Over the past year I played hundreds of amazing games across a wide spectrum of team sizes, budgets and ambitions. These exemplify the best that 2014 had to offer: interesting places to explore, important achievements, or just nice ideas executed simply. I hope you’ll find them as surprising and delightful as I did.
Cory mentioned this campaign when it first launched, but the team behind the charity-driven Humble Indie Bundle 2 -- which lets you pay what you like for five top-tier indie games -- have now added all six games from this year's previous Indie Bundle, if you donate more than the overall average amount.
That means that for at least around $7.60 (you choose how much goes to the developers or organizations like EFF and Child's Play), you get eleven games: World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD, Penumbra Overture and Samorost 2 from the first bundle, along with newcomers Braid, Cortex Command, Machinarium, Osmos, and the newly released and super-stylized Revenge of the Titans.
Further unlocks like this are also expected -- the Bundlers have also just announced that Titans will go open-source if donations reach $1.75 million in the 2 days remaining in the campaign.
Click here to contribute! (Humble Indie Bundle 2, illustration by the ever-amazing Nikklas Jansson via Amanita)
It all started -- it should be noted -- with Steve Swink and Scott Anderson's Shadow Physics, revealed at the Game Developers Conference's Experimental Gameplay Sessions in 2009, and still in production at their upstart studio Enemy Airship (as yet offline, but already with this amazing logo designed by Phil Fish). After that came Lost in Shadow, Hudson's own upcoming fantasy/storybook platforming take on shadow-play.
And now, spotted very briefly at E3 in Sony's PlayStation Network reel, but now shining in a stronger light on their PlayStation.Blog, is echochrome ii, an upcoming downloadable that'll use the PlayStation Move motion controls as a flashlight to modify the game's cast shadows to solve yet more puzzle/platforming levels.
Sony's take does, to be fair, appear to be a logical next step from their original optical-illusion puzzler echochrome, but it is a curious case of Hundredth Monkey game design, and will be interesting to see how each makes its own mark as they all come to market.
Above: the first video of multiple IGF award finalist and all around fantastically ambient game Osmos running on the iPad, ahead of its July 8th App Store release date.
I've been lucky enough to spend the past couple weeks with a pre-release version of the game and it's quickly become one of my iPad favorites. You'll have to reconfigure your brain slightly to adjust to its particular brand of ambient play: though it shares some of the same basic consume-to-consume-more mechanics as something like Katamari, attempting to approach it with the same carefree knockabout spirit is a quick way to instant failure. Instead, you'll need to more slowly and strategically work your way around each level, looking for openings and playing the waiting game.
Hemisphere have more information on the new additions to the iPad version (and the iPhone version to follow a month later), and, coincidentally, Steam has the PC and Mac version of the game currently on deep discount for a mere $2.50 to give it a whirl ahead of time.
Osmos for iPad, coming July 8th [Hemisphere]
While it might not quite be on artistic par as Europe's score with arthouse film streaming service MUBI, the announcement of Hulu Plus -- an ad-supported and subscription based alternative to the current TV streaming service -- has also brought word that both the PS3 and Xbox 360 will be getting their own on-dash version.
The guided tour of the $9.99 per month service notes that the PS3 version will launch in July with full seasons of current programming (full list here), along with full series archives of shows like Buffy, X-Files and Arrested Development (full list of those here, too). An Xbox 360 version will follow after the holidays.
Currently the service is invite only, with the iPhone and iPad viewers already available as a free download on the App Store.
Read more about the new service via Hulu's latest blog post, and see the video tour here.
While I'm still in the thick of preparing the deluge of words on the good things I did see at this year's E3 (somewhere buried underneath the thick strata of identikit first person shooters were several truly rare shining gems), here's the one game I'm depressed I didn't see: Rock of Ages, the sophomore effort from Chile's ACE Team due for downloadable release in spring 2011.
At heart a seemingly simple defense-busting action-physics game, ACE Team (the same as behind recently released [and just as fantastically stylized] first-person beat-er Zeno Clash) has upped their own ante and dressed it as a fully realized art-historical world from the Renaissance, Rococo and Gothic eras.
More information should be shortly forthcoming from publisher Atlus via their teaser site here.
Rock of Ages [ACE Team]
You were the tallest one of them all, armor clad and looking rather delicious. I don't know- I suppose I have a bit of a costume fetish (and video game boys), but wow. You looked astounding in that gear. I can even begin to imagine what you'd look like without it, nor do I really care. All I am sure of is that I really want you. Seriously, haha. Costumed and masked- your identity is safe. Hell, I don't care which Helghast soldier I get. I just want one of you.
NYC artist Zach Gage should already be a familiar name both for his accidentally-controversial art/game Lose/Lose (the Space Invaders-alike that deleted a file from your hard drive on every successful kill) and, more recently, Sonic Wire Sculptor -- Amit Pitaru's generative sound app which Gage helped bring to the iPhone.
As I mentioned in the writeup of the latter, Gage has been quietly released a steady stream of stylishly low-bit apps for the iPhone, among them block-puzzler Unify, audio toy synthPond and Bit Pilot, an 8-bit asteroid dodger with sound design by chiptune artist Sabrepulse.
If you've been waiting for a good excuse to experience what Gage is all about, your chance has now arrived, as Bit Pilot's been set as a free download for today only -- grab it on iTunes here for one of the best tastes of his signature game design aesthetic before the deadline ends.
Bit Pilot [Zach Gage, iTunes link]
Saving you the trouble of coming all the way out to LA, IGN have published off-screen video of the Portal 2 demo Valve's currently demonstrating here at E3. The first gives you a bit of story background -- taking place as GlaDOS resurrects herself years after the events of the first game -- while the second two below the fold dig further into the new gameplay features, including the "propulsion pudding" paint-gun enhancements added when Valve employed the fresh student indie team behind Tag: The Power of Paint.
The best part? As always, the hapless turrets and your merciless blanking of them a minute or so in that first video.
My new first stop tomorrow when the E3 halls properly open: the Ubisoft booth, hoping to get a closer look at Child of Eden, the new motion-controlled game from Rez creator Q? and Ubisoft.
Q? have evolved Child of Eden beyond the sharp, vector-line world of Rez to a lush, bio-luminescent seascape, but look to be retaining its tunnel-vision gameplay, now with Kinect and PlayStation Move gesture control. More on this if and when I get my hands on it!
Microsoft were the first to bat at this year's E3 videogame expo, before its official Tuesday opening (following Nintendo and Sony's own presentations), with both the bacchanalia of Sunday night's Cirque du Soleil-headlined event to reveal the final form of its motion-control system now known as Kinect, and with this morning's press conference to show what the next year has in store for their flagship Xbox 360. Here's a quick rundown of what we learned:
1.) Microsoft are releasing a new, slimmer Xbox 360 model this week.
The new model, simply being referred to by Microsoft as The New Xbox 360, will be sold at the same $299 pricepoint as the current Xbox 360 Elite, but will increase the hard drive size from 120 to 250 gigs, and come standard with a built-in wi-fi adapter.
2.) Microsoft are banking on motion-interface Kinect to make the Xbox 360 a new "family console" choice.
Previously known as Natal, Kinect is a motorized camera and motion sensing bar that adds a controller-free gestural interface to the Xbox 360, due for release in North America on November 4th for a yet-unannounced price. On the console level, Kinect will add both voice and virtual touch controls to the 360's interface, as well as face recognition -- selecting your profile amongst the many on your console was demonstrated by simply facing the camera and waving.
Tomorrow I'll be headed out for week at the yearly-roman-orgy-of-videogames that is E3, and while it's not quite the indie tour-de-force of GDC, there will be a good enough number in town to make for some interesting times.
Case in point: before the expo properly begins, games-culture shop Attract Mode, Giant Robot and upstart non-profit LA Game Space will be partnering to do a free, public live event with Gaijin Games, creators of yesterday's top recommended game, Bit.Trip Runner.
The Bit.Trippers will be having their games projected onto Giant Robot's GR2 building itself -- as all games should be -- and GR.eats (their accompanying restaurant) will be offering a special Bit.Trip menu, as well.
So, you should come out! It's probably going to be pretty amazing. It'll all be taking place Monday, June 14th, from 7:30-10pm at GR2, 2062 Sawtelle Blvd, and will mark the first of a new bi-monthly series of similar 'Game Night's.
More information is available via Attract Mode and Gaijin Games. See you there!
Looksley's Line Up [Nintendo, DSiWare]
It must've been just coincidence that Nintendo released head-tracking downloadable game Rittai Kakushi e Attakoreda (Hidden 3D Image: There It Is!) in Japan just weeks before going on to announce its actual 3D DS followup, still codenamed the 3DS, especially with the confusion that followed, where many thought the demonstration video above was for the latter.
By now we know the forthcoming handheld's 3D will have little to do with tracking technology, but Looksley's Line Up (as Attakoreda has now been released as in the U.S.) still might've made a nice showcase title for the new tech.
Bit.Trip Runner [Gaijin, WiiWare]
Much has already been written (lots of it previously on Offworld) about Gaijin Games' approach to retro-inspiration with their Bit.Trip series, a franchise which digs even further back than the usual 8-/16-bit classics to gaming's earliest iconic mascots -- the block, the paddle, the ball -- and brings them forward into the 21st century with their rainbow-tinged chiptune-laden signature.
Their first three games Beat, Core, Void are suitably stark, purist games, at heart, interaction at their simplest, and almost damningly difficult, for the amount of "full screen at once" observation they require.
And then came Bit.Trip Runner: a jog forward in inspiration from Pong to Pitfall!, the first to put their Commander Video mascot at the fore, and, put plainly, the best game they've created yet.
Picross 3D [Nintendo, DS, Amazon link]
Writing about Picross 3D turns out to be more of a challenge than expected not because it's not a fantastically inspiring game, but because there's little to be added that Margaret Robertson didn't already lay out succinctly in her Offworld writeup of its import debut over a year ago.
We were obsessed with it then as much as I have become re-obsessed now, not just because the lineage of logic puzzles that came before it have remained an underdog favorite genre, but because it truly is -- as Margaret said -- the world's best representation of an entirely under-realized game design verb: sculpting.
Borne of Nintendo's original reimagining of the popular pen-and-paper logic puzzle pursuit known as nonograms (well before sudoku would, somewhat unfortunately, claim the ultimate logic crown [nonograms honestly being the more stimulating and rewarding game!]), Picross 3D is the Michelangelo equivalent to the original Picross series' semi-Seurat-ish pointillistic painting.
Cave Story [Nicalis, WiiWare]
Japan has always had its own version of an "indie game" scene, but one that's carried a certain amount of "books read right-to-left" unfamiliarity. Speaking very generally, it's never had quite the same amount of experimental flair that's taken root in the West, sticking largely to traditionalist takes on top-down shooters (see especially: Kenta 'ABA' Cho), fighters, and visual novels, distributed as hobbyist/amateur boxed goods.
Which is maybe what made Cave Story such a surprise on its initial late-2004 release. Daisuke 'Pixel' Amaya's five-year, spare-time one-man-show was, like its Western kin, a spot-on mix of platforming, shooting and exploring -- a love story to the early 8- and 16-bit games that laid the groundwork for so many indies over the past however-many years (and would itself do the same, with 'Cave Story clone' now a meme of biting dismissal among first-time creators).
WarioWare DIY [Nintendo, DS, Amazon link]
The most common pitfall suffered by would-be game designers? It's not one of language learning, or one of logic, or even one of graphical/musical skill -- it's scope. Far too often, first-timers eager to bless the world with the massive, sweeping epics they've had pent-up since their youths spent wandering Hyrule or Midgar or Britannia run face-first into a brick wall when they realize how near-impossible it is to create that coherent, engaging world as an amateur.
It's a problem borne of thinking of games as worlds rather than games as rules, and it's what makes WarioWare DIY quite possibly the best tool for aspiring designers yet, especially one available at retail.
Nintendo's long-running and (at its debut) groundbreaking WarioWare franchise has always been predicated on discrete games played for 5-10 seconds at a time, in rapid succession, and it's precisely that stripped-bare approach that makes it an ideal launchpad for re-wiring the way aspiring designers think about what makes games fun.
This is, I suppose, as much my fault as anyone's, but over the past few months, Nintendo has been moving from strength to strength with a handful of first-party and indie-developed releases that few are giving them due credit for.
To remedy that, then, over the coming week I'll be highlighting one DS or Wii game per day -- either retail or downloadable -- that's been flying too far under the mainstream radar for too long (read: a game that isn't the otherwise obviously wonderful/blockbuster Super Mario Galaxy 2).
I'm kicking that off starting now with a short look at WarioWare DIY -- Nintendo's best attempt at raising a new generation of game creators by instructing, rather than simply inspiring.
OneBigGame -- the charity-focused games publisher you will hopefully recall as being behind Zoe Mode's excellent music puzzler Chime -- has just announced the next release in their ongoing fund-raising catalog.
This time it's WINtA, a new iPhone game designed by NanaOn-Sha's Masaya Matsuura -- the developer responsible for foundational music games Parappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy and Vib Ribbon -- with the help of Dutch developers Triangle Studios.
Descriptions of the game itself are vague, for now: OneBigGame says that it "combines elements of pattern recognition challenges with the natural tendency of humans to tap along with music and words", but at top is video of an early prototype of the game from last year's GameCity festival that should give you a better idea of what to expect.
As usual, all proceeds from sales of the game will be going to charities like Save the Children and Starlight when the game is released on the App Store later this summer.
We haven't seen or heard much from Sweden's inimitable indie dev Cactus since my last extensive introduction to his Lynchian-disco-punk world. Apart from winning the 2010 IGF 'Nuovo' award for his psychoactive platformer Tuning, his Gamma IV entry (video below the fold) has essentially been his sole major unveiling in quite some time.
Just to prove he's still hard at work, though, he's updated with the smattering of concept-proofs above, and they're as strong a showing as ever. My personal favorite: the apparent human-to-car mod preview at top right, which I'm crossing my fingers is merely the select screen leading to the Cronenberg-ian future-human autobahn game I never knew I always wanted.
I'm not dead! [CACTUSQUID.com]