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GDC 2015 - Highlights from Pocket Gamer's Big Indie Pitch

Posted by Rob Rich on March 9th, 2015
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

Amidst all the meetings and events and talks and panels at this year's Game Developers Conference, there was also Pocket Gamer's Big Indie Pitch. The Big Indie Pitch is a way for indie developers to get their games in front of several eyes (media, PR, publishers, etc) in a short span of time, and it's a great way for those of us who write about the industry to get a quick glimpse into the future.

That, and sometimes there are some really cool and interesting games on display.

Which is why we've put together a short list of the most notable entries in this year's Big Indie Pitch. In no particular order, of course.

GDC 2015 - Sick Bricks is What Would Happen if Skylanders and LEGO had a Baby

Posted by Rob Rich on March 9th, 2015

Games like Skylanders have some pretty intense appeal for kids, and they cater to the toy market quite nicely as well. The LEGO games also have a pretty good handle on that section of the market. Sick Bricks from Spin Master takes the madcap weirdness and love of building blocks from LEGO, and fuses it with the real world-meets-toy world concept behind Skylanders to an impressive degree.

The game itself uses simple but seemingly intuitive and responsive touch controls to let you wander around the world of Sick Bricks. Of course by "wander" I really mean "fight badguys and explore various locations for goodies."

What's cool is that you can find (i.e. purchase separately) all sorts of toys, then scan them into the game using your device's built-in camera. Admittedly this method can run into problems when the lighting is a bit dim, but I was seriously impressed with just how well it worked even in semi-dusky conditions. It also works extremely fast. You just line the character up to the wireframe and a couple seconds later you've got them in the game. Character parts like heads, bodies, and hats are interchangeable, so you can mix and match all your real world toys for some truly bizarre (and powerful) creations.

You can also build and scan vehicles, but I didn't get to see this particular feature in action so I can't be sure if it's as simple and quick as character scanning. It's certainly a neat idea, though.

If any of this sounds like your kind of thing, you won't have long to wait for it. Sick Bricks will be coming to the App Store this Thursday (3/12) as a free download.

GDC 2015 - Biba's Upcoming Series Encourages Both Kids and Their Parents to Get Active

Posted by Rob Rich on March 9th, 2015

Biba's upcoming series of children's games is doing things a little differently. They're going to try to get kids (and their parents) back in the habit of playing outside again.

The theory is that, since kids these days (yeah, I totally went there) spend so much time on mobile devices, they'd have an easier time being more active if it involved using those same mobile devices. And so, Biba's games will give them a reason to run around the playground.

Parents are meant to hang onto the mobile device while they play with their kids (don't want any accidents, right?). These games are already pretty varied and include things like using a swing to scoop fuel into a robot's mouth or managing an obstacle course/footrace - complete with pitstops.

Initially you'll be able to input information regarding the equipment that's available at your park and the app will suggest the appropriate games, but the plan is to work with Play Power to start rolling out special signs with QR codes that you can scan at any given playground area. These codes will then help the app make suggestions based on the available equipment, local weather conditions, and so on.

Biba's games are still in the testing phase but the app will definitely be launching this year, both as a free and a premium (no ads, more options, etc) download.

GDC 2015 - Compass Point: West is a Rootin', Tootin', Shootin' Town Builder/Defender

Posted by Rob Rich on March 9th, 2015

Next Games' Compass Point: West is a town builder and town defender in the same wheelhouse as Clash of Clans. In the same wheelhouse, but mercifully still doing its own thing with the... I guess it's kind of a genre now?

Much like other similar games you'll be building up your own town - this time in the Wild West - and sending all sorts of characters out to attack other players' territory. Along with figuring out how best to defend your own, of course. There are also non-player bases to raid if you'd rather not stir up trouble with your neighbors.

One of the biggest differences with Compass Point: West is that the characters you get to use are represented by cards (much like an online CCG). These cards can be stockpiled, and multiples may be fused to create more powerful versions. Although, while I found the card elements interesting, I was even more interested in the lack of character death that's obnoxiously prevalent in other games of this type.

In similar titles, once you use a character to attack a base they're gone forever and you have to spend time and money training more. Some games will allow you to keep anybody that isn't killed during an attack, but Compass Point: West has an even more user-friendly approach: after a battle your characters simply rest up at the saloon. You might have to wait a little while before you can use them again, but they're never gone for good. And because battles only let you bring a handful of folks along, chances are you'll have more waiting in reserve and can go on the attack a few times before you'll have to wait it out.

Oh, and it actually looks really pretty. I forgot to mention that. Everything you see in those screenshots up above is in 3D, too.

Compass Point: West will be coming to the App Store as a free download soon. I can't say for certain when that will be, but you won't have to wait for very long.

GDC 2015 - I Kind of [REDACTED] The Westport Independent

Posted by Rob Rich on March 9th, 2015

I stumbled upon the weirdly fascinating newspaper censorship sim, The Westport Independent, on the show floor this past week and I'm very glad I did. I'd heard about Double Zero One Zero's project a while back but like most games that are still quite a ways off it sort of faded from my mind after that initial interest. And now that I've gotten some hands-on time with a still pre-release build, I'm interested again.

In The Westport Independent you act as the editor of a newspaper in a mid-20th century city that seems just a tad oppressed. Actually it seems like there's a totalitarian government in place, but your perception of the city and its citizens may change depending on how you write the news.

Your job as editor of The Westport Independent is to take a look at potential stories, decide how you'd like to phrase the headline, cherrypick important paragraphs to include (or cut out the ones you don't like), then pick a staff writer to put it all together. Different writers will have different thoughts on the politics involved, and sometimes they might not be happy about covering certain topics. They might get a little... suspicious.

You'll also be handling the distribution of your newspaper to the different districts of the city, but some will value one brand of news over another, which will mean that front page article on police brutality might not go over so well in the ritzy neighborhood. Your newspaper may start to sway the citizens' opinion of their city over time, though. And the types of stories that come up will occasionally tie into previously published articles, allowing you to follow along (and in some cases influence the outcome of) some small but significant goings on.

Of course as you start to get popular, you'll attract more attention. And the more attention you attract, the more likely you are to draw the eye of the police or even the government.

There's no definitive launch info on The Westport Independent yet, but it's going to make its way to the iPad sometime in the hopefully-near future. It's "probably" coming to the iPhone as well, although the smaller screen will require some interface tweaking.

GDC 2015 - Warfriends is Something Familiar That's Also a Little Different

Posted by Rob Rich on March 6th, 2015

About Fun's upcoming Warfriends is quite the interesting hybrid. It's a real-time, tactical, cover-based, multiplayer shooter.

The game centers around hiding your character behind one of four shields on the battlefield while occasionally popping out to fire one of your weapons. And fire your weapons you will, because your opponent will be trying to do the same while also summoning other soldiers or even armored vehicles. Fortunately you have your own small army at your disposal, and will be able to upgrade them along with your weapons as you progress.

The controls are pretty easy to grasp and it doesn't take long to start having fun. The real challenge is in not getting totally overwhelmed as helicopters, shotgunners, and snipers start taking shots at you.

Warfriends will be available for free later this summer.

GDC 2015 - This is Why Everybody's Talking About Downwell

Posted by Rob Rich on March 6th, 2015

So Downwell. Holy crap.

Ojiro Fumoto's GDC showpiece is one part roguelike, another part Metroid, and yet another part Cave Story, which is every bit as fantastic as it sounds.

The basic idea is that you control a character who can run left and right, jump, and shoot straight down while in the air. The catch is that there's a finite amount of ammo available, and it only refills when you land. The other catch is that if you die, it's back to the beginning. Pair that setup with falling down a seemingly endless (and randomly generated) vertical shaft and being able to purchase or find upgrades and you've got the makings of one great action game. And it is a great action game; the handful of minutes I got to spend playing it made that perfectly clear.

The only unfortunate thing about Downwell is that we're going to have to wait until July to get our hands on it.

GDC 2015 - Toast USA's Line-Up is Looking Pretty Darn Cool

Posted by Rob Rich on March 6th, 2015

Guardian Stone

Guardian Stone has been in the works for quite some time, but it's finally getting close to a release. But what is it, exactly? Basically it's an adventure RPG where players control one of three characters (a fighter, an archer, and a magic user) and beat the tar out of all sorts of fantasy-ish creatures.

The hook is that these characters can team up with "guardians," which are basically spirits or somesuch and can perform all sorts of incredibly powerful magical attacks. It'a a pretty nice looking game, I have to admit. And the flashy, almost over-the-top animations for the special attacks are pretty darn cool to boot.

Guardian Stone will be soft launching next month, and will most likely be releasing as a free download shortly after that.

The Soul

The Soul, on the other hand, is more of an action RPG. It also takes place during what many gamers probably recognize as the "Three Kingdoms" era (i.e. Dynasty Warriors, but it's not actually a part of the license).

Players get to hack their way through all sorts of enemies, and eventually some pretty recognizable bosses, all in the name of character levels and skills. Technically they're soul powers, but they're totally skills. And there are over 150 of them to collect and decide between.

You should be able to find The Soul on the App Store around the same time as Guardian Stone.

Kill Me Again

And then there's Kill Me Again. I shouldn't be this excited about a match-3 puzzle game, let alone one involving zombies, but I totally am.

Minute details are still being hammered out as the game is still quite a ways away from release, but the basic gist is that players match things in order to attack zombies. The reason this has me all excited is because the action up top looks quite impressive, for one thing, and because the types of combos you set up will pull off flashier (and more damaging) attacks. Sometimes it will also leave special power-ups behind that can be tapped on to trigger other equally flashy moves.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for the production values, but I think Kill Me Again is worth keeping an eye on all the same.

GDC 2015 - Nightmare Guardians is an Interesting Hybrid of MOBA and Lane Defense

Posted by Rob Rich on March 5th, 2015

I have to say that lane defense (i.e. games like Plants vs Zombies) and MOBAs (i.e. games like League of Legends) aren't exactly a combination I'd ever pictured before. But that's kind of what Rumble Entertainment's Nightmare Guardians is: a lane defense MOBA.

Unlike a typical MOBA (aside from the lane defense thing), Nightmare Guardians isn't about teams fighting other teams but rather a few players cooperating to fight off increasingly tough waves of enemies. Of course all the focus on special abilities and skills is still in there, and you can upgrade and swap out skills before each game. It's a pretty interesting and quick co-op game, really.

Nightmare Guardians will be hitting the App Store in late summer as a free download.

GDC 2015 - Star Trek Timelines will Probably Make Your Inner Trekkie Squeal With Glee

Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015

Any popular fictional universe has its fair share of fan fiction - where beloved characters might behave less like they're written and adhere more to personal head canon - and it's the sort of thing that there's no shortage of in Star Trek.

I'm dead serious. There are actually comic books and a novel that involve a Star Trek/X-Men crossover.

While Star Trek Timelines won't let you revel in a brawl between Wolverine and Worf, you will be able to play around with all sorts of alternate dimension and timeline stuff. If you want Locutus of Borg tending bar at Ten Forward, you can totally do that. If you want Captain Janeway to lead Bones and Sulu into battle, that can be arranged.

Of course this means you'll be gathering crew from all over the various Star Trek series. What's cool is that this isn't a typical card battler type thing like you might expect. Instead, when you take part in a mission there will be several branching paths that your team will follow depending on the outcome of each encounter or task. Characters are automatically matched to a task based on their stats and stills, and a random number roll (influenced even further by their skills) will determine the outcome. In a weird way it's kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure but without the choosing and more seeing what the outcome is.

There are some typical choose-your-own elements to it, however. Before and/or after some missions you might have a few dialog choices to pick from, and your approach to a given situation could have an effect on your future interactions. The game is really quite story-driven, with more of an emphasis on problem solving and talking things through over full on combat - which I'm totally okay with.

What's also pretty cool is that you'll be able to use all sorts of different recognizable ships, each of which can give your crew different passive stat bonuses. You can also assign different crew members to different room positions, which might increase those bonuses even further.

Star Trek Timelines will be coming out later this year as a free download, and will most likely use a F2P system similar to Game of Thrones Ascent.

GDC 2015 - Zombie Match Defense is a Match-3 Game That's (Wait for it) Legitimately Interesting

Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015

I know, I know. Match-3 is kind of an overdone concept at this point. It's sort of like the zombies of game design. Good thing there aren't any... oh, wait. Seriously though, don't let the match-3 and zombies combination fool you into a false sense of "meh" before you really take a look at Zombie Match Defense from shovelware games. It might just surprise you.

You'll be matching three-of-a-kind brains (or more than three if you can) throughout Zombie Match Defense, this is true, but what's interesting is that unlike a typical match-3 it's done as a means to clear out the approaching zombie horde - not unlike a certain popular lane defense game about plants and... other stuff. As they creep in from the right you'll need to match-up brains similar to whatever the zombies are noshing on in order to get rid of them. And each turn brings the remaining walkers one step closer to your delicious, defenseless scientists.

Well, they're almost defenseless. Some power-ups are available that can turn the tide in a pinch. Of course there are also other zombies that will require more matches to eliminate or lock the brains their chewing on down so you can't swap them. It's something of a trade-off.

Zombie Match Defense still has a ways to go before it's ready for a release. But you know, for a game based around stale puzzle mechanics and featuring even staler antagonists, it actually feels pretty fresh.

GDC 2015 - Ski Pirates is Kind of Like a More Social Ski Free. With Pirates

Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015

The world of Ski Pirates is a harsh one. Full of angry whales, rival pirates, the occasional shark, and lots and lots of trees. Although the booty that’s scattered all over the place probably makes it worth braving the elements (and sharks), I suppose.

Ski Pirates is a relatively simple game of arcade-y downhill skiing. You can slide a finger to the left or right to steer, tap to jump, and basically just try your best to avoid obstacles while snagging gold. Although you can also pull of tricks like jumps, spins, and grinds.

There's more of a focus on social elements in Ski Pirates, though. The pirates you’ll see drifting around the mountain actually represent your friends’ scores, and of course you'll want to beat the pants off of them. You can also customize your character using the coins you earn to buy gear (or find it outright when skiing) and then show them off when your friends try to beat your high score. Which of course they won’t. Because you’re the skiingest pirate of them all.

Ski Pirates is slated for an August release, and will be available as a free download.

GDC 2015 - Garfield is Still Eating All the Things in Garfield: Survival of the Fattest

Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015

Garfield is taking a page from The Simpsons in Pixowl's upcoming Garfield: Survival of the Fattest. And no, he's not trading lasagna for donuts.

The game is actually a sort of town builder (ish) from Pixowl where you'll be putting structures together, forcing up to twenty different characters from the comic strip to work, playing mini-games, and keeping the world's most beloved fat cat, well, fat. The emphasis here is on the various characters - like John, Odie, the mouse, and so on - and you'll be able to have them each perform different tasks in order to progress. You'll also want to craft various food ingredients so that you can stuff Garfield's face and keep him all nice and doughy, of course.

Garfield: Survival of the Fattest will be coming to iOS on March 26 as a free download.

GDC 2015 - Jelly Reef will be Game Oven's Last Hurrah, and it Seems like a Good Note to Go Out on

Posted by Rob Rich on March 4th, 2015

It's sad knowing that Game Oven (Bounden, Fingle) will be shuttered in April, but they're not going to let that stop them from releasing one last game to the App Store. Jelly Reef is going to be the studio's swan song (of a sort) and quite honestly seems like as good a place to stop as any.

A lot has changed since Jelly Reef was first shown, and in that time it's gone from more of a puzzle game to a roguelike with an emphasis on exploration. Now the goal is for players to guide a bunch of jellyfish to the bottom of the ocean, but rather than controlling the stinging invertebrates directly they'll have to move them around by creating water currents. That's right, you play as water.

Each ocean tier is split into multiple hexagonal sections that come together to create one big map, and you'll need to push and pull the jellies around all sorts of unpleasantness in order to make it to the end. This is not an easy thing by any stretch of the imagination, but it is quite cool how you can create currents that will remain on the level and allow you to plan your routes ahead of time. Or screw you up horribly when you forget where you put them and they shove your jellyfish into the waiting jaws of an eel.

Jelly Reef should be releasing either at the end of March or the beginning of April.

GDC 2015 - The Sandbox 2 is Coming, and Now it has Textures! And Some Other Stuff, too

Posted by Rob Rich on March 3rd, 2015

The Sandbox has been doing pretty well for itself since it first released almost... holy cow it's almost been three years. Well anyway, in those three years Pixowl's 'powder' game has been updated to a ridiculous degree - even going so far as to receive controllable characters and new elements that let players design their own games within the game.

And now they're going "back to basics" with The Sandbox 2.

The new sandbox is similar to the original in many respects, but now sports a few noticeable changes. Shadows and lighting are a bit more detailed, the physics have been improved, and the various elements now have honest-to-goodness textures to ogle. Some environmental effects have also been included, such as glowing lava and a slight distortion to objects that are underwater. In addition to all of that, it will display multiple layers (i.e. foreground, background, etc) so that your creations won't always have to stack up on top of each other. If nothing else it's great to be able to drop a person into a world full of trees and actually see them walk in front of the trees rather than over them.

The Sandbox 2 should be out by the end of the year. Although if that seems like too long a wait, you could always head over to the official website to try your hand at the open beta.