Latest Publications

New release: Tales of Illyria

Tales of Illyria
Matt Schneck of the unfortunately named indie studio “Little Killerz” writes in to tell me that Tales of Illyria was released for Android devices in mid-June.

The plot premise is akin to something that I’d expect in a spy thriller, albeit in a medieval fantasy setting: the Emperor of your country has had you framed for the murder of your family, and so you go about the task of overthrowing him.

Tales of Illyria is a unique episodic party-based RPG that simulates the experience of a traditional pen and paper role playing game. What sets Tales of Illyria apart from other games is the unique gameplay and turn based mechanics. One of our main sources of inspiration when we designed the game was Oregon Trail. Like Oregon Trail, you are on an epic journey, and you must manage all aspects of your party, right down to the supplies you carry.

Here’s a trailer:

You can nab Tales of Illyria on Google Play for $4.95. The game remains Android-only for now, although the developer states that iOS and Windows ports are coming soon. Checks Out UnEpic

You may recall me posting about UnEpic a couple of weeks back. Developer Francisco Tellez de Meneses was good enough to send me a copy of UnEpic to check out–and so naturally, I recorded myself doing just that.

I was rather surprised to discover that UnEpic is not just a side-scrolling action RPG–it’s actually a fairly traditional Metroidvania as well. The lighting–or more precisely, the lack thereof–forces slow and careful play, which is a mechanic I haven’t seen used this extensively in a side-scrolling title.

I do have a few things I could critique–the frequent use of low ceilings, the complete inability to exercise air control during jumps, or the lack of any way to quickly cycle through weapons using a controller–but all in all, I quite enjoyed my time playing UnEpic. If you haven’t played it yet, I advise you grab the demo and try it for yourself.

Liege announced

John Rhee of Coda Games writes in to announce a new indie RPG called Liege. He states: “The game aims to take the classic JRPG formula, and layer in a mature story, elegant, tactical gameplay and unique, hand-drawn visuals.”

Frankly, I think this description sells it a little short. From where I’m standing, Liege is a proper strategy RPG; after all, it features battles inspired by “FF TacticsFire Emblem, and chess.” Liege is the second game I’ve covered this week explicitly focused on spatial positioning, elegant design, and deterministic mechanics in its combat. (These are all Things That I Like.)

A bit more on the mechanics:

At the core of the gameplay is a system of unit classes and banners. Each class has special perks and characteristics, which are designed to interact in interesting ways; for example, you can arrange your pikemen into a phalanx with strong directional defense to defend rear archers, but certain Knight classes are well suited to break this formation. Banners add further depth by granting stat bonuses to favored classes.

Unused actions during your turn will determine your unit’s defensive ability during enemy turns. As a result, you will always need to balance evasion and defense, with well-timed, coordinated offense to survive.

Liege Combat
I’m not just excited about the mechanics, though; Liege springs from the fertile narrative soil of noble houses struggling for supremacy in the midst of a sudden monarchical power vacuum. (The aforementioned banners belong to each of the noble houses.)

The plot premise is decidedly Game of Thrones-y, in other words; here is the official summary:

One late autumn eve in the Kingdom of Liege, a King, his queen, and their royal heirs fall into a deep slumber from which they never wake.

…and so our story begins. Following their mysterious deaths, a power struggle in the royal court ensues, and as the conflict quickly escalates, the Kingdom plunges into a bloody civil war. As war erupts across the land, we track the converging paths of characters aligned across various factions, from the noble houses vying for the throne, to the orphaned Royal Army, to an underground movement of outlaws with plans to incite revolution amidst the chaos.

So basically, we’ve got some really promising combat mechanics and a narrative setup that may or may not be causing me to salivate all over my keyboard. And then there’s the art. Oh man. Just look at this:

Rhee has Liege up on Kickstarter right now–if this game looks good to you (and for the love of God, why wouldn’t it?), you should go throw some money its way. Rhee states that development on Liege will still continue if the Kickstarter fails, but that a failed campaign would mean a much smaller scope for the game (boo!) as well as a mobile-only initial release. So, you know: back it.

Coda Games are angling for a July 2014 release for Liege on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

Ten Aces announced

Ten Aces
I’ve received an email from Greek developer Traptics about a new fantasy strategy title they’re developing called Ten Aces.

The premise:

“Ten Aces” is about 10 siblings that happen to be demigods. Each of them is unique in many ways but all of them are extremely agile, intelligent and powerfull. Initially they were all friends, and loved and respected each other, but destiny had other plans for them. Inside the game you get play any of them, discover their story and choose who will prevail.

You can choose any one of the ten “aces” in the single player story mode; each has its own campaign, and according to the developers, each “represents a playing style, is which he is expert (magic, ambush, traps).”

Ten Aces uses deterministic mechanics (no missing or critical hits), and focuses around customizing characters with different abilities. As characters level, they get access to more abilities and can equip more of them.

Here’s a trailer:

Ten Aces is planned for release sometime this year on Windows, Mac and Linux. The price has not yet been determined, but the developers are considering free multiplayer with campaigns / champions sold a la carte.

New release: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy
As was foretold, the sidescrolling genealogical action roguelike-like Rogue Legacy has now been released into the world.

There’s a special release trailer up, quoting John Walker’s preview of the game from RockPaperShotgun (though there’s also a full review from the ever-eloquent Adam Smith up):

You can buy Rogue Legacy for $15 direct from the developer (which I encourage), or else via, Desura, GamersGate or Steam. The free demo remains available right here. Windows-only for now.

Cosmic Star Heroine announced

Cosmic Star Heroine
Robert Boyd of Zeboyd Games has written to me to announce a new sci-fi jRPG by the name of Cosmic Star Heroine. (If “Zeboyd Games” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the two-man team that brought us the quite successful  indie jRPGs Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World.)

The premise of this latest title:

Alyssa L’Salle is one of the galactic government’s top agents and always manages to save the day! But when she accidentally uncovers a dark conspiracy, her own government outs her as a legendary spy and the people’s champion! Sure, now she has hordes of adoring fans but every villainous organization she’s ever crossed in her career knows who she is and is out for her blood! Can she save the day once more while she faces her greatest challenge… Everyone!?

Cosmic Star Heroine is being created in Unity, with 2D pixel art visuals, visible enemy patrols, battles that take place on the exploration screen, and multi-character combo abilities. Zeboyd is clearly drawing some inspiration from Chrono Trigger here in terms of the mechanics, but Robert Boyd assures me that there won’t be any time travel–they don’t want to draw too close a comparison, after all.

Another intriguing detail: “Players will be able to customize their own spy headquarters by recruiting more agents (think the Suikoden series).”

There isn’t too much to show yet beyond the main character concept art in the top-right, but Zeboyd have a good track record and I expect this one will be worth keeping an eye on.

According to Boyd, they’ll be running a Kickstarter campaign later this year to help float development costs (which include building a new engine as they transition from XNA to Unity, as well as producing larger, higher quality sprites than they used in prior titles). Boyd informs me that their titles generally take 8-10 months to develop; Cosmic Star Heroine is tentatively planned for release in the second half of 2014.

Auro announced

Following up on yesterday’s interview with developer Keith Burgun of Dinofarm Games, here’s my official announcement post about Auro, a turn-based single-character dungeon crawler with permadeath and randomly generated dungeons. (You might be tempted to say that Auro ticks all the boxes to qualify as a roguelike, but Burgun insists that this isn’t one.)

Putting aside the question of its genre designation, here’s the premise:

The story of our game starts with a spoiled young prince named Auro. He’s tasked with a simple quest: go down into the sewers and unclog one of the drainage pipes that he clogged earlier in one of his childish pranks. On his journey, Auro carelessly unleashes an ancient evil on the kingdom, and now he’s the only one who can save the world…which is bad, because Auro’s a real jerk and has no idea what he’s doing!

Auro strips out a lot of the elements commonly found in roguelikes (items and most character stats don’t make the cut), replaces the grid with hexes, and focuses obsessively on spatial positioning and tactics. In lieu of conventional character leveling or class selection, you’ll advance through a skill tree with abilities from three schools: ice (specializing in terrain transformation), wind (specializing in mobility and traps) and fire (specializing in blowing stuff the hell up).

Here is the most recent trailer, showing bits and pieces of the game in its beta state:

In addition to single player story mode, the game will feature a multiplayer mode where folks can compete to beat a level with the highest score.

Burgun mentioned in our interview that he plans on an August 2013 release. “Initially it will be iOS and Android, and soon after, PC, OSX, Linux, OUYA, and more.”

Interview with Keith Burgun

I hadn’t posted about Auro yet, in part because I wasn’t entirely clear what the deal was with the game. At first, I simply thought it wasn’t coming out, as it had a failed Kickstarter–but then it came back again and succeeded not long afterwards. But I still wasn’t totally clear on what Auro was. It looked to me like a roguelike, but it used hexes, and nowhere did the developers themselves ever actually refer to it with the word “roguelike.”

What is this thing, anyway? I wondered. After a bit of digging, I took it upon myself to get in touch with Dinofarm Games developer Keith Burgun and find out.  The interview follows.

For those who don’t know you, please introduce yourself and tell me how you got into game development.

My name is Keith Burgun, I’m a game developer from Westchester, NY.  I’ve been working on games ever since I can remember, really, but I got really serious about doing it as a career when I got the opportunity to do 100 Rogues.  I’d say that the iOS App Store really is one of the things that spurred me to get into game development.  The other thing is that since about 2006 I’ve been writing for various blogs on the topic of game design, and I feel like I really have something special to contribute in this arena.  This is in contrast to say, music composition, which despite the fact that I feel very competent at it (I studied composition in college, it’s what I’m actually trained in), I don’t feel like I have as much to contribute, probably because there has already been such a rich and developed history of music.  Games are new, and I feel like I can make a much bigger impact.

You put out 100 Rogues not that long ago. Are you satisfied with that game (creatively, commercially, etc.)?

Yes, I’d say so.  Creatively, I’m quite proud of 100 Rogues.  Of course if I could do it again today I would do many things differently, which certainly any creative person would say about anything they made 5 years ago.  But, I really think the spirit of 100 Rogues is really charming and attractive, despite a lot of flaws.  Commercially, I’m also quite satisfied with how it went.  That’s not to say that I personally made much money from it, but simply that it really did for me what it was supposed to, which is show the world that my lead artist, Blake Reynolds and I know how to make a fun and attractive game.  Because we made 100 Rogues, we were able to make AURO, so that’s a success in and of itself.

AURO’s original working title was actually “The Roguelike” – this was sometime in 2011.  At that time, I originally wanted the game to be the “most pure” expression of the Roguelike genre.  Unfortunately, what I discovered is that Roguelike games are actually such a convoluted mess of a number of conflicting “core mechanisms”, and you can’t simply boil them down.  What I

Auro Foxy Mama
realized is that I’d have to take just one of these large core mechanisms and focus hard on that, if I wanted to create an elegant design.

I chose “tactics” as the core mechanism:  positioning yourself against arrangements of monsters in a favorable way.  Once I decided that, though, a cascade of other issues started to pop up.  What do “items” have to do with tactics, really?  What about stats?  I was also making some really huge realizations about game design during this process too, particularly due to my exposure to designer European boardgames, much of which is documented in my book.  For instance, I’ve realized that if you have a skill-based game, having your tool (your avatar) grow in power during the game is actually quite often a bad idea.  The player is getting better at the game, so why does his tool also become better?  It makes balancing vastly harder and I can’t see why — it seems to me to be one of the vestigial elements from D&D that has just sort of stuck with us. AURO is now almost finished, and I’m happy to say that it really is just a pure tactics game, and I’m really excited to get it out there.


Elliot Quest announced

Elliot Quest
Luis Zuno writes in to tell me about his up and coming side-scrolling action RPG Elliot Quest.

The premise:

Elliot Quest is an adventure / exploration Zelda style game. Defeat all 4 Elements Guardians and acquire their powers. Explore Urule Island in search for treasures and artifacts, earn money and experience by defeating enemies.

So yeah, there’s not much to talk about on the plot front right now. Luckily, this game has a free early demo that you can play; I gave it a shot and quite enjoyed myself.

I can confirm that the developer is not joking around when he says that you can “expect a lot of Zelda 2 in this game.” Elliot Quest is very much in that vein, although it starts you off with a short-range bow and arrow instead of a sword, which means that combat begins less fiddly and frustrating than it does in The Adventure of Link.

Here is a trailer showing off a bit of the game’s variety of abilities and locales:

You can pre-order Elliot Quest for $4.99 via Paypal or via the new Paypal competitor Gumroad. I mentioned the demo–you can try it out right here if you want to see how you like it before pre-ordering.

Rhythos RPG Builder announced

Rhythos RPG Builder
Rhythos RPG Builder is a free, open source RPG creation program “inspired by RPG Maker” being developed by David Maletz.

Indeed, Rhythos seems aimed right at the RPG Maker demographic, with an accessible interface and built-in support for both visual event scripting (for those who don’t want to code) and direct code access (for more advanced users). Maletz writes: “New game developers will be able to make their first games in Rhythos and grow, while experienced game developers will find a lot of flexibility and extendability to create what they want!”

It’s not just an open source RPG Maker clone, though. Some of the things that make it stand out:

  • It’s cross-platform: you can make Windows, Mac and Linux builds of your game, or even build a Flash version that will deploy to browser. (Maletz has indicated that building to HTML5, iOS, Android, and Ouya may end up being possible as well.)
  • It supports coding in HaXe, which is sort of a do-everything wonder-language.
  • It’s easy to extend; the program supports plug-ins to extend it with “more export targets, battle systems, assets, and much more.”

Rhythos currently uses a real-time combat system with exclusively one-on-one fights; there’s a demo posted showcasing that system, which I gave a few minutes of my time yesterday. It’s not entirely to my taste, to be honest (particularly so because the characters currently lack visual cues that would allow me to easily establish a successful rhythm of attacking and defending). Luckily, however, Maletz confirms that a proper turn-based battle system will be coming to the software in a future version.

Rhythos is still early in development, but there’s already a video up already showing off some rather impressive map editing capabilities:

Now, although it might seem odd for me to be posting about Rhythos two days after its Kickstarter failed, Maletz has confirmed to me that development is going to continue despite it not reaching the funding goal. He writes:

Right now, my plan is to continue expanding the community and keeping the current backers interested, and continue working on Rhythos on the side until I have a runnable demo people can try (hopefully by early next year). Then, my plan is to start another campaign next year, and hope with the expanded community, the demo, and more interesting backer rewards, it’ll have a higher chance of success.

So development is going to take him a while, in other words, but this project strikes me as quite promising. I’ll be keeping an ear to the ground on this one.