Tag Archives: Uprising III

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.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Pixel

With me breathing a partial sigh of relief, the third Indie Games Uprising comes to a close with Ratchet Game Studio‘s Pixel (80 MSP), a first-person platformer that goes light on the puzzles and is all about agility, traversal, and getting the fastest time.

Sporting a clean (some would say bland) style that fits the clinical approach, Pixel tries to add some pop to the time-trial genre by introducing different attachments to your gun, such as slowing down the retraction rate of platforms (stasis), or extending an entire row in one whack (singularity). Coupled with the colored blocks that have different effects on you or the environment (orange extends or raises bridges, green works as a launching pad, etc.), it makes for a little more excitement than a dull, ‘point A to point B’ journey.

The game is careful to avoid contradicting its ‘speed-first’ policy too, keeping the gun-switching within the levels to a minimum. You can make it through most of the stages with the default ammo. Though even if you had the dexterity to swap guns in flight, you’d be fighting much worse than tricky platforming; Pixel is a textbook example of a platformer done in by its own controls. They are as loose and finicky as I’ve felt, and without a doubt, the game needed more time to work out the kinks.

Also distressing is Pixel‘s FOV (field of view). The gun takes up too much of the screen, which is mentionable but not terrible. You could get away with that in a strictly puzzle game. A first-person shooter or platformer? Not so much. Still, I could work around it. What I found jarring, and I’m sure many others will say the same thing, was the alternating depth / zoom of any given stage. Looking straight ahead at an open part of the level was fine. Get too close to a wall, or point down / up at a section of blocks, and it’s like you’ve instantly ‘zoomed in’, throwing off your positioning and giving yourself a headache.

Combine this with the touchy controls (too fast when moving, too slow when turning), and you’ll find yourself slipping off platforms and edges where normally you wouldn’t. The bad news continues. Glitches that force you to restart a level (stage 7, well-documented in other sites’ reviews), inexplicably falling from or passing right through certain pillars, as well as constantly overshooting or undershooting most of the jumps. Eight times out of 10, finishing a level was luck in my experience. Those aren’t the odds you want or expect from a reflex-tester.

The best thing you can say about Pixel is that it’s over quickly. I was able to breeze through it, loose controls and all, in about an hour, limping to the finish line with zero desire to ever visit it again. The effort is admirable and the visuals are to its credit, but they only mask a disappointing puzzle / platformer.

.

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on The Indie Mine

REVIEW: XenoMiner

To date, I have not played Minecraft. Yep. Go ahead, ridicule me in secret. I had my reasons, some of them were even valid, but when the Uprising games were announced, I knew I’d be getting my first taste of the voxel crafters with XenoMiner (80 MSP), Gristmill Studios‘ take on the genre that transfers the setting to space.

The tutorial, in the form of a female AI known as DAI-SE (Daisy), is with you for the first five to ten minutes, explaining, albeit oh-so-briefly, a little bit about your situation (only survivor of a crash, loss of memory), that you need to survive on this hostile planetoid, and gather components to eventually make an escape attempt. It’s not simply a matter of digging or crafting. You really do start out with nothing, having to monitor your battery and oxygen levels constantly. Instead of hunger or the physical threat of an enemy, such as the ever-popular zombies or ‘creepers’ (as in Minecraft), you’re fighting a more realistic adversary here; the daily bombardment of radiation due to a rising and falling star, leaving the surface off-limits to you during its ascent. Parts of this review, including this sentence (ha!), were written as I waited between star-rise and star-set.

It is essential that you find or carve out a shielded refuge straight away, and build a centriforge. This is what will allow you to craft, using a combination of the copious terrain and the invaluable (but far less-prevalent) ores. You’re going to be digging. A lot. Don’t expect much help. Outside of the alien structure where you find your first AI bot, the land is untouched. As an experiment, I went for a walk, four game-days long, taking shelter under ‘ice trees’ when the radiation hit, finding massive, carved canyons and stretches of jagged mountains, some floating islands, but no sign of other alien tech or anything remarkable to report back on. Which sort of leads into my main beef with the game.

XenoMiner requires a huge commitment of time and resources to put together any kind of existence. Two hours in, I had crafted reserve oxygen tanks and hoarded plenty of ice, built an extensive base in the side of a mountain with a network of caves and precious ore, and found my first alien bot, which was gladly doing the digging / prospecting during the days (thanks to my modified programming) on my behalf. I wasn’t really ‘getting anywhere’, but I was surviving and learning.

Four hours on, I started building processing cores to boost DAI-SE’s creativity and build options. I was gaining some flexibility, making slow but actual progress. The ore I needed to craft certain items was finite, though, and even with the bot digging and collecting it for me (a clever program I spotted here), I rarely came across more than a handful of the blocks I needed, forcing me to prospect every night and in every direction, mostly in vain. Then, completely by chance, I discovered a cache of gold ore, and the doors, as the saying goes, opened wide to accept me. Six hours in, I had upgraded my P.I.C.K., allowing me to mine much faster and gather the tougher ores. I could also make upgrades to my suit, and build stronger / larger versions of all the equipment. Thanks to that gold and titanium, I was morphing into a badass.

Though again I was coming up against finite amounts of ore, with XenoMiner stringing me along with its classic carrot-on-a-stick gameplay, dropping the small rewards in my lap while moving the goal posts further and further down the field, demanding more ore for anything worthwhile. Gravity Boots are only a dream. Same with the mightier processors. Escape from this rock? Ha. Good joke, pal. The bots too, while cool and infinitely helpful, are a bit of puzzle currently. With most of the commands locked away by the developer (or held by the random person that’s able to decipher alien language and use it at will), you’ll be stuck with the standard orders and whatever snippets you find elsewhere.

The lack of a quick or auto-save hurts, forcing you back to the menu if you want to record any big changes. The threat of death erasing your progress (losing your possessions) of an hour or more is reason enough to save often. There’s also the possibility of an engine performance flaw. It may just be limited to me, but I suffered horrible pauses and hiccups as soon as my world had loaded (lasting about a minute and a half), and any time I moved from one area to the next. The more I altered the world, the worse it seemed to get, going from an annoyance to a real problem. I can’t hold it against the game based on one case, but it is worth mentioning if anyone else should have the same issue.

Approaching eight hours in play time, I’m nowhere near where the game wants me to be, but I’m still digging. I can understand the attraction of these games now. If you like what Minecraft represents, but love a greater challenge and have a ton of disposable free time, XenoMiner is a hell of a deal at 80 MSP, compared to other indie voxel-types. The emphasis on survival, the potential of the programmable bots to lessen the strain, and a general sense of purpose that’s missing from the more casual clones, gives the game a leg up at the final tally.

Need help? Keep up with the game’s Wiki page.

.

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on The Indie Mine

REVIEW: City Tuesday

Having been affectionately refering to it as ‘Groundhog Day with bombs‘ for the past year-plus, City Tuesday (80 MSP) marks one of my more anticipated Uprising releases. Its originality doesn’t peak at the black & white art and stickmen, opting for story and gameplay elements that venture past the indie comfort zone.

As the man in the red shirt, you’re out to stop a terrorist group that’s bent on bombing heavily-populated areas throughout the city, hidden behind or within simple to moderate puzzle situations. That group, called the Black Fang, is never given any backstory or reason for its ‘some men just want to watch the world burn’ attitude. Though for a lawless sort, they do have a lot of rules to abide by (over a hundred, at least).

That same lack of context applies to you, the supposed protagonist. Forget how you caught wind of the plot and insist on stopping it yourself, why are you reliving the same day and able to fast-forward it, the same few minutes, Bill Murray / Jake Gyllenhaal-style? And as an added gift (time-travel and immortality not enough?) you can read the minds of those around you, gleaning personality quirks and personal details that factor into the puzzles and give insight into the daily schedules (also of importance) of the populace. The bombs you’ve disarmed during a day stay so on subsequent runs, and failure (sometimes the only way to advance) or not, you’re as good as new each time, not a scratch on you, not a dent in the fender.

Using the frozen-in-time Vignelli Station as a sort of hub level, you can branch out to a further three areas. The world map is slickly-represented as a series of subway stops. Ridding each ‘line’ of its explosives extends a bridge at Vignelli Station by one length, getting you closer to reaching the ‘big bomb’ and clearing up the surrounding mystery. After the tutorial level in the museum, followed by a slightly longer level that also eases you into the flow of the game and the concepts of its puzzles, you’re given the promise of a huge city to explore (well, medium-sized), and set out to disarm the rest of the bombs.

You see, kids, before Blu-ray and streaming video…

This final section of the game is much larger and diverse than the previous two primers. It open its petals slowly to reveal a layered puzzle with interesting routes you’ll need to learn and follow to achieve your goals. It’s fun and necessary, watching for the patterns and observing the events from different angles, even seeing the intersecting paths of some of the bombs and knowing you’ll be following up that lead the next (same) day. Given the terrorists’ actions and your bizarre circumstances, you’re intrigued and getting settled in for a deeper adventure. Yet after a few more mind-reads and defusings, it just ends without explanation, in an odd and anti-climatic fashion to boot.

Truth be told, I was expecting a lot more from it after the long run-up to its release, but City Tuesday earns its dollar price tag despite the short playtime (certainly under a half-hour for most players) and pedestrian use of its unique premise and art, but just barely. A sequel is teased, or is seemed to, in the denouement. Here’s to hoping for an extended story that builds on the bedrock of this city and trusts its players with a little more responsibility and ingenuity.

.

Review on The Indie Ocean

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine

REVIEW: Entropy

Entropy (80 MSP) does not back down from its initial visual promise; it is the most beautiful XBLIG in three dimensions that I’ve laid eyes on. So much so that I find myself blushing when in its presence, and I don’t care who knows it. From the foliage to bloom effects (yes, at the cost of an occasionally sputtering frame-rate) this game is hawt.

Sadly, pretty moving pictures and the compliments they inspire do not a well-rounded review make, so take my previous fawning over its technical marvels for what it is and let me move on to the bullet points. You, you little amnesiac you, wake up to find you’re facing a series of test chambers that must be solved. I’m sure that probably sounds familiar. Guided by the balls of colored energy that roused you, that seem to be neither friend nor foe, you’ll work to add other balls, these being comprised of elements (stone, fire, water, acid), to various scales within the levels that measure weight, temperature, or the pH content, thus opening the exit.

The game doesn’t explain much, and what little it does is done through images and paintings on walls, or a subtle sign. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to see that certain elements will not mesh (fire and water, for instance), and this is actually core to the game’s puzzles. Water will cool fire, turning it to a touchable (and moveable) stone. The other elements have similar relationships. Trial and error all you like. Nothing is permanent in Entropy. In a very smart design move, if you make a mistake or die (you’ll do both) all you have to do is rewind time and do it differently.

And it helps to explore. I did notice that certain levels have a few different solutions. The first path opens up your standard exit (dropping through a hole) from the stage, while another, more arcane route, can open passages that lead to uncovering hidden paintings (a total of 12). What effect finding these has (if any), I don’t know. I wasn’t clever enough to spot more than one. I also wasn’t dedicated enough to finish the game, stopping at stage 10 (of 26) after having put around four hours into it.

So pretty. And so dull.

A good chunk of that time was spent fighting with the game’s physics, either in ‘pushing’ elements to where I needed them to be, careful not to burn or corrode myself, or in using the ‘gravity bubbles’ to group and / or sort others. It’s one thing to craft interesting puzzles around a mechanic, it’s quite another to ‘see’ a puzzle solution, and then take twenty minutes or more trying to tiredly will that solution into being.

I didn’t find manipulating the pieces myself to be all that bad, as I had physical control (mostly) over where they ended up. With the bubbles, though, you’re either ‘inching’ elements along at a snail’s pace, or ‘resetting’ them (rewinding time) just to continue inching. It adds a degree of complexity to the solving that is not needed, and, more unfortunately, not fun. I didn’t get far enough into the game to (according to the trailer) mess with the gravity in some stages, so I can’t say for certain whether the early frustrations increase or start to level off.

I dislike posting a review on something if I haven’t seen it through (or in the least, halfway-through). It’s sloppy journalism for one, and two, it can’t give anyone the whole picture when so much is left unseen. At the risk of losing credibility, I’m going to assume that large parts of Entropy‘s second half will play out much like its first part did; gorgeous scenes with the occasional flash of brilliance, mixed in sparingly with much bigger portions of clunky, molasses-slow puzzle-solving. It’s worth the look and MSP, but you might not stick with it.

.

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on The Indie Mine