Features

Category Archives

Articles, interviews & other special features that focus on the community’s members and their projects.

Alfredo Sirica – Classical Video Game Orchestrations From Orvieto, Italy

Alfredo Sirica, Features, Press Releases

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.

Will Phillips’ Orchestral Mix Of Video Game Sounds

Features

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 Curethe 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.

The Mr. Reeves Project Is Infusing Metal With Retrowave

Features

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.

Getting Polandball To The Moon

Features

20160616173401_1It’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.

20160616173525_1It’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.

20160629151219_1In 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.

20160703184341_1It 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.

20160703184310_1This, 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.

20160629151349_1Repetition 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.

20160703100535_1While 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.

Breaking Down F-Squadron

Features

2016-05-28 (6)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.

2016-05-28 (1)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.

2016-05-28 (8)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.

2016-05-28 (11)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.

2016-05-28 (12)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.

2016-05-28 (9)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.

2016-05-28 (10)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.

2016-05-28 (4)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.’ 

2016-05-28 (5)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.

The (Strenuous) Unravelling of a Cube’s Story

Features

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

An Architecture of Love, Obsession & The Crystals of PHERA

Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind The Art Of Box Panda

Features

BC2Kevin, The Guardian and Scream; within merely a week from April the 10th, 20 year old South African Brandon Crampton piqued quite the interest in artistic circles both within and outside the Community by way of three, three dimensional extra-terrestrial character models that were put on display in commencement of his tenure as a multi-faceted, freelancing Video Game 2D and 3D artist herein.

These three models, each crafted as a means of practice and venting artistic angst, come supplemented with detailed overviews of their creative processes that serve to but touch upon the thought and work methods that outlines the majority of Crampton’s work.

A wide area of work that is, given six years of experience in 3D modelling, two years in Digital Art, a year of playing Junior Artist at Lighthouse Games and a proprietorship of an independent gaming studio to his name.

2D_1All of this of course, is put to use by him in offering services in Pixel Art, Vector Art, 3D Modelling & Animation, UI/HUD Design, Logo Art, Conceptual Art, Banner Art and a whole lot more to Game Developers and other Gaming creators on and via the Higher Eclectic Community.

He’s currently doing so by means of the service of Fiverr for rates as low as $5-$10, which then fluctuate depending on the complexity and demands of the task at hand, slowly working his way up the skill and experience ladder in the hope of eventually toiling for a AAA Video Game studio.

All the art I do now is for practising new techniques and portfolio pieces that I would like to one day use to apply for a job at one of the bigger gaming companies; I do after all, plan on doing digital art and 3D models for the rest of my life’, read one of his earlier correspondences with us.

I remember quite a few drawings being torn up in class when I should have been focusing on work!

2D_4

A dream not too far from his reach it might appear, given the vibrant assortment that is visible on his Instagram profile amid his sizeable following of independent game developers therein. As is with a lot of talent of his calibre, Crampton’s fondest childhood memories centre themselves around art.

‘I remember quite a few drawings being torn up in class when I should have been focusing on work! But nonetheless, most of the time I remember classmates asking me to draw things for them all the time during my junior years in school — I absolutely loved it’, he recalls, stating the reasons behind this fascination of his being a yearning for attention and a chance to prove himself to others.

With his transition to senior school came a more serious understanding and appreciation for the art he practised, realising that its magic lay in but leaving his created works to talk for themselves. ‘I remember stepping into Grade Nine, where I was doing a painting as part of a school project — my teacher loved it so much that he took it all around to show it off to the rest of the Seniors. It’s always good to have someone love your work as much as you do and till date, it remains ones of my proudest moments as an artist.’

Traditional painting and sketching aside, another one of Crampton’s laurels lay in being one of only three students in his division that practised 3D Art; a practice that stemmed out of hours spent in the school’s Computer Room. Besotted by his friend’s drawing and playing around with shapes on Blender 3D one day, Crampton began playing around with those of his own — putting into a motion an obsession that would have him learn all he could about the software, create his his own character models and eventually detail them with the intricacy visible today after his introduction to ZBrush.

For me it was an amazing experience; I got to learn some of the tools of the trade, the pipeline workflow and its just really awesome being able to work on something with talented people that  love the same things as you.

3D_1I think what really drew me into 3D Modelling was my love for games at that time — Ratchet and Clank was my favourite, by the way’, explains Crampton. ‘I absolutely loved the idea of bring able to sit down, create awesome characters that people could play as all over the world; It’s what draws me to game design — the variety scale in terms of how far one can push designs and concepts as opposed to movies.’

This innate appreciation for the artistic design of Games finally manifested itself into his tenure as Junior Artist at South Africa based, Lighthouse Games Studio in 2014 — where he spent a few months developing character, environmental and other game asset concepts for their 2015 release Shark Deathmatch 2. For me it was an amazing experience; I got to learn some of the tools of the trade, the pipeline workflow and its just really awesome being able to work on something with talented people that  love the same things as you.’

Interestingly, the shift of his two dimensional art to a digital platform came around about the same time — when the purchase of a Wacom tablet coaxed the artist to cast a more serious look towards digital painting –which he continued to build on using Feng Zhu School of Design’s YouTube tutorials. While naturally the style of a large amount of his digital artwork resonates with Zhu’s own, Crampton maintains that the biggest inspiration in both his 2D and 3D artistic career remains to be his grandfather.

I’m very thankful my grandfather was with me when I was growing up.

3D_2He helped me develop my painting skills and the ability to look at objects and interpret them properly in my paintings. I used to go down to his house and we’d spend the day painting and truly, it was then that my work started to improve and become a lot more professional looking. I’m very thankful he was with me when I was growing up.’

Capitalising on his experience with 3D modelling and a new found interest in the digital medium of 2D art then, Crampton finally went on to release up to four free-to-play Android games under the Box Panda Games banner in the same year.

While this was done as an attempt to personally contribute towards the near non-existent Gaming Industry in South Africa, the artist’s hopes of the brand growing into a larger company remain bleak. There just aren’t many interested in this sort of thing, as he admits.

Nevertheless, what keeps him path of artistic enlightenment is the continued interest in his services as a freelancing Video Games artist from the world over — services that were put forth only by last year when his work reached an acceptable level of personal satisfaction, and services that Higher Eclectic Ground is now making accessible to Game Developers, YouTubers and other gaming creators within its network.

Over the next few months you’ll probably see a wide variety of characters of mine

2D_2At the moment I’ve been focusing a lot on my 3D work really, trying to perfect that and improve as much as I can, building up a decent portfolio for hopefully Game studios to see,’ speaks Crampton of his immediate future on the Community.

‘But over the next few months you’ll probably see a wide variety of characters of mine, as I am trying different methods and styles, improving my texture work, character hair and the like — so ill probably be doing a lot of testing and messing around there. 

In terms of my 2D work, I’ll be looking to keep creating vast environments as I have been documenting on Instagram. I’d like to get better at that as well particularly because it makes for wonderful backgrounds for my 3D work. So really just lots of practising and working on areas of my work that I am not yet happy with.’

Whether you’ll be looking for a 2D/3D artist of substantial talent and reasonable fees, or are a fellow artist looking to trade notes and work together with one of Crampton’s calibre, the artist will now be reachable via his Higher Eclectic Space where all of his ongoing and forthcoming independent art work will continue to be documented.

 

Playing RAM BOE

Features

‘His soul broke free from the cage and wandered off in search of his former body. After a while, his search proved in vain and the only haven he found was a lost Ram grazing on a piece of grass under the melted snow. Taking refuge in the being, Boe quickly realised that he wasn’t the only one there. All around him were ice prisons; Adventurers, children, lost animals with souls weaker than his own that needed his help to be free once more — a task that soon became Boe’s duty. And so our adventure begins, Boe becoming Ram Boe in his quest to be the mountain hero.’

ss_12fe8055e7455051ed1903ddec6de0274033e4a5.1920x1080RAM BOE’s premise is one that has been articulated plenty of times in a multitude of wordplay variations amid the Community’s member base herein; advertised as an indie casual puzzle by developers PointFive Team and now available both on Steam & the Google Play Store, RAM BOE follows the tale of one adventurer Beauregard Pete deep within the fictitious mountains of Helvegen. In constant search of adrenaline, Pete’s rock climbing exploits lead him to ‘bigger game’ at the top of the mountains where as one would expect, things go horribly wrong.

Confronted and defeated by the Ice Jotun, a giant based in Norse mythology, called Thrym, Pete’s soul is condemned to eternal entrapment with the beast’s many ice prisons. Strong as his soul is regarded to be however, the adventurer soon manages to free his spirit which he then enforces upon a passing Ram — setting into motion a quest to free similar souls who have fallen victim to the monster over the years. Strangely though, the introductory cut-scene is only the second-to-last time one hears about the Jotun, Pete or the remainder of the plot.

The reason for this sadly being that there exists no plot or narrative whatsoever. Inspired in game play by the retro puzzle Sokoban, a basic yet challenging mind bender that tasked players with moving crates to predetermined spots within a warehouse back in the 1980’s, RAM BOE has players moving blocks/ice prisons on a platform floating high up in the Mountains into a singular spot known as the mystical ‘Well of Revival’. This not only serves to usher Beauregard to the next level of gameplay, but also leads players to believe that it helps release the souls confined to those blocks.

Through each of the 40 levels on offer, the layout of the iced platform cleverly changes along with the number, arrangement and positions of the blocks. Each block is identified by a minimally designed pattern of a specific color, with blocks of the same coloured patterns unitable into one.  Once only a single block exists for each pattern, these individual blocks need to be moved into the Well while navigating around missing tiles and edges of the platform — that cause the player to fail the level should Boe or a patterned cube fall into the abyss below — along with useless ‘Broken’ blocks that can be thrown over to clear the way.

Players do this against a myriad of clever block arrangements, a reasonable timer and the occasional randomizing bolt of lightning that drops random cubes on the platform as the timer runs — summoning players to work faster in the process. Make a move that could potentially be irreversible and the game warns you against it, providing even the option to undo a limited number of moves as one goes along.

It’s safe to say, that it is in its puzzles where the game eloquently shines. The lack of a definite difficulty graph allows for strings of difficult levels to be interspersed with easier ones and vice versa, which in turn makes for very entertaining-cum-challenging puzzle solving; the arduousness of puzzles of course, being subjective to a player’s proficiency with puzzles to begin with. The timer adjusts itself with regards to the complexity of the level and time allotted never feels too little or too much.

Screenshot_2016-04-02-19-21-01On the Android version of the game, Boe is navigated on the battlefield via on-screen buttons; A single tap on the directional arrows is meant to move the adventurer turned bighorn a single step in either direction. This rudimentary character navigation however did not sit well with me; each on-screen arrow on the mobile screen does’t exactly correspond to a direction relative to the Ram’s position, but rather to a direction relative to that of the camera.

For instance, tapping left doesn’t move Beauregard to his immediate left but to what is the camera’s left instead. As a result, the ability to move this camera around a full 360 degrees to attain a better view over level obstacles made for some rather annoying instances wherein I’d tap right expecting the Ram to turn to his right — only to have him turn in a completely different direction and fall from the platform altogether. Not exactly a welcome scenario at the final few of a mind-boggling 20 minute level.

Thankfully, the issue is less prominent in the PC version — which is  a lot more comfortable and lot less frustrating to play on — particularly because one doesn’t need to move the camera around all that much thanks to a wider field of view. On checking with the team if the issue had been brought up before, I was told that although majority of the beta-testers attested to having no issue, there were a minor few who did find the controls uncomfortable on mobile devices.

Either way, it was particularly joyous to witness the game cast the illusion of me winning over it when I seemed to breeze through 4-5 levels with relative ease, before it would hurl at me a stage so challenging that I’d spend nearly half an hour scratching my head amid the constantly ticking clock, an abnormal number of ‘Broken’ blocks that I had to first figure how to get rid of and my favourite bolt of lightning that constantly added to my plate as the timer ran. That being said, the joy that I drew from passing an enormously challenging level was celebrated only by myself. as the game provided no reward or indication of where I was truly headed by combating each puzzle.

This was of course, the absence of the RAM BOE’S promised narrative coming into play. While the introductory cut-scene might have one believe that their puzzle solving eventually builds up to a major plot point, transpiration of narrative events or the like — there happens to be no such thing. The only cut scene that does crop up after the introduction is after level 20, which merely serves to announce that levels 21-40 are to take place at Night in-game, and that the Spirits rescued by Boe are to light the way therefrom. Disappointingly there’s no return, conclusion or mention of the plot even after coursing through all of the game’s 40 levels.

As discussed with the team after my play-through of the game, RAM BOE unfortunately lacks any sense of player motivation or direction. Besides an urge to challenge one’s immediate mental capacity via a few smart puzzles, there seemed to be no apparent reason to return to the game or even see it through. I’d have liked for the plot to unravel itself or even progress in the most basic of fashions after each set of 10 levels via cutscenes, that would at least have lent purpose to my advancement through the game.

Screenshot_2016-03-21-11-11-44This absence of direction is further accentuated by RAM BOE not wanting to explain fundamental aspects of its game play, causing me to doubt their significance; Points are accumulated for each block pushed into the Well and deducted at the end of a round for any retries, while beating a level by a certain margin on the timer grants one a bonus or so it is assumed.

However, how large this margin must be to attain a bonus, where this bonus is added or whether it even is a bonus are questions left unanswered even by the game’s first few stages, that educate new users on RAM BOE’s basic puzzle solving concept alone. Thankfully there exists leader boards and achievements for both the Steam and Android version of the game, providing perspective on player progress and laurels so far.

Artistically though, RAM BOE does a lot more right; smooth gameplay, sunlight, snowfall, the vivid use of colors and casually designed foliage are but some of its visuals that draw players in right from its Main Menu that features clouds retreating to make way for the sun, to stages of night game play. Each icy blue platformed level stands populated with tiny mushrooms, half-cut tree stumps, snow boulders and pillars of fire for the night stages, that remain consistently sharp and attractive even while pinch-zooming in on a mobile device.

Also noteworthy is the symbolic blooming of lush foliage every time a block is successfully dropped within a well, as if poetically symbolising a spirit’s newfound freedom, and the minimal artwork used in the two cut-scenes as well; all of which undoubtedly make for a very pretty experience throughout.

Which alone is a testimony of why it would have been worthwhile to have the Art team employ greater effort in showing off more of their artistic prowess than what was on display. While all of the above visual elements held their appeal, the game’s scenery and landscape of plastic mountains, the lake that fills their centre and wooden houses along its banks stays constant through all of its 40 levels. This hence, contributes to an absolute lack of visual variety which is further accentuated by RAM BOE’s OST of only a small handful of Kevin MacLeod composed tracks.

As a casual, pick-up-and-play puzzle game that one would like to have focus on the puzzles on offer and puzzles alone then, RAM BOE performs fairly well. Its soothing use of icy colors, an overall feeling of repose, fantastic assortment of challenges that stem from its unpatterned placement of puzzles and the inherent pride that comes from overcoming them, all arrive together to conjure a rather enjoyable casual conundrum.

However at the same time, its often overwhelming sense of repetition and monotony, useless plot, inconsistency in controls and a lack of player motivation leaves it lacking in terms of a complete gaming experience while also undermining the team’s apparent potential. Much of this arises from the fact that the only major additions made to the original game’s 2015 Indie Game Making Contest Build of 20 levels — for which it was originally conceived — was its stagnant scenery and 20 additional levels, which leads one to ponder upon RAM BOE’s potential had more time, energy and creativity been dedicated to its final build.

Screenshot_2016-03-21-13-49-32Ponderings which haven’t fallen on deaf ears, for with an iOS release still on the agenda, PointFive has indeed taken a large portion of the afore stated flaws into consideration alluding that several, if not all of its lacking aspects will be amended over time via progressive updates. ‘That’s a definite yes’, states PointFive’s storyteller and PR in-charge Jane Arvine. ‘We wouldn’t want RAM BOE to stay incomplete this way. Updates on at least some of the aspects will come i.e the plot and visual variety; it’s only a matter of time before it happens.’

 

The above article serves to provide Community members PointFive team with constructive feedback towards the overall improvement of RAM BOE, while also illustrating to other Community residents the game’s functioning and nuances. To follow up the game’s journey while also learning more of its inception and Steam release, visit its Higher Eclectic Space.

One Man, a Decade & Eighty Musical Instruments

Features

September 16, 2015. Ninth months post its release, ‘Around The World In 80 Instruments’ made its first appearance on the Community here. Released digitally on Bandcamp and Souncloud, the album brought along with itself a tremendous, episodic musical of its coming to fruition; created by Royalty free Video Game music composer Matteo Bosi and composed using each of the eighty instruments the Italian musician had collected over a decade. With each track holding within itself a segment of Matteo’s journey through those years, the musician had arrived with every desire of illustrating the album’s charm, hoping that the Community’s members would make use of it in their projects.

Debuting with the album’s first track, ‘Dawn of Mankind’, Matteo would go on to showcase each of the album’s 13 tracks — speaking not only of the instruments that brought them to life, but also the circumstances & events that inspired their sound. On the 10th of December, that show finally concluded with the album’s final listed track ‘Alchemy of the Worlds’; in the months that followed, knowing full well that Matteo’s history & the story of the album’s inception was one that deserved yet another recount, we set about delving deeper into the personality & inspirations that culminated in the decade that was the album’s creative process.

 

 

I was fascinated by India and its music, forcing me to buy my first Ethnic instrument, a Sitar when I was there.

Born within a humble Italian household in the year of 1976, despite not being of any significant musical background, Matteo’s tryst with self-composed music arrived at the tiny age of six. This in large part, was a result of the encouragement provided by Bosi’s Elementary school Music teacher, who taught him & the rest of his young peers to play both the Flute and the Melodica. Such was the joy the batch took in their new found craft, that its first Christmas together amounted to a mini-concert of Christmas carols amid astonished parents. Under the same teacher, Matteo would also go on to hone his transverse flute aptitude via dedicated lessons.

As he grew older, the acoustic Guitar and Italian Folk music added themselves to his growing list of musical capabilities although funnily enough, Matteo was yet to devote himself to thorough music composition and learning. That devotion finally came as he picked up on Heavy Metal and his first Electric Guitar, leading him to learn not only the art of recording, generating computerized music, mixing and more, but also causing him to form his own band called ‘No Direction’.

‘We started off in 1999 and disbanded in 2006; We played a sort of rock-punk-funk crossover — we had great time! We recorded two albums, and I took care of recording and producing the second one,’ Matteo recalls. Midway through the band’s early years, Matteo would earn himself a Degree in Physics in 2000 before commencing his PhD in the subject; ‘It was during the course of that PhD that I got the chance to attend a PhD school in Mysore, India with my tutor’, recounting how the PhD eventually resulted in him owning his first Ethnic instrument.

‘I was fascinated by the country and its music, forcing me to buy myself a Sitar when I was there. I asked the Indian students for help, who were kind enough to lead me to a Sitar-maker shop in the city. It was quite a pain to bring it back home, I’ll tell you, but I did manage to do so without breaking it!’ 

 

nodirection

A shot of No Direction; Matteo talks of his band in Italian on his Alchemy Studio page while also linking to their older music on MySpace.

I did it with no particular reason. If anything, maybe to challenge myself.

While Matteo’s PhD arrived in 2004, the Sitar would go on to inscribe in him a rather interesting hobby– that of picking up instruments from every country visited on a business or pleasure basis. Matteo admits that while the hobby emerged as but a means of remembering his place to visit, it soon turned into a mission; for every country that nurtured a strong tradition and culture of music, an instrument from its regions would be added to his library.

Ranging from those that were procured via interesting turn of events to those that were simply bought from second hand shops, Matteo’s library gradually began to grow to the awe inspiring 80 that it stands at now — leading to him constructing a dedicated page on his website to document each instrument’s sound and his relationship with them. By 2008, ideas to put those instruments to use began to emerge, with the Italian finally deciding to write, compose and record ‘Alchemy of the Worlds’ with the help of a friend. Encompassing moods & tunes ranging from the Far East to Europe, Matteo put to work his entire arsenal of instruments in an attempt to reconstruct nearly a decade of wandering in music.

‘I did it with no particular reason. If anything, maybe to challenge myself. Many years later as the collection grew, so did the inspiration to record more music with it. I lacked  a definite plan. though; I merely enjoyed learning to play each of the instruments and composing something unusual with them. The possibility of using my cell phone first, followed by my wife’s professional camera inspired me to make short videos of myself playing and recording.’

In 2013, the idea of ‘Around The World In 80 Instruments’ finally hit him — deriving its name from Jules Verne’s classic, ‘Around The World In 80 Days’. ‘It literally arrived out of nowhere, but when it suddenly appeared in my mind it was like an epiphany; I realized then how original the concept could be, without anyone having attempted something like this before.’  In the year between 2014-2015 then, Matteo would go on to write & compose the remaining 12 tracks of the album, before releasing the same on Bandcamp & Souncloud for a customer-stated price. High Quality videos for each were also recorded & uploaded to his YouTube channel, each with elaborate descriptions of the stories they attempted to recreate.

 

 

Contrary to what some might imagine though, Matteo’s grand attempt is yet to garner the massive audience it deserves. ‘I posted my work in several music-production forums, mainly computer-music related such as KVR. I got positive comments from musicians, impressed by the overall project and my ability to play so several instruments together. I also tried to send the album to magazines and music journals in Italy but got no response at all. The most awesome response was from Pond5 though; I’d put my work on their forum which led me to be contacted by their staff who wanted to conduct an interview and shoot a video on my work. A really talented individual from their Staff came all the way from New York to Parma, Italy; showing my studio, my instruments travels, and the royalty-free music I’d put up on their website.’

With his musical career’s largest and most ambitious project over and done with, Matteo now finds it hard to imagine himself surpassing the scale at which ‘Around The World In 80 Instruments’ was created. Nevertheless, his passion for music as a hobby continues to take up what remains of his spare time — as he composes for royalty free markets and Video Games using the Unreal and Unity engines before uploading them to their respective storres.. ‘I would like to improve my piano/keyboard skills although I find myself making more and more ‘trailer-like’ epic and bombastic music — particularly because I have stumbled upon a few new sound libraries suited for this task!’

I also tried to send the album to magazines and music journals in Italy, but got no response at all.

Naturally, discussions are underway to showcase all of his forthcoming and ongoing compositions on the Community, hoping to have his musical talent assist the independent game developers and talent housed here. It’s worth noting that although ‘Around The World In 80 Instruments’ arrives with a Creative Commons license, those intending to make use of the album’s music in their Video Games are requested to get in touch with Matteo first.

He does also accept commissions; those interested in reaching out to Matteo or simply taking a closer look at ‘Around The World In 80 Instruments’ then, can do so by visiting his existing Higher Eclectic Space.