Tag Archives: Smooth Operators

Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is Live!

(EDIT: Though the ‘Indie Gamer Chick Bundle’ is no longer for sale, you can still visit the link to find the most current Bundle on offer.)

As the site name clearly incorporates ‘XBLIG’, short for Xbox Live Indie Games, the focus here is exclusively on games that fall under that banner, for better or worse. I’ll let that rule slide for a day, though, as I am proud to pimp the PC ports of eight former XBLIGs, joined together and bearing the name of the community’s most read / respected critic and ardent supporter. Ladies and Gents, the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is now live on Indie Royale!

Coming in at a ridiculously cheap price, you’ll net yourself eight fantastic indie games that will easily keep you busy for the rest of the summer. The bundle includes Dead Pixels, Chester, Antipole, LaserCat, Smooth Operators, Little Racers STREET, SpyLeaks, and Orbitron: Revolution. Some of the games are still looking to crack the beast known as Steam Greenlight, too, so be sure to give them an upvote if you’re on that platform. But above all else, enjoy eight fantastic games that got their start on Xbox Live Indie Games!

EDIT 7/27: Discord Games’ navigational puzzler 48 Chambers, and the very excellent RPG (ranked on the leaderboard, ya know) EvilQuest from Chaosoft Games have now joined the bundle. That’s ten (10!) great games for (currently) $4.47, with 3+ days remaining. You need this bundle in your life.

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More Info at Indie Gamer Chick

Buy the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle on Indie Royale

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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.

REVIEW: Smooth Operators

Before you blow off Smooth Operators (80 MSP), convinced that living and breathing the call center lifestyle is not for you, ask yourself how many cities you built and ran into the ground, how many sims you deliberately walled off from the outside world while watching them squirm, or how many worlds you’ve minecrafted into a blocky paradise; your answer is probably ‘quite a few’. That need to create something on your own is fully represented and open to you in Smooth Operators, even if its choice of careers doesn’t immediately breed excitement.

There are similar games available elsewhere that do roughly the same thing, but the (somewhat) brief rundown is as follows; Build and manage a call center, accept contracts, expand. Do well, and you’ll complete challenges, gain unlocks and cash bonuses. Fail to meet the quotas set by your clients or keep your workforce happy, and expect to pay a penalty at the end of each day. And yes, you sick bastard, you can try to torture your peons into submission by cutting their salaries or forcing them into offices they don’t belong. Demolish the restrooms if you so wish. Wanton mismanagement is entirely legal, and occasionally fun (I had nine resignations in one day).

So needless to say, the early days of my first call center didn’t go well. Partially I was to blame (I tried to go too big too fast), as the game really only allows baby steps. I quickly realized this was for my protection. The limited cash and capacity to build (and thus expand my workforce) meant I was constantly struggling to meet the quotas, incurring fines and slowly bleeding my cash reserves as I tried to tear down and rebuild to better fit the client’s needs. Smooth Operators‘ tutorial gets the basic gist of the game across, and the in-game descriptions of each object and person help, but I was still sometimes lost on how to get a rolling start or to unlock more upgrade and building abilities.

Words on a screen can only do so much though. There’s never any experience like first-hand experience. My dad loves that line, and if ever a saying applied to a game, it’s here. So I cut my losses and hit restart. Version two of my call center did much better, striking a better employee balance and a focus on steady efficiency (starting and thinking small). And lo and behold, as the client’s workload increased, I was able to handle it, building a nice reserve and a happy workforce. Soon I was running a labyrinth of offices and a hundred different managers, janitors, IT guys (their repair work is hilarious) and call specialists.

Once your company is consistently in the black, and the day to day operations and issues become less immediate and more about careful growth, the game hits its stride, giving you access to building upgrades (each office can be spruced up to increase productivity) and the option to educate your workers, which is win-win for everybody’s bottom line. The visual leap of transforming from a small, fledgling brick house into a fancy, bells & whistles mega-corporation is awesome and worth the blood and sweat to get there.

But by the higher day counts, 55 or so, you reach a level of self-sufficiency (yeah, fine, sooner for you experts out there :p), and this is the point where sims like Smooth Operators tend to drag. You hit a comfortable plateau, a boatload of money, where your job as ‘omnipresent overseer mother’ isn’t as needed, and like a chick leaving the nest for the first time, you’re both filled with pride to see your creation fly on its own, and saddened that this means you’re past the more exciting times of the game. I found myself leaving it to run on its own, stopping only to see the daily report or do a few mundane changes. You can still grow further and accept more clients, but it just adds to your money pile.

Smooth Operators is nonetheless an addicting (it’s digital crack) sim game with incredible depth. It stumbles slightly in its initially-overwhelming list of to-dos and fix-mes, hits an excellent middle ground and pace, then just plays itself after awhile. This is after you notice you’ve sunk hours into it, and will continue to do so gladly, turning your paltry 80 MSP investment into a fun and healthy return.

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Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Prelude to the Uprising: Smooth Operators

It wasn’t that long ago (a month and change, to be exact) that developer Andreas Heydeck and a smattering of indie journalists, including myself, helped judge the competition that gave this article its title. Now solidly-affixed to the outside of the building, the winning name (and yes, it’s Sade-approved) perfectly encapsulates the feel of the game, which looks to contain all the habit-forming sim-aspects that make micro-management games tough to set aside.

Create and build your own Call Center in Smooth Operators. Develop client relationships while balancing your financials and workload. Plan an efficient operation through micro management of your workforce. Can you create a successful Call Center?

It’s likely not the preferred work destination for most of us in real life, but it offers the chance to run the digital version, to divvy up the skills, set the schedules, and allow the bathroom breaks for dozens of tiny, cute, and fake office people. And you, the one phone to rule them all, able to reward and promote the worthy, or single out and needlessly torture employees that don’t tow your version of the company line.

Oh yeah. I’m already brushing up on my fake people skills.

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Smooth Operators: Call Center Chaos will be released on September 14th.

Interview at The Indie Mine

Preview on Clearance Bin Review