Since the all-but-demise of D3 Publisher’s Simple series of budget games, I’ve missed its particular blend of hooks-and-wire, no-budget ingenuity in gaming. It’s improbable for that type of development model to exist in the form of disc- or cartridge-based releases in the game industry’s current climate, and D3 hasn’t moved its business model into the downloadable realm beyond a few token releases.
Lately, however, I’ve started looking at homebrew and otherwise independently-developed games available on Xbox Live Arcade’s Indie Games section. Certainly, there’s an awful lot of underdeveloped, unplayable, undergrad-CS projects full of programmer art among the 2000-plus titles available on the service. But at the same time, there are games that show plenty of ingenuity and make excellent use of the resources available to the small teams making them.
The first of these I want to look at is Tekkou Hohei (鉄鋼歩兵, which translates as Steel Infantry), a mecha shooter made by a Japanese team of two members. You pilot a robot that’s reminiscent of Front Mission and fight other robots in arena-like stages using small arms, rocket launchers, and plain old mecha fists.
Ken “coda” Snyder and Steven “surasshu” Velema are freelance composers who have made a name for themselves in the chiptune and module music tracking scenes for their consistent performance in 1-hour tracking competitions: timed contests in which composers are given only an hour to compose a full song with a set of randomly chosen samples.
Their latest project is Tree of Knowledge (知恵の樹) — a lovingly crafted tribute to the sound of PC-9801 home computing platform, which played host to a vibrant game subculture in Japan throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Its powerful FM synthesis-based sound hardware gave rise to numerous composers still working in the industry today, such as Ryu Umemoto — whose recent work includes Cave’s arcade and Xbox 360 shooting game Akai Katana and the recent Xbox Live Arcade release Nin2-Jump.
Conventional wisdom states that you need to spend some time with a videogame, really dig in there, in order to review it. Most days I’m with conventional wisdom on that one: just not today. Lately, I played Project Minerva for a few hours, and it committed so many unpardonable sins out of the gate that I was already writing the review in a corner of my mind from the first moments of the game. I couldn’t help it. My brain needed some kind of other stimulus to make the time go by faster, as the heroine plodded, hunched over, across an endless grassy plain.
Before the game has even properly started, an uncanny valley effect hits: in the opening video you’ll notice that the heroine looks much more human than everybody around her. This is a D3 Publisher joint from 2001, early in the PS2’s life. Though D3 had not yet figured out the whole “Simple Series” business that would bring them to success, the production values are certainly on the same level as that series. Bare-minimum character models dance the robot through every animation and cutscene.
It’s been almost 19 years since that fateful birthday for which I received my very first video game console, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The pack-in game, of course, was the devastatingly great Super Mario World. But my grandmother had also sweetened the pot with the addition of Hudson’s Super Adventure Island. I’m absolutely certain she had no idea what Super Adventure Island was (or what a Super Nintendo was, as evidenced years later when she rented a copy of Double Dragon and attempted to stick it into the VCR, bless her heart). But through her gift, she inadvertently gave me an education.
The Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace is rife with half-baked ideas and poor production values. Its existence as a place for amateur programmers to showcase their talents and test new ideas is admirable, but rarely does it translate into an actual, solid game. I’m more than willing to pay a couple bucks for an interesting concept, but REVOLVER360 is one of the few times on the Indie Games Marketplace I felt like I paid a couple bucks for an actual game.