Author Archives: gerrardwinter

Instead of God, I Chose Strike Suit Zero

*Please note that have been several patches for Strike Suit Zero that attempt to address the game’s major shortcomings. This article was accurate at the time of the game’s launch on January 23rd 2013.*

Short review: If you really like spaceships, then you should go play Strike Suit Zero (SSZ). It has spaceships in it. They fight a lot. Oh, and the one you play as can TURN INTO A GIANT ROBOT. It’s pretty rad like that.

P.S – This game is broken in almost every way imaginable, plus a couple that aren’t. You have been warned.

Unnecessarily long and personal review: When I was a kid, I attended a VERY religious school. Specifically, one that embraced a funky British offshoot of Christianity called “Quakerism” It’s pretty much the same as run-of-the-mill Christianity, only with a gigantic hard-on for silence. Oh man, did they love themselves some good ‘ol silence. In fact, every week the whole school would gather together and enjoy a jolly good communal silence-off, which was about as exciting as you might expect. “What were you meant to do during these moments of silence?”  you might ask. Isn’t it obvious? We were to contemplate our almighty Lord God, of course!

The general idea was that if we sat around long enough thinking about how bloody brilliant God was, one of us would eventually become possessed by the Heavenly Father himself and proceed to deliver some grandiose proclamation to the rest of the group. Sadly, God never saw fit to bless me with his divine influence, possibly because I chose to spend my moments of silence thinking about other, far more important things instead.

Shot0

I chose to think about robots. I chose to think about robots and spaceships. I chose to think about robots, spaceships and lasers. I chose to think about robots (that may have also been spaceships) shooting lasers at spaceships (they were probably robots too) in space. At least a couple of Dragon Ball Z characters may have also been involved, but let’s just put that thought aside for now. Was this Sacrilegious? Probably. But when you’re a kid, you quite frankly don’t give a shit. At that age, robots, spaceships and lasers are literally the best thing EVER, and omnipotent, all-seeing super beings just can’t compare.

I’m told you’re supposed grow outta that kind of mentality when you get older, but that’s a load of bullshit, ‘cos I sure as hell never did! I’m well into my twenties at this point, and I’m still constantly wasting my time thinking about ridiculous space robots/ships fighting in equally ridiculous space robot/ship wars. If anything, I’m probably even more obsessed than I ever was before, something that a casual glance at my shelf full of Gundam action figures will quickly confirm.

What I’m getting at here, is that I think SSZ is a game I’ve been waiting most of my life for. In terms of visuals, it’s EXACTLY what I’ve been picturing in my head all these years. This is the thing my adolescent brain chose over God, the thing I’d STILL choose over God today. And who can blame me for that? Just look at this damn thing; it’s frickin’ gorgeous! “Awe-inspiring” isn’t a phrase I use lightly, but….dude. Consider my awe officially inspired.

Shot2

I really wanted to “wow!” you guys with some screenshots in this article, but it ended up being surprisingly difficult to snap any decent ones. This was likely due to two major factors standing in my way:

1) Taking my hands off the controller and reaching over to the Print Screen button often resulted in my shiny space robot getting blasted into shiny space-dust.

2) A screenshot could never truly convey my childish glee at watching a fleet of totally dope space dreadnaughts (plus swarms of equally dope space fighter planes) unloading a quite frankly irresponsible amount of ordnance against one another, set to some of the most incredible backdrops since Homeworld 2.

Jeez, and then there’s all the sexy vapour trails, explosions, lenses flares, motion blurs, Battlestar Galactica-esque music and…….and……. okay, so, basically, at any one moment in SSZ, there’s a billion things going on at once, and they’re all bloody amazing. It’s everything I’ve ever hoped for in a video game; a ridiculous space war to end all ridiculous space wars. So, screw silence! All I care about now is the beautiful melody of spaceship on spaceship/robot action!

Well, there you go then. Review over. 10/10. Hands down best game ever. This game > everything else. Move along now, nothing more to see here!

……..

Ugh. Wait. Much as I’d love to stop right here and now, I have an incy wincy confession to make first. So..uh…actually playing SSZ……*sigh*…..kinda sucks. A LOT.

Shot1

I honestly don’t know where to begin describing the innovative ways SSZ managed to both disappoint and frustrate me at every turn. Should I start by moaning about the utterly naff storytelling? The dry, soulless voice acting? The limited array of enemies? The scant selection of playable ships? Oh! How about the awful level design? Yeah, that a good’un!

Space shooters aren’t around anymore for one reason above all others: nobody likes crappy escort missions. Nobody. Yeah, I know it seems crazy ‘n all, but it turns out that booting a player to the “game over” screen every time a suicidal, uncontrollable AI snuffs itself out ain’t exactly fun. Shame the devs never got the memo on that one.

At any one moment in SSZ, you can reasonably expect to be escorting AT LEAST ONE pea-brained AI of some form or another, a task the game’s core mechanics feel in no way prepared for. Normally I wouldn’t link to another publication’s article, but I can’t help but mention SSZ’s review over on Eurogamer, in which journo Rich Stanton requests his tombstone be inscribed with the phrase “The Arcadia has been destroyed” in tribute of SSZ‘s all-too-common reason for a game over screen. All I can say is…….I feel you bro. I feel you so hard.

You’d think game would at least notify you when a bunch of armor-shattering torpedoes are making a beeline for your mothership’s sensitive underbelly, but apparently even that’s too much to ask. Instead, your best bet is to just mash the “target nearest priority” button periodically and hope it locks onto any torpedoes in the area (spoiler: sometimes it doesn’t) before you end up chucking your PC out the window in frustration. And God forbid you let even one torpedo spewing corvette get within spitting distance of your carriers, ‘cos apparently they’ve got no qualms about unloading those ballistic suckers at point-blank range!

Shot3

Hey, don’t leave! I ain’t done bitching yet! The above complaints are just a small sample of the many absolutely baffling design faults I encountered during my time with SSZ. Other such gems include, but are not limited to, your shields being utterly decimated should you even so much as lightly tap an enemy ship, no saving during any of the hour+ long missions, ship upgrades being tied to near impossible achievements, no in-mission ammo resupply or repairs, abysmal checkpointing and – my personal favourite – an instant game over if you cross any invisible, constantly moving, totally undocumented boundaries that could be absolutely anywhere in every level!

But you know what? Despite everything, I………I still like this game. I really do. I’d still rather play it than waste a single moments thought on God, Vishnu, Xenu, Richard Dawkins or whatever other deity you care to mention. I guess that probably says a whole lot more about me than it does this game, though.

But come on; it has hyperspace jumps! Flak cannons! Naval tactics! Ion Beams! Firing solutions! Plus, all kinds of other sci-fi bullshit, and it’s all just so damn glorious. Who cares if it ain’t exactly smooth sailing in the gameplay department? Whatever! This game lets you fly a crazy robot spaceship thing headlong into an enemy armada, weave through oncoming laser beams, transform into kick-ass robot, unleash an absurd volley of micro-missiles, and then sit back and bask in the resulting explosion like it’s an end of season finale. I tell ya buddy, that just speaks to me on some deep-ass level.

Would I recommend SSZ to anyone who isn’t an obsessive man-child like me? Eh, probably not. I’m not even sure I’d recommend it to myself! That’s not to say I regret playing SSZ; watching my childhood dreams unfold before me is something that I’ll treasure for a long time to come. No, the thing I regret is trying to convince myself that those dreams could in any way justify all the things SSZ got wrong, that it could somehow bring me to call it a “good game”  It ain’t a good game. It’s a bad game. It’s a VERY bad game.

Instead of God, I chose a very bad game.

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‘Indie’ Means Nothing, And It’s Everyone’s Fault

Oh man. It’s time to tackle that big question: “What is Indie?” You’d think a publication that has the word “Indie” in its title, is staffed by primarily “Indie” fans and publishes articles exclusively and exhaustively on the subject of everything ‘”Indie” under the sun, that we’d sorta know what the bloody word actually means by now. Well, it turns out we don’t. It turns out no one does. It turns out that not a week goes by where I don’t hear someone meekly ask their fellow gaming compatriots whether or not GAME X is ‘Indie’ or not, only to be subsequently thrown aback by the crashing waves of wildly conflicting opinions on the matter until they find themselves gasping for air as they plunge deeper into an ocean of bickering, twisted logic and malice. It turns out this is a problem. So I’ve decided that, for the good of all the game lovin’ peeps everywhere, I’m gonna figure this shit out right here, right now!

Alright then. Let’s start this thing from the top: “Indie” is short for “independent”, right? And a game studio can be “independent”, i.e. not owned, funded or aided by the money of a publisher. So………..there ya’ go, then! Problem solved! Jeez, why have you guys been struggling with this one for so long? This question’s a cinch! Yup. Without a doubt, I have just crafted an ironclad definition that, as a community, we can all agree is 100% accurate:

In-die noun
1.      A video game created “independently” from publishers.
…..
…..
…..

HAHA. Oh man. I even fooled myself for a sec there! I mean, good lord, if only it really was that simple! Well, actually it would seem there’s plenty of people out there who DO think it’s that simple, and who are more than willing to cause one hell of a ruckus about it…….when it suits them. For a rather unflattering example, one need only think back to the 11th month of the 32nd year of our lord Notch (known to some as May 2012), when the unholy titan of evil, Electronic Arts, dared unleash a plague of cut-price video games upon the fair province of Steam. The name of this abomination? The EA “Indie” bundle.

EA

All at once, what seemed like the entire population of planet Earth (along more than a couple of douchebags jumping on the bandwagon) did cry out in furious anger, “THAT. IS NOT. INDIE.” Yes, this was an issue that got the hardcore fanatics so wound up that they started polishing off their pitchforks and declared a jolly good witch-hunt for anyone even vaguely involved in the affair.

Even in retrospect, this seems like it was a completely rational and sensible response response to the whole thing. I mean goddamn, HOW DARE THEY DO THIS? A publisher of all things trying to pass off clearly tainted tripe like Deathspank (which, sarcasm aside, did kinda suck) and Shank 2 as true, pure “Indie” products! Sacrilege, that’s what it is! Everyone knows that contracts with big mean ol’ publishers are strictly forbidden! ‘Tis our highest law after all, one punishable only by incessant whining and a few poorly worded Tumblr posts!

Well, hey, guess what? Under that same stupid logic, Super Meat Boy ain’t “Indie” either. Nor is Fez, Braid (i.e. the stars of “Indie” Game: The Movie) Bastion, Journey, Limbo or innumerable other members of the Indie pantheon that many of us so willingly worship without question. It’s no secret that they all had contracts and deals with publishers, which is why most of us have even heard of them in the first place! If we really want to move forward as a culture, then we’ve gotta face facts: simply looking at whether the devs have colluded with a publisher is a terrible barometer for “Indie” credibility. So please, for the love of God, let’s stop doing it!

So, now that we’ve put that B.S. aside for a sec, let’s have a little think about what it is we’re actually trying to imply with the word “Indie”. That’s easier said than done, of course, as it’s probably one of the most loaded words in the English language. It conjures up vague (with a lot of emphasis on the “vague” part) images of small teams working on shoestring budgets and impossible deadlines in order to create some revolutionary tour de force that’s full of so much raw passion and creativity that it’ll likely change the way we look at games forever*.

*That’s Indie speak for “it’s a 2D, 8-bit platformer with some random physics puzzle bollocks thrown in”.

Hawken

Right, so how about this one then?

In-die noun
1.      A game produced by a small development team using extremely limited resources.

Hmmm. It sounds alright, I guess. But I think we may need a case study to test this new definition. Let’s saaaaaaaaay……….Hawken.

You guys, Hawken is really cool. I mean REALLY cool. It’s about robots shooting each other n’ stuff, plus the graphics are so shit-hot that it’s like getting a sneak peak at high-end AAA gaming circa 2 years from now. I would hope that I don’t need to explain to you why both those things make Hawken totally bitchin’. But that’s irrelevant really. What matters here is that it’s ostensibly an “Indie” project, at least according to the world at large anyway (you’ll find recent talk of it on almost all major Indie gaming blogs). You can easily see why people would call it “Indie” too. After all, the Hawken dev team did start off as just a small bunch o’ dudes equipped with nothing but a dream, some cheap/free software and a garage turned into a makeshift office. That, my friends, is Indie as shit.
Now, here are 4 ways they also make a complete mockery of the term “Indie” or at least definition I of it I mentioned above anyway.

  • The dev team now have over 10 million freaking dollars of venture capital funding behind them.
  • They threw an E3 party. Take a deep breath and read that one again. E. Three. Party. Seriously guys, fucking Snoop Dogg was there!
  • I reiterate: Snoop Dogg.
  • Oh! And they totally have a big-ass publisher contract now, for those of you that care.

What this tells us is that the whole “tiny team, tiny budget” angle is also total bunk, because despite everything I just said, there’s many people out there still insist on calling Hawken an “Indie” title. Even with all the money, the publisher, the glitz and the Snoop Doggy doggness, in many a person’s heart Hawken still encapsulates what THEY feel is in the spirit of the “Indie” movement. Crazy people like me, for instance.

Vocab

I call Hawken “Indie” because, to me, all that word means is that the devs are the ones callin’ the creative shots, and not some big publisher executive dude. Is that what most people think? No. Is what “most people” think also what most OTHER people think? No.

And really, that’s the root of all evil here. We all got into this weird scene for different reasons. Some people detested the direction that the AAA sector was/is going, some people like to see tributes to the games of their childhood, and others just like being hipster wankers. But whatever our reasons were, ever since we got here we’ve all (myself included) been like, “Oh, ‘Indie’ means this” or “Actually, ‘Indie’ means that”. We’ve all been so obsessed for so long that the word “Indie” represents our particular attachment to the scene, that we’ve totally forgotten what “Indie” even is.
Protip: It’s a word.

It’s not a mystical rune forged by the elder gods, one whose power can only be divined after years of careful study and deliberation with fellow scholars. It’s a word. A combination of sounds we can make with our mouths. A sound that only exists so that we can label the stuff we wanna talk about without having to spend all day explaining it. That’s it. That’s all it is, and all it ever will be. A silly little label we made up for convenience’s sake. A label we abused the shit out of. A label we tried so hard to cram as many possible conflicting emotions and opinions into at once, that now all we have left is…….this:

In-die   noun
1.     A word that now means nothing, and it’s everyone’s fault.

Dictionary

I can’t help but feel we should be looking to the music industry for guidance here. Sure, maybe they get a little carried away with the whole labelling thing sometimes, but at least they’re TRYING to figure  this shit out. Think about it, there’s regular-ass Grunge and there’s Post-grunge, so why can’t there be Indie and Post-Indie? Or Alternative Indie, or Heavy Indie, or Acoustic Indie, or Indie-Indie or just about anything that’ll let us all have our own way with the word and end this zero-sum war? And since when did we become so bloody obsessed with trying to give our scene one singular, absolute label anyway?

Perhaps we’re just victims of our own success. Whatever this “Indie” thing is, it evolved faster than any of us could have imagined. Day by day, the barrier for entry in the game making biz is getting lower, making every year feel like the dawn of a new era of progress and discovery. But meanwhile, our lexicon has been content to simply sit on its arse all day and fiddle with its navel. Maybe with a bit more time to mature we’ll manage figure that part of the puzzle out, but it sure don’t look like that’s happening any time soon.

So, wanna hear my short term solution in the meantime? Stop giving a shit and count your blessings. Seriously, have you heard audiophiles talk about the difference between Grunge and Post-grunge? That stuff is the very definition of monotony! I bet even if we did subcategorise indie, we’d probably still spend way too long arguing about what game goes in what category, and far too little time actually playing the damn things.

I’m sure there are plenty of the fanatics out there who’d crucify me for showing such indifference over the most debated topic of our age and all, but……. hey. Come on guys. Can’t a good game just be a good game? Does it really matter THAT much what “indie” really means? Can’t we just…. oh…it does matter?

Well. Alright then.

Prison Architect Interview

Rising from the ashes of the long-delayed Subversion, Introversion Software’s Prison Architect has caused quite a stir for not only resisting the indie scene’s current love affair with Kickstarter, but also doing it in style. With overall revenues of the alpha fund campaign sitting at well over £200,000, it’s safe to say that plenty of people are pretty buzzed to incarcerate, rehabilitate and maybe even execute some digital felons. So then, what better time to sit down with Introversion’s very own Mark Morris (Managing Director) to discuss the finer points of the alpha funding craze, the touchy subject of prisons abroad, and spending over a decade being a Indie?


Indie Statik: You guys have been in business for way longer than a lot of other indie outfits out there, so how have you seen the indie landscape change in the 11 years since Uplink?

Mark Morris: It’s changed hugely. When we started there was no digital distribution – we had to physically print the labels and burn the CDs. Steam (and the rest) have radically improved routes to market. There’s also a whole indie genre now that didn’t exist back in 2000.

Indie Statik: Is it all for the better, or do you think some things have gotten worse?

Mark Morris: It’s 90% for the better I think. Marketing is a little harder than it used to be, but I think we are living in a golden age for indies.

Indie Statik: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new, non-multiplayer game from Introversion. Has it been easy to jump back into the saddle with a single-player focused title?

Mark Morris: Yeah, it’s easier. Chris Delay, [the dude what makes the games] had the vision for Prison Architect and didn’t really see any multiplayer options. It’s quite a relief to get away from all the networking headaches!

Indie Statik: Is multiplayer something you’d be open to in the future?

Mark Morris: For version 1 of Prison Architect it’ll definitely be singleplayer only. We have some cool plans for map share and video stuff, but nothing more than that. If the game does well enough we may consider some multiplayer, but it’s not on the table at the moment.

Indie Statik: In previous Introversion games the player has always been detached from reality in some way, has it felt different making something more “real” this time?

Mark Morris: I don’t think this is more “real” than Uplink or DEFCON. You played a real-world Hacker, then a real-world General and now a real-world Prison Architect!

Indie Statik: So putting a face and a name to those you influence or kill hasn’t changed anything?

Mark Morris: There is a very different tone to Prison Architect and we are very aware of that. We spend a lot of time making sure that we think hard about the issues and try to represent a balanced and well thought-out game. We don’t want to glorify or trivialise prisons. In that regard it’s very challenging.

Indie Statik: Is the setting of Prison Architect drawing more from “real life” prisons than fictional depictions of prisons?

Mark Morris: Not really. It’s heavily influenced by prison media, but we do have an ex-prisoner and a UK prison officer advising us.

Indie Statik: Will it be mainly from a British angle then? Or will we see cultural and social elements from other countries?

Mark Morris: That’s a very interesting question. We are British, and we draw heavily on our own understanding of prisons. But most of the media is American; Shawshank, Green Mile, Prison Break etc etc. So it’s kind of a middle ground. We’re actually trying hard not to situate it. There should be a question in the players mind about where this prison is geographically and what year it is. We’re deliberately obscuring those issues.

Indie Statik: Will the player be able to take their own stance on divisive subjects like executions in the story campaign, or is the law “the law” in Prison Architect?

Mark Morris: There’s less choice in the story, but 100% freedom of action in the sandbox. As the story rolls forward it’ll become less directive than it currently is, but it’s hard to tell a story if you don’t maintain some control over the direction the player takes

Indie Statik: Going back to geography a sec, what’s the donation divide been like from the US compared to UK?

Mark Morris: Hmm – I’m not sure if I actually know the answer myself. Hang on a sec……….

Indie Statik: Haha! Well I got a lot more from that question than I was expecting!

Mark Morris: Yeah me too! I didn’t even know we had that view in google analytics!

Indie Statik: Oh wow, I notice there’s not much difference between the two donation amounts!

Mark Morris: Yeah, it’s pretty much neck and neck at the moment!

Indie Statik: Anyway, will it ever be possible for someone to make a “perfect prison” in Prison Architect, one that basically runs itself?

Mark Morris: We’re trying to balance things so that it should ultimately be possible to make a “perfect prison”. That’s not really a design aim, just a kind of principle behind what we are doing. We develop Prison Architect by making a system – like the canteen system. We then layer system on top of system until we start to see emergent behaviours that we (as designers) couldn’t predict. The game has to be deterministic, but ultimately we want the game to surprise us!

Indie Statik: Would you say that’d be a “win” condition for sandbox mode, or is that meant to be more of a “see how long you survive” kind of thing?

Mark Morris: We’ve not figured out the “end game” yet. We’re thinking about having different metrics, like number of prisoners, number of days without incident, number of Rehabilitations, those sorts of things. But it’s still early days.

Indie Statik: Ah, so stuff like that’s going to evolve as the alpha goes on then?

Mark Morris: Yeah, we’ll ask the alpharites what they think and implement the most popular options.

Indie Statik: Wow, that’s brave to give the players that much influence!

Mark Morris: Well, yes and no. We’ll decide what list of things to include and then put them out there, then the community can vote and suggest things that we may have missed. If there’s something we really want to do, but it doesn’t get the community massively animated, we’ll probably do it anyway – silent majority sort of thing. We really do want to have a strong relationship with the community, but the game won’t be “designed by committee” if that makes sense.

Indie Statik: What was it like sitting on the “go” button for the alpha campaign? What were your expectations?

Mark Morris: Tiny. We were hoping to get 100 people in the first 24 hours. But it exploded!

Indie Statik: Haha, it sure did. I’m glad you were wrong!

Mark Morris: Me too!

Indie Statik: On that note, do you think the current alpha funding mania is a bubble that could potentially burst, or has it changed the indie scene forever at this point?

Mark Morris: I think it’s changed forever. It makes a massive difference being able to get funding when you are 2/3 of the way through development and I think there is a certain type of gamer that really wants to be involved early and help out. I think the actual way in which alphas are implemented may change, but I think (hope) that they are here for good now.


If you fancy giving Prison Architect a try (you should, it’s pretty rad!) then head over to the official site and contribute ~ £19 or more to get yourself an spot in the ongoing alpha test, plus a copy of the final game when it hits! Or if you’d rather wait it out, keep an eye on us here at Indie Statik for future coverage!

Xenonauts Interview

All you old school X-Com survivors and curious whippersnappers alike owe it to yourselves to check out our interview with Xenonauts head honcho Chris England. After all, who better to tell you about your impending doom than the mastermind behind it all? **NOW WITH FREE BONUS CONTENT: Random jerks walking in front of our camera!**]

Carmageddon: Reincarnation Interivew

[The other day we caught up with Stainless Games Production Director Ben Gunstone to learn more about the highs and lows of Kickstarter fame, the essence of the Carmageddon faith, the beauty of weaponized dildos and about how you can soon poke a man’s face on your iPhone while running people over! Truly, this interview has every topic worth talking about and more.]

Rezzed 2012: Tengami Interview

[Tengami for the iPad was without a doubt one of Rezzed 2012’s hidden gems, so discover this little treasure for yourself through our interview with developer Phil Tossel!]

IGM: So Phil, give us the lowdown on Tengami! How you you describe it to someone who hadn’t seen it before?

Phil: So, we spent a lot of time trying to decide how we would describe Tengami in one sentence, because it’s got a quite a kinda ‘different’ concept. I’d define it as kind of a ‘relaxed adventure game’ that’s based completely around ‘pop-up’ mechanics. Basically everything in the gameworld folds and unfolds according to the player’s interaction with the touch screen.

IGM: Yeah, that japanese paper aesthetic is really beautiful! What made you guys go with that? Was it just divine inspiration or something more specific?

Phil: Well we all love Japan -and I specifically like traditional Japanese arts and crafts- so I’ve always been fascinated by ‘Washi’ paper and how they make it, and I always tough it would make a really kinda nice backdrop for the game. We’re really lucky actually, we have a fantastic Japanese artist called Rio who helps us a lot with the authenticity of the artwork. So yeah, I guess it’s a love of Japan that sparked the initial idea.

IGM: What kind of story are you trying to tell in Tengami?

Phil: There’s not much of a direct story, it’s all very kind of ‘experiential’; so there’s not really an explicit story we’re trying to tell. I guess we’re trying to make the player think about certain things, which doesn’t necessarily come across in the current build. But it’s mainly about the renewal of life and dreams after they’ve been sapped away.

IGM: So it’s a rather passive experience then, rather than something the player is directly involved with?

Phil: Absolutely. You don’t really know anything about your character, and that’s intentional. It’s so that the player puts their own spin on what they want Tengami to be about.

IGM: How far along are you guys with development at the moment?

Phil: We’ve spent about a year and a half so far working on Tengami. We started straight away after we quit our previous jobs [at Rare]. In the first year I think we were overly ambitious; we thought we’d have something ‘out’ in a year. But then a year went by and all we had was tech and ideas all in pieces! It’s only been in the last few months when things have finaly come together into a cohesive experience.


IGM: Ah, so you’re quite a while off being ‘finished’ then?

Phil: Yeah, we’ve been trying to get just one level that’s representative of the game -which is what we have here at Rezzed today- in terms of visual style, quality level and mechanics. The puzzles and that still need refinement based on watching people play though. Then it’s a case of “Ok we’ve got something that defines the game, now we have to expand on that”. So we’re still probably about another six to nine months off being ‘finished’ yet.

IGM: How has the transition been for you guys, going from Rare employees to being Indies I mean? Is it everything you wanted it to be?

Phil: And more! I loved working at Rare -it was a great place to work- but I got to the point In my career where I felt like I needed to expand what It is I do. I’m a programmer by trade, but I wanted to be more involved in other aspects of game development process than just that. However there’s just not that kind of scope at large studios anymore. So we had some ideas and though “lets just go for it!”. I’m lovin’ it so far; every day is just doing what you love doing really. Because we self-funded the game we don’t have any publisher or anything; all the creative decisions are ours and we can take our time over stuff. It’s been really good!

IGM: Can you tell us a bit more about the kind of puzzles and experiences you have in the current build of Tengami?

Phil: Yeah so the game starts with a little bit of visual storytelling, which kinda introduces the interaction with ‘pop-ups’ as we’ve found it’s quite new for people how you interact with the game initially. When you get past that, we then introduce the character and movement controls. The puzzles that follow aren’t really brain teasers, they kinda make you think a little bit but they aren’t meant to be really difficult. Tengami is meant to be something you can just enjoy at your own pace. Most of the ones we have implemented so far just revolve around opening and closing pop-ups and showing you things in a way that you may not expect at first.

IGM: What made you guys chose the iPad as the platform for Tengami? There’s not really anything like it on that system.

Phil: When we first started we were like “well, what shall we do?” and really the iPad was the catalyst for finally jumping in. For a while we’d be thinking we wanted to do our own games, but what platform will we do it on? Consoles cost too much and phones were too casual. So when the iPad came out we were like “Yes! This is it! This is the platform!”. We were kinda disappointed initially just to see so many iPhone games being ported to iPad and then thinking “but you can do so much more with it than that!”.

So we thought it would be perfect for what we wanted to do with player interaction in Tengami due to its tactical nature; we just hope there’s an audience for it there. It’s our belief that there IS one anyway; we basically made the kind of game we wanted to play, and I don’t think I’m THAT unusual! So there must be a certain percentage of people who want to play it too.

For more info on Tengami and NyamYam games, check out their official site.

Rezzed 2012: Strike Suit Zero Interviews

Want to know more about upcoming mecha-tacular space combat sim Strike Suit Zero? Of course you do! So check out our pair of interviews with members of the Born Ready Games crew and get yourself up to speed.

First up, community manager Jamin Smith gives us a broad overview on what makes Strike Suit Zero tick, and then we follow up by getting some juicy nitty-gritty gameplay details from Lead Designer himself Christopher Redden! Also included: footage of mechanical things exploding in space.

Rezzed 2012 Report: The Big Guns

Hail dear IGM readers! I greet you as one freshly returned from the inaugural (and hopefully now anual) PC gaming expo: Rezzed. I kid you not, there were mountains upon mountains of Indie games dotted all around the show floor. Some were ones IGM have covered in the past, but there were others that took me completely by surprise! So, I felt it only fair that I share with you some of what I learnt on my travels here in the Rezzed 2012 report. Bare in mind I’ll mainly be talking about ‘Big Guns’ of Rezzed in this article, as we’ll have a separate one about the smaller games that made up the SEGA Leftfield collection at a later date. Plus, keep a lookout for a bunch of video interviews in the next day or so!

Here’s a handy little list of shortcuts if you’d rather check out a specific game than scroll through this behemoth:

Day Z
Krater
Prison Architect
Skulls of the Shogun
Xenonauts
Serious Sam 3 BFE: Jewel of the Nile
Strike Suit Zero
Tengami
Hotline Miami

**Please note that there were a few other Indie titles at the show such as Natural Selection 2 that I didn’t really get a good look at due to lack of time, sorry about that!** DayZ

Day Z

Funnily enough, I was unable to play any of DayZ at Rezzed for more or less the same reasons people who already own it can’t either. I.e. The current build was either so buggered-up that merely glancing in its general direction would trigger a crash OR when it was working, It’d be so jam-packed with other players that you’d have needed either celebrity status and/or a hefty application of a cattle prod to get even close to it. Sadly I had neither at my disposal that day, so I’ll just have to trust it’s still as amazing as the 400,000 strong player base insist it is!

I did however manage to cram into the equally popular DayZ keynote with Lead Developer (as far as I can tell, the ONLY developer) Dead “Rocket” Hall. Unfortunately it was mostly comprised of slightly boring waffle about the game’s history, but there were a few tidbits of interesting info about his plans for the game’s future:

  • Detailed stat tracking on the DayZ site.
  • Forums, clans and other such social networking fluff.
  • Pet dogs!
  • Player-built underground bases (?!?).
  • Sorely needed performance optimization.
  • Immersive chat functions to replace the recently removed ‘global chat’.
  • Finally launching the game as its own stand-alone title.

You can currently download the DayZ mod from the official site, although you will also need a copy of ARMA 2 (currently £14.99 on Steam) and a saintly amount of patience to actually play the damn thing.

Krater

This was definitely one of the weirder ones out of the “big” Indies Rezzed, so much so that I’m struggling for an easy way to sum it up. The best I can come up with is an Action-RPG that blends the loot hunting and mechanics of an MMO, the randomised dungeons of a Rougelike, the control scheme of an RTS and the fast paced ability management of a MOBA. I call it the ‘MM(A)RPG/TS-MOBA Like’. Also, it’s set in postapocalypitc Sweden. Yeah.

However for something so mechanically dense, it was surprisingly easy just to pick up and play. After spending only a minute or so reading tooltips, I was already blasting my way through swaths of indigenous wildlife, managing agro, healing up and lootin’ loot like a total boss. What’s more, I never felt like it was holding my hand or anything; it just seemed to be generally accessible while at the same time not being too simple. Mainstream devs should be taking notes!

I do hesitate in calling Krater “good” after only playing it for such a short time though. As with most RPGs, there’s just too many factors in play here that’re only going to become clear after many an afternoon has been invested first. But without a doubt the way it smoothly merged together so may discrete genres makes it intriguing and, dare I say it? ‘unique’ enough to recommend than any Indie fans out there check it out post-haste!

On a side note, I was very amused that the devs like to refer to it as a “Living Game” which to me sounds like a polite way of saying the retail build still contains an ton of bugs and missing features that they’ll probably get around to patching in at some point. Innovative new development method, or just clever way of selling a product that ain’t finished? Only time -and inevitable internet based whining- will tell.

If you want to delve into the dark caverns of Krater yourself, then you can pick up for £11.99 on Steam.

Prison Architect

Much like DayZ, getting within a stones throw of Introversion Software’s Prison Architect was an achievement unto itself, and I thus was unable to get my grubby hands on it. Although I did manage to attend the (also jam-packed) developer session, which not only provided the fascinating story of Prison Architect’s origins as a level editing tool for the now canceled Subversion, but also showed more than enough live gameplay to satisfy those of us destined to never reach the fabled keyboards of the Introversion booth.

From what I saw, the closest parallel that sprung to mind was the much underappreciated Evil Genius, which in turn was sorta like the Sims, only with each sim acting as peon highly valued employee that maintain your meticulously designed institution of interlocking systems and subsystems. Basically Dwarf Fortress but, you know, actually playable by human beings. Prison Architect’s twist? A bunch of those sims (the prisoners) really REALLY hate you, and want nothing more than to send your magnificent creation into complete disarray and hightail it outta there to freedom.

The creation tools seem fairly intuitive, relying a traditional click ‘n drag interface that’ll let you build key prison facilities such as cafeteria, showers, gyms and cell blocks in all but a couple of seconds. But with the promise of complex dynamic AI behavior, It seems to me like it’s going to be just as addictive watching the prisoners go about their daily lives as it is actually creating anything for them to do it in. Definitely one to keep an eye on!

The release date for Prison Architect is still TBA 2012, so keep track over on the official site.

Skulls of the Shogun

Wow. This turn-based strategy game has come a LONG way since we first saw it way back in 2010. Starting off life as relatively obscure little gem, Skulls is now blessed (or cursed, depending on your disposition) with a juicy publishing deal from Microsoft that sees it slated to appear not only on XBLA, but is also acting as a gaming frontman for Windows phone and the supposed ‘iPad Killer’ MS Surface.

I managed to play a far bit of both the single and multiplayer modes during my stay at Rezzed, and I came away fairly impressed but also a little concerned about its future. True to their word, the developers at 17-BIT have made something that’s both a love letter to the genre, yet also provides a smooth experience that isn’t bogged down by the usual sea of menus and mechanics. Turns went by in a flash, strategies were formed, battles were fought and honorable victories where had; all with nothing but a few seconds worth of explanation from the helpful booth staff. Great! So, everything’s hunky dory right?

Well, what worries me is that they’ve maybe gone a little bit *too* far with their streamlining of the genre. In short bursts Skulls of the Shogun was definitely entertaining, but the rather limited number of unit types and overall simplicity makes me think there isn’t enough there for strategy fans to sink their teeth into in the long term. That said, It’s not really something I can say for sure until I’ve spent more time with it, so keep an eye out for IGM’s review when it eventually hits the market later this year.

As a side note, I’d like to say that my hat really goes off to whoever wrote the dialogue in the single player campaign. It was straightforward and simple, yet surprisingly hilarious. I’m not sure it’ll add much in the way of long term value, but it certainly makes the overall package fairly enticing!

Skulls of the Shogun is currently TBA 2012. Check out the Official Site for more info.

Xenonauts

Still fresh from a fairly spectacular Kickstarter ($154,000 total raised) this faithful remake of hardcore turn-based classic X-Com: UFO Defence seems to be coming along rather swimmingly so far. As well as keeping much of the depth (and soul-crushing difficulty level) that made the original so engaging, there’s also been a fair number of significant improvements on the old formula. In particular, I can now happily report that figuring out the battle UI is no longer akin to translating 8-bit hieroglyphics. Oh, you think i’m joking? You know nothing young one.

On top of that there’s also a significantly deeper aerial combat system and a host of new weapon types not found in the original (e.g. sniper rifle, flamethrower) set to add even more layers of juicy micromanagement to an already dense title. Lead developer Chris England also mentioned he’d made a bunch of more long term balance tweaks as well, such as implementing a more ‘’realistic’ technology research tree that makes exotic alien weaponry far harder to acquire than before. Whether these changes will have a positive long-term impact is yet to be seen, but I can safely say that I’m already looking forward too missing a couple of writing deadlines in order to find out.

If you want to hear more about what makes Xenonauts tick, then stay tuned over the next few days for my interview with Chris England himself. We discuss his goals for the project, the ‘official’ X-Com remake by Civilisation devs Firaxis, the rise of alpha-funding AND get progressively more and more annoyed at random people walking in front of the camera!

You can currently help alpha-fund the development of Xenonauts over on the official site, granting you access to the current alpha build as well as a free copy of the final game when it’s finally ‘done’ (TBA).

Serious Sam 3 BFE: Jewel of the Nile

Eh, I’ll be honest here, I’ve never really been much of a Serious Sam guy. For those who don’t know, the basic gist is that it’s fast paced old school style FPS (on the same lines as Painkiller) but with the difficulty cranked up to 11. As in: Is there an enemy within spitting distance? Boom! You’re dead. This new DLC pack for BFE seems to be no different; even a small contingent of troops managed to render all the health and armor packs I’d just spend the last few minutes scavenging completely moot point. So yeah; if Serious Sam was already your joint, then I guess this thing is just more of what you’re after.

The jewel of the Nile DLC pack goes live in October 2012, price TBA.

Strike Suit Zero

Oooooooh boy. No joke, getting to finally see this game in action was one of the reasons I went all the way to Rezzed in the first place! I mean come on guys; you control a transforming giant robot/fighter craft hybrid IN SPACE. What’s not not love? Well, It sounded cool on paper anyway. The development team has been real hush-hush on details since the game got announced back in August 2011, which had me more than a little bit apprehensive about what the game was actually like outside of my wild fantasies.

Thankfully for my sanity, it turned out to be more than capable of living up to its gradnous concept. Despite still being a few months away from completion, every second of Strike Suit was an absolute visual treat. The screen was constantly filled with either ludicrous amounts of futuristic projectiles, the boundless reaches of a glowing planet Earth, swarms of awesome spaceships or various delightful combinations thereof. Together, these elements created an atmosphere that should be intimately familiar with fans of space combat stalwarts like Freespace and Homeworld; that this is a *real* war you’re in bro, one that’s far larger than just you and your sweet ride. Whether you fight or not, thousands will die and the fate of millions more hangs in the balance. Plus it’ll all look really frickin’ cool.

But Strike Suit wasn’t just a pretty face. The controls seemed fairly tight and -even with the limitations of the demo- combat proved both satisfying as well as challenging. Perhaps a little bit TOO challenging in fact, as the spaceship escort mission (cue painful Sol: Exodus flashback) they were demoing seemed to prove nearly impossible for both attendees and the PR crew alike…..

There’s no way of knowing if that was just a bit of an oversight on their part, or if it’s indicative of the difficulty in the final product. However there’s one thing I do know for certain: transforming your ship into a giant death robot and then unleashing hella’ crazy amounts of ordnance on the nearest capital ship felt rather badass, and I’d very much like to do it again sometime.

If that last sentence didn’t already sell you on Strike Suit Zero (?!?!?) then keep an eye on IGM in the coming days! We should have a pair of cool video interviews featuring both the Community Manager and Lead Developer of up soon, accompanied by some epic gameplay footage that’ll hopefully have you wanting to to get behind your own Strike Suit ASAP.

Strike Suit Zero has a tentative release date of Autumn 2012 for PC and early 2013 for consoles. Hopefully they’ll update the teaser site before then.

Tengami

Undeservedly tucked away in a dark corner of the show floor was the iPad based Tengami by ex-Rare developers NyanYam games. Out of all the titles I saw at Rezzed it was probably the one that felt the least ‘finished’, with many core gameplay elements and overall structure still a little on the shaky side. But to its credit, it was also by far the most visually striking thing I’ve seen on any platform in a good while.

The entire world of Tengami (including the player character) takes the form of a pop-up book made of crisp Japanese washi paper, which creates some beautiful real-time set pieces that I quite honestly can’t do justice to with words alone. It isn’t just a visual aesthetic though; almost all player interaction comes from unfolding pages or pulling tabs to reveal hidden objects or even entirely new locations explore. If I had to categorize it (which I do, it’s a game journalism law or something) I’d say it most resembles a point ‘n click adventure, albeit it one with uncharacteristically straightforward puzzles. In fact, the devs were quite keen to point out the puzzles were never meant to provide much of a challenge anyway, as the game is more about exploring the themes of life, dreams, loss and renewal. Deep bro.

If you want to see Tengami in action and hear it described by someone far more eloquent than I, then stick around for our Interview with developer Phill Tossel coming soon!

NyamYam estimate they’ll have Tengami out between January and April 2012. Check out the official site for more.

Hotline Miami

And so we finish up our little journey through the weird and wonderful of Rezzed 2012 with a high note: Hotline Miami. Man oh man, without a moment’s hesitation I’d name this my ’game of show’. Was it the prettiest game there? No. Was it the smartest game there? No. Was it the most original, did it have best music or most moving storyline? No on all accounts. Yet despite that, I had to physically tear myself away from it in order not to miss a bunch of interview appointments.

Even once my work commitments were done and dusted, the only thing that prevented me from getting right back in the hotseat was the now constant crowd of punters lining up for a turn. I should add this crowd often consisted of at least a couple Eurogamer and Rock Paper Shotgun staffers. You know, the guys actually running goddamn Rezzed in the first place! (It would seem they shared my enthusiasm).

So then, what is it? Madness. Just complete and utter madness. In particular, the sort of madness we see hollywood all the time. You know the scene: the practically unarmed hero bursts into a den of kitted-out goons and then, through a complex array of tightly choreographed gunplay and pseudo-martial arts, all them fools be taking dirt naps and our hero is none the worse for ware. Hotline Miami is that one scene turned into a game, and then encased in a psychedelic 80’s excess themed wrapper.

Your task is deceptively simple: don an animal themed mask, enter a building and then kill every heavily armed dude you find. In any other game It’d be a cinch, but in Hotline Miami there’s two rather big problems, 1) They’re all a billion times faster than you, and 2) One hit from anything they’ve got will turn out into a bloody pulp. You get one chance at clearing a room, muck it up and it’s back to the last checkpoint for Mr MacVerydead.

I still remember exactly what the guy sitting next to me said after my first couple of instantaneous deaths in a row: “Yeah, this game makes Super Meat Boy look like…..” He never finished his sentence. He didn’t really need to, I’d already begun to realise what kind of rabbit hole I’d unknowingly leaped into, and I knew it was one with no end. Also, he was playing Hotline goddamn Miami! He’d probably died half a dozen times in the brief moment he was talking to me!

It might sound like hell, but I promise you that the euphoria of successfully clearing out a floor of goons is anything but. It’s all about planning that perfect combo, and following it up with the perfect execution: knock that guy out, steal his gun, shoot those two other guys, toss the empty gun at the patrolling guard, steal his knife, etc. When it all comes together, It feels like a near perfect fusion between tactical thinking and twitch gamer skills. And when it doesn’t? Well, I guess you better respawn and try again.

I’m not sure if my feeble mind could withstand a whole game of that intensity, but man do I want to find out…..

Hotline Miami is slated for Autumn 2012, but I -along with many others- would very much like it right now. Bloody mental official site is found here.

Cardinal Quest 2 Preview

[This article was published in the July issue of Indie Game Magazine]

Just so we’re clear on this, we only have a very early alpha build of the Cardinal Quest 2 (CQ2) available to us right now; so all those screenshots you see dotted around this article? They’re mostly made up of placeholder graphics recycled from the first game. It all looks perfectly fine as-is though, so I’d say the promise of higher rez sprites in the future is a tantalising one indeed. But more importantly, even in this early build it’s already abundantly clear that CQ2 is on course to be a quantum leap over the original CQ, which was a pretty neat little title in its own right (It scored 70% on our review scale back in February!). Rest assured, It still has all those lovely Roguelike trappings that fans expect: Randomly generated dungeons, oodles of loot, plenty of stats to tweak and, of course, a rather harsh difficulty curve (my first attempted playthrough lasted oh…..about 5 minutes?). But on top of all that we’ve now got a significantly expanded feature set that adds a whole host of new and intriguing tactical possibilities.

So what’s so different then? Well, the most significant change is the level of control you have over how character evolves throughout the course of your adventure. In the original CQ, you simply chose a starting class and then…..  that was pretty much it really. The game auto-equipped any decent loot you found without asking you and leveling up just increased your health a little. CQ2 on the other hand drops the whole auto-equip thing, allows players to invest skill points into a talent tree (every RPG has to have one of those now, it’s a law or something) and provides you with shops that offer randomised selections of loot to spend your hard earned coinage on. Together these mechanics allow players to build their hero in a direction they’ve actually chosen (e.g. a flimsy but speedy Warrior or a super bulky yet slow Wizard) while still not overwhelming them with pages of unnecessary statistics and decisions like so many RPGs are wont to do.

Joining the original trio of Thief, Warrior and Wizard we’ve got at least 3 new classes on the way. First there’s the Pugilist; a macho-man brawler that refuses to even touch those wussy weapons the other classes use, instead relying his ever-reliable friends “left fist” and “right fist” to stun then toss around anyone who gets near. Next there’s the Paladin; a powerful servant of light who starts with a high faith stat and a rare healing spell by default, but must sacrifice his own HP to cast non-holy spells like fireball. And finally there’s my personal favorite: the Ranger; that iconic fantasy archer extraordinaire, now accompanied by a delightfully derpy lookin’ dog that draws away enemy’s attention while you pelt ‘em with arrows.

In addition to the original’s narrow confined dungeons, CQ2 introduces expensive outdoor environments, which include tons of lovely lovely bushes! Wait, is that “uh, why are bushes a big deal?” I hear you say? Well, they have huge effect on not only your character’s line of sight, but also that of your enemies. This allows a correctly specced hero to get the drop on unsuspecting enemies, thus granting access to those brutal backstab damage multipliers previously only available to the sneaky sneaky Thief class. But be warned, hiding in the bushes also has a drastically detrimental effect on your defences, adding yet another layer to CQ’s engaging risk/reward dynamic.

The only downside to all this extra content is that it’s made CQ2 rather less ‘snappy’ than the original, resulting in a far slower and more methodical experience that may take a little longer to get to grips with than before. That said, It’s still an exceptionally accessible title. Thanks to a simple control scheme, a smart UI and very helpful tooltips, anyone with even basic understanding of RPGs should be bustin’ monsters with the best of ‘em in no time! To sum it up, CQ2 is looking like it’ll be everything a good sequel should: bigger, deeper and more fun, all while not abandoning anything that made the original so engaging in the first place. It’s one worth looking forward to for sure.

Cardinal Quest 2 Interview

[Interview conducted with Ido Yehieli and Ruari O’Sullivan on the topic of their new game, Cardinal Quest 2. This article was published in the July issue of Indie Game Magazine.]

IGM: Thanks for joining me today guys! Could you just give our readers a quick lowdown on who you are and the cool things that you do for a living?

Ido: I am the main developer behind Cardinal Quest 1 (CQ1), and Ruari is the main developer behind Cardinal Quest 2 (CQ2). We are both full time indie developers making a living from Cardinal Quest. Ruari joined me shortly after CQ1 was released, at about version 1.1 I believe.

Ruari: Ayup! I’m Ruari. I used to work for a major studio here in the UK and now I’m a full time indie developer. I put out a few small projects of my own last year – “Beacon” and “Fear is Vigilance” along with doing some contract work. I came onto CQ1 back in October and I’ve ended up doing a full blown sequel.

IGM: What did you guys initially set out to improve over the original Cardinal Quest? Was there any one particular thing that made you think “we can do better this time!”?

Ruari: There were a few huge things I wanted to fix. CQ1 really streamlined the whole roguelike template, down to the extent that you weren’t making choices about your character. I wanted to try and keep that accessibility but bring choice back into the game, so you get this real feeling of owning your character and making long term decisions.

Ido: Right, having more influence on long term character progression is probably the biggest thing.

Ruari: The other big thing I wanted to add was to really build up the world, so you have these functionally different spaces you’re travelling through; forests, towns, caves and so on. All to reinforce that you’re on a journey, you’re making progress, and you’re travelling to dangerous places which might surprise you rather than retreading stuff you’ve seen before.

Ido: Another big improvement is the role items play in the game. In CQ2 choosing your gear is a big part of the game, and you can further customize your character by having more possible “gear builds”, there are fewer obviously better sets as with CQ1.

IGM: Has it been difficult trying to preserve that streamlined aspect of CQ1 while still adding new content and mechanics?

Ruari: Yeah, massively! It’s not too hard to add content, but new rules that allow that content to be more varied or more meaningful can really cause trouble. It’s a matter of keeping a balance; of switching rules out for ones that are a bit more powerful wherever we can. One huge example of that balance is that we got rid of the inventory screen and management from CQ1. There was a ton of UI work done for it but it didn’t really add to the game much. By handling inventory management entirely when you find stuff, we could drop that aspect entirely, which meant it was much easier to bring the talent system in without overcomplicating the UI.

Overall, though, it’s just been a slow process of gradually refining what’s there; switching rules out for stuff that works a little better, redesigning the UI to make things clearer, bit by bit. It’s probably where most of the work’s gone so far.

Ido: Yeah, it’s not just bigger, longer, more stuff; a lot of the changes included removing or replacing things.

IGM: I noticed that auto-equipping is gone too! What was behind that decision? It’s something I found quite striking about the original Cardinal Quest.

Ruari: That’s totally about putting the player back in charge. Now that we have substantially different ways any given character can develop where they might want to focus on different strengths, it’s a lot more important to have the player involved in those decisions so they can shape things as they want. That, and the old system put items in your inventory when it wasn’t sure if you’d like them or not. Since we got rid of the inventory to make space for cooler features, we can’t rely on that anymore.

Ido: It’s also part of the fact that there are fewer obviously better and worse kits than before. They are more different than just different spots on a spectrum of quality.

IGM: Even in its very early alpha state, it already seems like there’s much more of a narrative going on than in the original Cardinal Quest. Is that an aspect you’re going to be expanding upon in a big way, or is it still low down on the priority list?

Ruari: The explicit storytelling in the alpha is a bit of an experiment. It’ll probably get cut back a bit as we add story and emergent narrative elements that can pull you in without relying so much on static text to help set the tone. So… yeah, narrative is at the heart of a lot of what we’re doing, but more in the sense of a really tangible world and potential for players to experience their own cool little stories rather than cutscenes and walls of text.

IGM: I’ve been really enjoying the more distinct playstyles that the 3 new classes bring to the table, especially the dynamic between the Ranger and his Dog! Are we going to see similar kinds of advanced mechanics extended to the original 3 classes and/or enemies as well?

Ruari: I definitely want to give the older classes some new toys. The talent trees give us some real room for expansion and there’ll definitely be some new class-specific skills you can unlock through them that’ll help expand the original classes’ playstyles and abilities. I’ve only got vague plans at the moment and I can’t promise anything before trying it out… but the Thief, for example, might get access to a skill which lets him dance around enemies and nip between them, whereas the Wizard might get the ability to use magic-casting enemies’ powers against them.

IGM: Are the new environments going to bring new possibilities too? The outdoor area from the alpha has a completely different feel from the original’s claustrophobic dungeons.

Ido: Not just feel, also different effects (e.g. the bushes increase your stealth and decrease your defence) – so tactics that might be good in one area might not be suitable to another and vice versa.

Ido: It serves as both thematic and mechanical variety.

Ruari: Yep. I mean, we have the claustrophobic dungeons too. The plan’s to explore different environments and environmental features, like rivers, and see what gameplay comes out the other end. Level design, monsters and items are places where we can add content and ideas without making the game feel any more complicated, so we get to really mix things up.

IGM: So far I’ve been really surprised how upfront the game is about its own mechanics, such as it telling me EXACTLY what effects any stat increases have on my character. What was the thought process behind opening up the game’s juicy innards like that?

Ruari: At one point there was a popup when you moused over an enemy that told you your odds to hit! That didn’t stay in.

Ido: I would say that being pretty transparent was always a goal for CQ, even in the CQ1 days. It’s a strategic game, so it lets the players make informed decision. That goal is simply better executed in CQ2.

Ruari: Yeah. I’m a big believer in a game being a series of interesting decisions, and to really have an interesting decision you have to have some idea what’s at stake and what the effects are. We can’t just let the stats feel like arbitrary numbers or when you’re presented with a choice, you might be like… what’s the point?

Ido: In my opinion, when it comes to games that are about mechanical challenge (rather than narrative for example, or cooperation) you got 2 main paths you can follow. I’ll refer to them as chess, and the other as judo:

In chess you have perfect information, and the challenge is to be overcome by analysing your situation and coming to an informed conclusion. You become better at the game by learning about the different possibilities and getting better at analysing the different situations it gives you

In judo you don’t have exact information about your opponent, so it’s more about gaining experience and developing an intuition. You try different things, and learn what’s better and what’s worse. The ultimate mastery there is being able to develop your intuition to the point where there is no conscious thought at all.

Since CQ falls into the 1st category moving closer towards perfect information (and being turn based) makes more sense.

Ruari: Well, we don’t give away everything. You’ve still got to learn which enemies are dangerous the hard way; there’s your judo. We just give you enough of the manual to get you involved in the strategic decisions you’re making, like talents and gear, without having to check a wiki or something.

Ido: Right, it’s a spectrum. Street Fighter is closer to judo than CQ is for example, and so is Counter Strike. Whereas Desktop Dungeons is closer to chess. Generally I envision CQ to be closer to the chess side of the spectrum. Like if chess is 1 and judo is 10, then CQ is maybe 3.

Ruari: Ultimately it just fell out of giving people these choices about gear and so on. If the decision’s informed then it’s a lot more fun.

IGM: Last time IGM interviewed Ido, he talked about the awkwardness of the app/android marketplaces. Has going through getting the original Cardinal Quest out on those systems changed that perception for either of you?

Ido: Yeah, the Android Market categories are horrible; they make no sense. That’s why I put CQ in “arcade & action”. Can you BELIEVE that was actually the least wrong category? The App Store is a bit better, but still not perfect. Strangely enough, Google’s Chrome web store has much better categories! It’s got an “rpg & strategy” category for example. I don’t know why these two genres are bunched up together, but it’s certainly better than the android market’s!

Amazon’s app store for android is also pretty good too, but unfortunately it is only available in the US. I put CQ1 there, but it’s not nearly as widespread as Google’s, so it doesn’t sell quite as well. That said, we did get pretty good placements in the app store (#16 in RPGs I think was our best ranking), so people were able to find the game. It’s not the next Angry Birds but we’re getting some decent sales.

IGM: Just a quick personal question: I’ve noticed you both seem to be very keen on Game Jam projects like IRDC and Ludum Dare. What is it about these kinds of events that appeals to you guys, and have they had much of an impact on Cardinal Quest’s development?

Ido: Yes, CQ1 started from the same code base I used for my 7DRL (Seven Day Roguelike Challenge) entry Detribus in 2011. Also, just making a ton of games makes you a better game designer and developer, you get experience that helps you when making bigger games too. I think it can really grind you down to work on a single big projects for months and sometimes year on end, it gives you a breath of fresh air to take a break and do something quick and small for a change. I’ve made 6 new games this year alone and it’s only June!

Ruari: Yeah, I really dig jams as a way to try out new stuff and recharge creatively. It’s easy to fall into a slump during a longer project but doing something new over a few days, finishing it up when you’re still totally in love with the concept, can be pure awesome.

IGM: I guess I’ll finish by asking by the one question no developer ever wants to hear: when can we expect finished version of Cardinal Quest 2?

Ido: later this year?

Ruari: Yeah, this year.

Ido: Ruari has a crazy AI system thing that can predict the exact date actually, but we don’t want to ruin the surprise!

Ruari: I admit to nothing.