Every year the interactive accelerator program of Global Top Round selects up to ten independently developed games to provide funding, development, exposure and publisher networking support via its nexus of industry professionals in return for equity and revenue shares.
Devoted to nurturing sustainable game studios, the entirety of the program is a five stage process that begins with the invitation of applications from America, Europe and Asia based indie games that are 60% of the way to completion with a functional demo.
Among those that partook in this year’s GTR application process back in May was Higher Eclectic Ground member Troglobytes Games, whose upcoming PC/Xbox One tale of Tenebrae: Twilight of The Gods successfully passed the program’s screening process to join nineteen other selectees for its next round at Cologne, Germany.
Spanning the 15th and 16th of August at the city’s Radisson Blue Hotel this year, said round is the Global Top Round Conference responsible for picking out ten of the twenty finalists that are to be fully supported by the program’s six-month Acceleration period wherein game development and launch support is provided. The top five graduates of this tenure will further receive investment and marketing support through the months of March-June, 2017.
Cologne will see Troglobytes Games pitch Tenebrae to a diverse group of professional attendees and developers, before being subjected to a hands-on and voting session responsible for determining the top ten. ‘This year has been about working towards a vertical slice of the game’, explains Troglobytes’ Lead Programmer Luciano Iurino.
‘Post that the plan involves looking for some way to complete Tenebrae given how it has been totally self-funded at this stage. A program like GTR sounded like just the thing we needed — not only for the chance to receive a slight amount of funding, but for all the other perks it offers.’
The Conference’s 20 invitees will be granted $40,000 USD with one grand prize winner garnering an additional $10,000 USD.
The last we’d heard of Tenebrae: Twilight of The Gods served to demonstrate the game’s 3D mechanics and AI in action circa April, the completion of the female lead’s design in May, before finally inviting Higher Eclectic Ground’s own Network of developers and artists to a closed test of the vertical slice’s controls in June. This test however is yet to take place, delayed primarily by various business and development subjects.
‘We had to shift focus towards certain aspects of the game — particularly the loot system and the combat mechanics,’ continues Iurino while also stating that the Vertical Slice is not far from completion.
‘We also had to do an almost total rewrite of the movement and control mechanics since after a bit of play-testing, we realised we weren’t entirely pleased with what we had.’
While Tenebrae now possesses smoother dungeon exploration as a result, one of the biggest conundrums currently consuming the team’s time is if the game’s loot system must derive from Diablo’s style of scattering treasure chest items for players to pick up as soon as they’re opened —
or trigger a pop-up interface à la Skyrim that lets players organise the items they need in favour of greater detail. ‘That and the AI is what we’ll be working on over the next couple of weeks,’ Iurino confirms.
‘We hope to exhibit all of these features as part of an advanced demo at the GTR conference while the Vertical Slice will arrive in September.’ The Slice will also consist of a portion of the game’s introductory motion-comic that the team alludes will debut somewhere around this weekend; marking the first time a glimpse of Tenebrae’s narrative style is offered.
The Higher Eclectic Ground exclusive Controls Test meanwhile is now scheduled for mid-August post the conference at Cologne, and will let participants test a portion of the game that is closer to its final build. In the interim, which of Diablo and Skyrim’s style of user interfaces would you rather be associated with Tenebrae’s direction of gameplay? Troglobytes Games are listening; be sure to leave your feedback in the comments below.
Troglobytes Games’ PC/XBoxOne oriented Tenebrae: Twilight of The Gods is a 3D dungeon crawling, Metroidvania tale of two warriors forced to confront and unravel the mysteries of the underworld. Learn more at the game’s Higher Eclectic Space.
Hailing from the capital of Philippines, electronic underground artist Van Reeves is now an active independent Video Game musician affiliated with the Higher Eclectic Network for gaming talent.
With his specialities lying in the genres of digitally synthesised Outrun/Synthwave/Retrowave and Heavy-Metal driven soundtrack-styled music, sound design and Foley, Reeves’ modus operandi demands that he function on a donation basis only.
The reasoning behind this aspect of his Video Game themed music production is two fold; one, the musician yearns for creative room and hence prefers to develop concepts, compositions and whole songs under non-restrictive time conditions.
This coupled with the tentative nature of his routine as an ‘on-call’ musician employed by Clubs, Bars and other Productions at least thrice a week leads him to avoid setting fixed rates for collaborations with Game developers and the like altogether.
‘Being an amateur independent solo performer and producer, I have come to the conclusion that through the donations of patrons and fans, all without outside interference, will preserve the integrity of design and vision of my works and sustain my frugal lifestyle,’ he states. Also preferred by the Filipino is that all potential collaborators bring to him only underdeveloped concepts and themes, letting him conjure his own unique musical rendition of them that is satisfactory to both parties.
‘Give me the basic gist of a given composition, (e.g: Its a sad song for a sad scene) — Done,’ he adds in explanation of the same. ‘I would then go through the notions of building versions among versions of a sad song that I could come up with and then present and allow the client to choose from them.’
‘If a full concept was already presented to me — complete with specific time signatures, strict tempos changes and specified Instruments used — it would be of great difficulty to assert myself into it and create an interpretation I could call my own.’
Reeves works within the domain of Digital Audio Workstation Ableton Live, software such as Dune 2, Addictive Drums and Dark Zebra, along within that of hardware as standard as non-industry speakers and over-ear headphones.
Calculating that quality compositions take him anywhere between hours to days to conjure, he bears no hesitation in scrapping entire creations if they linger far from the degree of comfort and confidence he finds necessary to harbour before providing clients with a finished musical piece.
When not working on collaborations or at real-world gigs, Mr.Reeves is also a regular producer of music via his Soundcloud profile. All of his showcased tracks are also freely available for use — with the musician welcoming requests for their corresponding music files via E-mail while also demanding that their use be explicitly credited. Donations towards showcased tracks are also actively welcomed.
All of this then makes him the perfect musical collaborator to those yearning for original music to accompany their non-commercial and/or hobby work.
Reeves states that while those will certainly be his primary choice of clients, he also continues to stay open to opportunities from those looking to earn a profit from their creations. This however is not without a caveat.
‘Having a form of synergy between partners is essential — I prefer quality over quantity to put it simply. I would like to get to know the client first, if ever,’ he explores. ‘Communicate, build a familiarity before talking business because if we get lost in translation or any sort of miscommunication happens, it breeds difficulty.’
‘I could work genres outside of Synthwave — sound design and Foley, short clips, long droning sounds. button press on main menus, alert tones — you name it, I can do it. The ‘No time limit’ condition is my only constant; if they are comfortable with that, then yes, we can talk business.’
Mr. Reeves’ contributions towards your gaming projects can now be availed of by getting in touch with the musician via his Higher Eclectic Space. Also functioning as a portfolio of his work here on the Network, said Space will showcase a plethora of his Soundcloud creations — all of which can be made use of by leaving the artist a comment therein.
It’s hard to pinpoint where and how the Countryballs culture emerged but ever since it did circa 2009, the act of hand-drawing comics with country representative spherical personas belittling each other’s stereotypes in their own sense of hilarious fashion has bred a sizeable following. A quick search will reveal that this following permeates nearly every kind of social media platform today; groups filled to the brim with user rendered comics and an established set of rules to draw the same lest one be torn down for violating them, are commonplace.
Amid countless others, one of the Countryballs meme culture’s most successful running gags has been the mockery of Poland’s Countryball — called Polandball — and the futility of its attempts to break into space; There lies no particular reasoning or logic behind this considering Polish national Mirosław Hermaszewski spent nearly eight days in space back in 1978, except of course that it makes for plenty of laughs.
Regardless, Alien Pixel picks up this running Polandball theme and conjures a pocket-size game around it; with less sophisticated versions of its build available on iTunes and the Play Store, Polandball: Can Into Space! made its Steam debut with an all new user-interface and improved visuals on the 17th of June. Its offered premise is simple even if explicitly unstated in-game; as Polandball, players must build and run a makeshift rocket ship — with a piece of torn cloth for wings, a simple gasoline can for fuel reserves and so forth — for an entirety of 384,400 Km to break past earth’s atmospheric confines and land on the moon.
It’s by no means a cakewalk, for along the way come into play up to 25 other Countryballs — the majority of which are more than keen on foiling Polandball’s attempts in favour of another comic panel; these come at players from all directions, bouncing off their ships to cause damage while hurling dialogues typical of the meme’s broken English culture. Aiding players in their quest are the WASD keys which control the ship’s thrust, directional and braking systems respectively, a compact radar that indicates threats and/or friendly Countryballs willing to boost one in the right direction, fuel plus ship-health meters and a distance indicator.
Said distance indicator divides all of the upward 384,400 Km into nine checkpoints which are only indicative of player progress; running out of fuel or health, which as one can imagine happens much too often, sets players back to the launch pad to upgrade their ships using collected currency and start all over. To this end, the game offers two categories of tweaks namely Upgrades and Attributes that influence the ship’s parameters of Fuel Capacity, Armor Tolerance, Weight, Drag, Thrust Power and Handling.
While Upgrades naturally offer improved, more efficient versions of the ship’s Engine, Fuselage and other parts, the Attributes serve to further enhance the ship’s existing parameters regardless of parts equipped. As parameter related numbers eventually improve over the course of gameplay, so does the ship’s actual performance to help it handle better, garner improved fuel efficiency and damage tolerance.
In essence then, Polandball: Can Into Space! is merely a case of getting from point A to point B with barely any deviation; in it’s own quirky way though, it manages to engage the casual gamer sufficiently for them to return for multiple attempts at beating their own best distance en route to the moon. However it is when one looks beyond this layer of casual frolicking, as repeated failure and subsequent frustrations will cause one to do, does the game truly unveil a host of inconsistencies and flaws in its gameplay.
Starting with the its primary Menu that also serves as the Attributes-Upgrades tinkering screen; For one, the game finds its unnecessary to articulate what the attributes do or why they’re even needed in the face of existing upgradable parts. Why must there exist both higher quality wings within the Upgrades and four levels of an improvable Handling Attribute when both are effectively doing the same thing? On which must I spend my hard-earned currency first and which will serve me better?
This is further confounded by the fact that despite the game indicating that a particular part provides one’s ship with a x% decrease in weight, this percentage change is occasionally not effected in the parameter values during the early stages of the game. Furthermore, while subsequently purchased Upgrades and Attributes positively influence handling, fuel capacity and damage tolerance, changing parameters such as drag, thrust and weight seem to have no noticeable impact on the game per se given how the ship rises at the rate of 1,000-2000 Km/s in the absence of thrusters and a definite 2000 Km/s upon using them.
‘It all boils down to strategy’, states Lead Programmer Sergiu Crăiţoiu when asked why one must be forced to sit through all of 384,4000 Km. ‘Players are meant to study the ship’s weaknesses and think how more money can be collected; For sure upgrading thrust boosters and lowering the ship’s weight in the beginning is useless — they are used for the final push for the moon. As a result, there are people who finished the game in 4 hours and those in 10; it all depends on how you upgrade.’
The Upgrades/Attributes business is a complicated one. That said, the design and imagination that accompanies each of the ship’s available makeshift parts is both amusing and commendable; watching it evolve from the concoction of crap that it begins as to a sleeker piece of machinery over time plays a crucial role in stoking players towards their next retry. This clean yet interesting visual design carries over to actual gameplay as well — each of the 25 Countryballs come with their own stereotypical personas and behaviours that the team have developed to be both original yet faithful to their typical comic designs.
This, it reveals, is so as to make each country’s designed stereotype easy to grasp by those unfamiliar with the Countryballs universe; Jamaicaball, a friendly Countryball, sits around smoking a certain herb, contact with Greeceball leads to money theft, Romaniaball hurls itself around like a Vampire and Germanyball floats around with a big glass of lager. Herein however lies further inconsistency; only Greeceball seems to have any real interaction with the player while others simply throw themselves onto their ships to cause damage or occupy space.
Why not have Jamaicaball send the player into a haze, USAball shoot at the ship in Wild-West fashion and more, rather than have them bounce around like a grouping of Angry Birds? And why, despite inducing a few chuckles during initial play-through’s, must dialogue, enemy appearances and behaviour stay relatively the same over the 4-10 hours it takes to beat Polandball: Can Into Space!?
To further muddle the status quo, the boost in speed that the friendly Countryballs are meant to offer failed to work 9 out 10 times in my play-through owing to a bug. While fuel, health and coins were meant to randomly generate with no definite pattern — very often I would find the game refusing to spawn fuel containers on low fuel and health supplies on low health during the latter portion of the journey, sometimes even completely ceasing to generate any collectable whatsoever when the boosters were used for an extended period of time.
Repetition further creeps into the game’s audio and visual design as well; while the UI and dynamic weather effects are not just a big plus but a noteworthy step up from the game’s mobile counterpart, this transitioning rain-snow-thunderstorm cycle eventually turns incredibly stale.
Sound effects also stay the same regardless of rocket upgrades and the game plays only a single looping track throughout; this was mildly addressed in a recent update that diversified the solo track by adding a few deviations to its tune, yes, but this casual adventure ultimately forces one to play with the volume off.
Despite all of this and its painfully abrupt ending, the fact remains that Polandball: Can Into Space! does indeed hold its own quirky lure that comes solely from the degree of challenge offered. Gunning those thrusters from the get gets one nowhere as has been addressed thus far and even on normal speed, gameplay involves constant focus, prudence and skilled reflexes in establishing a path through the Countryball generated chaos.
Alien Pixel has been made well aware of the inconsistencies plaguing their pocket-sized adventure — along with the reality that the adventure itself is a bit too pocket-sized for a PC release. In the time it’s taken for me to play and Steam community has already been requested to send in their own favourite Countryballs comic-themed dialogues for a chance to have them embedded in-game.
While these added quips will come within a future patch, the team reveals that the Upgrades/Attributes section has already undergone amendments in favour of having them function more intuitively; Not only have the Upgrades and Attributes been renamed to Rocket Parts and Perks respectively, but in-game prompts have now been added to make more apparent each’s function.
Alongside this, an in-game tips/dialog system serves to add further interaction within player journeys, the friendly Countryballs bug has been fixed and the inconsistency in randomly generating collectables has also been addressed. All of these are due for what is to be the game’s largest patch in the hours after the publishing of this article.
Meanwhile, the strong case of repetition with regards to enemy behaviour and the game’s lacklustre linearity is also being actively looked into, with plans of further proliferating Polandball: Can Into Space!’s PC game-play alone now being strongly hinted at. ‘It also depends on player interest,’ quotes Crăiţoiu.
Have your own feedback for Polandball: Can Into Space!? Let it be known in the comments below.
Note that the following report was whipped up to provide Alien Pixel, members of the Higher Eclectic Network with constructive feedback pertaining to their first commercial venture, Polandball: Can Into Space! The game’s journey thus far and all future updates will continue to be recorded at its Higher Eclectic Space.
From the 6th till the 20th of May ran this year’s Adventure Jam, a Cassie Benter & Stacy Davidson co-organized GameJam that invited avid game developers to create and showcase their best adventure themed creations on popular game sharing platform, GameJolt.
Its extended voting period, one that lasted between the 20th of May and the 1st of July, brought news earlier today that Luminy Studios’ submission of The Mystic Journey of Atriom secured an overall ranking of 36 amid 163 other adventure game entries. Contributing to this grade is its ranking of 14 within the Best Visuals category and that of 15 within the Best Music Category.
The game’s Best Music ranking bears special relevance to Higher Eclectic Ground by means of Network member Sam Oz; a France based musician proficient in a multitude of classical and modern genres, who had helmed the original soundtrack for the game under the request of its developer and friend Juanjo Barcelo Molina. Oz had first introduced the Network to The Mystic Journey on the 1st of June, wherein he described how the onus of developing up to three tracks, each of three variations, within a span of but a single week was picked up by him.
In doing so he debuted the game’s Main Menu theme on his Network Space — followed by variations of its gameplay and ending music on the 19th and 28th of June respectively — also describing their significance and his frustrations with them in the process. ‘As I was leaving on vacation at the time, I had to compose The Mystic Journey’s music without knowing anything about the game; I just knew it had to be Fantasy themed — I think it turned out satisfactory’, he had mentioned in conversation with Higher Eclectic Ground during the same time.
The Mystic Journey of Atriom fosters exploration and spirituality as its primary themes, narrating the tale of a young boy whose tribe demands that maturity be achieved only by making a Sacred journey to reconcile one’s soul with that of the Great Spirit. To this end, players are tasked with exploring the Sacred Forest in search of 10 Sacred Stones as the young boy — Atriom — amid inherent features such as hand-painted environments and day/night cycles.
‘I’m very happy with the result because is my first game with this aesthetics (handpainted textures), for me this JAM has been an experiment with a happy end!’, stated developer Molina who operates under the Luminy Studios moniker, when reached out to earlier today. ‘Working with Sam Oz has been a real pleasure, in one week he was able to create several themes perfectly synchronized with the history and atmosphere of the game; Sam is a great professional and a person with a lot of talent!’
In announcement of the rankings on The Mystic Journey’s GameJolt page however, Molina revealed that the game would unfortunately never be built upon due to him losing the game’s Unity files to hardware issues. ‘The only thing I can do is start over, but now I’m too immersed in important projects and do not have enough time to start from scratch’, he wrote. The game’s soundtrack meanwhile survives on both Oz’s YouTube channel and his Bandcamp, where from the entire album can be bought for a customer stated fee.
A member since February this year, musician Sam Oz has had the trailers of popular titles such as Valiant Hearts, Child of Light and The Division listed on his portfolio as an original music composer for Ubisoft. The years after his parting from the game development/publishing giant circa 2013 have seen him devote his energy towards conjuring the soundtracks of several independent game projects (Gadan Games’ My Last Friday, Simon Mesnard’s The Black Cube), when not devoting time to his ongoing musical tribute to Studio Ghibli and other personal ventures that is.
Adept at both traditional and computer based instruments, he continues to promote his independent services as a musician of extremely flexible rates via the Higher Eclectic Network, while also being open to revenue share agreements provided a game piques his interest. One can freely observe a brief portfolio of his work thus far, his contributions to Atriom’s OST and even get in touch with him at any instance of time with their own commissions via his Higher Eclectic Space.
Don’t forget to download and play The Mystic Journey of Atriom only via GameJolt.