Monday, December 9, 2013

Gone Home

I finally sat down with an enormous mug of tea and turned all the lights off to immerse myself in Gone Home. Whenever I took a break for whatever reason, I'd come back to my own little world in the dark. I do recommend playing the game like this--it will involve and, perhaps, slightly unnerve you.

I've heard a lot of good things about Gone Home in the last several months, and while I'm a bit late on the uptake, I'm glad I took the opportunity to play it. Hot on the heels of being awarded Best Indie Game and Best PC Game at the 2013 Spike Video Game Awards, Gone Home is a hot topic among gamers.

There's been a lot of controversy on this game, mostly regarding whether or not it's a game and whether it's designed for "core gamers" or whatever. My advice? Stop trying to put labels on things and just sit back and enjoy the experience. And, if you don't enjoy the experience, don't get so angry about it. It's a waste of energy.

I'll get off my soapbox now to talk a bit about this beautiful game.

You play as Katie, who has just returned home from a year abroad. Your parents have moved into a new home, inherited from your uncle Oscar, and you're going to visit for the first time. As you arrive late at night, you find your parents gone and a note on the door from your little sister, Sam, telling you not to come looking for her. What follows is an exploration of the house to reveal the mysteries within, with your sister Sam narrating the events that have unfolded in their lives over the last year. You make a lot of discoveries about your family. Some are more startling and more quiet than others.

Gone Home is not a horror game. I cannot stress this enough. You will get tricked into thinking it is by watching trailers or even by playing through it yourself. It is not a horror game. You may get a bit unnerved by it in some instances--particularly since Gone Home does play off a lot of classic horror tropes. It was, originally, an Amnesia mod at first, after all. Gone Home subverts the flickering lightbulb trope and actually points the lights out directly as having faulty (but safe) electrical wiring. My personal favourite was walking into a bathroom to find a bathtub stained with red--and a bottle of red hair dye sitting right next to it. It is almost a deconstruction, but it's so innocently and playfully done that it's more a lighthearted play on your expectations than anything. It's not all innocent, though. There is a lot of struggle at the core of this game, including one theory that I will direct you to, but I will urge you not to read it unless you've played through the game at least once. I'll add that game creators The Fullbright Company have confirmed this theory to be true.

This genre subversion could be done for one of many reasons, but I'm of the belief that it was done to put you directly in Katie's shoes. She's in a new house for the first time, both of her parents are gone and her sister has posted an unsettling note on the door.  Of course Katie would assume the worst, and of course the surroundings of this new and decidedly creepy house would send chills down her spine.

Even though you don't ever meet any of the characters, their stories are very human and relatable. You have the younger sister, Sam, who is telling a sort of coming-of-age story. You have Terrence, the father, who appears to be a failing author. Then you have Janice, the mother, a park ranger who is feeling distanced from her husband. Lonnie is a character introduced by Sam, who doesn't have a voice of her own other than the notes she has written to Sam. Oscar is the deceased former owner of the house--your great uncle--who apparently "went psycho" before he passed away and is said to be haunting the house. You, as Katie, are less fleshed-out in comparison. All you know about Katie is that she is a straight-A student, an overachiever with trophies, ribbons and old homework assignments punctuated throughout the house. As you explore the house, you learn more about each character and why they are absent from the house.

Finding little notes, letters and documents throughout the house is made that much more believable when you notice the setting of the game: 1995. Audio cassettes and VHS are littered throughout the Greenbriars' home, as well as handwritten and dot matrix printed letters. Sam and Lonnie run a zine that they print themselves with their own art and label-makers, and Sam's own short fiction can be found throughout her belongings. Lonnie has made a number of mixtapes for Sam to enjoy, and a small part of the gameplay involves you finding these tapes and playing them while you search the house. You won't find burnt CDs, Blu-Ray players or cell phones filled with text messages in this game. You will find a believable and era-specific paper trail.

At its core, Gone Home is an exploration game that shows you pieces of each character's individual story and allows you to draw your own conclusions based on the evidence. The obvious difference to this is Sam's story, which is told explicitly to you by Sam herself as you make your way through the house.

The game has striking, detailed graphics that reveal interesting details about the inhabitants of the house. The music is also very good, reminding me of my own time in the 90's with its angry female-fronted punk rock, and the sound effects and lighting are immersive and moody. Below you'll find a trailer for the game, which keeps in as much of the mystery as is fitting. The voice acting is phenomenal--some of the best voice acting I've heard in an independent title.

The focus on the dark underlying themes in Gone Home is a little blurred, which adds to the realism of the game's story and setting. Reading the article revolving around the Transgression above will reveal just how underlying that theme is. The game is, at its core, a very real and intricately connected series of stories that will make the player wonder what happened after the game's end. While there is room for a sequel, it would, most likely, have to operate under a different engine, and have a different tone.

The story made me cry at the end, but not for the reasons I was expecting. This game was deceptively hopeful and unexpectedly triumphant. I don't want to spoil the love story, so I'll simply say it's a refreshing alternative to your typical boy-meets-girl with some very real struggles--another part of what makes the story so human.

As a little bonus, my name is Katie, so whenever Sam was addressing the playable character in story, I felt as though she was talking to me directly. That just made the game ever-so-slightly more awesome for me.

I will agree with others who say that the price is a little high for the amount of playable time from the game, but it's something I'll get over pretty quickly. I do wish the game was, at least, a little longer, or had a bit more extra content, but hopefully the extra price is paving way for more games from this company in the future.

Congratulations to the Fullbright Company for this achievement. They took away Best Indie Game and Best PC Game for Gone Home at the Spike TV VGAs on December 7, 2013. This is a huge leap for indie gaming, and I'm glad I was finally able to play this worthy game.

If you appreciate an involved, intricate story, I urge you to give this game a play.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Attention Indie Game devs!

I should be in bed but I happened to catch this on Facebook and wanted to signal boost as much as possible!

Attention to indie game devs of all backgrounds! The normally $50 Game Maker Studio program is currently available for free on their website! Go give it a look here.

I think I know what I'll be working on in the new year.

Game reviews will be coming again soon, I promise!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween from thisindiegameblog!

I have a very special Halloween review for you today. This game has been released through Kongregate in recent instalments. I'm anxiously awaiting the third, which is available on their website as a pay-to-unlock, as is the fourth. Chapters one and two, plus the prologue, are all available on Kongregate.

The Last Door is a Kickstarter-funded piece of horror magic. The Game Kitchen--group behind the game--used their stretch goals to make the game even better, through ordering new music programs and other add-ons. This is a definite example of a Kickstarter success story.

I can honestly say that I was too terrified while playing this game to even think to grab screenshots.

You play as a man named Devitt, whose friend has sent him an urgent letter. Upon visiting your friend's house, you find it empty and eerily silent. In the fashion of an old-school point-and-click adventure game, you will be navigating around the house and looking for clues regarding your friend's whereabouts, all the while unraveling the mystery of the vacant house. Picking up certain objects and interacting with them can help you progress.

The graphics are heavily pixellated, but still have a high level of detail. You can plainly see the subjects in the various pictures hanging on the game's walls, and any other little details of the like. Even if you can't immediately tell what something is, clicking on it will often bring up a description.

The game's mood is perfectly set by its original score. All music is composed by The Game Kitchen's in-house composer, Carlos Viola,

If you love something creepy and don't mind being more than a little bit unnerved, I urge you to give The Last Door a play. In the dark. With headphones on. Or surround sound.

Chapter 1: The Letter
Chapter 2: Memories

Happy Halloween!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Sea Will Claim Everything

Recommended listening for this article. Music by Chris Christodoulou.

Not on Steam has some real gems. I left the site with a tiny wishlist for later use, but there was one that I knew I had to buy before the sale expired. Looking back on it, I wish I'd paid full price, because I'd like to contribute to this creative team. Jonas Kyratzes is the mind behind this masterful game.

The trailer for The Sea Will Claim Everything grabbed me. Something about the colourful hand-drawn graphics, the mystery that came from being unable to see the screenshots in full, the atmospheric music and, of course, all the testimonial reviews being quoted throughout told me I would have to play this game as soon as possible.

An example of the level of detail that comes standard in this game's art.
The first thing you'll likely notice is the graphical style. If the game looks like it was drawn by hand, well, that's because it was. This game has hundreds of hand-drawn screens and items, all done by the designer's wife, Verena Kyratzes. That takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and the result fits flawlessly with the game's unexpected-but-welcome melange of whimsy and depth. The graphics are not HD, not in three dimensions and not in retina display, and that makes a refreshing change.

The graphics may be two dimensional, but the world and story are anything but. You start off in the sentient house Underhome, which has undergone a recent attempt of foreclosure. You're immediately introduced to The Mysterious-Druid--not a title, but a full name--who lives in the Underhome. The Underhome is thrown completely out of whack, and all its systems are in a state of chaos. The Mysterious-Druid--you can call him The--informs you that the Underhome has been in his family for centuries and there is no reason for it to be foreclosed. It is now up to you to help heal the Underhome and find out just why someone tried to foreclose it.

In the meantime, you get sucked into an immersive, fiercely political world. There is a serious reason behind the turmoil in the Fortunate Isles which encompass the game. You must travel all through these isles to unravel the mystery and, finally, the message behind The Sea Will Claim Everything. The game doesn't fit into any traditional boxes, but if I were to call it anything, I would say it's an exploration-based puzzle game. It's not puzzle in the traditional sense, either--you have to find specific items on your travels, and in order to do that, you often have to complete a task of some kind for a character. You also can make items through a fun and amusing alchemy system.

While playing this game, you will be doing a lot of reading, and the unique interface lays it out in a way that is comprehensive. Each screen has dozens of things to click on and read about, with witty, original flavour text. My personal favourite is the recurring Bob the Spider, who seems to lead quite an incredible life. Some unique elements exist as well, such as the lever which turns the graphics on and off. This lever becomes crucial later on in the game, but I won't say why.

The music is another highlight of this game. Chris Christodoulou paints a gorgeous musical picture for this title, with calming interludes and some sweeping epics. Give the soundtrack a listen to see what I mean, or just, you know, play the game. The music fits perfectly with the game's themes and mood.

For a modest ten dollars, you get a solid 6-7 hours of gameplay. The story is beautifully crafted, and the characters are memorable and detailed. By the time the game comes to an end, you'll walk away feeling like you truly accomplished something, and you'll be sad to leave it behind.

What I love about TSWCE is that it really encourages you to take a moment and think about your life, the choices you make, and about the lives of those around you. The meaning you find waiting for you is up to you, but if you want to find it, you will. Though heavy in its subject matter, the game is balanced expertly with wit, whimsy, and just the right amount of silliness. One part of the game reminds me of a MUD, as your surroundings are, very briefly, fully described to you rather than portrayed. This only happens once and has a uniquely unsettling quality to it.

I have only one complaint about TSWCE, and it's that it isn't Mac-friendly. That is literally my only complaint. And I fully realise that not all developers have the resources to make a multi-platform game! (Hint: go buy it so that could happen some day. I'm just saying.)
I admit that I derped slightly on this screenshot and that was 110%
my fault. Pay attention to the wisdom, though!
It's pretty wise.

Please, play this game. Talk about this game. And after all that, think about this game for a long time. If you're anything like me, the latter won't be a problem, because you won't be able to get it out of your head.

In summary, this is a beautiful, meticulously crafted story. The characters are memorable and the environments are full of detail.

I have learned that Kyratzes has a number of other games available, most of which are for free, that exist in the same Land of Dreams that TSWCE is based. This likely will not be the last review of Kyratzes' games on this blog.

A quick note that as of posting this, Gone Home is currently on sale on Steam, so grab it while you can. I picked it up this morning and I can't wait to play it!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wide Sky

I didn't think this game would be my next post, but apparently Starbucks had other plans.

I walked into a local Starbucks today to grab something tasty to take with me. As I waited for my drink, I browsed the songs and apps of the week and saw a familiar little hedgehog staring back at me. It seemed that the app of the week was an iOS game I had purchased for my iPad months and months prior without trying it out. Obviously, the first thing I did when I went home was whip out my iPad and give it a try.

This game is stylish and cute, with simple but effective graphics making use of a minimalistic colour scheme. The music is well-crafted, with a cute undertone but a decided moodiness to it. The controls make use of the iPhone and iPad's motion sensitivity, allowing you to tilt the device to change the hedgehog's trajectory. I bought the game for $.99 earlier this year, but right now, if you're quick, you can pick it up for free at Starbucks.

The controls take a little getting used to. My first run in the initial stage didn't see me past it and I ran out of time. I found that when I didn't worry too much about the points and collecting all the stars and circles, though, I had much more fun with the game. The lack of enemies and the wide time window allows you to relax a bit while playing it. Other articles have discussed an issue with the game's controls, which do take getting used to. I found the combination of the game's music and atmospheric graphics, plus the game's open-ended timing and lack of enemies to be oddly relaxing.

Give it a few plays and let the controls sink in a bit before making any quick decisions about it. At only $.99 a play, I think it's worth picking up. Not to mention, if you act in the next week, you can get it for free at Starbucks. It doesn't have a groundbreaking story and it won't make you cry, but it's an engaging stress reliever and Spiderman-like.

Right now, I'm hooked on Pokémon X and still trying to keep my Animal Crossing: New Leaf town afloat, so indie gaming is pretty sparse. However, I'm playing through the delightful The Sea will Claim Everything, and still gradually playing through some of the Humble games I've collected. More posts will be coming!


Monday, August 19, 2013

Cheap games and charity

I've found a way for you to get some sweet indie games on Steam. For cheap. If you don't have Steam yet and you haven't heard of this, you may want to jump on it!

If you're into indie games and/or Steam, there's a good chance you've heard of the Humble Bundle. Essentially, you are given the opportunity to buy a collection of Steam games at a price that you set. When you purchase this bundle, you are giving money directly to three parties: the developers, the charity, and the Humble website through a "tip". The tip is the smallest suggested contributor, with the developers being typically at the top and the charity not far behind. You can customize where you want your money to go, though.

There is only a $1 minimum donation, however if you reach the suggested minimum, you will often unlock better games. With the Humble Origins Bundle, you will unlock Battlefield 3 and the Sims 3 after the suggested minimum donation of just $4.82, which is the current average of what people are giving. That is a very, very minimal price to pay! If you look at the "top contributors", some people have paid thousands of dollars to contribute to the charity, developers and the Humble website. These people deserve extra thanks, because I doubt Humble would be able to function in such an inexpensive way if those few didn't contribute so much.

A new feature to the Humble website is the Weekly Sale, which has a different bundle posted every week. This sale is courtesy of PewDiePie, who you've likely heard of in some capacity or another. Love him or strongly dislike him, Pewdie has been using his fame to help get funds for his Charity: Water campaign, bringing clean water to those in need. The Humble Bundle Weekly Sale provides a different set of games every week and a great deal, plus you get to contribute to the ongoing clean water campaign. It's an all around win situation. A win-win-win-win, really.

The current weekly sale is 5 games. Amnesia, well known title that it is, is the unlockable one in this bundle. After paying the donation average of just $2.74, that title will be yours, along with the other 4. Amazing.

If you can spare the extra, please do donate a little more. It's a great cause all around--you're helping indie game developers, charities, and the kind folks who are allowing you to purchase these games at such reduced cost.

I'll be back to reviewing games again very soon. You can blame Animal Crossing for this dry spell...

Also, I finally got Steam! Add me!


Friday, August 2, 2013

Greetings from Harbour-Con!

I'm a guest at this year's Harbour Con-Fusion. If you're there now, chances are you've already been by my table.

This is a public call to all game devs and creators present this weekend. Come by and say hello! Maybe I could do an interview with you or play your game. Don't be shy.

I'll be live tweeting throughout the weekend, so join me @KCooperWriting. Enjoy the event!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Forgotten Kingdoms

I don't know why I didn't think of this game sooner when I thought of games to review. It probably had something to do with the fact that this is not your typical indie game, or even your typical game, for that matter.

Forgotten Kingdoms is a MUD, or multi-user dungeon. It is, essentially, a wholly text-based online Dungeons and Dragons game, though your typical MUD could be just about any setting. It can be considered a form of MMORPG, but it typically requires a bit more patience than your average MMO. I've played a lot of MUDs, but not so much in previous years. Forgotten Kingdoms has totally spoiled me. I can't play any other MUD. I've tried.

For a brief and amusing example of how MUDs work, fast forward this video to 1:32.

A unique facet of all MUDs is the amount of reading you're required to do. With this MUD in particular, players get a fun combination of hack and slash and roleplay. Forgotten Kingdoms is roleplay enforced, so you are required to absorb yourself in the world and put on the mask of whatever character you create.

The story itself is rooted in the Forgotten Realms (3.5 edition, ignoring 4th ed altogether) campaign setting of Dungeons and Dragons. If your "Realmslore" is lacking, however, the game has a series of useful help files that can bring you up to speed, as well as links. The game also has a player council, so if you're utterly lost you can use the "ask" function to get you right back on track.

Character creation is fun and engaging. You can pick from 4 base classes: warrior, priest, rogue, or wizard, and there are 25 races total to choose from, each with a descriptive help file to help you decide which to play. The basic races are human, dwarf, elf, halfling, half-elf, orc, gnome, and planetouched, with each (except humans) having a number of sub-races available. Each race has its own benefits, and as such, some races are restricted to new players until they get used to the game ad have learned the ins and outs.

You also get to choose your character's alignment from a list of 9 standard ones. It's important to act your alignment, as certain NPCs react to you depending on it.

My personal favourite part of the game is the faith system. Your character can follow one of 33 coded Forgotten Realms deities, or can apply to follow one of the many uncoded deities that exist within the Forgotten Realms setting. Following a coded deity has a number of benefits, from coded supplication items to domain prayers for clerics, not to mention the roleplay that comes from following a god in character. When a character follows a god, she is, essentially, given an in-character family, plus, probably, a group of enemies. For example, followers of Selune will not suffer followers of Shar, and vice versa. While uncoded deities provide little actual coded benefit, they do provide unique roleplay that might not be seen otherwise.

There are numerous areas, built by players and administrators alike, to expand on the world, and they're always looking for more people to contribute.

It's hard to put this game into words, other than by playing it. It is, admittedly, not for everyone; if you hate typing and reading, then I'm afraid you're out of luck. If you are looking to enter an immersive roleplay enforced experience and don't mind giving the Forgotten Realms setting a try, then give this MUD a go. It may surprise you with how much you enjoy it.

Briefly, I'll talk about the game's creators. This game is unique in that, because of the nature of the code, anyone can contribute to it, whether it's by helping with code testing or building areas for players to adventure in. Currently the game's version is 4.1, having been expanded from 1990's original DikuMUD code by Martin Gallwey and a number of others. Martin Gallwey is the most noteworthy, as he has been the game's main coder from the beginning and remains so today.

I have included a little screenshot here for your benefit, to show what the game looks like. Don't be daunted--you grow accustomed to the amount of text really quickly, and the character creation process eases you nicely into it.

Hope to see you in Waterdeep sometime.

-K8-bit, otherwise occasionally known as Tandria, Jezebel, Kelykii, Lucine, and a plethora of other characters

Monday, March 18, 2013

Public service announcement and Cassiopeia Drift

One of the things I want to make clear about this blog is that we write about indie games.

Shocking, I know.

But when I say we write about indie games, I mean that we write about them in all stages of development. This is all to say that if you have a project you're working on that you want featured, let us know. If you need help with some crowd-sourcing, let us know. thisindiegameblog was created to spread the indie love, and if that requires us helping draw attention to some projects in the works, then so be it.

That said, we won't be able to feature every project. But we'll certainly do our best!

Now that all that business talk is out of the way, let's talk about Cassiopeia Drift.

This project is currently being funded on Indiegogo. It's an MMO space adventure title based in a post-apolcalyptic society. Human societies, in this game, are completely decimated, and all humans are exiled from their own galaxy for mysterious reasons. Since they're exiled, they're forced to explore this new galaxy and adapt.

You have a choice of four different factions to play as, and game mechanics include building ships, commanding space stations, flying around space to your heart's content, and managing shops. It promises to provide a rich player atmosphere with a diverse and growing science fiction world.

As far as contributor incentives go, donating to this game will give you a variety of tiers. Some of these incentives include the ability to design races (at the $500 mark). At the $5,000 mark, you actually contribute to a large portion of game design. Have you ever wanted to gain valuable game dev experience? The Admiral of the Fleet tier could give you just that. If I had $5,000 to spare, I'd certainly do it!

Funding ends March 24th, so if this seems like a project that interests you, please throw them a few dollars and get some neat rewards along the way. If you want to find out more, check out this thread in the Crowd Funding Forum. There are lots of pictures and FAQ answers.


Monday, February 25, 2013

400 Years and i saw her standing there

These two games are a pair of Kongregate games that B13 found initially and passed on to me because he thought I would like them. He was, predictably, correct.

i saw her standing there

This little platformer won't take up more than ten minutes of your time. You play as a little guy (who is, in fact, a lowercase letter i), and you can navigate using the arrow keys, with "up" to jump. You see a girl standing there, and then, it turns out, she is actually a zombie. Your goal, at every level, is to avoid the other zombies, and get your girlfriend into her cage so she won't bite you, either.

It's a very simple game, in both gameplay in style. You jump and navigate across simplistic, 1-screen platforms, and lead your zombie girlfriend to her cage. It is set up carefully, nonetheless, so that your goal is clear and you are set up for success. All zombies in the game will follow you and attack you, however, so you have to take care not to let them trail too close behind you.

The tone is lighthearted and fun, and the soundtrack aptly reflects that. As you play, you have a cheerful acoustic guitar tune to encourage you. The game also has a sense of flow about it, creating an ease of play that isn't typical in a zombie-themed game. I recommend giving it a play--it's simply adorable!

400 Years

This is a game that I would classify in the "experience" category. There is something very unique and ambient about this game that suggests something further than your typical gameplay.

To begin with, the music is very relaxing and zen-like, and the graphics, while retaining a certain retro quality to them, are actually very beautiful. You play as a stone entity, most likely a deity of some kind, who awakens, sensing that there is a coming calamity to prevent. You are given the ability to speed up time as required, and can cycle through several years in that fashion. As the name suggests, you have 400 years to accomplish your task.

As you speed up time, you watch the world grow and flourish around you. Bridges are built, and trees and other plants grow. A number of time-sensitive objects are integral to your progression in the game. For example, you may need to wait until a tree grows big enough for you to climb it in order to get to another area.

One of the crucial points of the game occurs when you meet a community of people who are afraid of you, but are also very hungry. You help them, and you don't receive a thanks, suggesting that the sole purpose for this rock entity is to help those people and stop the calamity.

This game is also a little on the short side, and shouldn't run you much more than 20 minutes. Don't be afraid to use a few extra years than you think are necessary--you have plenty of time.

I received an iPad last week, and I have a couple of games to play on there to review. As always, if you have any recommendations, please send them along!

- K8-bit

Monday, February 11, 2013

Taking a step back with Knytt and Rebuild

This week, I wanted to feature a couple of games that actually introduced me to the indie gaming community in the first place. One of them came from a bizarre set of TVTropes searches, and the other came from... actually, I don't remember where I found it. Rebuild introduced me to Kongregate and got me signed up for it in the first place, and Knytt showed me just how beautiful gaming simplicity can be.

If you've read my blog before, you'll know that Journey was the game that really pushed me into the indie game circle, but these two both paved the way. Before these games, I didn't really understand what browser-based games, or games created by small studios, were capable of producing.

Rebuild I got very into. I actually played it through, straight from start until finish without moving from my seat. This took about four hours, but I didn't really care. The game is a turn-based strategy that follows an "after the end" premise; the world has been overrun by zombies, and you are among the last survivors. Your goal is to dig your heels in and rebuild what's left of your city.

I'm a big fan of zombie culture, from video games to books (I've even written one myself, but that's a story for another blog). Being a fan, I know that a lot of works in the genre can blend into obscurity, since there's so much content, and some times works can rely too much on the zombie content to be really very good. Rebuild doesn't suffer from this. It's a solid strategy game, and it's very addicting.

Knytt is a beautiful little nonviolent platformer. It may have minimalist graphics and gameplay, but it's very atmospheric, relaxing and all-around lovely. Apparently Nifflas, the game's creator, has cited Fumito Ueda, the creator of ICO, as an inspiration. Because all you can do in the game is navigate the beautiful landscapes, climb, jump and locate missing UFO parts, it's easy to see why. The music is also simple and mostly atmospheric.

As this isn't the same as my typical reviews, I want to give you the opportunity to play these games for yourself without any sort of bias on my part. You'll see, I'm sure, why I love them so much.

I do have another couple of reviews lined up for this week, hopefully. I played some really neat ones over the weekend.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Demons vs. Fairyland, Bleed for Speed

I received an e-mail from Kongregate with a list of games that were new this week, and thought I'd pick one at random, as I didn't have the first idea what to write about this week.

I went on Newgrounds and flipped through the "Popular" section to select a random title from there, as well. Here are the games I chose.

Demons vs. Fairyland

In this tower defense style game, you play as the antagonists: the demons. You have kidnapped the children of Fairyland, and Fairyland's residents are trying to come back to collect them. As the demons, you spend the entirety of the game defending the children and keeping the citizens of Fairyland from taking them back.

The game has a number of options available to you. Firstly, you are able to customise difficulty and earn bonus experience based on what you change and to what degree. You can also earn points, which can be used to improve your roster and upgrade.

This was what my set up looked like.

You get three different monsters to choose from, and you can upgrade those the higher the level you play. Each monster has two different "ultimate forms" to choose from. Archers rely on speed, Puddle of the Monster has powerful magic at its disposal, and Haunted Houses contain skeletons for physical, ground-based damage.

The game spans 12 levels and you can replay them until you're satisfied with your result. The aim is to finish each level with 1 or more of the fairy children still behind. The best case scenario is that you have all five and none of them have even been touched by Fairyland's denizens. If you are able to get through a level without any of the children being touched, you earn three stars.

Another option you have, when dealing with the fairy kingdom, is to use spells to get them out of your way. If you happen to notice that some of your monsters didn't do a very good job at keeping one of the bigger creatures away, you can pause the game and send a Chain Lighting spell after them. You can set up totems for your monsters to steal gold or mana as well, which will help you expand or upgrade your monsters.

One of the earlier levels.
Stylistically, it's a very fun game, with cell-shaded backgrounds and quirky pixel characters. The music isn't too distracting, which is a good thing. One of the things I liked about it was the fact that you knew if you didn't have the right setup within the first couple of waves, and you have the option to restart.

I didn't play around with the difficulty customisation too much, but I recommend giving it a shot if you're looking for a challenging tower defense. I didn't have too much trouble playing it through on normal setting, but there was just enough of a challenge to keep it interesting.

Bleed for Speed

This is a bizarre and somewhat eerie avoid-style HTML5 game, in which you play a white blood cell navigating an apparently endless series of blood vessels. The aim is simple: you navigate the blood vessels, avoiding the nasty clots at all costs, and allow your white blood cells to multiply while letting as few die as possible.

The graphics are stylish but a little unnerving. The sight of a dead white blood cell is as off-putting as you'd expect.
A pair of dead white blood cells in the lower left corner, in case you didn't feel like sleeping tonight.
The higher your white blood cell count, the faster you go. The game's camera zooms out, as well, allowing you a broader view of the obstacles in your path. You can control where the white blood cells go by sending out a pulse, i.e., clicking directly beside the cell. The cells get happier the faster you go, which is also a little creepy.

Happy little white blood cells!
The only problem I experienced was that the music would skip and the game would chug a little the more white cells were added to the mix. This is likely, however, HTML5 platform over the game.

The game lasts as long as you make it, and keeps track of your high score. Mine was a meager 4295, and I think the most white cells I was able to keep alive at any point were about 9. I recommend giving it a try if you're looking for something weird and different, and if you like to challenge yourself by beating your own high score.

I had a couple of other games I'd like to review, but I'll save those for another time. Next week I'm going to talk about two of my all-time favourite indie games, and may do another post after that.

Sorry for the late update this week! Our ISP was acting up yesterday and wouldn't let me complete my posts. We're back to our regularly scheduled program, now.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Plague Inc. and The Mirror Lied

Today I'm going to be reviewing two vastly different games. One is for iOS/Android, and the other is for the PC.

Plague Inc.

If you have a smartphone, chances are you've at least heard of this strategy game. It's a title released by Ndemic Creations, which only has one person--impressive, to say the least! The game has you beginning a plague that is meant to wipe out the entirety of civilisation as we know it. You can choose how your plague behaves by spending DNA points, currency you earn by infecting countries, on various attributes. You decide how your plague is spread, its symptoms, and how it reacts to medication and lab research.

To say the game is a little morbid would be an understatement, but to say it's a little addictive would be the same. B13 and I have been having a blast with this game. It requires careful planning on the gamer's part, especially in the later stages, and though it can get frustrating at times, wiping out the entirety of the population is scarily satisfying, when you're able to do it.

 Plague Inc. has three difficulty modes: casual, normal and brutal, and 7 different plague types, ranging from a simple bacteria all the way to a bio-weapon, and you can unlock different genes to customise your plague with. For a $1 app store game, it is extremely versatile and great for any type of player.

The game also features an eerie, haunting soundtrack, and a stylish interface. It's surprising, to say the least, that all of this was done by one person. There are also a couple of humorous Easter eggs that you can find if you have the right combination of symptoms.

The Mirror Lied

This little oddity (or "experimental pretention", as the game's creator likes to call it) was created by Freebird Games--the same lovely folks who made the masterpiece To the Moon. It's what I would call a post-modern fairy tale, in that nothing is as it seems and anything you take away from it will be your own to decide. It's created, again, with the RPGMaker engine, thus it is a top-down view, and shares stylistic similarities with To the Moon. Nothing is directly told to you, and the interpretation is up to you.

You play as a young girl named Leah. One day, a bird flies over the roof of your house. The game begins from there.

You can interact with just about anything in the game and collect items as you explore. The game only takes place in the house, and it would seem that time passes every time you execute an action that's integral to the plot. Keep an eye on the various pictures throughout the game.

I won't go on much further about the game itself. It's very short, lasting no more than forty-five minutes if you really stretch it out. It features beautiful, catchy music that seems to sum up the game as a whole: a childlike music box theme with a dark undertone. It's a bit confusing on the surface, but the game will give you everything you need to succeed. Take a half hour and a cup of tea and give it a play to see what I mean.

Before I go, I'd like to give a little shout out to Daniel Albu, the creator of Square Madness. He has a new game out for Androids called MemAudio. Unfortunately I only have an iPhone, and the same goes for B13, so neither of us are able to play it. If you can, though, you definitely should, and please let me know how it is!

I've been playing through Ni No Kuni in my spare time lately, so I haven't been playing as many indie games as I'd like, hence I'm reviewing an iOS game and a short one this week. If you have any other little games you'd like me to try out in the next few weeks, as usual, send me a comment or a message. I'd love to play them!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

To the Moon

Sometimes, I play a game that strikes me so much that I immediately need to talk about it. In fact, that's the main reason I started this blog to begin with: to talk about games that stick with me after I've played them. To the Moon by Freebird Games is one of those games.

I was watching the first episode of a Let's Play on Youtube, and after the first five minutes I had to stop watching it because I knew I wanted to play it for myself. I finally got around to it this week and I'm glad I did. Being that I've just recently taken up reviewing indie games, I'm a bit late coming across this one, but I suppose I'm better late than never.

 To the Moon is a story of a man named John who is on his deathbed. The story is driven by characters Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, who both work for the Sigmund Corporation. The corporation revolves around granting a dying person's wish in the form of artificially implanted memories. John's final wish is to go to the moon, and it's up to Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts to figure out how to get him there.

Firstly, for a game created with the RPGMaker engine, this is a stunning work of art. It also truly shows off what the engine is capable of, because you never once enter into a battle. It's classified as an RPG, but it's more of an adventure/visual novel hybrid with a couple of puzzle elements tossed in. I've added a couple of screenshots, both from within the first five minutes of gameplay, so as not to spoil anything. There is a startling amount of detail in every tile, giving a visual representation of the sheer amount of care and dedication that went into this game. The memory sequences have a disjointedness to them that is extremely effective; characters randomly appear and colours fade, giving the effect of a real memory. There is one section that has the lines in a basketball court drawn incorrectly because John didn't remember what they really looked like.

To the Moon game had a number of musical moments that, alone, could bring a person to tears. Give the game's Bandcamp a listen and you'll see what I mean. The music was moving and set the perfect tone for a game that was so emotionally rich. Composed in a collaboration with Kan Gao, the game's creator and director, and Laura Shigihara of Plants Vs. Zombies fame, the score is stirring. The sound presentation is well done as well, with particular attention to detail. For example, if you go upstairs while someone is playing the piano, you may notice it becomes muffled. The nature sounds are realistic and fittingly soothing.

The story is complex and brilliantly crafted. Playing through a second time will reveal parallels and ties that you wouldn't understand on the first playthrough. In typical indie game fashion, it has a way of immersing the player into the story in ways that other media, typically films and books, cannot. Games like To the Moon reveal, to me, that video games are the future of storytelling. I believe that games are one of the most powerful storytelling tools we have now, but they're often overlooked as trivial entertainment.

Which isn't to say, of course, that it wasn't an entertaining game! While it left me weeping for a solid ten minutes after the credits had finished rolling, there was plenty of humor. For example, Dr. Watts initiates a battle scene with a squirrel. Just when you think there may be some battle elements to the game after all, you are accused by a young girl of abusing animals. Both Dr. Watts and Dr. Rosalene have amusing character quirks, such as Dr. Rosalene's food-related interjections ("for walnut's sake!"). John's favourite food is pickled olives, which, consequently, is my favourite food, too. During one of the scenes I just couldn't take it anymore and had to go to the fridge to get the remaining half jar to scarf down.

The game clocks in at somewhere around 4 hours long. Come prepared with some tissues for the end, because this game will not go easy on your emotions. You will probably cry. I hope it casts its spell over you, too.

The game won a well-deserved award and a sequel is, apparently, in the works, following the next patient on Dr. Watts' and Dr. Rosalene's adventures. The ending of the game suggests that there may be several more "episodes" to look forward to, each following new patients.

You can bet I'll be reviewing another of Freebird Games' titles in the near future. I was very impressed and impacted by this beautiful, sad, intricate and funny story. No amount of words I can give it will do it justice. Play it through and see what I mean. The game is available on Steam and on its website for $10, but you can also download a one-hour long demo for free.


Sunday, January 13, 2013



This week, I wanted to take a step backwards and review a game that started a game company--thatgamecompany, to be precise. After playing their three headlining titles, flOw, Flower, and Journey, going back to take a look at their earliest game was eye-opening.

If you liked Flower, this game will tell you where the majority of it came from. While Flower portrays the dreams of flowers, Cloud is its human equivalent, portraying the dreams of a young boy in a hospital. He's tired of the confining walls and the medicine he has to take, and creates an escape in his mind by dreaming about becoming friends with clouds.

The gameplay is quite simple, and, as is now the norm for thatgamecompany games, it builds its foundation on a principle of non-violence, instead relying on emotional cues. I only experienced a slight problem with the controls, finding them a little trying on my first play. B13 didn't express this problem, though, saying he found the game quite easy to play and intuitive. Looking back on it, I was more focused on the point-A-to-point-B aspect of play, rather than the real task at hand: relaxation. Other reviewers have talked about it being one of the most relaxing games they had ever played, so I'm sure I wasn't going about it the right way.

Gameplay consists of freely flying high above the water, collecting bright white clouds. You can store the white clouds to build taller ones, combine white clouds with dark grey ones to create rain, turn light grey clouds into white ones, and draw patterns in the sky.

B13 considers the game to have a mixture of flOw and Flower-style gameplay, with view-from-above elements that flOw later developed, and the drifting-on-the-wind elements that Flower came to represent. The game's soundtrack is, very recognisably, composed by Vincent Diamante, of Flower fame. The music was one of the biggest highlights for me, featuring a very moving series of songs that attach the player emotionally to the little boy.

After Cloud was released, thatgamecompany was formed. Cloud received an overwhelming response, crashing the server of the website it was being hosted on, and receiving a million hits. The game also won a grant, which is, likely, part of the reason thatgamecompany is still alive and well today. Cloud caused people to re-think the direction of video games, and to consider that it, too, is a credible art form. The immense response to Journey, so many years later, shows just how well they are succeeding in this regard.

thatgamecompany has discussed remaking the game, and though it would be great to see what they make next, I can't help but hope they do remake it. I think Cloud came a bit before its time; the control scheme is reminiscent of the Playstation 3's Sixaxis controls. The graphics are lovely but simplistic and would probably benefit from a makeover, though the art and style should stay the same. The still images are well done and add a level of depth to the game, and though most games would opt for a cutscene instead, I feel the still images work well for this game.

All-in-all, Cloud is a lovely game and should be played to be properly enjoyed; no amount of talking I do about it will do it justice. It's immersive and, yes, it too is an experience. It's a reminder that games don't have to be violent, challenging, or mind-bending. They can simply be.

Lately I've been considering doing LPs for this blog, mainly because me playing through SCP-087 has to be seen to be believed (spoiler alert: I scream. A lot.), but also to showcase a few of the games we play. I'll be doing some research on how to make an effective LP.

I purchased To the Moon this morning and hope to be able to play it through the next week or so. As always, if you have a game you'd like me to play, let me know.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Square Madness and Idle Idol Head

It turns out that one of the cool things that comes with tweeting your indie video games blog is the fact that occasionally, you get in contact with other indie game lovers or makers. In this instance, I got ahold of a dev by the name of Daniel Albu, who makes Flash, HTML5 and Android games. He has an extensive portfolio, as well as an impressive list of awards, but today I'd like to specifically discuss his recent HTML5 game.

Square Madness

I really enjoyed this game. Its design is simplistic, yet stylish. You play as a rotating black square, and your aim is to collect other black squares while simultaneously avoiding red squares. The smaller black squares, which are more difficult to obtain, give more points than the larger ones. As time goes on, the pacing of the gameplay gradually increases, but not to the point that it's ever terribly noticeable. It is well-paced enough that it is never fast to a stressful degree.

I actually found this game to be quite relaxing to play. One of the things I and fellow thisindiegameblog contributor B13 noticed was that it was easier and more enjoyable to play to avoid the red squares than it is to play to collect the black squares.

Case in point, I played to collect the black ones, and he played to avoid the red ones. My high score was somewhere around 1180. His, well...
Needless to say, he put me to shame.
If you continue to play this game long enough, you enter a sort of state of flow, meaning you can become completely focused and absorbed in the gameplay. The music and sounds were a nice addition, never too distracting or loud.

What I liked was that the game was simplistic enough that it didn't require a tutorial, but not mind-numbing in its simplicity. It's a good game to simply play, and since it's HTML5, it's very accessible. It's good to play if you're looking for a distraction, or if you're looking for something to help you focus.

Idle Idol Head

Firstly, I have to give bonus points (not that I give out any points at all, but you know) for the title.

Almost a year ago, when I played Journey for the first time, I had the pleasure of playing alongside fellow first-timer MrConkin. It turned out, when I did a Twitter search, that the user had a handle of the same name, and I've been following him on Twitter ever since. He also has a blog, where I learned he is a game developer. I don't mean for this to sound creepy, but I've been following his work ever since out of sheer curiousity.

Recently, I looked to see that he had posted Idle Idol Head up to Newgrounds, so I went over to give it a play.

The game begins with a quirky, fun cut scene with crisp, colourful graphics and fluid animation. You play as a deity named Moai, who is shorter than the others and wants to grow taller so he can ride roller coasters and get chicks. A character by the name of Rapa offers to help Moai. If he collects all the switches, shaped like Easter Island heads, Rapa will make him taller. And the adventure begins.

The character below Moai looks somehow... familiar...
You start out simply playing through levels to collect the switches, but then you can acquire other gameplay methods to help you collect different coloured switches. Once you collect all the switches in one level, you can progress to the next. If you manage to pass the level without dying once, you will get a star.

There are 30 total stars that you can receive in this game, and other than beating levels without dying, you can also perform tasks for other characters to
get them. Thankfully you can replay levels from the main menu, since Newgrounds saves your progress, so if you died on the first run-through of a level, you can re-play it to collect the star later on.

The gameplay consists of navigating Moai through a series of walled-in areas. You must avoid the walls, or else you will die. Running into just about any surface will kill you, though there are three different power-ups you can attain: flowers will turn you yellow and light your way, pools of water will turn you blue and also help you water plants, and fire will turn you red and help you melt snow. These different gameplay mechanics
contribute to the difficulty level of some of the puzzles.

In addition, the game has a gravity system that gives some weight to Moai as a character, and adds depth to the gameplay. He can be physically influenced by wind, allowing it to change his direction.

My favourite part about this game was the unique gameplay, coupled with its colourful style. The game was challenging enough that I was unable to collect all 30 stars on my first playthrough. Despite playing the whole game from start to finish, I still find myself wanting to go back to collect the rest. If I had one complaint about the game, it would be that some of the shout-outs to other games are a bit too obvious and break the fourth wall a bit. I liked the game's design and characters enough that having obvious shout-outs was a bit jarring. There's a shout-out at the final level, though, that was subtle and really well done. I won't say what it is, because I found it a pleasant surprise after playing through.

Both Idle Idol Head and Square Madness, interestingly enough, had similar styles of avoid-the-obstacle gameplay. It was by pure coincidence that I ended up reviewing them side by each, but they are satisfying for different reasons.

I have updated the blog a bit with a new link about "Funding the Dream" for indie games that need a little help along the way. Also, under "about thisindiegameblog", you'll find  a bit more about the blog, plus brief bios for B13 and I. As always, if there are any games you'd like us to play and potentially review, send them our way.