Greed is the fuel that drives this multiplayer descent into the darkest parts of space. Can industry veterans Ghost Ship Games strike gold with this indie mining simulator?
It's dark, deep below the earth.
In the distance, I can hear little clawed feet skittering around the cavern walls and the faint sound of one of my partners crying out.
Maybe he found something, maybe he’s under attack. I ask if everything is okay over the comms, but there's no response. I’ll head back just after I check out the next room.
Rounding a corner the cavern opens up, and down a long stretch of blackened stone walls I can see a tiny glint of gold. I run towards it only to see another glint, and another. In fact, a whole wall of sparkling, glittering gold. It’s enough to pay for the whole expedition, and then some.
The skittering behind me pulls my attention away from the precious metal, and face-to-face with the swarm. A seething mass of teeth and beady eyes. I yell out to my team mates, but they're too far away. I was too greedy, too hungry for gold, and now I'm being eaten alive by ravenous monsters deep below the earth.
This is Deep Rock Galactic, a first-person mining simulator. But it's also much more than that. It has elements of Red Faction, Minecraft, and Left 4 Dead with class-based combat and platforming, all wrapped up in a stylish low-poly package.
Imagine slinking through the shadows, katana in hand and sneakily assassinating other players without ever being seen. That’s pretty much what Kieru pushes you to do, hunt down your enemies without being seen before disappearing again. Only, it's multiplayer.
Kieru is a first-person ninja combat game that pits you against an opposing team of ninjas. It's fast and hectic, but the true style comes from the aesthetic. Imagine a modern Japanese garden, starkly coloured in black and white like a scene from Sin City.
This feeds back into the gameplay because each team of ninjas is invisible on their own colour. So black ninjas disappear completely into the shadows, while white ninjas fade into the light. It makes for a tense back and forth where you feel safe in your own area, but know you need to cross into enemy territory to make a kill.
Oh, and every successful strike leaves a red slash, and kill and explosion of bright red across the otherwise colourless world. It means kills are spectacular, and being wounded (quite literally) paints a target on your back.
The mode I played was a traditional team deathmatch scenario with two white ninjas and two black ninjas battling over a Japanese train station. You have your trusty katana, which can dole out quick slashes or a charged dash attack that becomes a special attack if you nail the timing. You also have a handy teleport ability that is great for offense and defense, as well as the ability to hurl a shuriken from range to damage distant foes.
It was stealthy, tense and at times terrifying to be hunting an invisible foe who was also hunting me. It made for brilliant moments like watching a team mate lose a quick duel only to notice the enemy was still dripping bright red blood all over the map, I followed him to a quiet place for an easy kill right near the end of the match. These fights are stunningly quick and usually over in an instant, before you need to reassess, hide and start the hunt again.
And the level design is wonderfully twisted, offering verticality and small spaces of safety in its black and white patterns. However, the environment shapes are all made of jaggered edges that cut into each other, meaning you can't go any great distance without exposing yourself to enemies. The idea of laying a human trap and baiting a foe out of cover certainly crossed my mind.
VR was huge at this year's PAX AUS, but the biggest players weren’t the AAA developers. Indie developers were all across the show floor showing off a tonne of innovative experiences, from strategy games to VR boxing. Of all the games I tried, A Township Tale was by far the most exciting, and the demo shown was just a proof of concept.
The pitch for A Township Tale goes something like this: imagine a VR world where multiple players work together to run a medieval village. So different players acting as miners, blacksmiths, builders, hunters and more combine their skills together. You'll work together to manage the town and support each others' goals, or mess with other players as you see fit.
Unlike its inspiration, Minecraft, A Township Tale's aesthetic is cartoony and lush. Everything feels slightly larger than it needs to be, but in going with this stylistic choice, Australian developer Alta ensures the world feels very clear and crisp on a VR headset.
A Township Tale is made by Sydney-based team for the HTC Vive, making full use of the headset, motion controls, headphones and a microphone to talk. When I first put on the headset I found myself standing on a small road with a sign pointing towards “the mines” or the “old castl.e” I pointed my gloved and cartoony hand towards the old castle and teleported down in a few short hops. The dilapidated structure was mostly crumbled stone walls around a grassy clearing.
I immediately spied a treasure chest and sauntered over to it.
It’s strange how doing something in VR can make it immediately feel exciting and new again. I opened the chest and with my right hand, saw it was full of coins and started to pull them out one by one with my left hand, throwing them into a nearby bucket.
I did that for almost all of my five-minute demo, it was utterly engrossing.
That is, before the multiplayer element kicked in an I heard someone behind me say, “what’s in the chest?” I turned around quickly and saw another player peering over my shoulder. “Nothing, it’s empty,” I replied, trying not to look at the bucket full of coins. He spotted them anyway and picked up a couple of the coins and started to juggle with them. I quickly joined in and before long we were throwing coins at each other and playing frisby with a nearby shield.
It’s these little interactions that make me think the future of VR isn’t as insular as we've been lead to believe. The potential for engaging, evolving stories built out of real human interactions is simply amazing.
When I came back in the afternoon for a second shot at A Township Tale, I found something completely different to fill my time with. This time I found a bow and quiver of arrows.
I quickly realised that I could strap the quiver to my belt and the bow across my back before setting off in search of targets. All I found was another player, and after exchanging a few words we set about making an impromptu game of dodge-arrow. We firied from behind rocks until one of us eventually got hit or we ran out of arrows.
What I didn’t realise until I got out of the game was that the other guy I was firing arrows at was actually set up across the other side of the convention centre at a completely different VR booth. It was a stunning moment of realisation.
To find out more about A Township Tale, head over to their website here.
If you are wondering who we are, we're primarily a digital magazine for the iPad focused on the coverage of indie video games. Run by the former editor of Game Informer, you'll find worldwide exclusives, but also an interactive media experience unlike any you have seen before. If you have an iPad, you should check out the free sample issue at the very least, or enjoy one of our other episodes as listed below.
With swords, demons, explosions and some really bad jokes, this latest stab at recreating a fast-paced 90's shooter makes all the right moves.
If you're looking for a brilliant, mildly offensive time-waster, this is probably it. It's not long after your first fire up Shadow Warrior 2 that you're up to your eyeballs in demon guts, explosive crabs and wang jokes. And it just gets better from there.
Indie developer Disparity Games delivers something hot and tasty to gamers on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac and PC
Ninja Pizza Girl is a neat title. It’s eye-catching, humorous and oh so very indie. But Disparity Games’ second release isn’t really about any of the things in its title. Its protagonist is a ninja pizza girl, but the game stands out more for its take on life as a teenager than it does for Shuriken or extra cheese.
In a future where blokes on scooters can no longer cut it, Gemma is a ninja pizza girl doing deliveries for her family’s pizza shop. Players guide her through a slightly sci-fi city, running, jumping and cartwheeling over ledges with one goal: deliver the pizza, and deliver it hot.
The levels aren’t brutally hard. Missing a jump just means taking a different route, and there’s no such thing as a health bar. It’s an accessible and friendly game, with an upbeat, thumping soundtrack punctuated by comic book cutscenes that are full of real character.
More experienced players need not fear, however. Whilst the multi-storied levels make it impossible to die, they also allow some routes to be better than others, and a carefully timed button push is needed to land smoothly, flip over obstacles, wall-jump and slide as required – it’s reminicent of the Mirror’s Edge mobile game. And despite the welcoming set up, getting an A-graded time still requires plenty of skill and practice.
But on to those teenage tribulations. Disparity Games is a Queensland outfit consisting of ex-AAA developers Nicole and Jason Stark, with added input and influence from their four children (daughter Raven is behind the game’s comic-book style illustrations). It’s that family origin that gives Ninja Pizza Girl its soul.
It was a simple question from Jason Stark to his daughters that changed the course of the entire game. Their response to “what scares you the most?” transformed Gemma’s enemies from the usual robots or monsters into a very real villain – other teenagers. They taunt and tease Gemma, pushing her to the ground and draining all the colour from her world.
That little tweak from physical to mental damage doesn’t change the gameplay – you can run and jump around without a second thought – but what’s left of my teenage self certainly took note. That is how it was. Sometimes it felt like other people had beaten you with nothing but a few nasty words and an unkind glance. Sometimes it sucked. Sometimes all the colour disappeared.
Luckily Ninja Pizza Girl is also about overcoming all that junk. About having fun; about being there for your friends and family. And about doing that crappy job really well. Gemma is an unusually normal gaming protagonist – not royalty, not the chosen one or a superhero, but just a teenager doing her thing.
As a result the game feels very genuine, and it’s pretty funny to boot. For those who find that little something within themselves that resonates with Gemma (and the Stark girls, by extension), Ninja Pizza Girl offers an experience that isn’t often seen in video games, much to our industry’s disservice.
The game is out now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC and Mac. Read a full interview with the developer in Episode 8 of Grab It.