I have a few updates to present. First, the Game Projects page has been updated with a lot more games created for 2014 #OneGameAMonth. Second, I’ll be at MAGFest to participate in their Global Game Jam, so I won’t have a #WeeklyGameMusic this weekend. It will be back on-schedule next weekend.
#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.
This week’s music comes from a touching and tragic game called Papo & Yo. Despite it’s fantastical (or more correctly, magical realism) settings, the puzzle platformer touches what it’s like to live under parental abuse. It’s quite fitting, then, that the credits music for this game, Liberation (La Muerte de Papo) by Brian D’Oliveira, depicts a sad, hollow echo of what feels like a child trying to connect with his/her parent, but the feeling isn’t reciprocated.
Papo & Yo starts with a small, South American boy named Quico hiding from what appears to be a monster (only the shadow is revealed). While being cramped inside an air duct, a magical chalk drawing of a portal appears near Quico. As if entranced, our hero walks through the portal, teleporting him to what looks like a bright, colorful outdoors of a slum neighborhood. Immediately taunted by a girl about the same age as Quico, he ventures out in the new universe he’ve stumbled upon filled with incredible art and imagination.
As a 3D puzzle-platformer, Papo & Yo has a lot of interactive chalk drawings acting as switches, gears, or pulleys to affect the surroundings. Playing around with these drawings can cause various effects, including twisting the ground to turn into walls, or making buildings fly like birds to create platforms. Despite this creative core, however, the most vital game element is the uneasy relation the player has with a monster. Helpful but lazy, the monster can help push heavy objects or provide his bouncy belly as a way to jump towards higher platforms. Unfortunately, said monster also has a horrible addiction to frogs, causing it to become angry and immediately attack poor Quico. The puzzles in the game regularly has the player guiding the monster to vital puzzle elements while it’s in a docile state, and avoiding it as soon as frogs hops in at the most inopportune times.
Papo & Yo was originally developed as a downloadable title for Playstation 3. It is now available on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux.
#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.
Great game music can come from the unlikeliest places, and casual games are no exceptions. Take this Insaniquarium Deluxe music, for example. Tank 1, composed by Jonne Valtonen, manages to keep a facade of normalcy and simplicity in an otherwise crazy game about saving poor fishes from aliens. Seriously.
Insaniquarium Deluxe generally has two phases: fish simulation phase where you manage the money dropped by the guppies and carnivores, and the alien phase where you use lasers to kill them before it consumes every fish in the tank. The stage ends when you purchase three egg pieces, hatching a new helper. The majority of the time is spent in maintaining your fish population, feeding them properly, and adding more fish into the tank without running out of money. The formula is shockingly addicting as each stage introduces new aliens, helpers, and obstacles to make your resource management that much more difficult.
Insaniquarium Deluxe is available on PC.
Now would be a good time to look at 2014 in retrospect and see what I achieved, and what I haven’t. So without further ado, let’s get right to it!
In January, I’ve visited and teamed up with various friends from IGDA DC and new friends from American University to create a new game for Global Game Jam 2014. That game? Ichabot Crane, a first-person puzzle game where you can through the lead character’s head to activate switches and have better perspective of the level. As with the usual game jam rules, it took 48 hours to develop with 5 people to develop this game. The unique premise of the game got a mention as one of the best free games of the week by PC Gamer. While I moved on to other projects, the rest of the team has been keeping the game alive with an appearance at Smithsonian’s Indies In The Middle event.
In July, I worked with e4 Software to make one last game with them: ZUP! It’s a tilt-based arcade game where you have to swerve Top Hat Joe away from spikes and other obstacles while collecting power-ups to help his journey up to the stratosphere and beyond. The project was in development for 1.5 years with 4 people. Since it’s a mobile game, it’s available in a few app stores, including iPhones, iPads, Androids, Amazon Kindles, and Barnes & Noble’s Nooks.
In September, I developed a game that speaks loudly of my experience with making mobile games: Not a Clone. The minigame collection of cloned mobile games signifies the shallow and frequently short nature of clones. It’s heavily critical of the mobile app stores allowing clones to become popular without providing any highlight or care to the original product. It took about a month working solo to create this game. It was featured in GameJolt, and also got a mention in Warp Door. Thanks to the GameJolt feature, it’s one of the fastest growing game I’ve created, with a strong Let’s Play following.
In October, I developed an application intended to help developers create more engaging games with Make it Juicy: Easy Methods to Make Your Game More Engaging. It was created in 2 weeks solo for a presentation at Capital Region Unity Developers. Hopefully, other developers had found the application to be educational as the Unity Developers had during the presentation.
Also in October, I participated in Bacon Game Jam 08 to create a game in 48-hours again. As a result, I had an innovative accident, and developed Suddenly, Thousands, a game about controlling multiple synchronized characters at once while traversing levels and solving their puzzles. Shockingly enough, I’ve managed to create it in solo within the 48-hour time limit. Despite the short development time, this game had the highest critical praise: it was the highest rated game in Bacon Game Jam, had a mention as one of the best free games of the week in PC Gamer, and a positive review in Jay Is Games.
In November, I’ve started on Prototype: Murakami, an on-rails third-person shooter with point & click puzzle elements inspired by Killer7, but due to poor scoping, I haven’t been able to finish it in the one month schedule I originally estimated. The prototype is still in development right now, so it might see the light of day…
In December, Robert Denner and I teamed up with Indies Need Booze to create a Indies Need Booze patron-exclusive Letters From Secret Santa, a narrative platformer where the words are your platforms. It took about a week to make the game, with Robert as the writer and level designer, and myself as developer. As it remains a patron exclusive for a few more days, the only reception we’ve received were from AbleGamers‘ Twitch live stream interview.
In December, a number of Tech Valley Game Space members gathered for Ludum Dare 31, and created Laundry Day, a laundromat simulator. 8 people participated, mostly on-and-off, to make the game in 72-hours. Instead of using the Unity engine to make the game as I usually do, we decided to learn how to use Construct 2, as this was the first game most of the team members has ever developed. With a game engine like Construct 2 that doesn’t require programming, it would make it easier for others to contribute. Despite being a completely goofy satire of social and free-to-play games, we ranked within the top 100 games for humor, so many thought it was an interesting game.
With 7 projects finished, and 1 in development, 2014 was quite a productive year for me. Here’s to hoping that I can finish Prototype: Munch pretty quickly.
There were some major events going on in 2014. After a long 4 years working as a regular software engineer, I’ve decided I’ve had enough saved (and endured enough stress) to go independent. On August, I quit the company I was working at, and started working for my own company, Omiya Games, full-time. Furthermore, I moved from Maryland to New York to rent a cheaper location. There, I was able to get in contact with Albany IGDA, and re-establish a few contacts there. I happen to meet with Jamey Stevenson in one of their meeting, who was working on establishing a game developer community near the area.
Sure enough, late October, Jamey managed to secure a co-working office, and we both moved in to the new Tech Valley Game Space. The office has been spectacular so far, and we’re both really enjoying it. I’ve showcased Suddenly, Thousands at the Rensselaer Game Showcase on November, along with Jamey Stevenson and Keith Morgado from Binary Takeover. Lastly, I helped Tech Valley Game Space conduct the Ludum Dare game jam. Overall, it was a busy, exciting year.
On To 2015
So what’s there to look forward to in 2015? A lot, it turns out. With Tech Valley Game Space established, a large part of my time will be spent helping them out as they gather more developers and create a more inviting environment for those curious in joining in. The projects I’ll be working on at the start of the year are already fixed: there’s Global Game Jam going on at MAGFest that I plan to attend, and I still have Prototype: Murakami to finish. Right after those two projects, I need to figure out how to make Omiya Games sustainable. Given the large number of game jam games I have in my disposal, I simply need to look for the game with the best balance between popularity and simplicity to reduce development time. In this case, Not a Clone and Suddenly, Thousands seems to be the most ideal, although the former is expensive to develop despite short development time, and the latter will require a lot of experimentation. If I don’t make any progress in making the business sustainable, well, it might be time to seek a new way to make income.
#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.
Welp, I’m in the mood for a RPGMaker horror game. Here’s a pretty darn good one, with a simple but moving narrative, forgiving horror mechanic, and very likable characters. KaRASU’s rearrangement of kouri’s Title Theme does a great justice to Ib‘s use of juvenile perspective to increase its creepiness factor. Welcome to Ib‘s mystical art gallery, where the lead character’s 9-year-old innocence can’t save the gallery’s dark influence on her sanity.
Ib is a 9-year-old girl walking around curiously through the legendary Weise Guertena’s art gallery with her parents until she comes upon one large, very immersive painting. It’s at this moment that the lights turns off, all visitors (including Ib’s parents) disappears, mysterious writings starts appearing on the walls, and the paintings starts to animate and even make creepy sounds. Amidst the horror and confusion from all the commotions, Ib finds herself staring at a floor installation depicting the ocean that’s begging her to jump in. And so she does, into the prideful, distrusting, and envious world of Guertena’s finest works.
Ib is a story-driven RPGMaker horror game that is thankfully tame on both story and horror. This surprisingly well-balanced adventure involves avoiding enemies while solving very clever puzzles, and learning more about each character that joins your party. While the game is very forgiving, with a unique 5-hit-point health meter depicted by an image of a rose, the method of recovering health is very limited.
Ib is available on the PC for free. An English translation of this Japanese game can be found here: http://vgperson.com/games/ib.htm
#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.
Do you hear that? Yup, I’m late again. Anyway, this week’s music is a nice and pleasant composition from Donkey Kong 64, written by the infamous Grant Kirkhope. While Grant is more known for his jaunty, bouncy compositions, Fungi Forest is a tame music more focused on silence. A soothing music fitting to a large and epic forest.
Donkey Kong 64. Well, that’s another game that needs almost no introduction. Basically, King K. Rool kidnaps Donkey Kong’s 4 friends and their golden bananas, so it’s up to the lazy Kong himself to save the day. Ah, those were the good times. Anyways, Donkey Kong 64 is a 3D platformer that’s known to be one of the worst offenders of its genre, collecta-thon. From the hard-to-find golden bananas to the color-coded bananas that only a specific Kong can collect, it’s only natural that many people criticized the sheer amount of plot coupons they needed to collect to progress through the game. Still, most critics agree that it is a solid platformer that has tight controls, fascinating worlds to travel through, and a good fun to be had.
Donkey Kong 64 was originally made for, you guessed it, Nintendo 64. It is available on the WiiWare as a downloadable retro game.
So now that I’ve played several hours on Chrono Trigger, I think it’s about time I write down my first impressions of the game. They say the first few minutes is the most important part of the game, but I’ve always preferred a great journey over a five minute spectacle. Anyways, I figured it’d be interesting to jot down some notes now, and see if my opinion on the game changes as I get closer to the ending. Call it the indie developer’s notes on retro games he/she has not played before.
While I like JRPGs, my taste lean towards action-RPGs than turn-based or strategy. Games like Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door or Xenoblade Chronicles — both of which are my favorite JRPGs — are much more my jam than, say, Earthbound and Golden Sun. Additionally, while I have dabbled in gaming in NES and SNES days, the first console I’ve owned, and the one I remember the most is the Nintendo 64, so I tend to prefer playing 3D games over 2D ones. Naturally, this colors my opinion on retro games that I haven’t played before.
Additionally, I’ve been constantly informed by friends both online and offline how much I should play Chrono Trigger (and Final Fantasy VII, but Chrono Trigger takes priority), so needless to say, I was a bit concerned that this game was too hyped when I started playing. Additionally, I kind of like spoilers, so here’s what I already know about the story:
- Crono, the lead character, dies at some point. He hasn’t died yet in my playthrough, but I did get to a point where the prophecy is thrown at the party, so I suspect it’s coming soon.
- Lavos is the bad guy the party members find out exists at the very far future. Or maybe Lavos is a thing. Actually, I don’t know what it is. Giygas?
- Frog is a formerly human prince…of something.
- There’s time travel!
- There’s significant decisions that affects both the story and game settings, often reflected in the future.
Lastly, I’ve decided to rename characters based off of other video games, and will be referencing them to my custom names (just to confuse you):
- Crono as Link
- Lucca as Samus
- Marle as Jade
- Frog as Slip
- Robo as Ness
- Ayla as Croft
The Parts I Like
The story-changing decisions are subtle.
I was initially unsure whether I liked how subtle the story-changing decisions were, especially when playing games like Tales of Symphonia and Golden Sun trained me to make multiple saves when I noticed a conversation was making me side with one sanction or another. I’ve come to appreciate this, though, as I go along. It makes the journey feel a lot more organic as I go through them.
So how does Chrono Trigger implement story-changing decisions? The part that sticks out to me most is when Link is thrown into jail. You have a choice to either backstab one of the guards, or simply wait out until Samus saves him. The backstabbing option is not obvious: it takes several steps to make that option available, and I had to scamper around the cell multiple time to figure out how to get there. Aaaand I actually restarted after that because I prefer to approach the problem more peacefully (and expect a Game Over screen). Anyway, the important part is that Chrono Trigger tends to hide some details that you have to figure out yourself, and this serves to be a great advantage from the decision standpoint.
Outside of Link, all the characters have very clear personalities. We have Samus as a smart bookworm; Jade as a tomboy princess; Slip as a loyal swordsman; Ness as a naive robot; and Croft as a blunt barbarian. I find these comical caricatures to be quick to understand and easily relatable. Seeing them respond differently in various points of the story creates a very interesting narrative dynamic. It’s very fascinating to see one character respond in awe to a destructive weapon, while another question whether one should be forged from the first place.
Combo tech attacks encourages different party combinations.
It took me a while to get used to how combo techs would use up turns from two or more party members for a single devastating attack, but other than that, I’ve come to like it. Basically, unlocking combo tech attacks requires not only for your party members to learn normal tech moves, but also be in a battle at the same time. Considering how your characters don’t gain experience points unless they’re in battle, cycling through your characters turns out to be an important strategy to make sure your party members remain balanced. I like that from a simple game mechanic, you’re actively made aware of this important detail, and have to plan accordingly.
Some introduction to different eras are magical.
To me, there were two moments that was really striking: first time being introduced to the very far future, and first time entering the magic palace. Considering how drastically different these two environments look like, they both took me by surprise, and I couldn’t help but explore every nook and crannies in each of them.
The Parts I Don’t Like
Over-reliance on the overworld.
The world in Chrono Trigger honestly feels vast and…boring. I feel that to create a sense of epicness in the lands Link and his party travels, the game relies too much on overworlds, and since there’s no random encounters in this game (thank goodness), this part feels very boring. Don’t get me wrong: I know there’s going to be an item that’ll help shorten my travels, as it’s already hinted with the flying dinosaurs, but I’m already tired of the worlds I’ve visited in.
There’s also the fact that any non-overworld portions of the game feels utterly inconsistent. Some normal-world levels are only one screen large, while others are a full dungeon. Seeing as both of these levels are divided by an overworld, it’s hard to predict where you’re entering will be large or small. This makes it hard for me to judge when I should and shouldn’t save.
Sudden and unavoidable battles.
You know, for a game that prizes how there are no random encounters, I’m often annoyed at how many of those encounters are unavoidable, and come at you without warning. Most modern RPGs are much more fairer by making it clear that if you talk to an enemy, they’ll give you a choice whether you want to fight it or not. Chrono Trigger, however, has moments where you’ll be running into a required door, only to be pushed out and swarmed by enemies. That just feels unfair.
That’s not to mention how difficult it is to judge the trigger box for avoidable battles. Sometimes, I don’t even touch an enemy, and yet the battle starts anyway. That’s bad UI, in my opinion.
No run option.
You can’t escape from battles. It makes the last problem even worse.
Selecting attack/item options cover your stats (like HP, MP, etc.)
In an attempt to not obscure the view, the attack/item selection menu during battle uses as much menu space as possible. This means that menus will cover your party’s HP/MP bar, making it difficult to judge when my characters are about to die.
Outdated battle system.
I wasn’t fond of Chrono Trigger‘s early Final Fantasy-like battle system, and it only barely grown on me as time went along. Technically, there’s an option to make the battle system fully turn-based, but I didn’t find this to be much of an improvement, either. The only mechanic I think is clever about it is when combo-tech attacks are being selected.
It’s kind of hard.
OK, I should be expecting this from a retro game, especially considering how I played through Earthbound 0 before, but Chrono Trigger is old-school hard JRPG.
Most puzzles are fetch quests.
Fetch quests. My biggest pet-peeve in video games. Chrono Trigger is filled with them. See, I really like Golden Sun for its inventive and difficult puzzles, and I can tolerate Earthbound for its humor, but Chrono Trigger has neither of these advantages, and it really irritates me. When stuff like this are passed as “puzzles,” naturally it’ll ruffle my feathers the wrong way.
I’m playing Chrono Trigger on and off, and I often lose track of where I was at, or skipped an important detail. The fact that there isn’t some notes indicating where the story is going, besides maybe the name of the save file, makes it hard to get back to the game, sometimes.
Link is a forgettable mute protagonist.
It’s possible to give personality to mute protagonists. Earthbound and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker are two shining examples of this. There’s a very real sense of character development and progression from both of these games simply from character interactions or observations that slowly changes towards the positive. Chrono Trigger, however, doesn’t have moment like these, so I’m having a hard time judging what kind of person Link is like, other than that he has impressive sword skills. It makes it hard to support the hero when they’re basically an uninteresting blank slate.
I’m afraid Chrono Trigger was over-hyped for me, since the flaws in the game are very obvious. Hopefully my opinion will change as I go along, but some of these flaws are leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.
#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.
Good ol’ Romain “Ninomojo” Gauthier has yet another beautiful mobile game music, this time for an adorable puzzle game called iBlast Moki 2. As the score’s title implies, Forest depicts a tone fitting of…well, actually, anything that’s happy. Anyway, brew that hot cocoa of yours, sit back in that comfy couch, and listen to this wonderful track for that Christmas holiday mood.
iBlast Moki 2 is a quirky (and an early) mobile puzzle game that involves primarily placing bombs to launch the adorable Mokis –don’t worry, no blood or gore in this game — into the warp gate. While timed bombs will be your primary tool, with the time it takes to blast the bombs being fully controllable, a variety of other tools — including ropes, paint bombs, and ships — will assist Mokis’ travels. And that’s not to mention a level editor that exists in-game, making the possibilities endless!
When you’re devoting much of your time on stuff like independent game development, it’s very easy to have a myopic view of the world. So to relax a bit from being an insignificant indie gamedev, I’m going to try thinking of something else besides video games. By predicting the future…very poorly and insignificantly.
Niches will be more important, while general public will become a less viable market.
There’s two reasons I suspect niches will become more important: first the recent successful startups in practically every field I know of have been capitalizing on smaller, more devoted niches. Second, I’m seeing that the advent of internet and smartphones has caused a lot of younger people to favor exceptionalism somewhat more than their originating country’s culture. I suspect the newer generation prefers working with tools and comfort that feels like it was made for them than what’s popular. This will inevitably chew away “general public” as a market, forcing a lot of bigger companies to create different variations of the same thing to cater each niche.
In other words, the next generation market will heavily depend on style and identity. The shift to this personalization age will be a slow one, however, since the only way a startup can grow from their niche is to aim towards general public. Personally, I suspect (and hope) that the market will slowly fragment, causing “the general public” to shrink. Until, that is….
Everything will be automated. Yes, even art.
It’s a historical constant that making any job easier for the general household stays and improves lives. So when the next set of automation, either with cooking, sanitation, material collection, etc. rolls, you bet that’s going to remain for a long, long time. Going along the same line of thinking as the last segment, automation will first aim towards niches, then push themselves into the general public with customization options. Should they succeed hitting the general public, these companies will be able to hit a wide range of niches merely by adding more customization options, making their product personalizable for nearly everyone.
Not only will this inflate the size of “the general public” again, it will actually make competition less viable. In fact, at the point automation becomes a real thing, I suspect monopolies will rule the market (at least, in the Windows vs Mac level of “monopoly”), and formations of new companies, including art studios, stagnate.
At least in the US, defense and law enforcement spendings will decrease, and public service will increase. This will be true for most first world countries as well.
Simply put, war and violence are at an all-time low, and will continue to decrease for nearly every country. Technically, I suspect there will be a bottom to that curve, but I don’t see that happening specifically on a global scale for quite a while. Anyway, things like defense and law enforcement (police, for example) spendings will have to decrease as they become less and less necessary. People are becoming more capable of policing themselves, making the enforcements more outdated.
Instead, spendings on public services will increase. We’re already seeing this: countries like Japan are aging, and the need to support older people are causing them to go heavily in-debt. Practically all first-world countries are facing this problem in varying degrees, even here in the US. We’re living longer, and will need to support the growing, older population, and since increasing that age limit for retirement isn’t going to happen any time soon, the spendings will have to increase.
This results in some significant shifts in the market. For one, older generations are now going to be a new niche market, and a healthy one to boot. Second, government as a customer will be less reliant on “brunt force”-based defense, instead focusing more on cyber defense and spying. This shift in technology also means that airplanes, tanks, and battleship engineering will be fazed out towards maintenance while UAVs and snooping will become more important.
There will be a series of major technological breakthrough in combating global warming.
Disregarding the debate on whether global warming exists or not, lots of efforts has been placed in combating global warming. I think it’s inevitable that a new series of breakthroughs will occur, allowing companies to adopt cheaper protocols that still manages to be environmentally more safe. This includes emitting less toxins and carbon dioxides, as well as using less rare-earth materials.
The unfortunate thing is that it’s going to take the less fortunate countries a little longer to adapt to these technologies. This is partially due to politics, as these countries that rely on mining rare-earth materials a lot will now have to sustain that market artificially. However, most of it will be due to simple human stubbornness.
Alright, all of these predictions were safe so far. Let’s try something else.
The numbers of countries will increase until your backyard is your own country.
Taking the personalization part to the extreme, I expect the number of countries to increase, especially after the automation phases. Basically, by the time everything becomes automated, most upper-class households will be capable of holding on its own without relying on imports. It would, at this point, make sense that they attempt to customize the government to their preference. I think somebody will eventually figure out how to efficiently create their own country, and everyone will follow suit.
So what does this mean for the United Nations?
UN will die, and be replaced by the internet.
Or something like that. When I say “UN will die,” I mean that they will lose relevance. Really, I’m not sure what will replace the UN, but my hunch says it’s the internet. Because that makes sense.
Currency will cease to exist. Trade will be more personal.
Obviously if your country is the size of your backyard, it’s going to be pretty pointless to have money. I suspect trade itself won’t die, though. Instead, it’ll be more personal, with less middlemen to worry about.
The world is shifting towards introverts. Social will become more physically separated.
I suspect extroversion will be less appealing as a personality trait, as newer technologies that augment communication favor those introverted. In a lot of ways, both the general population and the popular media will become a lot quieter and will rely on more complicated connections with their audience.
Alright, that’s enough venting boredom for now. Back to work!
#WeeklyGameMusic: New week, new music.
Do you feel the beat? Yes, that one. Careful, don’t skip that one. You don’t want to fall off of those disappearing platforms! Great, now keep the rhythm. Now we’re all in Sync, a piece by Disasterpeace from the mind-bending game, Fez.
Fez is a fairly simple puzzle-platformer with a simple story. Gomez, the lead character, lives a rather sheltered but still peaceful village whose knowledge and experience ends in 2D. Yet as a chosen one, Gomez obtains a magical fez from the village elder that allows him to travel in semi-3D. Abusing this power, however, causes the one thing that keeps the world together to break apart, and defrag across different worlds. It also crashes the game. Stuck in a progressively degrading world, it’s up to Gomez to fix his mistake.
The gameplay of Fez, as mentioned earlier, is about traveling in a bizarrely 3D way. More accurately, the fez allows Gomez to rotate the world on its vertical axis by 90 degrees. But since Gomez operates in 2D physics, the depth of the level collapses after every rotation, allowing him to make platforms align properly. While most puzzles rely on understanding how this physics system works, another set of puzzles rely on deciphering codes. When one finds a Fez code, they can input the button combination the code represents, unlocking some fun collectables. Overall, it’s a delightfully colorful platformer that isn’t very punishing, but has some nasty difficult codes to decipher.
Fez was originally released for Xbox 360 as a downloadable. It is now available for Playstation 3 & 4, and on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux.