The Real Heroes – Episode 4: Fruity Round-Up 1

This episode of the Real Heroes, we take a look at listener mail! We go through your favourite real heroes, all while tackling the persistent spiritual invasion of Gruff Rhys from the Super Furry Animals.

The Real Heroes is a podcast starring George Johnson and Elodie Cunningham, dedicated to seeking out and identifying the real heroes of gaming. Often minor characters and usually very strange, it’s an abstract and comical show that occasionally hosts guests.

Space Jammers Preview – Needs a LOT of Work

Space Jammers is a top-down, twin-stick, bullet-hell shoot-em-up, with cited influence from games like Binding of Isaac and clear inspiration, or at least shared themes, with Nuclear Throne. It puts you in control of one of four space kitten pirate rock stars, tasked with looting and shooting across the galaxy in order to fund your musical tour. The concept is exciting enough, and it’s difficult to mess up a twin-stick shooter at it’s core. But a number of mechanics, graphics settings, and optimization issues leave this a game that I both wanted desperately to enjoy, and can see myself enjoying once a lot of work goes into it.

taking-damage-gif

So, to begin with, let’s preface this with a couple of important things: Space Jammers is soon releasing in Early Access, and it’s still riding out the end of it’s Kickstarter campaign. It’s not a finished product, which is why this isn’t a review. It’s also not a final, scathing slander of the game that I won’t potentially update if I review it. This is constructive feedback, more than anything else. I really like the concept of Space Jammers, and I want to see it do well. The build that I’ve been given is dedicated to early previews; it’s less stable than the demo build, but it has more frequent updates to I can see it’s progress. With all that said, let’s begin.

The first thing I attempted to do in Space Jammers was configure my controller. I enjoy using one with twin-stick games more than I do a mouse and keyboard, as the name of the genre suggests. This didn’t work out too well. Buttons were incorrectly-mapped, with frequent attempts to pick up items and use special abilities resulting in quitting the game, and they often appeared too sensitive with single presses zipping me through multiple menus at once, and it made the game far more challenging than it should be.

space-jammers-multiplayer

As such, I had to resort to using a mouse and keyboard, which was less than ideal, but functional nonetheless. A big issue that this presented was the currently local-only multiplayer. I wanted to see how the game felt when playing with friends, but I couldn’t, as the lack of online functionality paired with the controller support issues unfortunately rendered this impossible.

Based on the recommended system requirements of the game, I opted to bump up my graphics quality to ‘high.’ This provided minor improvements to the clarity of pixels, but a disproportionate drop in performance. The whole game entered a state of slow motion, which I initially thought to be the intended game speed, and would have been one of my criticisms. This suggests poor optimization, and it’s something that will need to be looked at. But, playing on ‘normal’ graphics quality didn’t hinder my experience with the game, aside from occasional dips in speed when in highly-populated areas, and sometimes even tiny nooks that you wouldn’t expect. Something else in the graphics options did, however; the ‘bloom’ effect.

space-jammers-options

This, along with options for scan lines, vignette, and film grain, are all attempts to add that arcade cabinet aesthetic to the game, and these other three work quite nicely. The ‘bloom’ effect, however, adds a red fade from the top to the bottom of the screen. As it’s a default setting, I wasn’t aware that these two things were linked, and it left me constantly wondering whether my character was low on health or not. The colour palette as well, while vibrant and varied, seems incredibly saturated, making the game a strain on the eyes

There’s variety in the stages of Space Jammers, with the standard walk-and-shoot areas occasionally partitioned by scrolling space ship sections that play like a fusion of Galaga and Geometry Wars, with asteroids to blast and dodge in order to avoid damage. This keeps the game feeling fresh, though these stages have a lot more potential for what they currently offer.

space-jammers-ships

The game feels quite fluid and fast-paced, with sharp movement and a precise aiming system. What holds these qualities back are a few mechanical choices that feel artificial in their difficulty. Ammo capacity is scarce, and whilst this wouldn’t usually be an issue, it lessens the impact of some of the weapons that the game gives you to use.

These weapons are also somewhat challenging to get to grips with, as their behaviours are unpredictable, even from shot to shot. I had one gun that fired exploding rockets, but it often alternated, seemingly at random, between firing one rocket in the direction of the cursor, and then also firing two rockets perpendicular to the gun in either direction, which led to some slip-ups and unintended character deaths. The spawn rates of enemies in the game also seem that little bit too high, leaving me feeling that some areas were impossible to tackle without sprinting through to the exit.

weapon-fire-gif

I really wanted to like Space Jammers, and I can see it’s potential, with a compelling concept, refreshingly-varied gameplay style, and hard-to-spoil twin-stick action. But in its current state, it’s not as enjoyable an experience for me as I was expecting. Here’s hoping that with some more time, and perhaps some more funding, Spread Shot Studios can polish out the flaws and come out with something pretty great.

It’s still definitely worth giving a go to see how you feel about it, and so you can observe it’s development too. You can download the demo for Space Jammers here, and add the game to your Wishlist on Steam here, for an Early Access release on 13th of December.

State Mandated Indie Roundup – 05/12/2016 – Futuristic Cowboy Egyptians

Hello comrades! Another week, another selection of approved upcoming indie releases! Once again, with an equal distribution of importance due to it’s lack of ranking. I don’t care if we live in a capitalist society and that I have to adhere to it in order to survive in this career, I’ll take every chance I can get to rub my filthy communist hands all over whatever I produce.

  • 06/12/2016 – Void Pyramid

Void Pyramid is a post-apocalyptic RPG set in a futuristic Egyptian empire, full of beast bashing, criminal crashing, and mutant mashing. From the trailer, the game reminds me of that retro-inspired, turn-based flavour of RPG that we can see in titles like Undertale and Princess Remedy in a World of Hurt, minus the bullet hell elements. There are different classes to choose from, puzzles to solve, and it’s all wrapped up in a fascinating-looking universe. It’s free to download now, but is coming to Steam via Greenlight.

  • 06/12/2016 – Drop Alive

Drop Alive is a 2D platformer with a beautiful and adorable hand-drawn art style that puts you in control of an adorable droplet of water who wishes to escape a house that she’s trapped in to get outside and join a nearby river. You navigate titanic kitchen cutlery and change your state of matter in order to navigate various obstacles, all to an original soundtrack that sounds sweet and floaty.

  • 07/12/2016 – Her Majesty’s SPIFFING

Now, I’m not a fan of colonialism. But regardless of that, Her Majesty’s SPIFFING: The Empire Staggers Back looks to be a wonderfully funny point-and-click adventure game infused with British humour. You are a boy, girl, or unspecified, tasked by the Queen under the S.P.I.F.F.I.N.G. (Special Planetary Investigative Force For Inhabiting New Galaxies) operation to colonize the stars in order to escape the dire political conditions on Earth. It looks to be incredibly charming, so I’m quite optimistic for this one.

  • 07/12/2016 – Best Buds vs Bad Guys

Best Buds vs Bad Guys is a 2D run ‘n’ gun action game in a 16-bit style. The game is clearly inspired by the likes of Contra, and is made by a dad and his 11 year old son, who are both fans of classic pixel art games. You can shoot ridiculous guns, kill nasty monsters created by Doctor Jushaan, and exercise teamwork between the ‘best buds,’ avatars resembling the developers. It looks super cute and mindlessly fun.

  • 09/12/2016 – Exoplanet: First Contact

Exoplanet: First Contact seems to be quite an ambitious project that puts you in the shoes of an explorer named Jack Sharp, on a planet called K’Tharsis, a futuristic wild west landscape populated by colonists and aboriginal people, both oppressed by the corporation Terraform. It’s An Action Survival RPG, and it reminds me a lot of Bethesda’s Fallout games with how it looks both aesthetically and mechanically. It looks to be quite story driven, and I’m really rather intrigued.

Plenty of adorable and impressive games out this week! Here’s hoping that they’re as good as they look.

The Real Heroes – Episode 3: Zelda Ft. Jed Whitaker

We’re joined by Jed Whitaker on this episode of the Real Heroes podcast, to delve into the world of The Legend of Zelda, and pull from it the true heroes of the franchise.

The Real Heroes is a podcast starring George Johnson and Elodie Cunningham, dedicated to seeking out and identifying the real heroes of gaming. Often minor characters and usually very strange, it’s an abstract and comical show that occasionally hosts guests.

How the Pokémon Franchise Advocates a Communist Utopia

The Pokémon franchise has touched the hearts of countless children and young adults throughout the world. It’s moreish mechanics, adorable design, and endearing sense of community has cemented it as one of the most popular handheld video game series to date, going on 25 years strong. But what if there’s a message within these games? Subtle nods and established norms existent within the game’s universe that speak for something more than just the battling of strange animals against more strange animals? What if Pokémon is an advocate of the inevitable Communist utopia?

pokemon-eating

A significant aspect of a Communist society is the absence of currency, instead opting for a system wherein individuals are equally distributed that which they need to survive. While there is money in the Pokémon franchise, this free distribution of basic necessities can be seen in various instances in the Pokéverse. The first is the fact that both your player character and every other character in Pokémon seemingly never go hungry. Yes, you can buy Pokéballs, potions, and repellents, but the game never gives you the option of purchasing food for your own use. And yet, you never suffer from undernourishment or dehydration. Is this perhaps because you are supplied food and water as a basic necessity without the need to exchange funds? I suspect this might be the case.

We can also look to the Pokémon Centers; buildings situated throughout the Pokéverse regions that offer the healing of a trainer’s Pokémon free of charge. This free universal Pokémon healthcare is yet another basic need supplied without the exchange of currency. Just imagine having to pay to heal your Pokémon every time they had fainted. Would the game still be as popular as it is today? Most likely, but it’s an example of one of the many casual mechanics that makes the game such an entertaining experience, and happens to support this theory.

pokemon-center

In Pokémon Ruby, you encounter a man who owns a berry farm. When engaging in dialogue, the berry farmer will tell you about his berries and to, “take as many as you like.” The berry farmer could have easily charged you for the picking of his berries, but he does not. He allows you to freely take as many as you could need, and in essence, freely distributes the berries among the populace (it is assumed.) I would suggest that berries could be considered basic needs in that they are a food source, and that the berry farmer freely offering his berries is an example of the distribution of necessities that is present in a Communist society.

Another aspect of Communism is common ownership of the means of production. That is, the fruits of one’s labors are distributed equally among the populace. There is an item in the Pokéverse that carries out such a distribution; the Exp. Share, an obtainable item that shares the experience gained from successful Pokémon battles among both the participating Pokémon and Pokémon that did not engage in combat. If operating under a capitalist mindset, this experience would be given exclusively to the battling Pokémon, leaving the other, less-opportunistic Pokémon deprived of that which they need to grow. Alas, the Exp. Share solves this problem by spreading the experience out, allowing all of your Pokémon to flourish.

SAMSUNG

And finally, as we all know, food and water are not the only basic necessities needed in order to live a happy and comfortable life. The third? Accommodation! And in the Pokémon games that take place in the Hoenn and Sinnoh regions, the player character is given the opportunity to establish a ‘secret base,’ a home, complete with optional furniture customization, that requires no initial payment and no lodging transactions. A place to live, free of charge. When we look to the idea of common ownership, it is primarily with the means of production. Private property, such as living space and personal effects, are perfectly fine and often supplied without the need for currency, exactly like the ‘secret base.’

So, there you have it. Is Pokémon an advocacy project for a true Communist Utopia? I like to think that it is, based on the implementation of various equal distribution and common ownership ideals in both it’s mechanics and it’s universe. And it gives me hope, due to it’s flagrant popularity, that one day the people of the world will happily and willingly enter into the glorious age of the Proletariat.

 

State Mandated Indie Roundup – 28/11/2016 – Cats in Space!

Hello, comrades! In light of the recent passing of glorious revolutionary icon, Fidel Castro, behold a selection of approved upcoming indie releases in the week commencing 28th November! Why indie? Well, as we all know, the high-production products of the bourgeoisie receive far more publicity than that of smaller proletariat gems. As such, in order to equally distribute the awareness of all video games, here are a few coming out this week that I’m looking forward to. The order of games mentioned is not indicative of ranking or quality, because that would be filthy and capitalistic.

  • 28/11/2016 – Crate Punks

Crate Punks is an exclusively local co-op versus game in which you are punks, and everything is crates, and you pick up the crates to throw at the punks who are throwing the crates that are being thrown by and at the punks and… crates, and punks. It looks relatively fun, especially with the ways in which the map can be reshaped. Crates. Punks.

  • 30/11/2016 – Delicious – Emily’s Message in a Bottle

Delicious – Emily’s Message in a Bottle is a fusion of those chef sim mobile games and a point-and-click adventure game… I think? It’s not exactly clear on the Steam page. It’s the 13th season in the Delicious franchise. You cook Italian food, and “COLLECT DIAMONDS and help Emily reunite her entire family through the power of cooking.” So yeah.

  • 01/12/2016 – Maize

So, here’s an… interesting one. Maize is a first-person adventure game with environmental puzzles, in which scientists create sentient corn based on a misinterpreted brief from the US government. It looks to have a remarkably high production quality, and it also has a tiny grumpy Russian robot bear, which is ridiculously on-brand.

  • 02/12/2016 – Space Cat

Space Cat is an arcade platforming game with randomly-generated, destructible terrain in which you are a cat in space with other cats in space, fighting UFOs and missiles bombs, like bad-ass little kitty cosmonauts. I honestly have no idea how the game will feel to play or how it actually works based on game play trailers, but needless to say I’m excited.

  • 02/12/2016 – Space Jammers

Space Jammers is a sci-fi rogue-lite top-down shooter with support of up to 4-player co-op, local and online. You assume the role of an alien rock band of space kitten pirates as they loot and pillage to fund their musical career whilst getting up to general space shenanigans, which probably sounds like the best thing ever conceived plot-wise, at least.

So, that’s a selection of games releasing this week that caught my eye. I’m rather enjoying the ‘cats in space’ theme that’s going on with some of them. I’m quite a fan of space cats.

The Real Heroes – Episode 2: Mass Effect Ft. Laura Kate Dale

With special guest Laura Kate Dale, we go on an epic quest to discover who the real heroes of Mass Effect are.

The Real Heroes is a podcast starring George Johnson and Elodie Cunningham, dedicated to seeking out and identifying the real heroes of gaming. Often minor characters and usually very strange, it’s an abstract and comical show that occasionally hosts guests.