Playup #4’s theme was ‘squares’, which is a bit odd at first thought. When you think video games, you tend to think cubes, not squares. It’s not just because Portal gave us a 3-D version to care for in this crazy world, and it’s definitely not because we don’t look at square screens enough, it’s just that squares aren’t cool (both in real life and topologically). Squares are everywhere though, acting as the unsung heroes of the shapes, that proud basis upon which all other shapes may be compared, and as Playup #4 showed, sometimes it’s hip to be square.
First up on the geometrically symmetrical chopping block was Gnomic Studio’s Square Heroes, a 2-D bullet hell shoot ’em up with a comic flair and hilarious multi-player. The game is a bit like Worms in that you can get delightful weapons to blow each other up, but it’s not turn based, weapon usage is earned by collecting coins, and your movement isn’t hindered by the laws of gravity, making terrain a very tactical obstacle. If I had to describe it in three words, it would be ‘simple, silly fun,’ a sentiment resonating with the other playtesters.
The development of Square Heroes has been happening for quite a while (~3 years including working on Square Off), and all that work definitely shows. Everyone in the room agreed that the gameplay was smooth, the gunplay was fantastic, and for such a simple game, it definitely manages to keep you wanting more. This is all helped with an absurd shtick that promotes the usage of rubber chickens, oversized wrenches, and crowbars as tools to bash your opponents, an aesthetic that the group found very appealing. The only real problems with the game arose from technical issues.
The occasional bug seemed to pop up in multi-player matches, sometimes forcing players ready or freezing another player’s client. Nothing in-game really seemed that affected, but it did make actually getting into the game in the first place a somewhat complex task. The only other sizeable criticism was how the game played on keyboard and mouse, but it was suggested that simply changing the cursor to a reticle could help alleviate confusion. Overall, the game was looking great, and hopefully the issues will be straightened out when PAX rolls around.
You can find Square Heroes on Steam Greenlight!
Adventures of Square
The second game to receive feedback from all four sides was James Paddock’s Adventures of Square, an FPS throwback to the fast-paced days of Doom in a brightly coloured world. It played a lot like Doom because it was made using the old Doom engine, which was both a good and not so good thing. While the engine certainly accommodated the hectic run n’ gun action from a childhood ago, the bright primary colours and fast movement made it difficult to fully engage with the game. Since it felt so much like Doom, this also hindered the identity of the game, something the devs were very interested in crafting.
Going into the playup, the devs were curious about the idea of merchandise and branding for their game. While merchandise can be a very legitimate way of making money from games, the consensus from the testers was to explore other avenues first. An unknown game would have a hard time selling branded products if the brand was relatively unknown, but acquiring revenue through donations or kickstarter-esque purchases with future rewards could be implemented far more easily. Ultimately, the testers suggested fully finishing the game before worrying too much about profitability, especially since they were a bit hazy on what their target audience was.
When asked about what their target audience was, they responded by asking the testers what they thought it should be since the question wasn’t exactly easy to answer. On the one hand, the game’s vibrant colours and playful art gave it the feel of a game suitable for a wide range of ages, and it reminded me of a few I played as a kid! On the other, there were brief moments where the giddiness was juxtaposed on more violent imagery, like enemies exploding or grim industrial areas. While the potential was there to pique a particular groups’ interest by switching violent animations with more passive ones, the question returned back to the devs as a question they’d need to mull over themselves.
You can find out more about James and The Adventures of Square on his website.
After gaining an oddly spiritual connection with the square form, the event ended as it inevitably had to. While I tend to think of Playups as useful for both the players and devs to get involved, this Playup seemed especially useful for the dev teams to evaluate their games and gain feedback. Some things are only discovered with groups of people, and I think both teams experienced that at the event. If you couldn’t make it, another Playup is around the corner, so keep your ears to the ground, square-eyes!
Check out Gamecloud’s take on the day here.