With Christmas less than a week away, I’m sure everyone has already filled out their wish lists with the biggest and best games of 2011. Many gamers are going to find things like Gears of War 3, Skyrim, and Uncharted 3 under their trees this year, but I’m sure many may also find an Xbox Live or Playstation Network pre-paid card in their stockings. This far into the console generation, there are dozens of fantastic games available on each of these services. When you’re deciding where to spend you’re digital money this holiday, consider these 10 amazing downloadable titles. As with any list, only games I’ve played are eligible, and you’re always free to disagree. A special caveat for this one; ports, retail games also available for download, and re-releases do not count, only original games or total remakes (graphics, music, etc.) are eligible for this list.
10. Dungeon Defenders (XBLA, PSN, Steam)
Of all the games that try to blend tower defense and action, Dungeon Defenders is the best of the bunch. Whether you are looking for a loot driven Action RPG, a challenging tower defense game, or a fun cooperative experience, you will find a lot to like about Dungeon Defenders. When you think of what you get out of a downloadable game, 5 or 6 hours is usually the most you could expect; but Dungeon Defenders is around 10 hours from the campaign alone, with additional challenge levels and modes of play adding to that amount. When it comes to well realized co-op and bang for your buck, Dungeon Defenders is one of the best downloadable games available on any platform.
9. Wipeout HD (PSN)
Most people don’t think of cheap downloadable games being technical powerhouses, but Wipeout HD certainly is. This game looks fantastic running in 1080p and the silky smooth 60 fps is how this style of game is meant to played. If you’re unfamiliar with this long running series, it is a futuristic arcade style racing game that is sort of a cross between F-Zero and Mario Kart. Wipeout HD features tracks from many of the past games in the series, re-mastered for the PS3, with several different modes of play. There is a challenge based single player campaign, but like most racing games, it really shines in multiplayer.
8. Geometry Wars Retro Evolved (XBLA)
Geometry Wars is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the popularization of the dual joystick shooter. Whether you go with the original or the sequel, you can’t go wrong with Geometry Wars. This game is the definition of easy to learn, hard to master. For such a simplistic game, it sure can eat away the time. Be prepared to continuously tell yourself “just one more try” after hours of trying to beat a friend’s score or nab a tough achievement.
In May of 2010 there was a crowd-funding project to start filming a documentary about video games. The documentary would focus on the process of making an indie game. The documentary was simply titled ‘Indie Game: The Movie.’ Such project will now make its worldwide premiere as an official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The movie features stories from the creators or Super Meat Boy, Braid and other indie games.
The Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19-29, 2012 in Park City, Utah. The film festival is widely considered the go-to event when it comes to independent film making. Indie Game: The Movie is directed, produced and edited by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot of Blinkworks Media.
Ever since the inception of the online marketplace on home consoles began in 2005, developers have been pushing out innovative, addictive, mind-bending downloadable arcade titles. These titles come at a fraction of both the price and the size of standard retail games. You pay somewhere near the neighborhood of 10 bucks, and you have a game that will keep you entertained for a week or so. But some of these arcade titles have become more. These are the original releases of Uno and 8-bit reissues. Developers have really taken a stride in creating more interesting story lines, more comprehensive game play and new and exciting game mechanics that have closed the boundaries between them and their larger scale, retail released counterparts. But can these games really ever compare to the franchise hits we play today?
Can Limbo every really go toe-to-toe with Mass Effect 2? Can Braid tackle the likes of Uncharted? Most every gamer will undoubtedly say “no”, but why is that? Is it based solely on the length of the game itself? If so, then the argument can be made that you favor quantity over quality, which doesn’t bode well for an argument based on quality. If that is the case, then are the first few hours of Braid better than the first few hours of Uncharted? Could you develop a better story for Mass Effect 2 that would be equally as gripping in a shorter time frame, say the time it takes to complete Limbo? Most gamers wouldn’t ask these questions. Most will dismiss arcade titles as those little things in the marketplace that you buy when you are broke and bored, and that is just simply not the case. The gamer’s perspective and sense of scale has been coddled by the industry, nurturing a judgment of AAA titles and Arcade titles separately, instead of apart of the same category.
Let’s start with Limbo for example. Arguably one of the best arcade titles of all time, most will agree. Could anyone have justifiably voted for that game as 2010′s Game of the Year? Why not? It is a game, albeit a great one, but doesn’t it serve the purpose that games are supposed to deliver? It was epic in nearly every aspect, but the gaming community would never have allowed it to take over Call of Duty Black Ops, Halo Reach or Uncharted 2. The closest that any “arcade” title has ever come to really showing people that mega retail-released titles aren’t the only ones making great games was Portal. Sure it came in The Orange Box, and nobody was excited about it, but it ended up being a smash hit, and the reason to own The Orange Box. It won multiple Game of the Year awards, and even spawned a hot selling sequel Portal 2. How is that for a small little addition that ended up making the big time.
The point of this article is to get those who have spent all their time on these AAA 60 dollar games to understand that there is talent in the marketplace, and for cheap too. Whether you shop from the Xbox Live Arcade, or the PlayStation Network, there are a plethora of great titles to choose from. Here are some great arcade titles that may aid in helping you understand how great an arcade title can actually be. To an intuitive gamer, these titles carry a different tone–the games play like games that have been bred out of creativity, not a desire to increase profits.
Limbo (XBLA, PSN)
Braid (XBLA, PSN)
Toy Soldiers (XBLA)
Super Meat Boy (XBLA, WiiWare)
Shadow Complex (XBLA)
Portal: Still Alive (XBLA)
PixelJunk Eden (PSN)
WipEout HD (PSN)
These aren’t all the great titles out there, they are just a few. But these titles should speak for themselves in terms of playability, control and story, and hopefully change the overwhelming opinion that arcade games are not Game of the Year material. Each year, developers get closer and closer to creating complete, exciting games for small prices on console online marketplaces, each with with something new and unique to present to gamers the world over. If you are looking for something new, and don’t wanna drop the big bucks, there are games available for download that will certainly blow your mind.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Greg Kasavin, the Creative Director of SuperGiant games. If you haven’t heard of Bastion, then be sure to watch the video (at the bottom of the interview) and prepare yourself. Our most recent poll indicated that Bastion was one of the most anticipated releases for 2011, which is already an amazing year for major releases. The game was also a a finalist in the Independent Games Festival 2011 for excellence in Audio and Visual Art. You can imagine our excitement when we were afforded the opportunity to ask questions. Without further ado, here we go!
Bastion seems to be something very unique. Were there any specific inspirations that shaped it into what it has become?
There were no one or two inspirations that informed what we wanted to do with Bastion. I think everyone on team brought a lot of their own personalities and influences to bear as we worked to turn it into something that felt cohesive. From a gameplay standpoint, the germ of the idea we started with was around the pleasures of returning to town in action role-playing games, that sense of safety and security you feel in between going out there and fighting for your life. We wanted to expand on that. We also knew we wanted to make a 2D game, to capture that crisp responsive feel of classic games that we think is missing from a lot of today’s games. Lastly, we knew we wanted to make a game that was emotionally resonant, that created feelings beyond just fun. The rest grew out naturally during months of prototyping.
I’m already a huge fan of the narrative voice chosen for the game. How was it that his voice was chosen? Were there many other styles considered?
Our narrator’s voice was chosen very easily, in that our voice actor, Logan Cunningham, is an old friend of our studio director Amir and our audio director Darren. If we didn’t know Logan we probably never would have pursued our narrative technique to begin with.
Logan’s natural speaking voice is quite different from the way our narrator sounds. As we were exploring the game’s tone, we searched to find something that felt right to us. Part of the inspiration there was from the American author Cormac McCarthy, who creates these beautiful and desolate scenes of the American southwest. We thought about riffing on that kind of tone in the context of a fantasy action RPG, and our story and setting evolved from there.
Logan’s first set of voiceover narration for the game was already good but sounded closer to the traditional fantasy narrator you might expect. But from there we quickly found the voice that we stuck with. We took a little from Deadwood and a little from Gangs of New York and some other places, and it all merged nicely with the story tone we were thinking about. As soon as we heard Logan’s take on the character, we loved it and pushed forward with it. We rapidly evolved the narrator into a deep character, as we knew we needed to make sure he was more than just a cool voice.
From what I can tell, the narrative varies given the choices of the player. How many different lines of dialogue were recorded for the same given scenario?
We recorded somewhere around 3,000 lines of dialogue for Bastion, and players will never hear all of it the first time through and probably not the second or third time either. None of the content repeats unless you replay part of the content, and even then, there can be a good amount of variance. We have conditional stuff that’s unique to each of the different areas of the game. For example in one of the early battles the narrator might say three completely different things depending on the way in which you defeat this one enemy that you’re fighting. We wanted to pepper the game with lots of unique little moments that respond back to the player’s choices, deepening those interactions. There was no set quota, we just did as much as we could as long as it felt right. Hopefully the effect it will have is that people will keep finding cool little moments all through the game and on successive play-throughs as well.
Was SuperGiant Games aware of how popular the game would become?
I appreciate the thought but I think it’s too early to say how popular the game has become since it’s not for sale yet. The real test will be when the game ships, seeing what the consensus is about how well we executed on the concept, and seeing if people are willing to spend their time and money on it. Xbox LIVE Arcade is a scary place right now, as a lot of perfectly good games fail from lack of exposure. That said, we are doing everything in our power to make sure Bastion avoids that fate, not the least of which is that we’ve poured every ounce of our strength into the game itself.
We’re very, very happy with the positive response we’ve received thus far. It’s every bit as good as we could have imagined, and more. We couldn’t have expected such a great response to the game, though of course we hoped we’d get a great response. We were careful to not reveal the game before we felt the time was right. Still, if the day ever comes when I feel like I can take people’s enthusiasm for something I’ve worked on for granted, then I hope I fail hard and re-learn an important lesson in humility.
On the topic of the studio itself, what is the origin story? How did everything come together?
Supergiant Games was founded in September 2009 by Amir Rao and Gavin Simon, who I worked with at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles. We’d worked together on a number of Command & Conquer titles and all left in close succession in the summer of that year. The premise of the studio was to make high-quality digitally distributed games, which spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid. We also wanted to make games in a particular way, “without a parent in the room” as Amir would say. We’re very tactical, and only take on work that we know we can achieve with the resources that we have. We avoid overscheduling or designing on paper but we’re serious about deadlines too. It’s a very refreshing work environment for these reasons.
We were inspired by games like Braid and Castle Crashers, not directly but spiritually in terms of their craftsmanship and how great those games turned out in spite of how small the teams were who worked on them. So anyway, Amir and Gavin dropped everything, moved into a house in San Jose, and got to work. The team grew slowly until it reached its full strength of seven, including Logan.
When we spoke before, you mentioned PAX east. What was it like to show your game off there?
PAX East was amazing for us, and the only reason it wasn’t the most amazing such experience I’ve ever had is because of PAX Prime a few months prior, when we first showed the game and got a huge response. At PAX East it felt like we were a legitimate contender for the first time, since we had a dedicated booth and five stations for people to play at, and even some cool swag to give out in the form of custom-printed bandanas. Our strong presence at the show was made possible by the partnership we’d just formed with Warner Bros., who took interest in the game after PAX Prime and proved to us that they just wanted us to make the game we were making – they weren’t going to disrupt our process or hold us to their own schedules, as they saw the potential in what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it.
So yeah, having a presence at the show, with the backing of a respected publisher, and hearing positive remarks from hundreds of people who’d played the game was definitely a good feeling. We were pushing very hard before the show since the show itself took time out of our schedules, but the great response we got made it that much easier to get back and immediately get back to development.
How does it feel to be part of something so unique in a time when originality has nearly become extinct?
I don’t entirely agree that originality has nearly become extinct… it’s just, uh, hibernating! You have to know where to look for it, and the place to look these days evidently is among independent games. Technology and digital distribution have made it possible, for the first time in decades, for small groups of people (or even one very talented person in some cases) to make high-quality games and get them in front of a lot of people willing to pay them money so they can keep doing it. I do agree, though, that it feels like a lot of game players are starving for original content… how many iterations of the same franchise can they take before they want to try something different? But to answer your question directly, it feels absolutely great to be making something we came up with on our own, getting people excited.
For me personally it’s dream-come-true territory, since I’ve wanted to make games and stories for games since I was a little kid, and this story in particular is one I’ve put a lot into.
Everything I’ve seen by searching for a release date has only been speculation. Are we any closer to zeroing in on a date?
We’re definitely closer to zeroing in on a release date but we don’t have one yet. All we can say for now is that the game is on track to debut this summer on Xbox LIVE Arcade, and will be headed to PC later this year. The reason we can’t nail down the release date exactly is because it’s not up to us. Microsoft needs to figure out where we fit into their slate of releases during that season. We definitely know what we want when it comes to release dates, and we’ve made sure the game is ready and in good shape for that time, but the rest is up to them. To the extent that people are excited and talking about the game, it’s hopefully going to help us make sure we get a good release window on XBLA.
Replayability adds a ton of value to a game purchase. Is the random nature of Bastion designed to make the game completely unique each time?
Bastion has this rather distinct world design where you see the terrain forming up around you as you move, but it isn’t random. The content is all hand-crafted, sometimes rather pain-stakingly so. The combat tends to be highly dynamic and there are lot of ways to play through the encounters differently, but the environments are not randomized as is the case in action RPGs like Diablo and Torchlight. That said, we’re confident that we’re delivering an outstanding value, since the core game is quite big – longer than the average AAA first-person shooter, that’s for sure – and there are compelling reasons to come back to it after the first time through, both from a gameplay and a narrative standpoint.
What kinds of games do you typically play? What are you playing right now?
I play just about everything besides sports simulations, and that’s only because I’ve never really followed real-world sports that closely. Now that we’re finished with production, I’m finally getting to catch up on a bunch of games I’ve been meaning to play. I just finished Portal 2′s campaign, which was fantastic. Valve’s games are a big inspiration to me in terms of the quality of their writing and craft. I’m currently playing the new Mortal Kombat, which I’m really enjoying since fighting games are one of my favorite genres, and I’m also playing Swords & Sworcery EP on my annoying little iPod Touch. Plus I’ve been playing Tactics Ogre for my PSP just about every single night since it came out, and I’m playing a lot of The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile too. I think the one thing I want out of my games these days is some narrative depth. Doesn’t matter what kind of game it is as long as there’s some meaning to what’s going on in it, and all these games I’ve been playing lately have that going for them, even Mortal Kombat. Which reminds me, I need to go back and finish Deadly Premonition.
After Bastion is released, what are your next plans? Are there other projects in the works?
After Bastion is released on XBLA we’ll be in the middle of working on the PC version of the game. We’re likely going to be focused on Bastion for the rest of this year, provided it does well enough to let us stay in business. Beyond that, we have a lot of ideas for what we want to do and where we want to go next.
What I can tell you is this: If we get a chance to make another game after Bastion, no matter what that game is, we would do our best to make sure it created in players a sense of wonder like how they felt when they first saw Bastion. We want to make the kinds of games that create a very strong and specific first impression, and then fully deliver on the ideas expressed in those exciting first moments.
Are there any thanks, special mentions, shout-outs or websites you would like to bring attention to?
I’d like to thank the Giant Bomb community for rallying behind us and taking an early interest in the story of our studio. The Giant Bomb guys took a chance on an unheard-of studio and an unheard-of game and started doing these shows with us where we get to show off what the development of Bastion is like. It’s been a lot of fun! The gaming press has been very kind to us all around, so I want to say thank-you to everyone who’s taken the time to write or talk about the game in a public forum to this point. Independent games live or die not just by how good they are but also by how much exposure they get, and the gaming press is always inundated with mainstream releases they’re obligated to cover, so we appreciate that people have seen enough value in what we’re doing to take the time out to tell people.
I also want to thank Amir, Gavin, Darren, Jen, Andrew, and Logan for being such an incredible, inspiring, hard-working team. I get to hog these cool interviews myself but I can’t stress enough that Bastion was in every respect a concerted effort that each of us poured a lot of ourselves into.
We want to thank Greg for taking the time to answer some questions about this amazing title and SuperGiant Games as a whole. Please take the time to visit SuperGiant Games’ website and take a look around. As Greg deftly stated, “Independent games live or die not just by how good they are but also by how much exposure they get.” Be sure to share with your friends!
I know that we all have resorted to a FAQ guide in our trials as gamers. There’s no shame in admitting it. Whether it was for a simple puzzle that you just couldn’t get through in Legend of Zelda or maybe it was that confusing point in a game where the plot just drops out and leaves the player to fend for themselves. In the age post strategy guides, the only place we can go to for information on our games is a common FAQ website and hope we find the answer. Some games are asking for help more than others though (RPG’s, I’m looking at you) and that is where this top 5 list comes in. There’s games out there that have parts so mind-bending and confusing that the only means of sanity is to scour through pages of FAQ in order to learn what to do next. This isn’t just going to summarize what type of game needs FAQ-worthy moments the most though because as I said before RPG’s will more than likely top this list.
5.)Learning the Ropes
This isn't no ordinary falcon punch
For newbs like me at fighting games, before hitting the matches there’s one place of utmost importance to visit. FAQ sites and youtube videos. In order to be decent enough to hold your own at a fighting game if you’ve picked it up from scratch you must train, even if it takes a Rocky montage. Read up on all the characters and the pros and cons of who to use (for the example to MvC3, noobs should avoid Phoenix) as well as the moves they actually have. Take time to hone your combos and special moves before even thinking about setting foot in an online arena or else you will get your digital ass handed to you.
4.) Digital Pokedex
Gotta catch 'em all
In the heydey of our Pokemon years, whether it ended around 2003 or is still kicking strong, I’m sure we all remember picking up paper copies of some Prima guide devoted to a full Pokedex with move listings and more recently, EV scales. With the day of the guidebook falling shorter and further away it seems that there’s only one place to turn and that’s an online FAQ. It could be a favorite Pokemon fansite or just another site devoted to FAQ’s but we all have our go to location for information on everything Pokemon. Need to know the ins and outs of Zoroark’s cool new ability? Just look it up online before competing so you don’t mess up somehow. Everything you could ever need to understand about Pokemon can be found in the pages of an online database so what’s the need to shell out twenty hard earned dollars on a guide that regurgitates what Pokemon fans already know? As long as you don’t need to look up what level Charmeleon evolves. Hint: It’s 36.
3.) Step by Step
Don't judge me.
There’s always that moment in gaming where you know you need to complete a game but you just cant manage it. Maybe it’s too hard or maybe you just need a new hobby, who knows, but it’s another tried and true use of FAQ’s that you can find online (as well as youtube videos). A step by step walkthrough of a hard puzzle or even a whole game in the case of Braid. It may be cheating and it may ruin the game for some people but if your invested in the story and the characters I don’t see any harm in getting lead through a game by the hand, pausing the video every few seconds to make sure you’re taking the right steps to not trigger that spike trap. For Braid, I could barely make it past the first few stages before my braid decided to go on a field trip in la la land. I can appreciate the story and the independent value of the game but when it comes to having the mental capacity to finish a game like that, think again.
2.) Water Temple
So how many times have I played Zelda's Lullaby already?
We all know the Water Temple of Ocarina of Time and I’m sure most gamers have played it through countless times during their many playthroughs of the game. This entry isn’t devoted to the Temple itself but to the idea that there’s some areas in games that are just so horribly made (swimming with Otacon’s Sister in Sons of Liberty, for one) that no matter how many times you play through a game you’d always need a guide to get you through to the end. It’s not a statement on how you are as a gamer but just a statement of how badly made the game was at the time. If you can make it through the Water Temple with your eyes closed while playing drunk then hit me up because you deserve a burger or something, my friend. Having to play Zelda’s Lullaby to lower and raise the water levels while attacking those stupid clams in small hallways is enough to anger anyone not to mention confuse them.
The game in question is Dragon Quest 9 (or IX for those who care) and I’d like to bring up the alchemy system. It’s incredibly well done and brilliant for a handheld game to attempt but the vast combinations of things you can make with even the smallest amount of horse crap you find in a stable is astounding. Sure, you can read bookshelves to find recipes for new equipment but the joy comes in wasting your precious materials in a blender hoping that something will happen. But wait, there’s another way to do it you say? You can look up a complete list on the interwebs? Say it ‘aint so. Finding a FAQ for DQ9 in order to save materials as well as time trying to replicate some of the rarest armor in the game (Erdick anyone?) is as easy as buying the game in the first place. Don’t feel ashamed though. It’s a true endeavor to craft things in any game.
We all have a soft spot for indie games. We’re built to root for the underdogs. While not all indie games are great, some good ones have shown some amazing results. Take Limbo, Minecraft, and Braid. Microsoft launched XNA games which soon after became the Xbox Live Indie Game channel. Sadly, not as many people care about this. Here are some reasons why:
5) Type of Games!
This isn’t as big of a issue with me. Some see it as one though. The variety on the Indie Channel is weird. We have an abundance of SHMUP games on there. I, personally, don’t mind it. I know some people are tired of them. It’s understandable. When there are some XBLA games like Galaga Legions and Space Invaders: infinity Gene, some think, “why bother?” We may have to wait for a game on the caliber of Limbo to hit up indies to change those peoples’ minds though.
[Yeah... I have no idea what's going on in this game...]
Hoo-boy! Good thing this isn’t PC we’re talking about. We’d have a giant war of words, otherwise!
Any who– If you’re not familiar with the XBLIG side of Xbox Live, you may not be aware that there is a DRM attached to the indie games. It may seem weird at first. You might be asking yourself why it’s a big deal if you had to be online to fetch it in the first place. Well that’s a doozy. If you’re like me, my connection is horrible. There have been times my internet got knocked down for days, and because of that I can’t play my games. I also know friends who go to other people’s houses, download some items, and go back home. This is a problem. While not the biggest, it’s definitely one that should be fixed.
[Your standard self-explanatory image! Exciting, huh!?]
One thing you should know about me… There are two things I like to get when I’m gaming. Those two things are pizza and achievements. Yes, I’m an achievement whore. I’ve been spoiled. Achievements and trophies are for another topic though. My big reason holding me back from XBLIG is the lack of achievements. Not because I’m shallow. I haven’t even played Avatar! The 360 foundation is built on achievements. Your gamertag tracks your entire game collection by this meaningless number. There’s something psychological here, but the XBLIG being left out makes it seem like they are the goth kids of high school. The big cool kids kinda stare… they beat them up… Yeah. Some indie games have tried their own thing. FunInfused made “Awardments.” While I salute them for knowing we need that, it isn’t the same. Games like Brawl can get away with it because of a whole different platform. 360 games shouldn’t be missing achievements though. Yeah yeah, the massage games will ruin it. How about 100 points per game though? Separate Xbox apps from games. Bam, solution!
[What!? I like achievements, okay? Quit mocking me.]
There’s only been one super promotion on the indie channel in my memory. That was the Indie Uprising. No offense to them either, but it wasn’t huge. It did garner the attention from Microsoft. Even enough to add a block for them on the dashboard. I want a Summer of Arcade promotion for them. Hell, some of the indie games that have already been on the XBLIG beat out XBLA games in quality! So what gives? Even now, the indie games are hard to find. You’d have to do a bit of scrolling and searching if you’re a newbie to the platform. I’ll applaud the fact that Microsoft did bump them up from the very back, maybe their own bar on the scroll would please us? This is obviously hard to do because of the lack of a super approval process. Which leads us to out first reason…
[We do love advertising, right? No? Okay, well some do!]
You made it to number 1! Achievement Unlocke– oh yeah, sorry. Achievements aren’t allowed here.
The quality on the indie marketplace is laughable. No, not all of them. I absolutely love ZP2KX, Decimation X3, and Hypership Out of Control. Right now, for example, I’m looking through the Top Downloaded, I see: Avatar Fighter, Office Affairs, Voice Changer 360, and Avatar Adventure. This brings up two things: one, Avatar games! Stop. They sell so well, it’s hard to stop. The games are using Avatars as their novelty, and it’s not working out for them. Two, games like Office Affairs, Baby Maker Extreme, and anything involving how to get girlfriends are drowning the good games. If I’m a new kid on the 360 and try out the indie games with Office Affiars, I’m going to throw up. Okay, not throw up, maybe just cry. The rating system isn’t utilized as much as we’d need. Maybe some sort of review list like on the iTunes store could be useful. There’s many ways to fix this and not. Regardless, this is holding back many great developers from getting the sales they deserve.
[Can I have a side of Score Rush and a refill on Zombie Carnage Football please?]
There you have it. I love the indie marketplace. I’ve made friends with some of the developers on there. I have my fingers crossed that some of these problems get fixed so these developers can really take their awesome ideas to the stars.