Review: Indie Game Sim

Indie Game Sim

Release Date: 8th December, 2016

Purchase Date: 14th December, 2016 (Free Key from Developer)

Developer: Lost Decade Games, LLC

Game Engine:


There’s three genres Lost Decade Game’s Indie Game Sim tries to deliver on – Platformer, Level Builder & Business Simulator. Two of the three worked incredible well for me, the other fell a bit short.

At it’s heart Indie Game Sim is a level builder, and a bold first attempt to bring something similar to ‘Mario Maker’ to Steam. While it may not have the familiar appeal of a Mario tileset behind it, what Indie Game Sim does have is an almost default ‘indie game’ tileset… which is the entire point. You start with a small collection of default tiles, a muddy surface, a starting point and a treasure chest which serves as the level’s finish. As you play the game you unlock and earn new tiles to use, to expand your levels and design more complex, dangerous and exciting experiences for the virtual people waiting on the in-game storefront.

One of the issues I have with Indie Game Sim, is that it teases a story experience at you. When you load up the game you’re confronted by what I can only describe as the entity of self doubt (the mortal enemy of any indie dev out there). It does it’s best to dissuade you, and put you off from progressing through the stages of development throughout the game with verbal taunts. However, I’m not entirely sure if anything it says, and the decisions you make really matter. For me it was an unnecessary distraction from the fun element of Indie Game Sim – making the levels.

An annoying voice

However, maybe this is the game’s point. The desire to just make games being distracted by an annoying little voice that pops up now and again. If so, it’s certainly effective at being annoying.

The simulation aspect of the game feels a little shallow too, and distracts from what could be a solid attempt at delivering a streamlined level maker kit.

Reviews from the storefront

There are things I would have liked to have seen in this game; such as workshop support for custom tilesets and a leaderboard to compete with friends. However, these don’t distract from what is a smart attempt at something ‘different’ on Steam. While I might not be able to compete against my friends in building the best Indie Game, I can at least share my creations via links generated in-game which can be pasted into a web browser.

Overall there’s a simple level creator that stays true to it’s ‘Indie’ roots, which opens up and offers a more complex experience as you progress. While there’s an in-game distraction in the guise of the annoying self doubt inducing Depression Demon, the real distraction is the simulation side of the game. It feels like an unnatural barrier to progression, causing you to loosely juggle money to buy assets and upload your games to a storefront.

However, none of that can distract from being able to create levels to share with your friends.

It’s this feature alone that makes Indie Game Sim stand out for me.

 

Early Access: Orange Moon

Orange Moon

Release Date: 6th July, 2016 (Early Access)

Purchase Date: 10th December, 2016 (Free Key from Developer)

DeveloperBetelgeuse Zero 

Game EngineConstruct 2


Orange Moon is currently in Early Access. Version played: v 0.0.5.3

This game was received free from the developer Betelgeuse Zero.


I’m drawn to certain games, without a doubt I’m drawn to the visuals of certain games. Orange Moon is proof of my Magpie like tendency to be drawn to something that looks interesting, and interesting Orange Moon is.

At first I thought it was going to be a Metroidvania type affair, however after ten minutes of playing through the first level I started to realise that no, this isn’t an attempt to recapture something that so many have tried to recapture before. No, Orange Moon attempts to be its own thing – a Sci-Fi Platformer. Sure, it has a few RPG elements in the way of resources and power ups, but the level design and progress is very much ‘left to right’ in the true platforming sense. There’s no back tracking, hidden passages and ability checks that I’ve come across so far.  Normally I’d have passed on looking at a platformer, as I feel like I’ve played as many as I can play and enjoy, but the Sci-Fi design of Orange Moon drew me in.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at how visually appealing Orange Moon is. Developer Betelgeuse Zero originally started doing UI and Character design for other developers, and this is where Orange Moon stands out. Everything looks the part. There’s a clear design effort here to build an overall experience that all ties together.

Smart UI Design is clear

The UI and Character design all present a clear vision of a Sci-Fi world, of a murky mining experience gone wrong. I admire this, as it’s a part of my own design process I really struggle to come to terms with.

In fact, the more I think about and the more I play its clear that Orange Moon’s design overall is very polished. Its opening level has a good pace to it, it’s almost text book in design in the way it introduces hazards and the methods the game gives you to overcome them. I like it. It’s simple and effective, and more importantly it’s not annoying. The game gives you the info and moves on, it doesn’t keep spamming the tutorial at you, so it never feels like the game slows down.

Level designs are well paced with challenges

Orange Moon has a clear story design too, again it follows the simple but effective trend that is apparent throughout the game’s design. The game drip feeds the story to you via the narrative incoming messages from a mysterious Mr. Anderson. Mr. Anderson explains tidbits of just what you’re doing on this strange Moon, and how best to navigate it so you can survive. Simple, effective, to the point. Orange Moon never tries to over explain, or over complicate matters, it’s very happy to leave the player to play allowing the experience tell the story. It’s a skill I haven’t seen too much in indie games – the comfortable silence. The confidence in knowing that your gameplay will carry the story, your level design will show the player the world and you’ve done a good enough job of keep the player engaged with the entire package of the game.

However, for as strong as the design and thought process into the game appears the actual gameplay seems a few steps behind now. The main issue I had while playing was the unnatural feel and unresponsiveness I had with the controls. The game supports an Xbox 360 controller, which is always a nice addition to have, yet it doesn’t feel totally calibrated. The left and right sticks fail to take advantage of the analogue inputs, with directional shooting seemingly stuck to an 8-point digital control setting. You can shoot 45 degrees up, or 45 degrees down, or straight ahead. I was unable to shoot anyway in between, which considering the game encourages you to use your gun to solve puzzles and defeat enemies as you progress led to a frustrating affair. This becomes an increasing problem during the platform section of the game, where you’re required to jump hazards or navigate large gaps. The control and finesse isn’t there that you’d expect from using an analogue stick. I’d be more forgiven if the controls were mapped to the d-pad, as at least then you’d know what to expect.

As far as ‘Early Access’ goes Orange Moon is doing it well, it feels like a potential ready to release game searching for user feedback to make sure it’s fully ready. I’d even dare say that there are full release games out there that aren’t as polished as Orange Moon’s current build. If Betelgeuse Zero can nail down the controller support, so there’s a more natural and responsive feel then they’ll be on to a winner. It’s a game I’ll return to play again once it has its full release. It’s one of the real true ‘it has promise’ games on Early Access, and if Betelgeuse Zero can work on the control aspect of the game, it’s one that I’m sure I’ll enjoy.  

Review: Marvel Heroes 2016

MarvelHeroesTitleScreenMarvel Heroes 2016

Release Date: 3rd June, 2013

Purchase Date:  3rd June, 2013 @ Free

Developer: Gazillion


2016 was one hell of a year for Marvel Heroes, a game which originally launched in 2013. Gazillion continued the good work it started in 2015 to revamp Action Role-Playing Game (ARPG), which saw it tie-in closely with other Marvel properties and events.

First, let’s not beat about the bush here this is a Free-2-Play (F2P) game, and as such uses a lot of the standard methods to sustain and support development and server costs with real money items. However, the majority of these are entirely optional as most things can be found in-game as drops or rewards. Naturally, premium DLC packs are often timed alongside major Marvel events or in-game character releases for those who wish to simply buy new characters and items.

When I first played Marvel Heroes, back when it launched in 2013, I’ll admit to being rather underwhelmed. The hero selection was small, with Daredevil, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Storm and The Thing the five original starting characters. Now, you have to consider this was before Daredevil’s Netflix debut, Scarlet Witch’s appearance in the Avengers movies.

Clobberin Time 2013 style
Clobberin Time 2013 style

Back then I wasn’t the huge super Marvel mark I am now (I’ve since started an attempt to read every Marvel comic in chronological order starting from Fantastic Four #1) , so the prospect of not playing as one of (what I consider) the key Marvel heroes was disappointing. This was further enforced while playing, when you realise that most other players were also playing as The Thing, or Hawkeye. Seeing several identical versions of myself playing alongside me distracted from the game far too much. Sure this is just a small grievance when the same thing can be said about most other ARPG/MMO hybrids. Anyway, I chose The Thing, as you know… Clobberin’ Time.

In comparison the starting hero list now, gives you a larger selection of heroes to choose from including several ‘Key’ heroes (Black Panther, Captain America, Deadpool, Gambit, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, She-Hulk and Winter Soldier). If none of those heroes take your fancy, you can always try out any other hero available up to level 10 too. This is where Marvel Heroes has grown for the better – it’s more welcoming.

Originally you might have got lucky and received a hero token as an extremely rare drop, otherwise the only way you’d expand your hero roster was to buy them with real money from the store. Now you can still receive them as rare drops, but the more you play the game the more you can collect in-game currency drops (Splinter Cells) that can be used to purchase any hero of your choice from an in-game vendor. The option to spend real money is still there for those who don’t want to invest a few hours into the game to collect the required amount of Splinter Cells required to buy a hero (or a team-up).

Marvel Heroes 2016 saw a huge in-game Captain America Civil War event
Marvel Heroes 2016 saw a huge in-game Captain America Civil War event

Also this year, has seen Marvel Heroes tie-in with Captain America: Civil War, Netflix’s Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Luke Cage,  Agents of SHIELD and most recently Dr. Strange’s big screen debut. In game events have been created, the majority of which have gifted players a few hero based on the event so if you had played during 2016 you would have received Captain America, Iron Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Dr. Strange for free… at the height of the popularity no less! Oh and there was a cheeky Black Cat available on Black Friday.

So there’s a much larger feeling that you’re rewarded for playing, or at least keeping an active eye on the Marvel Heroes’ twitter feed to see when super events are going.

Furthermore Gazillion have revamped the game’s introduction level, which acts as a tutorial, streamlined the crafting system, overhauled the storage (which perhaps still remains the one cash cow in regards to real money) and balanced the game’s story missions to scale correctly with the character’s level. In short, the state of the game in 2016 is a more enjoyable and rewarding game for newcomers and those who dip in and out for the big events.

There’s perhaps a slight argument that the game has stalled slightly for those who have played constantly since launch, with a slow introduction of new content once you max your character at level 60. Yet, 2016 did see the introduction of leaderboards as an attempt to push a bit of competition between long term players, as well as the much waited Chapter 10 of the story (which admittedly received a mixed reception from those I’ve played with over the years).

The game has also received several visual updates, with some older characters getting a visual face lift, Stark Tower becoming Avenger Tower and the The Raft tutorial changing entirely. The one area that still needs an entire visually overhaul is the game’s UI. It felt clunky and dated in 2013, and feels even worse in 2016. The interface doesn’t have a natural feel and flow to it, with some areas of the character’s ability and development hidden away and unclear as to what they actually do. The Omega System is a good example of this, it’s hidden away in the power tab, which isn’t an easy find to begin with, and there’s no real explanation behind it. You’ll find yourself using a trial and error approach to find the best fit for you, and in most cases you’ll continue to use the same build for most characters despite the large options available. It could be argued that the Omega System isn’t that important, as it’s a complimentary ability system to go alongside the character’s main build. It’s almost like a reward for those who have played a long time.

Essentially Marvel Heroes 2016 is a loot game at heart, with each hero having it’s own themed loot to gather most of which will make sense to true Marvel fans when they see the names. However, the loot feels a little lifeless. Unlike other loot games the collecting of new items for your hero doesn’t change or upgrade the character’s appearance. Sure you get your stat boosts, but any cosmetic upgrade you might be after can only be sought from new costumes (either from the store or from a huge stroke of luck by an in-game drop).

At it's heart Marvel Heroes is a loot game
At it’s heart Marvel Heroes is a loot game

While I haven’t unlocked all characters (and I feel that I probably never will), the ones I have played have felt unique and true to how you’d expect them to play. Hulk and The Thing have played similar, but then they’re similar within the Marvel Universe too, as two powerhouse brawlers who just want to fight and smash things. This is reflected in their gameplay too, as both characters have huge devastating physical attacks, and feel near on impossible to kill. One of my favourite characters to play so far has been Black Widow, for almost the exact opposite end of the scale of Hulk and The Thing – she’s fast, using a combination of gadgets and martial arts to takedown mobs. It’s this aspect of Marvel Heroes that seems to go unnoticed. Gazillion have done a great job at reviewing and rebuilding characters to play more like they should. When you play as Thor you feel like a God as rain thunder down on mobs, and hurl your hammer. Deadpool is quirky and odd, and yes… he breaks the forth wall. The characters just feel right, and the audio should be given credit for this too. Each character has a bank of one liners stored away that trigger during certain interactions with objects mobs and other characters. Coy little references to Marvel Universe events will make fans smile, or at the very least make people feel like that there’s some history and character within the game.

All in all Marvel Heroes is a fun game that for me does the F2P model correctly. Every item in the game can be achieved in-game from either a lucky drop, or currency grinding (which for the most part happens naturally as you play). Or you can splash out with real money to buy the hero you want ASAP, with a Costume you want, and the extra STASH slot you might need too. And that’s OK, as those purchases don’t cheat other players out of an experience, there’s no real Pay2Win feature within Marvel Heroes. It’s easy to play this game solo, or to play with friends and strangers. If you’re ever short of friends to play with there’s a rather strong community spirit within this game. This of course is where I suggest you should check out good friend Rushlock‘s stream, as he’s been a big supporter of Marvel Heroes for a few years now. He also hosts several groupings over the weekend to tackle content. I guess that was a semi shill for a friend!

Updated 2016 visuals
Updated 2016 visuals

There are areas where Marvel Heroes could improve, and it feels like Gazillion have started to address that with the updating of visuals, the heavy running and feedback gathering of content and changes via the Test Hub. There is a small feeling on reddit, the official forums and on Steam that Gazillion aren’t sure what to do and are running out of ideas since the development team has changed since 2013 but… that’s what happens. People leave to seek new challenges and jobs, and new people come in to replace them. It’s hard to criticise a development team that are pretty open on the forums about what they’re doing, that do listen to feedback (they often poll to see which new characters should be added), and spend time with Streamers and community groups.

There’s criticism that there’s no new content to the game, yet 2016 has seen specific content added for Civil War and Dr. Strange. I also find it difficult to think of many loot games that keep introducing new content too. For me half the fun of loot games is running the same areas, harvesting, wrecking insane damage to gather items, materials and other oddities that I have my hit list.

Marvel Heroes 2016 has been one of my most played games of 2016, one which I keep returning too simply because it’s easy to play. It’s helped me to become a Marvel fan too, and I’ll admit no shame in enjoying the cross promotion that’s happened with the game and Marvel franchises over the last 18 months or so. I’ll admit this might not be a game for everyone, but for a Marvel fan it’s almost perfect as it plugged the need for a good Marvel game since Ultimate Marvel Alliance (which has since been rereleased).

– Chris

Review: RPG Tycoon

RPGTycooonSplash

RPG Tycoon

Release Date: 4th August, 2014 (Early Access); 12th February, 2016 (Full Release)

Purchase Date: 7th April, 2015 @ £4.49

Developer: Skatanic Studios (http://www.skatanicstudios.co.uk/rpg-tycoon/)


It’s taken me nearly 18 months to finally getting around to playing RPG Tycoon, during which time it’s passed through Steam’s Early Access, had its full release and most recently released its first DLC entitled ‘Supply & Demand’.

RPG Tycoon is a city builder at heart played from the perspective of a Ruler who resides over a Kingdom. For their Kingdom to prosper it’s the Ruler’s job to make his settlement appealing and attractive for heroes to visit. Heroes they can hire to then send out on quests to earn gold, happiness and fame for the Ruler’s Kingdom, so that in turn the Ruler can expand and improve their Kingdom.

Simple, right?

Well… no.

The game starts as a simple concept, which soon spirals into a deep interconnection between buildings, heroes, gold and happiness. Want a hero? Build a house for them. Now the heroes want paid. Send them out on quests, etc. But then the heroes want paid more as they level up from XP gained from quests, and such is the fame of your heroes that other adventures now visit your little kingdom and they want food, drink and entertainment. So, you find yourself having to build a Tavern, which makes an income from the visitors. Now your heroes are tired and low on health from manner quests, so you need to build a Medical Tent.

Somehow, you’ve managed to get through the first year comfortably. Your Kingdom is happy, your heroes are doing well, your Tavern has levelled up. However, your town is looking shabby and the visitors aren’t happy about the lack of decorations. They’re also not happy about other ‘things’ and for me this is where the only real issue I have with the game starts to show – there’s a distinct lack of visual feedback on what’s making visitors and your settlements unhappy.

Lack of tooltip feedback makes it hard to understand WHY certain things are failing
Lack of tooltip feedback makes it hard to understand WHY certain things are failing

The lack of feedback makes it difficult to entirely understand how to improve your situation and stop your Kingdom going from being content and happy, to suddenly depressed. As far as I’ve experienced so far unhappiness is the only end-state in the game. Perhaps there’s a lack of money ending too, and perhaps your settlements get raided, but I’ve never actually made it that far. Three to four years in-game time is as far as I’ve managed before the sudden 0% happiness drop.

A brief check of reviews and Steam Discussion group shows you there are bugs still in this game, which isn’t a crime by any means (even if some people have taken umbrage at DLC being released before old bugs have been fixed). The positive is that the game’s developer, Matt Gambell is very active on both Steam and Twitter to answer and reply to feedback on the game. So, in an environment where indie devs are often criticised by some for hitting early access too soon for a quick cash grab, it’s refreshing to be able to see an active developer who communicates with his player base and is keen to fix bugs.

mattgabelltwitterexchange

In fact, during the time I’ve taken to think and write about my experiences with RPG Tycoon, Matt Gambell has released an update that fixes an issue with Finance Happiness that was causing a drop in happiness rating. Yet, bugs remain, as shortly after starting a save game a few issues showed themselves including; rival kingdoms had reset & a complete game freeze.

As you might expect from a title containing ‘RPG’ the game does have some basic RPG and tabletop elements to it. Heroes have attributes, which are used in quests (ranging from quick to epic) to gain fame and fortune. Yet the game lacks one essential element of any RPG or tabletop game and that’s a basic set of rules and glossary for the user to follow and understand. That’s not to see that the game doesn’t provide information, as it does in the form of hero screens and quest descriptions. It just lacks the explanation of what those attributes do, and how they’re used in quests. There’s no real bridge between the game design and the user’s experience. It’s mainly left to chance, prior understanding and just a little bit of luck.

The little snippets of info and feedback that translate the developer’s thinking and reasoning behind the game’s mechanics into something the user can understanding (without giving the magic of the game away).314240_20161128082244_1 At times I found the quest requirements unclear, and at times felt like I was guessing at what resources I should take on quests with me. Without a doubt I was guessing which slot they should go in to. On the plus side the game keeps a history of which combinations of items you’ve used on quests, so it does provide a small amount of feedback to the trial and error approach it pushes you into.

A lack of feedback makes it difficult to understand what attributes are being used
A lack of feedback makes it difficult to understand what attributes are being used

I’m sure there’s a hope from the developer’s point of view that the text quest provides enough information for the user to know what to take. A similar approach is used when you’re offered a multiple choice situation during Epic Quests. There’s no real feedback or insight provided other than the quest text. So when it comes to choosing an option, you’re once again sort of just left guessing and hoping for the best. A roll check is then used to see if you meet the requirements, but the UI doesn’t actually tell which attribute was used in the roll check.

So with all of that in mind I’m left feeling that RPG Tycoon perhaps left Steam’s Early Access a little too soon at the cost of detail and polish. The base of the game is there, it’s just missing the smaller details to make the game more user friendly. You can enjoy the game’s current state; it’s presentation and soothing music, certainly make it a relaxing game to play and of course with a bit of time invested you will start to understand how to play. It’s certainly a nice idea, and one I hope gets the polish it deserves to make it more user friendly, as as far as I can see that’s all it’s really lacking.

Lucha Labs – Launches December 2016

Hi All,

First let me introduce myself – I’m Chris, a 30-something British wannabe Indie Dev. I’ve spent 10 years selling and marketing games for Virgin and GAME, before moving into sports coaching, however I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making my own game. This website and blog will attempt to share the experience with whoever has stumbled across it, and it’ll also contain a host of critiques and reviews of games I’ve played over the year. After all what better way to hone your own game design and development than looking at other people’s and taking what you like, and changing what you don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about straight up taking but rather a skill I use as a sports coach… being a parasite! Often I’ll see a good coach or teacher and think ‘wow I really like what they’re doing there. How have they managed to get that coaching point across so well. I’ll have to make sure I try that and see if it works for me’ or often ‘Oh boy, I wouldn’t have done that. No, not at all, I’ll make sure I don’t do that, but instead try it this way.’ I’m not sure if this is a skill, or just a natural ability, but never the less it’s one I’m going to transfer over to game development. So that’s why the website will contain a review section.

I don’t really have a background in Game Development, other than as an external game tester for various developers and as a database researcher on the Football Manager franchise between 2009-2014. Yet that shouldn’t be a barrier – after all it’s not as if I had a background in teaching or coaching before I took an interest in it and went about learning how to do it as a job! The only difference here is that this will be a hobby, something I do in my spare time and something I want to share with those who are also interested. Computer games are the escape!

If you’ve been following my twitter (@MrLuchador) you’ll probably have seen that for the last 2 years or so I’ve been saying “… is the year I will make & release a game”. Well, I haven’t released a game as of yet (24th November 2016), however I am closing then I was before. Or, at least I’ve finally put together a website and a wordpress blog for myself. You might notice the website and layout changes over the course of time, and this will probably be a result of me getting used to how this wordpress layout works!

So thanks for stopping by and reading, and I hope you enjoy the journey and thoughts I share along the way.

 

Chris (aka Mr. Luchador)