Master of The Free World Productions | Jumpcut Entertainment Network

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)

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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.

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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.

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Kickstart This: Pyrella

Dog And Pony Studio (DAPS) is looking to raise just $ 10,000 in the final four days of their Kickstarter campaign for Pyrella, a Metroidvania-type game where the female protagonist is the only light burning against an unholy darkness. According to designer Jim Burner:

Pyrella is the only light source in a black magic temple and her torch is always dying. Fight monsters, survive traps and solve puzzles to reach new Goddess Altars. Lighting these permanent checkpoints allows you to make your way deeper into the labyrinth. The ultimate goal is to light the Primordial Pyre at the bottom of the temple and cleanse it with righteous light.

DAPS needs to raise $ 10,000 before the end of the game’s Kickstarter in just four days, but the team is hopeful. The game has been submitted to Steam Greenlight, and the campaign has several stretch goals ranging from character customization and alternate endings to entirely new game areas and even a PlayStation 4 port of the completed game.

If this project sounds like one you would like to see completed, be sure to head over to the project’s Kickstarter page to learn more and contribute.

Pyrella 1

Pyrella 2

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The Dwarf Fortress update 0.40.01 has come!

An intimidating game. It has colorful graphics of text and it blinks rhythmically. Its interface is obtuse and inconsistent. Beware its emergent storytelling!
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Forgotten Beast

After more than two years since the last update, a new version of Dwarf Fortress has been released by developer Tarn Adams.

One of the largest and most notable features of this new update is that the in-game world will no longer be static after its initial generation, but will continue to change and evolve on its own in the background. This will include events ranging from civilization-scale events like foundings and conquests, to more individual actions such as births and deaths of historical figures. Additionally, forts that the player has “retired” will continue to operate within the world, rather than simply becoming abandoned, allowing for the player to visit them in Adventurer Mode and interact with the citizens.

Other notable changes with this update will include multi-tile trees, new site designs for several races, and overhauls of various systems including combat, conversation, movement, and AI. A more extensive changelog can be found here.

Image: Forgotten Beast, by Torgeir Fjereide

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Crimzon Clover WORLD IGNITION

In what is hopefully part of a continuing trend, Crimzon Clover has been released on Steam as Crimzon Clover WORLD IGNITION, giving PC players around the globe easy access to one of the best doujin bullet hell shoot ‘em ups. Originally released in 2011 at Comiket 79, the game was largely created by one person: Yotsubane, also known as the Cave superplayer Clover-TAC. From there, its popularity led to an enhanced edition on Taito’s NESiCAxLive, a digital download platform for Japanese arcades, followed by this recent port to Steam.

In Crimzon Clover you have two main attacks, a rapid-fire shot that fires straight ahead and a lock-on shot that creates a quickly-expanding circle around your ship, targeting every enemy it touches for a powerful homing laser attack. On top of that, there is a third button, called the Break Button, which does different things depending on the status of the Break Gauge. Destroying enemies fills up the gauge and if it’s filled above a certain threshold, hitting the button fires a bomb that clears bullets. If the gauge is completely full, however, you enter a “Break Mode” where your firepower and scoring ability are increased dramatically for a limited amount of time. During Break Mode it’s also possible to enter a “Double Break Mode” that ups everything (including enemy ferocity) even further, turning the screen into a page from a Magic Eye book.

Fans of Japanese shoot ‘em ups already know about Crimzon Clover and this port, but it’s also a great introductory shmup that is polished and offers a lot of modern conveniences like tutorials and novice modes to help new players get accustomed to the brutal level of difficulty. Plus, the relatively simple, memorization-free scoring system and sheer destructive firepower at hand should be enjoyable for veterans and newcomers alike. If I have one complaint, it’s that the graphics veer toward the garish and it is often hard to find your ship’s tiny yellow hitbox amidst the sludge of bullets, stars, and machinery. But it could be argued that this eye-bleeding quality is part of the game’s appeal. In any case, at $ 10 on Steam, it’s never been easier to play this previously obscure jewel of the genre.

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Kickstart This: Sunset

Tale of Tales is Kickstarting their latest project, Sunset, which is based around a pretty cool premise:

Sunset is a narrative-driven first-person videogame that takes place in a single apartment in a fictional South American city in the early 1970s. You play a housekeeper called Angela Burnes. Every week, an hour before sunset, you visit the swanky bachelor pad of Gabriel Ortega. You are given a number of tasks to do, but the temptation to go through his stuff is irresistible. As you get to know your mysterious employer better, you are sucked into a rebellious plot against a notorious dictator Generalísimo Ricardo Miraflores.

The Kickstarter description likens the game to Gone Home, which I personally enjoyed. Hopefully it’s another step in the right direction for this unique genre.

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E3 2014: No Man’s Sky

New gameplay footage of the procedurally-generated open world game No Man’s Sky, which is coming to PlayStation 4 as well as PC. From the creators of Joe Danger.

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Resurrected: ADOM

Following a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised nearly double its $ 48,000 goal, Thomas Biskup has been working steadily to bring his legendary roguelike ADOM to a generation of players that might be more familiar with “roguelikelikes” and “roguelites” than the genre that inspired them all. First released in 1994, ADOM (full title: Ancient Domains of Mystery) is widely considered to be one of the “Big 4″ defining roguelikes, along with Nethack, Dungeon Crawl, and Angband. An incredibly expansive and challenging game, it’s remained relatively obscure to mainstream game players, due in no small part to its ASCII graphics, closed source, and lack of updates past 2002. With this renewed development, Thomas seeks to remedy that (although as far as anyone knows, the source will remain closed).

A lot is planned for ADOM and a lot has already been done: a lovely graphical tileset, sound, a mouse-driven UI, and new monsters, items, quests, classes, and more. You can experience all of these in the current public version (1.2.0p23), which also includes a new tutorial mode. It’s also on Steam Greenlight, where you can vote for it and help get it released on Steam as a paid, “deluxe” edition alongside the freeware game. The price of ADOM on Steam has not yet been settled on.

It’s great to see the creator of one of THE classic roguelikes throw his hat back in the ring. There are many good reasons why these games have had such a strong and long-lasting influence and hopefully people who missed out on them the first time around will take this opportunity to try one out.

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Kero Blaster

Given its immense popularity, fans have been eagerly awaiting a follow-up to Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya’s classic platformer Cave Story. While Kero Blaster isn’t a true sequel, it does have the charming aesthetics, memorable character design, and polish we’ve come to expect from a Pixel game. However, the adventure is also much smaller in scope – playing through two loops of the game will probably only take a few hours.

On iOS the game controls decently with an on-screen pad. Instead of a button, shooting is handled with a nifty triangular slider, which makes aiming easier and frees up your thumb for jumping. You can also get the Windows version from Playism, which supports keyboard and gamepads.

How to play the game on iPhone without muffling the music, according to Pixel.

Kero Blaster probably won’t make a Pixel fan out of anyone who wasn’t already one, and for those who are, it could be a little disappointing due to the small scope. But what is there is quite enjoyable.

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