Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Office DisOrders


 Once in awhile, something comes along that can't be put into any of the genres we use to classify our games. In fact, Office DisOrders isn't really a game or even an App. I suppose you could call it an Office Simulation, but that would just be silly.

If anything, what we have here is a wonderful piece of slightly interactive fiction. Set mostly in an office and taking place over the course of five working days, Office DisOrders follows the role of Jennifer, a new temp at Incomputech, as she begins her meteoric rise and fall.

Whether or not you enjoy Office DisOrders will most likely depend on how well you enjoy the banter between Jennifer and her co-workers. The conversations are all text based, one of my only complaints. Full voice overs would suit this game very well. Still, I found myself laughing on numerous occasions while reading. The credits list numerous writers involved with the game which really shows in the quality of its prose.

In the picture above we can see that Jennifer hasn't been paying attention to her body and her stress meter on the right is rising. The Incomputech offices are furnished with a fully functioning fridge, microwave, and coffee maker to help Jennifer get through the day. Unfortunately the vending machine is broken. The graphics seem simplistic, even Lego-like. But I love the details, how every employee's only computer skill seems to be solitaire.

OfficeDisOrders is a one button game. But you will be making good use of the left thumbstick as well. I almost cried tears of joy when I discovered there was no need to press A to select a task, all that is needed is a simple push, then release of the thumbstick into the tasks direction on the radial dial. With no button confirmation for selection, some users might have problems, especially if their thumbsticks are a bit twitchy from years of continual use and or abuse. But removing the usually standard button press for confirmation adds something quite unique to the game. Making choices is effortless and quick. This speed of response really drew me into the game's story. There are a few conversations in the game where you are presented with a set of choices on the radial dial.

Simply move the thumbstick in the direction of your choice to advance the story

The game quickly moves from having Jennifer complete the most mundane office tasks such as carry the binder into a much more ludicrous realm and I don't want to spoil anything for you so I won't mention the storyline anymore. I will say that I completed the game in one sitting and it took about an hour and a half.

Ted from Moment Games, the developer behind OfficeDisOrders has worked on a number of mainstream titles over the years, including the Sims and most recently Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for Lucasarts. Ted left Lucasarts due in part to the politics around the office. When asked about his motivation for creating OfficeDisorders, Ted had a few choice words, "I wanted to make a game that meant something to me, to make something that I know about." Ted added he would definitely like to create more games in a similar vein if there is interest and he can work with the right people. I am definitely interested, I wonder if I am the right people?

There's an interesting document on Moment Games website, titled "The Things We Think and Do Not Say", a manifesto if you will. The purpose of which is to set out the core tenets that should define the future of the games industry, at least according to Ted. It might be evident from the conversation screenshot above that all the choices in the radial dial are similar. This would be in line with tenet five of the manifesto, "Create the illusion of choice instead of providing actual choice."  Ted believes that, "Just like a movie director controls what the audience sees, the game designer must control what the player does."

Tenet five of the manifesto is problematic, its purpose is to ensure the player has an optimal experience with the game, but why should it be up to the developer to decide what is optimal for me? The first thing I did upon entering Office Politics was take a power nap, then try and use my coworker's computers, after that I took another nap. I wanted to play a napping game, I wondered how many naps I could take before the boss would catch on to me. After a few naps with no reprisals I decided to go along with Ted's story, it is pretty good.

There is also mention of replayablity in Tenet five, "Replayability should be provided through the desire to relive a meaningful experience instead of through the creation of more options." Easier said than done, although Ted mentions movies with multiple viewings and books with multiple reads, and I also start to wonder why games have a harder time attracting repeat players.

OfficeDisorders seems to follow the tenets of "The Things We Think and Do Not Say". A sort of real world example of its principles put into practice. I enjoyed the experience and look forward to future Moment Games releases.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pixel Whirled

A simple yet psychotic shooter.

At first load Pixel Whirled appears to be a retro remake of that seminal arcade classic, Space Invaders. But wait there's more! This Xbox Indie Game has a subtle trick up its sleeve. By a simple manipulation of the bumper button, the screen is flipped turned upside down, and the gameplay gets real! Utilizing the weapons of our heroes, be it a ninja star or a simple bullet, you must eradicate the pixel menace from the Pixel World.

The game features fantastic 8 bit sounds and music, but I usually prefer to use my own tunes when playing these games. Unfortunately this is one of those odd duck games that doesn't support custom soundtracks. Luckily, I can plug my iPhone into my stereo and pump out some ambient electronica while I play.

The developer told me that I would receive a special reward if I finished the game twice. Naturally I took up the challenge with gusto! Unfortunately, this game is a bit harder than the screenshots and trailer make it out to be.

I have only made it to Level 7, and I have no idea how many levels are in the game. But difficulty can sometimes be a good thing, a trait of our games that has seen a sharp decline in recent years. Perhaps because developers are afraid of frustrating us into such a state that we throw down our controllers in disgust, or even worse at the screen. Or perhaps we have as a whole become better gamers. Whatever the case may be, once in awhile I still like to be challenged by a game and Pixel Whirled is quite challenging.

If you intend to randomly shoot the invading Pixels and flip the screen at any odd time, I don't think you will make it much farther than I have. But if you time your shots, hitting those invaders in the bottom row and also time your flips, you just might have a chance at saving the princess.

The developer Holmfry has a journal here, excellent choice of blog theme by the way. He is also a huge fan of old school apparently.

While playing Pixel Whirled, I wondered what the game would be like if it was playable by two people? It would probably be pretty trippy. Here's to hoping for an updated and enhanced Pixel Whirled 2!

I quite enjoy this game and it more than makes up for Ocean Scenes. Holmfry's other Xbox indie "game".


Monday, December 21, 2009

Goblyn Stomp

Mr. Chap Scaliwag is our protagonist and stomping Goblyns is what he does best.

There are few things this dapper gamer loves more than to enter my warm abode after a brisk constitutional, obtain a luxurious repose on the settee, turn on the moving picture machine and commence with the destruction of whatever the developer has set before me. In this case it happens to be hordes of Goblyns. 

I am a huge fan of old timey so the screenshots were the selling point for me. The game features charming sepia-toned cartoon graphics and delightful ragtime music to accompany the excessive Goblyn dismemberment brought on by Fantastic Stomps and Remote Mynes.

Trevor, the games developer, outlines the process behind the creation of Goblyn Stomp on his blog Mountain Folk Software. There are only a few posts there but you get a small glimpse of how games are developed, from a simple concept to a simple on screen representation, later fleshed out with an aesthetic quality. Trevor said, "It's my first attempt at a complete game, and I tried to balance my efforts between style and substance to create an all-around pleasant experience." 

Each stomping session is concluded with an impressive display of the number of Goblyns you’ve vanquished, with a triumphant Chap Scaliwag standing atop an ever-increasing pile of Goblyns. This is definitely one of the game's highlights. The game includes a local high score table to record your most fantastic Goblyn Stomping. Trevor has claimed a score of 8500 so you best get stompin' if you want to try and beat the dev at his own game. 

I enjoy Goblyn Stomp, yes I am still playing it! I love watching that pile of Goblyns stack up, although to me it is a huge stack of skulls!!

When asked if the adventures of Mr. Chap Scaliwag would continue in perhaps a Goblyn Stomp 2 or some type of platform escapade, Trevor replied, "Depending on how well Goblyn Stomp is received, I may very well do a spin off or a sequel featuring Mr. Chap Scaliwag."

Let us hope for more as we always do.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gaming the System

A few months ago Microsoft announced that they were going to make it even easier for advertisers to advertise on the XBOX Dashboard by upgrading the dash's Silverlight functionality. I was concerned that we would soon be subjected to flying doritos chips when we booted up our machines. I was only half right, Its not delivery unfortunately.

Something a bit more interesting than ads for edible cardboard are the addition of minigames to our Dashboards. There have been a few so far. At the moment you can throw snowballs at your friends avatars, and a few months ago you could throw footballs at your friends avatars.

There was a dunktank on the dashboard over the summer where you could choose which friend you wanted to dunk. All of these Dashboard minigames are whack-a-mole clones as far as I'm concerned and are barely a glimpse of what is to come. Streaming AAA games through the dashboard is probably a bit far off into the distance though.

Now for comparison, lets take a look at a few of the Avatar enabled games available through the Xbox Indie Games Channel.

This is a picture from Avatar Avenue. A game which lets you watch Avatars walk around.

The next two are from Home Run Challenge The title is a good description. Interestingly it appears that Developers of Xbox indie games have access to the entire library of avatar models. Shown below is a shot of the pitcher as a character from Assassin's Creed.

And here we have some shots from Rate My Avatar. For the low price of 80 points you can watch a parade of avatars across your screen and rate them!! Creating and rating Mii's was one of my favorite activities on the Nintendo Wii. A free feature of the Wii by the way. Of course, Mii's are capable of far more customization than Xbox Avatars. There are a number of sites that instruct you on how to create a Mii look alike. Barack Obama Mii


And finally a shot from Avatar Golf .

These indie avatar games are slightly more complex than the Dashboard games we are currently offered by Microsoft, but I don't believe there is any technical reason why they could not be featured there as instantly playable games. In fact I believe they should be. You might be saying, "Why should Microsoft create and give these games away for free when there is revenue to be made?"

Listen up, the indie created Avatar rating game suffers from a lack of a userbase. The developer has said they are coming close to 1000 games sold which is impressive but not nearly enough. I hope they sell thousands more though. This would undoubtedly spur Microsoft into developing a more robust version able to be launched instantly through the dashboard and featuring millions of user created Avatars. I don't have to tell you that this would push sales of Avatar clothing into the stratosphere. I would be surprised if someone hasn't patented a system for the display and rating of user created digital representations of themselves.

Update: lol Avatar Patent!

That's all for now,  I need to do some work on my other project

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dungeon Crawls

According to this thread,  there are three! Rogue like games currently in development for the Xbox indie games channel. Oh happy day!!

I think the one being developed by UberGeekgames is going to be released first,  it is currently in peer review I believe. I am a huge fan of the infinite progressive dungeon crawl.  Here are some screen shots from the developers website.

The developer has included an ASCII skin for this game for those who wish to replicate rogues original conditions i.e. the early 1980's when computer graphics didn't really exist, at least not for most people. I doubt many people besides the developer and a handful of others will even bother with the ASCII version of the game. If you do decide to go the ASCII route please feel free to call yourself hardcore. I however like my sprites pixellated.

The Xbox has been lacking a serious attempt at this genre for what, about 6 years? There was Xeno Arena a few months ago, but that game did not have any character customization. What it did have was a nice graphics engine. If only we could somehow merge Xeno Arena and Dungeon Adventure lol!

Leave it to the indie developers and they will create the games that the people want. UberGeekGames is even trying to implement a global high score board to their game. Something that is not really possible for XNA indie games, except through the use of some creative P2P coding. Even so, what this means is we are getting a competitive dungeon crawl. 

I think what the indie games channel needs is a game with some staying power, and no I'm not talking about that zomb13 shooter. I'm talking about a game that the community plays together and one that is constantly updated due to feedback. Expansion packs are currently out of the question for most games, due to file size restrictions. But for a game like Uber's Rogue, I think a complete graphical overhaul is not out of the question. It appears to be mostly done, except for the interface, which still appears to be text based and scrolls across the screen? I haven't played it yet but I'm eagerly awaiting a chance. Here's a trailer from UberGeekGames. The trailer says the game is available now but it isn't.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Johhny Platform Saves Christmas!

The sequel we have all been waiting for!!

Click to download the trial

Johnny Platform Saves Christmas is an improvement over the original biscuit romp in just about every department. Its obvious the developer spent more time with this title. I am glad that he did and I think you will be as well.


The graphics are crisp, the controls are tight and the music is nice. Hearing Johnny exclaim "I feel like a Christmas turkey" for the 20th time after being repeatedly torched by a flamethrower was only slightly annoying.

Johnny Platform could be called a puzzle platformer but I think some if its puzzles could have been a bit more puzzling. Still, any puzzle is better than no puzzle at all. I am sure the puzzle levels require a fair amount of time to create. Just making sure that the platforms are the exact right distance for Johnny to succeed in crossing with his new rolling double jump must have taken up a good chunk of the developers time. And be aware, some levels will require a mastery of this maneuver.

The game boasts 100 levels and I'm currently on level 44 but there are quite a few that require nothing more than a few simple jumps to get through, and some that almost had me putting down the controller in frustration after spending five or six minutes trying to figure out the puzzle with no success. Some of the puzzles are of the moving boxes to a certain spot type. Luckily if you move a box to a bad spot you can hold down the B button to restart the level with no loss of life.

You get to checkpoint save every 5 levels. If you are playing the trial this would allow you to get to level 20 by saving every 5 levels and restarting the game. But only to level 20, after that you are asked to purchase the game. Personally I think a checkpoint at every level would of been better.

If you lose all your lives on say level 25, you would have to go back to level 21. Of course since you've already beaten these levels they should be cake. Indeed they are, but I still would have liked the option to continue at my current level. Gaming has evolved a long way since the days of the three lives and that's it style of gameplay. 

I quite enjoy the graphical variations in the game. Every few levels we are introduced to a new element that changes the gameplay and keeps us interested. In the screen above, we are shown a christmas pudding and a lava block. Both must be used in a certain way to complete the level and move on. 

A trailer is below if you're into that sort of thing.

The Xbox indie games channel experiment is just about one year old. Interestingly, Biscuit Romp was released a year ago as well. If Saves Christmas is the kind of improvements we can expect from the channel in a single year, I wonder what the independent Xbox developers will be presenting to us next year or five years from now. Will we be playing an online editable version of Johnny Platform Fixes the Galaxy? Perhaps, but for the time being I must get back in the game, Christmas needs Saving!



Monday, December 7, 2009

Dual Zone

The first dual stick independent shooter I have been able to enjoy

Click to download the trial

There have been a few of these games to come out over the years. Hell, I even remember trying to use two controllers myself in that old Atari tron bike game. That experiment didn't go so well but flash forward 20 years and we are presented with Dual Zone. A playable and challenging mind bender of a game.

The learning curve for this type of game is steep, but the developers thankfully begin the game with the simplest of challenges. So simple in fact that at around level 9 I began to wonder if the game was broken. The game doesn't even begin until level 10. This is when the spikers appear, invincible enemies that seem to randomly float across the screen and sometimes maybe not so randomly. They must be avoided. I'm currently on level 18. I've died a lot. If you have played the first few levels and quickly put the game down, I would suggest picking it back up, at least until level 10.

The left stick controls the red ship and the right stick controls the blue ship. The red ship can destroy red ships and the blue ship can destroy blue ships. That is about the only documentation this game comes with. Please be aware that ships can refer to ones you control or ones that the computer is flying. If you run into your other ship, or the tail of one of your ships crosses into the other one, you just lost a life. The difficulty of the game just got cranked up a few notches. Even so, I find the game relaxing.

I am quite enjoying this game, it is pure. Mapping of my chemical movements into electronic action with a minimum of interference. This is the kind of game that we will testing the brain machine interface on, if we haven't begun to do so already. There have been a few moments where I lost myself and became the ships onscreen. Zipping back and forth, dodging what I needed to and destroying what I had to. These moments are fleeting but they are memorable. Usually it is best to take it slow and be precise however.

The game also has a cooperative mode. You can play both the campaign and panic modes in coop. Panic is a survival style game. In coop mode each player controls one ship using only one stick. I did try this mode out with my significant other (a gamer as well).

The game is still pretty difficult even when you only control one ship, for you must rely on your partner to protect you, as well as hope they don't kill you by leaving an exhaust trail in your path. Coop is enjoyable but I prefer the single player experience. A watch of the game's trailer has me awaiting the challenges of the higher levels in the campaign.

Dual Zone is one of the best Xbox Indie Games I have played, and I have played most of them. My only gripe is that we are not given audio volume controls. Normally I have a lot of gripes so this is pretty good. I do like the sound effects but the music can be a little grating. Luckily it is a simple matter to load up some of your tunes and chill out for a bit while you attempt to get into the game.


Saturday, December 5, 2009


Ikaroids offers us a glimpse of what can happen if you add in some roleplaying elements to an arcade shooter.

Click to download the trial

Now those RPG elements could simply be a distress call from some unknown planet, placed by an XBOX Avatar. But this simple addition adds a lot to the game in my opinion. I am reviewing the trial version of this game which I believe is limited to the first few levels. There could very be well be more and better interactions with NPC Avatars further into the game. I know the game is a shooter at its core, but I think even a simple yes/no choice given in response to a call for help, would further immerse me into the world that Ikaroids creates. Especially if my Avatar is represented in the game as well. Ikaroids tantalizes us at the beginning during ship selection, displaying a model of our Avatars to go along with the ships. Something to think about for future updates.

At first playthrough Ikaroids seems to be a pale imitation of the standards. Hobbled together by a few students in their spare time. Perhaps it is, but there is something to this game that kept me restarting after my countless deaths. I finally switched to Rookie difficulty in order to pass even the first level.
The screenshots offer glimpses of interesting looking bosses and levels.

Ikaroids comes with a somewhat confusing control scheme, but then again all control schemes are confusing until you get used to them. I am a firm believer in controls customization at all levels though. The game asks you to learn that the right bumper is for switching your primary weapons and the right trigger is for switching your secondary weapon. The left stick controls projectile direction of course, but applying a bit more pressure to the thumbstick fires off your secondary weapon. Not exactly the button I would use to make split second decisions with.

I must also state at this point that if I was still a member of the XNA Creators Club I would have failed this game for not having controls to adjust the audio levels. I do enjoy the neoclassical soundtrack to this game but the score is completely overshadowed by the explosion effect, which in this sort of game occurs multiple times a second. Ikaroids has the type of explosion effect that shakes my entire building if I set my stereo to anything above 10. (My stereo goes to 100)

This game features a coop and a survival mode. Since my significant other isn't really a shooter fan I'm not really capable of testing the coop mode. I am sure Survival mode is what it professes to be. The game makes mention of some website you can visit and input your score to. An interesting idea, simpler than the code required to implement the P2P leaderboards currently in use by some games. Perhaps this idea could be taken even further?

I have not broken my vow made 6 months ago. I have placed all my faith in the indie developer. Ikaroids could perhaps be the beginning of a new genre I think. The persistent world shooter. Maybe there already is a persistent world shooter out there? But I am getting ahead of myself again. Sometimes its all I ever do lol.

Go play some games!!

Words in a Word

This ain't your daddy's anagram game!!

Click to download the trial

As you are probably not aware, I am a huge fan of word games. Does Words in a Word meet my oh so high expectations for what a word game should be? The answer may surprise you!

Simply put, yes it does. I have only played the trial version of this game which is sadly limited to a 45 second practice round of anagrammatic fun! The title screen is shown below, tantalizing me with its online multiplayer menu choices.

The gameplay is simple, you are presented with a Scrabble-esque letter tile holder and then proceed to make words. Unfortunately the game appears to be broken, for the A button does not seem to select a letter as it should. Strange indeed. A glance at the help menu informs me that the directional pad is the input method of choice for this particular game.

Press left and right to highlight a letter, then press down to select. Bizarro world for sure, but it does work. I only wish the devs would have allowed a customizable control scheme.

I played through a few practice rounds and quite enjoyed the game. Half of the screen during practice matches is composed of a grid of empty squares, teasing you with the possibilities of words that are possible. After the timer runs out the grid is filled with all of the words that you missed. The trial mode is limited to 45 seconds as I mentioned earlier, and this is not nearly enough time to make more than 6 or 7 words I think. But it does offer a glimpse of the game's possibilities. Some of the possible words are those rare gems that have been out of the cultures lexicon for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, so a dictionary would be useful here I think. Perhaps an update could include definitions that popup at the right side of the screen, defining words as you scroll through them?

I enjoyed my short time with the game, and I wonder what the multiplayer options are, unfortunately I am low on monies and cannot afford to purchase every game that appears on the indie games channel :(