Tag Archives: Gateways

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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REVIEW: Gateways

I think we’re all in agreement that Portal was a great game, and (if indie games are the barometer) quite the inspiration to a number of developers. I’ve dished out plenty of admonitions right here on the site, to studios that have either lifted the storyline wholesale for their own use, or shoehorned the idea into their game when it didn’t even require it. Smudged Cat Games‘ Gateways (240 MSP) is probably the most blatant offender of them thus far. Scientist-type ‘Ed’ finds and uses a ‘gateway gun’, which is Valve’s portal gun in every way but name.

Though Ed isn’t content to take on a talkative sidekick and work with the standard portals. He wonders aloud why he’s being led to different parts of the facility to find his experimental weapons, bopping escaped monkeys on their domed-helmet heads, but the story never takes off. It’s just an impetus to drive the different gun types and equipment you’ll use.

They’re the real story in the game anyway, adding clever puzzle ideas and gateway attachments that Portal could only ever dream of, from the mod that shrinks or grows Ed to fit the environment, to one that bends gravity and rotates the whole level, or the time portal gun, that allows you (and plenty of ‘you’ clones) to be in multiple places (and on multiple switches) at once. The way they all work together is flawless.

The lab you find yourself in is one giant, seamless level, with areas and secret nooks filling in as you explore, Metroidvania-style. The mapping feature is tremendously helpful in Gateways, not only serving to track Ed’s location, but as an objective marker (a red arrow always points you to the next goal) and a record of unfinished business; for five orbs, the game’s scattered (and limited) currency, you can find out whether a puzzle is solvable with your current setup. If not, the map obediently marks it and tells you once you’ve found the requisite stuff.

And with puzzles popping up at every bend and intersection, you’ll work for each inch of ground covered. It’s definitely not meant for the easily frustrated; Gateways makes you look foolish time and time again, despite some obvious (well, in hindsight) solutions. This is lessened somewhat, in that you can literally buy yourself out of any puzzle that gets too… puzzling, provided you’ve saved up enough orbs. It’s not the most dignified way to play, but there’s no shame if the option is there. Later in the game, when you unlock the use of all the guns at once, ushering in multi-part puzzles that will stagger the stoutest of brains, you’ll give in as I did.

Oh yeah, this shit’s crazy.

So there is a downside, and, oddly enough, it’s that the puzzles are too good. The amount of effort it took to build them is duly noted; I considered it a victory just getting to the last puzzle (about five hours playtime). And after (spoiler!) watching the solution video, there’s no way I was even going to attempt it. You can’t purchase your freedom regardless of orb count. The last few puzzle rooms in general were stubborn, lasting over an hour from ‘hmmm….’ to ‘ah-ha!’, but that final one takes it, hands down. 98% completion is good enough.

Though don’t let my defeatist attitude sway you. I still consider it one of the more unique, exquisitely-constructed games around. Gateways handles its puzzles and open-world progression as skillfully as any arcade or retail game I can think of, and then some. It’s not only the best game to come out of the Uprising so far, it’s one of the best XBLIGs available. Do yourself one of the biggest favors you’ll ever do for yourself and plunk down the MSP for the game, play it, then come back and thank me.

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Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine

Didn’t See That Coming: Dream.Build.Play Winners

Without stopping to let the recent semifinalist shock of some odd choices and even odder omissions sit, the Dream.Build.Play people have gone and announced the winners of this year’s competition. If you haven’t yet heard, go ahead and take a seat for this one.

I’ve been saying it for years… well, the last year, that despite all the negative press (with some admittedly coming from me) and bad tastes left over, you should not sleep on Silver Dollar Games. That for every pile of Who’s the Daddy, poor man’s FMV quiz show crapware they put out, they were building up to something better. They did well with The Jump Heromade it interesting with stuff like Sins of the Flesh, and now, just watch the above trailer for grand prize winner One Finger Death Punch and try not to get excited for the game. I’ll wait. … … … You’re excited, aren’t you? Yeah, me too.

Congrats to the Silver Dollar team, of course, and best of luck in finishing up the game. Last I heard, it was still a few months off from completion. With their newly-gained $40K and a possible XBLA contract, though, I wonder if the release of the game will take a different form than its current, XBLIG-plotted destination.

The runners-up in the Xbox competition, and winning a cool $20K, $10K, and $5K, respectively, are Dead Pixels (still my top XBLIG), Ninja Crash, and upcoming Uprising III title, Gateways. Great job, guys.

On the Windows Phone side, it was nice to see current XBLIG (and Leaderboard member) Pixel Blocked! come away with the first runner up prize. Well done, sir.

It goes without saying, but a huge congratulations to all the winners in the 2012 competition, and again to all that participated. You’re now considered at the top of your class. For the already-released games, I can vouch for their fun and impressive content, and for the rest still to come, I look forward to that future enjoyment.

Prelude to the Uprising: Gateways

I almost hate to make a comparison without first playing the game, and I remember my initial thought upon seeing the trailer, but the developer seems to have embraced the similarities, saying Gateways IS Portal. Well, in two dimensions.

Gateways is a 2D puzzle platform game. Alongside the traditional platform elements such as jumping on enemies heads, spikes and moving platforms are the gateway guns. The gateway guns allow you to place two gateways on the walls, floors and ceilings of the lab so that when you pass through one you emerge out of the other. As progress is made through the game different types of gateway gun are introduced with different effects. After the basic gun, you acquire a gun that creates two gateways of different sizes, passing through one way shrinks Ed to half his size and the other way makes Ed grow to twice his size. After this you find a gun where one gateway doesn’t just connect to the other’s location but also its time, allowing Ed to travel back in time and encounter earlier versions of himself. Finally, the last gun manipulates gravity so passing through allows Ed to walk along walls and on ceilings.

Coming from Smudged Cat Games, which made the fun arcade platformer The Adventures of Shuggy, as well as other XBLIGs (Growing Pains sticks out), I’m not concerned about the quality of GatewaysIt’s a finalist in the Dream.Build.Play competition, after all. I was, however, a bit worried about how involved the rooms and their solutions would be. The video below, which is a ‘Dev Diary’ of sorts, aims to better explain how the game and its guns work, introducing ‘Help Points’, and allaying some of my fears about its complexity.

I do like the mention of the game being a ‘Metroidvania’, one big open map with the option to go back and reach previously inaccessible areas that contain other powerups or shortcuts (the mini-map I saw keeps everything, including the main objective, in order). With a bigger arsenal of equipment than Portal, what with Gravity and Time Travel guns besides creating gateways, there’s enough devices present to keep everyone occupied with exploration and experimentation.

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Gateways will be released on September 13th.

Interview at The Indie Mine

Preview on Clearance Bin Review