With an unscheduled 2017 PC and Xbox One release on its agenda, Tenebrae: Twilight of the Gods is currently en route to its first playable demo release in the month of July, 2016. Troglobytes Games’ upcoming Metroidvania epic, Twilight of the Gods aims to establish a narrative of two warriors forced into battling the dark, malevolent underworld of Tenebrae while making use of its own unique twists to non-linearity, procedural generation and the like.
In preparation for said demo release however, the developers are now keen on opening up but a small slice of the game to members of the Higher Eclectic Network irrespective of their backgrounds, fields of work or choice of console — hoping to gather feedback on various control-based aspects of its current build’s playability.
Starting today, interested participants are being invited to test an early build of Tenebrae: Twilight of the Gods from the comforts of their home. Devoid of any of the full game’s characteristic game-play elements such as combat and role-playing, the build will comprise of only a simplistic test scene with interactive objects.
In their playing of this demo, users are required to test all potential movements of the character inclusive of –
- Jumping from heights,
- Jumping from the ground,
- The character’s idle stance,
- Moving up and down ladders,
- Stepping onto ledges from the left and the right,
- Grabbing onto ledges from above and below them,
- Grabbing onto ladders from above and below them.
Platform of Testing
Participants in the test are required to play the build on either of Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10. Secondly, all participants must own a gaming controller (Dualshock3, Dualshock4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Controller or any other equivalent) compatible with their choice of Windows OS.
Requirements For Testers
- Besides the Controls Test’s being open to members of the Network exclusively, developers Troglobytes lay no specific criteria as to the skills or experience of the tester. Everyone with an interest in general gaming is encouraged to participate.
- Given the test’s emphasis on controller based feedback, the testing must be conducted on the aforementioned Windows based platforms in the presence of a controller only.
- All testers must maintain a documentation of their experiences with the game, which must then be conveyed to the developers appropriately. This must include —
- Comparisons with other games/gaming experiences,
- Bugs, glitches and other annoyances. All technical errors are best accompanied with a screenshot/video of the same to help the developers understand them better.
- Testers must respect that their experiences on the build are not meant for complete public disclosure. While sharing of screenshots from the build is allowed, the sharing of the demo’s files, videos, personal reports and such is strictly prohibited.
The testing process’ best contributors will be granted a larger involvement in Tenebrae’s development henceforth. This includes constant, exclusive updates and even access to future builds as and when they become available.
While there are no rigid deadlines, participants are encouraged to send in their feedback as early as possible before the final week of July, 2016. This more than anything helps the developers incorporate their feedback into the upcoming demo in a timely fashion.
How To Apply
Those members (i.e. those with projects or services that are actively supported by Higher Eclectic Ground) interested in participating in the closed testing of Tenebrae’s Controls build may send us a message expressing their agreement of the aforementioned terms via the Contact Form below. Verified participants will then be redirected to the developers to commence testing.
All the writing here on Higher Eclectic Ground — from the regular stream of member related updates to the grander news piece or game analysis — and I still can’t figure out how this one needs to be prefaced. Nor how it should be titled, but I’d say we’re doing fine so far.
While also contemplating how this first, major round-up of the vast multitude of changes and transitions that have transpired across Higher Eclectic Ground since the rising of Spring this year should be laid out in the most interesting of manners, it occurred to me that we are a little over a month away from our first anniversary. This article would then be clichéd eternally were I to state that I haven’t really noticed that time go by, but so be it. Where does time go?
Where the energy did, here. Ever since I set out with the intention of building a hazy Gaming Community in the month of August last year, my days have been fully enveloped by Higher Eclectic Ground; it’s no exaggeration when I say that there’s barely been anything else in between. In retrospect, it’s been a year of learning more than anything — Learning how a vision isn’t always perfect, learning that it’s meant to be moulded and built upon every day, and learning that the necessary knowledge for this purpose is best gained from those participating in the same vision.
As all of you, Higher Eclectic’s existing base of affiliated gaming creators have already been informally briefed both personally and by means of the Bulletin, the months since the propping up of our website in January have been ridden with numerous updates to what was the existing order of things. Several of these stemmed from a personal dissatisfaction with where the Community (at the time) was headed, setting into motion a period of cleansing that’s not too unlike The Great Flood.
It’s a big list, and one that I’m probably going to take more than a day to reiterate. But here follows an elaboration of every change that Higher Eclectic Ground has inscribed into itself, laid bare for your understanding and knowledge as to where we are truly headed. Note that I am also going to be populating this report with snippets from our members’ own creations, giving your eyes a bit of breathing space from time to time.
By the winter of 2015, with its base on Facebook more than anything, Higher Eclectic Ground was already being regarded as a social media based promotional service of sorts. And to be fair, there was reason behind this reasoning; I had set out to develop a free-for-all gaming Community wherein every independent creator affiliated with the Gaming Industry — be it a Game Developer, Writer, Musician, you name it — would make for themselves a place to showcase and promote their creations.
In doing so, they’d also grow in awareness of each other’s craft — leading to mutually beneficial collaborations that would facilitate the development of quality games. To first develop a sense for the lay of the land and build a brand however, a decision was made to keep this proposed Community running on social media until such time a web based Community was needed and called for by all parties involved.
It was simple; anyone with anything remotely gaming involved was brought on to this social media based movement, a few discussions were held and without much ado our staff — which at the time comprised of a few gaming enthusiastic interns, an old writing peer and myself — would spend our days representing them on Higher Eclectic Ground.
Based on constant interaction and without any financial solicitations, we’d proceed to document the development of each member’s creations and crafts on social media. Yes, the Community involved mediation by the staff in maintaining Facebook albums for each member project, entering updates into these albums, making sure their updates reached out on all our social media channels and that it differed from a simple social media group.
Game Developers would have us put out progress snippets, artists put out daily drawings, musicians put out regular compositions; it was more than interesting. We’d then proceed to show off these daily documentations within Facebook groups and other social media based gaming communities in the hope that these would bring about external attention towards our members from a base of gamers and gaming creators that weren’t necessarily following Higher Eclectic — and grow our own organic audience in the process.
But social media has turned into a noisy place; between getting members and social media users to take heed of our members’ creations up to a level that would be deemed constructive, what was supposed to be about fostering a community of independent talent and encouraging their collaboration had admittedly turned into a race to have member content reach out wider on social media.
Developers with finished games and pending Greenlight campaigns, YouTube gamers with inactive channels and the like, had begun writing in to promote their work for views and clicks — and yes, we not only took them in but even appealed to those who didn’t. We were building a community after all and it was meant to be open to everyone, weren’t we? And eventually, this member base would be shifted to a grand web-based Community haven where everyone would work to facilitate each other’s growth, wouldn’t it? A closer look at our own member base then began to reveal that besides occasionally having us put up an update on themselves, most would pay no concern to the other members or happenings of the Community whatsoever.
Several had even gone on to turn inactive; dulling not only the personal effort and energy we were putting in but also the schematics for the eventual Community-for-all on the highereg.com domain. What good would this envisioned Community be then besides serving as another portfolio based website, a noise-packed arena, a glorified Facebook group?
Admittedly, the whole concept of this Community was botched from the very start. In March, 2016 finally, this vision of developing a free-for-all gaming Community began to fade. When looking for one thing that kept active members benefiting from what we did while also appealing to new ones, it dawned on me that it was the level of personal representation on the web, attention, care and effort that was being offered to each existing gaming project.
Personally tending to each member on a daily basis, documenting their projects’ progress via personally written press-like briefs on social media and articles (that came with the setting up of this website in January this year) and ensuring that this data not only reached our own organic, gaming social media audience but target groups on social media in a manner that encouraged interaction — was what was truly helping those affiliated to Higher Eclectic Ground in the first place and not some twisted vision of a Community playground.
This was what set it apart from having a developer blandly go on to a forum and drop a link to their trailer for hits in the first place. Deciding to build upon this, the word ‘Community’ from all references and mentions of Higher Eclectic Ground was dropped — as we moved to transition it into being a purpose-built Network.
With respect to its affiliated members then, it was decided after much consideration that henceforth Higher Eclectic Ground as a Network for independent gaming talent would provide —
- It’s member Game Developers with progressive web & social media based press-like exposure, organic audience development, feedback & quality assurance through every stage of development, social media growth advice and networking opportunities crucial to their game’s release,
- It’s member Artists — inclusive of only those freelance musicians, voice artists, 2D/3D designers, writers, journalists, video creators and more who were interested in providing their services towards the development of games — with equally dedicated creative and constant exposure for their services that brought them opportunities within the industry.
Its primary purpose would always be that of furthering the development of innovative, quality games — with all other artists involved playing their own unique, fundamental roles towards the fulfilment of that purpose. It would function as a reservoir of professional gaming talent, that outsiders could collaborate with, follow, support and/or hire under its terms; Via a clear specification of each member’s roles, vision and requirements, gaming creators not affiliated to Higher Eclectic Ground would be encouraged more than ever to look to the Network’s select list of talent for their gaming and game development needs.
Looking for a musician to contribute to your next game — royalty based, free or paid? Take a stroll through Higher Eclectic. Need a YouTube creator/artist to review your game without bias? Higher Eclectic, why not. Then came the start of its implementation.
The month of April saw us commence a careful revaluation of our base of members that has lasted all the way till the month of June, 2016.
First, those not directly affiliated to a gaming related craft or keen on providing their services to the gaming industry per se were disassociated from Higher Eclectic Ground. All attempts to get in touch with the non-respondent, inactive members seized, followed by us parting ways with several existing artists, writers and video creators from the old Community after a clear statement of reason.
Following this, it was also decided to abandon the Cosplay and Technology project categories on account of their irrelevance to the Network’s purpose — leading to a cumulative of nearly 30 creators were disconnected from Higher Eclectic Ground at the end of the three month period.
Effectively, every project and individual that is now visible on the Member Catalogue has a purpose of which both parties are aware of and work together to support. Their presence on the Catalogue is neither whimsical nor one to be taken lightly, given how Higher Eclectic Ground allots all its available resources in providing them with progressive, personalised support throughout the lifetime of their projects and crafts.
Meanwhile, those members and projects that are no longer viewable on the Catalogue are not supported or endorsed by the Network anymore . Availing of their services henceforth would be on their own terms — and it is recommended that one check with the Catalogue or mail Higher Eclectic directly to confirm a member’s affiliation to its Network before doing business with them.
Rearranging Member Spaces
For us to effectively provide long-lasting press coverage for our members, their creations and services, it became mandatory to ensure that their work was being appropriately conveyed by us.
This began by a re-calibration of Spaces that were provided to each existing member. These Spaces were tweaked sufficiently to ensure that they served as coherent, in-depth documentations of Gaming Projects and as concise portfolios for other Artists. To this end, the list of changes that were introduced were –
- The inclusion of clear, conspicuous links to each member’s relevant social media and other web based profiles,
- An intuitive slider to document progress reports in the case of games and creations in the case of other artists. This is in contrast to the Spaces earlier importing data from their respective members’ Facebook albums, making for inconvenient tracking and reading of information. Moreover, while the design of these sliders are subject to change — one will find that each legibly allows one to backtrack to a member’s first content posting on Higher Eclectic Ground and follow their progress there from.
- A meaningful structure; Each Game’s Space now clearly specifies its proposed premise, game-play and status, allowing first time visitors to easily determine the same. Note that the content of these Spaces are dynamically modified by our staff as the game takes form, ensuring data is at all times up to date.
- The inclusion of a comments area for visitors to leave feedback and queries.
The Network’s About and FAQ pages were then amended to reflect the new order of things in May. While this change was conveyed to all existing members, I’d like to draw attention once more to our FAQ that can be navigated to via the bottom of the About page.
Besides for the first time, breaking down the vision, purpose and other trivia associated with Higher Eclectic Ground’s creation for public viewing much like the first quarter of this article, the FAQ also publicly laid out the terms of the Network.
The most glaring addition to these were the fact that YouTube/Twitch gamers and Journalistic Bloggers affiliated to Higher Eclectic Ground were to in no way request or accept financial payments from a developer in lieu for coverage of their games. The reasoning behind this term was two-fold;
- Any financially solicited coverage — be it a review, preview, interview — offered on a game is prone to be regarded as tainted, biased and unnatural. Higher Eclectic in no way aims to nurture such talent or method of journalism — encouraging at the same time that freelance journalists, be they based on YouTube, Twitch or their own independent gaming websites, develop a revenue stream that relies on crowdfunding by an organic audience via means such as Patreon, advertisements on their channels and so forth.
- It also reflects the Network’s shift in focus from providing YouTube/Twitch gamers and bloggers with ‘views/clicks’ on their written and video content, to fostering freelance journalism. While the older community may have appealed to writers/video creators from a promotional standpoint, the Network now aims to appeal only to those independent aspiring and existing journalists who relish providing constructive coverage across multiple genres.
The other additions to the Terms included requiring member artists to notify the Network of any commissions received via it, cementing inter-personal communication between both parties to ensure that Higher Eclectic Ground is playing a purpose in their respective fields. As time goes by, these terms will be seen taking a more legal sense — the implementation of which will be conveyed to every member ahead of time.
The revamped vision, clarity of the Member Catalogue and each member’s purpose therein now allowed us to work beyond simply dishing out social media posts for each member only for them to get lost in the crowd. Efforts have now moved towards implementing a more personal level of communication with each of our members’ target audiences, ensuring that the content shared by the Network is not overlooked.
These efforts include —
- Establishing a relationship with the creators and administrators of several social media based groups that comprise of the target audience of our member’s content. These administrators have now been briefed before hand on Higher Eclectic Ground’s purpose, the reason behind any posts shared, while their members have been introduced of the same.
- Those that engage with said content are interacted with at a higher level than before, with me personally clearing their queries, acknowledging their criticism and directing them to appropriate information in relation to a game/member.
- Every update made to a gaming project is now not only beamed out across social media, but finds itself onto relevant forums and communities on the internet, news portals such as N4G and the appropriate sub-reddits that see me interacting with their respective moderators to determine the best way content is received by their members. The earlier modus operandi saw us do this on a very sporadic basis.
- With respect to the other gaming artists, rather than simply rely on our channels to have our member’s services and skills reach potential employers, efforts are actively in progress to have their services reach out to those who need them first. This involves putting up ads for our member artists in classifieds and forums of their target customers, browsing through existing ads on a daily basis and directing advertisers to Higher Eclectic’s artists by sending them links to their Spaces along with personally communicated supported briefs for consideration. Once it is determined that their terms of employment match with the artists’ own, these potential employers are connected with our artists for further discussion.
- One of the biggest issues experienced with the old order of things, was that Higher Eclectic Ground came to be seen as a Community exclusive to ‘indie games’ or part of an ‘indie gaming’ cult; The Network attempts to steer clear of that distinction by now working to attract a more mainstream gaming audience as well, which in turn translates into a more varied audience base for our members than a collection of ‘indie developers’.#DailyTrivia sees us put out the most trending industry news from the day, our social media feeds are subject to more mainstream conversations with other users, periodic social media themes invite discussions on classic games and more.
- While previously rules were set to prevent self-promotion within the Bulletins and the like, our social media forums have now considerably opened up as it welcomes new talent to share their creations and progress provided they maintain an active presence. This coupled with daily moderation rules out the self-centred, while also letting creators not affiliated with the Network provide feedback, ask for help, gather opinions for their own selves — and keep everyone busy with new content/discussions on a regular basis in the process. Naturally, this also brings our members a more diverse audience they can poll, ask for opinion themselves and hold events with.
Accepting New Members
While the old order demanded that we simply look into a creator’s creation/services to determine if their work was gaming oriented before bringing them on to the Community, the Network now sees us adopt a more formal and probing stance wherein each Game Developer/Artist that is being considered as potential additions to Higher Eclectic Ground is studied over an extended period of time.
In relation to games, Higher Eclectic Ground’s emphasis now lies in establishing a long running relationship with Developers that will see the Network support it from the early stages of its development all the way till release. Developers looking for promotions/coverage of their Steam Greenlight/Kickstarter campaigns are no longer valid candidates for Network affiliation, and those that do reach out are aptly directed to our YouTube/Twitch/Blogging journalists for coverage.
While considering a potential affiliation, E-mail and Skype discussions are held to understand the developer’s vision, drive, quality of the project, progress and goals. If it is felt that therein lies an inconsistency — the developer is asked to make further progress with us keeping check on the same, before another round of discussions is held after a set period of time to determine if both parties’ working together would truly be beneficial. Studies of the team’s members and their past endeavours is also conducted.
With respect to other Artists, similar deliberations are held to determine their terms, potential audience, rates, skills and the true nature of services being offered. References are then contacted to evaluate their history, work record and customer satisfaction before both an agreement to the Network’s terms are determined.
Higher Eclectic veterans will recall a partnership formed with the Isle of Bass in November last year; an independent electronic music label, the Isle of bass and its founder (Craig Evans, also a member of the Network) would have us highlight one trending electronic artist from their label on a monthly basis.
Highlighting involved setting up a Space for these musicians and bringing to the forefront a popular music number of theirs every week to give the old Community’s gaming members a grasp of their talents. In doing so, we’d hoped that the Network’s existing developers, YouTube gamers and the like would be encouraged to make use of this electronic musical talent for their own needs.
This however failed to receive the response we’d hoped for, with only a couple of our prior members making use of Isle of Bass’ royalty free music instead. And so, the existing structure of the partnership was scrapped earlier this year for us to renegotiate its function.
The plan now involves bringing our members access to exclusive royalty free electronic music, that will primarily be geared towards artists — for use in their demo reels — and YouTube/Twitch gamers for use in their channels. However I still feel that this not only needs to be thought out in greater detail than before, but that it also requires a larger number of YouTube/Twitch journalists and artists to truly make use of the music. And so until both parties are satisfied, the Isle of Bass-Higher Eclectic Ground partnership will be at a status quo for a few weeks or months until further notice.
All of this has opened up a new dimension for Higher Eclectic Ground, I must boldly admit. While this is evidenced by a simple study of our statistics that indicate how the aforementioned assortment of simple tweaks continue to bring every member renewed attention that continues much after their last update, the question now arises as to how this renewed vigour will be kept relevant to all those involved.
Which cheekily brings me to the closure of this article with an iteration of what Higher Eclectic Ground’s plans are for the rest of this year;
- The Spaces of Higher Eclectic’s member Artists will be further broken down to clearly depict their skills, styles, preferences, availability, rates and more.
- While the Network will naturally continue to be receptive to all incoming membership requests and considerations, there’ll be added energy put into building its base of affiliated written and video journalists — an area that is most beneficial to developers with released games.
- With the foundations of a strong, experienced social media presence in place — a renewed press presence is called for. In the weeks post this, I will be getting in touch with everyone on a personal basis to discuss the implementation of a press release service; This will see us dole out their choice of project updates as press releases, helping them build a stronger presence for their own services and games in the process.
- With this in place, efforts will commence to establish a relationship with several popular news outlets to ensure these press releases are acted upon.
- Work is also being done on converting visitors to our members’ Spaces into returning followers — à la ‘Subscribe to a Member For Future Updates’.
- A personal messaging service will be included to enable visitors and potential clients to get in touch directly with Higher Eclectic’s project creators/artists.
- The addition of a forum will come down the line, allowing for interaction via a more consistent means.
- The year ahead will also see the Network actively work on branching out wider in terms of the services offered to its members — ensuring a more rounded package of support, from the early stages of development to eventual release is provided.
The purpose of this report has been to make transparent every decision made and the reasoning behind the same, allowing you to fathom their relevance to each member in the grand scheme of things; I hope that at least has been accomplished. Whether Community or Network, Higher Eclectic’s passions will always be driven by those of its members.
I do thank you for being the fuel and motivation behind the place’s daily existence; it is what keeps it breathing, evolving and grounded. With this also being a pre-anniversary declaration of sorts, it remains important for me to recall each of those who have been integral to the growth of Higher Eclectic from behind the scenes each at their respective points of time in the year that as been — Salman Iza, Siddhesh Karekar and Rohan Mahadev, each of whom have devoted their time and creative energy to sharing in what has been my passion for the entirety of twelve months.
And of course, the small group of tech-savvy ramblers and countless other prospects who this time last year — were hearing me talk on an overseas phone about how I needed to build the first free-for-all gaming community of its kind. Oh, Sean.
In The Biggest Starr Mazer Leak of 2016!, the June 16th, 2016 episode of Imagos Softworks’ weekly Twitch program taking followers behind the scenes of the upcoming retrowaved inter-galactic saga of Starr Mazer, fans were treated to the public unveiling of Japanese publisher Playism‘s newly established partnership with the Mazer universe.
Flanked by story-writer Vanessa Williams and developer Auston Montville, creator Don Thacker announced amid a hail of confetti that both the upcoming PixelJam games co-developed SHMUP of Starr Mazer: DSP along with its Kickstarter funded sequel of Starr Mazer would fly under the Playism banner henceforth. This immediately left certain followers perplexed, particularly given how it was announced back in August last year that Adult Swim Games had picked up the publishing reins.
Thacker was quick to dispel all potential speculation by affirming that it was mutually decided to have the assortment of Starr Mazer products — inclusive of content creation tool Mazer Maker, DSP and its successor Starr Mazer — supported by a single publisher. ‘Yes, we super were with Adult Swim and it was awesome! But we were architecting the future of Starr Mazer and it turns out, we had Starr Mazer: DSP, Mazer Maker — and all of us decided that the best course of action was to find a single publisher would take the entirety of the Starr Mazer universe and go crazy with it’, he stated.
Senior Content Manager at Playism Dan Stern has reportedly been a fan of the game’s concept ever since the dawn of its Kickstarter back in 2015 — a point emphasised by him in his meetings with the developers at this year’s Game Developers Conference and PAX East gaming conventions. This eventually translated into the Imagos team visiting Japan to assess their home market before a deal was finally laid on paper by both parties.
‘I think the coolest thing about Starr Mazer is its story — I’m a story nut. Starr Mazer merges art styles I love with a serious approach to storytelling that I think is going to be all fun’, Stern explained alongside Marketing Manager Meghan Bridges during the stream, both of whom had tuned in live from Osaka, Japan. Bridges further added to this by stressing that Playism’s focus would lie in bringing the saga amplified public interaction via giveaways, event appearances — beginning with the Tokyo Game Show in September — and loads of surprises.
The announcement also opened up a myriad of others from Thacker as a result of the partnership, the highlight of which was that Starr Mazer would be arriving on the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Mobile devices, Nintendo 3DS and the WiiU apart from its Steam releases for Windows, Mac and Linux — all of which bar the PC releases were up until now tentative given their dependence on unaccomplished Stretch Goals.
Said PC release is scheduled for somewhere in the early period of 2017 as per its creator with the subsequent console releases coming a while later — of course, Kickstarter Backers will be granted the opportunity to pick their choice of platform. Furthermore, while DSP on the other hand is slated to arrive on Windows, Mac, Linux and mobile devices in the month of October this year, it is to be preceded by an Early Access release come July.
Conceived as a passing feature for a scene in Don Thacker’s 2013 creative feature film, Motivational Growth, and successfully Kickstarted on 21st February, 2015, Starr Mazer is an upcoming retro-modern fusion of the Point N’ Click and Shoot ‘Em Up genres that was originally due for a summer release this year.
Featuring modern game-play brainwaves such as the unpredictability of narrative unfolding and sophisticated role playing elements, the tale of a DSP Mk. II pilot — that wakes up amid an intense bout of amnesia in the aftermath of the galactic GREAT WAR and sets out to unravel the mysteries of his universe — was postponed when the fleshing out of the team’s self-developed content creation tool Mazer Maker consumed more time than was originally estimated.
In order to fill the void while also preparing players for the lore and SHMUP barrage that was to eventually hit them with Starr Mazer’s release, Starr Mazer: DSP was announced last Winter as a collaborative PC/Mac/Linux/Mobile venture with indie game developers PixelJam games.
A prequel, DSP will have players control a squadron of DSP Mk. I pilots in the midst of the GREAT WAR, collecting SK: Ore that functions as in-game currency to equip themselves with better quality weapons & ships, fending off twisted beasts and letting loose a plethora of classic space-flick inspired attacks, all the while attempting to resist an invasion of extra-terrestrials known as the G’ell. A vertical slice of the same, Starr Mazer: DSP Forward Squadron, was recently bundled with the April edition of IndieBox.
Besides an open invitation to the The Biggest Starr Mazer Leak of 2016! — followers were privy to no prior knowledge of what said leak would entail. The team built upon this by playing an exclusive promo-spot for Imagos Films — Imagos Softworks’ motion picture centric counterpart — before streaming a two minute reel of gameplay from Playism’s games appended with the Starr: Mazer universe’s own.
Viewer gigaganon1988 was the first to predict the Playism partnership there from, earning for himself a collection of eight of the publisher’s games; this further commenced a barrage of opportunities for other viewers to win prizes themselves by similar interactive means during the course of the stream. The end of the it was finally marked by user Gillaxian — affiliated with the Canadian Gears of War 4 development team of The Coalition — who wasn’t one to leave out his appreciation for Thacker’s creative ensemble.
‘A few of us up here at The Coalition in Vancouver wanted to say that we’re really excited about the Starr Mazer news today and have taken the time to listen in on the broadcast,’ he wrote within the chat. ‘While we’re working on finishing off Gears of War, there are handful of us who had Kickstarted it. Congrats on Playism’s signing and we’re all rooting for you guys.’
Be sure to leave the team their much deserved cheers and as always, for more such surprises to come and a recap of all that has been — drop by the saga’s Higher Eclectic Space.
Bucharest, Romania based Alien Pixel’s Countryballs centric independent venture made its debut on Valve’s digital distribution platform earlier today, the 16th of June. Currently priced at a 15% discount from its original $2.99 tag for Windows computers, the single player adventure brings with it all the commotion associated with a crude Rocket ship and its 33 attributes plus 56 items that players must progressively unlock and utilise in an attempt to land on the moon as Poland’s country-ball. This is of course, while up to 25 countries assist or resist efforts in their visually representative, AI programmed spherical personas.
In the few hours since its release, reception towards Polandball: Can Into Space! within the Steam community continues to remain Positive. While it was Greenlit in January and release was officially slated for the month of February this year, full-time job preoccupations and commitments had forced Alien Pixel to push back release to over four months; a delay that doesn’t seem to trouble the team anymore in light of current user feedback. ‘For a small casual game? It’s really wonderful’, elaborates co-founder Sergiu Craitoiu on the game’s positive reception.
‘It’s been almost a year of work filled with its share of up’s and down’s. To be honest we hadn’t estimated that the game would take such a long time to complete; But here we are we extremely happy that we managed to finish the project. Reception has been awesome for the first day of release, with some even writing in personally to say they love the game — but let’s see how the rest of the week goes.’
Born out of the corners of the internet, Countryballs is a series of internet memes and online comics wherein countries — represented as spheres clad in their respective flags and associated attire — engage in the mockery of each other’s stereotypes. A recurring theme of the comics has been to project Polandball — a spherical persona deliberately painted with Poland’s flag upside down — as a technologically underprivileged country that despite its hardest attempts, can never make it to Space (Polandball Cannot Into Space).
Sparked by the idea of expanding on the gag in gaming fashion, the Andrei Jifcovici and Sergiu Craitoiu co-founded team of Alien Pixel commenced development on Polandball: Can Into Space in the summer of 2015. Its premise is simple — as Polandball, players are tasked with making it to the moon in a decrepit rocket amid depleting fuel and assorted obstacles, while a host of other countries either attempt to bring them down or help them on their quests.
Through the collection of money, parts and repeated failure during this course, players are provided with fancier, more efficient upgrades to their crafts that will eventually help them break past earth’s atmospheric confines. Months that ensued saw its art and game-play mechanics evolve under the spotlight of events such as Ubisoft’s Game Jam in the same year, where the game’s build at the time even won itself the laurel of being the Most Polished Game present therein.
Alongside its Steam Greenlight campaign also came an Android and Apple Store release earlier this year, both of which are older, less visually advanced versions of the current PC build; For in the months after being Greenlit, the team took upon community feedback to render Polandball: Can Into Space!‘s Windows counterpart with added features such as an improved user interface, randomised weather effects and numerous other fixes.
As for the future now, the team explain that the game will continue to receive full support and even potential updates as they move towards working on a new IP. ‘Polandball was our first serious game development experience and we do believe its helped put into perspective how we should approach our next project,’ reveals Craitoiu. The new IP in question is alluded to be a puzzle-platformer, the mechanics design of which is expected to begin soon.
Craitoiu also dispels all chances of the revamped UI and weather effects making their way to the game’s mobile versions, stating that they simply aren’t suited for mobile performance. Survival-horror Torch meanwhile, another Alien Pixel IP that was shown off in its alpha form at this year’s East European Comic Con in Romania alongside Polandball, has been put on hold until such time sufficient funds and resources are accumulated by the team.
Jack Davison and Mike Blundell of the Network affiliated Potshotpete and Mike’s Pad YouTube/Twitch channels respectively, took to the former’s Twitch abode in a live tête-à-tête with Broc Copeland yesterday, the 13th of June at 8 P.M. BST. Under the moniker of Pixel x Pixel Games, Copeland is at the helm of Guardians of the Rose; a retrospective, high fantasy themed arcade adventure that is currently at the final week of what has been a fairly well-performing Kickstarter campaign so far.
Set many years after a fictitious Great War — one against the clutches of Witchcraft upon an old Kingdom — Guardians of the Rose narrates a young adolescent’s quest to quell prevailing corruption of the Royal Guard by remnants of the Great Witches and their subsequent rise to power. To this end, players must make use of their power of choice, medieval gear, witchcraft, NPC interactions and recruitment itself to build themselves as the Guild Master of a Secret Society whose ultimate goal, regardless of alignment with good or evil, is world peace.
Yes, the game’s biggest emphasis lies in decision making and exploration — where the NPC’s they recruit to their side, the quests they complete and choices they make during that course, affect not only the Kingdom’s reaction and behaviour towards players but also influences the type of ending their journeys attain. Further featuring a fleshed out lore and equally creative quests in its Open-Ended design, customizable stats and a skills system, Guardians of the Rose promises to leave very little out of player control — as they choose to incite revolution from the shadows or wage all out war.
This is all of course set to be conveyed by Copeland’s affinity for pixel art, chip-tune and directorial sensibilities; a stay at home dad whose foray into game development began with Flash and eventually translated into his working on Guardians for over a year now, Copeland has been fostering a Kickstarter campaign for the sole purpose of sustaining his full-time toil since the 24th of May this year. His sights remain set on a PC, Mac, Linux and an eventual PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release for 2017, the foundations of which have already laid by the game’s Green-lighting on Steam earlier this month.
In conversation with the duo of Davison-Blundell, the once game designer and web developer explored the game’s inherent influences of RPG classics such as that of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and The Legend of Zelda, before going on to reflect upon the game’s current pre-alpha status.
‘I read a lot of High Fantasy books and have always liked Legend of Zelda — and I guess it was just random day in bed when I decided to put the together and said, “Let’s do it”‘, he states during the course of the podcast.‘The biggest RPG influence though would be — The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind — when I played that game, it changed my life really. It’s world was open unlike any other I’d played before.’
Speaking of the true role and function of decision-making and NPC interaction with respect to game-play, the developer also revealed that the game will run for a meaty tenure of 12-15 hours, will be sold at a price of $15 on Steam next May and will also descend into a Beta period in August, this year. ‘There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on in-game that those playing for the first time won’t even realise they’re making decisions — unless they begin to think early on if they do want go good or bad’, explained Copeland.
‘Most of the quests in the game won’t even have an obvious outcome — it sort of plays as if the choice that you made was the only choice offered by the game.’As for DLC and related future expansion of the game’s lore, he expressed that while he does have things in mind, their coming to fruition would solely be dependent on how the game does upon release.
The trio then dabbled in discussing each one’s gaming preferences, E3 reveals and perceptions towards Alpha/Beta releases — before letting viewers pitch their own array of questions. ‘It’s all skill-tree based; There’s NPC’s you can learn skills from, bosses you can pick skills from by killing them — you’ll then have a limited number of skill points to invest into the skill-tree’, divulged the developer in response to one such question that enquired about the roles players will be able to play in-game.
He then continued in context by stating that a Game Plus mode was something he hoped he could get in in due time — one where players’ skills carried over to a new play-through of the game that featured subsequently harder quests, enemies and more. A final question moved him to reveal that while 60% of the game’s plot was now fleshed out, he was still contemplating how to convey certain multiple endings.
‘There’s no voice acting, only cut-scenes. I’m animating all cut-scenes by hand so I’m hoping I’ll be able to do all of the ones I want to do,’ he went on. The reason all of this is based in pixel art of course, stems from both his love for the art form and the fact that it happens to be the the default style in which he draws.
Guardians of the Rose’s Kickstarter campaign ends on the 23rd of June — and is only $1,700 short of its $7,500 goal at the time of this article. Be sure to visit the same for a complete breakdown of Backer Achievements, Updates and Copeland’s overall goal.
Pixel x Pixel Games was automatically put in touch with one time Higher Eclectic Ground members Jack Davison and Mike Blundell under the Network’s terms on the developer’s reaching out at the time. As of 18th June, 2016, they are no longer affiliated to or endorsed by the Network.
By means of a humble Steam announcement on the 25th of May this year, RAM BOE‘s first major update was released to its casual puzzle-loving Windows, Mac OS and Linux audience; Titled The Awakening of Thrym, the update brings forth a number of much-needed additions and rectifications that were first teased by the development team at PointFive back in April.
These changes, as specified by marketing in-charge Jane Arvine at the time of the teaser, are in response to several inconsistencies and flaws that were brought up by our Editorial team — and subsequently by few of its users — in its analysis of the game during the earlier half of Spring.
The first of which was the puzzle adventure’s penchant for repetition in its visuals, music, level design and overall atmosphere; The Awakening of Thrym addresses the same by introducing up to 15 new levels, scenery and music to the overall adventure. Arvine quickly dismisses all fears of these 15 levels being but simple extensions of the game’s earlier build by justifying their presence: ‘The new levels have a higher difficulty, are bigger in size and require much more time to complete; We have even added in unique challenges that dynamically have say, the tiles of a level fall off as the player progresses and more’.
This is further supplemented by the addition of eight more tracks to the game’s soundtrack for a total of fourteen, courtesy of the archives of Kevin MacLeod, and new scenic additions that take players closer to antagonist Thrym The Mighty Jotun’s habitat — one cold and one dark. And yet thankfully, the update’s major perk lies in its lending of closure to RAM BOE’s tale.
An overshadowing flaw in the game’s earlier build was that apart from two cut-scenes that merely served to explain the premise behind its two types of scenery, RAM BOE’s narrative was effectively non-existent; The story was lost after the halfway point and never made a return even after the completion of all 40 levels.
Now though, an extension of the narrative brought about by added cut scenes is stated to finally bring purpose to players’ puzzle solving endeavours — ‘Thrym takes notice of Ram — and he’s angry. It’s not really something complex, but it all adds up to the story. And yes there is now a conclusion to the game which we’ll let the players find it out.’, explains Jane.
To top it all, The Awakening debuts an all new game mode called The Sandbox; an intuitive custom level creator synced in with Steam’s Workshop, that lets users play developer in constructing their own levels and sharing them with other RAM BOE owners from across the community.
Besides being able to populate a level with their choice of Rune stones, players are even given the opportunity to set traps, dynamically generate obstacles during play-throughs and even change the level’s environmental theme.
Among the graphical and technical fixes it makes is the elimination of Step Control that had begun to annoy several PC players; moving BOE across a level via the arrow keys was hardly a fluid process owing to his tendency of pausing at every tile, causing one to furiously spam an arrow key in their race against the timer.
‘Plus we’ve now replaced it with something more useful for the casual ones — An easy mode, where you can’t fall off the board nor accidentally push an important Rune off which as we know leads to level failure,’ elaborates Arvine. ‘The rest of it has been improved graphical aspects such as textures and shaders — along with fixed sound artefacts. There has also been a lot of code optimisation.’
‘Make no mistake though, in terms of gameplay it’s still as complex and as rewarding as before. Yet with the 15 new levels we’ve inserted a new mood and a continuation to the storyline. We’re seeing things from the villain’s perspective now and the gameplay is subsequently more immersive. Plus, bringing a conclusion to the story makes the game experience a complete one.’
Released on Google Play in early January this year and on Steam equipped PC, Mac and Linux Devices on the 5th of April, RAM BOE is the 3D puzzle tale of rock climbing adventurer Beauregard Pete — whose decision to take on the monster in Thrym leads Pete to be imprisoned in an ice prison for ever. That is until a Ram comes along, has itself possessed by the hero and commences 40 — now 55 — levels of puzzle solving in his quest to save other less fortunate souls.
Inspired by the likes of Sokoban, players must battle timers, untimely generation of obstacles and often convoluted level arrangement to push all present Rune stones within a level into the well of revival. As of June, 2016, reception towards the game on Steam remains Positive. Naturally The Awakening of Thrym is soon due for an appearance on the Android version of the game, following which all of Pointfive’s manpower is to shift towards publishing RAM BOE’s iOS version the team reports. In the meantime, follow-up on the game’s development history and even peruse through our analysis of its Android build at BOE’s Higher Eclectic Space.
There wasn’t much of an explanation given as I was straddled to the seat of a vividly pixelated sprite that, after a few random taps of the arrow keys, I deemed my initial aircraft. The character I was offered control of stated that the Alien Bastards who had the audacity to shoot up his planet would have to pay. And rightfully so; 6873 years into the future on the planet of Thearsa CP-IX where we were originally from as per the game’s manual, 30 years of abuse by the invading forces of the G’ell had finally resulted in us stumbling over a portion of their technology.
Paired together with one of Thearsa’s top scientists, this technology had amounted to the first fleet of DSP Mk. I ships that now I, as Commander, was to lead to victory. And yet I was doing miserable on my first few minutes at the job; As Pilot and I took down our first pointy edged alien against a backdrop of purple-blue tinged stars and darker space rock, the Synthesizer kicked in in welcome of giant, evocative lettering announcing the Act and stage from which the current level was derived.
Sadly time to admire the scenery was kept at a bare minimum, as more of the pointy edged foe arrived in threatening pattern. We flung out a pyramid of shots that seemed to have on them the impact of shotgun pellets, quickly taking down the first round of alien ships as even more emerged from the edge of the screen. We weren’t fast enough, a few of the smarter ones had already shaped themselves into a giant pink dart that was hurled our way in the blink of an eye — my leading pilot’s HUD at the bottom of the screen lit up into similarly coloured flames as he screamed for me to avenge him.
I managed to do just that with his successor who was apparently there to kill aliens, chew bubblegum and had run out of the latter in his slicker looking ship — spraying blade shaped projectiles in rapid automatic fire at the remaining G’ell; a larger group made their debut, only this time we were quicker than them. The bluish-grey arcs of extra-terrestrial patterns finally subsided under our barrage of fire to make way for three fan-like contraptions that opened from under the upper edge of my screen in spew of blob-shaped laser artillery — all we had to do was stay between them.
Easy. A larger, meaner looking contraption had now entered the fray — lifting its mouth to shoot out fiery geometry unlike anything we’d encountered so far. The lid closed in salutation of our bullets that, despite their intermittent accuracy, didn’t seem very effective in inflicting damage. But inflict it did — making way for yet more of the specimens that had greeted us at the start of the game, now arriving from all directions in formation of greater, foreboding dragon-like rippling waves.
This soon turned overwhelming as reflexes failed to keep up in dodging pink darts, causing pilot two to abandon the fray just as well. The HUD indicated I had another couple more by my side to rally before this turned into a lost cause — together we took down recurring yet strenuous patterns of enemies encountered thus far amid glorious flashes of neon and equally flashy weapons, before two new waves of obnoxiously shell-shaped elements came together to litter the screen with a multitude of fiery orbs that left little to no room for movement. Before we knew it, I was through my last pilot and on the menu screen — a certain Cat Admiral telling me I needed to crew up and get back Meowt there.
It is this minimal Menu screen, ushering one to Continue or Restart their shoot ’em up adventure lest they choose to Quit, that serves as the primary hub to Starr Mazer: DSP Forward Squadron — DSP’s first publicly playable demo that was bundled with the April edition of IndieBox. While Restarting naturally takes one back to the start of the demo in complete reset of their accumulated stats, Continuing leads one to the game’s Pilot Pack selection screen; titled the Free, Hyena and Wolf packs respectively, the latter two of the packs come at a price.
In fending off the swarms of enemies that chose to make an appearance during my play-through, defeating each had released an assortment of dark slate grey coloured elements; called Carbomite, these served to boost my reserves of SK:Ore — DSP’s crafty definition of currency. With each Pack containing up to 14 different pilots of varying stats and skills, the Hyena’s and Wolf’s cost of 20K+ and 30K+ SK:Ore credits respectively are justified by their stated comprising of much superior pilots as opposed to the Free pack.
Regardless of choice, each Pack opens up the Pilot purchase and selection screen — a trading card game derived, aptly stylized portal wherein each purchasable pilot is represented by Imperial Blue card-sized panels. Each panel unravels data pertaining to a pilot that ranges from battle-crucial information such as equipped Primary Weapons, Second Weapons and an evaluation of their Resolve (the ability to withstand an attack), Speed and Avarice (the degree to which a Carbomite crystal in one’s vicinity is likely to be attracted) — to light hearted bits of their dislikes and hobbies.
Once the player’s pick of the most skilled yet affordable pilots are selected under available SK:Ore, the game transports them back to the start of the level in an attempt to have them reach its end. With the fairly intuitive controls of moving a ship up, down, back and forth across the screen, players must then make use of their available Primary and Secondary Weapons that come rooted in reference to various Space themed adventures of popular culture, in avoidance of progressively difficult, other worldly weirdos as they push towards a singular level boss within the demo.
Collecting Carbomite through this course also helps replenish one’s Super Meter — that functions by increasing the capabilities and strength of each of the four offered Primary Weapons while acting as a power reserve for the five Secondary Weapons that depletes on their use. Death of a pilot signals for the next available character to take their place, until defeat forces players back to the Main Menu to purchase newer pilots and repeat the process till scripted demo victory.
‘Similar to Rogue Legacy, you’ll be able to keep retrying a level until you defeat the final boss even in the full game’, explains developers Imagos Softworks’ Community Manager Kazuo Mayeda. ‘Once you wipe out your squad you will be starting over from the beginning. We are considering letting players skip past major boss encounters they’ve already defeated, but nothing definitive yet.’
While this might seem to make for a strenuous and gruelling shoot ’em up grind given the lack of something similar to a checkpoint system, at least within the demo it does not. Rather, the constant retries provide one with foresight and a layer of strategy that is crucial to success within the seemingly linear setting; Sure, the various types of G’ell initially appear highly randomised in their spawning during the initial play-through’s making for a degree of unpredictability. Several go’s at it later however, one begins to detect a pattern to their generation, positions and behaviour within the stage.
Knowledge of these patterns assists one at the Pilot selection screen as arguably, certain Primary and Secondary weapons prove to be more effective — especially on a full Super Meter — than others within specific portions of the stage. Furthermore as one strives to ensure that the pilots with the right kinds of preferred weapons are equipped before heading out on a retry, they might also find that it makes more sense to organize the characters within their squad in a certain order.
For instance it’s far better to begin the level with a low Resolve graded pilot so that in the event of their demise, the best pilots are still on one’s deck towards the end of the level — whose difficulty they are likely to sustain. Or perhaps having a pilot with the rapid firing Mass Lattice Shotgun type weapon in line after the one with the much slower projected Gungir XSSR heavy missiles — so that the former dominates in the more mature, enemy dense regions of the level where the latter is bound to fail.
Strangely though, the demo offered no direct means to rearrange pilots within the squad — forcing me instead to purchase them in the order I needed them to appear in. Going back on a choice meant selling the pilot (without any loss in SK:Ore, that is) and purchasing him/her again in the preferred order.
Mayeda later divulged that while it wasn’t ready in time for the IndieBox deadline, the feature of custom pilot reordering is actively being considered and might even make it to an updated version of the demo in the near future. On the other hand though, the final build of DSP will feature procedural generation of enemies and waves — leaving one to wonder of the role pilot rearrangement will play in that scenario anyway.
Progression through the demo level then becomes a test of acuity — forcing players to tend to certain classes of the G’ell before others to avoid their merging and forming of bigger entities, dodging the vicious that might appear from any corner of the screen, ensuring the bigger particles of Carbomite are being used for replenishment and that even a hint of enemy fire is avoided — all at the same time. It’s wondrously intense and standing still within one section of the screen while mindlessly spamming the fire buttons will almost certainly result in defeat.
Although whether its a matter of personal preference or not remains to be evaluated, I noticed that keyboard controls seemed significantly disconnecting from the experience in their inability to have me exercise the reflexes and quick thinking the retro-fest demands. Switching to a DS4 delivered the optimal amount of fun however, causing me to conclude that perhaps the final game will best be enjoyed on a controller.
Accompanying one through the entire process, the HUD seems minimal enough with its statement of available pilots, pilot stats and Super Meter status throughout the course of the level. It for some reason however makes no mention of a pilot’s runtime health, making it hard to fathom how many hits a grade ‘A’ Resolve pilot can take in contrast with a grade ‘F’ one — especially when there seemed to be instances when the latter could withstand more enemy fire than the former.
‘Right now the system works by using your Resolve as a chance to survive being hit,’ explains Mayeda in response to this puzzle. ‘If you have an A rank the pilot has a higher chance (say, upwards of %50) to survive any given hit. We did this so sometimes you’ll die in one hit and sometimes you’ll die in 10 hits. You’re never sure and that adds to the action we feel.’ This unpredictability is further complicated by the fact that despite the Wolf and Hyena packs being devised to contain higher skilled pilots, I found no particular advantage to either of them.
The grades of pilots contained within each didn’t seem to vary much from those within the Free pack, allowing me to stick to the use of and finish the game with the same. To my advantage, the demo even made it a point to have rare yet powerful ‘Gold’ card pilots spawn within the Free group. On being questioned of the packs’ relevance then, Mayeda proceeded to describe how things will evolve to be much different in the final game.
‘The main perk of the higher end packs is that their stats on average are better — From common to silver to gold, the three battle-crucial pilot stats move from F-D ranks to A-B ranks. They also tend to start with fully powered up weapons. The Gold pilots are unique pilots that are not generated — In the future we might be adding additional things, stats or weapons to further differentiate the gold characters. Once you pay for these special characters fly them and damage their ship (they don’t die, just retreat) they will be added to a special pool where they might randomly take place of one of your cheaper pilots.’
Regardless, the core of this vertical slice of the DSP experience lies in its exorbitantly cool emphasis on a deeply satisfying, nostalgically stylized atmosphere — facilitated in large part by its standard of aesthetic sensibilities, voice acting and music; The assortment of creative, purple-blue ridden pixel art that dons the pilot selection interface, weapon effects, animations and explosions transpiring during live combat is immensely attractive even from a non retro-enthusiastic standpoint.
That said, in the midst of the demo not featuring a full-screen mode and only a single backdrop, I often found myself erring in combat due to Carbomite, certain projectiles and enemies themselves using the same shade of blue — making it hard for me to differ one from the other during busy sequences. Thankfully, a full-screen mode is planned for the updated demo while characteristic colours of the game’s universe continue to be revised in rectification of the same.
The Synthesizer driven handful of Alex Mauer composed background music that makes its appearance through the course of the demo meanwhile, performs a stellar job at keeping the intensity brimming throughout. I found myself performing considerably better to the cue of every 1980’s pop culture resonant beat that populated my favourite in-game tracks — coaxing me to prematurely, in the absence of too much thought, deem the Starr Mazer: DSP demo as one of, if not the most visceral musical experience I’d derived from a game in a very long time.
‘DSP has been about exploring possibilities in music’, elaborates Mauer. ‘It’s less an expression of emotions, and more about trying to achieve newness within a genre that has a lot of copying between artists. I’m being very considerate to do songs that have melodic progressions, but also a ton of variety within the style. It is a combination of Synthwave/Outruncore and the established melodic emotionally evocative style of Starr Mazer.’
Complementing this feet tapping frenzy is the plethora of light-hearted, deliberately clichéd quips by the DSP Mk. I squadron’s various playable pilots — each of which have been articulately voiced by the team’s own group of friends and associates in the Seattle, Washington area. From the typical cocky ushering during battle, enthusiastic exclamations on their purchase and smug mumblings on being sold — it’s this combination of banter and inspired Outruncore that tricks one into dropping count of the number of retries, forgetting their umpteenth failure and returning for one more go at the demo level even after success.
Now, while the updated full-screen build of DSP F-Squadron currently battles bugs ahead of an unscheduled E-mail delivery to owners of the demo, the full game continues to steam on in development for a planned Summer release. Comprised of nine levels divided into three distinct acts, DSP will follow the Mark I squadron from the ruins of Thearsa all the way into the heart of a G’ell Leviathan mother-ship — making use of more backgrounds, new ship parts, voice actors, characters tons of new weapons, big enemies, little enemies, multi stage bosses, mid bosses, super weapons, ultimate weapons, and lots more as articulated by Mayeda.
The events that transpire during its course will eventually set the precedent for the events of Starr Mazer, the Kickstarter funded PNC/SHMUP sequel due for a release next year. As always, be sure to stay tuned to the journey here from, progress thus far and every nuance associated with the Starr Mazer universe at its Higher Eclectic Space.