Monday, March 30, 2015

Q&A: Chris Olsen on Somerville

Last week, I wrote about the in-development game Somerville. Developer Chris Olsen was kind enough to answer a few questions about his episodic sci-fi cinematic platformer and reveal more about its gameplay and story.

1. What inspired you to get into game development?
I've been a gamer since before I can remember and was always in-love with game development.  Although I've spent the greater part of a decade working in the Film and TV industry I did dabble in the games industry early on at Ninja Theory, in Cambridge as an Animator.  There haven't been many working experiences as positive as that in my time and only due to momentum did I go down a different path.  It was always in the back of my mind to make a game but programming proved a daunting hurdle.  It wasn't until I was introduced to Unity a few years back and it's artist friendly approach that I went full hog on making a game.  At first I was intending to return to games production as a day job to absorb all the facets I wasn't experienced in but there were so many case studies in the Indie scene of lone developers diving in head first and coming out with a positive experience.  So I decided to brave the early mornings and late nights of part time game development.
2. Between The Last Night, Orphan, Hunger, and several others, classic cinematic platformers appear to be making a comeback. What makes the genre so appealing and why did you choose to go that route with Somerville?
There's quite a few factors for these games coming back, I imagine.  One being that the generation that grew up with the classic early 90's Chahi titles are getting older and the tools have become so accessible that instead of wishing someone would bring them back they're just taking the initiative themselves.  I think what we're seeing in the resurgence of all the classic gaming genres from Point and Click adventures, Isometric RPG's and Space Sims are developers freeing themselves from publisher agenda and with the help of platforms like Kickstarter delivering experiences they feel have an audience and were unjustly left by the way side.  
For me, besides Another World being such a core pillar of my childhood gaming life and all the reasons above.  The genre lends itself to all my tastes and capabilities.  I come from a film background and I get a lot of satisfaction from playing with camera framing.  Having the player on a fixed plane grants me the camera flexibility without sacrificing readability (if I do it right).  Animation wise it's a hell of a lot more forgiving and I can smash out character animation without worrying about the player throwing the camera into an area of ugliness.  I can think in terms of storyboard panels rather than 3D space, locking down color scripts or lifting concept art and dropping that exact framing into the game.  
This control over what the player can see allows me to go bolder with my ambition.  I can have spectacular dramatic set pieces and not have to worry too much about what happens outside of the frame.  Condensing the world into such a narrow view sounds limiting but I believe it gives me the opportunity to really finesse and paint the important subtleties into the periphery of the viewer rather than make them look at everything I deem important. 
From a gameplay standpoint a 2.5D platformer speaks for itself in terms of accessibility for me.  Being my first game I can attempt to nail tight mechanics, again, within restricted dimensions.

3. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Somerville is its narrative framework: a teacher telling her class about the hero of man's war against aliens, as you play during the invasion. What inspired this story structure?
As it stands the narrative structure is still being worked on and subject to change but I can tell you that it will revolve around a story being told by a future generation and it will involve children.  The story structure came from a lot of places.  The game is episodic and with the fleeting attention of children it shall be delivered almost like a "story-time" structure that you used to get in Primary School or a weekly assembly school play.  I'm toying with the idea of zero character dialogue, either written or voiced. I want to use a combination of emotive sound and animation - a narrator will help facilitate this.I've always been a sucker for tales of folk heroes and these days they seem few and far between, mainly due to the information age we function under now.  Children are also a central focus of the story so I thought why not give them one last figure to sing songs and jot notes about in history lessons.

4. One feature you stress in the game's description is its "responsive shooter mechanics." Do you feel these mechanics evolve the core cinematic platformer gameplay? And how expansive will the player's arsenal be in Somerville?
Again, still in-development but yes. My goal is to have engaging, responsive combat mechanics.  I'll probably play down the "shooter" aspect as it gives the impression you'll be blowing aliens away left right and center which would betray the path our protagonist takes (in the beginning at least).  He's fragile and the mechanics reflect a defensive approach but that's not to say he gets his moments to level the playing field.  Whilst the bulk of the game will rest in the the realm of a solitary adventure when the shit does hit the fan I intend to ratchet up the action to a level that borrows more from Treasure shooters than it does of traditional cinematic platformers.  I don't think it's an evolution, just me being a fan of enticing shooter mechanics. The offensive arsenal won't be extensive but I do intend to get as much utility out of the defensive systems as possible.
5. Can you shed some light on the kinds of challenges and dangers players will face?
Sure.  Earlier on the game is focused on survival and avoidance in hostile territory with gameplay hints toward the base combat framework.  Through the hazardous environmental challenges you will learn the fundamentals and hopefully when backed into a corner be able to apply this to fight or escape hostile encounters.  This will be the crux of the prologue, you're a weak fleshy human with an ability that keeps him alive. 
The first full episode will be about empowerment.  Gathering your strength and knowledge to take on greater foes with more intricate offensive strategies.  I won't go into detail on the variations on enemy types and exact hazards as to not spoil anything but they will all be built around the core combat mechanics. 
Overall I want it to be a nice split of puzzle solving, adventuring, topped off with frenetic action and set piece moments.  I recognize it will be a challenge to get the player well versed in the combat mechanics through means other than fighting but I believe the system I have in place will bring it together.

6. How far along is Somerville's development?
Very early.  I've set a deadline for October 2015 to deliver a prologue and proof of concept trailer.  The prologue I intend to be a couple of hours gameplay that scratches the surface of the systems, introduces you to the world and see if people like it.  About 70% of all the features I intend to put into that have been prototyped to the extent that I have faith they won't fall apart when implemented.  I've just started blocking out the levels in Unity from 2D mockups for the actual game and intend to have the prologue playable from start to finish by July.  I still need to wrap up the story treatment before I can 100% commit to churning out levels but that should be done within the next two weeks.  Most of my time right now is split between writing and finessing character control and feel.
You can learn more about Somerville on Olsen's Tumblr blog and Twitter page and follow its development on TIGSource.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Watchlist: Somerville

Title: Somerville
Developer: Chris Olsen
Platforms: N/A
Still in early development
An episodic sci-fi adventure...a cinematic platformer with responsive shooter mechanics
Alien invasions are nothing new in video games. We've faced extraterrestrials foes in wartime Europe, in the jungles of Ling Shan, in the streets of City 17. Somerville takes a different approach; we've already won the war and a teacher is reading to her elementary class the story of the great war hero John E. Somerville. This narrative framework is the foundation for an atmospheric cinematic platformer, as Somerville becomes a revered figure in humanity's fight against a devastating alien incursion.
Somerville promises to combine the classic mainstays of the genre with more modern mechanics, such as refined shooting and advanced physics. The core of the shooting gameplay as well as avoiding many of the game's hazards revolves around color; match your shield and weapon with the color of an enemy or incoming energy burst and you'll be unharmed. Learning color cycles and shifting hues on the fly will play a key role in Somerville's challenges, as you acquire poweful gear, avoid sentry drones, engage in shootouts, and more. The visuals bring this world to life through smooth animations and an atmospheric aesthetic reminiscent of Kentucky Route Zero.
Somerville is still relatively early in development; the developer is currently working on the game's prologue area. You can follow Somerville's progress through its TIGSource Devlog and on Tumblr.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 3/21

Developer: Vakey Rujevic
The game is an interactive story driven experience where the following gameplay elements are combined with story telling to have the player feel and experience the life of an Organism.
Born as a foreign organism in a habitat that is slowly diminishing due to the extraction of vital resources by artificial organisms, you will fight to keep the habitat alive.

My Last Friday
Developer: Gadan Games
In My Last Friday, you play as Howard Goodson who finds himself locked inside an old house. He has no idea why and how he got there.
He falls deeper into a surreal world filled with dark secrets and gruesome creatures. While he's trying to find the way out it slowly becomes clear, why he is in this strange place and what forces are behind his torment. But he must fight and solve puzzles to see the connection between him and all these horror.
It's Friday and somehow he feels that it could be his last one. Whatever happens, he still can make a difference.

Developer: Ice Water Games
Viridi is a meditative potted plant app currently in development for PC/Mac and mobile. Nurture a small pot of succulents that grow in real time.
Our goal is to provide a moment of peace and quiet that you can pull out of your pocket whenever you want and/or need it.

Developer: Revenge Games
Regret is a 2D, psychological, survival horror game about a teenage boy, named Keenan and his pet fox, Curo.
After mother’s death, the boy is forced to move in with his father, out in the rural town of Silver Pines. Upon arrival, Keenan finds Silver Pines to be a ghost town, taken over by a living darkness, and the boy’s father is nowhere to be found. While struggling with a loss, Keenan must fight for his sanity, for his life and for his missing father, that is a stranger to the boy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

IOS Review #93: rop

Title: rop
Platforms: IOS Universal
Price: $0.99
Don't be fooled by rop's early levels. It's quite fitting that the game's network of ropes and nodes resemble the threads of a web, as those beginning challenges introduce the core idea and mechanics before entangling your brain in tricky head-scratching puzzles.

Rop's set-up is deceptively simple. The screen is divided in the two parts: the top half depicted a figure, the bottom of hexagonal grid and a network of interconnected ropes and nodes used to replicate the above figure. By manipulating the ropes, you're able to mimic triangle, rectangles, and other shapes. But soon those simple shapes grow increasingly complex and you find ropes connected and crisscrossing in odd ways. There's no time limit here, no move counter, no pressure or need to rush; rop is a calm test of your spatial aptitude, challenging you to consider the effect of every move you make. Thankfully rop is simple to control; manipulating ropes is tactile, fun, and easy. It's satisfying to see your figures take shape as you drag and shift nodes across the grid.
Rop offers a wealth of challenging puzzles built around a simple core mechanic and minimalist presentation. The developer is currently working on a second level pack which will introduce a new gameplay element. You can purchase rop for $0.99.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 3/14

Developer: AeroJoust
OBSERVER takes you on a journey through eldritch, strange worlds. OBSERVER is a minimalistic, cryptic first person adventure game. OBSERVER will always be there.

Project Ascension
Developer: Emotion Theory
Project Ascension is a puzzle adventure game about remotely manipulating the environment with the power of light. Each level introduces new and increasingly complex mechanics that alter the way you think about puzzles and progression. It is mostly inspired by the dungeon design and perspective seen in the top-down Zelda titles such as A Link Between Worlds and The Phantom Hourglass.

Developer: Negative Zero Inc
Venturi features fast paced and rewarding combat, a deep and evolving story that you shape as you play, and arena style multiplayer that will test your tactical skills. Build a loyal party to venture with you while you explore the massive galaxy, alive with intelligent AI controlled denizens with their own schedules and goals. The galaxy is full of mystery and secrets for you to find.

Blossom Tales
Developer: Castle Pixels
Blossom Tales is a refreshing combination of classic Action-RPG gameplay and modern design. Players can expect a one-of-a-kind experience as they explore hand-crafted dungeons that cleverly combine pre-designed layouts and randomized areas, all while using the handy target-lock system to take out specific enemies, lock onto a boss’ weak spot, and interact with puzzle elements and game world objects. The young Lily will also keep players on their toes by occasionally introducing enemies, story events, and more as she helps her Grandpa tell the tale.

Developer: Senscape
Decay surrounds you, dread around every corner. You feel imprisoned while traversing the endless corridors…
Asylum is a chilling journey through the intricate floors of the Hanwell Mental Institute, in which unimaginable atrocities have occurred in the past. Over four years in production, this horror adventure aims to marry cutting edge visuals with thrilling storytelling to give you the ultimate experience in fear. From the designer of the award-winning and cult sleeper hit Scratches.

Friday, March 13, 2015

No Money, No Problem: [encrypted]

Title: [encrypted]
Developer: Niall Moody
Platforms: PC, Mac

[encrypted] is an abstract and minimalist roguelike, stripped of stats and gear and focused purely on discovery, experimentation, and tactical maneuvering. In a world of odd glyphs and roaming enemies, you must survive. There is zero handholding here, no tooltips, no tutorials. Your first few attempts will be confusing, but each death is a learning experience as you slowly but surely learn how enemies behave, how spells work, and grasp the game's other systems and mechanics. Evading challenging enemies and using abilities at the best time is rewarding, especially as you piece together the rules of the game and use the knowledge to your advantage.

[encrypted]'s development is currently on hold, but the available build is relatively complete in terms of mechanics. You can download the game here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Watchlist: Deadbolt

Title: Deadbolt
Developer: Hopoo Games
Platforms: PC
Grim reapers are commonly displayed as a hooded figure in a scythe, sending people to the afterlife. This was good back in the old days, but today, with the invention of doors with locks and guns, the grim reaper is having a hard time reaping lives. That is where you come in, as the modern day grim reaper, with modern day equipment, ready to kill modern day undead.
Hopoo Games's last title - the popular roguelite action game Risk of Rain - had you fighting alien foes and beasts across dangerous planets, but their new game Deadbolt leaves the sci-fi world behind for the gritty buildings of undead gangs. As a modern-day Grim Reaper, you arm yourself with guns and knives, reducing your foes to bloody smears. Hopoo Games describes Deadbolt as mix of Hotline Miami's fast-paced shooting and gore and Gunpoint's tactical movement. Able to move between vents with ease, you can flank your enemies, blowing them away from behind cover or taking out the lights so you can get close with a blade and other melee weapons. Ammo is limited and a single hit kills the reaper, so planning your approach and choosing the best weapon at the right moment is critical to clearing stages.
The current alpha build consists of five stages against zombie gangs. For an alpha, Deadbolt is already fun, challenging, and polished. Blood sprays stain the walls, heads and body parts fly with every blast of a sawed-off shotgun or revolver. Luring enemies by knocking on doors and then flanking them by moving through the vents is fun and satisfying. The little details stand out, such as opening a fridge door to use as cover or pulling out knives from knife blocks. The developers plan to expand on the core gameplay by adding features, such as more factions, more weapons, and more environmental interactions.
Deadbolt is still only a few months into development, but it shows a lot of promise and feels fun to play. You can download the alpha from and learn more about Deadbolt from its TIGSource devlog and the Hopoo Games Tumblr.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 3/7

Developer: Ellen Brown
Ritual is a 2D horror game where you play as a girl searching for her little brother in an old, haunted school. Players must partake in a twisted take on hide and seek whilst trying to find and close 3 portals to another realm, opened as part of a ritual by an unknown being trying to hunt them down!

Developer: Warpfish
Razed is a fast paced platform racer about finding kindred spirits in a lethal developing world. The controls are simple because the player has just one ability, a shout. The player must learn to use their shout creatively to collect sympathisers and interact with the evolving world around them. The abstract levels are filled with a wide variety of threats and obstacles which the player must navigate in ten seconds or less in order to reach the goal and prevent the wrecking ball from finding its target.

Developer: Michele Pirovano
.Age is an hybrid between a roguelike(-like) and an european board game village simulator (Agricola-style), as well as a reverse god-game. In .Age, you take the role of the village elder, spritual guide of a secluded village in the middle ages. A dark omen is cast upon your land, and you must help your villagers survive the forthcoming years of travail. Build, produce, assign your Pips and watch as the heavens unfold their wrath on your puny village. Also, make sure you stay alive.

Luckless Seven
Developer: Deckpoint Studio
Luckless Seven is a card game RPG set in land of Arithia. Throughout Arithia, playing card games is a common method of social interaction. The most popular game played is Ekosi (also referred to as 20), a card game in which players use decks of numbered cards to try and reach as close to 20 as possible. Players can use a side deck containing a variety of cards to manipulate their score. While Ekosi is commonly played for gambling purposes, it is also a primary source of recreation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SitRep: Rain World (PAX build)

Title: Rain World
Developer: Videocult
Platforms: PC, Mac
Releasing Summer 2015 (Steam)
I've written about Rain World four times on my blog. I participate in the game's devlog regularly and update the Rain World thread on NeoGAF. Suffice to say, I'm a big fan and can say, without a doubt, that it's my most anticipated indie game. So after following Rain World's progress for months, I was very excited to finally play the latest build, which will be available at PAX and soon for Kickstarter backers.
First a refresher: Rain World is a platformer with a focus on stealth, exploration, atmosphere, and AI. It's set in a world once inhabited by some intelligent civilization; now only the local ecosystem roams and thrives in the weathered, ruined industrial landscape. You play as a slugcat, a lithe agile creature, both predator to the fluttering bats that migrate throughout the world, and prey to the beasts that hunt you such as deadly lizards and terrifying alien vultures. Rain batters the surface periodically, crushing and killing everything, so between downpours, you need to leave your den and gather food while evading and dealing with predators. Rain World's procedural animations and atmospheric visuals bring this struggle for survival to life.
The PAX build consists of four regions out of a planned twelve: the overgrowth-choked rooms of Suburban, the dank water-logged tunnels of Drainage System, the rusted machinery of Heavy Industrial, and the open spaces and heights of Chimney Canopy. Lizards roam the lower regions, leeches swarm in the sewer water, and vultures rule the skies around the canopy. Your goal in this build is simple: explore, eat bats, and return to your shelter before the rain comes.
Visually, Rain World has progressed massively since the early screenshots and videos seen on the game's Kickstarter page over a year ago. This alien world feels alive, as shadows shift across the background, water drips from above, and the sky rumbles. The game's ecosystem cements the atmosphere. Each lizard looks unique, with different body sizes, spines, ridges, tail turfs, and each species reacts to each other and to your slugcat in their own unique way. White lizards blend into the environment, surprising you with their chameleon-like tongue, while heavy green lizards charge forward with unexpected speed. Blue lizards scale walls and ceilings and pink lizards chase you down relentlessly.
Enter a room and you might see lizards of the same species fighting for dominance or hunting another lizard. But lizards pale in comparison to the vultures. These aerial creatures swoop down from above, their fleeting shadow your only warning before they descend for the kill. Using biological thrusters and their tentacled appendages as both wings and walking limbs, vultures are fast, agile, near-unstoppable apex predators. As a slugcat, your best options are to flee and hide or...better yet, lure a lizard into the vulture's waiting mandibles.
The world of Rain World isn't the only aspect that's been improved. Your slugcat is more agile than ever before, able to backflip over lizards, roll and perform high jumps, and chain these new maneuvers together. These skills are your greatest strength, allowing you to deftly evade predators and scurry out of sight or provide some breathing room to nail a devastating spear throw. Jumping and climbing around is fun thanks to the fluid animations, and using your agility to avoid or fight predators makes each encounter a tense game of cat-and-mouse.
Rain World is far from complete. New creatures and regions in development, such as the pack-hunting yellow lizards and the Garbage Wastes, promise to evolve the game even further. But even now, as an alpha with a few (albeit quite large) regions and species, it's already an impressive and engaging experience.
You can follow Rain World's progress and find many more GIFs and in-depth development updates in the game's TIGForum devlog. You can also add Rain World to your wishlist on Steam.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Quick Fix: Screenshot Saturday 2/28

Developer: Anton Kudin
MegaSphere is a sci-fi themed action platformer with a big shiny gun, mad battle robots and unpredictable world that is different each time you play. Fight enemies, search for loot, hack AI's, upgrade weapons and your suit. No hand holding, no tutorials — play like a grown-up!

Developer: Adam Creations
Experience a role-playing game where the focus is on the world, exploration, characters, puzzles, and avoidance instead of battling. Peacefully reverse an evil plot to bring a kingdom to its knees while uncovering ancient secrets, hidden conspiracies, and helping the lives of all in Veilend. Communication routes have been severed and all signs point to retaliation by Veilend's neighboring enemies, the Ignetiles. Help restore routes and stop the conflict from the inside before it erupts into a second war between the two kingdoms.

Scrap Mechanic
Developer: Axolot Games
Scrap Mechanic is a multiplayer survival game with creativity and ingenuity at its core. In Scrap Mechanic’s interactive open world, you explore, scavenge and collect objects and then use them to build shelters, impressive moving vehicles and other machines that will help you survive the treacherous adventures lying ahead! Team up with friends or fight against robots and other players who are out to steal your stuff.

Developer: Pajama Llama Games
Flotsam is a building sim where you try to survive and build a functioning society in a world flooded by water.