Scrub the sleepies from your eyes, my beloved reader (for sleepies are crusty and nasty and what are they anyway ew), because it's time for another installment of Link Dump Friday! We're still counting down our personal favourite games of 2011, and this time joye and Tricky join me at the podium to tell you all about the games of this year they loved and why. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL. We've got a very special guest for this week's edition of Friday Five... Zeebarf! (Which will never not be fun to say. All you developers, get on those amusing aliases at once.) So kick back, relax, and let us suffuse you in gaming like... like... some sort of technological... steamy... tea. Yeah. Yeah, just, like... steep in it and junk.
joye's 2011 Picks
Hungry Sumo - Free internet games can now be as immersive and sweeping as a JRPG on a console, but sometimes I just want to get back to the simple yet addictive qualities that hooked me on browser games in the first place, and Hungry Sumo has that in spades. My baby was only a few weeks old when this game came out, and sanity would say that I should have been resting any time I was not taking care of my baby. But how could I resist watching my sumos shoveling rice into their mouths and pinging off of enemy sumos until I had assimilated all of them into my sumo horde? Sorry, sanity. Arcade games > you.
Elephant Quest - I love genre mash-ups and games that try to do it all and succeed by sheer plucky gumption. I love it as much as I love using the word gumption, in fact, so you can imagine how much I loved Elephant Quest, which blended RPG quests with platform motion and shooting, all in a vast sandbox environment. Plus, skill trees. I am a sucker for them! Ever since Final Fantasy X, I have loved plotting exactly what path I would take for upgrades. And that's not even mentioning the adorable protagonist of Elephant Quest, who provides another opportunity to use the word "gumption", because by golly he's gonna get his hat back! It's a true feel-good game and you'd have to be a modern Ebenezer Scrooge not to get a smile out of this one.
Racing Comrade - It isn't so much the game play that makes this one of my top games of 2011, although don't get me wrong, the mechanics of this racing game are both novel and fun. It's the Pythonesque animated political figures, especially the multiple Marxes in the clouds; it's the strangely catchy Soviet music; it's the sounds your hapless opponents make when you shiv them; it's the quotes you get when you lose a race, which are almost worth losing the race on purpose. Comrade Hegel is right: my love for this game was historically inevitable.
Tricky's 2011 Picks
Cactus McCoy - The game so nice, it kicked butt twice! For a rip-roarin', action-brawlin', ol' western adventure, you can't do any better than Cactus McCoy and its sequel. Though nigh-perfect, I'd have to say the best par of them is the depth with which the developers reward exploration and lateral thinking: each level contains a half dozen moments where you ask yourself something like "Huh... I think that if I do this sequence of non-intuitive actions, I could juuuuust reach that platform. I wonder if there's something up there", and there almost always is. Their bouncy animations and hilarious weapon selections make them play like an interactive Chuck Jones cartoon, and their expert design puts many paid-for titles to shame. Yippie-Kai-Yai-Yay!
The End of Us - Just because something is quiet doesn't mean that it doesn't have something to say. The End of Us is a simple, artistic game about two meteors playing among the stars... and it is absolutely beautiful. Subtly presented, with a story arc that manages to be evocative while left largely open to the personal interpretation of the player, it's the kind of game that should be pointed to when defending the artistic value and possibilities of the medium. The captivating soundtrack and celestial prettiness of the visuals is but icing on the planetary cake. Two minutes of play contains so much emotion only once in a blue moon.
Lee Lee's Quest - Some works are so exceptional in one aspect that it makes up for everything else. Lee Lee's Quest would be a merely solid, if unremarkable, platformer were it not for one thing: Joshua Tomar's voice-acting. He absolutely commits to his role as the titular blue blob, and just knocks it out of the park. He voices his character like an insane combination of Doctor Orpheus, Flint from GI Joe, Gaston, and The Tick, and it TOTALLY WORKS. I want him for my GPS. Certainly the cleverness of the writing is to be given partial credit, but the joke of an oblivious hero taking on a relentlessly sarcastic world might have worn thin if not for Tomar's comedic timing and ability to wring laughs out of even the most innocuous of lines. Considering how voice-acting can be questionable in even the biggest-budgeted of releases, it's all the most impressive that it makes Lee Lee's Quest the laugh-out-loud funniest game of the year, and thus a personal favorite.
Hop, Skip, and an Upgrade: If, like a good meaty chunk of our readers, you found Andrew Morrish's Super Puzzle Platformer ridiculously addictive, this just may be news you can use. The developer has just announced the upcoming Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe for PC, and it's a considerable step up from the original while still maintaining all the bouncy gameplay you love. It promises not only new levels, obstacles, and characters with special powers, but also multiplayer so you can reinforce all your friendships by crushing your buddies beneath your superior bootheel. For more information, hit up the official website!
I Triple Dog Dare You Always wanted to start your game developing dreams but weren't quite sure how? Why not participate in the 22nd installment of Ludum Dare, happening this weekend? If you're not familiar with it, the competition, which is open to everyone, tasks you with creating a game based on a specific theme, all on your lonesome... in 48 hours. If that sounds intimidating, well, don't let it scare you! All sorts of talent levels and experience makes a showing at Ludum Dare, and some really inspiring stuff comes out of it. Check out the rules if you're interested in joining, or just show your support for the brave developers getting pumped up for the task!
Want to check out this week's interview? Continue reading for an interview with Jay Ziebarth!
Jay Ziebarth, or Zeebarf as a lot of his friends know him, is a developer whose knack for wild design and imagination has lead to a series of extremely distinctive and popular games like the Several Journeys of Reemus series, A Small Favor, and many more. With the recent release of The Visitor Returns, and his first premium adventure, The Ballads of Reemus (for which he graciously provided us with some screenshots) on the horizon, it seemed like the perfect time to sit down with him and mine his grey matter.
You've been working together with Steve Castro for some time now. What's that like? How did you two decide to join forces, and are the ever any differences of opinion?
I met Steve during the Newgrounds.com game collaboration "The Power of 3". He had an idea for a game called "Paradox Embrace", the concept was already pretty fleshed out so I just had to do the artwork for the game. I really appreciated Steve's focus and attention to detail and that he approached his programming with the same passion that I approached my art. At the time we were both looking to take our gaming careers to the next level, so we joined forces and created "ClickShake Games". Now, despite living in different countries (I'm in Ontario, Canada and Steve lives in Ohio) we have an exclusive partnership working full time on game development.
I really find that Steve balances out my irrational artist side. I tend to follow my gut on most things and Steve approaches things from a much more logical perspective. Even when we disagree on something I find that our two personalities meld well enough that we actually come to a compromise that is much stronger than what either of us started with.
The funniest thing about all this is despite having been working together for over two years we've only ever met in person once. Gotta love the internet!
Most of your adventure games, particularly those featuring Reemus, tend to feature really outlandish and imaginative designs for everything from characters to environment that are almost always integrated in your puzzles somehow. How do you design those puzzles to make them fit around your creative art... or is it the other way around?
I really love creating weird worlds and characters, so when creating puzzles I just let my imagination go and pick up the pieces later. I find it easier to work out a puzzle idea first, then see how crazy I can push the art. I'll start with a puzzle concept, like Reemus needs something sweet to pour on an object, then I'll go to the weirdest idea that I can think of that involves the simple concept of sweet. That's how I end up with strawberry daiquiri bushes and ice cream cactus'.
I will say having crazy environments like that does make creating visual clues for the player easier. For instance I could make some strange plant that has a sweet flower but then I have to find a way to explain that information to the player. If I just make that flower have a chocolate glazed donut for a head, the player can figure it out without any extra prodding from me.
The Visitor: Massacre at Camp Happy had drastically different gameplay than what you're typically known for. Why the change in focus? What sort of challenges did you encounter making a game that played more like an action puzzler than an adventure?
It was basically an experiment. Adventure games tend to be extremely art heavy and time intensive for me, so Steve suggested trying a different genre that might give me a bit of a break while still allowing us to build on our brand. Overall it's a different thought process than I'm used to. I decided to let Steve take the reigns on level design and I just concentrated on artwork and writing. I really learned the value of creating reuse-able art assets during that game. Seeing the level designs Steve could dream up using a few art resources made me think about how I might be able to get more mileage out of some of my art in the adventure genre. It was cool little departure for me and something I'd like to try again.
My biggest learning lesson in that was if we're going to do a new style of gameplay it's best to use a brand new character. With the Visitor people already had such a history with it that they found it hard to let go of pre-conceived notions about the character and just enjoy the game for what it was. Instead I got annoyed emails from people asking why new Visitors kept arriving every time one dies and why it lost its powers when it ate another animals instead of getting more evolved like the point and click version.
That's part of the reason why I wanted to do "The Visitor Returns", to give the hardcore fans of the first one more of what they wanted to see.
So lesson learned, next new gameplay style will feature an entirely new world and character.
Your upcoming adventure, The Ballads of Reemus: When the Bug Bites, is your first premium title you'll be charging for. Can you talk to us a bit about what to expect from it? You've called it "many times more epic" than its free counterpart, The Several Journeys of Reemus... what does that mean, exactly?
Well with the other Reemus games I never had enough time to finish a complete story, I'd get a few puzzles in and run out of time. I was getting sick of the cliff hanger ending. So I decided to take Reemus and Liam and give them a brand new tale, except this time tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. I knew going from free to paid was going to be a giant leap for some people, so we had to get ambitious with its design.
One thing we did to make it immediately stand out from its free counterparts was to make the game fully voiced acted. So in addition to Reemus (who's voiced by well known Newgrounds.com voice actor Joshua Tomar) and Liam, the game also features 34 other fully voiced characters. Along with 11 fully animated cutscenes, about 40 locations to explore and 100 items to collect, all in glorious full screen. Mitch Bowden, composer of the past Reemus musical scores has also returned. This time providing 40 minutes of original music. We've also added some optional side quests and Easter egg puzzles hidden throughout the game, so there should be lots of adventure to sink your teeth into. Overall I think we've finally delivered the experience the fans of the free ones have been asking for.
You've been making games for years now. Is there anything in particular you've taken away from it? Anything you feel has changed you or the way you look at playing and creating games?
If anything it's made me appreciate the amount of work that goes into making games. I have nothing but respect for anyone that can start and finish a game production. The process can be absolutely grueling sometimes and for every game that appears on the scene I can only imagine the amount that have been abandoned. That being said I really love making games and I hope to keep entertaining people with new and crazy game worlds for a long time.
Check out the official site for Zeebarf and Steve's upcoming premium adventure, The Ballads of Reemus, for more information and pre-order options!