Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Recommendation

Recommendations

SUPERHOT and ripples

There’s one mantra that has guided me over and over and it is that every structural action you take causes ripples. I don’t want to go as far as to say I believe in the butterfly effect as much as 2015 horror title Until Dawn did. What I do believe in is that facilitating things pays off in the long run. If you worry that there are not enough developer meetups in your town, create one. If you want a certain game jam to exist, organize it. If you think games should be in gallerys, contact a gallery nearby. There’s no reason not to try, and it might just ripple further than you think.

A few years ago, fellow Vlambeer Jan Willem decided he had gotten bored of pretty much all AAA First Person Shooters, and that indies needed to make some First Person Shooters to create innovation. That led to him organizing the first 7DFPS in 2012, a seven day gamejam focused on the FPS genre. That, in turn, led to the jam being held again the year after. That jam saw a group of Polish developers creating a prototype of a first person shooter that played with time and movement. That first person shooter got popular enough that the developers decided to pursue it as a commercial project. That project came out today, and it’s named SUPERHOT. And it’s fantastic. It’s also priced at $25, which is awesome. Who knows. Maybe that’ll cause ripples.

Devil Daggers

Sorath’s Devil Daggers released today and it is fantastic. It’s fast-paced, it’s brutal and it’s relentless. What is most striking about how relentless it is, though, is not the relentless action – the type of overwhelming mayhem Vlambeer uses in our own games to force flow in the player –  Devil Daggers is relentless in its identity. More than anything, it has become clear that independent titles that manage to relentlessly adhere to their internal style are amongst the only ones that really stand a chance. Games like Hotline Miami, Undertale, Her Story and The Witness are all games with their own flaws and strengths, but what they have in common is that they are succesful, and that they refuse to be anything but themselves. They have a sense of identity, and they understand that identity from start to finish.

I argued the other day that auteurship might have its potential pitfalls too, and this all seems to loop back to games and trees. Games grow an identity, and it’s up to the developer to recognize, amplify and communicate that identity. If you’re working on a independent game, see if you can find anything that looks, sounds or plays similar. If you can, you might want to think very carefully about where the identity of your game is.

And if you haven’t picked up Devil Daggers, you should do so.

Camel Up!

Camel Up! is a 2014 board game about betting on camels racing, but also about camels stacking on camels. While it’s the 2014 Spiel des Jahres winner (and German awards for board games being a huge deal), I wasn’t introduced to it until Randy and Kristy Pitchford challenged us to a game today. No wonder they would introduce it to me – it’s a deviously clever game of probability and gambling for 2-8 players, although it feels like it wouldn’t become fun until 4 players were present.

Each ‘leg’ of the game is played by using the dice pyramid, a clever contraption that randomly rolls one colored dice from its innards. The colors relate to the five colored camels, and the dice control how far the camel of that color moves. Camels that share a space stack on top of each other, and if a camel carrying other camels moves, it takes the others with it. The camel on top is considered in the lead, and that mechanic combined with the randomness of order and movement makes the entire game of probability very simple to visualise, but rather interesting as a game of chance.

Most of the game is built around the idea that acting fast on limited information gives you higher odds of scoring big money or losing a little of it, while safer bets earn you little but can’t lose you any money. Combine that with the earlier game of probability, and you’ve got a fascinating little game of calculations and gambles – and although there is usually one right move to make, playing the game with some mischievous troublemakers really helps the game along. In many ways, Camel Up! is an amazing starting or ending game for a board game night – simple yet full of interesting situations -although it’s just as easy to spend a few hours playing races, hoping for that perfect sequence of events to leave your camel ahead and on top.

Dying Light’s sublime sense of Panic

Dying Light is a game I played over the course of a full year, originally buying the violent zombie Mirror’s Edge on launch day back in January 2015. While I normally play through a game in one go, Dying Light had so many pacing issues in the first quarter of the game that I had to take breaks for months before I felt like returning to the game. I loved much of the promise of the game: during the (60-minute) day a freerunning agent running through a zombie-infested (Turkish?) city, setting traps, completing missions, setting up safe zones and saving survivors – and during the (10-minute) night, desperately sneaking through the dark, quietly avoiding the nightmares that exist within it, the hunter turned the hunted.

But Dying Light also suffers from every possible design issue you could run into in its design – odd checkpointing, bulletsponges to deal with the almighty player, finnicky controls at the worst moment and escort missions. The worst offender, however, and one that’s hard to avoid in a open-world game, is a difficulty curve that starts the player helpless, and then evolves the player into something so powerful only one-hit kill exploding zombies and earlier mentioned bulletsponges can form any danger to.

In that difficulty curve, then, naturally, has to be the sweet spot – and that part is magnificent. It’s where the player has started to gain skills and weapons that are useful and don’t continuously break and is slightly weaker than the average zombie. Accidentally making a loud sound attracts the zombies, and every time you do so, you run for your life. The (gorgeous) sunset feels terrifying, the phone calls to warn you it’s about to get dark instill genuine worry and the alarm of your watch informing you night has fallen is a beeping terror.

It’s during this part of the game I ran across a moment that I played wrong, but it also shows how perfectly Dying Light sometimes executes its premisse. Tasked with retrieving a video in a side-mission, the player has to navigate the city to a video store. This video by ZackScottGames below gives a pretty accurate impression of the scene as I played it – you can stop watching as soon as the ‘video tape found’ prompt displays.

[stag_video src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e_qV8uEm4I&start=1610&end=1670″]

As you approach the store, there might or might not be a number of zombies you can dispatch of, distract or sneak around. You then have to quickly lockpick the door through a minigame, after which you enter the store. As soon as you take a step or two into the store, the alarm goes, the short delay surpressing the players’ response of backing out of the store. The alarm will be attracting a large number of nearby zombies to the store in the next few seconds, and the player can opt to lock the front door. Then, the game suggests you find the tape manually, by having the player character utter ‘C… C for Charly’. So as the zombies gather around, rattling the store you just locked yourself into, you have to keep your calm, look around and find the tape. If you look carefully, you’ll notice you can shut the door, you’ll spot a bright orange light that is actually the alarm switch (you can turn the alarm off), and a back door you can escape through. The panic is enough to instinctively focus the player on the tape.

In the games’ best moments, it’ll repeat similar tricks, but always messing with the most powerful obstacle the player needs to manage: distance. Dying Light is continuously throwing off the players mental mapping of distance. Something that’s relatively close suddenly feels very far when the sun starts setting. An easy jump before a short run can turn into a terrifying distance to cover if your landing is too loud, and the ceiling gives way. Increasingly loud sounds make five meters feel like a hundred – but at night, running past a trap you placed during the day can turn a hundred meters into a short walk. Dying Light’s most masterful showcase of using mental distance is in its delays before scares and panic increases, because distance behind a player always feels longer than distance ahead of them,

Any moment can go from calm and controlled, from feeling powerful and jumping from building to building with accurate movement, to sheer panic and scrambling around with the smallest mistake, and Dying Light is perfectly set up to create those moments organically. Until you become too strong. Or you die and respawn. Or you realize Dying Light features a ‘hunterdetectiveeagle vision’ equivalent – one of my most hated game design tropes – that totally removes this moment, but thankfully I didn’t think of using it.

But for those moments in that sweet spot, and in its best side-missions, Dying Light creates a sublime sense of panic.

ICBM

ICBM is a freeware title that is very clever, very propagandistic, very stylish and very well made. It makes no excuses for the experience it’s trying to convey. Highly recommended.

Screencheat

Screencheat is a multiplayer FPS with a twist: the only way you’ll find your opponents is by looking at each others screen. Reminds me of the days in which my younger brother was always a bit better at screen cheating than I was. It’s simple, chaotic and so much fun.

Life on a Mountain

Most of you know Jukio ‘KOZILEK’ Kallio as the musician on many Vlambeer projects, including Nuclear Throne. I know Jukio as many things, but I got to know him as a game developer that always had gorgeous music in his games. His project Life on a Mountain looks amazingly atmospheric both in game and in its sonic identity.

Rodina

Rodina is the logical follow-up to the existence of both roguelike games like FTL and 3D spacesims with seamless descent like Evochron. In Rodina, you don’t control the spaceship – you control the pilot.

Biome

Biome is a meditative game experience about evolution and exploration that focuses on the world rather than the things that live on it.”

Kero Blaster

Those that know me know that I have an almost unending amount of love for Pixel’s Cave Story, one of the most influential indie titles in history. Pixel’s new release, Kero Blaster, seems to be every bit as wonderful.