Virtual reality can widen the accessibility of gaming up to a whole new audience, and Aussie developer Stirfire Studios is leading the way with Symphony of the Machine.
Hailing from Perth in Western Australia, Stirfire Studios (of Freedom Fall fame) made some waves at PAX AUS in 2016 with its game Symphony of the Machine. A puzzle game that tasks users with returning a barren landscape to thriving life by manipulating the weather, it's zen gaming at its best. (You can read our hands-on.) After playing the game, I got chatting to managing director Vee Pendergrast, and the topic soon turned to her passion for accessibility in gaming. She sees VR as a big opportunity to expand what is possible, so I took the chance to interview her for further insight into the future she sees for the hardware.
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.
Sydney developer Flat Earth Games has received financial support from ScreenNSW for its upcoming stealth space-trading game.
In the few shorts years since the Harris brothers – Leigh and Rohan – founded Flat Earth Games, the little indie developer has made quite an impact. Its first title, Towncraft, was a city-building title that plugged into gamers’ libraries somewhere between Animal Crossing and Minecraft. Follow-up Metrocide was a brilliant and brutally challenging top-down stealth gem that recalled Blade Runner meets GTA. Then the studio mixed it up with classic, old-school arcade blow ‘em up bloodbath Super Death Fortress.
Next up is another new direction; Objects in Space is a Han Solo sim of sorts, with you playing the role of captain in a single-seat ship out in the Apollo star cluster, wheeling and dealing with all sorts. With no view-port, the game is more submarine than Millennium Falcon. You’ll be playing the numbers game, pouring over data to keep all you systems running properly, watching scanners for signs of useful loot, and then making the trades without getting shutdown or caught by pirates, the mafia, corrupt governments and shady police.
The game will feature a number of unique explorations into game development that make it well worth keeping an eye on. For starters, gamers who like to tinker will be able to build their own hardware that can be used to control the game. The image below shows what this may end up looking like.
In addition, the narrative will unfold in a bizarre, yet exciting fashion, that will see it expand across 12 different systems in an ad hoc fashion. We’ll let the developer explain:
“The game's seven writers will each be tasked with writing one short, interactive story for the player to engage in which will be playable at the beginning of the game. Rohan and Leigh Harris, the game's lead programmer and designer respectively, will then reveal the next key plot points to them for each of the 12 star systems in the game. When the writers reconvene to write their next stories, any plot points which have affected their ongoing characters must be taken into account. In this way, we hope to see the game's narrative unfold naturally and have the same uncontrollable nature that stories in real life hold.”
“The writers were chosen to represent a variety of different styles. While there is one experienced games writer (Daniel McMahon - L.A. Noire), the team also includes writers from theatre, screen, copywriting, MUSHes and pen & paper RPG writing. The idea is that the Apollo cluster will feel very different depending on which star system you're in. Not only will the news you read be vastly different, slanting your view on other star systems' politics, but you'll also be hearing different voices telling you stories within those systems."
"While there are many things to do in the game, Objects in Space will not feature a 'main quest' line. Instead, it allows the player to focus on exploring, profiting and surviving at their leisure. The story of the Apollo cluster is one which the player can be deeply involved in, or only give a cursory glance to. There are huge advantages to knowing a lot about the game world, but for those who just want to experience the mechanics of the game, there is nothing forcing you into its narrative elements."
For these reasons, Flat Earth Games attracted the attention of ScreenNSW, who – it was revealed today – will provide $25,000 from its Production Finance program to bring on the game’s development. It is set to release on PC, Mac and Linux some time in 2016.
A multiplayer stealth action game from Team OK brings a unique, arty take on the genre.
In a world of only two colours, hiding yourself becomes a lot easier and, as a result, identifying threats all the more harder. In Chambara, the world is black and white, so depending on the colour of your character, you can be effectively invisible while right in front of an opponent – great for ambushing. However, your position can become exposed if the world is viewed from a different perspective. It’s such a neat idea!
It’s a 3D arena game, with an intricately patterned black and white landscape blessed with the odd flourish of vibrant colour. If you’re character is white and you are standing in the white, you are impossible to see. However, if your opponent moves, from their new perspective you might shift from a white background to a black one and become exposed. The cat and mouse gameplay that follows deepens as the skills and map knowledge of the players grows.
Apple TV is about to enter its fourth generation and video games will be front and centre as the industry giant takes on the lounge room.
In late October 2015, Apple’s fourth iteration of its Apple TV hardware turns the device into a genuine microconsole. It’s a portal direct from the App Store to your TV, and while there needs to be some compatibility between the games and the Apple TV’s Siri enabled touchpad remote, developers are already lining up to get their titles on the device. We will continually update the below list, so make sure you check back regularly – but as it stands, this is the current list of games that will be playable through the fourth generation Apple TV.
There are more games than you might expect out this generation, and it’s no small thanks to the indie revolution. Will Publishers Ever Fight Back?
We’re all about the indie games here at Grab It, which until recently was blossoming just on mobiles and PCs. However, it would now appear that the current-generation of consoles has come to the party, too. At the pre-launch E3 conferences of both Microsoft and Sony, the companies talked up their claims of having the best console option for fans of indie games. Shortly after launch, however, I remember thinking that it had all been talk, and by E3 2015, the indies were barely mentioned at all.
However, a recent report shows that 550 games have been released on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (combined) since they launched in November 2013, and of those, 297 have come out of the indie scene. That’s 54% of the games available to consumers right now or, to put it more bluntly, the majority.
It’s quality gaming, too. For last year’s PAX AUS event, Grab It published the official indie show guide as an iPad app. In it we featured the games and interviewed the creators of the 68 indie titles that were to be on display at the show. It’s an epic read, and you can still check it out now. At the time, I was concerned that there would be a handful of gems, a bunch of mediocre titles and a lot of dross that was going to be painful to cover. I was wrong.
All 68 titles were genuinely interesting, and made by people with fascinating personal stories to tell about their development. It was clear to me then that indie gaming was set to conquer the industry. So here we are; proof that more indie games are being released than those through the major publishers. It’s a beautiful thing.
However, will the publishers ever fight back and retake their position as being the number one outlet for console gaming experiences? Potentially, but not through the older model of delivering giant, expensive blockbusters at large intervals, or through churning out sequels. They’re going to have to diversify their offerings and provide experiences that appeal to those with indie sensibilities. But how?
A few years ago EA went on a rampage, buying up indies like Firemint and Iron Monkeys, and the industry giant has now started to show the results of those acquisitions with indie-like titles such as Unravel. Ubisoft has taken the indie concept internal, building the UbiArt engine and then using it to provide gamers with sweet indie-likes such as Child of Light and Valiant Hearts. Elsewhere licensed affairs such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Adventure Time have gone indie-like by reverting to old-school genres and visuals.
For gamers it’s all good news. With 550 play options already available on the two stores, and incredible diversity coming from the indies making up the majority of that number, it’s something of a Golden Age. If the publishers start to sprinkle their release schedules with indie-likes as well then the good times will continue.