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Will Players Always Scorn Mobile Games? — An Interview with Game Developer Tim Harris

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Ever since the emergence of downloadable smartphone games, mobile gaming has continued to spread like wildfire with no end in sight. Globally, mobile gaming revenue from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store topped $12.2 billion in the second quarter of 2017 alone. Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report shows that tablet and smartphone gaming composed 39% – over one third – of the overall gaming market in 2016. It’s estimated that by the end of 2018, mobile games will make up nearly half the market despite their relative youth. 

Image courtesy of Newzoo.

But despite its rising popularity, mobile gaming continues to be the redheaded stepchild of the gaming industry. Core gaming subcultures have formed around PC and consoles, with mobile or web gaming relegated to the “casual” sphere while casino and sports games are considered borderline evil. Ask any dedicated gamer about a smartphone game and they’ll likely scoff – but who could blame them? Mobile games are smaller in scope compared to their mainstream counterparts, and often must prioritize accessibility to the detriment of narrative or visual appeal. Of course, there’s also the plethora of obvious copycats made by sketchy pseudo-devs looking for a quick buck. 

Could a more seasoned developer change that sentiment? It’s certainly possible. After working at Industrial Toys with Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian, Tim Harris founded Gunslinger Studios, a growing mobile game company in Chicago, Illinois. Their first major project is the upcoming RPG Exiles of Embermark with support from Wargaming Mobile, the publishing giant behind World of Tanks. Tim was kind enough to share some words in an interview with Goomba Stomp, published below. 


GS: This is Lydia from Goomba Stomp. I’m here with Tim Harris, a developer who has worked on many games and recently founded Gunslinger Studios here in Chicago. Tim, thank you so much for being here.

TH: It’s my pleasure.

GS: So first, why mobile games? Is there anything in particular that attracted you to the genre?

TH: I grew up playing games from the time I was little – console games, PC games, et cetera – but as phones continue to get better and better, we’ve moved past games like Snake and Java games. Once we got to smartphones, we started to see what smartphones could do, I found that my own gaming behavior was starting to migrate towards mobile. I had less and less time to sit down for, you know, twelve hours and play. I had my time doing that – and I still love it to death. I love RPGs, shooters fantasy games, sci-fi, collectible card games, and I was thinking that I really want to bring those types of experiences to mobile. The emotion, the “gaming goodness,” the “falling down a rabbit hole…” I went into mobile hoping to bring in those types of experiences.

GS: Very nice, very nice. What are some key differences between making a mobile game and making a console or computer game?

TH: Sure. Well first, you hold a smartphone like this [portrait] and we, as a generation of developers, are used to designing in landscape – for computer screens and televisions.

GS: Right.

TH: It’s a totally different visual and controller challenge that exists. So a key difference is the ergonomics of it, and another is the mobile phone factor. You’re using touch, without having a controller in your hands. There are tons of interesting, elegant solutions and tons of funky things that we’ve seen done on mobile because of that control difference. That plus the visual difference I just mentioned, the fact that you have to confine the dimensions, actually creates a lot of interesting problems.

So right now, we’re designing in portrait, we’ve got very little horizontal space, and we’re trying to take the strengths of both controller and visual aspects. And then there’s also just the hardware – right now there’s a disparity in terms of what these devices can do versus what a console can do. And PCs will probably always stay ahead, because we can always upgrade. But we are having less and less problems with hardware capability. 

‘Exiles of Embermark’ solo arena combat.

GS: Very nice. Now, a lot of other gamers out there – particularly ones who grew up on console and computer games – seem a little reluctant to embrace mobile gaming. Do you have any thoughts on this?

TH: Totally. There’s no question that there’s definitely a “hardcore gamer stigma” on mobile games. And what I think is very interesting about that is that it’s not unlike the “nerd” stigma that was around gaming twenty or thirty years ago. We have people who think that “Oh, that’s a ‘fringe’ or strange kind of pastime,” it’s an old people thing. But now we have a whole generation who has grown up around gaming since the time they were tiny. There’s no one around today from 5-15 years old who doesn’t play video games. When you look at the young adult, just-out-of-school demographic, or even folks in their thirties, their earliest console was probably the SNES. They’re seven generations into gaming and they don’t accept mobile gaming as such.

So now there’s a stigma attached from gamers to mobile games, and there’s good reason for it. We haven’t seen experiences from mobile on par with what you can get on a console. There just aren’t games that are as good. Where all the development talent has been – up until five, maybe six years ago – has been in console and PC. There is obviously still a ton of talent there, but we’ve also been seeing how in the last few years a lot of talent get into mobile. Especially when you look at what’s been in big business lately. And we’re seeing more rich games that are like what a gamer would like these days. And I’m starting to think it’ll get a little better. Maybe in ten years, we’ll have a whole new generation of people who grew up without that stigma. A kid who’s being raised with iPad games right now likely couldn’t give two sh*ts about console or PC.

GS: Seems we already have plenty of people going “Back in my day…”

TH: Exactly. Young gamers who grew up gaming are saying “Back in my day…” I think that’s because they’ve been underserved by experiences on mobile. But that is starting to change And that’s what’s going to change minds – fantastic and real gaming experiences.

GS: Now, in a similar vein, are there any mobile games out now that you think are very good? Is there a mobile game on the market right now that ‘does it all right’?  

TH: Oh yeah. Just look at my home screen. I’m a huge fan of Clash Royale. Immediate, fast multiplayer – real multiplayer – in a very short period of time. Which is Gunslinger’s entire premise: short-burst experiences. Clash Royale is a distilled RTS/MOBA experience with, obviously, a lot of free-to-play mechanics. They’re really killing it right now. Hearthstone is another game that I play every day. It really scratches my collectible card game itch. I’m super excited whenever another expansion comes out, just like I was with Magic: The Gathering when I was younger, or the Pokemon trading card game, or any of the analog games I got into. I’m playing Nintendo’s Pocket Camp, it’s a reinvention of the Animal Crossing idea with lots of new ideas that are specifically mobile. Super Mario Run did the same thing, a distinctly mobile game with a familiar IP like Mario to give us a different kind of experience. I’m playing Lineage II, I’m playing Golf Clash, which is basically the Clash Royale meta put on top of golf.

GS: <laughter> That’s very creative.

TH: It is. It’s a really great game. Have you played it?

GS: I have not.

TH: So what’s wonderful about it is you play a hole against a real person. It’s multiplayer, so you get that flow of “Oh, I’m gonna dominate some person,” which for me is an addition. And I love single player games, but I also love being against a live person.

But that’s another thing – on mobile, people have really twisted what “multiplayer” means. Asynchronous multiplayer is not multiplayer, in my opinion. You’re playing someone else’s data, but that data is a bot – not a person. They set up the dominoes, but you’re knocking them down, right? It’s better when there’s a person on the other end playing against you. A battle of wits. So Golf Clash is just like Clash Royale – except golf.   

GS: I’ve noticed that on consoles, 1v1 duelist-style multiplayer is kind of starting to become a lost art in favor of team-based multiplayer, but I see that mobile gaming is beginning to pick that up.

TH: Exactly, exactly. And while we’re still doing “mono y mono”, 1v1, our ambition is to eventually get into Final Fantasy-style party-based mechanics. But I think the simplest way to do it is one person versus one person and build upon it from there. That’s the most “pure” – especially if you have a short amount of time. When we built our first game, it was against really fast multiplayer, but you’re only controlling one character, so it makes it simple.

GS: Nice, nice. Now back to your game, Exiles of Embermark what was your inspiration for it?

TH: So Exiles is heavily influenced from the look and feel of current MMOs, there’s also influence from CCGs like Hearthstone, our economy and the way we’re doing collections – for us it’s loot, for them it’s cards. We’re also drawing heavily from eSports games and short-form multiplayer games like Clash Royale, in terms of how we’re trying to condense a well-established game genre into a shorter form. We’re trying to scratch that itch you have for MMOs, RPGs, narrative, killing monsters, getting loot, that kind of stuff. That’s a challenge for a mobile game. How can you tell a story a minute at a time? It’s been a really interesting thing for us to tackle. RPGs that tell amazing stories – the Telltale series for example – have been a big influence on us. 

Exiles sample quest menu.

GS: What are some of the struggles that come with condensing a narrative? Players are very used to these extensive narratives, but how do you uphold a story that has to be told in sequences?

TH: Our solution to that was we’re having players tell the story. So what we’re doing is we’re creating what’s similar to an analog RPG. Something like you’d have in a Dungeons & Dragons session. The Dungeon Master creates, say, a general outline, but has to be prepared to improvise – to change based on the actions of the players. That was our solution to short-form narrative. What we’re doing is we’re tracking absolutely every single thing you do in the game, from the fights you do to what you kill, presenting choose-your-own-adventure choices based on things like how much time you spend in crafting, the loot you use, and the factions you join. So season by season (for us, a season is a month) we’re going to take all that data and turn it into a narrative.

For example, our house system is like a macro-guild system: it’s not a true guild system, there are six houses that every player in the community will join. Let’s say you’re in House Revenge, the current leading house  – you’re going to be graded against the other five houses each season based on PVP dominance, how you’re doing in PVE, and those rankings will change the politics of the game. So who’s on top, who’s in the middle, and who’s on the bottom will not only change the politics of the game, but the gameplay as well. So as the “Dungeon Master,” we will make changes and create challenges for people to go after House Revenge. We’re making advantages, disadvantages, and other narrative impulses that would incentivize players such as those in House Resolute and House Proper, who are closer to the bottom.  

House ranking from the Exiles beta.

On an individual basis, your actions affect what we call Motivations, which include everything from Avarice to Belief to Compassion. The things you do will change those meters. It’s mostly data, but it creates a tapestry for a narrative. You can also compare them to all of Embermark. Are you more or less compassionate than the world at large? So we’re going to take those experiences and load that type of data when we talk about what happened. Where were we along the ‘compassion’ guideline last season? Or ‘greed’? We’re combining these basic ingredients – which are all data-driven – into a narrative. I guess ‘tapestry’ is wrong – it’s more of a palette.

GS: Very nice. Now, this all sounds very exciting – I’m excited for it – but do you have a favorite aspect of the game?  

TH: Me, personally?

GS: Yes.

TH: Um, can I choose two? Because there’s a lot going on –

GS: <laughs> Sure.

TH: Number one is what I just told you about, but in second, I think that it’s a super interesting challenge to try and tell a story in the way that we are. In a couple weeks – but don’t hold me to that timeline – we’re going to release seven pieces of episodic fiction that tell the story of before you, the player, arrive. Why the bad stuff happened, why the world is the way it is through the eyes of a narrator and someone who experienced it.  

But the biggest favorite for me is the combination of a rich character development system – you have stats, you have abilities, you have talent – all that customization that attaches you to a character coupled with a simple but deep combat system. That was our challenge when we first sat down.

GS: It sounds like a very personalized experience.

TH: We hope so.

GS: So handheld gaming devices – specifically the 3DS and the PSVita – have their appeal but never quite became as popular in North America as they did in Japan. Do you think mobile games could succeed where other handheld games didn’t?

TH: I do. In fact, I have a belief that because we’re getting more and more clever with the way we do control systems – with touch – I think we’re going to get to the point that there isn’t such a disparity between that and an analog or digital controller. There’s still a tactile feel that’s very satisfying for handheld systems like you just described. Often times, you feel that there’s something missing from a touch experience – I don’t know what it is about humans, but there is something to that. But the convenience of carrying around something like this in your pocket ends up bridging that gap. It’s the same thing that happened with cameras – save for high-end enthusiasts, most people just use their smartphone rather than buy a digital camera. When we see games begin to get to that point, I think we’ll be okay.

But the actual question you asked me is ‘could they succeed,’ and I think we’re already seeing some of what I described eat into what’s going on in those handheld industries. We could talk for three hours about the Vita in terms of what’s been done and how it was marketed, sold and supported. I think the DS is a better example: it sells great over here, it’s certainly not in a slouch, but we are seeing Nintendo finally starting to make games for touch when they weren’t before. And let’s face it – the best DS games are first party Nintendo games. Not to disparage anyone else, but my favorites, my friends’ favorites, and the ones at the top of the sales charts are the first party games. They have started to do cool things with touch, but whether those systems continue or not, I don’t have a prediction for you. I think as long as fantastic games are made exclusively for those systems, they will continue to have a place in the world. But I do think that typical mobile is eating into those experiences. I think that the attitude toward touch mobile is a dying attitude – it’s prevalent today, but I don’t think it’s going to go up. I think it’s going to go down.

GS: To build on top of that, mobile games are extremely popular nowadays – and their numbers are continuing to rise. Do you think this will have an effect on the game industry as a whole?  Do you see the industry starting to go in a different direction?

TH: It already has. On a couple of different points. I think there’s no argument with the numbers, like you just said. Especially when you look at a company like Supercell and you look at the type of legwork they’re doing, and the specific mobile-y unique – that’s not a real phrase – experiences that they’re bringing to the table.

And when you look at the free-to-play market, when you look at a company like EA and all that crazy loot box stuff that happened with Battlefront 2 – all that is definitely inspired by what was happening in mobile. You’re starting to see mobile-like things happen in console games. Fortnite is a great example of this – we’re seeing lots of influence from mobile game systems. It’s not just about the monetization.  Mobile game loops and systems are making their way into the mainstream. There’s that business effect that’s happening. Console DLC, for example, has become a lot more common, and I think that’s influenced by the ongoing upgradeable nature of mobile games. And then finally, you have the emergence of companion apps for console and PC games. Some of the coolest apps out there are add-ons to League of Legends or World of Warcraft – some first party, some others – and they’re doing interesting things that are very convenient to use. We used to have to use plugins and whatnot, but now you can carry that capability around in your pocket.

GS: Even though mobile games are relatively young, it seems like the mobile industry and the PC/console industry are already starting to borrow from each other.

TH: They absolutely are, and I think there’s going to be more and more of that. But we still differentiate them as if gaming here and gaming there are two totally different things.  They’re not. Even I still think of them as different. But eventually it’ll seem more like “gaming” as opposed to “this platform gaming” and “that platform gaming.”

GS: It’s definitely a very exciting time to be gaming.

TH: One hundred percent.

GS: Tim, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you so much for being here today.

TH: Thank you.  


Gunslinger isn’t the only company that wants to change mobile gaming sphere, however. In an unexpected move, thatgamecompany – widely known for their titles Flow and Journey – will be releasing their next game Sky on iPhone and iPad before any other platform. If even more known and experienced developers follow suit, it could signal a new era for mobile gaming (and topple the stigma against the industry’s smaller sibling).

Whether classic gamers like it or not, mobile gaming is here to stay.

Gunslinger’s Exiles of Embermark is currently in development. Learn more by visiting their website, Facebook, or Twitter. Tim can be found on Twitter as @TheWzrd.

Student, writer, and animation enthusiast based in Chicago, IL. I've been gaming since my parents made the mistake of buying me a Game Boy at age six.

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10 Years Later: ‘Mass Effect 2’ is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic

Mass Effect 2 didn’t just nail the formula for a successful sequel, it tied together one of the greatest science fiction tales ever.

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Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect launched in 2007 as the boldest science fiction project ever conceived for consoles. The complex mythology, history and the many alien races, each with their own political/religious beliefs offered a depth rarely seen in the medium. Only a game as ambitious as Mass Effect 2 could not only match the pedigree of such a massive project but surpass it in every single way imaginable.

Released 3 years after the original, a full decade ago, Mass Effect 2 set the benchmark for not just sequels but for science fiction gaming as well. Few sequels are able to overcome the weaknesses of their predecessors with such perfect accuracy while also doubling down on what made them good in the first place.

The first task that fell to Bioware was to refine the combat. The original game had more of a strategic angle to it but that strategy meant the game was constantly stopping and starting, stuttering the action and ruining the flow of the game. By streamlining the combat into more of an action RPG experience (emphasis on action), Mass Effect 2 created a much better sense of tension in battle sequences. Aiming, using techniques and issuing orders also flowed more smoothly with these changes.

'Mass Effect 2' is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic

Another major change was the removal of the Mako, an exploratory rover the player drove around alien planets with. While a novel idea, the Mako often lead to aimless wandering as the player sought out resources on the many planets of Mass Effect. Instead of driving to their destination, players were now warped directly to the area they would be exploring. Resource collection was overhauled as a result.

While few players will talk about the thrill of spinning a globe around and aiming a reticle in order to collect resources in Mass Effect 2, the simple speed by which this process was streamlined offered a hefty margin of improvement over the original game. Resources that might have taken a half-hour to collect in the first game could now be found in 1/10 of that time. Resource collection, while a vital part of the game, was never meant to be the time sink it was in the original Mass Effect, and by speeding up this process, Mass Effect 2 allowed players to get back to the meat of the game: doing missions and exploring the galaxy.

Of course, these aren’t necessarily the most significant changes that players will recall from their time with Mass Effect 2. The story and character roster were also expanded considerably from the first game, and these are without a doubt the biggest improvements that this sequel is able to mount.

Mass Effect 2

While Mass Effect had seven playable characters, Mass Effect 2 expanded that to twelve. Not only was the amount of characters an improvement, though, the quality of the characters on offer was also much stronger this time around. A full nine new characters were introduced for players to utilize in combat, strategize with and get to know throughout the game. Among them were badass assassin Thane Krios, dangerous convict Jack, morally dubious Miranda Lawson, and hivemind robot Legion.

In fact, the cast of Mass Effect 2 is so good that it has rightfully become a benchmark for the creation of a compelling cast of characters in RPGs, and video games, in general. The sheer diversity on display in the looks, personalities and movesets allowed for the cast is awe-inspiring, and this is without even considering the trump card that Mass Effect 2 flashed throughout the experience of playing the game.

The monumental suicide mission to raid the Collectors’ base and save humanity is the impetus for the entire plot of Mass Effect 2, and the reason for which the player is recruiting the baddest mother fuckers from all over the galaxy in hopes of success. It isn’t just a suicide mission in name either, many, or even all, of the cast can die during the completion of this mission, adding a layer of suspense and finality to the final stage of Mass Effect 2 that few other games can match.

'Mass Effect 2' is An All-Time Sci-fi Classic

To this end, players were encouraged to get to know their crew through loyalty missions specific to each cast member. By undertaking these optional missions and completing them in a way that would impress or endear themselves to the character in question, players were able to ascertain the unquestioned respect and loyalty of that character, ensuring they wouldn’t go rogue during the final mission.

Still, even passing these prerequisites with flying colors wasn’t a guarantee for success. Players also had to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of the characters when assigning tasks and making split-second decisions. Who you would leave to recon an area, repair a piece of equipment, or lock down a path, could make the difference as to who was going to survive the mission. Further complicating things, the characters you wanted to take with you to final branches of the mission might be the very people best suited for these earlier tasks.

Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop”.

Getting everyone out alive is a truly Machiavellian task, requiring either a guide or multiple playthroughs in order to get it precisely right. To that end, my feeling is that it’s better to go at it honestly the first time around, dealing with the requisite losses that this experience entails. After all, it isn’t really a suicide mission without a couple of casualties right? Even with all of my preparations and foresight, I lost Tali and Legion in the final mission, but for the fate of the human race, these losses were an acceptable cost.

Mass Effect 2

Even outside the strength of this fantastic cast and the monumental undertaking of planning and executing this final mission, there were other key characters and elements introduced as well. The Illusive Man, voiced by the great Martin Sheen, emerged as a necessary evil, saving Commander Shepard from death but asking morally complex decisions to be made as the cost of doing business. The relationship with, and the choices the player makes, in regard to The Illusive Man have far-reaching consequences for the remainder of the series, and as he emerged to become a primary antagonist in the final game of the trilogy, the considerations to be made were vast and insidious by their very definition.

With so many factors working in its favor, Mass Effect 2 is the rare game that is so perfectly designed that both its predecessor and sequel suffer by comparison as a result. While the improvements of ME2 make it hard to go back to the original game, the scope and ambition of an entire cast that could be alive or dead at the end of the journey also neutered the third game, causing many of the best characters in the trilogy to be excised from the final leg of the trip.

Truly, Mass Effect 2 isn’t just one of the greatest science fiction games of all time, but one of the best science fiction experiences in any medium, full stop. Like The Empire Strikes Back before it, Mass Effect 2 is the best exemplar of its universe and what makes it compelling and worthwhile in general.

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PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Speaking Simulator,’ ‘Iron Danger,’ and ‘Wildermyth’

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Iron Danger

PAX South brought an extremely diverse lineup of games to San Antonio, and in this next roundup, it’s time to look at another diverse assortment of titles. These include Speaking Simulator, the surrealist take on the art of speaking, Wildermyth, a beautiful new RPG based on D&D, and Iron Danger, a surprisingly player-friendly take on roleplaying.

PAX South

Speaking Simulator

When asked why he was inspired to develop Speaking Simulator, the developer promptly responded, “I don’t know!” That was exactly what I felt while playing its demo at PAX. It left me mystified, amazed that it exists, overwhelmed by its complexity, and delighted with its absurdity. Speaking Simulator follows a highly advanced android tasked with assimilating into human society in order to gain world domination – and to do that, he’ll need to learn how to speak first. Players are thus tasked with controlling every aspect of this android’s face and guiding it through increasingly difficult social situations.

Speaking is an awkward art for many people (including myself), and Speaking Simulator is just that: awkward. You can control nearly every aspect of the android’s face. You can move its tongue with the left stick and its jaw with the right, while manipulating its facial expression, eyebrows, and more with other buttons. This leads to a delicate balancing act where complete control feels just barely out of reach so that you must always be alert and able to sufficiently direct your mechanical face.

PAX

During each conversation, you’ll have so many different moving parts to consider. You’ll have to follow prompts about where to move your tongue, how to adjust your mouth, how your face should look, and so on. The more complex the conversation, the trickier it is to speak. Scenarios during my demo included a date, a job interview, and the most normal social situation of all, speaking to a man while he’s using the toilet. And of course, if you don’t perform adequately in these conversations, then your face will start to explode – which is only natural for awkward conversations, after all.

Speaking Simulator is the definition of controlled chaos. It shows just how difficult it really is to be a human – controlling the face alone was far more than I could handle, as my frequent face explosions during my demo showed me. Playing Speaking Simulator was an equally hilarious and surreal experience, one that I can’t wait to experience in full when it releases on Switch and PC at the end of January.

PAX

Iron Danger

Iron Danger was one of my biggest surprises at PAX South. When I arrived at the Daedalic Entertainment booth for my appointment with Iron Danger, I didn’t expect to enjoy it half as much as I did. As a western-styled, point and click RPG, Iron Danger was outside my comfort zone. Yet the game is explicitly designed for players like me, who can feel intimidated by the immense amount of strategies and decisions that the genre requires. This is thanks to its core mechanic: time reversal. Perhaps this mechanic isn’t entirely unheard of in RPGs (Fire Emblem: Three Houses comes to mind as a recent example), but the way it’s implemented in Iron Danger makes all the difference.

It begins simply enough for an RPG. Your village is under attack, and as you attempt to escape to safety, you have the misfortune of dying. But death is only the beginning: just as you fall, a mysterious being blesses you with the ability to rewind time at any moment you’d like. That means that if you ever make a wrong move during combat, then you can reverse that decision and try something else. Time is divided up into “heartbeats,” which are measured in a bar at the bottom of the screen.  If you want to go back in time, simply click on a previous heartbeat. There’s no limit on how often you can use this ability: battles become a process of trial and error, of slowly rewinding and progressing as you discover what works. If you end up walking into an enemy trap, simply click back to the heartbeat before the ambush, and try a different strategy.

Iron Danger takes the stress out of roleplaying. RPGs are all about making decisions, and typically, making the wrong decision comes at a high price. But thanks to the time-reversal mechanic, Iron Dungeon gives you the room to experiment without consequence. As the developers at the booth explained to me, the ability to undo your actions turns Iron Danger into more of a puzzle game than an RPG. It’s all about evaluating your situation, the abilities at your disposal, the locations and actions of different enemies, and so on. And if everything goes wrong, then there’s nothing to worry about.

That doesn’t mean that Iron Danger will be too easy, however. Current indications point to the opposite. After I played through the tutorial, the developers took over and showed me an advanced, extremely complex level from later in the game, filled with deadly enemies and dynamic environments to consider, with fields that can catch on fire and explosive barrels to throw at enemies. You’ll have to constantly skip forward and backward in time only to survive. This combination of player-friendly mechanics and hardcore roleplaying combat is an exciting mix, extremely appealing for someone like myself who loves RPGs but doesn’t enjoy the stress that often comes with them.

Wildermyth

Wildermyth

In addition to video games, PAX South also had a substantial portion of the exhibit hall devoted to tabletop games – including, of course, Dungeons and Dragons. But if you wanted to experience D&D-style action without leaving the video game section of the expo, then Wildermyth perfectly fit the bill.

This new RPG is a hybrid between DnD storytelling and worldbuilding with XCOM-esque combat. Like D&D, it allows players to forge their own adventures and stories. Decisions during story events can impact everything from the way the larger story plays out to the weapons your character can use in each battle. Story sequences play out randomly, with events occurring differently depending on which enemies you’ve faced, which characters are in your party, which regions you’ve explored, and so on. It’s an extremely variable story, but with such adaptable writing, each story sequence feels natural, despite its apparent randomness. Instead, it should encourage replayability, to experience every possible story beat there is.

Wildermyth

Combat plays out in a grid-based strategy style, similar to games like XCOM. Each character is decked out with unique abilities of their own, and can interact with their environment dynamically. My favorite ability to experiment with was with the mage character, who can imbue environmental objects with magical abilities, such as attacking enemies who get close or inhibiting nearby enemies with status debuffs. I loved exploiting my surroundings and constructing the best strategies during my demo, and cleverly using special abilities like these will likely be key to strategically mastering combat later in the full game.

Like so many other games at PAX, Wildermyth also boasts of a visually distinct art style. The entire game is framed as a storybook; narrative sequences play out in comic book-like illustrations, and environments and characters consist of flat paper cut-outs in 3D surroundings. Pair this with a muted color palette and a simple, hand-drawn style, and Wildermyth has a quaint, comfortable art style that really supports the fairytale feel of the whole game. Currently available on Steam Early Access, the full game is set to release later this year.

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Indie Games Spotlight – Pastels, Parenting, and Pedestrians

Check out five of the most creative and compelling upcoming indies in the second Indie Games Spotlight of 2020.

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Indie Games Spotlight

Indie Games Spotlight is Goomba Stomp’s bi-weekly column that shines a light on some of the most promising new and upcoming independent titles. Though 2020 is already scheduled to have several of the most anticipated indie releases of the last few years, this time we’re going to focus on games coming out in the immediate future. From vibrant brawlers to daughter raising simulators, you’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy in the coming weeks.

Super Crush KO; Indie Games Spotlight

Be John Wick for a Day in Super Crush KO

The neon-tinged shoot ’em up Graceful Explosion Machine quickly became one of the best indies on the Switch in 2017. Almost three years later, the same crew at Vortex Pop is back again with Super Crush KO, a fast-paced brawler set in a vibrant, near-future city. Despite the change in genre, however, it’s clear that Vortex Pop haven’t lost their design sensibilities in the slightest.

Super Crush KO plops players into a pastel world full of evil robots and cat-stealing aliens. Such is the situation of protagonist Karen when she’s rudely awoken to find her fluffy, white-furred pal catnapped. Thus, she embarks on a mission to punch, kick, juggle, and shoot anyone trying to keep her from her feline friend. Just like with Graceful Explosion Machine, the goal here is to clear levels with style, rack up high scores, and climb the leaderboards to compete with players around the world. Super Crush KO is out now for Switch and PC.

LUNA: The Shadow Dust Rekindles Lost Memories

Luna: The Shadow Dust is an absolutely stunning, hand-drawn adventure that follows the quest of a young boy who must restore light and balance to an eerie, enchanted world. This lovingly crafted point-and-click puzzle game originally began as a Kickstarter and is finally seeing the light of day after four long years of development.

Beyond its frame-by-frame character animation and appealing aesthetics, LUNA also promises to offer all manner of environmental puzzles to keep players engaged. Control will be split between the boy and his mysterious companion as the two gradually forge a bond and try to uncover the boy’s lost memories. With emphasis placed on emergent storytelling and atmospheric mastery, LUNA should be well worth investigating when it releases on February 13th for PC. Don’t miss trying out the free demo either!

Georifters – An Earth-Shattering Party Game

Genuinely entertaining party games are shockingly hard to come by in a post-Wii world. Georifters looks to fill that gap by offering a multiplayer-centric platformer centered around spontaneous terrain deformation. Players will be able to push, flip, twist or turn the terrain to overcome challenges and battle competitors in hundreds of stages in single-player, co-op and four-player multiplayer modes.

Of course, multiplayer will be where most of the fun is had here. Each character boasts a unique terrain-altering ability to help them attain the coveted crystal in every match. This makes character selection a serious consideration when planning a winning strategy against friends. To drive this point home even further, there will even be dozens of unique themed skins for players to customize their favorites with. Just like the original Mario Party titles, get ready to ruin friendships the old fashioned way when Georifters launches on all platforms February 20th.

Ciel Fledge; Indie Games Spotlight

Master Parenting in Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator

To say the simulation genre is ripe with creativity would be a massive understatement. Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator takes the Football Manager approach of letting players manage and schedule nearly every aspect of their daughter’s life; classes, hobbies, time spent with friends, you name it. The week then flies by and players get to see how their decisions play out over the weeks, months and years that follow. To keep things engaging, extracurricular activities and school tests are taken via a fascinating blend of match-three puzzles and card-based gameplay.

Just like in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it’s easy to imagine the strong bonds that’ll form after investing so much time and energy into Ciel’s growth into an adult. Better yet, Ciel Fledge is filled out by what Sudio Namaapa calls “a cast of lovable characters” for Ciel to befriend, learn from, and grow up with. Prepare to raise the daughter you always wanted when Ciel Fledge: A Daughter Raising Simulator releases on February 21st for Switch and PC.

The Pedestrian; Indie Games Spotlight

The Pedestrian – Forge Your Own Path

The Pedestrian puts players in the shoes of the ever-recognizable stick figure plastered on public signs the world over. From within the world of the public sign system, players will have to use nodes to rearrange and connect signs to progress through buildings and the world at large.

The Pedestrian is a 2.5D side scrolling puzzle platformer, but the real draw here is the puzzle aspect. The core platforming mechanics are on the simpler side; players can jump and interact with different moving platforms, ladders, and the occasional bouncy surface. The possibilities of where this novel concept can go will all depend on how inventive the types of signs players can navigate will be. The character is also surprisingly charming; it’s inherently fun to guide the little pedestrian man through buildings and environments he wouldn’t normally find himself in.

Whether you’re a puzzle fan or simply appreciate the aesthetics, be sure to look out for the full journey when The Pedestrian launches on PC January 29th. Get an idea of what to expect by trying out the free demo too!

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