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Indie Games

I'm The Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor finally crawls out of the darkness and into the light of release. The timing behind it could not be more perfect with Capcom announcing that the horror genre is just too small for the Resident Evil series. With game like Anna, Phobos, the new Amnesia, and Lone Survivor now leading the way; indie looks to be taking up the mantel of making games that keep you awake at night.

Even from the very beginning of the game, Lone Survivor makes you feel weary of who or what to trust. As the possible last human survivor of an epidemic, you try to piece together what happened to humanity and try to survive. With gun in hand and food in your pocket, you venture forth as you solve puzzles and avoid monsters when you can.

This is not a pleasant place to explore, but you trudge on through every abandoned room and puss-covered hallways in order to survive. Lone Survivor brings a strangeness and uneasiness to it that I loved in classic horror games like Silent Hill 2. You might not always understand the trouble you’re in, but you know enough to get the hell out of there and just keep running.

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G4U

All this week, we here at G4 University want to help you to become the game maker you’ve always dreamed of becoming. If there’s one lesson that keeps coming up over and over again, it’s play games. We play to learn and to build our love of gaming. So for this week’s Indie Column, I want to talk about student games.

Don’t think for a second that you’re going to roll into your freshman class and churn out another Modern Warfare. That takes time, knowledge, and a whole lot of money. You actually live in an amazing time to become the next great gaming developer. Schools like DigiPen readily allow you to check out many of the big student projects that others before you have created. We all start somewhere, and this is your big break.

You’ve heard me talk about Nitronic Rush, Way, and Crayon Physics before. All of these games started out as just a project for class only to become big successes. Let’s look at some of the big games made by students that made a huge impact on gaming.

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Indie Game Spotlight

GDC gave me the opportunity to meet some amazing people filled with the ideas that will drive games into the new century, but also those with frustration. Some feel as though the community is too isolated, supporting their own while not helping those in real need. Others expressed how the press perpetuates this by not covering enough in the way of variety. Passion has a way of motivating us as well as turning against us when it goes unfulfilled. And when there’s nothing else, it all comes boiling out into a steaming rant.

But this is not a rant. With all the passion overflowing and fists clinched waiting for change, we need to look towards actions and not just words to pave the way.

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Fez

The innovative perspective-shifting platformer Fez won the grand prize of $30,000 at the 14th annual Independent Games Festival (IGF), hosted by GDC. Fez is the upcoming indie game that has everything you could ask for: great visuals, music, and of course, design. According to our Indie game expert Rob Manuel, "Fez represents not only what makes an indie game great, but also what makes gaming great."

Other winners included developer Daniel Benmergui for his work on the comic strip-based game Storyteller. He won the Nuovo Award, given to developers who advance the medium and way we think about games, and a $5,000 cash prize. Storyteller lets players drop characters into story panels, and the characters will react according to their personality traits. Neat!

You can find the full list of winners after the break.

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Packing for GDC

With GDC already underway and a very flustered Features Editor running around San Francisco, now would be an excellent time to see what I packed. Forget clean underwear and deodorant. You need to bring game knowledge with you when visiting the epicenter of all things game design. In these very halls, the future of gaming lives and breathes. So to share with you my packing tips for GDC, here are a list of games you need to get your thumbs on before heading out to the big event.

What You Should Have Played: Puddle

I’m thoroughly convinced that the water in Puddle comes from gamer hand sweat. The student game that made a splash at IGF 2010 recently hit XBLA and PSN just recently. With the other big games taking the spotlight, this physics-based puzzler needs a little extra love. With the help of dear old gravity by move the screen left or right; you transport a unit of liquid from one end of the level to the next. Sounds simple enough. With the lush greenery and soothing slosh of water, many players might have mistaken it for an environmental-themed LocoRoco.

And then the fire comes into play as timing movement becomes and issue as well as keeping up the momentum so every drop makes it across water hungry gaps. A water heater lies in wait at the end of the first level. As the plates heat up, you slosh the water left and right, hitting switches along the way to increase the pressure as well as open a vent where the water needs to go straight down the middle. Screen shaking. Water gushing. The timer ticks away. You’ve never sweat like this before over a cup of water.

Puddle takes simple controls to a level of difficulty few other games on XBLA dare to touch.

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Star Sonata 2

Some designers just want to develop a world where players can explore and conquer, but not Ryan Seaman. He’s too busy creating whole galaxies, massive stars clusters, wormholes to take you who-knows-where, and civilizations just waiting for you to discover or take apart. But you’re not in this alone. There is life out there among the stars, other players, just waiting to help you take on all those glowing balls of gas in the sky or to bring them crashing down on your head. Welcome to Star Sonata 2 – a free-to-play indie MMO where you, your ship, and your little slice of the cosmos take on the rest of the universe one photon blast at a time.

Anyone who remembered those classic space exploration games will be itching to take on the worlds of Star Sonata 2. Mixing real-time combat with RPG elements, you decide how to take on empires with a fleet or friends at your side. And for such a small team of developers, the game never sees to amaze in both scope and customization when it comes to gameplay.

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Dear Indie Games

As you wake up from your Mardi Gras stupor, your mouth tasting of cheap rum and expired asphalt, think about what really matters in life. I’m talking about indie games. As the big boys slowly put out a couple of titles for the beginning of the year, smaller developers hit the road running and haven’t looked back since the New Year’s clock stuck midnight. Here’s what you’ve been missing out on.

Virtual Trips And Letters Home

There’s no running, jumping, or interacting with the environment. You leave no footprint, literally and fugitively, on the island as you explore desolate caves and ramshackle shacks along the overgrown cliffs. The only hint of humanity comes from a disembodied narrator reading letters addressed to Esther. Instead of hitting a landmark and having him come on like a ghostly tour guide, narration randomly appears throughout your journey. Mysterious and at times unsettling, Dear Esther will go down as one of the essential games for anyone interested in understanding narration within virtual worlds.

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Retro City Rampage

Retro City Rampage lands on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, and PS Vita this May with PC preorders starting today. 8-bits of action have never been so highly anticipated as you get to tear through a virtual town, wrecking havoc and reaping all the rewards. More than just a trip down memory lane, RCR takes on every retro NES game from Mario to Bionic Commando without missing a beat. Everything from stomping of people’s heads to the torturous TMNT sewer level makes an appearance in this downloadable title. If you’re not talking about RCR now, you will be once it comes out.

We asked Brian Provinciano, founder of Vblank Entertainment and lead designer on Retro City Rampage, about the insanity behind the sprites as well as what it takes to make one of the craziest games you need to get your hands on this Spring.

What inspired you to make Retro City Rampage?

Brian Provinciano: From the very beginning, the games I loved growing up are what inspired me to start making games. Before I even knew how, I was drawing imaginary levels on paper or in MS Paint.

I'd been a huge fan of GTA since the first top down ones, and at the peak of Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City, I felt this overwhelming compulsion to create an open-world crime game of my own - if only to learn first hand how all of the systems were built. I was also really fascinated by the limitations of the NES and the NES in general, so I decided to combine the ideas. Note that this was long before the retro-revival began to happen, so at the time I was incredibly excited about this “new” concept.

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Help, Support And Money Wanted For Indie Game: The Movie

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky are two filmmakers who went deep into the world of indie games, and ended up creating the fantastic Indie Game: The Movie in the process. But don’t just take my word for it. You can also, er… take my word for it in our review of the film. We were able to talk to the directors, just before the news broke that the movie was getting picked up and turned into a narrative series on HBO. If that seems weird to you, it’s because yes, that is weird.

But these two talented filmmakers have created a movie well worth watching for both fans of gamers, and people who have never played a single game (who are those people, anyhow?) Read on for the full interview where they talk about making the movie, what to expect on the Special Edition DVD, why they aren’t done with video game movies just yet.

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To all of you PC lovers out there or those who love a good indie game, I present to you an essential list of free downloadable titles for your rig. That’s right. You can party all night long and never spend a cent. If you’re still clueless about what to get your sweetie this year, why don’t you load up his or her hard drive with some of the greatest games to ever grace a pixel? And if you are feeling forever alone this year, snuggle up to some of these games to get you through the long winter’s night because there’s nothing like playing with yourself.

No. Wait. I don’t mean it to sound like that.

The best thing about these games is seeing how other found their inspiration to create their own games from them. Don’t think of them as just games, but love letters to what makes gaming great and why everyone needs to have games in their lives. Who knows, you may just fall in love with games all over again.

Cave Story Creator's Letter To Fans, Calls Development

Cave Story

We start things off with a game that’s traveled the globe all the way from Japan. Cave Story puts you in the little pixilated hat of a robot boy waking up in a cave filled with monsters and mysteries. As you come to find out, the red flowers growing in the area have started transforming the bunny inhabitants into crazy bunnies. As you begin to explore the surrounding lands, you start to learn about the red flowers and your reason for being there. Fast action and metroidvania-style exploration makes this an easy download for just about anyone with the bits to spare.

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Nitronic Rush

We’re going to Vegas to check out some of the best games at D.I.C.E. this week. Since my car only holds about five people, we’re going to take a virtual visit to Sin City as we check out the finalists for the Indie Game Challenge. You can check them out and vote for your favorite one, but let’s take them a part and find out what we can learn from them. These ten games have something to teach us about building a better experience. Strip away the code and put on your detective hats, we’re looking into the lessons learned from this year’s Indie Game Challenge.

Symphony

Style is the Substance

You can tell the biggest stories through the smallest details. Aesthetics shape the way we approach a game by giving us information about the world we’re entering before the first word is spoken or enemy met. Vibrant cools can signify anything from high energy to fantasy while darker tones often relay a sense of drama or dread. Style doesn’t always have to be about shiny veneers and big explosions. Even the simplest of line drawings can convey all the information you need to tell a story. Closure and Symphony approach the matter of style in two very unique ways.

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Help, Support And Money Wanted For Indie Game: The Movie

It is extremely appropriate that Indie Game: The Movie debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, given the number of parallels there are between filmmaking and creating indie games. Both require very small teams to work together with limited funding in order to create something that might never see an audience when it is finished.

Luckily, the film made quite an impact at Sundance, resonating with audiences and with buys. After the snow storms cleared, HBO and producer Scott Rudin announced it had picked up the film in order toturn it into a scripted series for the channel. At surface value, it seems like an odd choice for HBO, as there is plenty of documentary style material in the indie game space to create a documentary showabout indie gaming.

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GDC Preview -- Anomaly: Warzone Earth

The latest Humble Indie Bundle is now available for Android. You not only pay what you want, but you play where you want. That's right, the Humble Bundle heard about your fancy Android phone, and it wants in on that action.

The Humble Bunde for Android consists of Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Osmos, and Edge. Those generous enough to pay more than the average price ($5.95 at the time of this post) will be rewarded with World of Goo. Purchasing the bundle at any price also gets you the Mac, Windows and Linux versions of each game, along with their soundtracks. They're DRM free and can also be redeemed on Steam.

As always, it's entirely up to you where the money from your purchase goes. You can send it to the developers, charity, Humble Bundle, or any combination of the three.

Indie fans on the go, rejoice.

The Indie Games of 2011


A couple of years ago, I got my hands on a game at IndieCade that combined both the mechanics of a side-scrolling shooter along with the rhythm aspects of a game like Guitar Hero. For two genres you would never imagine mixing, Retro/Grade pulls off the shooter with a beat brilliantly with giant bosses and a dazzling array of colors. It’s little wonder that it won the Audience Choice award that year. Since then, the good gents over at 24 Caret Games have been working diligently on the title, rocking out the PAX conventions, and are planning on releasing this year. Matt Gilgenbach, co-founder of 24 Caret Games, visited me over at the G4 studios to show off the latest build as well as their never before seen section – the challenge mode.

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Red Dead Redemption In Minecraft

Will I ever get tired of interesting Minecraft creations? It is unlikely. Like the one below, wherein Red Dead Redemption's town of Blackwater has been recreated in the blocky game.

You can download the map from Planet Minecraft, or check out a couple more pictures under the "Read More" tag.

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