Busy with finishing up our new RPG so this will be a really short article but I did want to bring everyone’s attention to Video Games: The Movie – an in-depth documentary on the video game industry & culture that surrounds it. It’s at $25k of its $60k goal with 31 days left to go.
First up, we have Energy Hook – a 3D grappling hook sports game by one of the developers of Spiderman 2 (the game, not the movie). It only has a goal of $1 which it has easily surpassed already ($8k raised) although it has a number of stretch goals, all the way up to $120k and beyond. 30 days left to go.
Next, we have Ray’s The Dead – an Action/Puzzler where you control a horde of zombies. Some members of the team worked on Stubbs the Zombie so there’s definite similarities with that title, albeit their current project looks much cuter (looks like they’re using a mix of 3D environments & 2D sprites). They’re at $13k of their $75k goal with 30 days left to go.
Finally, we have Ghost in the Machine – a retro 2D platformer that looks to be imitating the style of the old Virtual Boy system. The game will even have support for Occulus Rift (though it’s not required) for the ultimate Virtual Boy feel. They’re at $1500 of their $2k goal with 28 days left to go.
I’m sure you all will agree with us when we say that no traditional RPG world map is complete without some mode of aerial transportation. I mean, it just wouldn’t be a proper RPG if you didn’t get an airship or flying equivalent at some point in the game. So not wishing to disappoint anyone, we’ve added a “flying equivalent” to Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4.
Flying above the Underhell in Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4
Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness is almost finished. We’ll be announcing a release date soon.
Not much that caught my eye but the big game kickstarter that’s got everyone talking this week is Stonehearth. A mix between RPG, RTS, and Sandbox game with block voxel visuals by the creators of the EVO fighting tournaments, it shows a lot of promise. It’s up to $165k ($120k goal) with 26 days left to go.
RPGamer has started a new column called Indie Corner where various indie developers of RPGs talk about various aspects of the genre or their current projects. The first installment of the column can be found here and includes a section from us as well as half a dozen other developers as we discuss what we like and don’t like about RPG combat. Definitely a column to watch (and not just because we’re participating).
First, we have The Tale of Alltynex – a localization for a collection of Japanese indie shmups. Nyu Media has done great good work in the past in bringing over niche Japanese titles so I hope this kickstarter exceeds their wildest expectations. It’s already passed its goal of $5k with $9k raised and 26 days left to go.
Next, we have two fun-looking pixel-art homages to Metroid, Megaman, and the like – A.N.N.E. and Rex Rocket. Of the two, A.N.N.E. is doing a lot better with $30k raised ($70k goal) whereas Rex Rocket only has $1k of its $6k goal, but they both look very promising.
Jagged Alliance: Flashback is a new installment in the classic turn-based tactical combat game. It doesn’t look like they have a whole lot to show yet but their team has a decent pedigree (they’re doing the new Space Hulk game) so we’ll see how it goes. They’re at $82k of their $350k goal with 27 days left.
Finally, we have Theme Park Studio – a simulation game that lets you design your own theme park & various rides. It’s a $37k of its $80k goal.
Let’s discuss the design of Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine for a bit, shall we?
You start with the basic structure of Pac-Man. The key feature of Pac-Man is that the game is bipolar – it frequently switches back and forth between placing you in predator mode (kill everything!) and prey mode (run away!). Monaco’s first stroke of genius is to take this basic bipolar two-mode gameplay and seamlessly adds a third mode – puzzle mode – where you need to avoid detection and solve puzzles (none of which have one set answer). Having these three very different but related modes and having to switch between them, often very quickly, makes for a very compelling game that really rewards skill & mastery. And once the player realizes that the game isn’t really a stealth game (where your goal is to stay hidden at all costs) but is a time-attack arcade game (where your goal is to complete your objectives in the most efficient manner possible), then the whole design space really opens up.
However, Monaco doesn’t stop with its one good idea (take the bipolar gameplay of Pac-Man and make it tripolar). Its next great idea is to abandon the arena level structure of Pac-Man in favor a more typical single-player story structure with a series of unique levels (filled with unique power-ups) to complete. This is further complicated with the fact that you get to choose one of several thieves to use in the level, each with their own unique ability. Depending on which character you pick, the balance between the three modes of play (predator, prey, puzzle) may skew to one mode or the others. These two additions (unique hand-crafted levels & different abilities via character selection) serve both casual and hardcore gamers alike – casual gamers will enjoy the greater variety in gameplay provided by the various stages & playable characters, while hardcore gamers will enjoy mastering the different styles of gameplay & figuring out which are the best characters to use in each of the game’s levels.
The third great idea is how they managed to increase the complexity of Pac-Man while still keeping the learning curve very low. Beyond the direction pad, Monaco basically just uses two buttons (there’s a third button to see stats as well as a button to pause but we won’t count them). One button to use power-ups, one button to sneak (which is slower than normal movement but not agonizing slow like you see in some games). They could have added an additional button to interact with on-map items but in a very smart move, you interact with these items by just holding the direction pad in their direction. By doing this, they improved the game flow (entering a locked room just requires holding a direction rather than walk to door, hold unlock button, and then walk through door) and also increased tension – holding a button/direction that normally does something (moves) and have it do nothing but fill up a meter feels more stressful than it would have if the action was assigned to a separate button.
The fourth great idea in Monaco is how they take the abstract visual style of Pac-Man and keep part of the abstraction (retro, non-realistic visuals) while tying it to a solid theme – romanticized heist movie. This gives the player a shared background that helps them quickly understand gameplay concepts (Oh! Civilians will alert Guards if I bother them! That makes sense!) while still giving the player enough leeway to let their imagination fill in the blanks to create an amazing & immersive experience.
The fifth great idea in Monaco is that they realized that all of these gameplay systems they created could also result in a very fun, but very different experience if multiplayer co-op was added. With single-player, you have a fast-paced action/puzzle score attack game. With multiplayer, you have a fast-paced action/puzzle mayhem game where everything can (and probably will) go wrong to the amusement of everyone involved.
So in summary, Monaco’s design is genius because…
#1 – Tripolar game design where the player has to master three modes of play – predator, prey, and puzzle.
#2 – Variety through the use of hand-crafted stages & a number of unique abilities through the power-ups and the player’s choice of playable character.
#3 – Simple controls reduce the learning curve, improve the flow, and increase tension.
#4 – Mix of abstraction and theme makes the game easy to grasp while still allowing room for imagination.
#5 – Single-player and multiplayer modes cater to each medium’s strengths.
When we made Breath of Death VII: The Beginning back in early 2010, we were just trying to learn how to make an fun RPG. I remember how pleased I was when we managed to reach milestones like “Screen correctly scrolls” and “Party members follow leader in snake-like fashion.” We certainly weren’t striving to create high art. However, that hasn’t stopped one individual from writing a rather interesting analysis of the game that compares Breath of Death VII to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. You can read his article here.
I rather enjoyed the article if for no other reason than that it makes us sound far more intelligent and pretentious than we actually are. Maybe now all the cool games-as-art indie developers will let us into their club.