Creator Spotlight Interview: Daniel Coady: indie game developer, creator, artist, dstnce runner

Meet Daniel Coady, a creative design artist and storyteller from Melbourne, Australia, also a pro full stack developer into computing, graphics and games programming, and more. They are continuously working on multiple side projects while seeking new challenges.

Recently, Daniel Coady released their first game dstnce, a indie game for PC’s via Steam and Itch. At a glance, dstnce can easily be judged for something very simple and goggly cute. But throughout, is a deeper surreal experience, and a test of resilience in a seemingly lighthearted world that centers around isolated, limited small environment that is quite familiar to situations many face in our ongoing Covid global pandemic. Here, is a bit more..

Here is a trailer…

After getting to know them through a series of fun game streams, we had asked Daniel Coady about creating and releasing dstnce, the process of game development, and the fine art of creativity. The answers were insightful, as we learned more in our interview below…

Hello Daniel, tell us a little bit about yourself and your game development inspirations…

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, be it in my early years when I tried to make a crappy little laptop I picked up for $20 run faster, by installing Ubuntu (this was back when it was still using Unity DE, so my fellow Linux users probably understand how well that went down (haha) or right now where in my spare time I like to learn about cool new tech and play around with emulation dev. So, it’s fair to say that I’ve got come inclination towards technology, specifically programming. As well as this though I always found it to be incredibly important to be able to broaden my horizons so that I’m not just always working on computers. This lead to me to pursue hobbies such as photography, 3D modelling/animation, skateboarding, and music.

So, rewind back to high school for me, back when I used to play way more games than I do now. I had a hand-me-down Xbox 360 which was pretty run down but still functioning, and I also had a shared family PC that while pretty not great by even the standards back then did function… mostly. Around this time I also got my first job so I had all this money, and in turn freedom, to explore what games had to offer. This is when I discovered the likes of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Thomas Was Alone, and Bastion. These games really made me feel things in a way that nothing else did, like it was all genuinely powerful and excellent media. Up until this point I had dabbled in game dev before (started making tiny dungeon crawlers in GameMaker way back when I was like… 8-9 or something) but never thought much of doing it “for real”. This changed everything for me though and I set my sights pretty hardcore on becoming a professional game developer.

So, it was settled, and near the end of high school, I decided to drop out to study game dev. Quite frankly, it didn’t go too well. I didn’t learn much in the way of game dev outside of how to use Blender (which has actually come in handy a fair few times), so most of my time was spent trying to find resources online to teach myself. I soon found a Discord server which at the time was called TairaGames Dev Squad (a server for a YouTuber called TairaGames, also on Discord) and is now called Game Dev 101, and I used it extensively to learn about game dev from others as well as share my knowledge of game dev. Fast forward to now, I’ve spent roughly 3 years in computer science and am about to enter my fourth and final year. I’ve been teaching myself game dev while learning as much as I can from others who are far smarter than me.

That brings us to dstnce, a very different game than what many would expect, which feels abstract in its execution. What were your inspirations in the creation process?

It’s kinda hard to nail down all the inspirations that make up dstnce since it truly is inspired by the various bits of art and experiences I’ve had in my lifetime. There’s a few things of note however which have fairly large, and sometimes glaringly obvious, inspirations upon my game:

Make Yourself At Home – This was a jam game a couple mates of mine, Cat Flynn and Cinder Foster-Smith, made many moons ago now. The entire aesthetic of the game was constructed using vector graphics drawn in Inkscape which I found to be fairly distinct and friendly in tone, matching a part of the vibe I was looking for. Using MYAH! as a reference point, I started off by replicating the art and then tweaking it to get the more clean, almost clinical aesthetic you see in dstnce.

The Rhapsody Tapes – One of my all time favourite albums by my favourite band: Ocean Grove. In general, OG really push a message of being yourself and make it explicit that their music has no right or wrong interpretation. I love this so much, the idea of “the death of the author”, because to me art ceases to be the artist’s meaning and instead is now open to how one perceives it. Everyone comes from different walks of life, experiencing different things which shapes their perspective. Because of this, we as creators should respect that. This is why there is no explicit meaning to dstnce — the game is what you make of it.

The COVID-19 Lockdown – I mean, it’s pretty obvious given the current context. dstnce is heavily inspired by my own experiences during the lockdown and just general feelings I have which have been exacerbated by the whole situation at hand. This said, and only time will tell if this is true, I wanted to create something that is more timeless than just a game based on lockdown. There’s loads of art coming out currently that relates directly to lockdown which is great, but I question how much of it will stand the test of time. Sure it may become an interesting time capsule, some insight for future generations to look upon and understand how lockdown shaped us, but to me dstnce is something more. For me, it also touches upon various topics of abandonment, isolation, and hopelessness that may be found in day-to-day life outside of COVID, and I hope that with the power of retrospect this will continue to be the case for myself and others.

What were the biggest challenges in developing and releasing dstnce for release on Steam?

Oh man, so much. I knew getting a game onto a storefront would be a big ordeal, but it turns out it was even more complicated than I thought. I won’t go into great detail on the process cause it’s pretty boring, but the one thing I will say I wish I did was offer myself more time to sort it out. I had the foresight to fix up the legal stuff at the start when signing up to be a Steamworks Developer, but then I put off actually sorting out the store page and such for dstnce until it was completed. So come the end of development, I found out quickly that setting up the store page and build shenanigans would take a long time. So the game was actually completed roughly 3 weeks before it dropped, with one week spent going back and forth with Valve to get approval for my store page and two weeks being the mandatory waiting period between the storefront going up as “coming soon” and the game actually going live. So yeah, anyone reading this who plans to get their game onto Steam: sort out your store page and do it early. It can be a lot more pain than you may initially think.

Dstnce has parallels with the current lockdowns and quarantines that many of us are feeling. Has developing dstnce affected your dealings with the ongoing pandemic?

Kinda, yeah. It’s actually a recurring theme for me to create things when I am feeling my worst. I find art in general to be a great outlet for me, both to get my feelings “down on paper”, but also so that I can explore where I’m at and get a bit of a better sense of how I’m feeling, and in turn act upon those feelings. In regards to dstnce I think the thing it’s helped me come to terms with most is that these feelings I have aren’t exclusive to me. A lot of folks who have played dstnce and sent me their experiences with it have expressed how they’ve connected with it, and a lot of them relate to the same things that I do. It’s helped me feel less alone in what otherwise might feel like isolating feelings that others don’t understand. Also, it was really nice to see that lots of people decided to interpret things in a positive light 🙂 I hope that positivity spreads.

Are there any plans in new game development beyond dstnce?

Yeah, actually! Almost immediately after completing dstnce I started design work on a new game. I don’t like talking too much on what’s next cause, well, I don’t actually know if this is what truly will be next. What does and doesn’t get completed is totally up in the air so I don’t talk about my projects heaps until they’re well past the pre-prod stage. What I will say though is no matter what I do next, I have zero intention to stagnate. I want to branch out and explore my capabilities to design and create truly wonderful experiences for people to play. This does mean there will not be a dstnce 2, and in fact that I doubt many future games will mirror dstnce all that much. I don’t wanna become a one trick pony, so I’m gonna continue exploring and expanding my horizons.

Thank you for your time, as we encourage all to check out dstnce currently available directly on Steam and Itch.. Also follow Daniel Coady on Twitter @fakemuso, on Itch and their own site at pondo.dev.

New STRANGER BRIGADE game trailer reveals perilous pulp action

Rebellion, creators of Sniper Elite 4 and Zombie Army Trilogy, recently unveiled its trailer for Strange Brigade, an exotic safari into danger in a third-person 1930s adventure full of peril, mystery and derring-do…

NEW REVEAL TRAILER:

The Strange Brigade will be 1-4 players, and coming soon to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

The story and pitch:

“There are remote corners of the British Empire where the supernatural lurks and the shadows linger, where few dare go and fewer return. In STRANGE BRIGADE™ you’ll encounter fantastic and forgotten civilizations shrouded in mystery, uncover treacherous tombs and test your wits against unfathomable foes. You’ll explore the ancient world as one of four dashing explorers, each blessed with their own weapons, tactics, and special superhuman powers… You’ll fight back-to-back against a terrifying army of mythological menaces, unleashed by no less than a resurrected Egyptian witch queen! With such ungodly evil afoot, the STRANGE BRIGADE™ needs YOU!”

Some gameplay and more details, coming soon at the upcoming 2017 E3 Expo, in Los Angeles. In meantime, here are some gorgeous screenshots:

 

Mipumi Games announces THE LION’S SONG final chapter and mobile version

Austrian indie developer Mipumi Games recently announced the full release of their award-winning adventure series The Lion’s Song as its final episode of the “Closure” will release in July. Also in the same month, its mobile version will début on IOS and Android platforms.

The Lion’s Song series comes full circle since its first episode premiered in July 2016, with its memorable and evocative story-driven gameplay, stylized graphics and haunting soundtrack. For those yet familiar with the game…

Each episode of The Lion’s Song, a narrative adventure game steeped in early 20th-century history, showcases a cast of fictional Austrian artists and scientists each blessed with an exceptional creative mind. With each chapter taking a closer look at their intimate struggles with creativity and inspiration, players can take the characters on very different paths and enjoy alternative playthroughs. The choices players make in each episode will have a direct impact on the storylines of all future and past episodes, connecting the individual episodes of The Lion’s Song into one overarching narrative. Emotions will run high as players make connections with each character, and work to navigate and experience their lives in different ways with different outcomes.

Episode 4 “Closure,” will take players on a mysterious train journey that brings together three strangers and connects the storylines of all three previously released episodes. What stories will they share along the way and where will their journey end?

Mipumi Games recently released a new trailer:

The Season Pass for The Lion’s Song containing all four episodes is now available on Steam for £8.99 / €9.99 / $9.99. Alternatively, Episode 1 – Silence is available for free with the other episodes available for £3.49 / €3.99 / $3.99 each. Episode 4 will launch on Steam in July, along with the complete season available on iOS and Android mobile platforms.

For more information on The Lion’s Song, visit www.lionssonggame.com.

Tech-noir tactics ALL WALLS MUST FALL indie game Kickstarter succeeds and exceeds

Independent developer, inbetweengames, recently announced its tech-noir tactics game All Walls Must Fall successfully completed its Kickstarter funding campaign (€36,576, $39,193) at over double its initial goal (€15,000, $16,073).

For those not familiar, All Walls Must Fall is an isometric tactics game where the action happens to the pulsing beat of the music. You control time-traveling secret agents as they jump and loop through a single night in the city of Berlin. Using a pausable real-time system, carefully plan your decisions and use powerful time manipulation abilities to your advantage, as you carry out your mission in the shadows or in plain sight. Levels are procedurally recombined using a bespoke system developed by inbetweengames, giving All Walls Must Fall a highly replayable campaign structure, while still offering individually crafted components and set-pieces.

The story: The Cold War never ended. For 150 years, both sides have used time manipulation technology to observe and counter each other’s every move. Now this fragile state of affairs is approaching breaking point, as a rogue nuclear strike has been ordered that will send the world into turmoil. Both sides have scrambled to send agents back in time to find the person behind the order in the hope they might prevent it. If they fail, the whole world will turn to ash, forever.

The trailer:

 

Many stretch goals have been met, including:

“Vandalism”  – Increased environment destructibility and a deepening of the game’s cover system.
“Drone Warfare” – Hackable enemy drones added as well as new mission and room types.
“Bad Language” – New dialogue options added as well as the ‘disinformation’ mission type.
“Discrimination” – New gameplay centered around the nightmare of clubbing door policy to life while also diversifying the club’s range of NPCs.

Also, two new music tracks with a further track announced during the campaign. Jukio Kallio (Nuclear Throne, LUFTRAUSERS) has contributed a pulsating acid techno workout while Ben Prunty (FTL, Gravity Ghost) has added a 8-bit electro crawler. Esteemed electronic producer Kuedo (Severant, Slow Knife) is providing a dark and minimal techno track, rife with the future anxieties the game depicts.

“We’re totally overwhelmed by the support of our generous backers,” said Jan David Hassel, Designer at inbetweengames. “The Kickstarter went way over what any of us could have reasonably expected or hoped for. Now the real fun, not to mention hard work, begins as we deliver on the turning the Kickstarter into a reality. We’re totally committed to giving players the dopest, future soviet club experience possible.”

All Walls Must Fall is planned for initial release via Early Access on Steam. For more info on its Kickstarter campaign, further funding, and release info, visit the Kickstarter page.

Battle Princess Madelyn Kickstarter ends successfully, with 354% funded

Independent gaming Canadian company Causal Bit Games just announced their Kickstarter funding target for its new game, Battle Princess Madelyn, has successfully closed at 354% of its prime goal.

For those yet familiar, here is the trailer:

Battle Princess Madelyn attracted 3,402 backers who pledged CA$212,665 (about $159.00 US), surpassing it’s original CA$60,000 goal.  Nearly all of its stretch goals were filled as a result, adding much extra content to the game. Further funding will continue through the company Paypal store, seeking to fill in the remaining stretch goals.

“The campaign for Battle Princess Madelyn was an incredible and humbling experience. We honestly didn’t anticipate such a strong response for our game and it’s absolutely overwhelming hearing how people can relate to Maddi’s story. With this level of funding we will deliver our vision and make the game the very best it can be,” said Christopher Obritsch, Creative Director at Causal Bit Games. “For those of you who wanted to support our game, but were unable to pledge on the Kickstarter, we’re happy to say that we now have a PayPal Store open that mirrors the campaign’s tiers!”

Battle Princess Madelyn seeks to release on Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. For more info on its Kickstarter campaign, further funding, and release info, check out www.battleprincessmadelyn.com.

In the meantime, here are some extra screencaps of the upcoming game (thanks to Casual Bit Games).

 

TETHERED strategy VR game now playable without VR

Indie games studio Secret Sorcery recently revealed a non-VR, 2D mode (to PC players via Steam) for its acclaimed game, Tethered.

Through a new update, Tethered can be experienced in gameplay for all intrigued by its unique visual aesthetic with strategy-driven gameplay. The developers behind titles like LittleBigPlanet, Driveclub and MotorStorm added other features to its new mode. Such includes two new control methods, a dusk and dawn checkpoint-style save system and adds divine slow-motion and fast-forward features, allowing players to set their own pace. Players can also skip the tutorial and jump straight into the game. Also added, is 4k resolution with 60Hz support, for systems that can handle such.

More on the game itself, from the developers: “Become a Spirit Guardian in Tethered, caring for the adorable and industrious Peeps. Their beautiful island paradise has descended into chaos, ransacked nightly by a plague of wicked creatures. By gathering an ancient and mystical life force known as Spirit Energy and helping the Peeps build up their settlement and resources in preparation for nightfall, you can restore balance and banish the wicked blight once and for all! Tethered features 13 exquisitely crafted levels, a competitive leaderboard (which contrasts your godly prowess with that of your friends) and a superb G.A.N.G. award nominated interactive score.”

“It didn’t feel right that players who weren’t ready to leap into the realms of VR couldn’t experience the magical worlds of Tethered, so we rebuilt the game to support a more traditional style of PC play”, said Scott Kirkland, Managing Director of Secret Sorcery. “By removing the requirement for a VR headset, we’re fulfilling the promise that we made to ourselves and fans in terms of opening up Tethered to more players. Now all PC gamers can enjoy this wonderful sky-borne island world that we’ve so lovingly created”

Trailer to the WithoutVR version:

Tethered is now available for PC, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive via Steam. For more info on Tethered and its developers, visit www.secretsorcery.com.

Indie digital board game ANTIHERO, coming this summer

Versus Evil recently today announced its strategic digital board game, Antihero, to launch on July 12th, 2017 for the PC (and planned for Mac, mobile devices eventually).

Antihero is developed by Tim Conkling, whose new single and multiplayer turn-based strategy game is based on strategy.

Screenshots here:

In Antihero, gamers play the part of the feared and revered master thief in a Victorian gas-lit underworld.  Using lanterns to upgrade their skills and gold coins to hire a variety of less than pleasant characters to do their dirty work, they have to take over each territory before their opponent does.

The Preview Trailer:

The full release is set to include a single player campaign mode, a vs AI mode, two multiplayer modes, Casual Match and Live Match modes (timed turns). Players may also invite a friend or be matched with an online opponent.

Preorders via Steam may currently receive 20% off the suggested retail price, and freely receive its DLC character pack, “The Book Club.” This pack contains four Master Thief skins based on well-known literary characters: Miss Alice, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Sherlock Holmes, and Tiny Tim.

For info on Antihero, visit antihero-game.com.

Game Playing Review: Animal Gods

Animal Gods (Steam version)

Synopsis:

Animal Gods

The Animal Gods have fallen. Once sacred, they are now husks—haunted beasts lost to toxic fumes from a great bronze industry. Play as Thistle, a small & agile warrior hellbent on destroying the curse that plagues these creatures. Wield a 17th century BC Bronze Sword… and set the Gods free..

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 2.8 unfortunate hours of gameplay via Steam review code)

Animal Gods 2

This was the most agonizing three hours of gameplay in recent memory.

Not every game is born equal, and as such my expectations of any one game are generally quite open and reasonable. But when your opening line and description on Kickstarter is that:

“Animal Gods is a stylized top-down action / adventure game set in Bronze Age Europe, 15th century BC. The game pairs the tight and polished action of The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds  with a cast of characters and touching story moments that might remind you of classic 90’s JRPGS

I am almost offended! This game is neither action/adventure or RPG in the slightest, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.

A more accurate description of Animal Gods is that it is a Little Red Riding Hood simulator where you wander through a ghost town, using your incredibly underwhelming (and situational) powers for the sole purpose of reading a teenage girl’s diary entries. As ridiculous as this sounds, I hope you never actually play to find out that I am 100% right.

In quantifiable gaming terms, Animal Gods is more like a platformer/puzzle type game than anything else. As the main character Thistle, you must navigate three different dungeons using the themed power of that dungeon to liberate the trapped god inside, conveniently finding bits of scattered lore throughout the in-game world.

While the game does have its moments of fun, one of the main flaws of Animal Gods is that it doesn’t give its audience any reason to feel emotionally attached.

Give me a reason to feel!

Animal Gods 12

The cast of memorable characters and touching moments talked about in the Kickstarter description are rather curious, because they don’t exist. It is a stretch to claim that there is a cast of characters when the three other characters are only mentioned in the diary entries, never once appearing in the game (save one dead one if you want to get technical). Interacting with the gods is also a shallow experience, lasting at the most 30 seconds with no real questions answered.

I would imagine that the main purpose of Animal Gods is for Thistle to restore the gods and find out the tragic backstory of this civilization–but who exactly are we doing this for? There is not a single living person in the game aside from Thistle, and we know nothing about her. Where is she from, and why does she care about any of this? There are no answers to any of these questions.

Animal Gods 24

Also, there is no conflict. Whoever caused this abomination to happen is nowhere to be found. Restoring these ‘haunted beasts’ to their former god status is as easy as completing a few puzzles (the boss fights literally ARE puzzles instead of fights), and nobody is trying to stop you. An argument can be made for the one solitary cube enemy type that serve to provide some sort of resistance as they MUST be killed to progress, but they have such little personality that they may as well not be there. Instead of tension which is good in an action game, there is only annoyance.

In short, someone flipped on all the lights in an abandoned house, and it is your job to simply flip them off.

Not very compelling, is it.

An exploration in frustrating game mechanics

Animal Gods 11

Although connecting emotionally with this game was impossible, I was at least hoping it would be fun to play.

Unfortunately, I knew right away once I had control of my character that this was going to be a bad experience. Due to Thistle’s crippling walking speed, the ‘over the top’ camera view and size of my character in comparison to the relative environment was a curious choice that quickly wore out its welcome. If you think her ‘agile’ movement is laughable now, wait until you see the leg cramps she gets when stairs are present.

In the above picture, it took my character nearly 15 seconds to walk from one end of that gigantic uninspired stage backdrop to the other. There are multiple instances of this happening, with the most frustrating walk lasting 30 mind-numbing seconds until I reached my deserved reward, which was, you guessed it, reading yet another poorly written diary entry–which brings me to my next point.

Animal Gods 23The second clue I had that this game would be substandard was when I didn’t have control over the text speed within the dialogue box. It was far too slow. If you pair that with the slow walking speed, and the fact that most of the exploration in Animal Gods leads the player to find more of these diary entries…it truly feels like the game is holding you hostage.

These seem like nitpicky details to judge a game from right off the bat, but these simple quality of life considerations should be absolute no-brainers when putting a game together. If these pedestrian details were overlooked, you can only imagine the lack of polish on some of the more important mechanics.

Animal Gods 22One such mechanic was adequately defining map boundaries. As pictured above, the left side of the picture gives an example of an edge your character would die upon crossing, but the right side of the picture shows a similar edge you had to cross to continue progress of that map.

If you’re going to introduce a game mechanic, it has to remain consistent through the entire game (unless directly addressed with a logical reason as to why it changed). Otherwise it looks like a sloppy oversight, and can be especially frustrating for a puzzle type game.

Animal Gods 14

However, the most frustrating mechanic of all, by far, is the fact that your character is ability gated throughout the game for no reason at all. Thistle has the ability to dash, use a sword, and shoot an arrow, but she is only able to do so in specified areas of the game. This only serves to cripple an already limiting game even further. If the dash ability was unlocked for the entire game, I am sure I could have finished the game in under 2 hours instead of the 3 that it took.

To be completely fair, some of the puzzle sections in Animal Gods were enjoyable. Thistle’s movement is much more fluid during the puzzle sequences, and the dashing mechanic was fun to some extent even if it was at times a bit unwieldy. Despite these positives, there are simply too many things holding this game back for them to make a difference.

Kickstarter curiosities

Animal Gods 25

The information on Kickstarter regarding Animal Gods is a little misleading.

Currently, the Steam client says that Animal Gods was released October 12, 2015, and has a price of $9.99, yet the Kickstarter campaign says the game is slated for a fourth quarter 2016 release.

However, if you look at their campaign updates (and scroll down a little), in May they announced the game coming out ahead of schedule. While this is well and good, the screenshots in their campaign almost look like they are from a completely different game. The graphics are updated, a world map exists, there are more enemies, weapons have new abilities, and damage points are now displayed whenever a weapon connects with a monster.

I understand that games often look different and have different features added/removed during development, but the final product of Animal Gods looks like a stripped down car resting on cinder blocks. What gives?

There is absolutely zero reason for a paid version of Animal Gods to exist as a final product in the Steam store when it is very clearly unfinished. If the developers ran out of money or encountered issues, they should have delayed release of the game, priced it accordingly, or at least offered some sort of goodwill on the Steam page that they would continue adding features to the game post-release. At the end of the day, people are still spending their hard earned dollars on this game.

Closing Thoughts

TriangleIt pains me to say that this picture of a triangle is more like any Zelda game than Animal Gods will ever be.

The fact that the game is so wildly different than advertised leads me to objectively say that I do not recommend this game, even if went on sale.

Animal Gods may look like an action/adventure game, but blow in its general direction and that cardboard illusion falls flat on its back. It is a shame considering the game is visually intriguing at times, but it is merely a husk of what it aspired to be–if it aspired at all.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Undertale

Undertale (Steam version)

    • Genre: RPG
    • Release Date: Sep 15 2015, Price: $9.99
    • Development: tobyfox
    • Platform: Windows PC, Mac OS, Steam, Wii U (November)
    • Official Site: http://undertale.com/

Synopsis:

“In this RPG, you don’t have to kill anyone. Each enemy can be “defeated” nonviolently. Dance with a slime. Pet a dog. Whisper your favorite secret to a knight. Or, ignore this choice and rain destruction upon your foes.”

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 11 hours of gameplay)

Undertale 1I have completed many RPGs during my time as a video game reviewer, but I can’t say I’ve felt such a vast mixture of emotions and attachment to any one game in such a short period of time.

The best way to describe Undertale (and stay with me here) would be that it is a cheeseburger at first sight, something that many people are quite familiar with. But once you taste it, it also surprises you with an ice cream flavor you were craving, a kombucha tea flavor that you would have never tried but are now glad you did, and the unexpected kick of a bratty little kid that surprised you but didn’t hurt too much.

If you like surprising cheeseburgers (and RPGs), you will love Undertale and everything it offers.

(Editor’s note: The following review will not contain direct spoilers, because the game is much more impactful the less you know about it)

Action in pacifism

Undertale Review 8

Initially, this game has the classic fantasy RPG framework. There is an age old war between humans and monsters, and you as the main character somehow wind up right in the middle of monster territory. You will navigate towns and dungeons, find cool items, and engage in random battles while making your way back home– but right away the game encourages the player to “strike up a friendly conversation” instead of fighting when facing conflict. You might be thinking, “OK, so instead of mindlessly pushing X to attack, I push X to talk and win battles”, but it isn’t quite so simple.

Undertale Review 2

This is not one-hug-fits-all, and you can’t just ‘nice’ someone to death. Each monster has a unique personality, with likes and dislikes that may not be obvious at first glance. In addition, some monster’s behaviors change completely when paired up with other monsters, resulting in old dialogue choices no longer pacifying the monsters in these new situations.

Undertale Review 3

Even if you come in peace, monsters will still attack you because, well, they’re monsters! This will result in an interactive ‘bullet-hell‘ type phase where the player (represented by a heart) will have to dodge the monster’s attacks. Each monster has a unique set of attacks which can range from legitimately dangerous to downright bizarre. Once you have proven yourself peaceful to the monster, you will be able to end the battle and continue forward. For a game which promotes pacifism, the player is always actively involved.

Undertale Review 4
This is the timed attack system where the player must push the action button right as the vertical line passes through the center of the screen (indicated by the neon green area).

What kind of person are you when nobody is looking?

While the choice to attack or remain a pacifist is completely up to the player, the consequences to these choices are very real. The world at large is directly impacted, and can quickly turn into a very scary place if you decide to kill everyone. Generally, video games are a judgement free zone allowing players to do whatever they’d like, but make no mistake about it–Undertale is judging you. This game keeps track of the monsters you’ve killed, the times you’ve died, and even the times you have reloaded the game!

Did you accidentally kill an important character, and reload your save file to let them live instead? Not only does the game know, but it will even confront you about it. This apparent sentience is quite unsettling, and leads into creating one of the most terrifying final boss encounters I have ever faced in any game.

Undertale may look cute and simple in appearance, but the fact that you never really know what it’s judging or thinking leaves you with a slightly creepy feeling at times.

It’s all about the details

Undertale Review 5

The game has witty design, but not in the way that you might think. In fact, I would say some of the game design is rather rudimentary. The map layout isn’t the most innovative, and reaching previously cleared areas could be a little more convenient. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult or groundbreaking, and it’s no secret that the graphics are dated. Even the attack system is fairly old-hat, minus the details of the ‘bullet-hell’ scenarios.

So why is this game good?

In the modern gaming world where superior looks and flashy gameplay allow a game to have unimaginative stories and uninspiring character motivations, Undertale places all of it’s efforts into creating highly relatable moments that are funny, but dark and real at the same time. The main goal of Undertale is connecting the player with the world, providing breaks from this emotional connection with action sequences, rather than vice versa.

Undertale Review 9

This results in interacting with a world that has every detail completely thought out, and boy does this world have charm. The jokes may be as small as funny area descriptions ‘You can’t go through the fire exit, because you’re not made of fire’, to completely defying traditional RPG mechanics such as a vendor rejecting buying your ‘old branches and used bandages’ for fear of going out of business. The game always tries to keep you on your toes, and the effect is two-fold for any RPG veteran (or pun enthusiast).

The world also has very personable characters, my favorite being the robot TV-personality who is programmed to have an obsession with killing you. He may be a maniac, but his aspirations of killing you are almost as strong as entertaining the monsters of Undertale, making sure he only attempts to kill you while on national television. Since the monsters of Undertale mostly have a bleak future, he takes it upon himself to make sure that future has some distraction and entertainment, which is oddly admirable.

Closing Thoughts

Undertale Review 7

Undertale is a must play for RPG lovers, as well as people who are looking for an experience outside of the usual. Even though this game only came out last month, I can already tell it will have a cult following. There are currently many forums dedicated to figuring out all of the possible endings of the game, as well as deciphering every obscure clue which may lead to the next possible secret being unveiled.

While Undertale doesn’t even operate on half the bits that most modern games do, I would say the feelings it evoked were twice as powerful. I don’t want to speak in absolutes and say that current games on the market don’t make me feel things, because they do! However, the feelings are generally short-lived and relevant to only that particular gaming session. Undertale on the otherhand, almost insidiously latches itself onto your heart, making you genuinely care for both the inhabitants of this imaginary world, and feeling completely responsible for the choices you have made well past the ending credits.

Knowing that more people will discover and talk about this game…it fills me with determination.

(Come on, I had to use the phrase at least once).

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Planet of the Eyes

Planet of the Eyes (Steam version, version 1.1)

    • Genre: Platformer, Puzzler
    • Release Date: Aug 24 2015, Price: $9.99
    • Development: Cococumber
    • Platform: PC (via Steam), Xbox One
    • Official Site: planetoftheeyes.com

Synopsis:

“You’ve crash-landed on the Planet of the Eyes in an escape pod. Discover what lies beneath through puzzle solving, exploration, and audiologs from another survivor. Turn down the lights, put on your headphones and grab your controller to experience the atmospheric journey of a lone robot in a dangerous world.”

Personal Thoughts:

(based on the current Steam version, after 1.1 patch, played 95 minutes of gameplay)

Planet of the Eyes feels like other things, more than its purpose as a game. That is a good thing.

This being part of a wonderful trend in modern gaming now, of these cheaply priced puzzle platformers. Great other examples include Braid, Limbo, Night Sky, Outland, Never Alone. Such games are where simple functions in a character do more than platform its way to a happy end. By doing more, there is less. No power ups, no crazy combos, no such increase in abilities, no points or pointless objectives. All you have in your protagonist, is your wits and mobility. There are sudden ways to die (often horrible and with hilarity) but the puzzles involved in figuring out the environment is where the real challenge is at.

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With Planet of the Eyes, the puzzles feel a bit easy for my gaming hands, as I have played through many puzzle platformers since Abe’s Odyssey on the PlayStation 1. Nearly every obstacle faced in Planet of the Eyes, I have seen before in other forms and knew how to handle. I beat this game with little death, almost continuous in about 90 minutes time. Yet, I regret nothing of my spent time as I have much love for this game.

I say this because, sometimes games ask too much of me outside of the visual experience. I am often weary of drawn out tutorials, unnecessary lengthy text, constant need to upgrade and customize. I sometimes crave simple, more so in my cheaper games of recent times. In Planet of the Eyes, I need only survive and move on to unravel some mystery. I am a lone walking robot of simple design, following the path of a mysterious (human?) survivor leaving clues to his possible fate. Combined with the linear gameplay, the story feels like a short science fiction novelette. Except here, the protagonist can die horribly on any page, and that would be the end.

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Along the way, you will see gorgeous and surreal visuals. The vibrant colors, digital gradients give life to the surrounding, where I feel somewhat privileged to explore and possibly die. Nearly every panel feels suitable for framing. And within and throughout, there are fantastic creatures of many shapes and sizes exhibiting deadly behavior when disturbed. Also, are remnants of a lost civilization, and surreal architecture. Much of the game is continuous walking between challenges, which are wonderful sequences as one could gaze and admire the situation.

The music is beautiful, with some original ambient electronic tunes. The soundtrack mixes well with stylish sound effects and the voice acting of the journal logs picked up. I highly recommend some good headphones for Planet of the Eyes, to fully immerse yourself in the gameplay and its awesome soundtrack.

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Overall, this is a fantastic game for being more of a great work of interactive art and story. It’s still a game worth playing, but lacking in challenge for hardcore platform gamers. Yet, it is fitting for casual players and a new generation of gamers. Also, it is low cost and complete with no in-game purchases. With all that, there is enough reason to enjoy Planet of the Eyes.

– Orion T