Oct 20, 2014

DualMondays: The Indie Game God Dream

This message never stopped you from playing. 
Come on, whether you've already made or just thought about making a videogame, you've dreamt the dream. It's not a shame, I tell you. What are dreams for if not for evoking the seemingly improbable or unobtainable? It's not worth bothering with something that provides no challenge whatsoever. It has to tax you both physically and intellectually. But being an indiegame god, is a different thing.

It's not just about making a living out of videogames; countless game designers have done that. Neither is it about creating a product or a service worth being invested in. It all boils down to perceiving and producing what others have not before. Thus, by the end of your estimated time of production, you accomplish what separates the game designers from the game gods. You change the course of the entire videogame industry. Whether your concept is based upon a certain genre, bringing new, exciting, never before used/implemented elements or it single-handedly creates a new one. Regardless of which, you rise from obscurity to worldwide fame and glory (or a portion of it).

You transform a hobby/passion into work.

It isn't simply saying "I make money from selling videogames", it's knowing you craft hours worth of excitement and innovation (even if it's scarce or minor) for people that have trusted/invested in you. And the stories of failure may indeed be present, perhaps far more present than I want to admit (this is an article to hype you, reader), but there's no game designer that set up his/her own indie game company, that started knowing how big his/her initial dreams would get. If that wasn't true, people like Dan Marshall, Agustin Cordes, Dave Gilbert, wouldn't exist. They would still be living in their parents' house/basement, or living their daily routines as they were, before they took the boldest step.

The step to attempt to give it all up to conquer even the smallest possibility of gaining enough of their yearly income, to live, play and create videogames. And how do you start doing that? Is there a specific trick to it, you ask? I'm afraid not. All you need is an idea and a way and perseverance. Bluntly put in the simplest of words, you have to try without fear of failing, dear reader.

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Oct 17, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #17.10

I missed last week's update, I know, but here I am once again watching the indie scene for all sorts of interesting things and letting you know about them. Hopefully, I'll even manage to stick to a schedule too and finally get around to letting you know about certain things I am working on too.

So, what better way to kick things off than with a mention of the new HM Spiffing Kickstarter? None really, as this is shaping up to become a truly hilarious point-and-clicker and comes complete with its playable demo.

Then we have the launch of lovely shmup BloodSpace by the KayaBros and Amon26. The game, besides sporting a unique visual style, is free when you play it on your browser, whereas a downloadable special version can be bought here.

The Pirate Bay Bundle is a brilliant collection of quality freeware games curated by @moshboy you can grab via one handy torrent. The thing sports 101 brilliant, weird, small, not-so-small and generally ignored games.

Hilarious and excellently designed adventure game Metal Dead has finally appeared on Steam and has unsurprisingly retained all of its Heavy Metal/zombie charm and character. Surprisingly, it's gotten a bit better too.

Wunderverse is aiming to become a rather unique app that will allow people to craft interactive, possibly illustrated stories on the iPad. It's currently seeking funds via Kickstarter.

And another Kickstarter: Immortal Empire. This one promises to combine XCOM, DOTA and Diablo into a highly intriguing RPG thing. A massively multiplayer one at that too and one that really looks like something worth supporting.

As for this week's final Kickstarter, well, it's non other than the already successful That Which Sleeps. A god-game in which you'll get to play a most definitely lovecraftian god.

Oh, and if you are wondering just how tough developing games actually is, I suppose the recently released Crunch Time! is the game you've been waiting for. It's a humorous card game and one that will only set you back $3.99.

Oct 13, 2014

DualMondays: Inspiration

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

Or the lack thereof. Everyone's been there. And we've all found our ways to force inspiration, even though such a thing is basically impossible. But we have found our "muses" -- techniques, people, things, trinkets etc -- to help us get there. My personal favorite is the movie "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" For some reason that remains unknown, I've always found the title infinitely more interesting than the movie itself.

When I first came across it, I'd surrounded the initial possibilities of the plot in my head with a veil of mystery and intrigue, creating my own version of what I could make out of the title. Thus, unaware of the actual story arc, I  gradually started realizing the endless scenarios I could create in my head under this specific title. The bleakness and the ironic grin that goes with facing the inevitability of life's events are what I like about the very expression; the one concerning the euthanasia of horses.

An innocent question to end one's innocence. Don't we sometimes have to learn to let go?

Not just people, but also creative projects, as they sometimes go astray and it's hard to pursue the goals we set out to achieve through them. Even if inspiration is the main drive, the result has to be judged and justified under different parameters. Personally, it saddens me to see a project I really wanted to see, wither away. But in the same time, I am well aware that those behind it, have their reasons. They've matured and gained experience from this whole experience.

The goal of reaching release stage is irrelevant when you've achieved and gained other things. Vital elements to be used in the future, in dreams that may come to exist. And that's how game designers evolve: by throwing down the pit of darkness, at the loneliest corners of their harddrives, what they consider as dead-weight. Whether it's easy to do so, or super-hard, no matter how much you've been clung to something, it won't fix the issues that revolve around it. And moving onto different things is the hardest thing to do.

Personally I've abandoned a good dozen of half-started games. Yeah, I admit it. But so have you. Think about it - we all have. Whether we put work or we just thought about them for a day or two - or an hour. In the spirit of the old Sierra adventure games, we learn through countless hours of trial and error, Until we see the much desired exit/solution to the puzzle. And then we consider the entire process as a wonderful journey.

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Oct 6, 2014

DualMondays: A strong background

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

I've always come to the conclusion that sometimes a story can be told in a far superior way through its setting/environment. The releases that we've come to consider as polished, have accepted this. Designers tend to painstakingly focus on the minor details, but it's no minor thing when everything breathes and expresses in its own unique ways. Adding purposefulness and reasoning behind each thing, character, behavior and action, should in fact be treated as a necessity. Enhancing each part that the game is placed in, in every possible way, is something that requires quite a bit of craftsmanship (from the perspective of the game designer); firstly because it's usually a terrible amount of work and secondly due to the chances of it being utterly ignored and/or missed by the majority of the players.

Loom offers an immense depth to a magical world, even if it's pixelly.
And I'm not talking exclusively about the little nods to a cultural piece of art/history. But, rather, speaking of the amount of seemingly uninteresting yet occasionally oh so relevant pieces of backstories that enrich the main plot arc, provided you're willing to spend your time exploring properly, seeking them out. It could be a library full of book titles someone spent his time writing, so that you could enjoy each entry. So that each part of the library felt worth bothering with looking for more.

As well as a game designer, but mostly as a gamer, I've come to enjoy the background elements, whatever they may be, that were rather "silent". A typical TV Soap Opera, endlessly repeating tropes and cliches, a hand-drawn picture by a child, an abandoned shelter, a message on the telephone that didn't get the chance to be heard, a murder scene in a hotel room always posing the same questions. The list literally goes forever.

But the strength of these small points is unique. They're not something random and pointless, like a movie scene that is only there to fill the required time set by the movie studio. In their own peculiar way, they prove that the story elements, of which they are part of, exist. Unlikely, they're not a work of fiction to comfort the needs of the storyteller, but on the contrary the conditions and the setting, make the story arc to exist out of logical order. You know, handing out more reasons to the characters than "because!" and instead combining the surrounding parameters and the basic drives of each protagonist (or antagonist) to a valid interaction with the world, simply put in the fewest of words, depth.

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Oct 3, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #3.10

You weren't expecting this, were you reader? You though that the Watchful Indie Watch was dead and buried, right? There's no shame in admitting this mind you, but I obviously digress. What really matters is that a lot (an exciting lot, actually) has been happening these past few weeks and here are the more interesting things from the indie world:

First and most importantly, we have the lovecraftian Case of Charles Dexter Ward Kickstarter campaign. It will probably become one of the best horror adventure games ever and the first game to proudly carry Lovecraft's name in its title. Based on HPL's only novel, the Case of Charles Dexter Ward will also benefit from the design talents of Agustin Cordes (of Scratches and Asylum fame) and the knowledge of scholar S.T. Joshi.

16-bit RPG Pier Solar has made the transition from the Sega MegaDrive to modern Windows, Mac and Linux PCs and all are finally happy. It's a rather epic, pixelated, top-down affair, you see, and one that will last you for a few dozen hours of fantasy fun. Oh, and it's also available for PS3, PS4 and the OUYA.

Wonderfully written and swashbucklingly epic interactive fiction Down Among the Dead Men has made it to Apple's App Store and is now available for all iDevices. It's an excellent read filled with more than enough intriguing choices to help you feel that piratey vibe and even comes complete with crisp illustrations.

This one has been out for quite some time now, but being a kindly freeware exploration game I can't recommend it enough and must thus remind you of Dust City by Kitty Horrorshow. It's a surreal 3D game with tons of stuff to explore and some awesome meta-content. Also, a mystery.

GameLoading: Rise of the Indies is currently up on Kickstarter and aims to become a feature-length documentary exploring part of the indie gaming community. All sorts of lovely people will be appearing, including Tale of Tales, Rami Ismail, Christine Love, Catt Small and, for some reason, John Romero.

Oh, and I almost forgot; there are more big news for adventure gamers, especially those craving a serious sci-fi story, as J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars has been released both as a DRM-free download and on Steam. It's bloody amazing, it is, and a huge improvement over the original J.U.L.I.A. I reviewed ages ago here.

Sep 29, 2014

DualMondays: Boss Fights 101

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

I know the lot of you really like cool retro arcade games that sport huge, monstrous, ridiculous bosses throughout their span. But thing is almost every kind of game is taking advantage of this feature. And why wouldn't they? Boss fights in their core are overhyped, outrageous gameplay segments that decide your worth and mastery of the game. They get you tense, they make you feel good about yourself, they make you lose your cool and mind over them, as you waste countless hours of button smashing and thinking around the box in the process of overcoming the improbable odds and coming out victorious.

Sometimes, it hurts.
But what does a boss fight consist of? What are the main elements it requires to be classified as such? Usually boss fights take a set of moves previously used by the player as part of the gameplay and make you use them in a different way. For example, in Portal you are taught the incineration mechanism used in the final boss fight by doing so in the earlier game with the Love companion. Additionally, placing the portals to make a turret shoot missiles at itself is also introduced earlier in the game. That's the way the game designer is teaching you the elements/attacks that you will require to execute under different conditions and parameters to accompish your goal(s).

But what about genres that are less action-packed? Can boss fights be equally effective across genres? The answer is simple. If done right, yes. Take the sequel to Monkey Island. Le Chuck's Revenge was published back in 1991 and happens to be a shining example. Initially helping the player construct a basic voodoo doll by categorizing the basic four items it requires into four big differentiated themes, will prove immensely helpful when the player is required to repeat the process towards the game's finale. To me, even if Guybrush is almost immune to Le Chuck's attacks, the mental stress and tension that is built during the introductory scene, helps making this boss battle one of the most memorable and stressing I've ever encountered.

 Does it get more soul-tearing than this?
And said tension and story-driven pace is what dictates all boss fights. It's about facing the last obstacle standing in your way in order to advance the story. It's not just solely to prove your mastery of the game's mechanics; these fights drain you both physically and emotionally. It's the confrontation of two diametrically different, yet so alike, paths. 

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