Posts Tagged indie
Monument Valley, the upcoming puzzler from London-based ustwo, has raised quite a lot of interest since first being teased a few months ago. It’s uniquely MC Escher inspired interactive 3D puzzle style has piqued the interest of many. It seems to be on-track to be the next indie hit for iOS. I recently had a chance to sit down with Dan Gray, Producer, and Neil McFarland, Director of the game to discuss and play through the game. Let’s find out if all of the early accolades are deserved.
Ustwo has a reputation of quirky, yet quality games with a very unique visual style. Their office in an old warehouse in the Shoreditch area of London is just what I would imagine from a company that makes games like Whale Trail. A large number of bright, interesting, inspirational, funny, and oddball bits and found objects all over the offices and common spaces fits that perceived personality. It’s as though their offices were in the world’s largest art student dorm room. A perfect environment to foster the unique styles and somewhat off-the-wall games. Their previous iOS hit, Whale Tail, is the perfect illustration of their unique style in action. It combines a visually interesting look and bright color pallet with fun game mechanics and music.
Monument Valley takes a slightly cleaner, reserved aesthetic over Whale Trail, though it maintains a very oddball game mechanic. In this game the main interaction is rotating parts of the screen, mechanical or otherwise, leading to illogical optical illusions that create new paths for the characters to travel. It’s these unique puzzle elements that require that you put what your mind thinks of as spacial reality on hold. Swinging platforms and stairways connect in seemingly impossible ways by rotating the entire structure or small sections on screen. It seems illogical, but when it fits, it’s genius.
The game is designed with flat colors and intentional lack of detail that lends perfectly to the logic defying geometric puzzles. The lack of color and detail is almost the exact opposite of what would be expected for a game that moves in this way and stresses perceived logic so greatly. Where detail is given in the game, it is intentional to draw the eye to an available action or clue to how to progress. Tremendous thought has been given to the many levels of puzzles in this game. Maddening levels of trial and error have lead to some of the most unique puzzle and maze elements I have experienced.
For some reason the game reminds me of what a sliding 15 tile puzzle would look like if MC Escher designed it during a month long bender on absinthe and peyote. It’s absolutely visually compelling and draws you in, wanting more and more. Moreish as the English say. It’s relaxing and stressful. Balancing that line perfectly.
Ustwo takes pride in making unique and interesting games and it shows in Monument Valley. We can expect to see it released at some point this spring or early summer. It will be a premium game, priced reasonably the developers tell us.
Occasionally it feels a little too easy to be cynical. To mutter about how the App Store is full of Match-3 puzzle games, freemium city builders, and Angry Birds clones. Luxuria Superbia is a reminder that this really isn’t the case. At least not if one searches for more original offerings.
The game is described as a ‘musical journey from the sensuous to the spiritual’ with its thematic elements being distinctly erotic in nature. At least, that is, depending on one’s perspective of what unfolds. There’s a heck of a lot more to its interpretation than that.
Fascinated by such originality, I took the time to ask the game’s developers, Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, a few questions on the subject.
148Apps: How did the idea for Luxuria Superbia come about?
Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (AH & MS): The initial idea came to us during a roundtable session led by Brenda Romero on the subject of sex in videogames at the Game Developers Conference. While most of the discussion focused on issues of depiction, we started thinking about it differently: instead of showing naked bodies in the act, we wanted to model the interaction with a game mechanic on the experience of pleasure. And even this early, back in 2008, we already thought of flowers as a visual inspiration.
This idea was something we developed and expanded upon during a long research and prototyping project codenamed Cncntrc. This linked the sensations of the body with the rational and spiritual experiences of early science and mythology. We were especially looking at Geo-centric models of the universe and their links with religion (as the planets in our solar system are named after Roman Gods). We were very fond of this connection between heaven and earth, between sensual pleasure and mystic ecstasy. But the subject matter became so big — we were literally trying to make a game about everything — that it became impossible to capture all of it in a single game.
So we decided to make multiple games based on this research. Luxuria Superbia is the first one. As a first game, we wanted it to be simple and easy to enjoy. So that we would have a solid basis to expand upon later.
148Apps: Did anything else inspire you? Such as a film or game, or other form of media?
AH & MS: Luxuria Superbia is structured a bit like tunnel shooter games, of which Rez is a stand-out title that we love. But instead of antagonism and destruction, we wanted to focus on love and creation. It’s funny how similar mechanics can mean such different things when tweaked a little.
Not exactly an inspiration, but Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey kept popping up in our reference material. The symmetry of the cinematography, the tubes and hallways, the sentient invisible being inside of the computer and the surreal cosmic ending all seem to have their links with our little game.
And then there’s architecture. Cathedrals like Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Borobudur temple in Indonesia were the source of our desire to deal with a journey from the sensual to the spiritual. The intricate design of the domes of Islamic mosques stimulated the use of circular symmetry in the game. The interior of some German rococo churches, like the Wieskirche in Steinbaden, inspired the blank versus color dynamic. And the central hub in the game was modeled after Marie-Antoinette’s Temple of Love in Versailles.
148Apps: It’s quite the departure from your other games. Was this deliberate? Do you have a particular genre preference?
AH & MS: We’re too restless to want to fit into any one genre. With our previous games we have indeed explored the narrative side of games much more. But for us the creation of an environment and atmosphere is always more important.
Since the original idea for Luxuria Superbia came to us so long ago, it is not meant to be a deliberate departure as such. But the way we approached the design was very much inspired by the intentions for our future creative production as laid out in our Beautiful Art Program. The main idea being that we want to try harder to connect to our audience, to give more people access to the joy and beauty we see in our games.
The fact that we have leaned toward the dark side in our previous work with games about death and loss of innocence and so on, is actually a coincidence. We are interested in many topics and have in fact already made a very joyful game with The Endless Forest. With Luxuria Superbia, we wanted to share our love for life, the joy and beauty that we find in existence. So pleasure became the “story” that we wanted to explore in this one.
148Apps: Is there a way of completing it? Or is it solely about the experience?
AH & MS: Oh yes! The delight you bring to each flower (or tunnel or level) in the game is expressed in a three ring rating and collected in a column in the garden (the central hub of the game). So to complete the game, one would collect all three rings for all twelve flowers and complete each column.
But the game does not push you too hard to achieve this. The focus of play is very much on the journey and not on the destination.
148Apps: What do you hope that players will gain from playing the game?
AH & MS: Joy and an experience of beauty. These are not trivial matters to us. They are all-important. Deep joy is more important than knowledge. Beauty is more important than truth. The experience of beauty and joy makes us better, kinder, gentler people.
From my brief time with it so far Luxuria Superbia sounds bewitching, mostly because it is. It’s like precious little already out there and very imaginative. Set for release later this week, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on it.
Thanks to Auriea and Michael for answering my questions.
The indie game development scene has been around for an incredibly long time; pretty much ever since people had the opportunity to program for themselves. However it wasn’t until shareware became a common method of distribution the 90s that it began to catch the notice of the masses, and even so, it took another decade to really take off. Throughout all of that there have been a number of successes and failures, as it is with most games regardless of their budgets or marketing strategies. No one remembers the duds, of which there are always many, but people tend not to forget games like Minecraft or Fez.
Microsoft even got in on the action when they made their Xbox Live XNA Game studio available. It wasn’t until 2008 that they brought Xbox Live Community Games (later dubbed Xbox Live Indie Games, or “XBLIG” for short) to Live users across the globe, but it created an environment full of possibilities for fledgling developers as well as people who wanted to get their games noticed. And now, five years later, a number of these developers have been making their way to the App Store. But why are they shifting their focus away from XNA development and on to iOS? We wanted to know. Luckily, Luke Schneider (Founder of Radiangames – Bombcats, Ballistic SE, Fireball SE, Gobs of Fun, Slydris, Inferno+, Super Crossfire, Super Crossfire HD), Jesse Chounard (code monkey for Third Party Ninjas – Happy Piggy!, Hypership Out of Control), Mike Oliphant (Founder of Nostatic Software – Sokoban for Beginners, Kung Fu FIGHT!, Quiet, Please!, Quiet Christmas, Ascent of Kings), Nick Mudry (Co-founder and CEO of Play Nimbus – Ball 2 Box, Wobbles), Andy Gibson (Art Director at Team Pesky – Little Acorns), and Martin Caine (Founder, lead programmer, producer, and director for Retroburn Game Studios – Accelerate, Positron) were willing to share their thoughts on the matter.
One theory behind this new focus on mobile devices is that iOS’ treatment of indies is a bit more welcoming. Not to say that Microsoft is terrible or that Apple is perfect, but there have been quite a few stories of Xbox Live Indie Game headaches.“I felt like I was always fighting against the grain when Radiangames was focused on XBLIG,” said Luke Schneider on the shift away from XNA development. “I wanted to try to reach a broader audience and find more success. Though really it hasn’t been significantly different in terms of success on iOS.”
It was more a case of seeing the writing on the wall for Jesse Chounard from Third Party Ninjas. Once Windows Phone 7 came out it seemed as though Microsoft forgot all about their indie developers. “XBLIG developers actually lost access to some important features,” he said. “When the phone failed to gain traction, it seemed like the blame was placed on XNA.”
Nick Mudry and Play Nimbus came to a similar conclusion once the impending “death” of Microsoft’s service was announced. “We also moved away from XBLIG and to iOS because we were unable to develop with XNA for iOS,” he said
In this particular case, the discovery of Unity is what ended up tipping their hand. “We stepped up and started redesigning our game’s prototype,” said Mudry, “and it was done 10 times quicker compared to XBLIG/XNA.”Not everyone simply jumped ship from one platform to the other, however. Mike Oliphant opted to stick around the XBLIG scene while expanding Nostatic Software’s reach to other platforms at the same time. “Last year I ported my game engine so that it also runs on top of Unity,” he said. “This gave me the ability to target iOS and Android as well.”
A smart idea that has the potential for a lot more exposure, although it also means more work to create all those ports, though he admits that more platforms ultimately means more users.
Martin Caine of Retroburn Game Studios was initially drawn to XNA because of the development tools and allure of the Xbox 360 hardware support, but it didn’t seem like he would get a whole lot of publicity on the platform. “I had heard of the limited exposure and low download figures,” he said. “I’m now just focusing on getting one game released but plan to release it across many platforms including iOS and XBLIG.”
Andy Gibson and Team Pesky actually did things the other way around when they prototyped Little Acorns on XNA, then ended up developing it for iOS once the basic framework was in place. After a few iterations the team brought the squirrel-themed platformer back to Xbox Live.
“Personally, I was really pleased to get Little Acorns out on XBLIG,” Gibson said. “The game feels great, has a good level of polish and an added split-screen co-op mode to celebrate Mr. Nibbles making it home.”
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Hey, remember the Atari Pong Indie Developer Challenge? Well, the game that won, PongWorld, is now released in the App Store, and it’s free!
Pong World introduces a new generation to the classic game of PONG® with a dazzling unique twist and colorful new look. Explore Pong World by defeating opponents while collecting all five paddle creatures; Shaggy, Chompers, Sir Bouncelot, Razzle and Gnop to help you in your journey for domination. Each paddle is equipped with unique upgrades and powers. Unlock 4 different locations, each equipped with unique features — summon a wall of energy to block your opponent’s ball, hinder your enemy’s vision and much more!
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Emanata is a new comics app focused just on independent comic creators. They can publish their graphic stories for free, then get a portion of the sales proceeds. For the first month, artists take all of the revenue from sales (after Apple’s 30% cut). After that, the artists will split revenues 50/50 with Emanata. The artists also retain all of the rights to their work, which lets them publish elsewhere.
With Emanata, users can browse all types of free comics as well as purchase premium stories within the app to directly support the artists they like. The app’s new built-in news feed makes it even easier to follow specific creators and keep up with their latest work. The reader can also use in-app social tools to share memorable works with friends via email, social networks, and on the Web.
“Tablet devices are the natural platform to showcase great art and storytelling. We want to provide a dedicated place where the independent artists can find new audiences, and for the connoisseur of comic books to discover something unexpected and edgy,” said George Chen, CEO of Emanata.
Having already tried their hand at space shooting and motocross, indie developer The Quadsphere is looking to do something a little different with their next universal iOS title. They are looking to break into the world of off-road racing. Players will see just how they pull it off this summer with the release of Bounty Racer.
As its title implies, Bounty Racer appears to have players racing in a variety of single and multi-player modes all while trying to collect bounties and complete random challenges. There will be five game modes and 72 unique events. Additionally, driver customization seems to play a large role. The Quadsphere claims that there will be over one million possible combinations. Finally, beyond the standard achievements and Game Center support, players will also be able to upload and share replays through YouTube.
Although Bounty Racer is scheduled for release this summer, no definitive date has been set. Expect more news soon.
So, it’s that time of year again! BBQs, lawn chairs, beer, and the ability to finally wear shorts with sandals without fear of frostbite. Tan those legs and check out all the huge sales that are going on across the App Store below. We’ll try and keep it updated as we go this weekend, so be sure to let us know of any good sales on iOS apps that you find in the comments below.
Starting with EA, here are a few of their almost 50 titles discounted for Memorial Day. App Shopper has a nice list of all the EA titles on sale, too.
Released: 2011-11-17 :: Category: Games
Released: 2011-12-15 :: Category: Games
Fandor, an online indie film streaming service that caters to both independent film fans and the mainstream movie crowd, released an iPad app today. This move comes shortly after announcing a partnership with the Roku streaming set-top box back in November. Going mobile brings one of the web’s largest collections of entertaining films that celebrate cinema to iPad users. The films within the collection include the likes of FILM SOCIALISME from the Legendary director Jean-Luc Godard. A magisterial essay on the decline of European civilization, the film was an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival. Fandor offers its users great films such as this as well as others not found anywhere else.
The app features a unique way in which to discover new films via the “Spinner” which offers members a way to have a film randomly picked for them or to select criteria such as era, genre or length before spinning. Members can also take advantage of integration with Twitter, Facebook and email to recommend their favorite movies with friends. The company supports indie filmmakers by sharing a portion of its subscription fee with them as well as with distributors. New members can sign up via a seven-day unlimited free pass on Fandor. Subscriptions range from $2.99 per week or $99.99 for the year.
Everyone knows that the best work is done when there’s a tight deadline looming. OK, this isn’t the greatest of things to say or the best way to lead a life, but I know I find I work so much harder nearer to deadline day. Kids: you shouldn’t do this, it’s bad. Honest.
Regardless of any of this, there’s an entire game design ethos behind working intensely for short periods of time, namely the Global Game Jam. It’s an event that happens all around the world in which people come together to make a video game from start to finish within 48 hours. Sometimes, some fantastic gems come out of this Jam.
This time round, it’s the turn of Somyeol, a game coming to iOS this December. Previously made for the PC during a Global Game Jam in Germany, Somyeol is a 2D platformer in which players must get the Somyeol people to their goal in as short a time as possible. Sounds easy, right? The twist is that there are numerous Somyeols to control at any one time and they each have their own abilities.
Check out the preview trailer below. It’s certainly looking interesting already.
Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander hit it out of the park this past week in her interview with developer Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria about their game Phone Story. The game was submitted to the App Store, then pulled by Apple, citing app store violations. These include restrictions in the developer agreement against depictions of child abuse and “objectionable or crude” content. The other two app store violations include prohibitions against paid apps donating to charity. The app continues to be available for Android smartphones.
The game is essentially a documentary-like commentary on the smartphone hardware industry, an industry that the iPhone created and plays a major role in. The developer is, essentially, bringing awareness of the life cycle of the smartphone that we are using to play the game on to users who may or may not know the facts of the matter. Like any good documentarian, the developers elucidate the facts, put them into an art form, and release it to the public. Their website includes more facts, as in this page about Coltan, an essential mineral for electronic devices, and the focus of one of the minigames in the app.
This kind of awareness raising can only be a good thing. While I am not an expert on Apple’s approval process, I can see how one of the mini-games can be construed as “depicting child abuse,” as guards with guns are placed with a tap on the screen to keep the young looking workers digging up coltan. However, I think Apple needs to start looking deeper at the process of approvals on games that are clearly artistic or documentary-like in nature. I’m sure it’s a tough call sometimes, but perhaps there could be a secondary process? I’m sure even the most concrete approval clerk could look at a description like the one on the Phone Story website and see that this is the case:
“Phone Story is an educational game about the dark side of your favorite smart phone. Follow your phone’s journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence.”
If Apple continues to want to be the arbiter of what gets published, and wants to be the front runner, they need to come up with some way to allow these types of games to get through. Would they pull a magazine app that reproduced the sort of information that is conveyed through gameplay? Let’s hope not. It’s my sincere hope that Apple works its way around this issue, both for Phone Story and for future indie games that have a clear humanitarian focus. Protecting users from hurtful content is one thing, censoring the fact that these things do exist, in the very market, is another, and as such, suspect.
A new video for Swords & Soldiers, a much anticipated title from Chllingo, has just been released.
Developed by Ronimo Games, Swords & Soldiers has previously been a great indie hit on the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3 and both Windows and Mac platforms. It’s now set to be released on the App Store this Summer. The game involves three factions – Aztecs, Vikings and the Imperial Chinese – fighting it out in order to gain the powers of the gods. It’s a quirky yet cutesy tale promising a compelling single player campaign with the ability to unlock bonus games also.
The iPad version is also set to offer a local multiplayer mode to accompany the three campaign modes and Skirmish mode that the iPhone version will already provide.
A release date hasn’t been announced yet but we’ll be sure to keep on top of this news as and when we find out.
For now, check out the video below to get a taste of what’s to come.
They did it last year, and now it’s back. The Great App Bake Off 2009. Developers, put down your keyboards, xcode testing tools and virtual paintbrushes, and instead pick up those baking trays and oven mittens, because today my friends, you’re about to cook for your pride, your glory and .. cool stuff! Yes, the Great App Bake Off is back. A time of the year for App Store developers to stop, think and ask themselves that all important question: “Can I actually bake a cake?”
But it’s not just for developers! Oh no, you can enter too, and there are prizes involved – lots of them. Hosted by Gavin Bowman of Retro Dreamer, also the developer behind the App Store hit Sneezies, The Great App Bake Off is a (so far) annual event which sees anyone from anywhere baking for the fun of it! Here’s how it works. You pick an App Store application of your choice, and then you bake a cake which resembles that application. Whether it be in the shape of the app’s main character, or a mouth-watering version of the app’s current App Store icon – You simply have to bake it and take a few shots of it.
It’s simple: pick an App, bake it, send us the pictures, win prizes.
Checkout these awesome first entries into the contest below. The first depicts the cool App Store icon of the app Story Tracker, and the other sees one of the main character’s of Elf Command, come to sponge! .. I mean life!
Once you’ve done that, there are two ways you can send Gavin and the team your cake entries. You can either e-mail them to appcakes at retrodreamer.com, or you can tweet them as an @reply. You’ll find App Cakes on Twitter @AppCakes.
But your awesome bakery efforts will not go unnoticed. Far from it! Apart from the delicious reward of eating your (hopefully) scrumptious creation afterward, you’ll be entering to win yourself a tonne of cool App Store goodies, including all of this:
- A £50 iTunes Gift certificate provided by Chillingo
- A $50 iTunes Gift certificate, provided by Antair
- A $15 iTunes Gift certificate and promo codes for Sneezies and Eyegore’s Eye Blast provided by Retro Dreamer
- 2 promo codes for Story Tracker provided by Andrew Nicolle
- Promo codes for Rocket Santa and Star Fusion provided by Bytesize Adventures
- 5 promo codes for Serving Sizer, provided by Creative Algorithms
.. With more on the way!
I’m told by Gavin that he expects this prize pool to grow over the next few weeks, as more and more developers take to their kitchens and get involved, and the contest gets more coverage. Of course, all prizes will be distributed over the best entries when judged in January. The closing date for new entries into The Great App Bake Off 2009 is January 4th .. so get baking!
The 360|iDev conference has just wrapped up, and it’s been a great one. The three day conference which had ticket prices as low as $200 (a steal!), was attended by roughly 150 developers. Talks were divided roughly into 4 different tracks including business, game development, non-game development, and hands-on. Everyone attending the conference we talked to were very impressed with both the organization of the conference and the quality of the speakers.
360|iDev has a sense of community much more so than most developer conferences. The community feel puts everyone at ease and allows greater participation than a larger conference like WWDC. 360|iDev is put on by a duo of part-time conference organizers, they’ve done a fantastic job, we’re already looking forward to the next one.
“Some of the best and brightest iPhone and Apple development community in one conference. It’s fantastic. I’m looking forward to the next one.” said Keith Shepherd from Imangi Studios, developer of Imangi and Little Red Sled.
The organizers are looking to have another 360iDev conference in about 6 months, this time on the other side of the Mississippi river. I’d suggest following them on Twitter to keep informed of the next one.