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My Top 20 from the Independent Games Festival 2015 (Part 2)

Here we are again. It’s early in another new year and I’ve gone through all of the entrants in the Independent Games Festival. There were 639 games entered for 2015 and I wound up with a “short” list of 93. From there I hemmed and hawed for a while and ultimately decided on just 20 that I think are the specialest. Today is Part 2, the final ten of twenty (in alphabetical order). Check out yesterday’s post if you’re a fan of indie games that start with the letters A through H!

Megaton Rainfall by Alfonso del Cerro Aguilar
“Don’t you think that superhero games [should] transmit the sense of power and freedom of movement, that these characters apparently have in other media?” This is the premise for the most impressive first-person gameplay I’ve seen in years. It’s still very early but the scale of environments it’s able to push around is astounding and the movement already seems so smooth. I hope this makes it out as a finished product!

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Nubarron: The Adventure of an Unlucky Gnome by Nastycloud
Another one with ‘gameplay mechanics that help as well as hurt’, Nubarron is a hatless gnome, constantly followed by a vicious storm cloud. Stop for too long and you’re toast, but you also need to use that lightning to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. It’s a clever and wicked spin on 2D platforming and the art style is lush. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit its Kickstarter goal and the team is working on a smaller project to help fund Nubarron. It’ll be a ways off but I’d love to see more.

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Painters Guild by Lucas Molina
I wasn’t sure how to handle this game when I first played the alpha. I was gingerly moving Leonardo Da Vinci from tiny, simple paintings to studying… and then I got overwhelmed by angry customers and a pope died in there somewhere and then I lost. There’s much more to be added in the final version but I think it’s succinct to say this feels like Diner Dash with art, and it’s great. I can’t wait to see and play more of it. Also, here’s Katy and I playing the demo.

Poncho by Delve Interactive
May I introduce you to ‘The Next Fez’? Ok, maybe it’s more Mutant Mudds than Fez but you can’t deny Poncho has a gob-smackingly gorgeous 2D aesthetic of its own, especially when you see it in motion. It also rings just a little of the mystery of Fez but that might be because the trailer is so vague. Either way it gets my vote for the love of parallax.

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Road Redemption by DarkSea Interactive
Look, I know the IGF is the place for innovation, invention and even enlightenment. But I also know that I love Road Rash and Road Redemption is the closest thing to it we’ve had in nearly 20 years. It looks like the biggest, dumbest mess of physics and motorcycles and flying bodies and somehow roguelikes. It’s just too bad it’s still Early Access.

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Small Radios Big Televisions by FIRE FACE
Absolutely stunning to look at even in the early demo version! It’s simple and gorgeous and mysterious without being pretentious or talky. In fact, it may be the silence and lack of characters I love the most. You can watch me play through the demo for more ineloquent ramblings about how I love it.

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Submerged by Uppercut Games
I was already intrigued by the characters floating ominously in a boat. When I realized it was the rooftops of a flooded modern metropolis they wash up to, I was instantly sold. It feels every bit like a Team ICO game but with zero combat and an open world to explore. It is, in concept, my dream game. We’ll see how much is there in the final product but I couldn’t not include it here.

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Sumoman by Tequillabyte Studios
There’s something oddly pleasing about the way Sumoman balances, jiggles and moves that makes me want to play this game. Basically it’s another physics-based, side-scrolling puzzle/platformer but it’s got a spirit I really appreciate. Plus if Sumoman topples over you die and that’s hilarious.

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THUMPER by Drool
As I said in my follow up post last week: Is it an endless runner? Is it sort of like Rock Band but without the emphasis on instruments? I don’t know but it looks splendid and incredible and I will hold on as long as needed in order to play a release version.

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White Night by Osome Studios
White Night is absolutely THE most visually stunning game that I’ll probably never play. I appreciate the admitted inspirations of the original Alone in the Dark and I love the gameplay of keeping the lights on. But when you add things that chase me into the darkness, I cash out. Still, it is so unbelievably gorgeous. The thinnest edges on the things just barely in sight; the perfect whites and blacks in starkest of contrast to one another. The gritty 1930’s setting with matchbooks and gas lamps. I want to see more and hopefully give it a shot myself but I’m probably going to run away.

My Top 20 from the Independent Games Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Here we are again. It’s early in another new year and I’ve gone through all of the entrants in the Independent Games Festival. There were 639 games entered for 2015 and I wound up with a “short” list of 93. From there I hemmed and hawed for a while and ultimately decided on just 20 that I think are the specialest. Today I’ll post the first ten (in alphabetical order) and finish it up with another post tomorrow.

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Against the Wall by Michael Consoli
It may not have been on my Top Twenty list last year but I am all about it in 2015. I played the alpha version again, climbed as high as I wanted to and said “enough, enough now”. I need to know that whatever happens next is final release before I go any higher.

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C-Wars by Onipunks
What looked so fascinating in Crystalides has been refined and distilled into C-Wars and… I’m not sure I’ll love it. The demo build is very rough but it holds the same pixelart cyberpunk vibe I’ve been into since 2012. It’s now equipped with an FTL vibe where you choose to confront or avoid conflict, a leveling systems and a peculiar real time strategy combat mechanic. It’s still promising but far removed from what I was originally so in love with.

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Captain Forever Remix by Dean Tate and Brian Chan
I first discovered Captain Forever in 2012 and obsessively played the web demo version but never bought into the expansion. This has been corrected now that I’ve pre-ordered the reimagining that is Remix. Crazy new art accompanies what will be a deep, terrifying hole of frantic ship building and salvaging. Everything I loved about the original with a hopeful glut of new stuff on top.

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Chained by DigiPen Team Those Guys
I’ve found my mini trend of the year and it’s ‘gameplay mechanics that help as well as hurt’. In the case of Chained it’s a ball and chain attached to your character that you use to demolish your way through an already distraught dreamscape. The modeling and animation are fantastic while the platforming sections are augmented just enough by the ball and chain physics to be interesting.

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Cosmonautica by Chasing Carrots
When they say a “fresh, funky and funny blend of space trading and life simulation” they look to deliver. It’s The Sims in managing your crew’s needs and making sure your ship has all the rooms they need. It’s also got a Spreadsheets in Space economy and FTL’s real time terror combat that I love to hate. Soon as it’s out of Early Access, I’m all in.

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The Curious Expedition by Maschinen-Mensch
I told myself I wasn’t going to get into more procedurally generated, roguelike adventures but The Curious Expedition has super sweet pixelart. Thankfully, it’s top-down, hex-based perspective and party management are equally enticing. Like Gods will be Watching you have to manage your crew’s emotions as well as the external forces threatening to end your expedition with each move. It also looks like you can discover dinosaurs!

Donut County by Ben Esposito
I do-nut what to say about this one. You control a hole that gets bigger as it swallows up colorful scenery and ridiculously cute critters. Very much what I’d call Noby Noby Boy meets Katamari. It looks perfectly, magically insane.

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Fort Meow by Rhys Davies
It’s like Angry Birds in reverse. You’re the one building forts out of furniture to provide solace for a young girl from needy, clingy cats.  Between waves you can scavenge the house for new items — some provide unique bonuses, some are just hefty — to fend off an increasingly persistent array of felines. It’s a downright pleasant experience from the art to the adorable cat animations to the endless purrs you hear on the game over screen.

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Hero Generations by Heart Shaped Games
I came across the beta of this game years ago on Facebook and played a ton of it. Not long after the beta was taken down and promises were made that Hero Generations would reemerge. I’m still waiting (but it’s finally very close).

The concept is simple and grand: each square you move on the map is a year in your life. Youth, middle age and elderly phases have their own benefits and drawbacks. You’re out to maximize your time adventuring (and pillaging and fighting) while also winning over a quality mate. Because when you die you take over as your child with inherited strengths, weaknesses and inheritance. It’s roguelike, terrifying and awesome. I can’t wait to play it again!

Hex Heroes by Prismatic Games
Much like the FPS/RTS mashup, Savage, Hex Heroes aims to do some unique stuff with co-op. Potentially a Wii U game I’d buy a Wii U for, the player with the GamePad is given a top down view of a strategy game style map. They command up to four other players on the TV who have their own roles to play; be it combat, resource gathering or dispelling the fog of war over the map. I doubt I’d ever get together with enough people to make it work but it’s a fantastic idea and I’d love to see it happen.

How I find my Top Twenty of the Independent Games Festival every year

People often ask me, “Shawn, how do you decide on only twenty picks out of the hundreds of stellar, inventive games entered into the Independent Games Festival each year?

Wonder no more — people who never actually asked me that — because here’s a video detailing the highly scientific process! I took some time last week to record and talk through my decisions on what I like, what I don’t and what to add to my short list of potential top picks.

2014 IGF entrant, Shiftlings, coming soon to Xbox One

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Since it’s turned into IGF week here at GameLuv I thought this would make for a fitting post. Shiftlings, one of my short listed picks from the 2014 IGF, is coming soon to Xbox One. The game page exists but there’s no release date or price info just yet.

Surprisingly similar in theme to a few of my 2015 picks, Shiftlings ties two alien astronauts together by an umbilical air hose that’s always over-inflated. The puzzling, platforming gameplay centers on shifting the air between the two which enables new abilities. Naturally, it’s also important to avoid space spikes and other pointy, poppy obstacles when your inflated with life-saving air.

Until there’s more to report I’ll just say congrats to Rock Pocket Games. It’s always good to see an IGF entrant come to release, especially the ones I haven’t been able to keep up with.

Where are they now? Catching up with my Top 20 from IGF 2014

Going through all the entrants for the 17th annual Independent Games Festival this year got me thinking: This is the fourth year I’ve done this and some of these games I’ve seen every year while others I’ve lost track of. So I went back to my bookmarks archive and quickly checked in with some of my top picks. You can check out my recap from 2012 and 2013 that I posted earlier this week but for today we’re moving on to last year’s list: IGF 2014.

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Elegy for a Dead World – I like writing… *glances at past 9 years of GameLuv posts* … yeah, I’m pretty sure I like writing. So when a game promises to plunk me down all alone on a dead alien world and tells me I’ll be documenting it for posterity, I take notice. Elegy has gone on to see official release but now that part of the experience is reading other peoples writings I feel like I’d have a pretty boring story to tell. Stage fright? That’s an interesting concept in itself. I really should buy this some day.

Moon Intern – This one had a pretty high, high concept in 2013 as a “serialized side-scrolling action RPG […] with each day acting like a single episode”. An episodic, pixelart platformer sounds enticing but work has been hampered since Day One according to the devs. With a new emphasis on “random and procedural elements” it’s starting to sound like most other indie games of the day. That is to say, a lot less interesting to me.

Perfect Stride – I rediscovered Perfect Stride amongst the L.A. Game Space demos in 2014 and was finally able to make sense of its stunning lo-fi visuals. It also has a really chill soundtrack. As for the future, who knows. The creedo remains: Perfect Stride is coming to $team whenever we finish it. It continues to pop up at events but I haven’t heard much more on its progress.

PixelJunk Inc. – Now known as Nom Nom Galaxy, this “2D Minecraft” has seen several updates since I uncharacteristically bought into its Early Access build. The biggest news, though, is that Q-Games is once again working with Sony to bring the game to PlayStation 4 and Vita. How this impacts the PC version that I bought has yet to be seen but the game continues moving forward at a decent pace.

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The White Cane – The White Cane is literally a black void until you start bumping into stuff. Your characters thoughts — visualized as words — create the world around you as you come to grips with where you are and what’s following you. As a student project from 2013 the team has obviously broken up and only one of them is continuing to work on the game. It’s a long ways off and may never happen but I’m here, still holding on for another update. It’s that striking to play!

THUMPER - Is it an endless runner? Is it sort of like Rock Band but without the emphasis on instruments? I don’t know but it looks splendid and incredible and I will hold on as long as needed in order to play a release version. Public demos are already happening in 2015 but so far I’ve not been close enough to attend.

An update on Karaoke @ DAM for Japan’s Xbox One

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The post I made about Karaoke @ DAM for the Japanese Xbox One last July continues to get traffic so I thought I’d write an update. To promote the service Microsoft and Daiichikosho roped in prolific enka singer, Sachiko Kobayashi, and had her train up on the decidedly-not-enka rock song ‘One Night Carnival’ by Kishidan. The results are tremendous.

As for the “game” itself, I can confirm it’s pretty easy to switch your Xbox One’s location and download the app. Unfortunately you’ll quickly be confronted with a notice that “communication with the center system could not be sure”, according to Google Translate. I take this to mean it won’t connect to the server from outside of Japan but it could be because I don’t have one of Hori’s generic USB microphones. According to the Karaoke @ DAM page it seems no other headset or microphone will be tolerated. I was so close! I’m sure there’s some way to tunnel or proxy the Xbox One traffic so it looks like I’m in Japan but I’ll leave that work up to someone else.

Once you are properly signed in it looks like you can peruse and preview the entire catalog of songs for free. With plans to add 200 new tracks every week since launch that should give you around 102,000 songs to choose from. Got your VPN tunnel, Hori mic and a list of J-Pop songs you have memorized? Now you’re ready to pay. The rates still stand at a reasonable $3 for 24 hours of access or $10 for 30 days. DAM branded Microsoft Points cards are available at retailers in Japan as well. And at least for a limited time, that Hori microphone comes with a free 30 days of access.

That’s a lot of hoops to jump through to sing karaoke on your Xbox One and nab some Japanese Achievements. But until Microsoft gives the English speaking world a similar product (and with the death of Karaoke on Xbox 360) this is the only option we’ve got.

I’m going to keep trying to get on so I hope to be back with another update at some point. In the meantime, here’s some higher quality screens I grabbed from the Xbox One.

Where are they now? Catching up with my Top 20 from IGF 2013

Going through all the entrants for the 17th annual Independent Games Festival this year got me thinking: This is the fourth year I’ve done this and some of these games I’ve seen every year while others I’ve lost track of. So I went back to my bookmarks archive and quickly checked in with some of my top picks. You can check out my recap from 2012 that I posted earlier this week but for today we’re moving on to IGF 2013.

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Against the Wall – A game about scaling a sheer wall and slowly discovering mysterious stuff by pulling out odd-sized blocks to make a path. It’s so simple and pure, I’ve pined for it since 2012 and it’s still not done. Work continues but it seems to be overshadowed by newer games from developer Michael Consoli. I can wait, I just hope it isn’t retired.

Chroma – In a year when every other entry had something to do with manipulating light and shadows, Chroma was the one that looked most appealing. Mark Foster has since found more success with Titan Souls but Chroma remains at the top of his site’s projects list. I hope one day it happens.

Cradle - I’ve had just as many concerns over this game making it out as I’ve had dreams about playing it. Development has always seemed shaky and coming from Russia some of the updates have been hard to follow. Thankfully there’s been news already in 2015 and the script and voice acting have been completed. Paying actors to record dialog is a pretty good sign a game is moving along so I’m hoping to play it sometime this year.

Don’t Starve – Back at the dawn of the neo-roguelike age I fell in love with Don’t Starve. Like most I enjoyed the terror of coming to grips with the game’s mysteries and fighting hunger like it was a tangible enemy. It was the first Early Access game I bought into and the last I’ll ever play with that much dedication. By the time the game was released I’d burnt out on it and everything I understood about how it worked had changed. Still a fantastic game, I just came at it the wrong way and I’ve learned a gaming life lesson from it.

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Leaper★ – Leaper is as old as 2010 but I didn’t dig deep enough on Sophie Houlden’s website until writing this post to find the playable demo of it. I want it even more now despite not owning an iPad anymore which is where the star-enhanced edition would debut… if it ever happens. It’s a great one-button platforming concept that feels wonderful. I hope it happens some day, in some form that I can actually get ahold of.

NEO Scavenger – Constantly tempting me to repeat the same mistake I made with Don’t Starve was NEO Scavenger. It was in playable Alpha form and then on Early Access for the better part of 2 years and I always wanted to jump in. Finally, I bought the full game when it was released proper and it has continued to kill me in more and more inventive ways every time.

StarForge - At the start all I needed was the confirmation that you could build a tower of dirt right out of the atmosphere and into space. Then there was the reveal of the crazy gun generation system and the momentum-based physics of movement. Then the fort-building, wave-based Horde mode. It all seemed to be careening wildly right up my alley. I never bought in but going by Steam the final, release version of the game is a messy shell of all that potential. I’d still like to give it a shot some day but wow, what a letdown.

Where are they now? Catching up with my Top 20 from IGF 2012

Going through all the entrants for the 17th annual Independent Games Festival this year got me thinking: This is the fourth year I’ve done this and some of these games I’ve seen every year while others I’ve lost track of. So I went back to my bookmarks archive and quickly checked in with some of my top picks. I’ll do a separate post this week for each year I’ve been at this so let’s start at the start, IGF 2012.

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Causality Flux – Their homepage has never expanded beyond some placeholder imagery surrounding the same trailer they submitted to the IGF. It’s one of those games that looked promising but probably isn’t going to resurface. This happens a lot and it’s the No.1 pitfall of going through all these IGF games.

Crabiton - After launching on iOS in 2011 and being one of the last iPad games I was interested in, Two Lives Left are now bringing the space munching game to Kinect for Xbox One. With Kinect able to track fingers in a very crab-like manner it seems a perfect fit.

Crystalides - One of the games I was most excited about started out in 2011 as a Java-powered cellphone game. Since then the project has been retired with the universe and some of the gameplay I loved retooled into C-Wars. It’s been Greenlit for Steam and continues development after a Kickstarter fully funded it in 2013.

Fader - One of the first “controlling different stuff on two halves of a screen” games I ever saw and it’s still not out. The combination of art style and music are why I’m still holding out for Fader. The latest from developer Chris Makris’ twitter is “I move like molasses”. Glad to know it’s still in the works.

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Leshy - I’ve played a lot of “rolling ball puzzle/platformers” over the years so if you see one in these lists you know it’s something special. While an expanding and contracting ball doesn’t sound like much the developers nailed the sense of scale even in this short demo and it blew my mind. I’ve followed up with some of the team because I think about Leshy a lot but unfortunately the project never went any farther. Shame, but at least we can still play the demo and dream!

Nitronic Rush – That other DigiPen game I just mentioned, it’s as close to San Francisco Rush as we’re going to get. Much of the team has gone on to make Distance which looks similar but, to me, feels even more about survival than the classic Rush vibe Nitronic held to. Both are fabulous in my book though.

Nous - Another DigiPen team game like Leshy and Nitronic Rush, Nous was a great 4th-wall-breaking twin-stick “shooter” with some great moments. Brett Cutler, Nous’ designer, is now at 17-BIT working on Galak-Z which makes perfect sense from what I’ve seen of it and Nous.

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Project Zomboid – The game has come on by huge leaps since 2011 but it continues to be an Early Access affair. Once it’s content is certified “Released” I’ll jump back in but since my first blush with the game I’ve put it anxiously on hold.

Proteus - The visual wonderland of Proteus wowed a lot of us in 2013. It’s continued making the indie hop from platform to platform. Ed Key, one half of the game’s creators, continues to blow up my twitter while simultaneously exploring the U.K.’s outback. The lucky bastard.

Red Rogue - Possibly the web-based game I’ve spent the most time with. At a moment when all I wanted were roguelikes, here comes an adorable, side-scroller with mysterious loot, adorable (but gory) animations and a fantastic, muted color palette.

Treasure Adventure Game – This was one of the first times I’d heard a 2D game referred to as featuring an open world and it captivated me. Turns out what they meant to say was it’s ‘just like Metroid’. The soundtrack has persisted much longer as a personal favorite though. And much like Spelunky, the pixelart original has been redrawn “as originally envisioned” and is working its way towards a full, expanded release as Treasure Adventure World.

DELISTED: My attempt to keep some lost games alive

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You know what’s a sad reality of modern gaming? Delisting. It seems naive now but I always felt that digital releases and downloadable games would make for a permanent history of gaming. Thanks to licensing deals and publisher liquidation, though, our games can disappear faster than any disc can die from bit rot.

I’ve been thinking about it for a year now and with more games dropping off their e-Mortal coils I decided to finally get this thing started. DELISTED is the name and I’m aiming to capture what I can of these no-longer-available titles in their original form. No cracking, no downloading ISOs (or whatever the digital equivalent is), no commentary.

This means a lot of Xbox 360 footage because I’ve already downloaded most trial games there and their web interface makes scouring my history painless. In each video I show the gameplay, options, Achievements and credits. I’ve also tried to identify why the game was delisted but in some cases it’s a behind-the-scenes mystery. Oh, and for posterity’s sake there’s no commentary from me; this is serious archival business.

The playlist is already growing with two new uploads coming each week in vaguely chronological order. And if this series get you all nostalgic for games long gone maybe you can dig them back up for yourself. I’ve posted two handy videos to show you how to get your own delisted games back on PlayStation Network and Xbox 360.

There’s loads of videos ahead for the series and, sadly, more to come as games continue to get delisted. They may be gone but I’m doing my best to make sure they aren’t lost.

The IGF 2015 Finalists are up, my work has begun

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In 2014 I wasn’t going to dig through all of the hundreds of entries in the Independent Games Festival but I slowly started looking over the contestants and wound up doing just that. This year I knew the finalists were going to be announced in January and I was almost looking forward to the gargantuan spectacle. They did not disappoint.

Down from last year’s record-breaking total, 639 games is still an impressive collection of work to peruse. It helps when 40% of the games are entries I’ve seen in previous years, 20% are Oculus Rift games that I’ll never play, 10% are “competitive multiplayer arena fighters”, and another 20% involve cards, card collecting, or are social experiences. That leaves 10% with the potential to be right up my alley so there’s been a lot of glancing and moving on. Two days in and I’m over halfway through but I’ve already got 45 games on my short list. With another 45 (or more) to be added before the end, it’s narrowing things down to my traditional Top Twenty list that will take some time.

As usual, I’ll leave the link here and encourage everyone to take a look. I’m sure our tastes and interests differ wildly so don’t just take my word for it.