Editorial

Indie Highlight Reel – July 8, 2017

Indie

After a hiatus last week, OnlySP’s Indie Highlight Reel is back, and from now on will include comments from the creators responsible for the games introduced. With that preamble out of the way, this week’s list includes another eclectic collection of games, including a gritty tactics-based war game, a claymation-styled adventure, a Latin America-inspired pixel art action game, and a low-poly open-world game where the player’s actions truly define their status in the world.

BURDEN OF COMMAND

Burden of Command is a historical “leadership RPG”, which casts players as the captain of a squadron on the battlefields of World War II. Rather than assuming direct control, players will have an isometric overview of the battlefield, with decisions being made both through traditional gameplay and a text-based interface. Adding an additional layer of strategy is the inclusion of psychological elements, as the soldiers’ actions will sometimes be unpredictable, but whose loyalty will increase as the player proves themselves a capable commander.

Although many of the team members at Green Tree Games are first-time developers, the studio has received external support and guidance from veteran game writers including Chris Avellone (Planescape: Torment) and Alexis Kennedy (Fallen London) and historian Dr John C. McManus to ensure that the writing and accuracy of Burden of Command carries the experience forward.

When asked about how the involvement of  both these external figures and the game’s lead writers Allen Gies and Paul Wang improved the project, Burden of Command’s director, Luke Hughes, said “Professor John McManus’s book American Courage, American Carnage, as well as his personal review of all our scenarios, gave us specific burdens of command historical company commanders faced. Our seasoned interactive fiction writers Allen Gies and Paul Wang made those burdens personal, as inevitably you face many life and death decisions over the men you have grown to see as your brothers, civilians, and the enemy. I already feel regret and even at times guilt over some of the decisions I have had to make. But my personal journey has been deeply memorable.”

The game promises to be a deeply personal, narrative-driven experience, with players taking command through 18 historical battles. Hughes describes the inspiration for the game as stemming from a question he asked himself while playing through Crusader Kings II: “what would it be like to follow an officer’s career through WWII?” The answer was found in Karl Marlantes’s What It is Like to Go to War. According to Hughes, the “book’s core point is that when you go to war you embark on an intensely spiritual journey. Because like it or not your decisions are now life or death. You have ‘Entered the Temple of Mars’.”

Burden of Command is currently targeting a 2018 release exclusively for PC.

HAROLD HALIBUT

Harold Halibut is a claymation-styled adventure game that puts players in the shoes of the eponymous character who is trapped on a spaceship that has crash-landed on a water world. As an assistant to one of the ship’s lead scientists, Harold must help to find a way to relaunch the ship, but difficulties arise from the myriad splinter groups within the ship, who are working at cross-ends and making the mission of launch more difficult than necessary.

Developed by German studio Slow Bros., Harold Halibut has already been in the works for a number of years as the story and design were hammered out. Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the game (on first glance, at least) is the handcrafted animation style, reminiscent of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run. To achieve this look, the developers have used a combination of traditional model-making, photogrammetry, and texture scanning.

When asked about the decision to use such a unique aesthetic, the game’s art director Ole Tillman said “the root cause for choosing this style probably lies somewhere in our childhood as we had a lot of children’s shows on TV (here in Germany) that were claymation, puppets on strings or stop-motion. Aardman and Tim Burton added onto that during teenage years. Ultimately it was just the connecting element between the people who came up with the game, though… More conscious direct inspiration were the love of detail from Miyazaki films, the weird concepts from the architecture collective Archigram, generally a lot of architecture (studio bowwow,dvvt,Terunobu Fujimori), the weird tales behind famous scientists/explorers, particularly Simone Melchior and Jacques Cousteau, cartoons and and and.”

Tillman was more abstract in describing what the style offers to the player, but suggested that it may create a deeper sense of engagement: “Witnessing handmade things sometimes feels like it has the potential to resonate deeper. My theory is that there’s more natural patterns involved than when it’s solely limited to human imitations of natural patterns which is what most of the virtual worlds and the tools to make them are based on so far. And in that way it’s easier to relate to as a human person. Plus the newness of playing it really adds something as well… It’s one thing to make a pre-recorded animation run on mouse click, like in past claymation games. But having real time control over the characters gives you an odd sensation of puppet mastery of some kind.”

Harold Halibut is currently seeking €150,000 on Kickstarter, with a PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One launch planned for January 2019.

SOL BOUND

Sol Bound takes inspiration from the development team’s shared Latin American heritage for a 2D pixel-art action-adventure game. Set on a radioactivity-blasted planet named Tierrania, the game stars Danny Diaz, a gifted engineer who finds and fuses with Sri, one of the last members of an alien race called the Moura. This binding of the two characters gives Danny a number of advanced abilities related to both combat and exploration.

These abilities grant Danny and Sri the ability to explore the wastes of Tierrania, leading them on an adventure that will allow Danny to meet with his friends, The Radioactives, for the first time and work towards saving the populations of the planet. While much of the adventure will be familiar to fans of the genre, one of the game’s major drawcards comes from the incorporation of Latin culture, which allows for a fundamentally different approach to world building than players may be used to.

Although Veronica Nizama, Sol Bound’s creative director, confirms that although the game will not be overburdened with Spanish vernacular, the team at Crowquetica Games has still “infused [its] rich Latin-American culture into [the] game in a way that may be relatable to Latinos living in America, as well as provide a fresh new experience for those not familiar with… customs, foods, and culture. Some of these influences are subtle, like [the] NPC’s names, diverse racial cast, building architecture, plant life and tropical, bright colors. A more prominent way we’ve infused our culture is by making our in-game food power-ups based off actual Latin dishes – like Cuban Vaca Frita, Peruvian Lucuma Ice Cream and Puerto Rican Mofongo.

In addition to shedding light on a culture rarely seen in video games, one of the driving motivations behind Sol Bound’s production is “to erase the stereotypical Latin character, often portrayed in media as exotic, dangerous, or humorous. Instead,” says Nizama “we built our characters to reflect the types of Latinos we grew up with – like the Soccer obsessed fan-boy, the overly religious grandmother, the nosey neighbor, and much more! We couldn’t of course have Latin characters without creating storylines that revolve around our love of Novelas, or bringing up cultural customs like Quinceñeras  or celebrating around a feast including a Caja China.”

Sol Bound is currently seeking $60,000 on Kickstarter, targeting a PC release in March 2018.

THOUSAND THREADS

Finally, Thousand Threads is an open-world game that takes the ideas of choice and consequence that have powered the recent surge in branching narratives in an entirely different direction. Unlike ostensibly similar projects, Thousand Threads eschews concrete choices with orchestrated outcomes in favour of a procedural approach in which the NPCs have unique traits and relationships with each new game.

According to the game’s sole developer Brett Johnson, because freedom lays at the heart of the experience, “there’s no scripted story for the player to push up against. There’s wide spectrum of great story-focused games out there… but I’m aiming for something different. There may be a broad goal to nudge players out into the world, but that may be about it. I want people to experiment and explore and set their own goals and fail and try again.”

Johnson acknowledges the value in branching narratives (such as those found in the Mass Effect series and Telltale’s games) and morality systems (including those of Dishonored and Red Dead Redemption), but states that he is working towards a more personal approach with his game. “I’m trying to set things up for the player to create their build their own story. I’m putting a lot of work into the AI so they remember and react to the stuff they experience, individually building opinions of you and other characters in the game. It’s all to allow for interesting, unique experiences to happen. Give, take, save, kill, inform, hide, be loyal, betray. Do what you want, and deal with the consequences.”

Thousand Threads promises a uniquely engaging, player-driven story that gives true weight to the consequences of any and all actions taken. The game currently lacks a release window, but will launch on Mac and PC.

If any of these fine indie games have piqued your interest, be sure to let us know in the comments below. Meanwhile, if you are an indie developer looking to spread the word about your game, get in touch for a chance to be featured in a future Indie Highlight Reel.

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