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Indie Games, Part 2!   Leave a comment

Welcome to Part 2 of the Indie Games special! I’ll be covering another two games in this part, with another two games coming in the next part. You know the drill, so let’s not waste time!

SpaceChem

SpaceChem is a strange beast. Have you ever owned a game which you can’t describe to your friends no matter how good it is? SpaceChem suits that category perfectly – so much so that I’m struggling to think of what to say. So, here goes.

In SpaceChem, on a basic level – you’re given two outputs and an input. The outputs will spit out atoms – these will either be on their own, or bundled up with other atoms in the form of bonds. The inputs demand that you place a specific molecule inside of it, which is created by making specific bonds between the two outputs. For example, the two outputs might spit out a bond between two oxygen atoms and a hydrogen atom respectively, and the input will demand that you create water for it.

The method you go about performing the construction of these molecules is through a input-based system. If you’ve ever used those robots that ask for a sequence of inputs before it dashes off and performs what you’ve told it to do, you’re halfway there already. The game consists of two grabbers, each of which sit upon their own line. The grabbers will move along the line in a loop, which you get to dictate where it goes. The player can then place specific commands on segments of the line, telling the grabber to grab an atom, drop an atom, wait, signal the other grabber to stop waiting at its wait point, or activate the bonding grid.

The bonding grid is important, because this allows you to construct your molecule. You can activate it on either line at any time, and you can choose to either create a bond, or break it. Players have to juggle their atoms in the bonding grid and time the bonds just right to ensure that everything goes without a hitch.

The pleasure of this game comes from the game’s encouragement to not only find the solution, but find an efficient one. Players can just make a working system and be done with it, but the game will also point out how other people did on their play-through, which encourages the player to make an eve more efficient system to beat their scores. This is, however, totally at the player’s discretion, and there are no punishments for making a slow system – all of it counts.

Another great feature of SpaceChem is that only the outputs, inputs, and their zones are static – the place where the grabbers start, the lines, the commands, and even the bonding grid can be moved and customized. The advantage of such customizable puzzles over more narrow, corridor-minded ones is that you get to develop your own solution to the puzzle, instead of trying to work out the developer’s sense of logic and following it. Here are three solutions to the same puzzle, uploaded using SpaceChem’s YouTube capabilities:

As you can probably see from the above video, the molecule you finish just has to be the same as the demands in terms of bonds between atoms – the actual shape can vary.

This kind of puzzle design is great, because it allows people to find their personal routes for the puzzle and share the knowledge with others. It’s a massive sea full of creativity and “Why didn’t I do that?!” moments which brings out the best of each puzzle.

You might be feeling a little confused right now as to what this game actually plays like. Do not worry, as the creators have also picked up on this and released a very sizable demo for you to try! I highly recommend this game for all people who enjoy being kept up at night because of a good, noggin-scratching puzzle.

SpaceChem can be bought on Steam for £8.99 ($14.99) or the SpaceChem official website for $15 (approx £9) at time of writing. There are demos available, which can be downloaded from Steam or the official website from their respective store pages linked above. SpaceChem comes with a single-player mode, and a custom puzzle downloading feature with a library of user-made puzzles.

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid is a cursed game. The development studio behind it, Indie Stone, have had several accounts of PayPal and Google Checkout freezing their assets, and even a car blowing up outside of their office, causing a quarantine. On time of writing, the game has been taken offline when pirates found a flaw in the system and pirated the game en masse. To be short, there’s been a lot of issues with the development of this game!

Despite this, the game itself is incredibly solid. Indie Stone is quick to warn you that the playable version of Zomboid right now is an alpha build, and that “This [build] does not reflect the quality, depth or feature set of the finished product. It is not intended to be hours of gameplay and is only a peek at where we’re headed”. They then plead for their alpha testers to “be gentle!”. I find it funny that they put this in, mainly because I can’t be anything but gentle with this game. It’s brilliant, even at a tech demo stage.

Project Zomboid starts with a small story-driven segment where the protagonist has to tend to his wounded wife in a zombie-infested town. The story itself has no weight on the actual game itself and does not need to be followed; it does, however, give a useful and well-needed tutorial to those starting out in the game. When the player finished the story (which comes to an abrupt and short end), the player can then head out into the zombie-infested town and try to survive for as long as they can.

Project Zomboid has no “mission failed” or “you killed an important NPC” screens – the only one that will force you to restart the game is the one dictating your own death. Because of this, Project Zomboid isn’t your atypical zombie-based, story-driven action game. It’s more like a zombie sandbox. Don’t like your wife and want to burn the house down with a molotov? Go ahead! Accidentally let zombies swarm the safe-house? Whoops! None of these cause the game to go “No, no, wait, stop. You’re not supposed to do that. Do it again”. It’s all legit in the games eyes. The only constraint is your own survival.

Your survival will be harder than you first think. Hunger and tiredness play a big role in the game, meaning that players set up safe-houses in order to store their food, have a safe place to sleep in, and a storage house for any precious cargo they found on their scavenge. If you run around and swing a weapon around too much, you’ll become tired-out and find it harder to escape the zombies. Being damaged means taking care of your wounds with bandages and painkillers, else you bleed to death. Getting on the wrong side of some of the town’s now-crazed citizens may earn you a slug in the temple. Having a zombie suddenly come into your vision at close range will panic you. Make one mistake when outside, and it could cost you your life. It’s a deep experience that you can’t find anywhere else in a game, and it is definitely a must-try to those who want a game where they are free to make their own decisions.

Given how the game is in a tech demo phase, it’s definitely worth a try – however, the old method of purchasing the game has been taken down. But fear not – at time of writing, Indie Stone have released the version they took down for purchasers as a public tech demo, which you can download from here! If you enjoy the game, please make sure to keep track of their development and pick up the game when it’s ready to be purchased – after all that Indie Stone has been through to get this game made, the least we can do as consumers is pick it up when it’s released!

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Posted June 22, 2011 by galenor in Indie Games, Reviews

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Indie Games, Part 1!   1 comment

Recently, I’ve noticed a great change in the indie community. A lot of good-quality games are being made, and it’s really hard to keep track of them all. I’ve actually made more purchases this year from indie companies than I have from AAA ones.

I’ve decided to make a post about some of the indie games that I’ve been enjoying recently, to bring some really awesome gems that have been hidden away to light. Also, because I talk far too much, I’m going to split this into two parts to stop this becoming a gigantic post.

Terraria

Featuring adorable rabbits!

Terraria has had quite a rough start. A lot of people see this game and notice that it’s a game which involves mining, crafting and killing monsters. This immediately brings the phrase “So it’s a 2D Minecraft?” into conversations, which, let’s be fair here, is a very reasonable opinion to have. In the wake of the gigantic monolith that is Minecraft, we’ve seen a lot of games that have tried to take their share of the pie, such as FortressCraft and Manic Digger – it’s totally understandable that people would treat games like Terraria with caution, especially if they’re already owners of Minecraft.

Luckily, Terraria actually comes out of the fiasco really well. I cannot deny that Terraria does not share roots with Minecraft – that would be straight-out lying – but what it doesn’t do is take the Minecraft formula, stick an extra novelty on top and call it a day. It’s very evident from the first few minutes of play that Terraria is trying to do something completely different here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Terraria is much more combat-focused than Minecraft. Monsters come thick and fast, especially at night, and combat is relatively easy to get into. There are swords, guns, magic missiles, and even a sword that summons stars from the sky to deal additional damage. While Minecraft takes the stance of “You can build anything you want”, Terraria goes down the route of “You encounter enemies, and must gear up accordingly to fight them”. The deeper you go when you mine, the better the quality of ore there is to find, and the more advanced the enemies become and the harder they are to slay. You keep going on a loop of probing the depths, finding a depth which is a challenge to you, mining the ores there until you can craft items that allows you to kill any enemy by rolling your face on the Attack button, and then probing further. Rinse and repeat.

Oh, I didn't mention the bosses, did I?

The main flaw of this is that enthusiastic players, such as I, dig “dwarven style” – that is, dig too greedily, and too deep. This is especially true with a band of friends in the multiplayer, where fighting the evil monsters that live in the dark depths of your mines becomes more of a chore than an exciting foray. This then means that you get easier access to the ores of that level, which means you gear up faster, which means you progress through the game much faster. Within two days of normal play, a few friends and I had managed to get to the hardest of hard zones – the Underworld. There, we farmed the monsters for goodies, mined the precious ores and stocked up with the best the game could offer. Then we all put the game down.

There are other treasures in Terraria, such as the Underground Jungle, the Dungeon and even NPCs that occupy buildings you make for them; however, the game is quite quick to consume if you’re the kind of player which has the constant desire to progress, such as I. Despite this, future updates have been promised, and hopfully the developers will add more challenging areas to explore for the more persistant players in their fanbase!

Terraria can be purchased on Steam for £5.99 ($9.99) at time of writing, with both single and multiplayer (server-based) modes.

Frozen Synapse

Tadaa!

Frozen Synapse is definitely not for the faint of heart. This game takes the hardcore tactical squad shooting action that is present in the old Rainbow Six games, and delivers an additional layer that is bound to make your head hurt and your mouth curse.

Frozen Synapse is a strange beast. From gameplay videos, it looks to be your bog-standard WASD-controlled top-down shooter, with multiplayer. However, gameplay videos alone cannot do Frozen Synapse the justice it deserves – it is a much, much deeper game than this.

Basically, at the start of a mission, you are given a squad of characters. They’ll come with different weapons – from the Assault Rifle, which is a long-range but quite inaccurate burst-fire weapon, to the Shotgun, which has a maximum range of fire, but shoots faster than the Assault Rifle, and with more devastating effect. It’s crucial that the player learns about each weapon their units have, and what they do, as it becomes incredibly important in the next set of phases.

Your squad will find themselves in a complex, with enemy units to keep them company. You’re then asked to give your units commands. You can tell the units to move to specific areas by double-clicking on a spot – the computer then calculates the rest, and places a best path to that point, dotted with nodes. These nodes can be moved, deleted, or even edited to optimize your unit’s movement – you can tell the unit to wait at a specific node for a shot amount of time, or tell the unit to cease fire and concentrate on movement rather than shooting, or even tell them to point their guns in a specific direction while moving, on sacrifice of their speed. The key thing to note here is that the game isn’t running in real-time – as you’re doing all of these commands, all of the units are completely static. It’s only until you hit the Play button does your units spring into action and carry out their moves, ducking and diving behind cover and firing at the enemy.

It looks shiny, too.

At this point, you’ll notice that your AI friend doesn’t do a lot of anything. That’s because the Start button doesn’t initiate your turn – it just shows you what our current orders do given the scenario that the AI does nothing. Sure, your shotgun-wielding unit does manage to take out that one guy inside the room, but that’s only if the AI, on their turn, decide to keep him standing there like a sitting duck. All the Play button does is allow you to monitor how your units go about carrying out your commands. No, the real fun kicks in when you hit Commit.

At this point, the AI wakes up, and does their turn. They do the same thing that you did – plot out their moves based on the idea that you have moved none of your units around. Then when you both have finished your turns, the game goes into Outcome Mode, where both teams perform the actions set at the same time. You can see that this can get incredibly chaotic incredibly quickly.

This, as you might have guessed, calls for players to metagame like crazy. Yes, you can go to the waist-high wall facing into the room where the bad-guy stands and shoot him, but what’s not to say that he’ll preemptively see that, and plan a route to take you out on his turn? What if he leaves the room, cycles around, and catches you in your side as you stand there absent-minded, staring into the room where the bad-guy once was? Of course, that means not setting up by the wall – that means setting up in a way where if the guy then tries to counter your wall-attack, you can counter him.

Yes, I am implying the usage of a counter-counterattack.

This game has a ridiculous amount of metagaming. A huge amount of attempts to mind-read your opponent. And an ungodly amount of swearing when they catch you off guard. And it’s worth every penny.

Frozen Synapse comes with a campaign, random-generated scenarios, and multiplayer. You can buy it on Steam for £18.99 ($24.99) at time of writing, which comes with a free extra copy for a friend, or you can pay a little extra to have the OST bundled in with it. You can witness the game yourself here.

Posted June 4, 2011 by galenor in Indie Games, Reviews

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