Welcome to another Link Dump Friday, and this week we're positively heaving at the seams with new content. My esteemed colleagues Elle and Chiktionary are here to tell you all about their personal favourite games of 2011, while Juicy Beast and Ironhide Games are busy as well! The main attraction, however, is the debut of a new weekly featurette... the Friday Five! Each week we're going to shine the spotlight on one of our favourite developers and chat with them about their projects. Puzzle master Bart Bonte sits down with us first to talk about where he gets his inspiration and how his mind works. Additionally, we're also taking a closer look at the upcoming adventure game My Little Investigations as we talk with first time developer GabuEx about the challenges in taking on such a huge project, and what we can expect to see.
Chiktionary's 2011 Picks
Insectonator - I actually don't mind insects. People who work with me have seen me with my hands cupped around a moth taking it down two flights of stairs to release it outside. And I'm not really a fan of shooting games, so this would seem to be a weird choice. But I LOVE the mindless blasting away of creepy-crawlies, especially when you can hear their little legs creeping around and their guts splattering on the astro-turf. Denis Kukushkin and his brothers have included upgrades that are freaking awesome, firepower on a massive scale which is so over the top when you're dealing with defenseless cockroaches and grubs. With gameplay choices and the option to randomise your weapons, this is a scrumptiously gory way to kill (heh-heh, get it?) time.
Derereba - Although this wasn't the first Detarou game reviewed here at Jay is Games, it was amongst the originals that showcased the burgeoning talents of this Japanese game designer. Detarou's games were at the time almost nonconformist and totally fresh, albeit quirky with startling humour and all in all simply weird. The puzzles are far from intuitive, there's nothing familiar or easy. But I love this point-and-click game for its unique qualities and ability to take you out of your comfort zone. Helps you appreciate the 'normal' stuff, right?
The I of It - This one appealed to my warped sense of humour and love for children's literature right from the start. Very much a unique puzzle game that tells the quirky story of a letter 'I' being separated from its mate 't' in a really, well, story-telling kind of way. Gameshothave created a game that looks simplistic and childish on the surface, yet the platform elements of manouvering the solitary 'I' in its pursuit of 't' is challenging at the very least. And the nasally yet kindly narration guides you through the process in a most disarming way. If I didn't have to use my thumb to play, I'd probably be sucking it and twirling my hair with my other hand while listening to this quaint little tale.
Elle's 2011 Picks
Westward Kingdoms - Building. Mining. Hand-to-hand combat. No, not that one. I mean Westward Kingdoms, Sandlot's popular adventure/roleplay/real-time-strategy/simulation game. I'm a giant nerd for the entire Westward series and my heart will break if Digital Chocolate (which recently acquired Sandlot) does not continue it. I love to build, ever since I was a little kid with my lego sets, and Westward Kingdoms provides the freedom to create fantasy worlds populated with princes, wizards, dragons, knights on horseback, and much more. Plus it has enormous replay value: acheivement rewards add giants and black knights to your quest team the next time you play. That's just a tiny glimpse at what puts Westward Kingdoms on the top of my alltime, er, 2011 favorites list. It's even better than Minecraft. Argh! Back, back away from me with your pitchaxes and torches! I am not a heretic!
Wonderputt - The best games blend challenge, relaxation, entertainment and art into a mochachino of enjoyment that leaves you smiling in wonder. Thus, here is Reece Millidge's Wonderputt, a physics puzzle set in a surreal miniature golf course. I'm reminded of eyezmaze's Grow series here in that each successful drop results in a fantastical animated morphing of the course. There is as much satisfaction in watching the evolving environments as in managing to sink a birdie. In a sense, by playing golf, you create heavenly architecture, therein lies its greatest appeal for me. Wonderputt's above par graphics, soothing music and addictive gameplay one-ups the other puzzle games of 2011 to land on my favorites list.
Daps - Where do I start... is it the adorably spunky protagonists, the aesthetically pleasing blend of photographic and animated art, or the compelling quest for the ultimate breakfast? Daps, a point-and-click adventure from Michael van Holker, delivers all the best elements of interactive art and manages to fair well in comparison to the likes of Samorost and Haluz. As you guide three "Graulings" through a danger-filled world, complete puzzles to help them overcome obstacles and reach their goals, they somehow charm the potatoes out of you. In this case, the surreal fantasy realm is already created yet it is so easy to become immersed in and charmed by this world that it feels like your own. I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for wee little cuties who prevail against ugly baddies. They had me at "slluurrp."
High-Flying Minotaurs: Juicy Beast's quirky, silly launch game Burrito Bison captured confused imaginations everywhere when it hit our browsers earlier this year, following a minotaur sailing through Candyland after he escapes gladiator combat. If that sounds good to you, then you'll probably be excited to know that the sequel has officially been announced, and the developers are gleefully dangling teaser bits above our noses as we speak. The game is on the lookout for a sponsor, so release could be very near on the horizon. In the meantime, hit up the developer blog for some more info and even a comic book!
All I Want For Christmas Is Ironhide Remember Ironhide Games' tower defense title Kingdom Rush? Well, you should, because it was pretty darn awesome, and judging by the massive amount of high-scoring votes it received, every one of you guys that played it thought so too. Well, get ready to take your favourite little heroes with you wherever you go, because the title is getting an HD release on the iPad for Christmas! The actual release date has yet to be posted, but if you have one of those glorious tablets and a thing for defense games, I highly recommend you save some funds for this one. Keep your eyes peeled!
Want to check out this week's interviews? Continue reading for interviews with Bart Bonte and GabuEx!
Bart Bonte has been around practically forever as far as the internet is concerned, and in that time he's come to be one of the most anticipated developers as he continues to release game after high-quality, utterly adorable game, the most recent being the seasonal sweet treat that is Sugar, Sugar: The Christmas Special.
Tell us a little about yourself. What made you want to get into creating games as opposed to just playing them? Are there any developers who inspire you?
Back in 2005 I really enjoyed playing those classic escape the room games like MOTAS, Crimson Room, Viridian Room and the like. I was a daytime developer but I had no experience in Flash, so I picked up a Flash book and decided to have a go at making my own escape the room game: the Bonte Room. I really enjoyed the experience and the game got a warm welcome, so I kept making games in my spare time. Two years ago I gave up my daytime job and decided to become a fulltime indie games designer and since then I'm making a living from it.
Your games always have a very distinctive style and a sense of whimsy. What inspires you the most when you're designing a game?
The initial idea for a new games can come from everywhere, I can see an interesting image in a magazine, get inspired by a music video, a certain situation I'm in can trigger an idea, ideas can even come to me in dreams. I guess my main goal is to try and make universal games that can be enjoyed by everyone all over the world, even non-'gamers', that's why I'm always trying to have as little instructions as possible or even better none at all. Also I'm trying to force myself to use a limited number of elements for one particular game and build a complete game around these elements. This helps to keep the projects rather small and stay focused.
You've been creating games for a long time now. Is there anything you look back on in earlier games and wish you'd done differently? Any advice you'd give to someone who wants to start making games... or to yourself if you had a time machine?
I'm never looking back on earlier games. Once I'm starting a game there's a drive to get it out there. And once the game is released there's a drive to start on a new game and forget about the last one. My advice to someone who wants to start making games would be to go for something unique from the beginning and don't try to start making clones of existing games. I think you can achieve this by not letting you get inspired by existing games (I'm not a 'gamer' myself) but go out there and let the outside world inspire you.
You're sort of known for creating escape titles and quirky puzzles. What sort of challenges do you feel you encounter when trying to create games like that? Is there any other genre you've wanted to try your hand at?
For the moment I'm a bit bored with the escape the room genre, it's been done so many times, and I will not try to have another go at it, but I might bring it in other forms like I did with the '14 Locks' game. The early game design competitions here at JayisGames were a big help for me to explore other genres: I love to do a new game from scratch against a deadline and with a fixed game theme. If it wasn't for those game design competitions I would have probably kept on doing room escape games, but by participating in these competitions I started trying to do other things that I probably would never have done otherwise.
Our writers love your games, and from the high ratings every single one we've covered has received, it's clear our readers love them, too. Is there anything you want to say to your fans?
Well without people playing my games, there would be no games, so thanks for playing my games :) And because of this inner drive to make games and my ideas notebook that is lying here besides me, the fans may rest assure I have enough material for the years to come :) Anyone who wants to follow the news and progress on my games, make sure to follow my twitter @bartbonte
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has a massive following that encompasses people of all ages and both genders, and so it's no surprise that there are a number of fan-made computer games for it in the works. By far one of the most ambitious, however, is the upcoming My Little Investigations, a free adventure game done in the style of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney that follows Twilight Sparkle who sets out to solve crime in Equestria. To celebrate the recent opening of the official website, we sat down with GabuEx (one half of the dynamic duo behind the project) to talk about it.
Note: If you're interested in becoming part of the project, the team is currently recruiting for visual artists, music and sound designers, and, of course, voice actors! You can find more information on the official recruitment page, and if you've ever wanted to lend your dulcet tones to Rainbow Dash or hear your music in a video game, this might just be your opportunity.
Talk to me a little about My Little Investigations. There are a lot of pony games out there, and a lot of pony adventure games specifically, so where did you get the idea to combine My Little Pony with everyone's favourite Ace Attorney?
Well, the project had its initial inception in mid-July, at which time there were quite a few pony games in development already (Fighting is Magic being the most prominent of the bunch, of course) but the one thing that none of the games at that time had was the ability to create meaningful interactions between the players and the ponies as characters. I think that one of the biggest things that attracts people to MLP:FiM is the characters and the way in which they interact with each other, and I really thought that a game had the possibility of being something special if it could give that sort of experience to players.
At the same time, it occurred to me that the Ace Attorney games contained exactly this sort of interaction, since those are heavily plot- and character-driven, so it really seemed just like a match made in heaven, so to speak. Of course, today there are other games out there that also look like they have quite a lot of potential to offer that kind of character interaction, like the JRPG-style game, the dating sim, and the Harvest Moon-style game, but back when this was put together, there wasn't anything like that.
Speaking of the plot and character interaction, what's the overall tone players can expect to experience here? Will you be staying close to the show itself in terms of content, or will we ever see Twilight Sparkle sleuthing it up around Ponyville Frank Miller style solving murders?
Haha, no, we decided pretty early on that we were not going to grimdark up Equestria over the course of this game; we have no plans at the moment to include crimes that create intense emotional trauma in the real world, like murder, rape, and so on. I want to make clear that I definitely have nothing against fan content that's in that style (Fallout: Equestria for example is a now-legendary grimdark MLP:FiM fanfic, and with good reason) but from the outset we pretty much decided that what we want to go for is really to bring the player into the Equestria that they fell in love with through the show.
I should say though that that's not to say that the crimes players can expect will all be on the order of Pinkie Pie tragically, tragically sneaking four extra corn cakes and then lying about it... we do definitely have some pretty impactful crimes lined up; they just won't be of the traumatizing variety. Ace Attorney certainly has turned murder investigation into a fine art, but there are certainly many more types of crimes out there. :)
What about you? I know you're a software engineer, so it's clear you have some chops, and obviously your partner-in-crime, ZeusAssassin, has a lot of passion for the project as well. What made you decide to make your first project so ambitious? What sort of challenges have you encountered so far in the process?
Honestly, I'd be lying if I claimed that I expected that this project was going to get anywhere near as big as it was... the very first video that I ever put up for it was just one single conversation between Twilight and Apple Bloom, and it had very little planning beyond just putting together a scenario that sounded good; I certainly didn't have a huge case in mind that I was working off of when I wrote the script for that video. I've had quite a few personal projects before that I started up but which then faded away when I lost interest, and I really didn't expect this project to be any different, but then that video got a front-page feature on Equestria Daily and all the commenters were so incredibly positive about it, I was just like, you know what, why not?
So I continued, each time expecting people this time to have lost interest and for it to fade away, but every time I found out just how interested people still were, which really is the main driving force behind my motivation to keep this project going. So in a sense I think it's kind of giving me too much credit to imply that I had planned the way things were going; I just created the first glimpses into the game for fun, and it pretty much just snowballed from there, and before I knew it I was in the middle of a project whose scope was getting progressively larger.
I don't mind it for a second, though, mind you - I've been a gamer ever since I was five years old; I've always wanted to make video games; and I love the thought of being able to contribute to the brony community in a meaningful fashion, because it's just so phenomenal, so I suppose I'd just call this whole thing a bit of a perfect storm of factors all coming together in the right way.
There was no broad planning involved in the earlier stages, so as the scope of the project kind of dawned on me I had to retrofit bigger-picture ideas such that they'd work with what had been already shown. It was quite fun, actually, trying to put together the first case in such a way that it was consistent with what was seen in that very first video - I didn't get it exactly to fit, given that once I had a solid case plan in mind certain things just weren't going to work, but it was definitely a fun challenge. On the broader picture, though, a big challenge as well was just contending with the fact that, wow, I've actually got a big game on my hands... I'd better not screw any of this up now. :)
I have to say though that having ZeusAssassin there almost since day 1 has been a phenomenal help. Before I met him I had general ideas for gameplay elements and case ideas and so forth, but no real idea on how to refine them down into something concrete and workable. Once we got talking, though, it was amazing how quickly things took shape as we played idea ping-pong... almost before we knew it, we'd turned very vague ideas into eminently workable and implementable concepts and designs.
It's definitely a big project, but how about the game itself? How much of Ponyville will we get to explore with Twilight, and will we get a chance to interact with any of the popular "Background Ponies" the community has embraced, apart from Doctor Whooves?
Well, the first case will definitely be on the order of a tutorial case, in that there'll only be a couple locations to go through, and it'll probably be over relatively fast - that's by design, though; we didn't want to overwhelm players right from the get-go, and we really wanted to keep the scope of the first case down just so we could have something that we completed, since a lot of projects can get crushed under the weight of their own ambition.
Beyond that, though, the cases after the first we do plan to get progressively lengthier and more involved. As far as how much of Ponyville players will get to explore, well, I think that question should be expanded to "Equestria"! ;) I don't want to give out any spoilers, but I can say that we definitely plan to explore all kinds of locations in around the the world in which the ponies live.
Background characters, yes, we'll absolutely be seeing background characters - we pretty much both agreed that it would be much better to use background characters instead of going straight to original characters, so we have some pretty creative uses for background characters lined up, too. We pretty much wanted to use established characters absolutely everywhere possible, and only start discussing original characters is there really is nothing we've seen in the show that we can make work.
Is there anything you want to say to the all-seeing eye of the brony community now that the pressure is on? And perhaps the most important question... who is best pony?
Honestly, I know it's incredibly cliche to do so, but the thing that I really, really just want to say again and again to the brony community is "thank you" - like I said at the start, I had NO idea that this project would get as big as it has, and the driving force behind my motivation has absolutely been the fan support. Every step of the way, the brony community has been supportive, encouraging, positive, and constructive, and I couldn't be prouder to call myself part of that community as a result.
And as far as who is best pony... well, that's obvious, Twilight Sparkle is best pony! ...But, ah, y'know... if you like any of the others, then that's fine too... ...*squeak*