Skyhill – Preview

World War III has come and gone and, as one of the few survivors, you opted to hide out in your fancy-ass penthouse at the Skyhill Hotel while things settled down. Life was good until you noticed your supplies were running out. When you headed downstairs, you discovered that mutants had filled the building, and the only way to fight them off was to craft weapons while you solve puzzles to get out.

skyhill03In Skyhill, you control one person (multiple characters are said to be in the final version) and trek from room to room, scavenging for supplies and fighting mutants. In shelves, drawers, and on desks you will find weapons and other objects that you must craft together to get past puzzles. In the demo, you are blocked by a security door and must first put together a card scanner, a battery, and a code book in order to program a card to get past.

Making your way through Skyhill is dangerous. Everything is out to kill you (which is easy to do), and your stamina is weak. It’s clear that your character did not spend those three months in blissful relaxation working out. Every action depletes your stamina bar, and food, which restores stamina, is in scarce supply.

I finished the demo after a number of attempts, most of the re-attempts being due to a low amount of stamina. Your reward is to be treated to “Ain’t He Sweet” by Annette Hanshaw for some bizarre reason.

I experienced an amusing bug that I couldn’t recreate. After one of my deaths, the character spawned outside of the building. He couldn’t go anywhere and when he tried to move to new floors, he just jogged in place.

One final note: I really liked the music of the demo stage. I walked a way for a bit while the Unity player loaded and came back, wondering if I had left a music player open. Nope, it was just a pleasing game soundtrack.

What Worked: In combat, you’re given a likelihood percentage of landing a targeted attack that does X amount of much damage depending on where you hit. This leads to a risk vs. reward system that actually feels rewarding.

skyhill01What Didn’t Work: The demo may be overtuned. While I enjoy a challenge, running out of stamina so quickly was a huge source of frustration. I’m not quite sure the system needs to exist at all but it’s hard to be certain when one is given such a small window to see the game from via the demo.

About the Game from the Dev: Skyhill is a roguelike story about staying alive when there is no reason to. It’s been developed for PC, MAC, LINUX and mobile devices.

Developer: Mandragora

Game Website: Skyhill (Demo)

Release Date: When it’s ready.

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

Fancy Skulls – Preview

Watch Miko play Fancy Skulls here!

I admit that when I first saw Fancy Skulls, based purely on the art, I thought it was going to be someone’s first attempt at a game. The graphics looked plain and combat rather simple. I think there’s an expression about not counting chicken covers before they’ve hatched into books that fits here. Something like that.

fancyskulls01Fancy Skulls is a first-person shooter which pits the player against a different enemy encounter in each room they enter amongst a series of floors. Enemies are activated by walking over a large button in the center of the room and it’s your job to determine in an instant what you’re fighting, what safe zones you have, if any, and how you’re going to clear the room. Once the room is cleared, you’re free to advance to another. Progress is not entirely linear and is dependent on what the random level generator creates. Sometimes you open a gateway to the next floor immediately, sometimes you need to clear the entire floor before you can move on.

While most enemies tend to fire red and blue balls (heh) at you, some launch “heat-seeking”, floating bombs in your general direction that lock onto you. You can either shoot them back at the attacker or kill the attacker outright if you can get a clear shot. A particularly painful baddie bounces around the room, firing lasers at you and demands quick reflexes to take out.

fancyskulls04The art style I mentioned above is Googie-esque (think The Jetsons or classic Star Trek sets) and is pleasing to look at. Enemies have peculiar shapes that are really cool and fitting. I got a kick out of this.

What Worked: The game isn’t on rails and allows the user to to begin a fight when they are ready. Randomized secondary weapons that spawn create a different experience each playthrough. While I poked fun at the art style right away, once I saw it in action for myself, I really enjoyed it. Then again, I recently discovered that I love Googie design almost as much as I love Art Deco. FINE! Call me biased!

What Didn’t Quite Work: Some of the art assets look very similar to treasure chests. So much to the point I was confused for a bit when a box wouldn’t open for me, no matter how much I spammed the Use key.. While I eventually figured out the difference between black box vs. off-kilter black box, it’s confusing for a new player. The UI had some some sounds and glowy things going on that I’ve yet to figure out.

In a few instances, a locked treasure chest spawned but I wasn’t able to collect a key until the second level and couldn’t go back, leaving me feel like I’m missing something or the random generator isn’t perfectly tuned yet. Finally, some of the non-weapon items are a bit confusing such as a “Happy Eye” that left me no clue what it did until I used it.

About the Game from the Dev: Fancy Skulls is a challenging first person shooter with procedural generation, permadeath and distinct art style. It has intense and tactical combat, unique weapon mods and items that change the way you play.

It has been inspired by games such as Nethack, Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, Bioshock, Quake and Team Fortress 2 as well as abstract impressionism, tribal art, and low-poly 3D modeling.

About the Dev: tequibo has eight games to their name dating back to 2009. Working on Fancy Skulls for a year and a half, the hope is to have it Greenlit on Steam to have it played on Early Access, using the money to support working on it to pay for rent, food, and socks.

fancyskullslogo02Developer: tequibo – tequibo

Game Website: Fancy Skulls

Release Date: When it’s ready.

Always Sometimes Monsters – Preview

Always Sometimes Monsters (“ASM”) is a game about the choices we make in our everyday lives that have a profound impact on us in ways we don’t notice. Here, you’re chasing after the one who got away, and you have one month to raise funds by helping people around town, picking up odd jobs, and networking to get across the country to stop their wedding.

ASM01ASM offers the player an experience that will be almost entirely distinct to them. Depending on whom you talk to, when you talk to them, and what you ultimately decide to do about them, the game plays out differently. Almost every action has a consequence (good, bad, or something in-between) that affects the outcome of your journey. Will you help a little old lady clean her apartment or help a friend set up for his concert? Will you blackmail a doctor to save your friend’s girlfriend, who you hate with a passion?

In my playthrough, I worked at a tofu factory, wrote some articles, walked in on a couple having sex, and met the devs of the game as they sat in a cafe. Something nailed here is that I felt bad whenever I discovered that I could no longer help someone out, like I let them down (sorry people who lost their homes to a development project).

With a storyline that molds to whatever you make of it, Always Sometimes Monsters toys with your morality along your journey to the end in ways that make you go happy or wretch with disappointment at yourself. It’s fun! (Oh, and you can finish the game in three minutes if you want. You’ll see!)ASM02

What Worked: I have never experienced a game quite like this before, and it was very memorable. ASM pulls at the heartstrings and allows you an enormous amount of freedom while still keeping you within the confines of the story it tells. Oh, and thank you to the devs from the bottom of my heart for not giving us an incredibly small inventory.

What Didn’t Quite Work: The in-game time flow of time can be confusing. You don’t know exactly how long each event you’re doing is going to last, so you don’t know if you have time for things you want to do that day. The clock, which resides inside your inventory, can also be difficult to read as it has a meter that fills once you do something story-related. It wasn’t until I understood that I’m not going to be able to go back and help both Friend A and Friend B that I finally felt better about advancing. Unlike Harvest Moon, you can’t squeeze out a bit more time to both harvest and talk to townspeople. You only get to do one or the other, and then it’s the next day.

About the Game From the Devs: The game was largely inspired by a cross-country backpacking trek called Gamer Unplugged where ASM’s writer and co-creator, Justin Amirkhani, traveled around America meeting game developers in an effort to figure out what made them satisfied and happy with their craft.

I did some digging and found this in-depth article on Polygon about the trek here: http://www.polygon.com/gaming/2012/7/23/3177525/a-unplugged-gamers-cross-country-journey-of-introspection. It’s a fascinating read.

ASMlogo

Developer: Vagabond Dog – http://www.vagabonddog.com/

Game Website: http://www.alwayssometimesmonsters.com/

Release Date: May 21, 2014

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