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.
Bucharest, Romania based Alien Pixel’s Countryballs centric independent venture made its debut on Valve’s digital distribution platform earlier today, the 16th of June. Currently priced at a 15% discount from its original $2.99 tag for Windows computers, the single player adventure brings with it all the commotion associated with a crude Rocket ship and its 33 attributes plus 56 items that players must progressively unlock and utilise in an attempt to land on the moon as Poland’s country-ball. This is of course, while up to 25 countries assist or resist efforts in their visually representative, AI programmed spherical personas.
In the few hours since its release, reception towards Polandball: Can Into Space! within the Steam community continues to remain Positive. While it was Greenlit in January and release was officially slated for the month of February this year, full-time job preoccupations and commitments had forced Alien Pixel to push back release to over four months; a delay that doesn’t seem to trouble the team anymore in light of current user feedback. ‘For a small casual game? It’s really wonderful’, elaborates co-founder Sergiu Craitoiu on the game’s positive reception.
‘It’s been almost a year of work filled with its share of up’s and down’s. To be honest we hadn’t estimated that the game would take such a long time to complete; But here we are we extremely happy that we managed to finish the project. Reception has been awesome for the first day of release, with some even writing in personally to say they love the game — but let’s see how the rest of the week goes.’
Born out of the corners of the internet, Countryballs is a series of internet memes and online comics wherein countries — represented as spheres clad in their respective flags and associated attire — engage in the mockery of each other’s stereotypes. A recurring theme of the comics has been to project Polandball — a spherical persona deliberately painted with Poland’s flag upside down — as a technologically underprivileged country that despite its hardest attempts, can never make it to Space (Polandball Cannot Into Space).
Sparked by the idea of expanding on the gag in gaming fashion, the Andrei Jifcovici and Sergiu Craitoiu co-founded team of Alien Pixel commenced development on Polandball: Can Into Space in the summer of 2015. Its premise is simple — as Polandball, players are tasked with making it to the moon in a decrepit rocket amid depleting fuel and assorted obstacles, while a host of other countries either attempt to bring them down or help them on their quests.
Through the collection of money, parts and repeated failure during this course, players are provided with fancier, more efficient upgrades to their crafts that will eventually help them break past earth’s atmospheric confines. Months that ensued saw its art and game-play mechanics evolve under the spotlight of events such as Ubisoft’s Game Jam in the same year, where the game’s build at the time even won itself the laurel of being the Most Polished Game present therein.
Alongside its Steam Greenlight campaign also came an Android and Apple Store release earlier this year, both of which are older, less visually advanced versions of the current PC build; For in the months after being Greenlit, the team took upon community feedback to render Polandball: Can Into Space!‘s Windows counterpart with added features such as an improved user interface, randomised weather effects and numerous other fixes.
As for the future now, the team explain that the game will continue to receive full support and even potential updates as they move towards working on a new IP. ‘Polandball was our first serious game development experience and we do believe its helped put into perspective how we should approach our next project,’ reveals Craitoiu. The new IP in question is alluded to be a puzzle-platformer, the mechanics design of which is expected to begin soon.
Craitoiu also dispels all chances of the revamped UI and weather effects making their way to the game’s mobile versions, stating that they simply aren’t suited for mobile performance. Survival-horror Torch meanwhile, another Alien Pixel IP that was shown off in its alpha form at this year’s East European Comic Con in Romania alongside Polandball, has been put on hold until such time sufficient funds and resources are accumulated by the team.
By means of a humble Steam announcement on the 25th of May this year, RAM BOE‘s first major update was released to its casual puzzle-loving Windows, Mac OS and Linux audience; Titled The Awakening of Thrym, the update brings forth a number of much-needed additions and rectifications that were first teased by the development team at PointFive back in April.
These changes, as specified by marketing in-charge Jane Arvine at the time of the teaser, are in response to several inconsistencies and flaws that were brought up by our Editorial team — and subsequently by few of its users — in its analysis of the game during the earlier half of Spring.
The first of which was the puzzle adventure’s penchant for repetition in its visuals, music, level design and overall atmosphere; The Awakening of Thrym addresses the same by introducing up to 15 new levels, scenery and music to the overall adventure. Arvine quickly dismisses all fears of these 15 levels being but simple extensions of the game’s earlier build by justifying their presence: ‘The new levels have a higher difficulty, are bigger in size and require much more time to complete; We have even added in unique challenges that dynamically have say, the tiles of a level fall off as the player progresses and more’.
This is further supplemented by the addition of eight more tracks to the game’s soundtrack for a total of fourteen, courtesy of the archives of Kevin MacLeod, and new scenic additions that take players closer to antagonist Thrym The Mighty Jotun’s habitat — one cold and one dark. And yet thankfully, the update’s major perk lies in its lending of closure to RAM BOE’s tale.
An overshadowing flaw in the game’s earlier build was that apart from two cut-scenes that merely served to explain the premise behind its two types of scenery, RAM BOE’s narrative was effectively non-existent; The story was lost after the halfway point and never made a return even after the completion of all 40 levels.
Now though, an extension of the narrative brought about by added cut scenes is stated to finally bring purpose to players’ puzzle solving endeavours — ‘Thrym takes notice of Ram — and he’s angry. It’s not really something complex, but it all adds up to the story. And yes there is now a conclusion to the game which we’ll let the players find it out.’, explains Jane.
To top it all, The Awakening debuts an all new game mode called The Sandbox; an intuitive custom level creator synced in with Steam’s Workshop, that lets users play developer in constructing their own levels and sharing them with other RAM BOE owners from across the community.
Besides being able to populate a level with their choice of Rune stones, players are even given the opportunity to set traps, dynamically generate obstacles during play-throughs and even change the level’s environmental theme.
Among the graphical and technical fixes it makes is the elimination of Step Control that had begun to annoy several PC players; moving BOE across a level via the arrow keys was hardly a fluid process owing to his tendency of pausing at every tile, causing one to furiously spam an arrow key in their race against the timer.
‘Plus we’ve now replaced it with something more useful for the casual ones — An easy mode, where you can’t fall off the board nor accidentally push an important Rune off which as we know leads to level failure,’ elaborates Arvine. ‘The rest of it has been improved graphical aspects such as textures and shaders — along with fixed sound artefacts. There has also been a lot of code optimisation.’
‘Make no mistake though, in terms of gameplay it’s still as complex and as rewarding as before. Yet with the 15 new levels we’ve inserted a new mood and a continuation to the storyline. We’re seeing things from the villain’s perspective now and the gameplay is subsequently more immersive. Plus, bringing a conclusion to the story makes the game experience a complete one.’
Released on Google Play in early January this year and on Steam equipped PC, Mac and Linux Devices on the 5th of April, RAM BOE is the 3D puzzle tale of rock climbing adventurer Beauregard Pete — whose decision to take on the monster in Thrym leads Pete to be imprisoned in an ice prison for ever. That is until a Ram comes along, has itself possessed by the hero and commences 40 — now 55 — levels of puzzle solving in his quest to save other less fortunate souls.
Inspired by the likes of Sokoban, players must battle timers, untimely generation of obstacles and often convoluted level arrangement to push all present Rune stones within a level into the well of revival. As of June, 2016, reception towards the game on Steam remains Positive. Naturally The Awakening of Thrym is soon due for an appearance on the Android version of the game, following which all of Pointfive’s manpower is to shift towards publishing RAM BOE’s iOS version the team reports. In the meantime, follow-up on the game’s development history and even peruse through our analysis of its Android build at BOE’s Higher Eclectic Space.
After a full four month’s hiatus that saw them retreat into the shadows with no public exposition or update to the progress of Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence, the young Italian team of GoManga Interactive resurfaced earlier this month with news that their first-person indie horror escapade had ventured into Virtual Reality by means of a spin-off.
Called simply Insane Decay of Mind, this VR outing hurls players into a labyrinth of twisted, psychologically trying happenings that occur within protagonist Katherine Watson’s mind in between the events of Acts I and II of the main game’s saga.
As minds turned warped over three progressively difficult, procedurally generated stages, one must make use of interactive items, solve puzzles and avoid the Shadows — manifestations of the leading lady’s darkest nightmares — all in search of an escape route.
What’s more, besides having to be powered by the Oculus Rift DK2, Oculus Rift CV1, HTC Vive Pre or the HTC Vive alone, the spin-off is also playable as a standard Windows powered game making it an interesting means for followers to get their first full-fledged taste of the original tale in development.
Conceived late into 2014, Insane Decay of Mind: The Sound of Silence’s primary lore narrates the challengingly disturbing events that unfold after one Katherine Watson finds herself trapped within an old World War II era manor; A manor she soon begins to perceive as her School before a deranged assortment of forces haunt her through its nightmare ridden corridors.
Divided into three Acts, the game’s playable portion began to take form over the course of 2015 wherein it witnessed its First develop through a series of refinements and playable teasers. Post bringing this work-in-progress adventure to Higher Eclectic Ground in the month of October the same year, GoManga interactive had then proceeded to announce plans of a crowd-funding campaign that was to follow the Act’s completion.
In keeping with the same, the game received its first full-fledged trailer with the onset of the New Year. Soon after though, all updates ceased as the team stated behind-the-scenes that they’d come in contact with Italian independent game production company IV Productions and its founder Ivan Ventauri.
Over the following weeks Ventauri pushed to have Merge Games Ltd. take notice of The Sound of Silence’s quirks, which eventually resulted in the British indie game publisher proposing to help release a VR based spin-off of the game.
‘We immediately accepted for the very reason that’s obvious for an independent team such as ours: it would be the best way of getting Insane Decay of Mind noticed,’ explains Lead Programmer Francesco Pio Squillante. ‘Furthermore, the way the game’s been programmed is just perfect for VR; it’s dark and creepy atmosphere, unpredictable events and deafening sounds, all combined with virtual reality would only help players better identify with Katherine’s plight much before the full game’s release.
Naturally, the work on Act II that was to ensue over the first quarter of this year was put on hold to focus on the VR game. Building upon what the team had already constructed over the past year, development proceeded behind closed doors to only make an alpha appearance during the course of the Game Developers’ Conference in San Francisco, before the venture was finally made public by IV Productions on the 21st of April, 2016.
As it stands now, the Insane Decay of Mind VR game omits all aspects of a narrative. Its game play seems to fully base itself on the mechanics we tried and tested in our play-through of The Sound of Silence’s Act I back in December last year, and the most noticeable change lies in its upgraded visuals. There is however plenty more than simply finding one’s way through this visually upgraded, non-verbal construct of insanity as Squillante reveals —
‘Besides the Shadows, players will encounter several character from Katherine’s past who will in turn influence game play; side objectives of sorts. There are then over 50 hidden achievements, each of which uncover a variety of her secrets that are in effect spread out over the three Acts of the main game. And so while Insane Decay of Mind contains no particular narrative, one can unravel the entire saga’s story anywhere from a few to 30 hours with a little bit of patience and persistence.’
Acting on the complaints and mixed response that stemmed out from the multitude of bugs that supplemented the game on release day, the team released an update to counteract the same on the 18th of May last week. As for the main story’s future, Squillante suggests that while Merge’s involvement in the full game is as of now uncertain, development of the same will proceed regardless.
‘We will of course go back and redefine the First Act of The Sound of Silence’, he reveals. ‘before we finally move to designing the Second. The vision is to release each of the three Acts separately over a span of several months, but that’s a topic for the future.’
Insane Decay of Mind is now available on Steam for 3 USD. While one might catch some of the Network’s own Writers and Video Artists dabble in the spin-off over the forthcoming weeks, be sure to visit Insane Decay of Mind: The Sounds of Silence’s Higher Eclectic Space wherein its progress continues to be recorded for a better perspective of its bizarre nuances.
A shallow read of its premise and Thomas Was Alone resonant art style promises an endearing little adventure, while the user denounced difficulty level coupled with its citing of Twin-stick shooter and bullet hell elements as the basis of its game play lead one to assume it’s nothing but top-down chaos. The truth is though, Story of a Cube is never wholly either of those; What it is instead is a light-hearted amalgamation of the two that brings about a visually exuberant, psychologically frustrating yet satisfactorily obsessive challenge that will in deed consume valuable amounts of your time and patience.
As the Cubical survivor of an inter-geometrical attack of Circles on a lowly village of Cubes that results in the abduction of the latter, players are quickly tossed into what is effectively a six-stage revenge spree; a spree that starts off predictably, leading players equipped with a slow-firing weapon left behind in the incident straight to the lair of the attackers. Coursing through the maze-like fortress’ defence system of mass-bullet firing turrets and their variations however unearths the presence of a conspiracy, promising to shed more light and lend depth to the abduction of the Cubes.
This mystery perpetuates as players descend into the Circle HQ’s levels of progressively stronger turrets, inhabitants and carnivorous obstacles, before finally culminating into a climactic showdown at the end of its revelation. In essence though, the plot itself is far from ground breaking and offers only a modicum of intrigue. What’s more, narrated through adolescent toned on-screen dialogues emanating from the protagonist or other characters encountered, the Story even leaves first time players expecting a satisfyingly explosive narrative end to justify the game’s overwhelming challenge — amusingly disappointed.
This is largely due to the game’s multiple endings — named Stupid, Bad, Good and Secret; Unless one proves to be extraordinarily skilled at its game play, Story of a Cube concludes in its Bad before revealing how one can unlock the Good ending by effectively playing on a higher difficulty level in the absence of any deaths. Even so, neither of the Good or Secret outros are grandly soothing — although the latter does reward players with a special developer video that explores the game’s special and secret features.
In control of Cube and its weapon by means of the WASD and Mouse controls, players must face off against a complete assortment of the aforementioned enemy forces and inevitably, have their patience and reflexes tested in a gruelling end-of-level boss battle or a lethal race against pieces of the game environment.
These battles range from overcoming gigantic turrets from bullet hell to a swarm of piranha-like missile cluster, while the game environment themed final challenges task players with dodging moving walls from all directions as they push towards the end of the level. As the levels progress, so does the fire power of the turrets and the complexity of avoiding lethal obstacles — which is then complemented by Cube’s finding of an equally powerful weapon and even a bullet time effect through the flow of the campaign.
The thing is though, staying within line-of-sight of more than a single turret for multiple seconds almost certainly results in instant death. By the time new players panic to move their reticules over the enemy, two, three or even four of Cube’s lives pass — forcing them back to a previous, distant check point. Sure, the game doesn’t demand that each turret be taken down to pass a level but passing through any area without losing a considerable amount of lives mandates their annihilation.
And preserving lives is necessary, for their complete consumption ends in a failure of the level and its re-play from the very start. This quickly turns enormously frustrating especially when on your last life during the boss-battle of a level that took you 15 minutes to clear, only for you to die within a second at the boss’ showing and having to redo it all again. Bullet time is immensely unreliable as well; while its effect is naturally limited, the lack of a visual meter to indicate its depletion causes one to easily over/under estimate its tenure and consequently, run head on into a razor-sharp windmill when they didn’t mean to.
So apparently, one is required to call upon unrealistically heightened reflexes not just in combat but in near impossible moving obstacle scenarios as well. Furthermore, while the game does provide three levels of difficulty — each of which differ in the population and resilience of enemies — one might find themselves bombarded by the massive swarm of bullet pumping turrets that greet them within but 3 minutes into level one even on Easy. In summary then, inncessantly unforgiving enemies, dodgy point n’ shoot mechanics, a negligible difficulty system and partly broken bullet time begs to pile on the rage quits. Or so it would seem on the first few play-through’s.
For it is in persistence and prudence that Story of a Cube drops its façade of being an unevenly mechanised, fast-paced, non-strategic shooter and reveals a different story underneath; Taking one’s time, peeking around corners, diving into it to determine the strength of fire power that lies ahead before returning back and unleashing your own from a distance causes progress.
Determining where these enemies lie, even if off screen, via trial and error before pointing the reticule in their general direction and counteracting their fire power until they eventually relent; learning that turrets are taken down by only a few carefully positioned bullets rather than fully automatic fire, realizing that every weapon has a role to play depending on situation, finding patterns in moving obstacles and the glorious display of projectiles discharged by bosses even in the absence of bullet time — all point towards Story of a Cube’s demand of much more than the mindless spamming of the mouse button.
Yes, it still gets irrepressibly difficult and the retries — especially on one’s first venture into the game — are extraordinary. Yet constant failure causes one to develop an instinctual understanding of enemy positions, attacks and ways to avert them with minimal loss of life via memorization and constant practice. Despite the game choosing to offer players one of its many achievements on passing the more strenuous end-of-mission scenarios, it is in the sense of personal accomplishment that arrives with their first ever completion where Story of a Cube truly shines.
This learning curve is further spruced by a degree of unpredictability that surrounds every level; no two levels feel repetitive despite the omni-presence of turrets, made possible in large part by the creative placement of character and non-character induced challenges that leave one anxiously anticipating every corner. Finally, the ultimate challenge of acuity that does arrive in the form of the final boss battle is, at least visually, every bit glorious.
Speaking of which, the game’s minimal art style works well for itself; Every level leaves the screen beaming in neon, which is further emphasised by the presence of gradient shadows. The use of shake and screen dimming effects under damage, followed by that of 8-bit animations & art to indicate key cards, varying bullet sizes, smoke, electric cables and other populace only adds to the fact that despite its using of a total of only 7-8 colors throughout, Story of a Cube is undoubtedly a visually attractive adventure. Throw in a fantastically composed soundtrack by Bocuma and fleeting Easter Eggs that show up for a fraction of a second on loading screens — and you have yourself a fully atmospheric one at that.
That said, apart from the eccentric learning curve, Story of a Cube does possess its fair share of issues; The innumerable number of retries seemingly forces one to have to sit through every one of the dialogues that transpire during them. However as developer Frederik Madsen later pointed out, the game’s Steam manual does indicate that dialogues can be sped up by use of the Ctrl button — a feature he plans to make more obvious in a future update seeing how users have brought it up in the past. Seen within the update will also be a tweak to the game’s black GUI on its final stage, whose dark layout currently makes it difficult for players to read the position of dialogues and the reticule on screen.
Additionally, there’s no denying the frustration that could be avoided were the game to support Controller input and at least a functional bullet time indicator. Interestingly Madsen admits that these were both planned features for the game that ended up not making the cut owing to last minute technical difficulties. He states though now that both are certainly in the books as future additions, along with a Level Editor that will let players create, upload and share their own stages.
Story of a Cube is now available on Steam for PC, Mac and Linux. As always, learn more of the intricacies of its development while staying in tune to future updates via its Higher Eclectic Space.
The above article serves to provide Community members Tiny Atom Games with constructive feedback towards the overall improvement of Story of a Cube, while also illustrating to other Community residents the game’s functioning and nuances.
‘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.’
RAM 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.
On 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.
This 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.
Ponderings 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.
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.
Starting today till the 23rd of February, 2015 — community members & indie game developers, Poinfive Team, will be making available three copies of the Android version of their indie puzzle game, RAM BOE.
Originally conceived as an entry into the 2015 Indie Game Maker Contest by Pointfive Team, RAM BOE is the retro puzzle, Sokoban, inspired narrative of one Beauregard Pete — a rock climbing, tree hugging adventurer who decided to spend one weekend attempting to slay the Ice Demon that terrorized the very mountain tops he so loved. Unfortunately, neither his wit nor strength were any match for Mr. Icey — leading to his soul being trapped in a rune stone for the rest of his life.
Or so he thought; managing to free his soul and possess a passing Ram. With four hooves, two horns, plenty of fur and lots of cuddly — what ensues is 40 levels of brain-squashing puzzles that will involve him moving blocks around and into a ‘well of revival’, in order to free himself and save others that might fall victim to the same fate. While the Android version of the game was released earlier this month at the break of New Year, the PC version of the game has been sitting for quite a while in its completed state on Steam Greenlight.
This is where you come in. For the next 21 days, Pointfive team is inviting Community members & puzzle game enthusiasts alike — to head down to RAM BOE’s Steam Greenlight page linked at the end of this announcement and simply provide Feedback on the game via the Greenlight page’s comments.
On the 24th of February, Pointfive will then enter the names of all those who commented into a draw — before randomly picking three winners, each of whom will win a copy of RAM BOE for their Android devices. The winners will be announced by the team on both theirs and Higher Eclectic Ground’s Facebook pages.
In the months since their membership within the Community, Pointfive have been it the Community exclusive insight into RAM BOE’s inception and growth. To catch all that and learn more about the game before opting to vote or provide feedback, be sure to drop by its Higher Eclectic Space.
After a little over a year since founding, several months of development ridden with concept art, teasers & trailers, a full-blown Square Enix Collective campaign and now, a month’s tenure under the radar — members Troglobytes Games’ first outing as a team, a 2.5D procedurally generated Action/Adventure RPG by the name of Tenebrae: Twilight of The Gods is now set to arrive on the Xbox One console beside its scheduled PC release.
Despite having alluded to a release on Microsoft’s popular console ever since the game’s inception both on and off record, the team have understandably steered clear from discussing the subject for months now until a solid confirmation from the technology corporation was received. The console port of course, is being made possible by the ID@Xbox program that lets independent game developers self-publish titles on the platform by providing them with access to its development kits.
‘ The vision shared by all of us here at Troglobytes Games is to reinvent and redefine the Metroidvania genre, giving players our take on it with all the makings of a modern game-play experience’, stated Community member and Troglobytes’ Lead Programmer and Tech. Artist Luciano Iurino in a press release issued last night. ‘We’ve been waiting for a chance to develop on major consoles for a long time and now thanks to the ID@Xbox program — we can now reach that goal’.
The news comes exactly six weeks post the game’s 28 days Square Enix Collective campaign — an initiative by the publisher that lets indie game developers pitch their game amidst an audience for the aforementioned period of time, before deciding if the game is worth supporting through a crowd funding stage based on observed user feedback and internal assessment. The campaign had ended on a high; with Tenebrae being upvoted by 89% of Collective’s audience base that had viewed the game’s pitch.
However despite that, the Troglobytes team have received little to no word on their game’s status within the Square Enix circle yet; it is worth noting that only 10-12 games a year make it to the next round of the Collective campaign as per its website. ‘Honestly, we don’t really know what is going on — things have been rather silent on that front’, confided Iurino when asked about the campaign’s status. ‘Regardless of support and/or funding, we’ll continue to develop Tenebrae — we wouldn’t have started it all otherwise. Sure, any help or support received along the way is always great but should it happen that we have to develop Tenebrae without it? We still will.’
With the Xbox One system now added to that definite release, could one expect to see added/enhanced game-play elements exclusive to the console? ‘Tenebrae isn’t really a game that would gain something different based on the console itself since it does not use any particular feature specific of a platform — like for instance, Kinect’, Iurino explains in response. ‘As of now, it’s just a matter of spreading the game on every possible platform.
Followers of the game here on the Community might also recall that Tenebrae puts players in the shoes of two main characters on an epic journey set in dark and mysterious dungeons — letting them play the game from two refreshingly different points of view, each with different combat-styles and abilities that lead to their own thought-provoking endings. Given that, Iurino quickly cleared away all expectations of a potential online multiplayer or local co-op mode, reinstating that Tenebrae is heavily story based — ‘Players will have to play both of the characters by themselves, separately; playing both will give them a different point of view on the story. As for multiplayer? We do have plans for other games in our future :)’
With that aside, the team are now gearing up to get back into action on social media — with a barrage of updates featuring improved environments and more that have taken shape in the weeks since the Collective. That is, not forgetting our exclusive interview with the team set to arrive soon, responses to which were held back on until the Xbox One announcement. What’s more, Iurino also hints at the possibility of involving other Community members — Writers & YouTubers — in the game’s development as it gears up for a release later this year. To stay tuned to all that transpires then and even catch an informative glimpse at various aspects of Tenebrae’s structure as shared by the team during their Collective days, be sure to stop by their Higher Eclectic Space.
Also feel free to leave them a word of encouragement in the comments below.