My GDC talk at the Indie Soapbox 2018 is now on Youtube.
My GDC talk at the Indie Soapbox 2018 is now on Youtube.
After several requests, I am finally moving the reviews and discussions to Twitch https://www.twitch.tv/joeyprink – so tune in
I will summarize the plays later this year as blogs again.
Thanks for following this project!
“Reverse engineering is key”
My recent journey to Peru inspired me to find my game for this wonderful country full of llamas and crazy altitudes. After some research on games developed in Peru I was immediately fascinated by its game development history and how everything started, so this time I want to take the chance to share with you this story: Peru’s game development history started off very early – with an interesting game “analyzing” and reverse engineering (nice way to put hacking and cracking) scene before internet and games were widespread and the people of Peru had to find alternative ways to spread and play video games.
This polygon article and this gamelab article tell the fantastic story of Mr. Byte and his hacker’s club TEG (Twin Eagles Group). While decompiling, and cracking first games, they’ve also gained the required expertise in game programming. They’ve started by adding new scenes, new levels, new languages to the games; so it was only a short way until they started developing the first games on their own: Gunbee F-99 (Amiga: 1989), and games inspired by local politics such as La Tercera Vuelta and The King of Peru (fighting game), but also the first Peruvian erotic game: Samba de Oruga (tetris with “happy end”).
By 2007 TEG stopped their development efforts and the Peruvian game development industry was almost dead. However, apparently starting with the Lima Game Jam in 2012 the spirit to develop games was rediscovered. In the middle of the mobile game area, a new chance for publishing games was visible to Peruvian developers.
Since 2012, Peru is also home of a vivid and uprising IGDA chapter. The’ve just published a brilliant guide of all games developed in Peru. I was extremely surprised by the variety of games developed in this country. In particular the new rise since 2012 is very visible in this guide. Uprising studios such as Bamtang Games and LEAP Game Studios seem to be strong forces in this country. So the IGDA chapter was also the first address I used to raise my question “If I should play ONE game developed in Peru – which one should it be?“. After a couple of days I got my answer: “We talk a lot about your question and we believe that you must play Squares Trials“.
Squares Trials is a very polished fast-paced pastime mobile game about – squares. It uses a simple but addictive and challenging principles: tap blue squares; double tap dark blue squares; never, ever tap on red ones; move arrows to the right direction – and that’s it. That’s also already the very simple and comprehensive tutorial of the game. Sounds easy – it is also easy – the first 3 levels. The games becomes extremely addictive but also very stressful and sometime definitely frustrating. The music also adds to this constant panic – and especially this evil grey shadow disappearing from right to left to put even more pressure on me failing again.
Definitely a perfect game to forget some stressful bus journeys in Peru In summary I am very fascinated by Peru’s development spirit and how they made their way into games (literally). Well played Peru – well played!
(me playing at Machu Picchu)
|Genre||Casual Mobile Game|
|Developer||LEAP Game Studios|
|Publisher||LEAP Game Studios|
“To see if we would be loved”
Sweden is definitely an outstanding region to develop video games. It is home of masterpieces such as the Battlefield series, Just Cause, Wolfenstein: The New Order (btw one of my favourite games developed in one of my favourite cities: “Uppsala” – featuring several in-game easter eggs pointing to home), Minecraft, Mirror’s Edge, Need for Speed, and even the Goat Simulator. Looking at this giant list (and list of giants), I was pretty surprised how many games in my own shelf were actually developed by Swedish studios. While Sweden has a lot of different games to offer, one recommendation definitely took me into the Swedish mood: Year Walk. It was the snow scenery looking at the screenshots and the interesting name, which made me start the game, but it was the fascinating story, which kept me playing until I’ve heard and seen it all. It is the story about Daniel Svensson, who wants to know if his lover Stina will still love him in the future.
What would one suffer through to be able to see the future? What would we do to see if we would be wealthy, happy, and loved, or even if we would live? This game definitely is one which made me think and which taught me a lot. A Year Walk is a handcrafted and artistic game with wonderful music and atmospheric graphics telling a very special story: the story about Sweden’s ancient pagan ritual “Year Walk”, which was widespread in the beginning of the 19th century. This ritual should enable the walkers foreseeing the future and is described as a dangerous, challenging – even deadly – quest. Year walkers would lock themselves alone without food and drink into dark rooms on days such Midsummer’s Eve with one final spiritual destination: the church as place to see the future. On their way to the church they would encounter different supernatural mythical creatures and ghosts threatening the walker physically and spiritually. At the end the walker has the possibility to vision the future, but also finds the feared Church Grim. A very dark background comes with the Church Grim: when churches were built in medieval times often animals (sometimes even criminals) were buried alive under the church as guardians. But this is only one part of the Swedish folklores the game tells us about.
The game takes the player onto the journey of such a Year Walk while encountering different creatures and elements from Swedish folklore. Another story told in the game is the story of the “Mylingen” (The Mylings). This in-game encounter was a especially dark one. According to the game Encyclopedia a common crime during the 19th century or earlier was infanticide: mothers murdering their babies by leaving them in the woods or drowning them, because there was no room for more mouths to feed. The game takes us to different encounters of such crimes. Blood stains. Dark mood. Gloomy music. Tiny dead bodies. We need to take them to the other side of the bridge.
The mechanics of the adventure/puzzle game are simple. It is working with just a limited movement along the scenes, when arrows are visible (left, right, forward, backward) and eventually interacting with some game elements with the mouse as part of small puzzles. It is one of those games where you are better off with a small notebook (real one) next to the PC to solve the puzzles: remembering patterns, numbers, drawings. On-demand hints help the player. An in-game Encyclopedia tells the player everything about the Year Walk, and the different encountered creatures. All folklore elements are well researched and incorporated smartly into the game design. But this game is definitely not about the in-game interactions and the puzzles: it is the atmosphere and the stories that make this game to an unique and mystical experience.
In general, the game feels more like a mixture of reading an old book about the Swedish folklores and watching an artistic dark movie than playing a video game. No wonder: the original script was written as a film script and later adapted to fit an interactive dark experience.
Sam I am..
Attending the Croatian game development conference “Reboot Develop” was the perfect spot to play my game from Croatia. This choice was extremely easy. All Croatian voices immediately shouted: “SAM! SAM! SAM!”. But first, I would like to mention the incredible fast development of the Croatian games industry. With a high-class conference such as Reboot Develop – bringing star-developers such as Tim Schaefer, the Romeros, Cliff Bleszinski, or Patrice Désilets (testing the locally developed indie games) to a beach-side paradise conference, which still feels like a large (game) family meeting – Croatia has created its own game-dev paradise. The local developer community is extremely strong and supportive. One of the most interesting outcomes of this community is also their “book of achievements” – a hardback summary featuring games developed in Croatia. And even if Croteam with its hits such as “Serious Sam” or most lately also “The Talos Principles” is a strong and well-known studio, it is only one of many talented voices of this country.
Playing Croteam’s Serious Sam – The First Encounter was simply wonderful. The game is so basic. So wonderful basic. The entire gameplay is narrowed down to shooting enemies and a crazy sense of humour. No senseless and compulsive collecting, no complex storyline (basically only: aliens, future, Egypt), no epic rewards: you can fully concentrate on shooting monsters and saving the world. Short: “Being a hero by creating an alien massacre”. The main game elements are clear: an absurd hero, a variety of ridiculous weapons, and the memorable maniac monsters running while screaming in very .. foreign tongues. You face evil alien frogs, beheaded-rocketeers, beheaded-bombers, beheaded-kamikazes, beheaded-[enter-evil-alien-name-here], crazy werebulls, different forms of mechs, and basically a lot of different not-so-intelligent but fast and aggressive mixtures of mammals, arachnids, machines, bones, and weapons. The most fun and also stressful part are definitely the ridiculous mass-enemy-waves: it feels like thousands (at least!!) different enemies are running towards you, which make the game always to a fast-paced and highly stressful but wonderful high-adrenaline action.
The 3D game engine was for this time a wonderful piece of work. The created scenery, the amazing light effects, the environments full of rich details let players immersive in the alien-Egypt-world. Thanks to the high-performance engine it is possible that literally hundreds of werewulls, alien frogs, and beheaded creatures would run (and shout) at you. The game engine was recently made open-source: https://github.com/Croteam-official/Serious-Engine
In my opinion, definitely one of the most important parts of this game is its multi-player mode: a cooperative kill-fest! Playing this game was really a wonderful and also a very nostalgic experience to me. It is great to be reminded how you can create such a wonderful gameplay with a straight-forward and clear game design and a maniac sense of humour. (BTW this really motivated me to work further on my game – thx Croteam 😉 )
|Genre||First Person Shooter|
Poultry in Motion…
After some research, the first Pakistani game, which caught my attention, was the mobile first-person-shooter “Pakistan Army Retribution”. In this game you would play a Pakistani soldier defeating Taliban terrorists in a school. The game should remind and make aware of the 2014 Peshawar school massacre (141 people, including 132, children were killed) and was developed following up the one-year anniversary. However, designing a game based on such a tragedy is a very sensitive topic and probably not the perfect way to deal with such a doom event. Due to lots of criticism on its poor taste and disrespectfulness for families and victims it was removed from Google Play Store in January (Article).
The local game developer community is still extremely upset about this game and strongly criticise it as they find it is a very bad representation for true Pakistani games.
“This game has been designed by some non-professionals and is based on Terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School on 16 December 2014, which is a very sensitive issue for Pakistani audience. Thus the game has faced a lot of criticism from locals and eventually taken down. The game has poor graphics, game design and technical errors.”
So instead of playing this dark game I got to play an extremely colourful and humorous mobile game. Sadia Bashir, a representative of the Pakistan Game Developers association and the local developer community helped me to find another and more representative game for the growing developer community. They chose “Run Sheeda Run” for me, a colourful mobile jump’n’run game, which reminds of Pakistan’s tradition and street culture. The game takes place in Lahore, Pakistan. The game starts by introducing the player in form of a comic to the two friends: the Pakistani kid Sheeda and his beloved smart chicken. But suddenly, the chicken gets kidnapped by this stereotypical evil super-villain, the BBQ chef. (a “qasai”, a member of the community with the occupation of butchering). The game starts and the player has to help Sheeda to save his best friend from becoming part of Chicken Tikka on a BBQ fest. The game is designed as an endless runner; the main gameplay reminds of the Danish game Subway Surfers. You are running through the streets of Lahore, trying to avoid obstacles. It takes place in a city theme (with a mix of fancy 3d objects and pretty flat dwellers), with street markets, food carts, grumpy businessmen, and busy streets as obstacles. You can run, duck, jump, and slide.. until you die (so actually the cook finally steals your chicken). My favourite mechanics, however, is definitely the one, where you are able to use your chicken as a flying apparatus. The game is extremely polished with fancy graphics and very nice animations. However, it is kind of sad to know, that in the end your friend always will be cooked.
The game is based on this nice webcomic “Run Sheeda Run”. I am definitely waiting for an English translation to read the comics. While the website promotes the game with “Made in Pakistan, Made by Pakistan, Made for Pakistan!” I would highly recommend changing this to “Made in Pakistan, Made by Pakistan, Made for the World!”.
|Genre||Jump’n’run, Mobile, Endless runner|
This can take a while..
While doing some research on games from Belgium I found some interesting gaming experiences. The Graveyard (Tale of Tales), for instance, tells the story of an elderly woman walking around the cemetery, sitting down on a bench, and listening to a (somehow weird) Belgian song. Reading about this game made me immediately download the demo and play it. (You should definitely also take these 10 minutes and check out the free demo.) Even though this “game” (experience) is extremely short and content and interactions are very limited, it would affect one more than expected. Not only me. For example, it also was an inspiration for the peaceful village in Uncharted 2 [R].
Another game I found was Battle for Donetsk (Play now – Webplayer), “a war game with an anti-war message”; to create awareness of a conflict between Donetsk People’s Republic and the Ukrainian government. You can’t win this game by playing it, because regardless of your performance the victims always are civilians. You can only win by refusing to play the game of war.
So Belgium is full of alternative and interesting gaming experiences. However, the Belgium voices were pretty loud and clear about THEIR game of Belgium: The Divinity series. The Divinity universe definitely is a piece of gaming history. So I already got nervous when starting Divine Divinity – an action roleplaying game with more than 30 hours of main story. Since I usually have this urge to finish the story (and all quests, collect all mushrooms, and find EVERYTHING) – starting this game could be the downfall for my year project. So I decided to keep the first run very short and keep this game (and also this post) a constantly growing experience over the year.
The graphics and gameplay remind a bit of Diablo but with more focus on roleplaying mechanics. You start the game by choosing your character. You can choose between warrior, mage, or survivor (male or female). I’ve picked the least-naked female character, the witch. You would start the game by waking up in the house of a stranger without any clue what has happened to you. Piece after piece the healer, who has found you dying, tells you the background story. The leader of this town full of healers has gone crazy and you should find a way to help him.
The main story leads the player to the cellar of the healer’s house. However, half an hour later I find myself again searching herbs and mushrooms for a mini-quest. Some inhabitants of this village already hate me, some gave me weird quests, some I have robbed (You can decide wether to play good or evil.). There are tons of objects to find, books to read, items to steal, objects to craft, people to talk to. So let me tell you more about this game time after time.
|Publisher||cdv Software Entertainment|
North Korea and its worst game of the world
While there a tons of games developed all over the world, which are set in North Korea or satirically feature Kim (e.g. Glorious Leader, featuring Kim on a unicorn), I panicked from the very beginning of my “journey” to find a game, which is actually developed in North Korea (and also available to us).
Today I suddenly stumbled upon headlines like “The North Korean Video Game for People Who Hate Fun“, “North Korea’s First Racing Video Game Is Terrible“. This is not really how I would usually choose games for this project, however, in this case it was also the only game I found at all, and the number of headlines talking about this game so high – so this game really caught my attention.
The game – which is known to the world as the worst game of the world – is called Pyongyang Racer. Apparently, it was the first (and to my knowledge the only) game developed in North Korea, which was designed for the Western world. The browser game was developed by a travel company to boost tourism to Pyongyang. Thus, comparing this commercial game to other games would not be fair. But it is really not a masterpiece. The game is designed similar to 90s SEGA racing games. But without racing elements, such as other driving cars, other racers, or competitive features. The goal is to finish the roundtrip through the city-center of North Korea’s capital Pyongyang and to collect all pictures (+information pieces) of monuments. Your car is a local one from Pyeonghwa Motors. Fuel is running out, so you have to collect fuel barrels on the way. And you should not hit other cars (.. which are by the way not moving and all parking in the middle of the streets.. ). Compared to other racing games, the only “enemy” is time. If you would like to compare your time with others, you have the option to take a screenshot of the final screen and send an email to the travel tours company to be ranked in a “Championship” ranking (my time: 8 mins 31)! At this moment – just take 10 minutes of your time and play it now!
Pyongyang Racer won’t win too many prizes. BUT maybe this game -which reminds on the first steps developers made mid 90s – is a first sign of a new inspiration for North Koreans to develop games and also share it with the Western world. One step closer to using media to connect these very different worlds and to communicate with the outside.
I would be still interested in finding a game from North Korea designed to create interesting experiences, and not a game designed for commercial purposes. If anyone has other hints for games from North Korea please drop me a line.
Sacrifice your childhood, Moonchild
In 2016 Brazil hosted 48(!) Global Game Jam locations. So I thought it will be incredibly easy finding tons of games from Brazil. However, choosing a game was not an easy task. While people from Brazil play a lot, and always lead the game consumer lists on the Steam sales page, the number of studios only grows slowly. Well-known games such as Agar.io or Outlive were developed in Brazil. However, compared to the enormous number of interested developers and jammers, I found only a small list of games published in Brazil. Also it is interesting to read that this country seems to have quite strict censorships. Bully, for instance was banned, sales of Counter-Strike were prohibited in 2008 [R]. Nevertheless, at the moment Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the favourite game in Brazil according to Steam statistics.
Asking mighty Twitter for recommendations for games, especially titles from the studios Aquiris Game Studio (Horizon Chase), Behold Studios (Knights of Pen and Paper +1 [definitely on my Steam wishlist now!]), or Joy Masher were named. It was not easy, but the game I finally chose for my project was “Toren”, one of the youngest of these games, developed by the Brazilian Indie Studio Swordtales. Toren was the first game supported by the Brazilian’s government and got financial support from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture.
The saying “Life is short” gets definitely a new meaning when playing this game. You play this strong female character called “Moonchild”. Your goal is to beat the dragon on top of this mysterious tower (Toren). While you are climbing this tower you are also growing up. So it’s quite interesting when you to start as a toddler, crawling through your first quest. On your way you would constantly fall into dream sequences. You are never entirely sure if you are currently dreaming or awake. After such sequences the character often comes back to the tower grown older. The environment, all animations, and in particular the cutscenes were artistically crafted with so much love for detail. The puzzles and fights were not particularly hard but the main element of this game is definitely this process of growing with the character, surrounded by inspiring poems, metaphors, and mysterious music.
Playing this game was not challenging and its focus is not on sophisticated game mechanics. Playing this game was a pleasing and somehow healing (?) experience. It was a very intense and simply wonderful, beautiful – sometimes dark – experience. AND it was definitely hard to pick just a few screenshots out of this giant list of beautiful pictures I took while playing (experiencing) this game. (I felt like an artist while taking screenshots, which immediately turned out to be super-fancy and meaningful pieces of art.)
A puzzle-adventure full of flashbacks..
Asking for a game from Czech Republic I was overwhelmed by the number of games people recommended. Games like DayZ, Samorost, or Mafia were named a couple of times. Since Mafia is one of my favourite games (a game with an *incredibly* amazing soundtrack) I was EXTREMELY tempted to just play it again. However, there was one game, which was named more often than others: Machinarium. Since it was already a long time on my Steam wishlist, and the game was part of the Steam sale this was a great opportunity to finally play this game as my game from Czech Republic.
Starting the game I was shortly irritated by the headline “Flash Game”. Is this a new nostalgic studio or publisher? I definitely was more surprised to play a game developed in Adobe Flash than I was when playing a game in a DOS virtual machine during this year project. Back to the story: you would start the game as a broken robot on a junkyard. First tasks: find your missing pieces (body, arms, legs) and get an idea what’s going on. How to find your parts makes the game’s purpose already pretty clear – this game is a tricky puzzle game, with an interesting point-and-click adventure design, and an extremely cute story. The robot’s name is Josef. Compared to robots like Daleks, Mr. Handy, the Terminator, or Bender, Josef is pretty much skill-free. Josef’s only skills are to walk, to resize himself, and to eat items (or small robo-dogs) to collect them in an inventory.
The first thing one would notice is the interesting art style. The graphics are hand-drawn and remind of steampunk worlds. The focus is definitely more on the puzzle elements (finding correct combinations) than on the point-and-click elements. All elements of the game – the story, the art, the puzzles, and the characters – are created in a detailed and inspiring way. The story is told without any words, but with small comics/dialogues drawn in speaking bubbles.
For me, playing this game was a nostalgic experience (most probably because of this mixture of point-and-click adventure, the art style, and .. Flash as technology). Sometimes it felt like I am reading a wonderfully drawn children’s book. Small Josef trying to find out what has happened to him, fighting his arch-enemies – the villains, a trying to save the world. A very relaxing, but due to the puzzle elements, still challenging experience. This was probably the best game to relax and calm down after playing This War of Mine.
|Genre||Survival, Strategy, Resource Management|