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My Top Three! (Part 2: Deep Feels)

Posted by
Sunday, September 13th, 2015 11:36 pm

I played around 30 games during this judging period: a modest number. It should have been easy to choose just 3 to “take the cake”, but I couldn’t do it! In light of this I’ve decided to post three top-three round-ups, grouped into rough themes. Today’s theme is “Deep Feels”, the games that best punched my heart-guts.

Separated, by rxi, established its lonely mood from every angle. The monster’s slow pace and sad eyes, its inability to speak, the lighting, drifting fireflies, and sound design all contribute to a very touching setting. The author draws special attention to the monster’s isolation by giving us an action button that is clearly the pitiful creature’s best attempt at communication… alas to everyone else it is terrifying nonsense.



Alice & August, by nic, is something like Dear Esther in its design. We are given a series of rooms to wander between, with each one bringing us a little closer to understanding our relationship to the absent other. Another very interesting choice is the lack of animation: the avatar is a still sprite, sliding through a maze. At times, however, we have to cross a long, featureless hallway and without animation to give us a sense of the passage of time we become anxious. Our anxiety — as to whether time is passing in a meaningful way at all, or whether the game has crashed — mirrors the protagonist’s anxiety after their own life spiraled out of control.

Alice & August

The Fifth Apartment, by Bruno Poli, Klos Cunha, and Ricardo Bess, is a strange thing indeed. If I had to give it a genre I might say point-and-click, but honestly I think that would be a mistake. It is a psychological horror that explores themes of loss, mental illness, and age. In the game we occupy the body of an old woman alone in an apartment, surrounded by her regrets (by, as the team puts it, her monsters). We are forced to wander back and forth in the apartment, day after day, watching strange alienating television to pass the time or just standing on the balcony. The game is littered with occasional flashes of something darker, eyes watching from beneath the bed, or the conspiratorial whispers heard through the pipes. The game certainly takes a page from Polanski’s The Tenant (Roman, not Lana).

The Fifth Apartment

These three games each impressed me, but I honestly can’t say enough about The Fifth Apartment: this is a candidate for my game of the year. It is certainly my most highly rated game of LD33, but it also goes above and beyond in terms of presentation, subject matter, lack of clear genre, and just being sophisticated. This is the kind of game.

Ziggy (the Z in ZNCatLaw)

(check out part 1)


My Top Three! (Part 1: Ludum Darlings)

Posted by
Saturday, September 12th, 2015 8:06 pm

I loved way more than three games. Out of the ~30 I played, I think I absolutely adore closer to 10 of them. So I’ve decided to share them in clumps around a theme. First I’d like to draw attention to entries by developers who I’ve followed for a while: people who’ve made amazing games in the past and who are just really consistent.

Tangram Games (Simon Larsen and Lukas Erritsø), the team that brought us the absolutely fabulous Dream Witch Erika, is back again me with a ton of laughs and fun challenges this time around in Trick Parade! They are joined by collaborator Hernan Zhou, who also worked with them on the excellent N.O.D.E. for LD32. Trick Parade feels like a mash-up of WarioWare and Earth Bound, in the sense that it provides a bunch of weird mini-games in a light-hearted (but scary) contemporary JRPG setting. Definitely check it out!

Alvivar (Andrés Villalobos) has a captivating and consistent minimalist style that runs through their work. I was really impressed by Drybreed, their entry in the 32nd LD. While their LD33 entry, Primer, doesn’t have the same degree of depth, it does not lack polish. The mood and game feel are interesting and compelling, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it. Play it if you haven’t!

Click to play!

Deepnight (Sébastien Bénard) has been made a game every LD since LD19. The games follow a tight visual thread, though the themes and gameplay style vary greatly. I was particularly impressed by Chipset-0, which came out of LD30 and just really blew my mind. Deepnight’s current offering is Delicious Cortex, a hilarious ironic and simple yet absorbing mix of RTS and puzzle. The levels remind me a little of the early levels in Starcraft’s story-mode, in which a smaller force must carefully eat away at ( in this case literally) a more powerful foe. Play this game, OK!?

Delicious Cortex

There it is, my Ludum Darlings. Lots of love and keep making amazing things!

Expect part 2 sometime tomorrow!

Ziggy (the Z in ZNCatLaw)

(check out part 2)

Fluid Local Multiplayer

Posted by
Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 4:31 pm

Let players join/leave as they please!

When we were initially brainstorming for the jam, we were all tickled by the idea of controlling laser eye-beams with the analog sticks: each stick would independently control one laser blasting eye. Once the sticks are involved, it’s easy to add more players: just add more eyes! At some point we started talking about leaving all the eyes on screen, but closed, and allowing players to join the game whenever they want. On top of this, we made the number of enemies that spawn in each wave increase proportional to the number of active players so that the game remains challenging with more players (in truth, it is probably a little too challenging).

I really like this concept! I’ve taken to calling it “fluid local multiplayer” and have been thinking about it quite a lot since. I’m not convinced that it really does anything for our game, but I think there are some situations in which fluid local multiplayer might be really really cool.

It doesn’t really work for our game

The reason I suspect this system doesn’t add anything to our game is because a sessions of It Came from the Rift is short and discrete. The round has a clear beginning and end, and there isn’t really enough time for players to need to pick up or put down controllers. It is a fun little trick that I find aesthetically pleasing, but it is a little out of place. One thing it does is eliminate the need for a “join” screen, where players do something inane like choosing a colour or pressing ‘A’, but I much prefer the way Samurai Gunn solved this.

It could enhance long running games

I think fluid local multiplayer might make a big difference in longer running games, like Crawl, Risk, Game of Thrones (the board game), or the upcoming Moon Hunters by kitfox. These sorts of games often require players to join together, play through the entire session, and then end the game together. In some cases, like Risk, players can be eliminated during the game and then must spend the rest of the afternoon eating Cheetos (this is the worst). How many times have you been playing a long running board game and been like “ugh, I have to go for dinner”. If those games were built with concessions for fluid local multiplayer, someone leaving early (or arriving late) wouldn’t be a problem. I kind of look forward to trying to make a game like this: it seems like it would be an interesting design challenge.

Another situation where I can see fluid local multiplayer being cool would be when you show a game at a convention, festival, or meet-up. At events like this, you have players wandering in and out of your magic circle, and they won’t always want to wait for the next round to begin. If a 3-player round has already started, and that 4th arrives, they might not stick around to wait for the current game to finish. This is kind of a special case of the long running game problem: all games are “long-running” when there is a line-up.

What might a fluid local multiplayer game look like?

I don’t doubt that this already exists in some form in some games. I can’t imagine an example just now, but I’m sure they are out there. It would be cool to see a game tailored around the fluid local multiplayer dynamic. Right now I’m hacking on something like a match-3 puzzle: players guide blocks down a puzzle column and match chains of the same colour to earn points. Since fluid local multiplayer has been on my mind, I started imagining a tournament game mode in which players try to “dethrone” the current player. Something like,

  • One player starts with the crown, and can earn points by breaking blocks
  • There are as many puzzle columns as there are active players
  • Players who join can try to steal the crown by dropping blocks on the leading player
  • When you eliminate an opponent, you steal their crown and can start earning points

This rule-set has problems, but something similar might be a really fun party game. In my imagination, new puzzle columns come smashing onto the screen, pushing existing columns aside. I can imagine a couch of six players, with the controllers being passed around as each player in turn tries to dethrone the current king of blocks before they earn too many points.

I’m (opting) in!

Posted by
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 11:34 am

It Came from the Rift

Our entry in the Jam section of the 33rd Ludum Dare is called It Came from the Rift. In it, you play a crazy weird eye lazer shooting horror from beyond the edge of reason hell bent on the end of intergalactic civilization. We got together on the weekend and made this game in 72 hours using all manner of tools and techniques known to us.

I sure wrote a lot of code! I basically sat in a chair for the whole weekends, tapping away madly at my computer, working on gameplay and “feel”. @nomoon sat beside me and worked on sound design, a pixel perfect animated parallax background, and a variety of other systems. Special guest Cudahy — who we say puts the “++” back in ZNC++atLaw — carefully crafted controller support and massive eye lazers that look and feel wonderful. @clangmuir, the brains of the operation, was busy the whole weekend with graphics: making the creepy looking eyes roll around in their sockets, choosing and tailoring the different eye colors so that they would be distinct without looking ham-fisted, and creating the really cool looking texture that forms the beast’s body. As well as the graphics for the lazers, each colored to fit the owner’s eye. And the ships. Did I mention the ships? He found those in a sprite-bank, but the choice wasn’t random: at one point I saw him puzzling over a set of four or five sprite sheets, comparing how they looked alongside the beast.

You see, @clangmuir’s art is the art of remix. He has an eye for design. He pours hours into his work, chopping up layers, recombining, and touching up, preparing things for the procedural animation step, and using content aware photoshop tools to turn a obscure Japanese SNES era graphics into something wholly contemporary and wholly his own.

When I submitted our game I had a momentary brain fart. We were going to opt out of the Sound category because the main theme of our game is stolen straight up and without permission from a musician who goes by Bleeds. In that moment, I thought: oh, all our pixel art comes from other games so I should opt out of that too! I couldn’t have been more wrong. The art of remix is completely valid, and I would defend @clangmuir’s labor. None of our pixel art “comes from other games”. It comes from the crazed imagination of a sleep-deprived genius using professional software tools I’ve never even touched.

So that’s why I’ve opted to opt back in to the graphics category. So go check out our game, and give the graphics category some well needed attention (or update your vote, if you’ve played already). @clangmuir spent the whole Jam making graphic and animations for our game, and as a result it looks amaaaaazing!

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