so much the creator could have done with this game – I don’t even know where to start. More variations in the enemy firing patterns definitely – perhaps different elements could correspond to different attacks – the ability to shoot off elements separately would have been cool too, as would the ability to wear away at the enemy by shooting off the skinflakes bit by bit – some graphical variation would have been nice, someone suggested colour changes as you go on which would have been cool – maybe some kinda goal too – right now it’s just survive as long as you can, but for me it would be more interesting if there was a cap, a goal of say 20 enemies which got more and more complex to reach. I could go on, but I don’t want to seem critical – I really liked this, I just kinda wish there was more to it.
|Night Raveler and the Heartbroken Uruguayans – Daniel Benmergui
All I’ll say here is that I really like this one – it’s charming, it works as a game first, and the author had a clear idea of his message. Be sure to check it out.
|MMORPG Tycoon – mewse
This is a game that’s badly in need of a blow by blow tutorial to get players started. It’s possibly excellent maybe, judging by the many favorable comments by players who were able to figure it out, but I wouldn’t know because I didn’t really have a clue what I was supposed to be doing (or to be honest, how a MMORPG actually works – my online gaming experience is about an hour of Final Fantasy XI that I played before I uninstalled it for good).
|Everyone Loves Active 2 – Kyle Pulver
I’m afraid this one goes in the same category as MMORPG Tycoon for me 🙁 I feel like there’s something I’m missing here. Either my computer doesn’t run it properly, or it’s just a very slow game. I thought I’d mention it because a lot of what it’s doing is pretty interesting (I really like the curve shot thing) and it’s very aesthetically pleasing, so if you’re playing through the entries make sure and check it out.
|dropTD – Nurykabe
One of the most experimental games in the contest, featuring the most interesting procedural mechanic of the lot. You pick a file and drag and drop it onto the window: this creates a tower defense level. Adding more files creates towers with surrounding blocks that you have to position as best you can around the path. In my case, I just found one good one and continuously dropped it, so I didn’t really find it that difficult. A really interesting idea, but the gameplay wasn’t really my sorta thing.
|Triagulon – BobFM
This is sadly unfinished, but interesting enough in its current state to be worth checking out. I spent ages looking for those pterodactyls 🙁
|ZICZAC – 0rel
I’ve never really understood why games like this (and tetris, and lumines, and match 3 games) are referred to as “puzzle” games – for some reason it seems that any game where you control blocks instead of a more traditional character gets called a puzzle even when there’s nothing to solve. Well, who cares really! 🙂 ZICZAC is a clever twist on the whole tetris thing, which works quite well and is fairly fun to play. Though it’s not exactly my sorta thing, if you like these type of games, you might really enjoy this.
|K2 – Bezzy
This was an absolute nightmare to get running, but worth the effort when I persevered! It’s an interesting 3D shooter that really only got to a prototype state, but is already quite fun to play and has some cool elements to it. My favorite is the way the missiles work – the whole game is controlled by the mouse, so as you move, you follow the cursor to look around – if you “circle” the enemies while looking around like this you target the lot of them and can shoot powerful missiles at them.
My only major complaint about the game is the way movement works – you’re always going forward a little, and you can hold right click to thrust forward even faster, but I don’t think this gives you enough control. The biggest problem the game has right now is that you frequently end up in the fray among a group of enemies, having to spin frantically to fight them off. This means you have to desperately thrust away and turn around completely to fight them properly. What I’d probably do here if this was my game would be to have right click reverse you, and speed up your general forward motion. This way you can back away from enemies while still aiming and shooting at them, which feels like it might work a lot better.
Also, I had some trouble dodging and even knowing when enemies were shooting at me, but that might just be me being rubbish at it 😛
|KrebsWelte – Cactus
I’m a big fan of Cactus’ games, but this one didn’t really work for me. There’s lots about it that I love, but on the whole it just feels too slow, the player feels too underpowered, and it’s too hard to make progress. That last one especially. When you do eventually progress the game offers more enemies and variety (and some satisfying new weapons!), but this seems to hit a ceiling fairly quickly. I did quite like it though – aside from Rescue: The Beagles, this is probably the game I’ve come back to the most out of all the entries, getting a little bit further each time.
|Space Game : Mujakwi – Fifth
I had trouble getting my head around the controls (it uses absolute movement instead of steering), so I didn’t really get very far with it – but I’m very impressed with the level design and general feel of the game! I really loved the exploration aspect – it generates a level based on absolutely any string you type in, so there’s this whole element of finding nice planets to loot that really appeals to me.
|Space Cat on Mutant Planet – shrimp and RayRayTea
A short, simple shoot em up exploration game with some really good procedurally generated levels and interesting bitmap brother inspired graphics. I found it a bit easy to finish and a bit unbalanced when fighting enemies (it’s too difficult to shoot enemies and avoid bullets at the same time, as your gun and jetpack use the same power source – but this doesn’t matter because you’ve got loads of health), but it’s generally really well done and feels very complete!
|Because it’s fun, Fay – Oxeye Game Studio
A procedurally generated platformer with lock and key obstacles. It has a number of things going for it – excellent production values, very well designed levels, and a clever character switching mechanic where one character rotates the level 90 degrees and flies around. In fact, it has the feel the of a game that’s maybe one or two gameplay twists away from being absolutely brilliant, but as it stands, I didn’t really feel like there was enough to the central mechanic. Most of the game basically involves switching to Corn to fly ahead and clear out the enemies for Fay, who picks up the keys and opens doors so that Corn can continue to fly ahead and clear out the enemies and so on until you get to the top. The creators recommend playing this as two players cooperatively, which I didn’t do – chances are that dynamic works a lot better than the single player mode.
|The Adventures of Charles Dumbbell – Snake
A beautiful game that’s really well designed and has some excellent ideas; unfortunately it’s rather incomplete, so there’s not a lot to say about it yet. I really hope the author continues to work on it.
|The Germinator – Superflat
Without a doubt one of the prettiest games in the contest! It features some beautiful cel shaded 3D graphics and an interesting gameplay mechanic that involves changing colours to do damage, but I found it really difficult and didn’t get very far. With a bit of practice I might have done better, but unfortunately, this was one of the games I had problems running, so I was only able to play it for a brief period on a friend’s computer. 🙁
|Transport – goldbrick
I really loved the atmosphere of this one, the music and graphics are great, and there’s some very cool little details in it – like that it’s somewhat inexplicably multiplayer, though the only multiplayer element is that you “emote” towards other players wandering around in the game (though unfortunately I never saw any other players when I was playing). The gameplay seems to involve wandering around a big procedurally generated screen by screen level looking for a puzzle, and once you’ve solved that you move onto the next level. I didn’t really get very far, though, as the puzzles didn’t make a lot of sense to me – the first one involved stepping on a series of switches in a particular order to make them rotate, which mostly seemed to come down to trial and error. I think I finally got it by dumb luck, but then I came across a very similar puzzle in the second level and unfortunately couldn’t work it out at all.