What Worked and What Didn’t: The ‘Uprising III’ in Review

Without the benefit of time to look back on the Indie Games Uprising III in a foggier and perhaps more glamorous way (it’s only been a few weeks since its conclusion), the general review of the Uprising doesn’t have the luxury of hiding or settling much in my system before being held under the microscope and dissected. So a brief article, if you will, of me spouting off whatever pops into my sad little head concerning the before, during, and after of the event, which took place from September 10th to September 20th, 2012. I take a look at the hits and misses of the promotion on a case by case basis. This is an overview of the Uprising as a whole. For an in-depth review of each Uprising game, the titles are clickable links. Enjoy.

Pregame: Uprising III

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A great deal of promotion and mentions from a variety of sites, mainstream and backwater establishments like myself, in the weeks leading up to the Uprising’s start. Indie journalists around the web, at Cathy’s (IndieGamerChick) insistence, worked together to spread the news, not just on their respective forums, but with links and cross-promotion with other sites, creating a network of easily searchable previews, interviews, and articles related to the launch and its lineup. Personally, I don’t think we as a group could have done any more to better set the stage for September 10th’s start date.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Microsoft. Again. Surprise. Not that the company ever puts much faith or weight behind XBLIG (changes to the service usually only happen once enough people complain about their lack of effort), but outside of a few token lines and minor stories, the big M was mostly silent on the promotion. No dashboard banners, no vocal support. To make matters worse, the prepaid code generator for Xbox Live Indie Games, the system that spits out free codes that developers hand off to reviewers and the general public, broke down in the middle of the Uprising, and to date, has not been fixed or given a timetable for repair. Considering the Indie service makes them money, you’d think they show a little more drive. Not so. Unacceptable and baffling.

qrth-phyl

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A classic ‘snake’ arcade game, now updated in three dimensions, with a unique look, nice soundtrack, and a great 3D camera. That camera-work, by the way, it’s not easy to get right. Extra kudos. qrth-phyl was a great choice for a leadoff title that got people excited to see where the Uprising was headed.

WHAT WENT WRONG: That depends on who you talk to. Some felt it needed leaderboards, which aren’t easily-implementable or ideal for XBLIG. Others, including myself, expected more besides the snaking, given the complexity of its presentation and the mention of ‘ghosts’. It was deliberately cryptic, both in previews for the game and in interviews with the developer. Regardless, the final product didn’t suffer for it.

qrth-phyl+fun=good

Sententia

WHAT WENT RIGHT: An existential premise; paving your own path in life, remembering not to lose your youth in growing up, a statement on bullying, and a cool twist to combat and puzzle-solving. A thinking man’s game, a Braid for XBLIG. Prior to its release, I had the game pegged to be one of my Top 3 to come out of the event. I fully expected it to shine.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Pretty much everything beyond the title screen. Bad platforming bits, clunky puzzle-solving, and utterly-aggravating enemy spawns leading to cheap death after cheap death. Given that developer Michael Hicks was also in co-charge of the Uprising itself, there were some that felt his game’s inclusion should have been somehow invalid or disqualified. Past Uprisings have contained games from co-sponsors, but having played the game, I can say it certainly needed a lot more work and testing. Would’ve better served the Uprising to have been left out of it.

Diehard Dungeon

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Roguelikes are popping up everywhere these days, and much like FPSes and Block Crafters, the gaming public can’t get enough. Diehard Dungeon hit the spot dead on, proving it was more than a Binding of Issac cash-in. With a fun twin-stick shooter (including a leaderboard!) as an extra mode and the promise of almost 50% more content to be added to the game in post-release, you got your dollar’s worth and (eventually) then some.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Very little, which frankly, after the fiasco that was Sententia, the Uprising sorely needed in order to get back on track.

Gateways

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Portal in 2D, plenty of gateway guns to experiment with, and some of the best puzzle designs seen anywhere, including the big boys in arcade and retail. Gateways deserves every accolade it receives. It ended up being my favorite from this Uprising.

WHAT WENT WRONG: I reached the last puzzle in the game, and having heard the horror stories of its solution (time-consuming, required a bit of luck, placing actual tape over the TV screen to mark locations), chose to back away slowly and then run in the opposite direction. There were accusations of me being a pussy, which I was completely fine with. I escaped with my sanity to tell the tale, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the game otherwise.

Gateways, or visual depiction of my fractured mind? Both?

Smooth Operators

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Manage the daily grind (and incessant ringing) of a call center, the comings and goings of your workforce, set the schedule and decor, survive the ups and downs of operating a business, and, most of all, feed your personal addiction that keeps games like Sim City, Tiny Tower, and, now, Smooth Operators, in business and thriving.

WHAT WENT WRONG: My productivity in real life, sleep sacrificed so that I could build and maintain a fictional call center. My parents are proud.

Entropy

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Being so damn pretty I almost proposed to the game (in truth, I did propose, but Entropy turned me down. I’m still not proud of the way I begged it to reconsider. Plenty of tears.). Mystery, intrigue, lovely fire effects and lighting.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Kids, the moral of this story is, looks aren’t everything. Despite flashes of fun, the puzzles were extended not due to their complexity or guile, but by physics and controls that were manageable, but in no way perfect, for the solutions the game requires. It also lacked any kind of personality, which should have been impossible, based on the environments and their details.

Be still, my beating heart.

City Tuesday

WHAT WENT RIGHT: More art than most art, City Tuesday had time-travel and puzzles / people that were linked and grounded in the real world. It tackled the idea of terrorism, in a limited way, yes, but still carried more ideas with it that most other XBLIGs never bother to even touch on.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Just as you’ve adjusted to and learned the game’s tricks, it’s over. Twenty minutes in. The ending sequence feels tacked on and completely out of place.

XenoMiner

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Survival, a palpable sense of life and death, an incredible (and incredibly helpless) feeling of being on a foreign planet, discovering it for the first time. Crafting / Mining that rewards your patience with even greater rewards. Alien technology that can be put to work for you, provided you’re C-3PO and speak Bocce.

WHAT WENT WRONG: There’s no easy or quick way to get set up on Xenos, outside of hard work and (lots and lots of) time. Horrible skipping and pausing when venturing from one area to the next almost ruined the experience for me. Others have reported the same.

I can literally see my free time disappearing over the horizon.

Pixel

WHAT WENT RIGHT: A cool cel-shaded look. A puzzle / platforming hybrid that had variety.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The Uprising ended on Pixel and it should not have. Glitches, oversensitive controls, guns that didn’t shoot where you aimed, and a bad FOV all contributed to its downfall. That it was a short game was a blessing. It stunk of an unpolished title either rushed to meet the deadline or someone forgiving way too much during the testing process. As the bookend, it needed to finish the promotion on a strong note. Instead it left a bad aftertaste.

Postgame: Uprising III

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Three top-tier games that anyone should be able to enjoy (qrth-phyl, Smooth Operators, XenoMiner) and two immediate leaderboard games (Diehard Dungeon, Gateways). Not a bad showing from nine games, and all for $9. I will say this; overall, from both myself and other reviewers, as well as the gaming public, it is confirmed and accepted that the Uprising III games were much improved upon last year’s cast, and site traffic across the indie sites did see a boost. That doesn’t necessarily equate to sales, and it’s probably too early to measure it a success, but it does show that gamers were interested in the crop. Assuming there is a fourth outing for XBLIG, it will have to be quite good to match the combined quality of Uprising III.

WHAT WENT WRONG: A few ‘dud’ games in Sententia and Pixel, Microsoft dropping the ball, then kicking it out of the stadium so no one could play. One rejected marriage proposal. Some review-related stress, some sleepless nights.

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5 thoughts on “What Worked and What Didn’t: The ‘Uprising III’ in Review”

  1. Ok, I agree with a lot of these comments but two things really bug me.

    1: City Tuesdays length. Being in my late 30s I really enjoy games that are short and to the point. City Tuesdays message was concicse and i would much rather have something like that vs. something that drags on forever. And seriously, its only a dollar! I quite enjoyed this game. Thirty flights of loving was like 5 dollars and just about the same length (a tad bit longer) but i hear no complaints about that hardly.

    2: Sententia. This game delivered on everything it claimed to do. The controls WERE a tad stiff, but didnt make it unplayable by any means. literally everything in the game holds some relevance to the games message. Somethings i cant quite explain, but its a very interesting game. was i raged up at parts? you bet, but when i beat it i began to understand why things were that way.

    1. Thanks for reading, and of course, for checking out the site to begin with. I appreciate it.

      1. I’m with you to an extent on City Tuesday. Short games work for my schedule (work, plus I’m early 30s, so free time is tough to come by during the week). For arcade games and shooters, a short length is perfectly acceptable, as replaying them for high scores or to improve skill is where the worth comes in. For City Tuesday, it’s a story / adventure type, with really no replayability to it once you’ve completed it. That still isn’t terrible, especially if you enjoy it (I did, for the most part). I do think the tutorial runs too long, taking up more than half the game and getting in the way of the real ‘game’ beyond it, which is sadly, one level long. Another reviewer / friend, Alan, over at http://theindieocean.com/ , raised that exact point in his review, and again at IndieGamerChick, in the comments section: http://indiegamerchick.com/2012/09/20/city-tuesday/ That’s where my reasoning is coming from, if that helps any.

      2. Sententia, however, I can’t agree on. The good parts I mentioned, and they really were the only good parts. The controls are serviceable, absolutely, and there are some little details that the game does well (the decision you can make to ‘join the crowd’ mid-way through, was pretty clever and well done, in my opinion). Playing it, though, is a maddening experience, especially the spawns and punishing jumps. The puzzle near the end where you’re left on your own to figure it out is a bad move. It has something to say about life, and I probably forgave it for its faults more than others would, but bottom line, it’s just not a fun game.

  2. There are still 3 or so of these games I need to play. Damn real world’s been getting in the way of my review of Gateways.

    I don’t think Microsoft can be chastised enough for the way they ruined this event. I could care less about promotion from them, but breaking the promo code system totally did in my staff’s coverage on the event since I rely on those for the rest of my staff. If there were an easy way to gift a game to someone else that might’ve been an option for me.

    So far, I’ve loved Diehard Dungeon, Smooth Operators, and Gateways. I enjoyed qrth-phyl, but had some problems with it. I wish I’d had more time to let the game digest before scoring it, because I think I would’ve bumped it up a bit in retrospect. I think I was so frustrated by the lack of a leaderboard for an arcade-style game that that really left a sour taste in my mouth for a bit.

    Last point I want to make is that I actually really liked last year’s crop of Uprising games. CTDV, SpeedRunner HD, TEC 3001, and Take Arms are all immediately recallable to me. There were a few others that I thought were decent. I think this Uprising hit as many high notes, but I’d almost give the edge to last year’s games due to some of them having multiplayer. I still play SpeedRunner with friends, and I’ll occasionally go back and play Take Arms. I also felt like there was a wider variety of game types last year. I like physics puzzlers, but we had a few of those in this group.

    Just my eight cents…

    1. I’m not nearly enough in ‘the know’ to have hard data on the situation, but Microsoft’s policy with XBLIG still confuses me. I agree with you on saying that their promotion really didn’t matter (it would’ve helped, but not essential, thanks to other sites stepping up), but that the code system is still down three weeks later speaks volumes. I’m not saying XBLIG makes anyone rich, including Microsoft (yes, a few exceptions here and there), but it’s still a decent amount of money they take from each game sold, when you add it all up. Last I checked, money is still money no matter the amount, so to basically shun that income with inaction seems… well, stupid. They may be free codes, but it all ties into the service and generates income. Not to mention it making your company look like an ass in the court of public opinion.

      And fair enough on where you stand with this year’s games and last time. CTDV and Take Arms were the highlights for me as well. I thought the rest were average to decent, nothing that stood out enough that I’d still go back to play today. I liked TEC (to a point), but I’d forgotten it was even part of the Uprising until now. This Uprising could’ve used a multiplayer game, though, for sure.

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