Latest Publications

Phantasmaburbia release date announced

Greg Lobanov writes in to announce a release date for his ghostly jRPG Phantasmaburbia, previously covered here and the subject of an interview here. Banov has selected October 31st to put the game out (which makes sense, given its subject matter).

Banov says Phantasmaburbia is mostly done, but that he needs to spend time polishing it and hire folks to finish up the game’s assets (most notably sound and music). For that, however, he needs money. Want to help? There’s a Kickstarter. (As if you didn’t see that coming.) There’s some talk of a possible Mac port for the game as well, depending on the final tally.

Opinion: Why we JRPG

Brian Abbott, perhaps best known as the titular brainy gamer behind Brainy Gamer, has posted an opinion piece on what makes jRPGs special.

A good JRPG (any well-designed RPG, for that matter) envelops a player in a unified ecosystem that weaves together rules, mechanics, and storytelling such that each informs the other in the player’s mind.

The more a game exposes its systems to me, the more possibilities I see to fully invest myself in that experience. Many of these systems could be simplified or automated, but I often don’t want that. I like to lift the hood and work on the motor myself. I want to drive my own way and feel the engine propelling me.

This is what the best JRPGs do. They let us feel the power and responsiveness of their systems, and they give us fun-to-use tools to access those systems. Complexity is a welcome trait in a game that encourages me to skillfully exploit its systems. For many of us, this is the real allure of gaming across genres. It’s why assiduously avoiding “spoilers” has never really made sense to me.

I think Abbott undermines his own point here: as he seems to concede, most RPGs let you tinker directly with the numbers underneath the hood, not just jRPGs. Getting a peek behind the curtain at the numbers and stats driving everything is pretty central to the whole genre. Still, if you take this as a general pro-RPG apologia, it’s pretty well-considered.

New release: Mercury

Here’s another interesting one: Mercury by James and Frank Lantz is a roguelike that imposes a strict turn limit on the player; the only way to get more turns is to descend a floor. It is, in other words, a sort of abstracted form of the time pressure imposed by the need for food, but with less benefit to exploring the current floor.

Even more interesting, however, is the fact that Mercury both scores you upon death and provides a tangible reward for topping the leaderboards. Players with high scores get to design items, monsters, and other content for the next iteration of the game. It takes the open source attitude that underlies so many roguelikes, then funnels it into a competitive structure. The developer writes:

As players play the game, they earn multipliers from boss monsters on each floor which multiply every point they earn in the game. Additionally, clearing any individual level of monsters results in a board clear, giving the player a huge amount of bonus points.So that’s one way that Mercury stands out from other roguelikes. But the truly experimental part of Mercury is that all the game’s content is winner-generated. That means that the game starts out barren. One class for players to play, one monster to fight, and one item to use. But every round, the top two scoring players use a tool built into the game to make a monster, item or class and then that object is automatically inserted into everyone’s game, and players fight for new high scores in an entirely different game every round. In short, I just designed the thing. It’s going to be the community that really makes it.

Mercury is free: download it for Windows or Mac.

Underrail playable alpha demo release date announced

Stygian Software writes in to announce that Underrail, the hotly anticipated sci-fi isometic wRPG (previously covered here), is due to get a public alpha demo release later this month.

Developer Dejan Radisic estimates that the demo will come out sometime between August 20th and August 31st. The complete game remains due for release in the second half of 2013.

Northmark: Hour of the Wolf announced

Are you hungry for a new single player RPG with CCG-style combat? Hungry like the wolf? You’re in luck! Patrik Spacek writes in to announce Northmark: Hour of the Wolf, apparently two years into development by Rake In Grass (whom you may recall as the developers behind the fantasy strategy game Styrateg).

Rake In Grass cite Betrayal at Krondor as a major influence for Northmark, stating that they “wanted to draw on some of its strengths (namely the intriguing story-telling) to enhance the dynamics of our game.” Here is the premise:

The game begins with an attempt to kill the Lord of the Northmark castle. Throughout the game, you shall discover many different areas of the kingdom and get to discover their complex relationships to central Northmark.

Northmark bears some similarities to other games of the “battle-card” genre, yet it successfully manages to differentiate itself by being a full-scale RPG with a focus on a strong story. Its unique battle-card system further emphasizes the original grand vision of a thriving Northmark region. As a player, you shall adventure across the fantasy lands of Northmark with its varied locations – Vibrant cities, Deep dark woods, Deserted lost ruins and the Ancient mystic sites sacred to the Druids and Elves.

The main event here is, of course, the aforementioned card-based battle system. The developers were good enough to provide some beta footage showing off the current state of the game, where you can see the combat system in action:

Northmark is due for release this fall on Windows. Rake In Grass are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for Mac and iOS ports as well; head on over if you want to pitch in.

New release: Unemployment Quest

I’m not sure how I missed this one: Unemployment Quest is a jRPG by Charles DeYoe with a decidedly…shall we say, “contemporary”…theme, released in mid-June.

The game’s premise is all but spelled out in the title. DeYoe writes:

Unemployment Quest is a game about the experience of unemployed youth.

The story is minimalistic as the game is not about an epic adventure so much as trying to reach a very simple goal.
Instead of fighting typical fantasy monsters, your foes will include “Doubts,” “Isolation,” “Shame,” and the main villain “Uncertain Future.”

Unemployment Quest managed to haul in more than $10,000 in Kickstarter funding by its deadline of May 20, which is pretty impressive considering that it’s an RPG Maker game using the default sprites and tilesets. I think that speaks pretty powerfully to how many people out there feel some connection with the game’s conceit.

Here is a trailer that goes to great lengths to point out how late I am in covering it:

Unemployment Quest has a free demo available; if you like what you see, you can get the full game for Windows for a flat $5.00.

RPG Jokes!

An indie RPG walks into a bar. “We don’t serve indie RPGs here,” says the bartender.

“Why not?” asks the RPG.

The bartender says, “You always bring a mob.”

 

An indie RPG walks into a bar. “We don’t serve indie RPGs here,” says the bartender.

“Why not?” asks the RPG.

“Look,” shrugs the bartender, “I’m just trying to level with you.”

 

A skill-based RPG walks into a bar. “We don’t serve skill-based RPGs here,” says the bartender.

“Why not?” asks the skill-based RPG.

The bartender says, “You have no class.”

 

An indie RPG walks into a bar. “We don’t serve indie RPGs here,” says the bartender.

“That’s not fair!” says the RPG. “We deserve service.”

The bartender shrugs: “You’re living in a fantasy world.”

 

 

An indie RPG walks into a bar. “We don’t serve indie RPGs here,” says the bartender.

“Why not?” asks the RPG.

The bartender says, “We’re IGF judges.”

 

Ha, ha! Ha!

…oh, wait.

Shadow Remnants announced

Johnathan Davis of Shorebound Studios writes in to tell me about Shadow Remnants, a 3D turn-based tactical RPG.

The premise:

In Shadow Remnants, you play as Drake, whose family was slaughtered by invading Entarians two years ago. Now a foot soldier in the royal infantry, he fights for vengeance. The closer he gets to the truth, the less he’s sure who the enemy is. The war, the royal family’s involvement in a cover up and the corrupt power within the relics — nothing is as it seems. The land of Avatia is plagued with evil and shrouded in darkness. Uncover the truth, unearth the ancient artifacts… Fight the darkness.

Man, “the darkness” is always doing such lousy stuff in RPGs. Stupid darkness!

The devs say that they’re looking to give the player choices which can “completely alter the storyline.” Color me interested, though there’s no word yet on what exactly that means. Maybe you can choose to make friends with the darkness? (If only you could talk to the monsters!) I’m guessing that they don’t actually intend to create multiple, totally independent plotlines based on player choices, as that would be a crazy amount of work; but who knows? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Speaking of seeing, here is a video showing off the current state of the game engine at this early stage of development:

It isn’t shown in this video, but the combat system evidently makes use of a timing-based charge meter mechanic where you can affect a character’s damage output on an attack-by-attack basis. The devs also seem to have put quite a bit of thought into making the game’s 13 characters classes interact in interesting ways, which is always a good sign. There’s more to say about the mechanics here (and the devs aren’t shy about saying it), so hit the jump if you want more details.

Shadow Remnants is planned for release on Windows, to be followed shortly thereafter with ports to Mac and Linux. There is no release date estimate yet, however. As is now customary, the developers are looking for funding through Kickstarter, and the speed of their progress almost certainly depends upon whether or not they receive the funding they require. They say that they’ve been approached by publishers, but prefer to stay indie. Me? I’d prefer that, too. If this game sounds like your cup of tea, then go ahead and help them stay out of the clutches of the darkness publishers.

(more…)

New release: Defender’s Quest

Since I’ve been loosening up on the sort of games I’ve been willing to post about lately, I figured it was time to stop agonizing about whether Defender’s Quest was really an RPG and just post about the thing.

Defender’s Quest is a hybrid RPG / tower defense game by Lars Doucet. Protector, the first game to claim the tower defense / RPG mantle, was not really an RPG at all, so I was reticent about this one. Despite my initial skepticism, however, now that I’ve spent a bit of time with Defender’s Quest, I have far fewer reservations about it. The tower defense-style combat system works quite well; and at the same time, the game still feels like an RPG because of a heavy focus on individualized character progression (characters can purchase their own equipment, and can be upgraded as you see fit via class-specific skill trees upon level up).

Defender’s Quest is story-heavy, with unique characters and dialog, as well as a tone that strikes a nice balance between drama and camp. This is a legit RPG, in other words; but words are seldom enough, so have a trailer:

In fact, that trailer probably wasn’t enough either. I don’t think this video does an especially good job of imparting the feel of playing Defender’s Quest; there is a free demo available right here, which I strongly suggest giving a try so you can experience the game for yourself.

Defender’s Quest is available for Windows, Mac and Linux for $6.99; you can buy it here. (I understand that an updated version is due to drop soon, at which point the price will rise to $9.99.)

Video preview: OFF

I just wrote about OFF the other day; I’ll admit, I was intrigued, so I figured I’d give the game a shot and record the experience. The results of my brief foray into the surreal world of OFF are documented below:

As an aside: I learned something today, folks. Dehort is totally a word.