Editorial

Indie Highlight Reel – September 3, 2017

Lost Words

The Indie Highlight Reel is back for another iteration to bring attention to more spectacular games from small developers. This latest entry looks at a truly unique narrative-adventure game, an innovative platformer that requires players to use words to solve puzzles, and a fast-paced 2D beat-’em-up featuring cats.

SONDER.

Sonder. is an expansive narrative mystery project from a debut Macedonian team called KAMAi MEDIA. In some respects, the game resembles Quantic Dream’s breakout hit Heavy Rain, but takes the character-switching mechanics to a different extreme.

Planned to eventually be six episodes, only the first is currently available, with that story taking place on a space ship. Players have 20 minutes to prevent a catastrophe, but doing so makes use of novel gameplay ideas quite unlike anything else on the market. Instead of having direct control over just one character, players are able to take control of any individual at any point, guiding them to perform actions differently.

However, altering the behaviour of a single character will not be enough, so Sonder. also features the ability to rewind time from any point, though doing so will cause NPC behaviours to reset. The unique approach to design results in a game with a huge number of narrative branches, some of which are not resolved in the current Early Access build.

Sonder.’s creative director Petar Kotevski says that the novel premise of the game stemmed from “thinking about the lack of player agency within a games’ story [sic].” He says that “there are usually 2 separate channels of communication with the players—a pure mechanical channel and a pure story channel. Even though these channels exist in the same game, they are always exclusive—one has to pause while the other one is active. This makes it hard to explore more serious, complicated or mature issues in games.” The project attempts to resolve that abyss by tying mechanics to story, meaning that Sonder. will not have cutscenes or unnecessary “menial repetitive tasks.”

With one episode currently available, Kotevski hints that Sonder. will more closely resemble an anthology series (such as Netflix’s Black Mirror) than a traditional episodic game, saying that “each episode is a 20-minute time segment in a parallel universe that the player can ‘play’ with, explore, rewind time in and control any character. The role of the player is to understand the multiple facets of what is going on in that slice of time and decide where to intervene to change the outcome.” (Since publication, Kotevski has clarified that all six episodes of Sonder. will take place aboard the ship, ultimately forming a continuous, two-hour story.)

The marriage between concept and title (with sonder defined as “the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”) is apparently a happy accident, as Kotevski says that the word “found” them: “All characters are fully realised personalities with their own personal goals, motivations and understanding. Depending on what you make them do, they will either be villains or heroes. Or neither. When we found the word online, it seemed to perfectly summarise the feeling that we are attempting to recreate in our game, that every character has his own, different but equally complex perspective on the situation.”

Sonder. Episode ONE is currently available on Steam Early Access.

LOST WORDS

Beginning development as a happy accident during 2013’s Ludum Dare 26 game jam, Lost Words is an adventure platformer that takes place both within a girl’s journal and the fantasy world that she envisions. The game is being developed by Sketchbook Games, a talented team led by Mark Backler (alumnus of Lionhead and EA), with a story written by Rhianna Pratchett (Rise of the Tomb Raider, Mirror’s Edge).

The journal that links the fantasy scenes together belongs to Izzy, an aspiring writer, and players are able to move words around on the page to create platforms. A demo of this aspect of the game is currently available on the official website, completion of which provides access to a free wallpaper. However, the diary is only the first level of the game, with words taking on whole new powers in the adventure sections. In Izzy’s imagined universe of Estoria, words become magical, capable of lighting paths or burning away obstacles.

Backler explains that the initial concept for the game jam (which had a theme of minimalism) was a Tetris-like idea with words instead of blocks, which the character would have to run across. Nevertheless, he says that “when I ran the game and the character landed on a floating word that didn’t have any physics yet I though that was really cool and decided to run with that instead—and the rest of the game came from there!”

From that initial kernel grew an idea that allowed Backler to gain funding and quit his job with Marmalade. This early support was bolstered by “a grant from the Wellcome Trust, support from Creative England and SEIS investment[, and] a grant from the UK Games Fund. This allowed me to hire a talented team and we are now looking for a publisher for Lost Words to provide some finishing funds and help get it out to as many people as possible.”

The game looks quite simple and straightforward, though players are able to choose from one of three options for the main character, while the team is currently looking into implementing more choices to help give the project a greater sense of dynamism.

Sketchbook Games is currently targeting a release for Lost Words on Mac, PC, and Xbox One next year, with other platforms being considered.

CLAWS OF FURRY

Finally, Claws of Furry is a more traditional project than the other two on this week’s list, being a side-scrolling brawler featuring hard-hitting, fast-paced action. In a straightforward narrative that draws directly from arcade classics, players take the role of a Ninja Cat who sets off to rescue his Master from their enemies.

The developers at Terahard admit that the central mechanics resemble those of older titles such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight, but the highly customisable fighting style and rogue-like elements set Claws of Furry apart from its predecessors. In total, players will have access to more than 40 base skills, comprising everything from light strikes that can be executed while racing across the screen to high-damage blows that require players to remain in place to charge. Furthermore, the game will feature a permadeath system, with progress being reset after each death. However, unlike other titles, players will retain access to any advanced skills gained in earlier playthroughs. Alternatively, Claws of Furry will include a “Pussycat” mode where progress is saved after every level.

Speaking about the decision to incorporate rogue-like progression into “Normal” mode, Terahard Studios Director Aris Tsevrenis said, “we may reset level progress, but we also have a random selection of levels in this mode. We believe that this gears the game more toward learning your characters abilities and using them wisely, as opposed to simply remembering the threats from a previous life. You’re already stronger and have more skills, so it makes sense for us to not bore the players with the same set of levels.”

The project has been in development for roughly six months, though Tsevrenis says that exact timing is unclear because the team was originally prototyping a different game that eventually transformed into Claws of Furry. Despite the short production period, the game was accepted onto Steam Greenlight by Valve following the program’s shutdown earlier this year, with that support giving “the whole team a big motivational boost, as by this time most of the general public were pretty inactive as we all knew [Greenlight] was going the way of the dodo.”

Old-school brawlers are an obvious inspiration for the title, but the character designs, with their missing arms and necks, more closely resemble Rayman. When asked whether the design is an intentional homage, Tsevrenis expressed that the team created a huge number of concepts, “from super generic to outright abstract. Initially we were very apprehensive about excluding the arms as we didn’t want people to think we were copying Rayman, but ultimately they were the strongest concepts, the whole team voted in favour of it, and so we ran with it. At-least we can say that our character has legs!”

The project hit Kickstarter late last week, seeking £10,000 in funding, of which over 10% has already been provided at the time of writing. Stretch goals extend up to £50,000 and include a range of additions including more levels, extra playable characters, and a boss rush mode. Claws of Furry will be Terahard Studios’s first single-player, core-focused game, but the team has over five years of experience in mobile development and software production. The game is currently targeting a release early next year.


 

Let us know in the comments below what you think of this week’s selection of indie games! Otherwise, if you are an indie developer and think your game would be a good fit for a future entry of the Highlight Reel, get in touch with us.

 

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