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.
With an unscheduled 2017 PC and Xbox One release on its agenda, Tenebrae: Twilight of the Gods is currently en route to its first playable demo release in the month of July, 2016. Troglobytes Games’ upcoming Metroidvania epic, Twilight of the Gods aims to establish a narrative of two warriors forced into battling the dark, malevolent underworld of Tenebrae while making use of its own unique twists to non-linearity, procedural generation and the like.
In preparation for said demo release however, the developers are now keen on opening up but a small slice of the game to members of the Higher Eclectic Network irrespective of their backgrounds, fields of work or choice of console — hoping to gather feedback on various control-based aspects of its current build’s playability.
Starting today, interested participants are being invited to test an early build of Tenebrae: Twilight of the Gods from the comforts of their home. Devoid of any of the full game’s characteristic game-play elements such as combat and role-playing, the build will comprise of only a simplistic test scene with interactive objects.
In their playing of this demo, users are required to test all potential movements of the character inclusive of –
- Jumping from heights,
- Jumping from the ground,
- The character’s idle stance,
- Moving up and down ladders,
- Stepping onto ledges from the left and the right,
- Grabbing onto ledges from above and below them,
- Grabbing onto ladders from above and below them.
Platform of Testing
Participants in the test are required to play the build on either of Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10. Secondly, all participants must own a gaming controller (Dualshock3, Dualshock4, Xbox 360, Xbox One Controller or any other equivalent) compatible with their choice of Windows OS.
Requirements For Testers
- Besides the Controls Test’s being open to members of the Network exclusively, developers Troglobytes lay no specific criteria as to the skills or experience of the tester. Everyone with an interest in general gaming is encouraged to participate.
- Given the test’s emphasis on controller based feedback, the testing must be conducted on the aforementioned Windows based platforms in the presence of a controller only.
- All testers must maintain a documentation of their experiences with the game, which must then be conveyed to the developers appropriately. This must include —
- Comparisons with other games/gaming experiences,
- Bugs, glitches and other annoyances. All technical errors are best accompanied with a screenshot/video of the same to help the developers understand them better.
- Testers must respect that their experiences on the build are not meant for complete public disclosure. While sharing of screenshots from the build is allowed, the sharing of the demo’s files, videos, personal reports and such is strictly prohibited.
The testing process’ best contributors will be granted a larger involvement in Tenebrae’s development henceforth. This includes constant, exclusive updates and even access to future builds as and when they become available.
While there are no rigid deadlines, participants are encouraged to send in their feedback as early as possible before the final week of July, 2016. This more than anything helps the developers incorporate their feedback into the upcoming demo in a timely fashion.
How To Apply
Those members (i.e. those with projects or services that are actively supported by Higher Eclectic Ground) interested in participating in the closed testing of Tenebrae’s Controls build may send us a message expressing their agreement of the aforementioned terms via the Contact Form below. Verified participants will then be redirected to the developers to commence testing.
It’s awesome — knowing that all our effort has finally been recognized by the gaming community
Less than a year after first being added to the 2015 Indie Game Maker Contest’s website as a submission, Community members & developers PointFive Team’s Sokoban inspired puzzle RAM BOE, was finally Greenlit by Steam on the 14th of March, earlier this week. Having first debuted the game on Valve’s digital distribution platform back in November last year, the team is now working on integrating standard Steam gameplay features such as scoreboards, achievements and more ahead of an earliest possible PC, Mac & Linux release.
‘It’s awesome — knowing that all our effort has finally been recognized by the gaming community’, stated storyteller and social media representative Jane Arvine, in response to what clearly had arrived as a surprise to the team of four. Although RAM BOE failed to make the cut as a winner at 2015’s IGMC, the team had gone on to flesh out their entry into a full blown, 40 leveled casual puzzle that made its release on Android devices in January earlier this year.
While users of the Android version and followers on Steam were all praise for the its simplicity, cuteness and sufficient difficulty — the game’s Greenlight campaign had pretty much reached a state of limbo over the holidays with visitors to its Steam page hitting an all time low. In pursuit of a wider audience base and coverage then, the team had stepped onto Higher Eclectic Ground in December — where they quickly commenced a three week long, episodic recap of RAM BOE’s development that witnessed them share early concept art, design stages & their creative thought processes with the Community here.
This soon evolved into a Community wide giveaway of the game’s Android version in February, that invited puzzle enthusiasts to constructively critique RAM BOE’s design & Steam pitch to have their names entered into a draw. Interactions with other members of the Community also bore fruit, as the team effectively collaborated with member YouTubers and Writers — each of whom lent their own honest perspective & coverage to the game in support of its Greenlight campaign.
Now as work on RAM BOE finally reaches closure, the team have also teased their next major project to those they’ve collaborated with within the Community, stating that a full public release and a showcasing of whose development on Higher Eclectic Ground is to arrive soon. More on that as it unfolds; meanwhile, feel free to follow up on all the commotion created by RAM BOE — a tale that follows an adventurous mountain climber turned Ram’s mission to free trapped souls over the course of a plethora of mind-bending puzzles — and even congratulate the team here via its Higher Eclectic Space.
Special thanks to members — YouTuber Toby Burn of Gaming Now, Video Games Writer/YouTuber Mike Blundell of Mike’s Pad and aspiring Scriptwriter Kevin Andrews for all their support and coverage lent to RAM BOE.
Exactly a year post its inception in the month of February, 2015, members TinyAtom Games’ explosive 8-bit, color-fused Shoot ’em Up tale of Geometry, Story of a Cube, made its public release on Valve’s digital distribution platform earlier today. Available at a 20% discount till the 11th of this month for PC, Mac & Linux, the game’s release is also accompanied by that of its OST; composed by Bocuma, the techno-glitchy beat infused chiptune OST can be purchased as both a standalone DLC and as part of a bundle with the game.
‘While the game isn’t even featured on Steam’s front page yet, people have indeed started buying it and I’m getting lots of emails asking for press keys and more’, reacted creator & developer Frederick Madsen when asked of the release’s early response. Conceived by Madsen after a string of unsatisfactory indie releases, Story of a Cube documents a simple Cube’s vengeful quest to hunt down the gang of vicious Circles that terrorize and kidnap its family.
Equipped with a weapon left behind by the evil Geometric shapes, players are tasked with overcoming six maze-like action packed levels, each with their own set of bosses & lethal obstacles, gradually unraveling the mystery of the Circles’ motives as they go along. Amid the cacophony of gunfire, explosions and multiple endings also exists up to Nine Steam Achievements that bring replayability to the fray. ‘The chapters are quite small but should take 10-20 minutes depending on skill and difficulty’, explains Madsen.
‘A really skilled player can probably get through them in 5. Usually the game takes about an hour to complete, but getting the good ending will take longer than that. Getting 100% took me about 4 hours, and I can do most chapters in under 5 minutes.’ While the 18 year old Swedish developer doesn’t plan on any future expansions or DLC, his current agenda for the game involves development of a Level Editor that lets players devise & upload their own stages to Steam’s Workshop.
Story of a Cube has been a fully independent attempt by Madsen, with the young developer pairing up only with musician Bocuma halfway through last year for the game’s music. By the 20th of December, the game had debuted on the Community in its bug-fixing and optimization stage; following which Madsen episodically walked the Community through its development from prototype to the vivid shooter it stands as now All of that & its following progress of course, will stay documented within the game’s Higher Eclectic Space.
Higher Eclectic Ground member Writers & YouTubers are invited to request Madsen for press versions of the game. Feel free to get in touch via the game’s Space or leave a message with your request on the Bulletin.
Friday, the 5th of February not only brought along with it the Community’s first member independent game of the Tower Defense genre but also one of its most enigmatic yet; promising a journey of personal strife & character growth intertwined with Tower Defence at its core, the vision and passion of Bizurk Software’s TinyWars was described in but words on our Facebook page, while offering only a sample of what the game’s mobile marketplace banner would look like as a visual supplement.
With its prototype put together in mid-2015, TinyWars is described by its creator & CEO of Bizurk, Andrew Taraba as a tale that is both easy to fathom and complex in lore, about people that are tiny, and their wars, which are also relatively tiny. Set within the imaginary kingdom of Tiny that happens to be under relentless attack from as yet unnamed forces, the game narrates the tale of Mary, a Tiny resident who faces a subsequent metamorphosis into a matured being on her quest to liberate herself & those around her from bloodshed.
While the game itself promises to opt for fewer, meticulously detailed levels over multiple smaller ones, it makes no claims of innovating the Tower Defence genre in anyway. Having mulled over the game’s concept for years on end, when Taraba did put together the game’s prototype it turned out to be nothing more than basic — Red Squares vs Blue Squares, as he fondly recalls. And yet despite that, the fact that it worked was a testament of the sense his vision held, encouraging him and the others to work on it further.
‘Tower defense has been tried many times before, and I guess I could consider myself a tower defense expert’, Taraba explains. ‘I notice a lot of indie gamers tend to create a gameplay engine as their first step into the game, but we seemed to have a bit of a backwards approach. Since Tower Defense is a relatively regular genre, we don’t expect to make any ground breaking gameplay mechanics in the world of tower defense games. Many have tried and there’s a point where it either is no longer even tower defense or it’s just wacky weird one off type of game that couldn’t branch out into its own sub-genre. Our aim is pretty humble in that we just want to make a good, challenging tower defense title. I know tower defense very very well, I know what’s challenging, what’s annoying, having planned the game’s design with all of that in mind.’
I, on the other hand, was more intrigued by the game’s claim of comprising a narrative that held parallels with life; it it is after all, not often one hears of a Tower Defense game pledging personal growth of its players. ‘We aim to bring the challenge level of TinyWars to a higher degree, requiring users to not mindlessly place towers but to carefully think, budget, and place their units wisely’, states Taraba in response. ‘Part of growing up means one must learn to manage their finances wisely. One must learn when to speak up and when to be quiet, when the right time to act is and when it’s not the right time to set out your most powerful unit. Careful consideration must be put into all of your “moves” in life. And that it can be at times, impossible to predict what will be in the “next wave” that life throws at you. All these things must be taken into account, when one is playing the game.’
Interestingly, despite being 6 months into its development stint — that has so far witnessed original character designs, animations, assets & a lovely live orchestral soundtrack take form — the team has managed to garner a reasonably large following on social media without even delving into the finer details of the game’s tale or mechanics. This appreciation from the indie game community, seems to have stemmed out of a rather deep-rooted fascination for the protagonist, Mary’s design.
This of course, in no way means the team intend to keep the veil on for longer. As Taraba clarifies, ‘We want to build our fan base, that is what is most important to us in this early stage. To gather fans on our social media, so we can reveal content to them, get honest feedback, and continue to work towards the eventual release, knowing full well that the game has fans that are waiting for us to complete it and release it. We certainly will release more regarding specific details of the story, some test screen shots, and maybe some more artwork of the game’s characters! ‘
Taraba however does admit that despite the project’s being being funded by Bizurk Software — said funding does have a fast-achievable limit. ‘We may at some point reach out to a sponsor for funding or even crowd funding, it all depends on how much we can accomplish with our own funds. If we do get to a point where money is too tight and we can no longer make progress but we can see the end of the tunnel is near, then we may begin a crowdfunding campaign or work a deal with a potential sponsor. It’s unlikely that the project will be abandoned now that we have put so much effort, time and money into it.’
Additionally, Taraba also hints at the possibility of not only pairing up with other developers to further the game’s progress — but also utilising the talents of YouTubers both in and beyond the Community, especially with the game’s first demo now in the works. This demo, scheduled to arrive sometime in 2016 as soon as character, art & asset design reaches closure, will more than anything serve to put on display the team’s original, creative progress thus far and hopefully appeal to a few potential sponsors.
Either way, it’s already looking to be an illustriously vibrant ride ahead on the PC, Android & iOS. Be sure you keep an eye out for their progress via their Higher Eclectic Space, while also feeling free to leave them your feedback via the member forums, the Bulletin, or the comments below.
‘Katherine – Katherine – Are you alive? Katy?’
A flash of white, a quick glimpse of my own bruised hand and I was off. As I looked around in an attempt to take in my surroundings for the first time, I was met by an on-screen prompt – indicating controls to be used, a blip to follow to the next point of progression and a handy notepad that demanded consulting lest I lose all sense of what I should be doing. And consult I did right away; in one neat, pencil-written line it read – ‘I must find a way out of here.’ Neat.
Here was lifeless; drab, sickeningly bare walls against a solid wooden floor echoed but the sound of my footsteps in unison with the gentle hum of a single overhead light surrounded by flies. I took a peek around the immediate corner – pitch black. Just as I took my first step into the darkness the lights came on with a resonating clang, illuminating a corridor similar to the one I was in prior only this time, with a flashing door by the corner at its end.
As ushered, I swung it open, catching yet another glimpse at what were my battered hands. They weren’t as bad as I presumed them to be – the injury seemingly concentrated around the tallest finger, the blood over which had nearly dried itself black. The door swung open to reveal a room not much bigger than a dozen feet in length and width; a set of old, rusting lockers lay on my right flank – a raven black as death itself perched on top of them. It nibbled at something, breaking only to sneak a peek at the room opposite it. Somebody had left its door ajar, but even that hadn’t grabbed my attention, no. My gaze instead, had fallen on the man that stood by the windows at the other end of the room.
Clad in a dark brown overcoat and oversized trousers to match his gut, he bowed his head to take one long drag off a cigarette. As he moved his head up to exhale, I expected his face – that had up until now been obscured by a fedora – to contort or at least react in my presence. It didn’t; even as I stood less than an arm’s length away. Just as I began my retreat a voice emerged from the room to the left – ‘I don’t care what you do to her, I just want you to make her inoffensive.’ There wasn’t much sense to it nor would the door open to reveal what was going on behind it. I resorted then to the lockers hoping to learn more of my whereabouts, only to be greeted instead by nothing bigger than a bleeding, lifeless rodent.
The next few moments involved turning a few more corners, stumbling over the occasional discarded written note or two that seemed to report on ‘patients’ past and an underlying mental situation; It began to dawn on me that the structure I was in was perhaps an old asylum of sorts. As my thoughts raced I stumbled upon what seemed to be the game’s first offering of a puzzle; a T-junction where three corridors, each with a door at its end, met. To my right sat a woman – dressed in an outfit that seemed to resemble that of a peon’s – sobbing – oblivious to my presence just as the man had been.
I took the door behind her, coming to yet another crossroads that seemed strikingly similar to the previous except this time, the lights were switching themselves off one at a time with loud, resonating clangs. Now tn total darkness, half expecting to be startled to death, I took to the first interactive room that stood beside me; an office with a large desk at its centre replete with a blotter, other office stationery and a table lamp that was still on. Newspaper cuttings littered its top, speaking of Wars and Politics and just as I peered over them to ascertain their usefulness, my eyes fell over a glass-enclosed model of a manor that stood adjacent to the door.
A closer look revealed it to be that of a St. Angor Manor – dark, grey and ominous, was this where I was? I moved on, getting back out on the crossroads and opting for the corridor and its door at the center. The lights had now begun to come back, one at a time with the same clanging as before, alerting me not only of the fact that I had returned to a similar three way corridor as the ones prior, but also of a presence seated bang dead at the junction’s centre.
Clad in an all back suit, a tie to go with and a grotesque skeletal face stared right through me with a posture of the living. I winced, not knowing if I should move forward or refrain from, until I realised to my relief that he too, couldn’t see me. I picked the corridorto the left this time, entering a room with only one interactive door in sight and a grand piano on its other end. All I had to do was approach before it began playing a tune so chillingly moody that I decided to quickly moved to what lay behind the blinking door and not linger any longer; Yet another corridor that ended with a 90 degree corner to its left.
As I made my way through the two hospital styled beds at the turn, the screen froze; the character I controlled looked to both her sides as if aware of a presence I was yet to fathom, before looking back around the corner at the corridor I’d come from. There, pale white and clothed in black, a woman stood below the fly infested overhead light with her eyes set dead on me.
She lurched forward; I didn’t walk anymore, I ran, turning corner after corner in quick succession as she stayed hot on my heels. The corridors went on forever until a door finally arrived, revealing behind it a forest enclosure that for some reason – was in monochrome. An anxious look through the rain behind affirmed that the pale woman had not followed me through; Thankful, I carried on along the only visible path before arriving at an opening within the enclosure. Through the foliage, I’d noticed a couple – a man and a woman standing emotionless by the shadows as if awaiting my arrival. ‘Mum! Finally – I thought I was lost’, exclaimed our protagonist in relief, leading me to believe that the horror had subsided for the moment. ‘We’re leaving Katherine. We’re going to London – your aunt cannot host you any longer.’
What? Why? And what did that have to do with me being here? ‘This isn’t funny Katherine’, announced the man – of course it wasn’t and they weren’t helping any. Unsure of what came next, I moved to look for an alternate path through the forest – I’d turned around when suddenly, my heart skipped a beat. Standing there, staring right at me with glowing, yellow eyes was the protagonist herself – ‘Katherine’ is how the subtitles referred to her as she simply said in the same child-like voice that had opened the game, ‘Goodnight Katy’ before the screed faded to black against a blaring shrill. What the – ?
Hard as it may be to believe, all of the above narrative was encompassed by the mere ten to fifteen minutes that comprised Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence’s prologue. Inspired by ‘One Foot Wrong’, a disturbing tale of suffering and repression by Australian novelist Sofie Laguna and conceived by independent Italian developers GoManga Interactive, Insane Decay speaks of Katherine Watson – a woman who finds herself trapped within what she recognizes as her school of old. Promising a riveting tale that would be equal parts novella and interactive, the game itself has been immersed in the thick of development since its inception back in 2014.
And yet through it all, GoManga have managed to keep fan interest stoked; releasing its first playable teaser back in October, 2014 that acted as but a short amalgamation of a several sequences from the game and another in April this year, that showcased but an older version of the prologue that I’ve spent the earlier half of this article narrating. Now over a year since its first teaser, Insane Decay stands not only with a pumped up version of said prologue, but with the entirety of the First of Three Acts that are to comprise it fully functional as well. With changes and updates being made daily in preparation for a crowdfunding campaign by the end of the year, we were more than anxious to take a whirl of said version of the Act, more so given the limited amount of visual material we were exposed to in its month’s tenure on the community.
Shortly after the pandemonium of the prologue, a quick introductory credit roll had commenced a recurring pattern within the Act – one where the narrative would oscillate between Katherine’s current predicament and her past, the latter of which predominantly involved the Act’s ‘exploratory’ portions. These exploratory portions were in effect ‘flashbacks’ that served to delve deeper into Katherine’s past in school – the very same manor – and the events that had finally culminated in her current plight. More than provide a backstory however, these exploratory portions played an important role in maximising user engagement by breaking away from the adrenaline rush and having players perform a set amount of ‘quests’ or tasks to progress within the narrative.
These tasks mandated interacting with the students and the supposed faculty of the school, performing errands for either party across the manor. Disappointingly though, these exploratory portions quickly turned out to be the lowest point of the game’s offered experience. The reasons for this were uncountable; for one, the tasks themselves came off as absolutely pointless and rather murderous of the brilliant pace & tone the game had set for itself in the beginning. A peer would require Katherine to distract a faculty member so that the rest could steal food from the canteen, a ‘teacher’ would ask for a lost book to be sought out amongst the students’ rooms, another would ask for a notorious student’s clique to be determined while someone else would ask for help on a speech.
To be fair, these tasks were creatively challenging in their own right. The two storey portion of the manor within which the exploratory portions did take place was rather drab and minimal in furniture and layout in the absence of any map/compass, forcing players to rely on the sign-boards beside each door to indicate which of the canteen, reception, office, warehouse, garden and so forth lay behind them and guide their way forward. Hints were kept at a minimum to keep finding that way forward stimulating – offering players the option to avail of one within a task only when the game realised you were dilly-dallying for too long, which I had been doing quite a bit.
In this way, the exploratory portions encouraged the use of wit in completing its set of tasks but also destroyed it on account of its own design; one of the alpha’s most prominent flaws was its poorly written dialogue and voice acting. While that of Katherine’s and the others during the prologue were mediocre, those of the students and faculty in the exploratory sections were abysmal. This, coupled with the fact that the alpha did very little to explain what I should be doing next made it difficult for me to understand how I was supposed to, say, find out who was talking about my friend Ian’s secret ‘rebellion’ to a certain Ms. Hudson .
For which I wandered around aimlessly, knocking down doors and looking under every table until I found a note lying in a room that alluded to a certain Oswald being the rat in question. Overjoyed, I returned to tell Ian – being as he was the one who’d set me on the witch hunt – only to realise he couldn’t be interacted with. Perplexed, I consulted Katherine’s notepad, which only said ‘It is Oswald. Oswald is the one talking to Ms. Hudson!’ What was I supposed to do now? And how was I to progress? I wandered some more until a blip appeared on screen signalling me to a particular area of the manor.
There stood a woman motionless, whom I assumed to be Ms. Hudson given that I could interact with her. Choosing to do so had me complain to her about Oswald and divert her attention to his misdeeds. Leave alone the task coming across as being of unworthy of any time spent over it, things could have been made so much more easier had there been more comprehensible dialogue from Ian that said, ‘Katherine, you could try looking through the others’ rooms or eavesdrop on conversations; and once you seem to learn who the rat might be, get back here and let’s discuss what comes next ’, or at least if the notepad alone alluded to it more firmly.
This would soon prove to be a massive angst builder – as tasks similar or even worse than these piled up with no sign of a reward, rhyme or reason to justify spending half an hour trying to figure out what to do next. Interestingly, certain tasks did offer the benefit of choice in either choosing to support or defy a peer or task provider over certain morally challenging actions – as was with the Oswald task wherein I had the choice of both supporting Ian and informing Ms. Hudson of Oswald’s misdeeds or betraying Ian and warning Ms. Hudson of his actions. Unfortunately, the results of my moral choices weren’t witnessed within the first Act, adding all the more to my frustration. At the end of it all, neither could I relate to Katherine nor think like her anymore; making it seem as if I was in control of a bot subjected to pretentious little tasks for the sake of progression within the game.
Naturally, my troubles were brought to the developers’ notice who had been monitoring the alpha’s performance as I played it throughout. It was one thing to bring down the pace for the sake of a good narrative but to take it in a new direction altogether with meaningless, poorly written tasks was disheartening, I confessed. They weren’t meaningless, Director Francesco Squillante explained. ‘ The choices made within the Act do affect its course – you may unlock a enw area of the manor, quests and even notice changes in Katherine’s behavior. The effect those choices have however isn’t as profound or noticeable as it will be in Act II though – Every choice, every decision you make. while it may not seem so now, will radically change the manor over the course of the Second Act. These tasks were meant to serve as but a warmup to the next Act’s quests.’
Squillante also stated that the team was aware of the game’s poor state of voice acting and dialogue. ‘The first thing we’re considering is perhaps making the game’s dialogues open source and allowing our fan base to make changes and even translate them to new languages.’ This if anything, would help tackle several of the typos and sentence construction issues that plagued not just the subtitles but the loading screens that showed off quotes from Katherine as well. ‘If the changes made are drastic, we’ll go back to dubbing. As for voice actors, we’re definitely in need of new ones.’
To add to my momentary dismay, the alpha refused to progress after completing all quests – which thankfully, was narrowed down to a Quest line error and rectified within a moment’s notice by the development team. Fortunately the game’s novella and horror roots continued to stay alive when I wasn’t forced to explore and do others’ bidding; the game would return to the present after performing a set number of quests, subject me to a quick thrill that would raise even more questions, before reverting back to the past.
By the end of the second exploratory section, the narrative had picked up; Shedding more light on Katherine’s personality as a school child and an event that may have subsequently left a scar on her mental being. This quickly culminated into the Act’s finale sequence that was by far the most engaging and enthralling portion of the alpha yet. I was exposed more than once to the unexpected – interactive encounters with dark entitites, jumps, scares and an eventual cliff-hanger that succeeded in fuelling my anticipation for Act II.
It was then that I realised that the terrible writing of the game’s exploratory sections aside, Insane Decay was – at least judging from what was played the Act’s prologue and finale – a very innovative and intelligently conceived horror tale that could very well rival the if not surpass some of mainstream gaming’s horror offerings in terms of a primary plot. A large portion of this feat is achieved via its unpredictability and suspense not just in its storyline, but in its gameplay as well.
For instance, the T-junction sequence in the prologue would differ depending on the sequence or order in which each of the three doors were picked. This would lead to new areas, encounters and a few more interactive objects that not only served to shed more light on the Manor’s occurrences and past, but were also elusive in that one might quite easily progress to the next stage of the game without experiencing any or all of them. The Act’s finale illustrated more of the same randomness through different game-play sequences asserting that even in its alpha state, Insane Decay was showing remarkable replay value.
Through it all, gameplay remained relatively smooth and suffered a major dip in frame-rate only once during the prologue’s forest sequence. The basic structure of the manor and its claustrophobic, occasionally gory ambience in the prologue and Act’s finale came off as incredibly well-crafted – more so with the updated version of the alpha that was provided to me following the Quest line bug. Materials, textures, reflections, particle effects and lighting were more than effective in conveying a sense of dread, loneliness and looming danger.
That said, the Manor does deserve to be populated not only with sa larger variety of inanimate objects & furniture, but distinguishing features in each of its rooms & corridors to add to its mystery, variety and size. In its current state, several of the rooms, areas and corridors seem very much alike each other and while this might be part of its attempt to drive the player insane by causing them to feel they were travelling in circles – there’s no reason why its walls and corridors shouldn’t be populated with frames, tables, personal effects and other artifacts that would only add depth to the narrative and experience.
The exploratory sections though seem to demand an overhaul. Even though supposedly populated by children, as conveyed by a running sound effect of a crowd of children screaming, playing, laughing and yelling, the same failed to come through visually. Intricately designed as they might have been, the minimal number character models didn’t do much besides standing around by themselves against a wall like mannequins or sitting/lying down like toys in their rooms – which were rather drab as well. Of course, some of them could be seen interacting with each other or chasing each other around but these came off as rather unnatural given that there was barely any dialogue between the conversing parties.
This was also prominent during one other scene that took Katherine outside the manor to a circus. While the ambience brought about by sound effects and music was that of fun & frolic, NPC’s merely stood looking at suppossed circus performers who was an inanimate themselves. Perhaps this was meant to be to illustrate only the fragment of the scene that Katherine did remember?
Regardless, if said exploratory sections are to be improved, not only do they need to be populated to a greater extent but also filled with a greater variety of NPC animations and dialogue to truly create an atmosphere of being amongst Katherine’s peers. Moreover, rooms and corridors in these sections need to be detailed in a manner that actually conveys the presence of other children and faculty members at a time when horror was yet to enter the tale. Differentiating the Manor’s past and present interiors would go a long way in drawing players into the tasks and having them emote as Katherine does. Without a doubt though, the audio and SFX department (not considering the voice acting) is where Insane Decay comes into its own. The sound effects that accompany the sequential turning on/off of overhead lights in the prologue, the intermittent crescendos and subsequent musical bellows are undeniably classic horror material that significantly amplify the jumps and scares of the Act.
In terms of ingenuity then, Insane Decay of Mind excels at every avenue – construing a narrative and tale that succeeds at drawing a player in and encourages them to push forward in a desperate attempt to unravel the mystery and horror that shrouds it. The adolescent team of Italians have created for themselves what is quite possibly a lore with every potential of being an indie horror classic – provided its chinks, major ones at that, created by bad voice acting, subpar dialogue, overall inconsistency in writing and experience and an intermittent lack of detail are eliminated, which in its own right won’t be an easy task. They have the concept of a great narrative nailed, no doubt, yet only need to realise their immediate shortcomings and work to overcome them in a manner that does their tale justice.
Now, with Act two well into development, Squillante tells us that the team intends to make an all new demo of the game available to the public by the dawn of next year. The start of the year will also witness them debut Insane on a crowd-funding platform with three other Italian developers while progressing with the game’s core development as normal. If successful, an appearance at the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco and Game Connection is also on the books. And so, with them aiming to finish the second Act by April and the third by summer, 2016 – Insane Decay Of Mind is already gearing itself up for a late 2016 release.
As always, to keep track of everything Insane as they unfold, follow up on progress so far or simply drop them a message, feel free to stop by their Higher Eclectic Space.
This report serves to provide our members – GoManga Interactive – with constructive criticism and feedback pertaining to the development of their game. Every flaw, error and shortcoming has been personally conveyed to the team; improvements and changes may or may not be made as per their vision. Feel free to share your opinions on the same as well.