Rezzed 2015 – Beyond Eyes

During Rezzed I was constantly amazed by the fantastic games on show, but I don’t think any of them struck me as strongly as Beyond Eyes, developed by Sherida Halatoe and Team17. If the latter name sounds familiar, they’re the studio behind extremely funny the Worms series. But what they had wasn’t a zany free-for-all between grubs, but a beautiful, serene and somehow both heartwarming and heartbreaking game. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Beyond Eyes

Rezzed 2015 – Volume

I have something to confess…I have never played Thomas Was Alone. I just knew what I read about it. Still, when the opportunity to interview Mike Bithell on his new game came along, I didn’t miss the chance. And I believe my lack of knowledge on his earlier work let me focus entirely on the new game, which is pretty damn cool! Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Volume

Rezzed 2015 – Taphobos

This one was strange. A game about escaping from a coffin and which you played from inside one. When I first read the press release for Rezzed I said to myself “No way in hell!” but this was my first Rezzed and if I didn’t do it I know I would’ve regretted it. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Taphobos

Rezzed 2015 – Knee Deep

I love Noir—the style, the tropes, the characters, everything. It’s one of my favourite genres. So when I saw Knee Deep on the Rezzed floor I had to take a shot. Also, someone I know with really good taste in adventures recommended it, so you know, double shot. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Knee Deep

Rezzed 2015 – The Weaponographist

Every time I saw the booth for The Weaponographist there were three things in common: first, I couldn’t do anything but chuckle at the silly name. Second, Danny the developer was helping people play and offering commentary and talking to everyone around—he’s a really nice gent. And thirdly, it was full.

You see, Danny Garfield (one of the developers) from Puuba did something very interesting for his game. He put up a challenge: the best three times clearing the demo would get free games at the end of the day! When I spoke to him and tried my hand at the title a few times, I couldn’t beat even the lowest of record, while the guy next to me had already broken his own like four times. In fact, he came back the second and third day and did the same! By then he was playing at ludicrous speed!

So many rooms, so many enemies!
Check out that combo and Goop-count!

The title came from a brainstorming session. Danny tells the story and I will paraphrase it as I didn’t have a recorder on me at the time: “So, me and Dave, the other full-time member of the team, were talking about t and throwing out names. At some point, I just said ‘The Weaponographist!” and he gave me a look and said ‘What does that even mean?’ I started thinking ‘He…draws…weapons? He draws weapons! Yes! That’s it!’ And the name stuck!”

The Weaponographist tells the story of Doug McGrave, famed demonslayer-for-hire. When he’s passing by a town, a Witch asks for his helps against a demon incursion but because she can’t pay his high fee, he refuses…so she curses him. The only way to lift the curse is to save the town. The problem is the curse itself. Everything he holds turns to dust eventually, from his weapons to his gold and even his experience level.

Too handsome to get cursed, eh, Doug? Next time just take the job!
Too handsome to get cursed, eh, Doug? Next time just take the job!

Because of this, the currency you use in-game is “Goop,” a weird secretion left by monsters. It’s not that it’s currency in the town but it’s what they’re willing to take from you in form of payment and as proof of your demon hunting. It ties nicely into the plot while still being completely disgusting! You’ll use Good to upgrade your basic combat skills by weapon categories, so that you get more out of your weapons next time you use them. You can also—Danny mentions—have someone lift bits of your curse, lowering the speed at which everything degrades.

The game handles a lot like the classic game Smash TV, a run-and-gun. You go through square rooms filled with enemies and once cleared you go on to the next until you reach the boss. At the start, you only have your fists as weapons but killing enemies will sometimes make them drop theirs for you to pick up. But be careful, because of the curse all weapons in your hands will degrade over time. Every attack drops the weapon’s durability by a given amount. It’s actually quite interesting how you need to strategically pick up items and make the most out of them before picking up another. Some weapons are much more powerful than others and will have fewer hit points. You can carry a main weapon and secondary ones, which tend to have very little health, but on the other hand, they’re pretty powerful. My favourite was Dog Collar because with it I left flaming patches on the ground wherever I went. It was so cool!

The demo only had the first stage of the game, a few rooms with random enemies and a badass T-Rex boss with pulsar cannons, but the enemy variety was clear right from the start. I must have fought over 20 unique enemies in that short demo, from Satyrs throwing their horns as boomerangs to mobsters with Tommy Guns, and it’s so much fun you won’t care about the anachronisms or the weird creatures. It’s just top-down killing fun!

I did mention to Danny it would be awesome if the bosses dropped weapons, similar to Dark Souls’ Boss Soul Weapons and he gave me a bit of a bewildered look and said, “That is actually an awesome idea…I think we can add that!” Good to know I could have some positive effect there.

The most interesting aspect of it all, for me, is the Combo System. Killing enemies starts up a combo, and the longer it goes, the higher your stats are. This is because your Combo is actually your character level, constantly degrading, so you need to keep it up with kills so it doesn’t go away. If it does (as it will at the start of every new run) then you’re back at level 1.

Danny describes the game as being Rogue-light. There is the death and upgrade mechanic we see in many rogue-likes but you don’t lose the character.

Check out that combo and Goop-count!
So many rooms, so many enemies!

From a development standpoint I was curious about the game’s engine, thinking it would be another Unity title, but Danny surprised me by telling me the entire thing had been done in Java. They built their own engine and made the entire game for it, which is always awesome when you consider how small the team is: two developers/designers and about 4-5 artists working freelance.

The Weaponographist is coming out very soon. The demo hits in 3 weeks on Steam and the full release three weeks after that! For those of us who attended the event and played at the booth, there were flyers with an early access code to the demo. And you can bet your ass I’ll be streaming it soon to show you all just how fun this game is!

Rezzed 2015 – Zombie Vikings

You know, I’m happy I didn’t just keep to my schedule. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the chance to try Zombie Vikings with Zoink Games PR-Man Mikael Forslind. When I approached him and asked about the game, he immediately said, “Want to give it a go?”

How could I say no to that? So I took the 2nd gamepad and played a two-man coop with him, with another person joining us afterwards as we cruised through a couple of the demo levels killing monsters as our zombified Viking warriors while we spoke about the game and its development and everything else!

Zombie Vikings is a 2D sidescrolling beat-em-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Double Dragon where you control up to four undead Vikings, called into service by Odin himself. Loki has stolen his remaining good eye and made off with it for some nefarious purpose so he needs you to go get it back for him!

Loki and company discussing Odin's last eye! I love the art style! Loki's Guybrush Threepwood's Evil Twin!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Loki and company discussing Odin’s last eye! I love the art style! Loki’s Guybrush Threepwood’s Evil Twin!

The game is very easy to pick up and get into, with the familiar control and game style. Each of the zombies has a basic attack and a signature one and you can charge both of them. For my zombie, a burly female Viking, her charged main attack was a spinning one that reminded me so much of Link in The Legend of Zelda. Her signature was throwing out her arm like a hookshot if you allow me more Zelda comparisons, dragging her towards enemies, but when you charged it, it made her big muscles get even larger and then blow up, causing area of effect damage. She would then pop-up without losing her health.

In fact, there is no health in the game and as zombies your characters can’t die. They will however lose body parts. During our playthrough, Mikael’s character lost his head quite often and it was my responsibility to pick it up and bring it back to his body to get him into fighting shape again. In fact, picking other characters up is a valid playing strategy as there are some escort side-quests (more on that further down) and you don’t want them to get hurt. Besides, when you pick things up the characters will raise their weapons and the objects or people will just hang from them. It’s quite hilarious.

Mikael and our third man's Zombies: Caw-Kaa and Seagurd!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Mikael and our third man’s Zombies: Caw-Kaa and Seagurd!

The two sidequests we did were an escort mission and a fetch quest. The first one was to find a blind witch’s cat, or what she thought was a cat, and the reward was a nice sword shaped like a skunk’s tail. I really enjoyed this quest because it wasn’t just escorting the witch and finding the cat while wading through enemies but there was also a PVP element to it, as you need to deathmatch for the weapon. With zombies not dying, this meant fighting until someone lost their head. We were playing a 2-man game at the time so it was a simple match, but it left me wondering how fun it would be with all four players there in a free-for-all. Oh and by the way, I won!

The second mission I found to be even more enjoyable. First, it was rather short, just getting a jar of medicine from a goblin. We had our third player with us at this point and while Mikael and he distracted the creature, I quickly snatched the jar and took it to the doctor waiting for us.

Here's my Zombie, my girl Gunborg! She's ripped!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Here’s my Zombie, my girl Gunborg! She’s ripped!

The second reason I liked this quest much was because it tied to and demonstrated something Mikael mentioned when I asked about the characters: the four of them are unique, each with their own personality, and personal goals and stories. During the campaign, the players would experience those different stories. In this case, the person the doctor was asking the medicine for was one of the vikings’ mothers, their estranged and almost forgotten mother, and seeing the mother speak to her undead child was both weird and funny and very touching.

One of the things Mikael was very keen to point out was that this wasn’t just a random button masher. There are cutscenes, side-quests, exploration and subplots to help break up the pace of the game and help it not become monotonous. Adding the colourful art-style, it also gives the game plenty of personality and charm, something to raise it above others in the genre.

During our playthrough we saw a few of the cutscenes, the first one with Loki speaking to a mean looking troll and the others being mid-mission and serving as side-quest and NPC introductions. The scenes themselves aren’t animated, just still images with text, but they work wonderfully for the game’s style. I’m not sure if they have audio—we didn’t have any headsets and I couldn’t hear anything over the rush of people in the venue.

The ‘cinematics’ also helped tell you about the zombies’ personalities. One of the characters told the witch with the skunk ‘cat’ something like “Lady, that isn’t a cat!” showing his perhaps brutal honesty or just bewilderment at the weirdness of it all, but he was quickly interrupted by my character berating him, “Shut up! She’s giving us loot!” I couldn’t help but laugh at this.

Seagurd's special skill is badass!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Seagurd’s special skill is badass!

As we played through the demo we collected loot from the quests and gold from enemies and chests and when I asked what the gold was for he told me there would be upgrades between stages, from more damage to special actions like double jumps. I followed it up asking if those special abilities would allow for greater exploration, maybe find hidden areas and he replied that of course, but also certain characters would have access to specific areas tied to their story and the same applied to the side-quests. If he hadn’t been playing his particular Viking, we wouldn’t have gotten the medicine side-quest, as it was a character arc quest.

In terms of exploration, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that the stages themselves aren’t completely flat, but have several layers. At one point, to get the witch’s side quest we crossed a bridge I thought was pure scenery, and it took us to a new area, a new foreground, with everything else moving into the background. The only thing I could say was, “This is awesome!” It’s such a simple element, such a tiny mechanic but it adds so much to the exploration, as I’m sure I’d be looking around for every branching path for secrets!

Gunborg fears NOTHING!!!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Gunborg fears NOTHING!!!

The game’s inspiration, for me, was clear. Norse mythology with some variation on the Einherjar myth, but Mikael told me there was more to this. Sure, there was the Norse myth connection and there would be Norse characters popping up throughout the game, but the real inspiration was old buddy-cop and road-trip movies, where the journey itself is the important bit, as well as all the strange things that happen on the way.

While we played, I wondered about what game modes there would be on release, thinking it was perfect for an arena-type mode, where you get waves you need fight off. He said it was a good idea but they didn’t have plans for that yet. He did mention, however, a secondary mode and it caught me off guard. It was something I didn’t really expect: soccer. But this being Zombie Vikings, it’s not a ball and you won’t be kicking it. Instead, you’ll compete to pick up goblins from the ground and chuck them into dragon mouths. Not exactly soccer but hey, it works!

Both the Zombies and Loki will meet a ton of interesting characters. I wonder who she is!
(Image Credit: Zoink) Both the Zombies and Loki will meet a ton of interesting characters. I wonder who she is!

Zombie Vikings is set to release later this year on PS4, PC, Mac and Linux and is currently in development using Unity, which was the tool of choice for most developers in the event. This is one I’m keeping an eye out for—I can’t wait to play it with my friends online. It would also make an awesome party game with local multiplayer!

Rezzed 2015 – SkyScrappers

Ground Shatter’s SkyScrappers was a lot of fun to play.

Starring a group of adrenaline junkies with no greater joy than beating the crap out of each other while racing up buildings in the middle of demolition, the game is fast-paced, acrobatic and extremely fun to play with others. I believe they have plans for online multiplayer but the local was fantastic, as I played against 2/3 of the team. They thoroughly kicked my ass of course, but at least I won 2 rounds. This is a four-on-four race and combat, and you need to win 3 straight rounds against your opponents.

You have two ways to do this: you either race to the top and reach the roof or you beat up everyone else. Having a lead on the race to the top is also a valid combat strategy because the one at the top determines how fast the screen scrolls up and if you fall under the lower screen limit, you take massive damage and respawn further up. It’s very similar to how Super Smash Bros. works in terms of leaving the stages.

The controls are fairly simple but it takes practice to master the movement and combat. You can jump and attack, but the jump distance and momentum depends on the angle of the debris you’re using as support. With the right angle, you can shoot up past your enemies and take the lead or an ineffectual little hop before you die, as I did for most of the match.

This game had one of the funniest inspirations of any game I saw at Rezzed: the art, plain and simple. The development team were big fans of the artist’s work and just created a game that would let them use it. To be fair, the art is pretty awesome.

With a game like this one I asked what game modes there were, as I figured some people might get tired of the frantic combat and it turns out there is a secondary pure racing mode, without HP and where you just need to make it to the top. You can still fight and kick and throw things at your opponents but they won’t die, which to me adds a lot more tension.

Speaking of throwing things, one thing I loved doing while I fought them was hit debris their way. When I did it right they tumbled way down and had to make their way back up. The downside was they then went after me because of it! Too vindictive these guys! They later told me I was right in hitting debris, and that it was one of their favourite strategies because if you pulled it off it was incredibly rewarding.

The game’s still in Alpha Stages but I loved what I played of it. And I will definitely organise a tournament as soon as I get my hands on a build, so we can all enjoy it and have tons of fun!

Rezzed 2015 – Fireproof Games – Omega Agent & The Room Three

When I read what Fireproof Games had to offer at Rezzed I immediately jumped at the chance to interview them about Omega Agent. VR games have always interested me and I couldn’t wait to try this one out as well as the Samsung Gear VR, to compare it with the Oculus Rift experience. They were also showcasing The Room Three, but at the time I had no idea what the series was about, though that changed rapidly. Continue reading Rezzed 2015 – Fireproof Games – Omega Agent & The Room Three

Rezzed 2015 – Sublevel Zero

I’ll say this: I hated Descent, the original big daddy of the Six Degree of Freedom genre (6DoF). I found it confusing, dizzying and uncomfortable. Then again, at the time I had no choice but to play it on a keyboard only setup, so that might have had a lot to do with it.

So as I sat down to play Sublevel Zero by SIGTRAP Games I thought I would thoroughly hate it. There were two versions on show: the first using gamepad or keyboard + mouse and the second using dual joysticks and the Oculus Rift. There was someone on the Rift version so I took a couple of shots at the demo with the K&M…and I liked it. I really did. It wasn’t even disconcerting to change pitch and inclination and roll around and change my perspective. It all felt really cool and I had a blast, no pun intended.

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) Pew-pew-pew! I can't believe how much fun I had with this.
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) Pew-pew-pew! I can’t believe how much fun I had with this.

By then the Oculus version was free so I jumped on it and I sucked at it. The VR worked wonderfully and one of the coolest things they did was alter your point of view depending on how close you are to the sensor. If you moved away from the screen, you would see more of the cockpit, and if you moved closer, it was like leaning over the edge—very interesting and adding a lot to the immersion.

I tried my best with this version but the turning/pitching stick was a bit too over-sensitive for my clumsy hands and I spent most of the time in a constant barrel roll and not the fun laser-deflecting kind. By the end, I did catch my bearings and started progressing but the VR version had a time limit and I’d gone way past it.

As I stood up, Luke Thompson—one of the developers and SIGTRAP founders—asked me, “So, what did you think?” And I told him everything. His reply to my barrel roll was simply, “Yeah, it might be a bit over-tuned, but that one’s a really good and precise joystick…the other one is just complete crap and it’s much stiffer!”

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) You wouldn't believe how many times I bounced around this hallway!
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) You wouldn’t believe how many times I bounced around this hallway!

When I asked him how the title came to be, he told me it was something that came naturally from a conversation between the team members. One of them had just come out of making a procedurally generated dungeon crawler. Speaking about it and being big Descent fans, Luke tells me he said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have [a procedurally generated] Descent?” The idea caught on quickly between them and when a third friend suggested the underground theme, Sublevel Zero was born.

SLZ was one of the few VR-focused games I saw at Rezzed and like all of them, this was a title conceived for the technology. According to SIGTRAP Games, the right way to play it is with the Rift and the dual joysticks, with single-stick and keyboard being the second best. As much as I enjoyed the Keyboard & Mouse controls, they made it perfectly clear that this was the wrong way to play it, but didn’t judge me too harshly.

I won’t lie to you, SLZ was a hard game and now I know it’s going to be even harder on release because of its rogue-like mechanics. If you die, that’s it, start from the beginning with another ship and give it a go. Luke did say, however, that there would be some hard checkpoints at various intervals in the game so you could start from that point instead of from the beginning, and like other rogue-likes, your earnings and collections in one play would carry over to the next so you can craft new items and systems. There will also be a New Game+ and I had to ask: “If you die at New Game+, can you start from NG+?” I was worried he’d say no and in that case, the game would be BRUTAL, but thankfully, he didn’t say that!

Technology and the pursuit of it are at the core of Sublevel Zero’s plot. The game’s setting is that far into the future where the universe itself starts collapsing and no one can figure out why. Your character and his teammates find an unused research station that might have all the answers and perhaps a solution to the crisis. Collecting technology then not only becomes a mechanic but part of the game’s story and progression. Enemies will drop random loot mostly in the form of weapons—with variable stats—and items, and bosses will drop larger pieces of ancient technology, unusable by the player but part of a plot collection.

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) One of the first rooms I got tossed around in while using the joysticks!
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) One of the first rooms I got tossed around in while using the joysticks!

Luke went a bit further on the upgrade mechanic and how it tied to the loot system. Using the crafting system, once you’ve collected the corresponding blueprint, you can combine some of your weapons into new ones. This adds a level of strategy and risk/reward management to it because you might not want to combine weapon A with B until you find a higher valued version of the two of them.

One thing that I didn’t see in the demo version was the inventory system. I mentioned to Luke that there were items you collected by interacting with them and others you just had to touch. He explained that the former go to your grid-like inventory, and the others are just consumables. He admits they need to make it a bit more clear, though.

When I asked him on funding and if they would attempt any form of early access or crowdfunding, he said no because Mastertronic had already picked them up straight out of the game-jam where they first built a demo for the game and have been funding the development ever since. In his words, “They’ve been amazing and I really have nothing bad to say about them!”

(Image Credit: Sigtrap Games) The enemies in this game hit hard!
(Image Credit: SIGTRAP Games) The enemies in this game hit hard!

Sublevel Zero is coming this year to Steam and the Rezzed build will be available soon for download and testing, and I’ll be sure to let you all know when that happens! It might be time I get my hands on an Oculus Rift (or a Samsung Gear VR)! And it might be wrong, but I think I’ll stick to Keyboard & Mouse for this…sorry SIGTRAP but I suck at dual joysticks!

Rezzed 2015 – Machiavillain

Machiavillain was a game I was incredibly curious to see. I’ve always liked the role reversal games, where you’re the villain. My friends know how much I love the Overlord series. And while I’ve never played it, I’ve always wanted to give Evil Genius a shot. So when I saw what French studio Wild Factor Games were doing, a Dungeon-Keeper style game but featuring classic horror monster and horror film rules for killing teenagers, I had to check it out!

Machiavillain makes you the mastermind behind a monster mansion. At the start, you’ll have a façade and gold to buy, but only Mummies and Zombies to do your bidding. The first thing you need to do is build your house, add furniture and make sure to add accommodations for your monsters. They might be minions and possibly soulless but they deserve room and board just like anyone else!

Do NOT disrespect the rules!
(Image Credit: Wild Factor Games) Do NOT disrespect the rules!

Then it’s time to start bringing in the victims, ranging from jocks and cheerleaders to geeks and virgins. Killing them drops loot and materials you can use to craft and feed your minions. Your zombies like Geeks very much because of their big brains! The more you kill the better your reputation is and you can recruit even more monsters to your mansion. But if too many victims escape, you get too much notoriety and then the authorities show up, followed by hunters if things get worse.

Monsters shuffle around rather slowly, but you can increase the game time to make time go faster, but you need to be careful because overworked monsters will abandon your mansion.

Each of the monsters has a different power. Zombies infect, Dracula can turn into a bat and hypnotize victims, The Werewolf is fast, etc. When I went through the monster list I saw there was a Freddy Krueger one and I immediately turned to face Wild Factor Founder and Lead Programmer, Alexandre Lautié, and Zimra the artist, and asked them “What does he do? I’m a massive Nightmare on Elm Street Fan!” They beamed at me for this but then gave me an embarrassed “We don’t know!” Poor Fred had just been added to the roster and they still weren’t sure what to do with him. And being big fans just like yours truly, they wanted him to be special. I can respect and applaud that. Only the best for that depraved monster Freddy!

(Image Credit: Wild Factor Games) DIE TEENAGER!!!!

On their inspirations, they mention Dungeon Keeper on the gaming side, but Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods as well. For the Horror game rules, a mix of classic horror films and the Scream series. I joked with them, saying, “Rule, don’t ever say ‘I’ll be right back!’” and we shared a nice laugh between us film geeks.

My turn with the game was terrible, but I had a ton of fun losing. I built a simple 1-room house and made the mistake of rushing to get victims in before my minions had finished. A couple came in and caught my monsters brick and carpet-handed and they both escaped to fight another day, while my minions kept at their original tasks completely embarrassed. I’d seen screens of them cleaning up blood and I didn’t even give them that!

You get victims into your house by putting up ads, and they range from generic ones that bring you random teenagers to specialised ones to bring in some of the bigger fish, such as the virgins and geeks! Then you just need to make sure your monsters are prepared and you have enough traps to lure the stupid teenagers away from each other. Remember, you can only kill them when they’re alone, unless they’re having sex! For this particular scenario, Wild Factor have even included a bed that folds on itself, as seen in Freddy vs Jason. You can’t imagine how delighted I was to hear that!

From what the team told me, you can build as large a mansion as you want, there’s enough space for it. The only limitation is you can’t build upper floors, though they did tell me the finished version of the game will have basement for the house’s spirit energy generator. To prove their point they loaded a previous game and the mansion made everything you’ve ever built on any of The Sims to shame! Compared to that, my little murder shack was sad and pathetic, but they assured me I would one day have my own monster murder mansion!

The little white tiles are the spots your monsters will put down flooring and stuff!
(Image Credit: Wild Factor Games) The little white tiles are the spots your monsters will put down flooring and stuff!

I found the visuals quite charming. Everything, including the monster carnage looks just so bloody cute! The first thing I did with my mummy was make it hide as a lamp by wearing a lampshade. It was too cool!

I can’t wait to know more and will be keeping an eye on this game and try to get as many previews as possible as they move from Alpha to Beta to release!

Shoutout to Alexandre Lautié and Zimra!