Things We Love

Below

Checkout this gameplay footage from Capybara Games' upcoming Below at E3!

Wiley Wiggins - June 22, 2015

Ridiculous Fishing

Ridiculous Fishing is one of the most visually original and mechanically polished games on the app store. This dedicated retooling of a free flash game by Vlambeer managed to survive being cloned early in its development and emerged triumphant last night to impressive early sales. Even if you don't get the game, stop and check out the brilliant use of animation on their trailer page. With game design by Vlambeer, programming by Zach Gage, art by Greg Wohlwend, and music by Eirik Suhrke, Ridiculous Fishing is about the closest thing you get to an indie game dream team on the app store. It's surprisingly deep and a lot of fun once you start zapping fish into outer space with lasers and talking to birds on a satirical social network accessed via a smartphone that looks suspiciously like a wooden plank.

Wiley Wiggins - March 14, 2013

Journey

I just posted about the fantastic PS3 title Journey by That Game Company over at my blog. -W

Wiley Wiggins - March 14, 2012

Sci-Fi-O-Rama: the virtual art of the 80's game world

Sci-Fi-O-Rama has a great post up about the visual design of 80's computer games that includes The Sentinel, Elite and Captain Blood.

The Virtual Art of 80′s Game Worlds - Sci-Fi-O-Rama.

Wiley Wiggins - March 14, 2012

Head Over Heels

Head Over Heels

In 1987, 3D gaming generally meant fixed-camera isometric arcade adventures, a style popularised by Ultimate Play The Game with titles such as Knight Lore and Alien 8. Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond had already dabbled in this style with a little remembered game licensed from the Batman franchise. Batman was a strong game in its own right, with clever room design melding exploration with puzzles and pixel perfect jumps.

With Head Over Heels the pair took their existing Batman game engine and with a simple twist completely revitalised the genre. You see, in Head Over Heels you control not one, but two characters and can swap back and forth at will. Quick-footed Heels can run fast, pick up and move objects, and use the game's population of Hush Puppies as platforms to climb to inaccessible location. Spring-footed Head can leap to impossible heights, glide through the air, and stun enemies with his doughnut launcher. The game's fiendish puzzles must be solved by either bringing Head and Heels together to work as a team or by splitting them up to take on challenges that rely on the unique skills of one or the other.

The greatest strength of Head Over Heels, and indeed something that inspires us to this day, is the two character mechanic. Figuring out how to combine the abilities of both to solve problems is a truly engaging and rewarding experience, and something we hope to bring to Thunderbeam. Head Over Heels also shy from gameplay that's strictly linear. The main quest is to escape from the Blacktooth Empire, but the daring can attempt five side quests, all of which are optional and which may be tackled in any order. Each of these secondary missions involves visiting one of the emperor's enslaved worlds and finding the crown, thereby liberating the planet. The crown rooms, of course, tend to be amongst the trickiest in the game.

While not without its faults (the ability to get trapped in a loop of permanent death being amongst the biggest), Head Over Heels remains a charming and entertaining game with some well-designed puzzles that lead to genuine "ah hah!" moments. You could do worse than download a copy of the excellent remake (Windows, OSX, Linux, BeOS) [1]. Or, you know, play one of the original 8-bit versions, of which the Amstrad CPC release was oddly the best.

Head Over Heels [1] In the interests of full-disclosure, I should note that I beta-tested this remake a few years back.

James Curry - September 15, 2011

James is retrogazing over on Destructoid

Our lead developer James gets all nostalgic about the good ol' days. He totally wears a hat like that when we get together to work on code.

Wiley Wiggins - August 17, 2011

Spelunky

While we are waiting for the coming XBox version of Derek Yu's Spelunky (with all new art and goodies), there's now finally a Mac port of Spelunky 1.0- the original version. For those of you not in the know, Spelunky is a sort of procedurally generated Montezuma's Revenge- every level is randomly cooked-up so all sorts of unexpected things can happen.

I really love this game. It takes me back to a weird epiphany I had as a kid playing River City Ransom, when my friend grabbed a stick and I grabbed a rock, and when I threw it at him, he managed to knock it out of the air. It was the first time that a game had let me do something that felt like maybe the programmers hadn't anticipated it, but that the world they had made was robust enough that something cool happened anyway. Spelunky is full of stuff like that- Instead of saving the damsel in distress you can be a jerk and throw her in front of a poison dart trap, triggering it but saving yourself, then you can pick up the spent dart and toss it at an attacking spider. There are so many beautiful surprises in this game, and I am incredibly excited about the new version

Wiley Wiggins - July 14, 2011

Luftrauser

Luftrauser - Gameplay Video from Rami Ismail on Vimeo.

I've been playing Luftrauser from (not)vlambeer all morning- It's a scrolling shooter with a really great hook- you can cut your thrusters and turn in mid-air to shoot pursuing planes without changing course. Also, you can bounce off the water and the top of the skybox without taking damage, but enemies die. There's something about this game that's super-addictive, and the cool restrained color palette and vaguely fascist chiptune march that serenades you as you play make the whole thing a delightfully well-rounded little time-waster.

Wiley Wiggins - July 04, 2011

Fantastic Planet


Rene Laloux and Roland Topor's animated classic Fantastic Planet has always been one of my favorite animated films. The film is based on a 70's Czech novel that many considered to be an allegory for the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, but I really feel like the film is way too broad to have such a specific political reading. If any of you read my blog you may already know I am obsessed with Roland Topor, the polymath French Surrealist who provided the illustrations for this movie. The score by Alain Goraguer is a lounge-y psychedelic classic as well.

Wiley Wiggins - May 14, 2011

Another World

Another World cut scene

"Welcome to Super Platform World! You can walk forward by pressing the Right button". "Uh oh! There's a small pit in your way. Try jumping over it with the X button". "Want to backtrack? Press the left button to head the other way". "Oh, good job! You went left! Well done you, you big dullard you. Have an achievement!".

Ah, the tutorial level. Originally a nice touch, it has since evolved into a crutch for designers and worse, an expectation, as if the player couldn't carry out the most basic of tasks without hand-holding. Another World (Out of this World in America) was the opposite. You're thrown into the game without a clue as to your objective or even the controls, and left to figure things out. Another World credited the player with some intelligence, and was all the better for it.

Attempts to bring a cinematic experience to the systems of the 1980s and 1990s were by and large failures; efforts to emulate visuals far beyond the hardware's capabilities would result in a slow, garbled mess or an adventure with limited interactivity and no replay value. Eric Chahi, on the other hand, resisted the urge to attempt the impossible and instead developed an original art style that could both convey that cinematic quality and work within the limits of the systems available. Dark and muted colour palettes with ocassional splashes of colour perfectly depict the stark alien landscape in which you find yourself.

There are so many great touches: Background details that become important later on, the constant howl of the wind during the outdoor stages and very brief in-game cut scenes that maintain the game's visual style while showing key events from another angle. It all adds up to make the whole thing incredibly atmospheric and to foster a sense of wonder that never lets up.

It's hard. If I wasn't afraid that children might be reading, I'd even say "bastard hard", but it's rewarding. You'll be forced to retry the same sections again and again, but you'll forever strive to find out what's next. Along the way you'll explore an alien city, escape from jail and make a friend. There's more to be said for Another World than I could hope hope to cover in this short write-up. I suggest you play the game or listen to Eric Chahi talk about it in his own words. A triumph!

Another World

James Curry - May 30, 2011

Maniac Mansion

In some ways Maniac Mansion was the seed that started us on this project (well, that and some exuberant binge-drinking and ranting about classic games from James and I that alienated everyone sitting around us). I really liked the idea of putting together a team of kind of archetypical kids, and then switching back and forth between them in order to manipulate puzzle elements in different locations. Maniac Mansion was one of the first games to have cutscenes, and while charming at the time, the practice eventually got out of hand. We're consciously avoiding cutscenes over a few seconds, or long bits of exposition, which we feel can take the player out of the game experience. Additionally, contextual menus and multitouch will replace the big palette of verbs that took up so much of many of the early Lucasarts games' screens. Maniac Mansion was fabulous for its sense of humor, the depth of its interactions, and the freedom that it gave players to absolutely bork themselves. It was entirely possible to paint yourself into a corner where the game became unfinishable, and a huge amount of time and energy were spent scripting out results for interactions that didn't have anything to do with the plot or the main tasks at hand. This made for a lot of exciting exploration, and it's a treasured early gaming memory for us.

Wiley Wiggins - May 11, 2011

Parasol Stars

Parasol Stars Boss Battle

Parasol Stars is to a large extent the Bubble Bobble game that history forgot.  Never released in North America and sent straight to home systems in Japan and Europe, Taito themselves seem to have forgotten its existence, effectively retconning it away with the release of Bubble Memories in 1995.  Nonetheless, it remains a worthy successor to the much beloved Rainbow Islands.

The game, like the first two in the series, was constructed around a unique play mechanic; both original yet a natural evolution of its predecessors.  Bubbles flood the screen and can be collected on your parasol, then thrown at enemies to either stun or eliminate them.  Gather five bubbles of the same type, for instance water or fire, and you can unleash a special attack.  Your parasol can also stun smaller enemies directly, which may then be thrown at each other or even used as a parachute to slow your decent when falling.  It's an orginal concept, but totally intuitive; capturing the essence of the classic platform game while feeling fresh and offering something new.

Taito's hallmark throughout the 1980s and early 1990s were instantly addictive games, with deceptive simplicity masking hidden depths.  Parasol Stars is no exception, replete with the secret levels, false endings, and endless special items that brought such replay value to the earlier games.  The sheer variety (and in some cases scarcity) of the special items alone are a reason to keep playing, with new things to discover even months after you first play the game.  This ongoing journey of discovery is an experience that only becomes richer when you realise that nothing is truly random.  Whether it's your score, your kills, your speed at clearing levels, or the number of times you've jumped, every item appears for a reason, and a truly adept player can learn to manipulate the game for the right item at the right time.

Bright and colourful cutesy graphics, incessantly cheerful music and a surreal collection of end level bosses round out the experience.  Parasol Stars is how an arcade platformer should be done.

Parasol Stars

James Curry - May 10, 2011

Ico

So much has already been written about Fumito Ueda's Ico that it's hard to know what else to add. If you haven't played the game, it's a pretty fundamental piece of work. Sony is doing an HD re-release for the PS3 as a buildup to Ueda's new, highly anticipated The Last Guardian, but you can generally pick up a used copy for the PS2 online.

What I found the most striking about this game was the incredible restraint that it had in terms of music, 'editing' or other mediation- letting the atmosphere and sound design of the world speak large- the situations of the game are incredibly emotionally evocative in ways that games and movies so rarely are, even when they hammer you in the face with fast cuts and John Williams' scores.

The game has a dreamlike, simplistic plot; you play a boy born with horns- an occurrence viewed as an omen in your village. You're taken to a crypt in a vast, deserted castle, and sealed into a tomb as an offering. You manage to escape, and find another inhabitant in the castle- a luminous girl who you are unable to communicate with, who is being constantly threatened by shadowy, amorphous figures. That's another powerful omission in this game- the lack of exposition adds to the stark feeling of the gameplay. I can't say enough about the feeling of immediacy that this creates as you make your way through the game.

Wiley Wiggins - June 16, 2011

Earthbound

Earthbound (Originally titled "Mother 2" in Japan) is a scrappy JRPG with psychic kids slinging yo-yo's instead of dreary anime tropes swinging swords. It's got a consistently goofy sense of humor, and great touches like a Madlibs-style setup where you name things like your favorite food and your family dog, and a perpetually absent salaryman father who supports you on your adventures by talking to you on the phone and making deposits into your ATM account. I love this game for the fun character design and writing (of course I've only played the English version, but I'm told it's very faithful), and for the cool music and battle-screen backdrops, which pushed what the Super-Nintendo's GPU could do in interesting, psychedelic ways.

Wiley Wiggins - May 16, 2011