Alec Holowka, whom I worked with on Aquaria, has written an article about the new direction of Marian, his current project, including his decision to switch from 3d models to 2d sprite art. Alec, as always, is very honest about the challenges he’s faced as a game creator, and explains in depth what has happened with Marian these past two years. It’s a heart-wrenching and inspiring read.
I don’t know how it is where you are, but over here the Christmas tunes have already started creeping out of the tinsel-covered woodwork! In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the things in the world of indie game music that have brought holiday cheer to me recently. It really feels like it’s been a stand-out year for indie game composers, who are doing some amazing things in this community. Have a listen!
Plants vs. Zombies OST – One and half years after the release of Plants vs. Zombies, composer Laura Shigihara has been given permission to put out the game’s soundtrack, which includes both English and Japanese versions of her hit song “Zombies on my Lawn”. Laura is also working on Melolune, an RPG based around the concept of collecting song fragments.
[This is a guest post by ChevyRay.]
The Indie Music Cancer Drive has announced March 1st, 2010 as the release date for Songs for the Cure ’10. A new website has been launched for the campaign at www.cancerdrive.org, where you can already pre-order the CD.
With the drive’s past success (it has raised over $6000 since it began in 2008) organizer Josh Whelchel has gotten even more ambitious this year, setting a $10000 goal, of which all proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society! While this seems quite high, a glance at the CD itself shows that Whelchel is dead serious. This year’s album features over THIRTY talented indie artists, all who have contributed music exclusive to the CD, and includes a wide range of music ranging from “…Pop, Jazz, Instrumental, Orchestral, Fusion, Alternative, Rock, Chiptunes, Musique ConcrÃ¨te, and even video-game-arrangements.”
Some names you might recognize that will be appearing on the album:
I am excited about this! Aquaria co-creator Alec Holowka, now of Infinite Ammo fame, has released the first teaser for his upcoming adventure/exploration game Marian. (Which was first announced a while ago.) As he’s said before, Alec is all about crafting a deep, personal experience for the player. And I wouldn’t pick anyone else for the job. I am sure his style of holistic game design will result in something truly special.
This is quite an ambitious endeavor, and one that Alec cares more about “than any other project” he’s worked on. If you’re interested in supporting him, head over to the Infinite Ammo site. Godspeed, Alec!
Great news – Paper Moon has been released on Blurst! The game, which features lovely black and white paper cut-out graphics, began as a short demo for Gamma 3d, but has been fleshed out in a collaborative effort between IA and Flashbang Studios, and makes use of Blurst’s recently added online leaderboards. Big pimpin’ Adam Saltsman (Gravity Hook) was responsible for much of the game’s original graphics.
As much as I enjoy Flashbang’s games, variety is the spice of life and Paper Moon is a great addition to their growing arsenal of fun, Unity-based web games. I hope there are more collaborations on the way!
Last year, Josh “TwiTerror” Whelchel and the independent game community raised over $800 for Relay for Life, a program sponsored by the American Cancer Society to help patients with cancer and to honor those who have died. Josh did this by selling copies of the very excellent Spirit Engine 2 soundtrack for $5.
For this year’s Relay for Life he’s hoping to raise even more by giving donors (of at least $10) a digital soundtrack that will contain music from a variety of talented musicians, including Kyle Gabler (World of Goo), Alec Holowka (Aquaria, Paper Moon), and my good buddy David Saulesco (Eternal Daughter). If you donate $25 or more, you’ll receive the soundtrack on disc. Not only that, but Josh will throw in a free copy of his upcoming album for anyone who donates $10+!
It’s a fantastic deal by itself. The fact that you get to beat up cancer at the same time makes it a must-have! Let’s try to blow Josh’s $1500 goal out of the water!
David Rosen of Wolfire Games posted his 4th design tour almost two weeks ago, and it’s about a game that I’m pretty familiar with – Aquaria! I’ve already mentioned this to David during our email discussions of the game and his tour, but apologies for not posting it sooner. I wanted to make sure that I gave the tour an adequate mindshare before I posted my response to it. (I’m also slightly hesitant to post news about my own games.)
First things first, I have to be honest and say that I was secretly hoping that David would do a tour of Aquaria, but I wasn’t sure if he had played the game or not. So yeah, I am pretty excited about it, considering the caliber of the other games he’s toured (World of Goo, Knytt Stories, and Gish). Thanks, David!
So anyway, my 2 cents (it’s actually more like a nickel) on his 2 cents:
David has a designer’s view of things, so it’s not surprising that a lot of the concepts he brings up during the tour were on our minds when we were working on the game. Chief among these was the idea of accessibility. Specifically, how much prodding should a developer give to the player to push him or her in the “right” direction, and to prevent them from getting stuck. “Getting stuck” has been anathema to game designers for a long time now, and it’s often cited as a chief reason why the classic point-and-click adventure genre died (in the mainstream industry, at least, but not so much in the indie scene). The holy grail of game design, it often seems, is to craft something that every person in the world can eventually get through and feel good about. And that’s not sarcasm at all – I genuinely believe that that goal underpins a lot of the choices that many designers (including myself) are making when they develop commercial games these days, for better or for worse. The fear, of course, is that if someone gets frustrated with your game or can’t get through it, then they will give the game a low score, they will not recommend it to others, or they will just give up before they get to some of the other goodies you spent a lot of time on.
And that’s something we did agonize over while we were working on Aquaria, and designing its puzzles, controls, and so forth, because it is a game we want people to play and experience fully, and yes, also purchase and feel good about purchasing. In actuality, a lot of the features that David mentions as being “hidden” in the tour (the hotkeys, the map, the hints, etc.) were added later on in the development (many of them as a patch Alec worked hard on after the release) to address those worries. As to why they are hiding in the game, rather than being displayed prominently, well… I think one reason is that we would prefer people to spin by spinning their mouse, sing spells note by note, and place each ingredient by hand, rather than using a hotkey to do it, and we would prefer that people get lost, even, rather than use a map hint. I won’t speak for Alec (even though I think he feels similarly), but I kind of wanted people to live in the game, and maybe even feel bad or bored about it occasionally. This is supposed to be Naija’s life, after all, and even though we didn’t want to make you watch her spend 5 minutes pooping after she eats, we did want you to feel (flashes, at least) of what her life is like, even the more mundane parts.
I’ll be the first to admit that it seems questionable to insert features into the game that you’d prefer the player not use, but in our case, I believe it was the right choice. Partly for the simple fact that it DID alleviate our fears with the game at a time when we were definitely worried that players would find the game too hard or too frustrating (i.e. it gave us more confidence in the game), and partly because people do find them and use them, but generally only if they are having trouble. It’s a bit of a fidgety situation, but I think it works pretty okay for the type of game that Aquaria is meant to be (your mileage may vary). I definitely should have added the hotkeys to the documentation, though – that was an oversight on my part that is easily rectified.
The puzzles – not so easy! The “Song Door” puzzle near the beginning of the game confounded us for a long time. If you had trouble with it now, you should have played its earlier incarnations (but I’m glad you didn’t!). I still feel like it’s a pretty simple puzzle, but I realize that that’s a meaningless opinion to anyone who got stuck on it for a long time. And David’s definitely right that, ideally, if a player comes up with a clever solution that should work within the context of the game, then it should work. I agree completely.
I am really glad David mentioned Alec’s level editor and animation editor, which are an amazing set of tools that we included with the game itself. I don’t think they get enough mention in reviews of the game. That the sprites have a slight “paper doll” quality to them is not ideal (we did try to think of ways around it), but it’s a small price to pay for the ease of the game’s creation (without which the game would not have been completed).
I do wish that there had been more mention of the game’s narrative and what was good or bad about how we executed it, because it’s a major part of the game and there were some interesting design decisions involved (like the use of voice over). But David told me that the original video was around 30 minutes long and he had to cut it down, which I understand. Overall, I, like the designers toured by David before me (that sounds slightly wrong!), am impressed with the things he pointed out and how close to home his observations were. In the end, I think we made the right choices with Aquaria, though it is not a perfect game by any means. But that doesn’t invalidate at all any of the things David pointed out.
Whew, okay, I said a lot more than I was originally intending to. That’s all (for now), and hope that it was somewhat elucidating! Thanks again, David. Looking forward to the next one!
HD trailer here.
Well, Aquaria has been out for over an Earth Year now (as of December 7th). Pretty hard to believe. I remember back in the day when it was all, “Why don’t these damn turtles move?!” And now look at it. All grown up and shipped and critically acclaimed and everything.
Here is the newest trailer ever, in honor of the game’s anniversary and, more excitingly, Big Update. This weekend, Bit Blot will release Aquaria version 1.1.1 (for Windows). This patch includes “widescreen, graphics and audio enhancements, improved puzzles, a new/awesome map system and more.” And a reduced price.
Alec and Derek have been working hard on this update since the game launched, addressing all the feedback the game’s received. (And that’s a lot!) If there was ever a time to get Aquaria, it’s now. (Yeah, I’m talking to you — no more excuses!)
Congrats, guys! A series of increasingly complex high-fives is in order.
NOTE: Dunno why this ain’t been posted yet, but a Mac version is also now available.
Alec Holowka and his Infinite Ammo team video blogged their trip to the Montreal International Games Summit, which went on like a week or so ago. Five videos long, there’s really only one word to describe the journey: EPIC. It’s probably worth it just to see Jon Blow get his boogie on to Soulja Boy, but the whole thing is just good, clean indie fun. Witness every possible method of high-fiving known to humankind.
Also, be sure to try out IA’s Paper Moon, which was featured at GAMMA 3D and is now available for download.
Videos 1, 2, 3, and 4 are after the jump.
What’s that I spy, hanging over the canvas sky? Why, it’s Paper Moon, a new game from my friend (and Aquaria partner) Alec Holowka, developed with his all-Canuck, Winnipeg-based studio Infinite Ammo. Made for Gamma 3D, this Unity-based platform game features true 3d graphics (using 3d glasses), and an interesting mechanic. The cut-out graphics are by the talented Katie De Sousa, with help from Adam Saltsman (Gravity Hook, Wurdle).
Play the demo at Gamma 3D in November!