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Indie

Volcanoids – A steampunk adventure!

I’ve got a love for steampunk.
I enjoy things that clank and bang – and feeling that awesome sensation of pushing a mechanical button or pulling a lever.

I dig that.

It came to me as a great surprise the fact that I had never heard about Volcanoids before until I saw it at the front page on Steam!
This surprised me even more since Steam has been failing miserably at providing me with good suggestions for games that I’ll enjoy.

Volcanoids has a great premise.

I’m a huge fan of the Guns of Icarus franchise.
Flying a steampunk balloon-ship, firing cannons at the enemy ships and repairing damage with a huge hammer and a group of friends is solid-steel fun and the type of fun you’re able to find in Sea of Thieves as well.
Even if it was a different concept, I thought Volcanoids could be just as fun – so I decided to try it out.

Volcanoids

Volcanoids puts you in control of a mechanical contraption that works pretty much like a submarine… but on land… It digs like a mole rat!

Apparently, some mean mechanical beings have triggered several massive volcanic eruptions to sustain their own energy needs.
Those explosions destroyed villages and turned the land into a sad gray wasteland. It is now up to you to survive and explore and eventually find and dismantle the enemy’s mechanical drill.

You need to be careful though as the volcano is still active and spewing rocks and ash from time to time.
When the volcano erupts you need to run to your drill and go underground to avoid damage.

…And the mean robots are still out there.
…And they don’t like you.

Because these guys will attack you and your drill, you need to craft bullets and turrets to protect your beautiful machinery. To craft, you will need to gather materials from nearby mining sources.

Managing power supply is also very interesting. You need to bring coal to your drill and turn your systems on and off to be able to keep the whole thing running without going out of energy.
This adds a welcome new layer of complexity to the game.

Make it do things!

The game really shines when it comes to the feeling of presence and the immersion you get when you enter the drill and make it do things.
When you first start your machine all those cogwheels turning and the noise makes you feel like you’ve given life to Frankenstein. IT’S ALIVE!!!

Just like Frankenstein, this game is still missing some bolts.

We have to keep in mind that this is an early access game by a very small indie dev team. They’ve got a great concept to explore but still many things to fix or improve.

In my view, Volcanoids shouldn’t be available on Steam just yet.
It lacks polish – especially in terms of gameplay mechanics that were, in my opinion, missing.

This decision to go public this early in the project might unfortunately result in a cascade of bad and undeserved reviews by unaware or unwilling buyers.

I’m hoping that this won’t dishearten the devs into giving up on this project and move on to something else. That would be worse than a volcano covering us all in ash!

For such a small team of devs they’ve accomplished something worthy of note – it is just the many small things here and there that need improvement.

Under construction

Volcanoids
Now that’s a nuclear volcano!

The truth is that besides the obvious bug fixing that is expected from an early access game (I didn’t encounter any bugs whatsoever – and I was playing at 5760×1080 just fine!), it lacks some core gameplay mechanics and graphics improvements.

I really enjoyed building and expanding the drill piece by piece, section by section. I even enjoyed the countdown (the volcano erupts as timely as a geyser!), which, even though it isn’t very realistic, adds an urge and a sense of purpose to the game.

It would be great to have a seismographer that warns you whenever a random eruption is about to happen but, instead, we’ve got a very precise countdown which is very …predictable.

The tutorial is incredibly long as it details all of the complex crafting processes one by one instead of mixing it with quests and letting the player explore the machines by himself.

Tutorials tend to be unpolished in Early Access games and that’s okay given the circumstances. But let’s be honest, at the very beginning, Minecraft didn’t have a tutorial and it succeeded because the gameplay aspect of building something over time was easy and very captivating.

The same happened with Kerbal Space Program where the player is free to build and make mistakes without a guiding hand going through all of the processes – as long as they’re easy enough to figure out.

Making mistakes is part of the fun.

Nuts & Bolts

I felt like the knobs and bobs inside the drill weren’t as interesting as they could be.
There’s a very (unnecessarily?) complex crafting system in place but, to my disappointment, it mostly requires that you use GUI crafting menus instead of pulling levers and pressing buttons.
Most of the machines inside the drill are very similar to each other and are often times duplicated, which makes it even more confusing and somewhat frustrating to find the right one. You are able to build them wherever you like as long as they’re on the walls of your drill. This will let you organize them somewhat.

The gameplay aspect lacks some depth. You just go around gathering minerals to build new structures in your drill and destroying the enemy’s structures.
The game would certainly benefit from posing challenges to the player, like new minions, more complex quests, exploration areas and gameplay challenges.
You also get this feeling that the narrative ends when you start playing as there’s not much of a story afterwards.

Volcanoids

The control you have over the drill is very limited.
Whenever you wish to move it, a cinematic shows what’s happening from the outside.
I found out that I preferred skipping the cinematic and instead look at the inside of the drill moving around like a snake as it digs deeper into the earth.
I expected the drilling process to be riddled with clanks and bangs and shakes and smokes – it was instead very smooth, unfortunately!

To graphic or not to graphic

Volcanoids

The game looks gorgeous in the screenshots – especially the driller.
That’s the beauty of steampunk! It always looks great!

But the reality is that everything else seems a bit too simple, low-poly and jagged. Some would call it “dated” – which is a terrible tag for a new game.

This could be improved by using a different text font, a new lighting system, better resolution textures, more detailed terrains and objects or, instead, a minimalistic and innovative graphic style – which is tricky when it comes to steampunk.

As it is, Volcanoids looks above-average-good.
Not yet great – but… with room for improvement.
The unique theme makes screenshots very interesting at first glance, but in-game everything seems a bit too simple.

Multiplayer

Volcanoids

One of the features I fear the most in their development plans is adding co-op multiplayer and PvP.
From my own experience as a game developer, single and multiplayer games have two very different development cycles.
Adding multiplayer to a singleplayer game is VERY tricky and time-consuming.
They’ve got a great premise for a single-player game with a lot of work yet to be done. Allocating resources for the development of multiplayer is a risk that I wouldn’t take… although it could be fun to play with minions on your side and attacking someone else… but the game has to shine in areas like gathering and UI interactions first.

Back to the surface

Volcanoids

I won’t give a rating to this game just yet.
It wouldn’t be
fair to rate it as it is clearly still missing features.
We can’t really judge it on what it currently is or what it could become.

However, as I stated before, the game has some curious and unique aspects to it that make it fun to discover – but the player will lose interest quickly if he finds nothing new to explore. Multiplayer could be interesting but given the amount of polish and content that is still required, I’m hoping to one day see this just as a good singleplayer game.

If you’re unsure whether to get this game or not, my suggestion would be to let it cook for a little longer before trying it out. If instead, you would like to try something new then go ahead – get this one while it’s hot!

Volcanoids has a Trello page where you’re able to keep up-to-date with development and see what they’re up to. It also features a Discord channel where extremely friendly devs are regularly giving away keys.

I’ll be paying attention to Volcanoids as it could turn into something really fun in a year or so. I’ll review it again by that time!

Meanwhile, why not check out my other post about this other innovative game called Dungeon of the Endless? Go try it out!

I’ll see you underground!
-ViLa4480

Dungeon of the Endless – An Indie Game you won’t dare label!

Did you know Dungeon of the Endless was free for the weekend? If you didn’t that’s likely because you’re not following my Twitter feed!

How innovative can you be these days?

We live in a world where stamping labels on things and people is, sadly, mandatory. There’s no time to waste!
The flow and amount of information to be processed and the need to clarify what something is, or is not, demands that we categorize everything and everyone as quickly as possible.

We have truly entered The Age of Labels.

It is part of who we are as humans.
The Universe doesn’t care whether there’s light or shade, day or night, a half-full glass, a dead cat in a box or a tree falling in an unpopulated forest.

But we humans do care.

This is how our brains save disk storage space. We compress info into tiny boxes with labels.

Concepts are easier to access and we can figure them out quickly by simply reading the label on the box.

Unfortunately, this somewhat compromises our ability to think differently. To be innovative. To think out of the box – and to be appreciated and recognized for that.

Music that doesn’t belong to any genre in particular tends to be ignored by most people, as we tend to flock to our tried-and-true favorite genres. The same happens with movies and games.

This tends to become an even bigger issue when you consider the way we access this content. Check out my ramble on how Valve has made me lose interest in Steam – their content delivery platform – by improving it.

With so much new content available to us each day, the most productive way for a developer to innovate nowadays is to mix genres.
However, like with a nice cocktail, to mix it up properly requires real talent. These guys nailed it.

Missing a label?


Somehow I missed Dungeon of the Endless when it first came out in 2014.

Luckily it isn’t a game that gets old with age!
I managed to pick it up recently since it was free-to-play during the weekend and being sold at a discount.

I just tried it out and it really surprised me:

Amplitude delivered Dungeon of the Endless back in 2014 – and it caused an issue for most gaming blogs. Why? Well… there was no easy way to categorize it!

It is NOT a strategy game, not a survival game, not a tower-defense game, not an RPG, not a MOBA, not a dungeon-crawler!
It is all of those things at the same time… and yet, very different.

The point of the game is to exit an abandoned sci-fi ship with a team of heroes and a crystal (similar to Dungeon Keeper’s dungeon heart).

Unfortunately, the ship’s architects decided that it would be fun to build elevators that only take you to the next floor… and build them in different rooms on each floor.
The type of insanity that GlaDOS would be proud of.

Unique.

Dungeon of the Endless is a unique game, yet very familiar. It delivers a real-time-turn-based game pace.
Does that sound confusing enough?

The game presents a real-time game flow, but it grows and expands as you open up doors in an abandoned ship. So, in reality, it only advances when you unlock the next “turn” by opening up doors in real-time.

Over time (aka turns, aka doors opened), you will be gathering supplies and building resource miners or defensive turrets or evolving your heroes.


All these abilities will come in handy when little alien insects start to show up. Apparently, they HATE your beautiful crystal for some reason and will try to destroy it.

Luckily, with all the resources you managed to mine so far, you’ll also be able to unlock new weapons and abilities for your heroes and your temporary “base”.

The game is unlike any other, yet similar to many.

The very pixely graphics and constant smooth animations deliver an intense atmosphere to the game. The very bright colors, somehow akin to fire burning in the background, keep reminding you that you need to escape as quickly as possible from the alien-infested ship. However, some strategy is in order, as resources are limited – but alien attacks are not.


The very pixely graphics and constant smooth animations deliver an intense atmosphere to the game.

The very bright colors, somehow akin to fire burning in the background, keep reminding you that you need to escape as quickly as possible from the alien-infested ship.

However, some strategy is in order, as resources are limited – but alien attacks are not.

The crystal being attacked!
Now's the time to panic.
The crystal being attacked!
Now’s the time to panic.

An endless dungeon

The gameplay is fast and fun, and the base-building aspect adds a lot of flavor to it. Unlocking new abilities, characters and weapons is definitely the main drive for the player. The superb audio and music also make it a very pleasant experience.
I had some trouble with the controls. They’re not complex at all – just very uncommon.
Sadly, there’s not much of a storyline to the game, except for a few less-than-funny jokes between heroes. Co-op is a plus, but not necessary since it truly shines as a great singleplayer game.


I really felt like this innovative game was a breath of fresh air.
That freshness that started around 2010 with very popular indie titles like Braid, Minecraft or Spelunky seems to have faded with all the sequels and adaptations of those popular games (just think of how many games mirrored Minecraft’s gameplay mechanics!) and innovation started to take a toll.

Dungeon of the Endless proves that there are many unlikely game genre combos that haven’t yet been explored.

I’m looking forward to trying out Amplitude’s following success Endless Legend.

Popcorn Score:

I truly enjoyed this game.
Even though it lacks a good storyline, it balances that with a fast and fun gameplay, beautiful graphics and a great ambiance.
If you’re looking for something FRESH, this is the game you want to try.

Do you like my ramblings? Would you like to read some more? Check out my previous post on How Sci-fi changed my life!
You may also want to subscribe to my blog by entering your e-mail on the form to the left or by following me on Twitter!

I’ll find you at my crystal,
-ViLa4480

Papers, Please: the short film

Papers, Please: The short …Film?

Free to read: there are no movie spoils ahead

A broken Valve

Have you read my previous article on How Steam broke my Valve? That’s the prelude to this post!
Go check it out!

As I mentioned in my previous post, Steam has let me down in the past few years, as I used to scroll its shop homepage on a regular basis… Steam then started showing very targeted results and my Steam shop started looking less and less interesting to me. It was showing the same results over and over again!
Somehow this led me to Papers, Please: the short film.

I was bored yesterday.

So I decided to go see what’s new on Steam. But since my Steam shop homepage is kind lame nowadays I went on to figure out what were the best-rated games of all time on Steam.

I was surprised! The top result didn’t belong to a game… It was a movie!
-A short film to be precise.
But not just any film… Papers, Please: the short film!

I have to admit that my jaw dropped a bit and my finger trembled with excitement when I hovered my mouse over it. Was this possible? What kind of black magic is this?!

Papers, Please: logo

Glory to Arstotzka!

Papers, Please is one of my greatest heroes when it comes to games.
As I understand it was mostly built by one guy (Lucas Pope) with the help of a small team of Arstotzkan loyal subjects.

The game is set in 1982 at the national border of a very closed soviet-like regime. You were one of the lucky picks of the October labour lottery as your name was pulled for immediate placement as a border admissions control officer. What an honour!

Your job is to allow or deny entry of people into the country – for the Glory of Arstotzka! to feed your family.


To me, games are about making choices.

…Making the right decisions that bring you the most benefit in order to “win” the game (even though winning something isn’t always required for a player to be entertained or to feel connected to a story).

However, the best games are the ones that make you think twice.
 
Papers, Please excels at this.


It presents you with tough choices over and over. 
To the point where you feel the misery of these immigrants and you still have to deny their entry into your country, knowing that they will die otherwise.

What an incredibly contemporary theme.

Corruption, bribery and even secret societies are also on the table as some people will try to do anything to get into Arstotzka …and you still have to feed your family.

Papers, Please Screenshot

The reason why I love this game is due to its gameplay simplicity in a cutthroat environment where each decision is critical to the migrant, the State and to your family. A bureaucracy simulator that is actually memorable.
As usual, Lucas Pope turned what at first would appear to be a technical graphics limitation into a graphic style on its own. One that not only simplifies interactions and leverages the narrative, but also that glorifies that great retro ambiance that drives the player back in time to a period of cold walls and warm tensions.

How does this translate into a film?!

I don’t know.
But they did it really well.

The film focuses on the usual role that the player performs. The Inspector sifts through all the data in the documents that he is provided by the migrants to look for info that’s missing or incorrect.

I won’t go into any further details as I don’t think it is necessary to spoil anything in a 10-minute long film.

Papers, Please: the short film

However, I will say that I was impressed at how carefully well executed the scenario and the attention to detail was in this film. It really captures the essence of the game.
The actors also do a great job at conveying that this is a life/death situation… and yet… just a job.

Summing-up, I would like to congratulate Lucas Pope and his team on being brave enough to make this great short film.

Art isn’t perfect, but this is a great 10-minute piece of art.
It isn’t priceless either – but it is FREE on Steam and Youtube.

Check it out in 4K glory right now:

Regarding the film I will rate it 4/5 Pops – it is great, but it lacks a little bit more depth and desperation that the game is better at conveying …but hey, it is free…

I will rate the must-have-played game 5/5 Pops.
No questions asked.

Film Popcorn Score:

Game Popcorn Score:

I’ll see you in Arstotzka,
-ViLa4480

Missed the first part of this story?
Go check it out now!

Interested in this game?
Click here to get a discount for Papers, Please.

Kingdom: Two Crowns logo

Kingdom: Two Crowns …One and a Half?

This is my first review post on this blog. If you guys would like to know more about how I started this epic journey check out PLANTING A SEED.

A mighty Kingdom

Kingdom: Two Crowns has just been released earlier this month and I decided to give it a go.

Kingdom: Two Crowns is a 2D side-scrolling “kingdom-builder” game. The kind of satisfaction you get from playing a tower-defense game, mixed with the satisfaction you get from playing an exploration game like Terraria.

Being insanely addictive, this game uses very smart and staggeringly simple game mechanics which I am able to describe in three sentences: 

  • You’ve got a bag of gold coins.
  • You buy improvements to your fort.
  • You survive waves of enemies.

Ah. But things are never this simple.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Splitscreen

Building and growing your fort means expanding your borders further into wild,unexplored territory. This not only means that trees will have to be mercilessly cut down, but also that other, harder decisions must be made:

-Will you destroy a homeless person’s shelter to expand your fort into fertile lands?
-What about the trader’s hut that regularly supplies you with a huge influx of coins?
-Will you spend all your money building new walls or instead hiring more archers to protect your current walls?


Decisions, decisions…

Know thy land

The game is a great exploration adventure game however… even though you can’t deny that there is a huge amount of geographic exploration to do… Let’s be honest and recognize that most islands in the game all look very similar and that the game mechanics never really change much throughout the map.

Nevertheless, what really drives the player to keep “exploring” the game is the huge amount of “interactibles” – mysterious statues, strange meteorites, portals and a never-ending list of upgrades to your fort that grant you game-changing special abilities.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Statue

Line of succession

Having bought the previous Kingdom: Classic and the sequel Kingdom: New Lands  I must say I was a bit skeptical about buying this new version. The reason for that was that when I first bought Kingdom: New Lands I had two reasons to buy it: First, I’d like to support the developers who had previously created such a simple and cool game. Secondly, I was also looking for new content and new interactions that would expand my experience of ruling a very 2D kingdom.

However, I must say I was a wee bit disappointed with Kingdom: New Lands since it was being promoted almost as if it was a standalone DLC.
-Does that make sense?
Nope.

It is basically the same game as Kingdom: Classic being resold full-price with an added expansion.

The problem wasn’t really that the expansion was bad. The problem was how it was being sold as something truly new – which it wasn’t since the new mechanics that were introduced weren’t really that different from the base game and many of the changes were merely cosmetic.

Don’t get me wrong: any expansion to this great base game is welcome – but paying a full bag of gold for a new DLC is …bittersweet.

Just one more crown…

Kingdom: Two Crowns Scary night

Along comes November and the video announcement for Kingdom: Two Crowns and I couldn’t be more curious. 
A developer starts by explaining that he was watching a player stream (not me, unfortunately!) with his girlfriend and that at one point one of them said “I wish we could play together”… the developer’s heart melted and so he decided to make that wish come true in Kingdom: Two Crowns.

This was huge news for me!
I love coop games.

…And I couldn’t miss the opportunity to play one of my favorite games with my usual test subject (A.K.A. my girlfriend).

What a great idea.
Then I saw the 20€ price tag.

Here we go again?

I’m not a cheapskate – but I don’t like paying for the same game three times either!
If they had added new cosmetic content I’m sure I wouldn’t have bought it… but coop… My only weakness… How could I resist? How could I?!

Yeah, I bought Kingdom: Two Crowns.
After an insane amount of time spent tackling screen-resolution, UI and gamepad issues I proudly decided to demonstrate to my girlfriend that I had finally managed to remove all blockers and smash all bugs and went to Mordor and back to get the game ready and working!

“It’s ugly.” – she said.
She does that. She has a way with words.

After convincing her that pixel art is actually an art form and not a technical limitation of the game, she conceded that she would allow me to play with her. I often get the feeling that I’m dating my cat.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Splitscreen

One crown. Two crowns.

The King and Queen of Choulândia were now crowned and ready to cleanse this Kingdom of all evil minions roaming the land.

Until I died in the first 3 minutes of gameplay.
Then we got desperately poor.
Then we decided to restart the game.

BUT THEN the Mighty Kingdom of Choulândia arose from the ashes, prospered and grew in size! We had thick stone walls, fertile farms, an army of archers!

Then my Queen bluntly said: “I’m bored.”
She does that. She has a way with words.

…Usually that tends to happen within the first 5-10 minutes of playing a game. So the fact that we were playing for almost two hours before she said that really struck me as being a great compliment to Kingdom: Two Crowns.
I was truly having fun playing with her!

We got to explore a new island, got some diamond-like gems and started building a new ship to come back home with our bounty.

We had to stop there.
But I can honestly say that I had great fun playing Kingdom: Two Crowns with myself and with my Queen and we had some good laughs with very poor fort-building decisions about building walls at the exact time that the enemy is attacking.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Sunset


Locking the gates

Overall Kingdom: Two Crowns is an amazing game for playing as co-op or single-player – especially if you’ve never had the chance to play one of the previous versions.
It is extremely addicting, fun, with a lot of content to explore and a great Christmas Gift for your soulmate (as long as you get to play with him/her).

However, the slightly steeper price for the content that has been added might not be entirely adequate if you’ve played the previous iterations since it feels like a small DLC rather than an entirely brand new game. I’d value this at 15€ for returning players, instead of the standard 20€, and despite the price point and the lack of apparent new gameplay mechanics at the start of the game, I would still rate it 4/5 pops due to its replayability and blunt fun factor.

Popcorn Score:

This is my first review post on this blog. If you guys would like to know more about how I started this epic journey check out PLANTING A SEED.

I’ll see you in-game,
-ViLa4480

Interested in this game?
Click here to get a discount for Kingdom: Two Crowns.