Greetings, OnlySP readers! The end of October is here already, and that means the time has come for another edition of the Indie Highlight Reel. Today’s reel focuses on two titles: one a top-down twin-stick shooter inspired by old school AMIGA games, the other an action-adventure title set in ancient India and featuring elements of Balinese and Hindu mythology.
Over the past few years, a proliferation of retro-style pixel-art titles have entered the game market, vying for funds on Kickstarter and trying their hardest to capture the hearts of nostalgic gamers. With so many options for players to choose from, a game must be a standout in more ways than one if its developers wish to meet with success. To merely appear old-school is not enough—a game must have a combination of both retro feel and modern complexity, blended together with a healthy dose of good, plain fun.
Enter Tower 57, a fast-paced top-down shooter with a dystopian setting, developed by German indie developer Pixwerk, and published by 11 bit Studios. Featuring 16-bit inspired pixel art, destructible environments, and multiple playable characters, Tower 57 is a tribute to old, action-packed games, such as 1991’s Alien Breed and 1993’s Chaos Engine. Created for Commodore’s AMIGA computer system, these run-and-gun shoot ’em ups delivered pure entertainment for players who wanted to sit back, relax, and kill everything in sight.
In the futuristic dieselpunk world of Tower 57, humanity has survived living in a radioactive wasteland by taking up residence in towers intended to be self-sustaining utopias. Designed to protect and nurture those who lived within them, the Towers were considered safe havens where humankind could begin anew. Those sort of plans always seem to go awry, however, and humanity has returned to its old ways. The Towers are now crumbling around their citizens, who are locked in an eternal cold war against each other.
Whether solo or with a friend, gamers play one of six members of a special team assembled to investigate reports of a possible invasion originating from the neighboring Tower 57, and put a stop to it. Gamers will fight through a maze of levels, complete quests available at a central hub, and, should they lose a leg to a rampaging dinosaur, they can purchase a new, better one to replace it. Each character comes with its own unique skillset and special ability, allowing players to utilize different strategies to make their way through the tower.
With Tower 57, Pixwerk wants to bring the 90s action-shooter aesthetic back while streamlining gameplay for today’s audience. “Although the game ‘feels’ retro, there’s actually a ton of modernizations,” says Marco “Benitosub” Pappalardo, who wrote Tower 57′s code, as well as the engine on which it runs. “360 degrees of movement versus four or eight-directional movement, tutorials, level design, weapons and upgrades, online co-op, and many more!”
A wealth of further information can be found on the Tower 57 Kickstarter page, which was one of the first fundraising efforts to go live when Kickstarter launched in Germany. “We actually got a Kickstarter pledge from Notch (Markus Persson of Minecraft fame),” says Pappalardo. “Which was definitely one of the highlights of the campaign and helped us drive the initial boost. We were picked up by 11 bit studios on the way, which allowed us to add online multiplayer and console ports.”
Tower 57 is set for release on November 16, 2017 for Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Perhaps most fittingly, however, the game will also be available on modern AMIGA operating systems.
RAJI: AN ANCIENT EPIC
The idea of a video game based on Hindu and Balinese mythology might seem unique to many gamers, due in no small part to the industry’s heavy focus on Japanese and Western audiences. Though the gaming industry is an ever-growing and expanding entity that blankets the entirety of the globe and connects humanity from one corner of the Earth to another, some areas of inspiration remain unexplored. Hidden jewels, they lie in wait for someone to find them—individuals capable of picking those gems up, polishing them, and setting them sparkling for the whole word to admire.
Raji: An Ancient Epic is an action-adventure game set in ancient India and following the story of Raji, a young girl chosen by the gods to stand against the demonic invasion of the human realm. A thousand years of peace have lulled humanity into complacency, leaving them ill-prepared against the demonic forces threatening their existence. Having forgotten the ways of alchemy, all humankind suffers as cities fall to the demonic hordes. Knocked unconscious during the siege of Jaidhar, Raji awakens to find she has been gifted with godlike powers—and that her brother is missing, taken by the demons. A journey of self-discovery follows as Raji sets out to find her sibling, culminating in a confrontation with the great demon lord Mahabalasura, who wants the human realm for himself.
During the 2013 New Year’s Eve celebrations, Avichal Singh was visiting the state of Rajasthan in northern India when he was struck by an idea. Surrounded by the rich grandeur of ancient architecture and culture, he could not stop wondering about the possibility of creating a game rooted in India’s mythical past. The seed of his dream planted in the soil of his mind, Singh shared his ideas with Shruti Ghosh and Ian Maude, two artists he had met at design college. Early sketches and concept art were shown to close friends and family, meeting with great enthusiasm and awestruck responses that told the trio they had something special that could not be ignored. Quitting their jobs, they founded Nodding Head Games, the vehicle through which they hope to deliver their dream to the world.
“We’re making an original universe where the fragments of Hindu and Bali mythology are infused to keep an authentic look and feel,” Singh tells OnlySP in regard to Raji‘s lore. “For example, the face masks from Balinese culture can be found on most of the antagonists within the universe. Another example would be the weapons and the gods that are clearly inspired by Hindu mythology, though their abilities are original to the Raji universe.” Explaining that people can feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information when presented with ancient Hindu and Balinese legend, Singh says, “We choose the bits that interest us as well as fit within the scope of the game. We always provide our own twists and takes.”
Raji: An Ancient Epic features a hand-painted environment for players to explore as they battle demons using Raji’s god-gifted powers. Various weapons and abilities are available to choose from, allowing gamers to enjoy diversity and find a style of gameplay that works for each individual. Different types and subtypes of demons each have their own weapons, strategies, and ranks among the infernal army, providing an array of battles with everything from grunts to mini-bosses and epic fights against demonic lords. Each of Raji‘s multitude of levels was inspired by the medieval era forts built by Rajput kings of Rajasthan, providing the backdrop for both tightly-packed arenas and breathtaking views of the gameworld. Puzzle challenges in the shape of mandalas play a role in the game’s environmental storytelling, giving players small breaks between bouts of combat.
Any game with the sort of epic scope Raji entails has its fair share of challenges and tribulations during the creation process, but as Singh explains, these problems are multiplied when developers want to make a game in India. The country lacks governmental grants or tax breaks, and video games are a largely ignored part of the entertainment industry. According to Singh, “Playing or developing games is against the norm, not many people will understand what you’re doing. Because video games are against the norm, entrepreneurs in this field face personal challenges.”
“The pressure is always upon us,” Singh says. “The quality bar is set, and we have to best it.”
Those interested in Raji: An Ancient Epic can find out more details when the game’s Kickstarter page when it goes live on November 8.