The Counting Kingdom – Preview

The kids are finally starting their summer “break.” As a cruel and unusual father, I find that it is now the perfect time to start piling up educational material to keep my children’s young minds sharp and ready to learn. Thanks to “The Counting Kingdom”, math practice will be a bit more fun for my boys during the summer doldrums.

The Counting Kingdom 1The Counting Kingdom is a turn-based tower defense game where a young wizard is defending castles using his mathematical magic skills. Each turn, the player can select a single monster or a group of monsters with a set of available spells. The catch is that the monsters have numbers on them, and the sum of all monsters selected must equal the spell you are casting.

Thankfully, since this is turn-based, you have plenty of time to mentally calculate the best way to clear as many monsters off the screen as possible. You also have other tools available such as combining each of your three available spell cards to come up with bigger spell values to use, or you can use potions that will adjust the value of each monster. And since this is a game targeted towards 6 to 9 year olds, making mistakes prompts a helper to aid in totaling the selected monsters and their values on the screen.

The Counting Kingdom 2As you progress in levels, the number of monsters increases as well as the values of each monster. At the beginning you are summing numbers from 1 to 6. By halfway into the game, you are regularly summing double digits. By the end of the game, the amounts being added up, along with potions and available spell combos would start to give most adults trouble. Though, this is a great exercise for adults who have trouble splitting a dinner check, especially if you throw in a coupon or two.

The art style is very charming and the monsters positively adorable, it was a delight to see my nine-year-old and six-year-old tackling the early levels.

What Worked: I can tell that there was a lot of good thought put behind the numbers generators. Spells that are available and monsters that appear never feel completely random. You always have moves available. In later levels, this numbers generator is even smart enough to force you to make combinations. At the end of the round, the numbers generator always makes sure you can clean up stragglers. The game always feels fair even though it is quite challenging. The entire game resonates charm from its music and production values as well.

What Didn’t Quite Work: The main problem with the game is that the story mode’s difficulty curve needs to be adjusted for different ages. My six-year-old gave up once the game started introducing potions and he couldn’t handle the added variations. My nine-year-old was exhausted after about 8 levels of mental math. For myself, I barely squeaked by the last levels of the game and unlike my sons, I’m a full-blooded Asian math whiz. I couldn’t imagine my nine-year-old completing the story mode for the game. And even with a lowered difficulty curve, it just feels like the game needs more incentives for younger audiences to push through. The game does have an added “free play” mode with adjustable difficulty, but it doesn’t have the same sense of achievement as unlocking the next castle in story mode.

Both my nine-year-old and I tried to use the potions to adjust the values of our spell cards and didn’t realize it only worked on monsters. So we broke a potion when we didn’t intend to. Also, the game only allows one profile at a time. The developer had to show me a hidden button to restart the game from scratch so that my six-year-old could take it from the top. Also, in the current build, the screen displays bonuses for clearing the entire screen for enemies with bonus points, but there are currently no indicators how those bonus points affects your ending score or number of stars that you receive.

As a developer, I know it is also very expensive and time-consuming to create new content, but I thought it is important to note that the main character of the game is a young boy. I seriously hope that the developer considers allowing the player to select a young girl to play, especially since we want to encourage more girls to go into STEM fields.

About the Game from the Dev: The Counting Kingdom is an educational game for kids 6-8 that is magically fun and will keep kids coming back for more.

Join the Wizard’s Apprentice on a magical journey through the Counting Kingdom! Cast spells to defend the castles from waves of attacking monsters, discovering more powerful spells as you go. You’ll have to dig deep to come up with the best strategy for defending the kingdom – do you have what it takes to repel the monsters and become a powerful wizard?

Join Alpha Testing now to be one of the first people to play The Counting Kingdom!

About the Dev: We believe in making educational games that kids want to play. Our team has a deep background in creating entertaining games and a strong panel of advisory educators, and together we’re making games that are engaging, educational, and just plain fun.

GlizzardDeveloper: Little Worlds Interactive

Game Website: The Counting Kingdom

Release Date: Available in Alpha on Steam: Early Access

Luna’s Wandering Stars

Lunas Wandering Stars - PlanetsMy nine-year-old crashed through the door one day excitedly demanding a piece of paper and pencil.

“Why do you need them?” asked my wife as she handed them over.

“SCIENCE!” And, off he went back outside writing down his observations.

I guess it doesn’t help that both my sons have been on a MythBuster’s binge on Netflix and have grown an incredible fascination with science. My eldest has been very interested in studying airplanes and flight, so when I heard about “Luna’s Wandering Stars”, it was the perfect opportunity to see what he thought of this educational game.

“Luna’s Wandering Stars” is a series of challenging physics puzzles staring our moon, “Luna.” Luna visits the nine planets* of the Solar System solving various physics puzzles. Each planet presents a unique set of challenges centered around a playable theme using Newtonian Physics. In the early levels, you launch Luna on various trajectories, much like “Angry Birds: Space.” In later levels, you are only given the ability to use thrusters to change your trajectory. And in another set of levels you can “change the gravitational constant of the universe”, with a flick of the mouse. And that is just for the starting planets! There are six more fun and interesting themes to discover.

To complete a level, you have to guide, launch, or boost Luna to collect asteroids. Once you collect enough asteroid mass, you pass the level. This can be easily accomplished, but the real challenge is collecting gold asteroids which unlock the other planets in the Solar System. To complicate matters, for every asteroid that is collected, Luna gains mass. This can affect the momentum and velocity of Luna in mid-flight, making it much more challenging than merely flinging birds in zero gravity.

*Kid's today aren't told the true story of Pluto, the missing planet

*Kid’s today aren’t told the true story of Pluto, the missing planet

The presentation is top-quality with beautiful space backgrounds and epic music encouraging you to step up to the challenge. To counter the almost overblown feeling of awesomeness is an ironic self-awareness: the game’s instructions and narration is loaded with dripping sarcastic humor. There are also a lot of quotes from all over geek-culture. I have to admit that I had to research the Shakespeare quote, but I laughed out loud when I saw a “Community” reference. It was hard explaining to my nine-year-old what was so funny with the commentary at the completion of each level and even with the narrator’s jabs for making epic failures.

Some of the levels are pretty challenging, and after about 30 minutes of deep concentrated play, my nine-year-old had to take a break. I continued to play, and there were even a few levels I had to skip or had to accept a less than perfect solution just to move onto the next challenge. Mileage may vary, but I thought that this game was perfect for teens to adults in terms of challenge.  However, one of the things I found missing was some sort of indicator that I had unlocked the next planet. An indicator for when the next planet unlocks is not only just for a good reference point, but for me it serves as a motivator to keep trying for more gold asteroids.

Even failing still looks spectacular.

Even failing still looks spectacular.

Just when I had thought that I had discovered everything the game had to offer, I noticed another button on the Start Menu that I hadn’t clicked before. I clicked the “Custom” button. I was entirely oblivious to what that meant. I thought it was just an “options” screen, but it turned out to be a full-fledged level editor! Here, I could recreate and expand on levels that I liked in the original game itself. And then my jaw dropped even further when I learned that I could also upload my levels and download levels created by other people to try. In fact, someone had already made and uploaded a “shooting” arcade-style survival game starring Luna.

Space FoundationIt made me wonder what else would be created if this game was given to a much larger audience, and I was very pleased to find out that “Luna’s Wandering Stars” is being featured at the Space Foundation Symposium later this week. I am certainly looking forward to seeing even more levels once more people start trying it out.

A week after our initial test run, my son was asking how gravity works. To help my son understand, I showed him a YouTube video of a professor using a spandex sheet to demonstrate what gravity fields look like. He watched as ball bearings made their little orbits on a warped surface representing “space-time.” Almost immediately, the lightbulbs in his head went off and he yelled, “That’s exactly like ‘Luna’s Wandering Stars’!” Suddenly, my nine-year-old son understood what the game was really all about: learning truths about science.

That’s what makes “Luna’s Wandering Stars” not just an excellent game with fun mechanics, a wicked sense of humor and a wide variety of levels and designs, but also a great educational experience.

Luna's IconLuna’s Wandering Stars was developed by Serenity Forge

IGTlogo-01$9.95 for not just a fun game, but for the lights going off in a curious child’s mind while learning about space and physics. It was worth infinitely more than the single CFL lightbulb I could get at the same price. (And less toxic for the environment!)

Luna’s Wandering Stars is Indie Gamer Team Approved.

7 Reasons Why You Should Quit Making Games

There have been a few articles lately blowing the trumpets that the game industry’s sky is falling. It certainly doesn’t help that Flappy Bird and its attack of the clones has been touted as the herald of the apocalypse. There are now voices from some people saying that since it’s impossible to make money, that it’s time to grow up and be an adult, to grab your life jacket and abandon ship because the party is over.

Abandon ship!

Abandon ship!

In the “spirit” of these voices, I am going to join in and give you seven reasons why you should stop making games. But, I’m going to use the example of another industry facing similar challenges and maybe you’ll see why quitting isn’t the answer.

7 Reasons Why You Should Stop Making Music

  1. Don’t learn the piano, guitar, violin, or learn to sing because chances are you’ll never be a star.
  2. People can listen to music almost everywhere, on every device, and even for free on the radio. The airwaves are oversaturated with music. With such an abundance of music, why should you even bother because you will never be heard?
  3. Even if you are heard by a small audience and are lucky enough get one or two articles in local newspapers, the media coverage isn’t enough and most people will never hear about you again. Even with media mentions, what are the chances that people would hear about you?
  4. Music is pirated all the time and with all these musicians pushing prices lower, or even playing music for free on the streets, how can anyone be expected to make money in this market?
  5. Most music is derivative and fairly unoriginal with thousands of remixes and covers. How can anything original truly survive and be protected?
  6. With so many people not making money with their music, there is no reason to try.
  7. Since not everyone can be a rock star or make a living wage on their music, it is irresponsible to encourage people to learn or make music.

Dreamcatcher

I think anyone would see how wrong all these arguments are for discouraging people from learning a musical instrument or from creating new music. But these are the same reasons people are using to give up our passion for making games.

“It’s too hard.” “Not everyone can make a living wage off their passions.” “No one can make any money, abandon ship!”

I, for one, do not believe that our generation is full of entitled brats who expect a trophy for just showing up, but damn if these naysayers don’t sound like it.

Game development is a risky and highly competitive field. Of course it’s going to be difficult!

But is that any reason to abandon your passion? To be clear, let me break down why these reasons are wrong-headed both for the music industry and for independent game development:

  1. The skills for learning a musical instrument are valuable just by themselves. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a professional musician. Musical skills, like any other artistic skill have merits beyond monetary value. Game development is the same. It involves problem solving skills, coding, and a whole array of artistic disciplines coming together as one. How could it not be a valuable by itself?
  2. The very air we breathe is full of music in radio waves, but people still tip the street musician, pay the dance hall, attend the orchestra, patronize the club’s rock bands. People pay for what they connect with and are happy to celebrate. The same goes with games.
  3. Marketing is hard. It is unrealistic to believe that one good review at a local newspaper is enough to generate national hype for your indie rock tour. Why should we have the same expectation from blogs or review sites for our games? Marketing is a lot of footwork and time, no matter which industry we’re in. It is unrealistic for musicians to believe one gig and one article is enough, no matter the size and circulation.
  4. Free games are all over the market. A concrete example is the free Flash games market. Yet people have been making decent money from these games for years. And now some developers are just beginning to spearhead a new market in HTML5 games. Why are some people so certain that people won’t make money from games and yet there are companies willing to pay money up front, even upwards to $200 in advance for each game you make? The data shows that there are people making money from games development. But, like all things you have to be smart about it.
  5. People enjoy remixes and cover songs by different bands who can give their own spin and personality to some of their favorite songs. Do song covers hurt the original? Games are the same way. No two games, will ever come out alike.
  6. Is every musician aiming to be sustained by their music? Some bands are just for fun. Some are hobbyists. Some are professional and self-sustaining, most musicians are not. So long as you had a healthy and responsible expectations, why stop trying?
  7. There is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of realism. But are we going to discourage people, especially the young, to not learn how to code and have fun making games because not everyone is going to be a rock star? Are we going to tell young musicians to not learn to make music simply because they won’t make money?

As indie game developers we should realistically have the same income expectations as musicians. We should expect to put long hours and the insane amount of work and dedication for our passion.

Where's my money?

But where’s my money?

Not all of us are going to be rock stars and build the next Minecraft, Fez or Braid. If we make money and find ourselves where our passions are our only job, then we are counted as the few lucky ones. But the rest of us should be ready to pull double time in our primary jobs just to make it to the next gig. However, we are all going to have a hell of a good time going from jam session to jam session, gig to gig, convention to convention doing what we love.

The last thing we should do is discourage others from pursuing their dreams in the creative arts. Because in the end, what truly matters is that our games, our music, our lives, our passions and our talents are meant to touch someone’s heart and that makes all the difference. That is what truly matters.

Making money is just the bonus level!

Influent

ImageCathy’s Note: Please welcome to Indie Gamer Chick Mr. Paolo Munoz, known here as Indie Family Man. Both myself and Miko get a lot of requests to review indie games aimed at young children. I guess a lot of you developers were influenced by the Carmen Sandiegos, Reader Rabbits, and Oregon Trails of the world. Although Mike and I get accused of being childish all the time, we’re not exactly the right people to be critiquing educational games for wee-ones. Paolo is a father of three kids, ages 9 to 1, and he enjoys playing games with them. Not only is he an excellent critic himself, he can also gauge how well his children respond to games in both the entertainment and educational factors. He’s the perfect man for this gig. Like Miko and myself, he doesn’t take review codes, paying for all the titles he reviews here. This is his first ever review, and he’s looking for feedback on it. Also, make sure you follow him on Twitter. If you’re a developer of games for young children, you can request a review from Paolo here.

“Influent” follows the story of a young inventor named Andrew Cross. Andrew created a hand-held device he calls the “SanjigenJiten” which allows the user to point it at any object in the world and the device finds the word for the object in any language. Unfortunately, Andrew’s invention was stolen by an evil corporation, and it is the player’s job to help him prove that he is the true inventor.  With the introduction to Influent, both my nine-year-old and six-year-old co-testers enthusiastically jumped at the chance to learn Japanese and to help Andrew in his quest. There is an amazing number of words you can discover in Andrew’s tiny apartment. The game has over 400 words that it introduces. My boys and I spent a lot of time finding out the Japanese names for common household items. Part of the fun of Influent is trying to find these words because so much of the apartment can be searched to find more things. Lots of pieces of furniture open to reveal even more items inside, such as cabinetry, drawers, and even the refrigerator. However, you are only able to explore items in Andrew’s apartment and cannot venture to the outside world.

Despite the sheer volume of things you can click on (and there is a LOT of high quality assets in the game), I couldn’t shake the notion that the game feels “incomplete.” Influent suffers badly from a lack of gameplay and it completely abandons its compelling story and characters.

The only available “game-like” mode is “Time Attack.” In “Time Attack” you take 10 words from a list and try to find them in the various rooms. However, you can create and organize those lists yourself, which can make tests incredibly easy. Moreover, a lot of Japanese words for household items come directly from English. So words such as “door” (do-ah), “curtain” (kah-ten), “computer” (kon-pew-tah), “keyboard” (ki-boh-doh), etc. are all over the apartment and are easy to understand. This can make “Time Attack” challenges too easy and not very good for language retention.  “Mastery” of a word can be achieved by simply repeating “Time Attack” three times for the same set of words. And, the only variation to the game play happens after you “master” 50 words. It unlocks a tiny, infuriating, crash-prone remote control airplane that you can only use while doing more “Time Attack” exercises.

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Learning Japanese is hard. “Orange” in Japanese is “orenji”.

What I think is a bigger tragedy is how the character and story of Andrew Cross, the intrepid inventor, completely disappears from the game. The loading screen itself features Andrew, a spunky female friend, and a charming robot – all three of which are compelling and interesting characters.  The robot only makes a brief and shallow appearance in the tutorial. The girl is non-existent in the actual game, as is a mysterious second female character in sunglasses who only shows up in the loading screens. It almost feels like these characters were intended to be part of the narrative, but the developers ran out of time in development.

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Who’s that girl? Why is she on the main screen?

Another major oversight is that the handheld “SanjigenJiten” itself never once makes an appearance in the game. Andrew wanders around his apartment with no such hand-held device in his hands. In fact, the game never tells you what “SanjigenJiten” means. I only found out by digging through their original KickStarter page that it means “3D Dictionary.” It is as if the creators assumed you already have some background knowledge of the game’s development and crowdfunding history before even playing the game. So what happens to the corporate crony who stole the original invention? How are we progressing in proving Andrew is the original inventor? How does memorizing these words advance the story? The original and very compelling invitation to play the game is completely lost and never makes another appearance beyond the introductory video.

I believe that Three Flip Studios has a good start with great art assets, an excellent sense of humor (tons of gamer references), and characters I want to know more about and discover. But Influent does not seem like a finished product. I sincerely hope that the developers continue expanding on what they have created. As it is, Influent is a neat language “toy”, but it isn’t a compelling game, nor is it as effective as a dictionary for learning words to common household items.

As of this writing, there are already 10 language packs available for “Influent” at $9.99 each, with dozens more planned. In my opinion, Three Flip should concentrate more on adding interactivity, story, learning challenges, and games, than simply adding swap-able audio files and text via DLC as an easy way of monetizing.

ImageInfluent was developed by Three Flip Studios

$9.99 for a brief family distraction in a foreign language, but a good episode of Bakugan is more motivational for me and my sons to keep learning Japanese.

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