Every month, as part of the regular monthly meetings of the Austin, TX independent game community JUEGOS RANCHEROS, we do a very casual & chatty rundown of the ten or so games from the previous month for the audience, to give people — especially those curious onlookers from outside the indie community itself — a look at what they may have missed. The featured games are both local and global, and both indie and, on occasion, a bit-bigger-budget — what binds them together is simply that they’re all amazing.
In keeping with the tongue-in-tobacco-packed-cheek tone, we call these run-downs A Fistful of Indies, which are presented here on Venus Patrol for your reference, each fully-annotated, -linked, and off-the-cuff blurbed, in addition to their home on the JUEGOS RANCHEROS site.
See more posts about: A Fistful of Indies, Armor Games, Denki, gods17, Greg Wohlwend, Hundreds, Knytt Underground, Little Inferno, Mastaba Snoopy, Michael Brough, Nifflas, Pixeljam, Potatoman Seeks the Troof, Save The Day, Semi Secret, Slayers, Sleeping Beast, Spaceteam, Tomorrow Corporation, Vesper.5, White Whale
A late contender for web game of the year squeaking in under the wire, but with an amazingly strong showing, comes Save The Day, from Scottish indies Denki, who you may recall as the creators of the fantastic strategy word game Quarrel (previously profiled here in 2009 and released this year for both XBLA and iOS), or even further back with the under-sung Game Boy Advance gem Go! Go! Beckham! (which is so much better than any David Beckham-license game has any right to be).
Save The Day‘s their debut for upstart HTML5 platform Turbulenz, and likely will serve as its new flagship title: a fantastically frenetic and compelling arcade game that gives you just minutes to pilot your rescue helicopter through a volcanic disaster, rescuing hapless citizens who, collectively, grant access to more perilous sections buried deeper within its world.
You’ll note traces of Choplifter, H.E.R.O. and maybe, more recently, PixelJunk Shooter, but what puts Save The Day over the top is its reliance on time & score, rather than environmental damage and enemy attack, and its constant blare of super satisfying information overload, that makes it a perfect, replayable three minute morsel.
Denki have confessed to but not elaborated on “grand plans for the game”, and it’s certainly something I wouldn’t mind being able to play away from the desk, but you’ll be very happy to have gotten in on the ground floor now by spending the rest of your day playing on Turbulenz right here.
Every month, as part of the regular monthly meetings of the Austin, TX independent game community JUEGOS RANCHEROS, we do a very casual & chatty rundown of the ten or so games from the previous month — both local and global, and both indie and occasionally a bit-bigger-budget — for the audience, to give people — especially those curious onlookers from outside the indie community itself — a look at what they may have missed.
In keeping with the tongue-in-tobacco-packed-cheek tone, we call these run-downs A Fistful of Indies, which are be presented here on Venus Patrol for your reference, each fully-annotated, -linked, and off-the-cuff blurbed, in addition to their home on the JUEGOS RANCHEROS site.
See more posts about: A Fistful of Indies, Blast Zone Mega, Damp Gnat, Denki, Edge Extended, Feed the Head, Forget-Me-Not, Glow, JUEGOS RANCHEROS, Max Bode, Mobigame, Neil Voss, Nyarlu Labs, Preloaded, Quarrel, Radballs, Shaun Inman, The End, The Last Rocket, Vectorpark, Wonderputt
I have a favourite new gaming peripheral. It’s 16 bits of mounting card, 48 four-square bits of Lego, the men from 14 games of Ludo, 100 tiddly-winks, three marker pens, some wipe-clean grids, a laptop, 280 pounds of human flesh and a roll of kitchen towel.
This peripheral is otherwise known as ‘playing the board-game prototype of Quarrel with Gary and David from Denki’. Denki you ought to know from the majestic Denki Blocks, and Gary Penn and David Thomson (pictured top, L to R) lead the team there who are currently turning that prototype into the upcoming Xbox Live Arcade version of the same, which you may well have first read about on this fine website.
The most reductive way to explain it is as a cross between Dice Wars and Scrabble: up to four players compete to dominate a map divided into a dozen or so different territories. Each player’s men are randomly scattered in squads across the map, occupying a share of the territories. Each turn, a player can have a squad attack any adjacent territory, triggering a two-player battle – against the clock – to find the highest scoring word within the same eight-letter anagram.
What makes this harder is that the total number of letters you can use is the number of men you have on that territory: so if you’ve had your squad of four attack a neighbouring squad of six, your opponent has two more letters and hundreds of thousands of more potential words to play with. It’s a highly narcotic mix of sleek strategy and good wordplay, as I found out when I spent a very happy day doing a spot of consultancy on it at the Denki studio last week.
But although I was supposed to be spending the day thinking about Quarrel, I ended up spending a lot of it thinking about the value of physical prototyping. On one of my own projects at the moment – a two-player online co-op confection – we’re at the paper prototyping stage. Paper prototyping online co-op, I can exclusively reveal, involves a great deal of running up and down corridors with post-it notes stuck to your chest. So arriving at Denki and discovering they had board-game prototyped Quarrel got me thinking, and rapidly got us playing. (more…)
Here’s what I know for sure: as mentioned back in December, Square-Go broke the first news of what will be the Xbox Live Arcade debut for Scotland’s Denki (headed by Crackdown designer Gary Penn), Quarrel. The site described the game as ‘Scrabble x Risk x Countdown’, where strategic territorial control was hard won by word-game battles between warring areas.
At the time, it looked quite nice, in Denki’s traditional primary colored way (see also: Denki Blocks / Go Go Beckham), but my eyes did bug out slightly when the studio sent over these new work-in-progress shots of the game, seeing that tradition now amped up gorgeously.
Here’s what I’m still not sure of: well, how it plays, other than in the vaguest terms, with Denki continuing to evolve the game over the past several months, but! Denki’s own David Thomson is currently in my own city of Austin, and is apparently carrying on his person a paper prototype of the game which, with any luck, I’ll have in my hands in less than a day from now, and can update accordingly. For now, rest your weary eyes on these for a jolt of that Denki spirit.
After some years working without much in the way of games media attention, it’s good to see Denki striking back as the release of its debut Xbox Live Arcade game Quarrel nears. Case in point, a two part studio visit feature by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the latest of which reveals some of studio head Gary Penn’s golden rules for games making.
Penn, as I noted before, was creative director for DMA Design as it formed the first Grand Theft Auto and, more recently, helped design the Xbox 360 sandbox sleeper Crackdown, and these rules I found especially interesting:
“This is about trying to create products that feel good – they are substantial, they aren’t sloppy, the controls feel responsive, and you feel in control. But it also makes you feel good, so there’s some emotional resonance going on there. It’s not some deep meaningful need to create a game that exploits the emotions of love or hate, it’s just… hey, you know… feel something, feel good. Smile.”
“We try to make products that feel alive. And that kind of operates on two tiers – informative and attentive. You’re never in the dark for too long, the game never feels like it’s crashed, which can still happen when you get this… dead air they call it on television, it’s horrible when you get that in games. It’s making sure the game is keeping you informed at the right times, with the right kind of absorbable information. The main thing we think of is, we as developers are performers, we’re building toys, the tools of play, for players who are also performers. Performing on your own is tedious, but performing in front of an audience is much more interesting. That’s where the attentive element comes in – if the product has life, it’s evocative and attentive, it says ‘hey that was pretty cool, I like the way you did that’.
“There has to be some sort of meaningful twist in there. And that doesn’t mean it has to be wholly original, it just has to have something that distinguishes it from everything else. It can be a twist in the concept, a twist in the execution, and it has to kind of manifest throughout the product.
Scotland developer Denki has a pedigree that belies the attention its received: studio head Gary Penn was formerly of DMA Design (who you now know as Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar North) and has had design roles in games like Body Harvest (which you could argue was a prototype for how GTA would eventually function in 3D) and, more recently, Crackdown.
Denki, for itself, has been behind some of the best cult hits of the Game Boy Color/Advance generation from the very smart puzzle game Denki Blocks to Go! Go! Beckham!, a wholly unlikely and wickedly good GBA title that brought the soccer star cutely into a pastel Mario/Yoshi’s Island-esque world which he conquered with trademark footwork (see: this YouTube video).
Now, after a diversion onto set-top box game venture which hasn’t panned out technologically, Scottish games mag Square Go has got the first look at Denki’s new Xbox Live Arcade venture, Quarrel: Word War One. Square says the game plays out like “Scrabble x Risk x Countdown” (the last of which necessitated a google: I’d substitute Boggle, perhaps, for the Americans), where word games blossom out to territory control, which appears to feature Denki’s by now recognizably primary-colored aesthetics and might just turn out to be a surprisingly good development.
World Exclusive: Quarrel – Hands On [Square-Go]