Master of The Free World Productions | Jumpcut Entertainment Network

Hadean Lands

Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin is a well-known and influential figure in interactive fiction – on top of penning classic IF games like Spider & Web and Shade, he also developed the Blorb package format, Glx API, and Glulx virtual machine for making and playing them. His latest game, Hadean Lands, is four years in the making (following a successful Kickstarter) and is apparently one of the largest and most complex IF games to date, spanning 73,000 words of printable text and 170,000 words of logic (according to Andrew’s twitter). In the game, you play a young alchemist who has awoken to find him or herself trapped in a crashed starship, armed only with your knowledge of alchemical rituals and whatever ingredients you can scrounge up on the ship.

I’ll spoil some of the unique features of the game after the jump:

Unlike a lot of IF games, Hadean Lands has a “restart” feature that rewards experimentation by letting you keep any knowledge of rituals that you’ve learned in previous playthroughs. Learning a ritual for the first time may require many steps, but using them again is just a matter of saying “perform [name of ritual]“. In this manner, the player is able to solve ever more complicated puzzles without the fear of getting stuck.

For a better explanation, I suggest reading this excellent write-up by Emily Short.


Kickstart This: Formicarium

I’ve been wildly interested in ants since an early age, and have often wished that there were more games that allowed you to take control of an ant colony, such as the classic SimAnt, or 2008′s Ant Rush. So I was especially excited earlier today, when Formicarium crawled onto Kickstarter.

Billing itself as a strategic simulation game, Formicarium allows players to “become the invisible mind guiding an ant-hive through difficulties and dangers.” Drawing inspiration from other titles such as Dwarf Fortress and The Sims, the game aims to simulate a procedurally-evolving world where insects and arachnids struggle to survive the environment, and each other – with the player guiding their own colony of ants.

Similar to Dwarf Fortress, the colonies or “hives” of Formicarium will consist of multiple “cross-section” levels, extending downwards from the surface. Chambers will need to be dug, food will need to be stored, and new ants will need to be be birthed. All the time, the player will need to keep an eye out for potential dangers from the surface, including antlions, spiders, bees and wasps, and more.

Formicarium is being created by a team of just two people. The development side of this duo is Konrad Feiler, whose history as a mathematician and software engineer is being put to good use developing a procedural world, filled with all manner of bugs behaving in realistic manners. On the design side, artist Dorota Orlof has provided an incredibly eye-catching style, bringing each of the game’s “characters” to life through a clean and colorful approach.

So far, the duo has a working prototype of Formicarium, and they are now moving to bring the project to full fruition as a game on both mobile devices as well as PC and Mac. To reach that goal, the Formicarium Kickstarter campaign is aiming to raise just a modest $ 20,000. If the idea of being the overseer of a virtual ant colony – struggling to survive in a procedurally-simulated world of competition and danger – appeals to you, head on over to the Kickstarter page for Formicarium to learn more and pledge. You can also keep an eye on the game’s website and Twitter for more news, and even vote for it over on Steam Greenlight.

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First Playable: Return of the Obra Dinn

Lucas Pope has released a very early development build of his latest project, Return of the Obra Dinn. While the website warns that there’s “not much content”, the build does a great job of conveying the game’s wonderful atmosphere and introducing a few of the key concepts behind the title. Obra Dinn is the name of the merchant ship on which your adventure takes place. Lost on route to the Orient in 1802, the ship has returned to port four years later, and you’ve been sent to investigate as an insurance adjustor for the East India Company’s London Office. Figuring out what happened aboard the Obra Dinn appears to be the central premise for the game, but how you accomplish that task is anything but ordinary.

Pope was the creator of the surprise hit Papers, Please, which made the seemingly mundane job of immigration inspector feel exciting and personal. It’s great to see him take that unique outlook into his next game, but with such wildly different themes, mechanics, and audiovisuals (which he describes in great detail in his fantastic TIGForums DevLog). Can’t wait for more.


Trailer: LISA

A game about survival, sacrifice, and perverts…

Lisa is a quirky side-scrolling RPG set in a post apocalyptic wasteland. Beneath the charming and funny exterior is a world full of disgust and moral destruction. Players will learn what kind of person they are by being FORCED to make choices. These choices permanently effect the game play. If you want to save a party member from death, you will have to sacrifice the strength of your character. Whether it’s taking a beating for them, or losing limbs in a Yakuza style apology, or some other inhuman way. You will learn that in this world being selfish and heartless is the only way to survive…

LISA was successfully funded on Kickstarter on December 14, 2013.

Steam Greenlight: LISA


Legend of Grimrock 2

Legend of Grimrock 2 launched fairly quietly about a week ago. The sequel to the successful 2012 dungeon crawler, Grimrock 2 seems to improve and expand on nearly every aspect of the first game without sacrificing any of the classic exploration, combat, and puzzle solving that defined it. Probably the biggest change is the inclusion of expansive outdoor environments – whereas Grimrock 1 took place entirely underground inside dark dungeons and caverns, Grimrock 2 let’s you explore the surface of the Isle of Nex, traversing opulent beaches, forests, and other outdoor locales. Monster AI is also noticeably improved, and though the combat retains the “dance-like” quality of Grimrock 1, it’s not as easy to lead opponents around the same four tiles without getting hit. Monsters are more likely to anticipate and dodge your attacks, and are less inclined to walk into the range of your weapons. New races, new classes, an upgraded skills system, and a friendlier UI round out a list of improvements that should please fans who were satisfied with the original.


Super Time Force Ultra

It’s easy to be wary of high-concept indie titles based around some quirky concept like time travel, gravity, teleportation, guns that shoot science instead of bullets, etc. When they work, of course, they work marvelously, like Portal, Braid, Antichamber, The Swapper, Fez, or any of the best puzzle platformers. But there’s no denying that there is a glut of gimmicky imitators in the genre, and more often than not the concepts, no matter how interesting they sound on paper, are stretched thin across never-ending tutorial levels. So despite Capybara’s strong record it was with some trepidation that I embarked on Super Time Force Ultra, the updated PC version of their time-traveling run n’ gun Super Time Force (which won Microsoft’s first-ever IGF “XBLA Award” for a publishing deal on Xbox 360 and Xbox One).

Thankfully, STFU shrugs off the stereotypes quickly and easily, and while the game is certainly unique and innovative, it has the frantic pacing of a good run n’ gun that is not found in most puzzle platformers. On top of that, there is an element of light tactics that strangely enough reminds me of Sega’s 1988 cult classic arcade game Gain Ground. It’s a mad idea that I would not have been brave enough to work on, but I’m happy that Capy was.

At the start of each level, you select a character from your team to play as and begin running and gunning in typical fashion. At any point in the level, however, you can Time Out and rewind time to a previous point and select another character (including the same character, if you like). When you start up again, your previous characters will still be there as ghosts, fighting and dying alongside you.

In essence, the game allows you to play co-op with yourself, with up to over 30 characters playing together in each level. Your team grows slowly as you complete missions and is diverse in movement and weaponry. One of your starting members, for example, is a fast-walking sniper whose charged shot goes through walls, and another has a shield that can be used to block enemy fire and create force fields. With a single character it’s impossible to beat a level within the 60-second time limit – the bosses alone have too much health to take down in such a short amount of time. Destroying barriers, exploring side paths, collecting items, and rescuing new members also drain a lot of time, providing ample reason to rewind and bring in new teammates (or copies of the same teammate).

Time Outs are also activated automatically when you die, and it is possible to then save that dead character by killing the enemy earlier or throwing up a shield. Since there’s no input for the revived character after his or her point of death, Capy came up with another way to bring them back into the action – as collectable “power-ups” that give your current character an extra hit point and also the revived character’s abilities.

It’s certainly a strange game that defies conventional wisdom. For one thing, it’s very hard to actually lose in STFU, given the generous amounts of Time Outs per level (30), but somehow it doesn’t feel problematic. In Klei’s Mark of the Ninja I felt the liberal use of checkpoints hurt the game’s pacing and went against the game’s ninja assassin theme, but was told that it let the player focus more on “creativity” rather than playing perfectly. The “creativity” argument makes much more sense within the context of STFU’s light-hearted time traveling story and mechanics, in my opinion. In the same way that a painting emerges out of overlapping brushstrokes, it feels like a complex group assault emerges out of your individual playthroughs, a feeling that’s highlighted at the end of each level with a looping replay that lets you see it all unfold from beginning to end (a la Super Meat Boy).

There’s still plenty of incentive to play levels more than once and the true challenge lies not in simply surviving and beating the game, but in collecting “shards” (slow-mo power-ups) and “glorbs” (extra Time Outs), and beating each level under the time limit. These tasks require serious planning and completing them will earn badges and, more importantly, unlock new teammates, which, to carry the painting analogy further, feels like getting a new color added to your palette. You’ll also unlock short levels in the “Helladeck” that are more about puzzle-solving than running n’ gunning.

Capy’s presentation has always shined in its games and Super Time Force is no exception. The art/design team of Vic and Mike Nguyen has developed a striking, boxy pixel art style that is very colorful fun to look at. The characters, who run the gamut from wizards and robots to skateboarding dinosaurs, are well-animated and reminiscent of early LucasArts adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island. One thing that really impressed me was the amount of unique content that was created for the game – even within a single area levels are distinct and detailed, with very little reuse of setpieces.

It would have been easy to make the entire game the Helladeck levels and call it a day. That the Helladeck is merely an optional challenge attached to something so much bigger and vibrant is a testament to Capy’s dedication to taking the initial concept to its limit. There’s really not much more to say other than that it’s great – if it sounds like something you might like, you’ll probably like it.

(Note: Capybara Games has an awesome tumblr.)


Kickstart This: Creepy Castle

Indie studio Dopterra has just three days to reach the modest goal of $ 6000 for its colorful 8-bit title, Creepy Castle. Promising a mix of 2D platform-based exploration and turn-based RPG combat, the game follows the adventure of Moth (note: an actual moth) within the halls of the titular Creepy Castle in an effort to uncover and thwart a looming threat. Dopterra has also teased several other protagonists, playable in an assortment of scenarios that intertwine with Moth’s story.

With a graphical style inspired by the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and a catchy chiptune soundtrack, Creepy Castle certainly aims to present a fantastically old-school experience – but its six-person dev team is not afraid to pay homage to the modern indie game scene as well: It’s been revealed that characters from recent indie titles such as Shovel Knight and Super Meat Boy will appear in-game, possibly even in the form of playable characters.

With only three days to go in its Kickstarter campaign, Creepy Castle is tantalizingly close to reaching its goal of just $ 6000. Whether you’ve long dreamt of fluttering your way as a moth through a labyrinthine castle – drawn not to a flame, but to your awaiting destiny – or you simply enjoy old-school graphics and gameplay, Creepy Castle might just be the game for you: Head on over to the Creepy Castle Kickstarter page to learn more and pledge. You can also vote for Creepy Castle right now on its Steam Greenlight page. Finally, if you simply want to watch the game as it develops, be sure to check out the Creepy Castle DevLog on TIGForums.

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Kickstart This: Band Saga & Interview with Rekcahdam

Band Saga is a musical roguelike—basically it generates action roguelike dungeons based on its own Genesis-like FM sequencer, which can then be played through. You can generate levels based on importing your own MIDI music, or by composing music within the game (which can be shared with a text string online with other players). Also interesting is that you can change a song while playing through the dungeon based on that song, which would then affect the dungeon you are in. And as you can see from the trailer, the animation is also very nice.

I interviewed Rekcahdam to get a more in-depth look into how it all works, read it under the jump!

If I understand the Kickstarter correctly, the game uses sequenced music in a particular format to generate levels. This means a player wouldn’t be able to generate music from their own sound files (e.g. like Audiosurf and similar games), but advanced players would be able to adapt songs they like, in-game, to that sequenced format, and then play levels based on their own adaptions? E.g. I couldn’t just load in a Zelda song in mp3 format, but I could take a melody from a Zelda game, adapt it to the game’s sequence, and then play the level associated with that.

Do I have that right? If so, do you worry that the popularity of games like Audiosurf may set up the expectation that some players would be able to play games based on their favorite songs without any work on their part, and that they might be disappointed when they find that wasn’t how it works? And are there advantages that doing it your way has over those games, such as a more one to one, clearer correspondence between individual notes and game elements than those games have?

You can’t import an mp3 file into the game to generate a level unfortunately. But, it does allow you to EXPORT mp3 and wav files of the game’s soundtrack and songs you’ve modified or created in-game.

Band Saga stores everything in midi format so you can also import and export midi files. So if you find a midi file of Zelda’s Lullaby you can import that into the game to generate a level! I decided to go this direction because I wanted to encourage players to not only experience the music in a different way but also experiment with music creation themselves!

I’m not really worried about any expectations from other music and rhythm based games because Band Saga is not in anyway similar. The only game that remotely compares to Band Saga is Sound Shapes with its level and music creation tools. Like Sound Shapes, Band Saga comes with a soundtrack that players can experience while they’re playing the game. Every song is designed specifically to generate a level for players to enjoy. In Sound Shapes you can create your own levels but the music creation is very limited. Band Saga takes it 10 steps further and gives the players the ability to make their sounds and music by using its retro-authentic sounding built-in FM synthesizers and level generation algorithms.

Yes, there is an advantage to having a one to one relationship between the notes and the level elements. The advantage is that players have much more freedom over what sounds and how they relate to the levels they create. This leads to a more personal and authentic music and gameplay experience. Other games that import mp3 files tend lack variety in the level generation and I find myself getting bored pretty quickly. In Band Saga, if they choose to do so, players can craft a very specific experience with their music which makes every level feel like you’re playing in a new world all together.

You label your game a roguelike, but the only roguelike element it seems to have that I can see is procedural generation of levels. Are you worried that fans of roguelikes would take issue with this, saying that it isn’t a true roguelike because it isn’t turn-based, doesn’t have permadeath (assuming it doesn’t, correct me if that’s wrong), etc., and is actually seems to be a “roguelikelike” or a “roguelite”? Or do I have this wrong and does it have more roguelike aspects besides procedural level generation? As a second part of this question, what are your favorite roguelikes? I’m partial to Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup myself.

As most people experienced at Tokyo Game Show 2014, Band Saga has many “roguelike tendencies” which is why I feel it’s perfectly fair to call it one. Band Saga has a coherent story so it does have “story points” (aka check points). But, between each “story point” players will traverse a Binding Of Issac style level where, if they die, they will be brought back to the previous “story point” which feels a lot like permadeath. You lose all of your abilities and you’re left to strategize on how to complete the level on your next attempt. Band Saga will definitely keep you on your toes! As far as not being turn based, I was careful to describe Band Saga as an “Action Roguelike” because I know that traditional roguelikes are turn based.

I definitely enjoy some Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup when I find the time. I’m pretty old school though. NetHack is still my shit!

About the generation of levels, could you give us some hints about how it works? For instance, do more complicated and longer songs mean more complicated and longer dungeons? Do songs with faster tempo mean levels that are more action-packed and quicker, and with slower songs being calmer, more serene levels? Do particular instruments refer to particular types of game entities (e.g. guitar being “magic items” and drums being “enemies” and flute being “traps”, or something like that)?

Each instrument in a level’s song is synonymous with a particular room. When you complete a room you unlock one of those instruments and you will hear it being added to the song. Unlocking that instrument also gives you the ability to modify what notes it plays. Modifying what note’s it plays affects what shows up in the next room. When you complete a room you’ll notice that some enemies drop “note points” and you’ll see a crystal appear. When you activate that crystal it will take you to the sequencer which is displayed in a grid format where each row on the grid corresponds to a different level element and the amount of note points you collect in-game dictate how many times you can modify an instrument’s note sequence.

While playing Band Saga you will gradually learn the rules as to how the sequencer relates to the level design through story and gameplay. For example; modifying the 5th row of an instrument’s note sequence changes the probability that certain items will show up in the next room. Before you open the door to the next room, Band Saga will give you a hint as to what you might find in that room if you survive it. Sometimes the player might be weak from the previous battle and they might want to increase the chances that they’ll find health pickups in the next room instead of weaponry. Other times the player may just want a more powerful weapon. In the TGS Teaser Video I noticed that the next room held a Tornado attack power-up. I decided that I wanted something different so I used my note points to add a note to the 5th row on the sequencer. After exiting the sequencer you’ll see that it changed from the Tornado power-up to the “Golem Buster suit” power-up .This all happens in real time while playing the game’s story campaign but, there is a mode where players can just make music and levels and share them with their friends.

Although this explanation may seem daunting, it’s only because I’m explaining it in somewhat technical detail. This doesn’t reflect how the player actually learns the game. As I mentioned earlier, much of the rules are taught through story and gameplay and it feels fun and natural. And, a lot of the interfaces in the game will be made to feel and look much more intuitive. There will be a table to remind you of the rules of level and song creation as well.

Do you worry that the levels not being “truly” randomly generated, but being basically a particular song corresponding to a particular dungeon, will mean that players may simply memorize the level layouts, replaying the same level / song over and over, using memorization as a tool to beat the level, thus removing some of the difficulty of roguelikes where traditionally each time you play it’s different? Is there any automated way to get a truly random dungeon, besides importing a random song each time you want to try a new one? Perhaps a game mode that uses music generating algorithms (genetic algorithms for melodies or similar), so that the game can create a new song for the player each time they play that mode, with a new dungeon for that randomly generated song?

There is still some randomness in the way Band Saga generates a level from a song. When you create a song you’re basically giving Band Saga a bunch of probabilities. So adding a note on the 5th row of the sequencer will increase the probability from 50% to 60% that an enemy will drop a the “Golem Buster” power-up in the next room. But, you can still get unlucky and get another power-up all together. Of course, if a probability of a specific item drop in the next room is set to 100% then you can be sure that an enemy will DEFINITELY drop that item. But, that is EXTREMELY rare and it would never happen for every item in every room of that particular level.

The only way this could happen is if a player were to create a level/song from scratch that manually forces everything to appear exactly the same way every time. If you were to just import a midi file of a random song it’s EXTREMELY unlikely that any item , enemy or obstacle will be set to a probability of 100%.

This is a bit of a controversial 90s console wars question, but do you feel that the Genesis or the SNES had a better sound system? I know a lot of musicians and people involved in sequencing music tend to have strong opinions on this, and I personally prefer SNES music over Genesis music, but I noticed that you described Band Saga’s FM sequencer as being Genesis-like, so I just thought to ask why you went with Genesis-like rather than SNES-like or even NES-like — was it just personal taste, was it easier to code, or what?

Ahhh, I’ve had this debate so many times haha!

The SNES definitely had a more advanced sound chip for sure and I imagine it was easier for most composers to deal with back then because it was sample based. And because of its superior sampling system you could potentially get some quasi-realistic sounding instruments. It would have been much MUCH easier for me to code a SNES-like sequencer but I find the Genesis FM chip more intriguing.

Every instrument played through the Genesis sound chip had to be programmed specifically to sound the way that it did and synthesized in real time alongside gameplay itself and something about that resonates with me. Those limitations forced composers to be more creative than usual. I think this helped to create some of the most surreal sound and memorable soundtracks that I could never forget even if I tried.I can’t imagine Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and 3 Gunstar Heroes, Vectorman or Thunder Force IV sounding as interesting as they did on any other sound chip.

The NES sound chip is similar to the Genesis chip in that all the sounds were also synthesized in real time as well. I’ve done plenty of NES/Gameboy style soundtracks (Seedling). I’ve even wrote my own Gameboy-like web sequencer (Pulseboy). After my experiences with those styles I figured I’d try my hand at the Genesis FM chip.

TL;DR: It’s just my personal taste haha!

Thanks to Rekcahdam for the interview! If any of you like action roguelikes and/or Genesis-style chiptune music, or the idea of hacking a level as you play it, you’ll probably want this game to be made, so consider backing it!

(Full disclosure: I am backing this game, for $ 5, myself, so I want the Kickstarter to succeed, and although I don’t know the developer, he is a “friend of a friend” through Laura Shigihara, who recommended that he approach me for an article on TIGS. Also, I always like do these disclosure things where appropriate, this isn’t just a gamergate-appeasing thing. – PE)


Preview: Drift Stage

Very cool 80′s aesthetic going on in Drift Stage, a “modern evolution of the classic arcade racer”. Planned features include a roster of cars inspired by 80′s and early 90′s designs, local and online multiplayer, and a host of single-player modes, including circuit races, time trials, and a character-oriented career mode. No release date set, but the team is targeting PC/Mac with mobile and console possibly to follow.


Comiket 86: Preview Video

This is a video that mashes up quite a few trailers for doujin games that will be available at this year’s Comiket (Comic Market), a Japanese self-published comic book festival (and the largest in the world, with over half a million attendees last year). Edelweiss, the doujin shmup developer behind Ether Vapor and Astebreed, has been putting these videos together for the past few years. The festival is taking place this weekend on August 15-17.

Links to each of the games featured in the video are available here on Edelweiss’s website.