May 2016

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Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence Gets VR Spin-Off

News

ss_57afbf6b7831b714a78927099beca4747c2bcb16.1920x1080After a full four month’s hiatus that saw them retreat into the shadows with no public exposition or update to the progress of Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence, the young Italian team of GoManga Interactive resurfaced earlier this month with news that their first-person indie horror escapade had ventured into Virtual Reality by means of a spin-off.

Called simply Insane Decay of Mind, this VR outing hurls players into a labyrinth of twisted, psychologically trying happenings that occur within protagonist Katherine Watson’s mind in between the events of Acts I and II of the main game’s saga.

As minds turned warped over three progressively difficult, procedurally generated stages, one must make use of interactive items, solve puzzles and avoid the Shadows — manifestations of the leading lady’s darkest nightmares — all in search of an escape route.

What’s more, besides having to be powered by the Oculus Rift DK2, Oculus Rift CV1, HTC Vive Pre or the HTC Vive alone, the spin-off is also playable as a standard Windows powered game making it an interesting means for followers to get their first full-fledged taste of the original tale in development.

ss_280e3096cab879213e4fcbae16ea96a122718325.1920x1080Conceived late into 2014, Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence’s primary lore narrates the challengingly disturbing events that unfold after one Katherine Watson finds herself trapped within an old World War II era manor; A manor she soon begins to perceive as her School before a deranged assortment of forces haunt her through its nightmare ridden corridors.

Divided into three Acts, the game’s playable portion began to take form over the course of 2015 wherein it witnessed its First develop through a series of refinements and playable teasers. Post bringing this work-in-progress adventure to Higher Eclectic Ground in the month of October the same year, GoManga interactive had then proceeded to announce plans of a crowd-funding campaign that was to follow the Act’s completion.

In keeping with the same, the game received its first full-fledged trailer with the onset of the New Year. Soon after though, all updates ceased as the team stated behind-the-scenes that they’d come in contact with Italian independent game production company IV Productions and its founder Ivan Ventauri.

Over the following weeks Ventauri pushed to have Merge Games Ltd. take notice of The Sound of Silence’s quirks, which eventually resulted in the British indie game publisher proposing to help release a VR based spin-off of the game.

ss_1b43185bc6e14a1c9f97149e6324b535b71d9b6c.1920x1080‘We immediately accepted for the very reason that’s obvious for an independent team such as ours: it would be the best way of getting Insane Decay of Mind noticed,’ explains Lead Programmer Francesco Pio Squillante. ‘Furthermore, the way the game’s been programmed is just perfect for VR; it’s dark and creepy atmosphere, unpredictable events and deafening sounds, all combined with virtual reality would only help players better identify with Katherine’s plight much before the full game’s release.

Naturally, the work on Act II that was to ensue over the first quarter of this year was put on hold to focus on the VR game. Building upon what the team had already constructed over the past year, development proceeded behind closed doors to only make an alpha appearance during the course of the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, before the venture was finally made public by IV Productions on the 21st of April, 2016.

As it stands now, the Insane Decay of Mind VR game omits all aspects of a narrative. Its game play seems to fully base itself on the mechanics we tried and tested in our play-through of The Sound of Silence’s Act I back in December last year, and the most noticeable change lies in its upgraded visuals. There is however plenty more than simply finding one’s way through this visually upgraded, non-verbal construct of insanity as Squillante reveals —

‘Besides the Shadows,  players will encounter several character from Katherine’s past who will in turn influence game play; side objectives of sorts. There are then over 50 hidden achievements, each of which uncover a variety of her secrets that are in effect spread out over the three Acts of the main game. And so while Insane Decay of Mind contains no particular narrative, one can unravel the entire saga’s story anywhere from a few to 30 hours with a little bit of patience and persistence.’

ss_f3ca734d673995e539f13642d7cba3406c64bbb2.1920x1080Acting on the complaints and mixed response that stemmed out from the multitude of bugs that supplemented the game on release day, the team released an update to counteract the same on the 18th of May last week. As for the main story’s future, Squillante suggests that while Merge’s involvement in the full game is as of now uncertain, development of the same will proceed regardless.

‘We will of course go back and redefine the First Act of The Sound of Silence’, he reveals. ‘before we finally move to designing the Second. The vision is to release each of the three Acts separately over a span of several months, but that’s a topic for the future.’

Insane Decay of Mind is now available on Steam for 3 USD. While one might catch some of the Network’s own Writers and Video Artists dabble in the spin-off over the forthcoming weeks, be sure to visit Insane Decay of Mind: The Sounds of Silence’s Higher Eclectic Space wherein its progress continues to be recorded for a better perspective of its bizarre nuances.

The (Strenuous) Unravelling of a Cube’s Story

Features

ss_1fe0bd8dc27be6f164d3932724a39ad83591cf1f.1920x1080A shallow read of its premise and Thomas Was Alone resonant art style promises an endearing little adventure, while the user denounced difficulty level coupled with its citing of Twin-stick shooter and bullet hell elements as the basis of its game play lead one to assume it’s nothing but top-down chaos. The truth is though, Story of a Cube is never wholly either of those; What it is instead is a light-hearted amalgamation of the two that brings about a visually exuberant, psychologically frustrating yet satisfactorily obsessive challenge that will in deed consume valuable amounts of your time and patience.

As the Cubical survivor of an inter-geometrical attack of Circles on a lowly village of Cubes that results in the abduction of the latter, players are quickly tossed into what is effectively a six-stage revenge spree; a spree that starts off predictably, leading players equipped with a slow-firing weapon left behind in the incident straight to the lair of the attackers. Coursing through the maze-like fortress’ defence system of mass-bullet firing turrets and their variations however unearths the presence of a conspiracy, promising to shed more light and lend depth to the abduction of the Cubes.

20160510155304_1This mystery perpetuates as players descend into the Circle HQ’s levels of progressively stronger turrets, inhabitants and carnivorous obstacles, before finally culminating into a climactic showdown at the end of its revelation. In essence though, the plot itself is far from ground breaking and offers only a modicum of intrigue. What’s more, narrated through adolescent toned on-screen dialogues emanating from the protagonist or other characters encountered, the Story even leaves first time players expecting a satisfyingly explosive narrative end to justify the game’s overwhelming challenge — amusingly disappointed.

This is largely due to the game’s multiple endings — named Stupid, Bad, Good and Secret; Unless one proves to be extraordinarily skilled at its game play, Story of a Cube concludes in its Bad before revealing how one can unlock the Good ending by effectively playing on a higher difficulty level in the absence of any deaths. Even so, neither of the Good or Secret outros are grandly soothing — although the latter does reward players with a special developer video that explores the game’s special and secret features.

 

 

20160511171842_1In control of Cube and its weapon by means of the WASD and Mouse controls, players must face off against a complete assortment of the aforementioned enemy forces and inevitably, have their patience and reflexes tested in a gruelling end-of-level boss battle or a lethal race against pieces of the game environment.

These battles range from overcoming gigantic turrets from bullet hell to a swarm of piranha-like missile cluster, while the game environment themed final challenges task players with dodging moving walls from all directions as they push towards the end of the level. As the levels progress, so does the fire power of the turrets and the complexity of avoiding lethal obstacles — which is then complemented by Cube’s finding of an equally powerful weapon and even a bullet time effect through the flow of the campaign.

The thing is though, staying within line-of-sight of more than a single turret for multiple seconds almost certainly results in instant death. By the time new players panic to move their reticules over the enemy, two, three or even four of Cube’s lives pass — forcing them back to a previous, distant check point. Sure, the game doesn’t demand that each turret be taken down to pass a level but passing through any area without losing a considerable amount of lives mandates their annihilation.

ss_c30962ac35fa11bd37487bc47b9beba74c2d6fe0.1920x1080And preserving lives is necessary, for their complete consumption ends in a failure of the level and its re-play from the very start. This quickly turns enormously frustrating especially when on your last life during the boss-battle of a level that took you 15 minutes to clear, only for you to die within a second at the boss’ showing and having to redo it all again. Bullet time is immensely unreliable as well; while its effect is naturally limited, the lack of a visual meter to indicate its depletion causes one to easily over/under estimate its tenure and consequently, run head on into a razor-sharp windmill when they didn’t mean to.

So apparently, one is required to call upon unrealistically heightened reflexes not just in combat but in near impossible moving obstacle scenarios as well. Furthermore, while the game does provide three levels of difficulty — each of which differ in the population and resilience of  enemies — one might find themselves bombarded by the massive swarm of bullet pumping turrets that greet them within but 3 minutes into level one even on Easy. In summary then, inncessantly unforgiving enemies, dodgy point n’ shoot mechanics, a negligible difficulty system and partly broken bullet time begs to pile on the rage quits. Or so it would seem on the first few play-through’s.

 

 

ss_11db552909e7b8977c31b5508ee51e2e00b3cabc.1920x1080For it is in persistence and prudence that Story of a Cube drops its façade of being an unevenly mechanised, fast-paced, non-strategic shooter and reveals a different story underneath; Taking one’s time, peeking around corners, diving into it to determine the strength of fire power that lies ahead before returning back and unleashing your own from a distance causes progress.

Determining where these enemies lie, even if off screen, via trial and error before pointing the reticule in their general direction and counteracting their fire power until they eventually relent; learning that turrets are taken down by only a few carefully positioned bullets rather than fully automatic fire, realizing that every weapon has a role to play depending on situation, finding patterns in moving obstacles and the glorious display of projectiles discharged by bosses even in the absence of bullet time — all point towards Story of a Cube’s demand of much more than the mindless spamming of the mouse button.

20160510162408_1Yes, it still gets irrepressibly difficult and the retries — especially on one’s first venture into the game — are extraordinary. Yet constant failure causes one to develop an instinctual understanding of enemy positions, attacks and ways to avert them with minimal loss of life via memorization and constant practice. Despite the game choosing to offer players one of its many achievements on passing the more strenuous end-of-mission scenarios, it is in the sense of personal accomplishment that arrives with their first ever completion where Story of a Cube truly shines.

This learning curve is further spruced by a degree of unpredictability that surrounds every level; no two levels feel repetitive despite the omni-presence of turrets, made possible in large part by the creative placement of character and non-character induced challenges that leave one anxiously anticipating every corner. Finally, the ultimate challenge of acuity that does arrive in the form of the final boss battle is, at least visually, every bit glorious.

 

 

2016-05-15Speaking of which, the game’s minimal art style works well for itself; Every level leaves the screen beaming in neon, which is further emphasised by the presence of gradient shadows. The use of shake and screen dimming effects under damage, followed by that of 8-bit animations & art to indicate key cards, varying bullet sizes, smoke, electric cables and other populace only adds to the fact that despite its using of a total of only 7-8 colors throughout, Story of a Cube is undoubtedly a visually attractive adventure. Throw in a fantastically composed soundtrack by Bocuma and fleeting Easter Eggs that show up for a fraction of a second on loading screens — and you have yourself a fully atmospheric one at that.

That said, apart from the eccentric learning curve, Story of a Cube does possess its fair share of issues; The innumerable number of retries seemingly forces one to have to sit through every one of the dialogues that transpire during them. However as developer Frederik Madsen later pointed out, the game’s Steam manual does indicate that dialogues can be sped up by use of the Ctrl button — a feature he plans to make more obvious in a future update seeing how users have brought it up in the past. Seen within the update will also be a tweak to the game’s black GUI on its final stage, whose dark layout currently makes it difficult for players to read the position of dialogues and the reticule on screen.

20160514182323_1Additionally, there’s no denying the frustration that could be avoided were the game to support Controller input and at least a functional bullet time indicator. Interestingly Madsen admits that these were both planned features for the game that ended up not making the cut owing to last minute technical difficulties. He states though now that both are certainly in the books as future additions, along with a Level Editor that will let players create, upload and share their own stages.

Story of a Cube is now available on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux. As always, learn more of the intricacies of its development while staying in tune to future updates via its Higher Eclectic Space.

 

The above article serves to provide Community members Tiny Atom Games with constructive feedback towards the overall improvement of Story of a Cube, while also illustrating to other Community residents the game’s functioning and nuances.

An Architecture of Love, Obsession & The Crystals of PHERA

Features

A mythological spin on the often interdependent sentiments of friendship, love and betrayal built on an action-adventure RPG core, LUCID is a platformed, exploratory quest of the last of the remaining Sentinels to hunt down every LUCID Crystal fundamental in the reconstruction of the LUCID Giant’s heart, his eventual resurrection and the restoration of spiritual balance to the planet of PHERA.

Comp 1_00360Currently at a stage that sees the core of its mechanics developed and functional, young architect Eric Manahan’s first solitary voyage into game development is now part of the Higher Eclectic network as of the 19th of April this year, wherefrom it will now be documenting the entirety of its journey to final release.

A letter to Manahan’s childhood, LUCID is set to be your typical fast-paced 2D platformer that necessitates all the mid-adventure management and utilization of stamina, skills and attack strategies amid the vividly pixelated world of PHERA; The plot that surrounds both its own lore and that of its creator’s though, isn’t so ordinary.

The Crystal Energy permeated universe created by Manahan, wherein takes place the events that are to comprise the 2D action-adventure RPG, differs not much from our own in its notions of spirituality, religious beliefs or its lust for science. When the denizens of the planet PHERA disavow meditation and worship under either of the universe’s creators, The Celestial Giants, for the less spiritual means of harnessing Crystal Energy through the use of advanced machinery, each of the Giants face a downward spiral in their embodying energies.

Comp 1_00230As PHERA’s inhabitants proliferate under the successful utilization of Crystal Technology over time, the dwindling of the Creators’ significance is further compounded by a battle centred on love and lust between them — which eventually culminates in the LUCID Giant’s destruction and shattering into Crystal rain over the planet.

Meant to be illustrated via a cryptic narrative with its fair share of twists and turns, this mythological premise of the game is accentuated by the birth of a mysterious crystal permeated boy named OENN many generations later who, one must set out as players of the game in search of the LUCID Crystals that are to finally restore balance to a technology consumed PHERA.

While the adventure that ensues is intended to encompass traditional, quick paced platformed action demanding the use of stamina dependent running, melee and long range attacks — portions of which have been effectively teased by the developer via handheld recorded videos — the heart of LUCID’s gameplay  lie in the mastery of the Crystal Arts. Unlocked via the collection of both LUCID Crystals and LUCID Shards — the latter of which serve as in-game currency — up to three Crystal Art tiers stand to be mastered, each providing players with up to two choices of upgradable skills.

Comp 1_00187The mandate of only one skill being allowed per tier further allows for users to mix and match available skills to create their own running & gunning rendition of OENN. Collectables and artefacts meanwhile adorn the mysterious planet of PHERA which in turn open doors to new areas and secondary skills — all of which come into play in combat against uniquely crafted bosses as well as in the solving of a plethora of in-game puzzles.

What makes all of the above fascinating is that not just the mythological lore, but every aspect both game play or otherwise is the brainchild and eventual construction of one single man’s imagination and skill. Besides coding and designing LUCID’s visuals and pixel art, musically adept Eric Manahan is also composing the original soundtrack that will supplement players’ journey through the Crystal permeated atmosphere of PHERA. Which begs the question, how does a full-time Architect find himself at the helm of a 2D RPG’s mythos?

By being a closet Game Development enthusiast for half his life. A gaming fanatic that grew up harbouring the ambition of making games for a living, Manahan attributes the ‘advice’ of those around him to pursue a more respectable and secure career path, to him riding the train to Architecture. ‘But the call never left me; it was inevitable’, he states. ‘ In the beginning of my Senior Year of Architecture School in 2012, I was working late into the night — around about 3 a.m. which was not really uncommon for us.’

Comp 1_00045But during one of my 15 minute breaks I was perusing the internet and came across a game that was made by one person — I didn’t know that was an option!  I began looking into how to develop games on my own, and found things called Construct, Game Maker, and Unity.  I settled on the Game Maker software because it seemed to be the right medium for for me at the time.’

Deciding that the game he wanted to play and conjure would be a cross breed of childhood favourites such as The Legend of Zelda,  Megaman X, Super Metroid and Dark Souls, Manahan set about brainstorming mechanics, researching design and earning his first lesson in Game Design from an episode of YouTuber Egoraptor’s Sequelitis series, that discussed with humour the intricacies of Mega Man Classic and its sequel Mega Man X.

By 2013, while Manahan was still learning to put Game Design and Game Maker theory to use, OENN was being born in an erratic character sketch by the student of Architecture. Therefrom began LUCID’s true journey, which would face up to three iterations in the year between 2014 and 2015;

Comp 2_00330The first iteration in 2013 being entirely too ambitious,‘ Manahan recalls. ‘Sprites were at 256×256, HD graphics, the works —  So I scaled it down to 128×128.  At this point I was still a novice so I stuck with this sprite size and continued developing LUCID — I even managed to get several of LUCID’s mechanics working, not efficiently, but working. About a year into it though life happened — I finished school, I moved into the city, I got a job.  LUCID unfortunately was put on hold.’

The obsession he portrayed during the game’s initial iteration however remained imbibed in his girlfriend’s memory, who consequently proceeded to usher him towards picking up the project and continuing on the track he’d set out on in 2014. ‘So I started again — from scratch,’ he continues. ‘I scaled the sprites down to about 16×16, I had already done many of the mechanics so I knew what problems I would face and how to fix them. I changed the architecture of the game engine; It was cleaner and more efficient.  I was astounded that within 4 weeks I had surpassed what had taken me a year the last time around.’ 

This continued all the way through the summer of 2015, around about which Manahan finally decided to feature more frames, animations and 32×32 sprite sizes in what is set to be the final build of LUCID. ‘From there I’ve just kept pushing, learning and working hard.  I am now more conscious of not diving into a hole of obsession and regulate my time a bit more — It is a much healthier development cycle.’

Comp 1_00041Now, amid the full-time job of its creator, LUCID continues to work its way towards the light. ‘Progress is good. Core mechanics are done and so are basic movements, upgrades, skills, progress saving, dialogue systems, cut scene systems, and menu systems,’ evaluates Manahan who since last month, operates under the alias of Matte Black Studio.

Besides progressively building on animations, aesthetics and variables to improve overall game play, the Architect mentions that the game’s Prologue Level which in many ways functions as a Tutorial, is now nearing completion. Following this, he hopes to dive into a full-fledged crusade to flesh out the rest of PHERA’s world, levels, narrative display and populace.

‘All while I continue to build my internet presence by going to gaming conventions and the like over the ensuing year’, he reveals. ‘Once I have enough varied enemies and environments I hope to develop a more elaborate trailer, create official promo art and start to look into crowd-funding the game’s finishing and Steam Greenlight debut. Members and followers of Higher Eclectic Ground meanwhile, can expect to witness all of it come to life via conceptual artwork, animations, gameplay footage and more.’

Note that while Manahan finds himself confident in furnishing LUCID’s journey by himself, he stands open to collaboration requests from other artists in the development of promotional artwork down the game’s life-cycle. Till then, while we brace for our first look at the game’s prologue that is soon to come, be sure you visit the Higher Eclectic Space wherein LUCID’s forthcoming journey can now be monitored.