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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Rezzed ::: Video Roundup

As the dust of Rezzed settles we want to show you one final thing, our video roundup. For the first time 7outof10 took more than their notebooks to a show and decided to try a little filming. We take a look round the stands, zoom in on a couple of games, and grab a few devs for a chat. It’s by no means perfect (it was is our first time after all) but we hope you like it.

And as ever, if you’ve any feedback please do let us know.

Rezzed Roundup ::: Part Two

Quick draw

When demonstrated it’s hard to fault Quick Draw. Hand a group of people PlayStation Move controllers and tell them they’re in a gun fight and instinctively everyone knows what to do. Controllers are immediately slung at people’s hips, fingers start twitching, and everyone eyes their rivals waiting for the first one to twitch. Bam! Bam! Bam! And in an instant only one person is left standing.

Quick Draw is a game without the need for a screen, and its clever smoke and mirrors allow living rooms to turn into the Wild West. All the software is looking for is a handful of stats about fastest trigger, elevation and angle of the shot but to the user it’s all about the very physical experience. It’s a motion game that achieves so much by only using a fraction of the technology on offer.

Along with the Wild West style shoot-out there was also the English equivalent where duellers would take several paces and wait for the bell to toll before turning and firing. Also on show was a game of tag which saw players popping the Move controllers in their back pocket, initially obscuring the orb on its end. One would then light up – usually without the controller’s owner knowing – and they would have to survive for as long as possible without being tagged, which usually involved heading into the crowd of onlookers for protection

It was superb fun and the booth was a constant success as show goers wanted to try something a little different. Though the concept seems a little limited it’s already received the green light for release on PS3, PS4 and PC and so a wide audience awaits it.

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That Dragon, Cancer

If there was a surprise in the Leftfield Collection, a cramped corridor showcasing some of the up and coming indie talent, it was found in the shape of That Dragon, Cancer. A much understated experience, it unfolds as an interactive story rather than a game, offering an insight into one of the developer’s lives and how cancer has affected it.

The scene opens with them siting in an uncomfortable hospital chair, musing on the décor of the sterile room around them and the reasoning behind it. The topics point to someone looking for a distraction from their situation, willing the mundane to take them away from the realities they’re suffering from. Significant words form in the environment pulling your eye around as the reality of the situation unfolds. There are no great monologues ramming home the point, instead the power comes from the subtlety in the lead’s dialogue.

As we faded to black I found a lump in my throat. Despite the hustle and bustle about me That Dragon, Cancer had managed to cocoon me in its world and I was wrapped in the drama. It may be an emotive topic but the delicacy with which it was portrayed and the knowledge that it was a very personal account shows how powerful interactive storytelling can be.

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Ethan Meteor Hunter

From the very friendly Seaven Studios, Ethan is a rat that has developed several unique talents, including telekinesis and the ability to pause time. How? Well that’s left to the vagaries of the science behind being hit by a meteor, and now he’s navigating the rat runs and sewers around his home collecting pieces of said rock.

At its heart it’s a 2D platformer but Ethan’s powers mean the challenge comes from more than pixel perfect jumping. At certain points he can pause time and move objects about him. These can include crates, planks or even small flame throwers, and all need to be rejigged either to clear blockages or create bridges before continuing onwards. Everything is physics driven too so they’ll all clatter and fall about as you move the level, leading to some interesting segments where items need to be rearranged mid-jump to take advantage of them before gravity sucks them back to earth.

There’s also the more traditional fare of spinning blades and mouse traps that can catapult the lead across gorges. It took me a while to get the feel of the weight and movement of Ethan but it soon settled into an enjoyable experience that mixed sections of swift moving platforming chained with block laden puzzles. Nothing was overly tough but it does require a patience as most dangers cause instant death and a trip back to the last checkpoint.

There are touches of Ratchet & Clank and Max & the Magic Marker about Meteor Hunter, both in terms of look and feel. At the moment it’s looking for backers on Steam’s Greenlight and is definitely worth investigating if you’re looking for a platformer with a twist.

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Redshirt

If there was one game I wished I had had more time with it was Redshirt. Barely scraping the surface I had still managed to throw a party for my work colleagues, start stalking a Second Lieutenant, and complained bitterly about my days working long hours as a teleportation clean-up assistant. And if that sounds curious, you should see what some of the other social media users of Spacebook say in their status updates.

Redshirt is a social climbing game where you must increase your standing aboard a galaxy-trekking starship, from that of the lowest rank to something far more Tweetable. These aims need to start small by buddying up with your workmates, slowly growing your circle through friends of friends, and then gradually drawing in more and more influential people that you’d like to schmooze with. Move too fast and you’ll just get ignored, so it’s all about throwing the right sort of parties and posting the most careful and manipulative status updates possible.

All this is balanced through a limited number of daily actions and having to split your character’s time between their social climbing and actual work. With this limitation in place, prioritising your actions is crucial, and it’s easy to get to the point where you’ve a plan in mind but you’re a handful of actions short of pulling it off.

Not only does it produce a satirical take on today’s social media culture but it embraces the past too. From Star Trek to Red Dwarf the best of sci-fi’s flagships have been referenced and homaged creating a very interesting blend of cultures. Fifteen minutes couldn’t do Redshirt justice and so I’ll be awaiting its forthcoming release to spend more time climbing the ranks and joining my very first away team.

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Morphopolis

Morphopolis displays a world from a point of view usually only seen by David Attenborough. In amongst the blades of grass and flower stems we witness caterpillars preparing to enter their cocoons and bees going about their nectar gathering business. It is a beautifully depicted world full of bright colours, layers of details, and gently moving creatures.

Whilst some of these creatures are fine without your attention, others need a helping hand. A drag of the mouse will move them along their path, edging them towards their eventual goal, but each time they will reach an inevitable impasse. In one instance this was a much larger insect blocking your path or in another it was the caterpillar’s hunger for food before beginning his transformation. For both situations, there was only one solution.

Each blocker can be resolved by finding a number of a specific objects in the background, be it eight drops of nectar or a dozen insect legs, and so Morphopolis turns into a “find it” game. This is easier said than done, too, for although the backgrounds are not littered with objects to cause you distraction, the detailed nature of the world causes these items to be lost in plain sight.

This style of game is not traditionally one I give much time to but the lush art work caused me to linger, though quite whether there’s any more to this insight into the world of insects is unclear. It may have caught my eye but sadly not my imagination.

Rezzed Roundup ::: Part One

Ice Fishing V

Possibly the most surreal experience I’ve had without the aid of a corrupted graphics card driver. A contender for videogames’ 2001, it marries striking visuals with a heavy soundscape into a unique world that not even a crowded and noisy Rezzed floor could impinge upon.

Offering very little explanation, this first-person adventure drops you into a world of red, white and black geometry, your only aim to move towards a white lift that transports you to further bizarre settings. From planes scattered with ice shards to floating in a void filled with six large eye balls, you are left to wonder and ponder your way through this abstract maze taking in the sights as you go.

The only interaction with the world that’s open to you is through red beams fired with a click of the mouse. They glide away into the distance, bouncing off surfaces until the world is a series of geometric noise. Most progression is triggered by cannoning this ability off of the various white objects in the world, turning them red in the process, and unlocking your exit. At least this is what I believe I’d gathered but given how little I understand about the rest of Ice Fishing that could have been pure coincidence.

Taken at a glance it could be easily be dismissed as a piece of performance art, but the puzzle nature of your progression is intriguing. If it keeps on layering on the interesting locks between worlds then it could prove as much substance as style.

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FranknJohn

Whereas many dungeon crawlers offer elusive suits of armour, magical weaponry and fantastical buffs as loot, FranknJohn offers but one simple upgrade path: find better heads. You see your skull is your weapon of choice here, capable of being swung away on a chain and whipped at your enemies to do damage. It starts off as a simple wrecking ball but as you delve deeper into this rogue-like it can be swapped out for anything from spinning blades to fire balls.

Though not on show, those were just two example offered to us by developers bitsmith who have only been shaping the game for a matter of weeks. It’s a definite work in progress but already they’ve managed to fashion randomly generated levels and a very Torchlight-esque art style that takes the dungeon setting and puts a characterised slant on it. Impressively, at this early stage, you also get to see the lower floors sitting underneath your current floating room, offering an insight as to what faces you on the road ahead.

Rather than being a straight slog through the underground corridors however, the world of FranknJohn is separated out into arena battles. Here the combat shows potential as you mix the right-stick driven physics of your bonce attacks with a myriad of traps that litter each room, allowing you to coax evil spellcasters and monsters to a spikey death. My one criticism would be that in its current guise the combat could become repetitive. The nature of your attack, though seemingly projectile, feels more like a brawler due to its limited range and not all the enemies on show felt complementary to that style of fighting.

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Hacker

Anyone who has an ounce of understanding as to command lines and programming will no doubt have seen at least a dozen movies in their time where Hollywood makes it appear as though all you need to do to crack the Pentagon’s security net is to type fast. Really fast. Hacker takes that ludicrous concept and runs with it.

A simple interface reminiscent of old DOS shells of the past and heavy in ASCII symbols it challenges you to “type” as fast as you can, filling up a hack meter before a brutal time limit expires. Extra points are rewarded for varying where you type on the keyboard but any sense of finesse should be forgotten.

Further challenge comes when certain characters are banned, but this is a simple premise executed very knowingly. It’s lifespan on your screen will no doubt be short but that’s probably a good thing if only to avoid RSI.

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Helix

Touch screen controls have always been very subjective. One man’s love of a virtual joystick is another’s idea of hell. And so to see such universal praise amongst all I saw share and compete on Helix’s high score table was something quite novel.

A single screen game, you control a sprite that must avoid being touched by any of the host of other sprites that begin to invade the screen. To do so you move your finger about the screen but rather than being obscured under your digit it permanently hovers away from it. Initially this leads to a sensation that it’s attached to your finger by an elastic band, as though you’re sling-shotting it across the surface of the tablet, but before long it becomes incredibly intuitive and you find yourself weaving in and out of danger despite lacking any direct control, and your movements being nowhere near the action itself.

Its core mechanic is very much like Geometry Wars’ Pacifism mode except with an art style that reminds me of 80s graffiti, decked out in neon colours. Unlike Pacifism though it is possible to dispatch the other sprites who are intent on crowding you out. Moving about will start to draw a circle around them and should you complete that circle then they explode earning you some points in the process. It’s a wonderfully fresh approach to a genre that has been around almost as long as the pastime itself, and for extra difficulty there are those that need multiple circles or circles drawn in specific directions.

For many games it’s all about the ‘feel’, and Helix managed to capture that perfectly. It could be a wonderful new take on an old favourite.

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Luftrausers

With all the bright colours on show at Rezzed, it was curious that the first game I was drawn to displayed such a muted palette. The sepia tones gives this 2D dog fighting game an aging look, yet what is rendered is anything but; dozens of pixelated planes crowd the screen, all firing oversized bullets towards your tiny craft, whilst on the sea below enemy ships alternate between launching aerial reinforcements and homing missiles.

Though never quite “bullet hell” the action on-screen is non-stop as you pirouette and dive through the gaps in the enemy waves before firing back on them as you drop towards the sea. It has the feeling of a manic Asteroids or Solar Jetman to it. As you release the throttle your highly manoeuvrable aircraft uses any momentum it has to continue gliding forward whilst you rotate freely firing back on your pursuers.

There’s more than simply a high-score challenge too as plane parts can be swapped out to alter not only handling and weaponry but your objectives. Furthermore they take advantage of the environment as with the right engine or fuselage you can take a quick dip in the drink to avoid an incoming volley of fire before resurfacing unscathed and continuing the aerial duel.

It’s the arcade fluidity that proves Luftrausers’ strongest facet, with your movement through the sky as graceful or jarring as you want. Though there is a free flash version online it does not do justice to the frantic nature or variety available in the forthcoming release.

Thomas Was Alone ::: Review

Within my profession there’s a certain movement known as “programmer art”. This is usually identified as something created in Paint, taking results from a Google image search, or by use of very simple shapes. For the most part it plays its role as a placeholder until the real professionals breeze in, knock something gorgeous out in a matter of hours, and make me wish I’d never boastfully mentioned my A-level in art.

In the right setting, however, this look thrives. Listening to Mike Bithell’s director’s commentary for Thomas Was Alone, the simple shapes forming the core aesthetic came about because they were easy to work with. Couple that with a striking approach to shadowing that developed due to a wish to get something up and running quickly, and you have a game that is not only built on programmer art but defined by it.

It does nothing to diminish the game’s qualities, however. In fact it enhances what’s on show as the lack of high polygon models or master-crafted sprites highlight the heart of the experience, that of platforming and that of Thomas.

Each of the hundred-or-so levels are simply constructed, built from solid black lines where geometric design is key. There are no gentle slopes or undulating plains, everything is at 90 degrees to one another creating a world of floors, staircases and floating platforms. Strip away the tile editor from the old-school Mario or Megaman games and you’d probably find a very similar aesthetic, it’s just that Thomas Was Alone is not afraid to show you behind the curtain.

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What this achieves is a distilled platformer. There are no trappings to distract here, leaving you to focus on traversing the levels with nothing but the jump button to rely upon. Stripped of everything it puts a lot of pressure on the core mechanics but happily there is a subtle brilliance to the control you have over your cube and his friends.

With each dab of the stick the movement feels solid and as you leap through the air your momentum is predictable. With so few – in fact zero – visible cues from your characters it would have been easy to feel detached, as if you were merely guiding rather than commanding their path through the world. Yet the controls are tight and responsive and are a joy to play with. This isn’t the floaty feeling in LittleBigPlanet but a far more measured approach where you have utter confidence about when and where you can jump and exactly where you’ll land.

This foundation is built upon with each shape having different talents. Initially you’ll meet Thomas who is a rectangle of average height and possesses a relatively good jump, whilst Chris is a small, stocky cube who fails to jump anywhere near the height of Thomas. Levels that were easy for Thomas are now slightly tougher with a short-arse in tow, and so cooperation is required. All the characters at one point or another will become extra platforms for their less able chums to clamber up, though, not to be heightist, the smaller ones will be able to sneak through low gaps to trigger switches. It’s all about choosing the right shape for the job and then ensuring they can get there.

As well as mere size and reach, further shapes are introduced which add extra complexity to levels. Some can be used as trampolines, others float in water, though the best physics defying cuboids are left for later in the game. These in particular add a sense of experimentation and come about at just the right point to reinvigorate proceedings.

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Left here Thomas Was Alone would go down as a very elegant and well-executed platformer. It reduces the genre down to a base set of components and then builds up a stead degree of challenge. However there is more, as surprisingly the developer manages to inject personality into these simple shapes, causing you to care about them more than most polygonal game leads you’ll meet.

As the various quads are introduced, so are their characters. Our friend Thomas turns out to be an optimistic chap, fascinated with the world, and yet Chris is a dour, grumpy sod. He gets along with Thomas, but more because he has to rather than as a willing companion. It may seem a little contrived initially but as your time in this Flatland-variant continues you forget you’re puppeting faceless shapes. They turn rather into abstracted personalities and are very well suited to the form and its properties.

I remember back during the era of Worms and Cannon Fodder that my hapless soldiers would always develop their own traits, be it the coward always hiding at the back or the grumpy bugger that continually whinged because he had to carry the heavy rocket launcher. The same is true here, with Chris who always seems to need that extra helping hand due to his diminutive stature very believably having a chip on his shoulder. Then there’s the lean athlete who quite fittingly has the cocky attitude that he’s carrying the rest along, right through to the very self-conscious larger lady. I may be committed after this next sentence, but each shape is perfectly cast.

These personalities are all brought to life through the narration of Danny Wallace who at the start of each level reads an insight into the minds of one of our party. From the personal struggles of each through to the larger team dynamic, this storytelling makes the whole experience feel far more compelling than just a well-crafted platformer. It becomes the tale of personal struggle as a misfit bunch try and come to terms with not only the world about them but their own personal demons.

It’s a surprising outcome for a game primarily focused on getting you to jump from left to right but proves almost more rewarding because of it. Your motions are analogous with the shape’s journey and your reward for reaching your goal is helping them towards theirs.

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Little Inferno ::: Hands On

So, Little Inferno. At first I thought you were silly. Then I thought you were setting the wrong example. And then I wanted to burn things with you. A lot.

It’s a devilishly simple premise that rewards players for setting light to their newly acquired possessions. Join Ali and James as they play with matches.

Reus ::: Hands On

Reus! A quaint unpronounceable Civilisation game where you control four giants all looking to terraform and plant their influence on the planet. Join Ali and James as they nurture their planet from a desolate wasteland to a thriving evolution of mankind.