Take a quick peek at ATONE’s internet history, and you’ll find that the comparisons to Hyper Light Drifter have abounded. Pester Wildboy Studios about it now and it insists that after a hands-on, you’d find ATONE to be much more than a vivid color scheme.
Or a scene with a lake. In fact you’d find influences big and small ranging anywhere from Samurai Jack to the minimalism of Dave Chenell and regardless of your opinion, the game now sits with a successful trailer debut, a progress bar that reads 40% complete and an estimated release of 2019.
ATONE’s is a Rebecca Haigh co-penned, four-chaptered narrative nestled in Norse at the crux of which stands The Elder Tree; a once mystically sacred yet now horribly perverse object, many years after the fall of its protecting race.
Normally this would have been the status quo were it not for its Chieftain who decided to leave for his daughter a glowing gemstone in parting. A childhood marred by nightmares and many strange visions later, Estra pushes for the center of the forests of Isa, Midgard in search of answers.
In a nutshell Wildboy would characterize the ensuing 2D puzzle/story adventure as one of wit, words and weaponry. Wit of course to solve its network of riddles that are stated to incrementally grow in challenge, reveal many secrets and offer failure as a viable option.
These riddles might fall anywhere between being story or character based, the former of which would likely provide you with clues to not impede progress. The latter kind, meanwhile, relating itself to various NPCs needing assistance through Estra’s run.
Judging by glimpses of the trailer and proffered media alone the puzzles largely appear to be logical in nature, making use of runic alphabets and iconography characteristic of Germanic history.
Wildboy adds that these will primarily involve the trial/error manipulation of shapes and contraptions in favor of unlocking say, hidden abilities or obscure passageways, while going so far as to cause you to lose out on key ‘answers’ should you fail to do so smartly.
If that sounds like a daunting proposition, ATONE also cites conversations with the inhabitants of Midgard as another of Estra’s dominant obstacles. Never mind the fact that the game’s heavily stylized cast of characters comes with varying motives, but with twists to be had, personalities to be discerned and choices to be made, cutscenes and cross-character talk will be aplenty.
‘Not only will choices affect the fate of ATONE’s various NPC’s, but several of the important decisions will come right before combat,’ explains the team. These will be provided for by something called Zialogues, zoomed-in conversations that are meant to provide emotional insight into the discoursing parties.
Guiding Estra in her wanderings through the expanse of Midgard will be her father’s journal, serving both as a log of activities and a trigger of flashback-like hallucinations, the latter of which will progressively lend context to the unfurling plot. Elements like map totems will be of further guidance in directing her steps.
It’s only natural then for one to resume mulling over ATONE’s form of art that despite being its most divisive aspect, seems vital to holding the above concoction together. It’s not hard to appreciate the mysterious neon trickling across the faces of its tombs, statues and characters, while every sharp angle attempts to sidestep the traditional pixel-structure as Wildboy puts it.
‘Nothing is reused or repeated for the sake of convenience,’ it adds, ‘with artist Ben Costeloe ensuring that every hand-drawn nook and cranny possesses details that are distinct both from a distance as well as up close.’
If you were to assume that such a setting makes for an appropriate hack n’ slash, you wouldn’t be too far from the original idea. Yet how the New Zealand based ensemble decided upon rhythm-based combat being the better complement to ATONE’s layered nature, remains an enigma.
‘Music is a key aspect of the combat as it provides a more immersive experience,’ they explain. ‘Like hitting keys on Guitar Hero makes you feel like you’re really playing a guitar? That is the atmosphere we wanted to create with our battles.’
Dueling characters are demonstrated as charging-up in dramatic fashion before players are forced to quickly mash the right button ordering as they appear on screen. The sequences are touted to escalate in difficulty, compensated by checkpoints, attainable power-ups, apples that extend life points and other assorted battle items.
Sure, Luminist’s score will come with its expected array of tunes and instruments reminiscent of the Viking-era but synthesizers from the 1980s? Those too.
It all sounds great on paper then and looks the part too, but really was ancient Nordic culture mandatory to a retelling of this classic tale of self-discovery? Wildboy tends to argue in the affirmative, defending the mythology’s vast pool of stories that dabble in the human disposition towards love and loss as an effective tool in creating something entirely original.
Suffice it to say that ATONE was at this year’s Media Indie Exchange, E3, where the puzzles were criticized as overly difficult, the prompts insufficient and the battle system not very comprehensive, all of which is currently being worked into an updated build of the game.
This will most likely be playable alongside a planned early-2019 Kickstarter campaign for its Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release, after remarkably starting life out as an art project in the dorms of New Zealand’s Massey University that is.
On one hand there’s Black Forge, a communal celebration of all things artsy, baked and roasted nestled somewhere about the heart of Allentown.
Sure, in seeking to breathe new life into old game consoles via its varied roster of indie game titles, the latter seems to embody the very entrepreneurial spirit Black Forge has been intent on fostering through the years.
Yet letting a mutual respect for copious amounts of caffeine and decrepit consoles drive the two businesses towards a collaboration – a collaboration over a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive video game even – is a story they’re itching to tell.
Coffee Crisis is a successfully crowdfunded affair, an arcade-style beat ‘em up, and Mega Cat Studio’s first major release all bundled in a cartridge reminiscent of the 16-bit gaming era of old. With close to a decade of contract work shared between its members, the team however recounts its Kickstarter venture as everything but idealistic.
‘It never seemed like it’d be our debut project,’ recalls resident Cat James Deighan. ‘We had a few marketing partners drop out mid-way, before our lead developer came down with personal issues of his own that forced him to break for a few months.’
‘More than once we had to decide between being a Kickstarter campaign that’s forever delayed, or, double down on our commitment to make a game people will enjoy’. Despite the post-Kickstarter rush that had most of Coffee Crisis’ art/team undergo an overhaul, the Studio drew comfort in the fact that at least its script was settled.
This at the unlikely hands of Black Forge baristas/founders Nick Miller and Ashley Corts too, not something an indie game studio is wont to do for its flagship title. It was with 2015’s iteration of Pittsburgh’s Retro Gaming Convention, that the two businesses discovered in their gaming discourses a collaborative tool for coffee, heavy metal and aliens.
Before long Miller found himself trading notes with local comic writer Jeff Williams in a desperate frenzy to put forth a compelling narrative for the game. Admittedly while the challenge lay in meeting a deadline, Miller and Corts had the experience of previous podcast-type scripts and a degree in film to fall back on.
And then of course there was Black Forge’s own Indiegogo campaign. Make no mistake the plot is far from sophisticated; on the contrary, it’s every bit outrageous to the point that no explanation is given as to why players are called to take down a rogue alien race that wants to steal earth’s java and wi-fi.
This they must do in very hyperactive button-mashing side-scrolling fashion, chaining attack-combos, stacking up level scores and partaking in coffee-themed minigames in either single-player or local co-operative multiplayer modes.
‘In all honesty, space aliens are easy targets for potential bad guys!’, state Miller/Corts, both of whom feature as playable protagonists after the alien invasion quite literally lands at Black Forge’s doorstep.
‘Add in the ability to take over the minds of innocent humans to carry out their bidding and now we can justify hitting little old ladies with walkers in the head with bags of coffee. It’s them or us!’
In its absurd twisting and numerous innuendoes the plot even visits the real-world likes of Warrington Ave, Grandview Boulevard, PNC Park and Duquesne Incline, before ascending to Mars against an unruly shrieking of guitar-riffs. It’s the eighties after all where questions apparently don’t exist.
Growing up playing everything between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the original PlayStation, both coffeeholics allude to seeing in Coffee Crisis the perfect extension of the Black Forge brand. ‘The metal and coffee themes were already in the mix; yet we never thought we would ever see the day that we would be playing ourselves as video game characters!’
‘Now it’s a reality and we have access to a whole new demographic of potential fans and customers.’ It’s true that in calling the entire experience enlightening, the pair goes on to attribute its newfound confidence in breaking molds, diversifying streams of revenue and overall brand awareness to Coffee Crisis.
Moreover with the game gearing up for a release across the more modern PC and Xbox One console this year, expectations of renewed interest in the coffee shop and its merchandise are at an all-time high.
Shortly after sending out its Sega Genesis/Mega Drive copies to backers through 2016, Mega Cat claims to have gone back to the drawing board with its backers. Appearances at some 20-odd gaming convention has not only yielded improved visual effects, animations, controls and a reinvigorated soundtrack, but a cranked up difficulty setting.
Death Metal Difficulty, as Mega Cat calls it, features an interplay of variables known as random modifiers that not only keeps each play-through of its brawler system uniquely challenging, but further enables enthusiasts to actively partake in their favorite Twitch/YouTube gaming content creator’s streams.
‘With support for Twitch & Mixer integration alone, we’ve not only seen average play times double but streamers circling back to play the Coffee Crisis again over subsequent days,’ attests James Deighan. ‘That said, we’re yet to find someone capable of beating Death Metal difficulty’.
Fans of the retrospective absurdity of a gaming experience Coffee Crisis hopes to offer will be able to pick up a Windows/Mac/Linux-compatible copy from either of the Steam or GOG stores this month, while the Xbox One release has been slated for late July.
The original Sega Genesis/Mega Drive edition however is available on the Mega Cat online shop, with a special discount on the same promised to those who successfully score past a particular threshold on either of the PC or Xbox versions.
‘No matter how cool us elderly folk think retro games are, bridging the generational gap of new school gamers to old school platforms is truly very important,’ Black Forge exhorts when asked if a Coffee Crisis port is a necessity it believes in.
‘The video game industry is fascinating after all and very much its own monster.’
This article was commissioned by Mega Cat Studios on account of Coffee Crisis’ PC/Xbox One release, to which Sean Braganza has been contributing as an independent contractor in a PR/content writing capacity. More information on its portfolio listing here.
Native to the Italian town of Aversa and based within England’s Reading, Antonio d’Amore infuses Higher Eclectic Ground’s roster of professional, freelance art talent with more than a decade’s worth of multimedia and graphic design experience this month; as a digital artist affiliated to the Network, he’ll now be seen offering a plethora of services in the realms of 2D and 3D design towards the development of independent video games via the same.
Building upon a childhood anchored in the fascination for comic-book, cartoon-fuelled storytelling, the now 37-year old has rendered for himself a career that stands immersed in the creation of illustrations, character designs, assets/props, environments, storyboards as well as animations on a regular, if not daily, basis.
Fluent in the 2D and 3D aspects of both, although admittedly less experienced in the latter, much of this skill-set has been provided towards the production of eLearning applications, serious games, animations, music videos and numerous other small-jobs for various Italian companies on a freelance and full-time basis.
Deciding to fully employ his expertise in the field of video game entertainment in the year of 2016 however, the Italian moved to Reading, United Kingdom where he continues to further a career in game design. Operating as a remote freelancer therein, d’Amore prides himself in being able to carry out tasks in both digital and traditional pen/pencil based media as need be.
Much of his digital workflow is based in the use of Adobe’s Creative Suite; ‘A confident user of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate CC/Flash, After Effects and Premiere, I can start tasks in Photoshop, finish them off on Animate CC, or just the opposite — it depends of the kind of job.’ he states in the case of 2D media.
‘I mostly use Photoshop for drafts, digital illustrations and for retouching/compositing. Animate CC on the other hand plays various roles — from character designs, environments, props and sprite sheets, (both cutout and frame by frame), to multimedia designs, user interface designs and animations.‘
With Illustrator used for vector art forms, d’Amore is further working on integrating Spine 2D into his pipeline for sprite animations. 3D Modelling meanwhile bases itself in his use of Autodesk Maya or Cinema 4D, the latter of which is also employed in motion design.
Furthermore while associated textures have involved the use of Adobe CS, he’s gradually begun transitioning towards the use of Substance Painter/Designer for the same. And as if that simply wasn’t enough, he continues to work on building a familiarity with the Unity and Unreal Engines while being an enthusiastic ZBrush user.
‘All my rates are flexible, negotiable and subject to project size; revenue share agreements are also considered depending on a project’s goals and likelihood of being finished in the near future.’ declares d’Amore. A team-player by nature, he naturally seeks to incorporate periodic checks, discussions and exchanges of feedback with his clients during the tenure of an assigned job.
Post attaining a degree in Multimedia and Graphic Design at the Consorzio Editoriale Fridericiana in 2000, followed by a study in Illustration & Animation at the Scuola Italiana di Comix in Naples thereafter, d’Amore moved to the city of Rome to employ his newfound qualifications up until 2016 — following a brief period of employment at Aversa based communication agency, Mau.
‘I was so lucky to work at Mau; the owners are some of the most creative people I’ve ever met and I learned a lot from them.’ he recalls.
While in Rome, d’Amore would go on to work at establishments such as that of Pragma (Multimedia Designer & Flash Animator, 2006), XCorsi, StaffMedia, Pubbliedi (Illustrator & Flash Animator, 2007-2008), Biogroup (Illustrator, Character Designer, 2D Animator, 3D modeller and Animator, 2008-2009) and Media Engineering (Senior Designer & Art Director, 2009-2016), even nurturing a freelance career in the years between 2002 and 2005.
‘I’ve truly dedicated myself to my passion for everything related to visual communication; I love to tell stories, aiming to immerse people in them by making them interactive and emotionally-driven through my designs.’ he writes.
While his year in Reading has already involved a brief stint at Nomad Games as a beta-tester and a quick yet intense period at UrbanVoyage as a 2D artist, d’Amore is also currently involved in the re-styling of Android poker game JokerManiac, and the development Italian upcoming casual/puzzle/platformer Tiro al Rosone.
As the artist now looks to documenting his progress with regards to both on his sub-forum on Higher Eclectic Ground, clients, enthusiasts and independent developers of games wishing to reach out to d’Amore with their feedback, job/commission requests and other queries may do so by creating a thread within the same forum.
An in-depth look at his professional services, portfolio of work and relevant references meanwhile, will continue to remain documented on his Higher Eclectic Space.
Higher Eclectic Ground proudly welcomes Alfredo Sirica to its roster of professional, freelance video game music talent; based within the Italian town of Orvieto, Sirica will now be seen offering his now three-year expertise in the composition & orchestration of high-quality, classical soundtracks towards the development of independent games via the Network.
Having broken into the freelance scene circa 2013, his work record so far is one that constitutes the soundtracks of short-films Wither, Paint Your Life Away and The Bookkeeper, full-feature film Porches & Private Eyes, as well as the student game project of Project Hourglass and Cowcat Games’ point n’ click tale Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure.
This expertise comes rooted in the use of a blend of traditional instruments and high-end synthesizers, with the former often recorded live against a professional setting in the midst of hired talent.
Indeed, depending on a project’s scope and budget, Sirica goes so far as to include, hire and conduct an entire orchestra of professional performers for purposes of crafting an assigned soundtrack.
‘While my requested rates depend on the project, its genre, how much promotion a game is going to get, its potential and the available budget, I am very open to negotiation,’ he states.
‘The client is free to choose when to pay me for my services, as long as the agreement is set through a written contract. I am also open to sharing the final revenue, as long I see potential in the project.’
Naturally, his modus operandi thereafter provides ample room for creative discussion and period of brainstorming; once the base flavour of his client’s required musical style is established and agreed upon after an extended study of their game’s various media, work on the rest of the assigned roster of music continues on a per-track basis with the musician developing relevant handwritten/printed notations, recording them live or via high-end synthesizers, before shipping them to his employers in an orderly fashion.
This work ethic of Sirica’s stands influenced by a childhood immersed in music; having begun taking piano lessons at the tender age of nine, the Italian was quick to recognise his thirst for expanded creativity.
‘I felt restricted by having to play tracks that weren’t mine at the time, which I considered a process that was slowly destroying my creativity’, he recalls. ‘I felt the urge to play something new, something that sounded fresh and that would make my performances sound unique.’
Nevertheless a large part of this yearning would express itself in his stint as an actor — studying theatre for seven years, performing in plays with several diverse companies and even appearing on local television during the time — while subsequently functioning as an Italian/English translator on numerous online comics and Hammerfall Publishing’s strategy game, Warhammer 40K: Regicide.
Before long, his intense, two-year study of professional orchestration & composition under the wing of an experienced Russian professor had commenced in 2009, taking him all the way to Oberammergau, Germany.
‘The studies were always freelance,’ he adds. ‘I followed the same routine in Italy as well — I continued studying after returning and still am — caring more about preparation than certification. I believe there is always something new you can learn, so I constantly try and reach out to people who are more experienced than me.’
Thereafter Sirica would find himself competing with various other freelancers over online job openings, leading several of the aforementioned film & game soundtracks to fruition. ‘Since then, I’ve been constantly contacted by artists who ask me to bring my music to their projects. I couldn’t be happier to have finally reached my dream job.’ This is of course besides performing at various concerts in Italy, introducing podcasts featuring popular Italian writers à la Corrado Augias and composing musical themes for the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano, usually referred to in English as the Italian National Trust, created to nurture and protect Italy’s cultural heritage.)
‘I’m currently intensely working on Cartoonable, which has now changed its name to “Lampadino e Caramella”.’ he announces.
‘It’s an Italian TV cartoon that is the first of its kind, directed at autistic, deaf and blind kids, and which has been made possible through crowdfunding. It’s hence supposed to be carefully crafted both in terms of audio and visuals, and will release by Q1 2017′
This is be followed by Running Wild Film’s Bride of Violence, a horror flick that begins production in January, 2017 with Sirica working on its soundtrack soon after, along with the demo release of upcoming point n’ click adventure Happiless that has him tied to the project as its official soundtrack composer.
As is the custom here at Higher Eclectic Ground, much of his forthcoming, current and prior professional work will now be documented on Alfredo Sirica’s newly created Higher Eclectic Space —
which besides serving as his online portfolio and the go-to resource for all professional information pertinent to his services henceforth — has already begun showcasing his work on what recently became his first feature film project, Porches & Private Eyes.
To collaborate with Alfredo Sirica on your own projects, simply leave him a comment here, at the aforementioned Space, or by leaving the team an e-mail using our contact form.
Thirty-one year old Will Phillips became an official part of the Higher Eclectic Network late last week.
Thirty-one year old Will Phillips became an official part of the Higher Eclectic Network late last week, bringing to the fray high quality, orchestral based original music compositions that predominantly aim to create immersive gaming environments.
Beginning with an affinity for the trumpet at the age of 11 that was quick to metamorphose into an ardour for music arrangements, local live performances and the thorough comprehension of musical notes, Phillips’ professional music career comes rooted in the study of Music Education & Music Performance at the University of Kentucky (’04 – ’08).
Of course it would first have to begin only semi-professionally in the year of 2010 before picking up speed, turning into a full-fledged career and immersing him headfirst in the realm of Film & Games.
Now OST’s of recent indie ventures such as that of Oointah Games’ Death By Game Show, Game Samba’s Star Trek: Alien Domain and Bake450’s mobile game trilogy of Bread Kittens, Bread Puppies & Normasaurus Rex populate his portfolio that otherwise remains ridden with compositional work on media such as Australian Zombie short The Cure, the fantasy web series of Dagger Kiss, followed by the arrangement and transcription of music for various live-performing, often theatrical ensembles.
All of this, along with smaller scale tasks such as that of creating logo stingers, short musical themes and jingle type audio work derives largely from the Jazz, Latin, Rock and Funk genres — infused majorly with orchestral melodies from traditional instruments and synthesizers if need be.
‘My main influences come from the great modern film composers, like John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino and of course the pioneers of game composers, such as Koji Kondo, Jesper Kyd, and Nobuo Uematsu’, Phillips adds.
As one would imagine then, his work process is heavily reliant on layered discussion and careful collaboration with game development clients over critique and constant feedback throughout an employment period.
‘Once a concept is formed over a negotiation of rates, deadlines and if necessary a written agreement, I begin writing,’ he reveals. ‘Once the first track is nearing completion, or there is enough to at least provide some insight into my perception of what the developer is seeking, then I will send out the track (or partial track) for them to make any comments and critiques of the music.’
‘This process may continue until both parties are on the same page. From then on, as each track is nearing completion, they will be sent to the employer to ensure everything is heading in the right direction; Then each track will be produced to full quality once everything is in full swing.’
This naturally ensues until the entirety of a given task reaches fruition — before finalised music pieces are ideally beamed out to clients at least a week prior to deadline in favour of room for revisions.
Flexibility is also prevalent — with the artist’s negotiable rates varying as per the task at hand, project budget and potential; revenue share agreements are considered accordingly, with the established price of his musical contributions often split between upfront payments and the post-release sales of a game.
‘Music is a huge part of my life,’ elaborates the musician who still continues to perform with numerous local groups despite preoccupations in digital media. ‘My main performing group as of right now is a 4-piece rock/funk band called Home Grown Head; We perform quite a bit locally and regionally, with hopes to continually expand our reach. I also perform with various other jazz, rock, jam, and even country bands, either playing an integral or background role in each ensemble.’
‘Outside of the musical realm, I enjoy playing games and watching films — which is largely what influenced my decision to pursue game and film music as a career.’ With the Network already having begun its active propulsion of Will Phillips’ music work within independent gaming circles, the musician’s subsequent compositions, an elaborate breakdown of his modus operandi, terms and references will now stay constantly available at his Higher Eclectic Space. Be sure to leave him a comment therein to get in touch.
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.
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.
A 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.
This 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.
In 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.
And 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.
For 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.
Yes, 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.
Speaking 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.
Additionally, 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.
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.
Currently 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.
As 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.
The 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.’
‘But 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;
‘The 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.’
Now, 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.