Link Dump Friday №254
Well hi-diddly-ho reader-inos! It's time for another Link Dump Friday, and I don't mind telling you I'm glad to see the weekend roll around! But first, there's something you should know...
Super Time Devouring Bros You! What are you doing right now? Haha, you're so wrong, because version 2.0 of the smash hit Super Mario Bros Crossover was just released over at Exploding Rabbit, and that's all you're going to be doing for the foreseeable future. The game, which classes up ye olde Super Mario Bros from the NES era with several classic gaming icons as new playable characters complete with their own unique abilities and play styles, received a considerable amount of love from players everywhere. So what's in the new update? Well, to name a few things, two new playable characters, a power-up system, and skinnable graphics. Check out the version history for the specifics, and then get your retro on.
Play it Again, Indie Sam Music is, to me, a make-or-break part of the gaming experience, and a really amazing soundtrack that's distinctive and memorable can be hard to come by. Unless, of course, you hit up the Indie Game Music Bundle 2 and pick up five beautiful soundtracks to your favourite indie games on a pay-what-you-want honor system. Anything over ten bucks nets you eight additional soundtracks (with more potentially on the way if sales continue), but I'm sure you're a fine connoisseur of tunes who wasn't thinking of paying anything less for this hard work and creative genius, right? Right. So hit them up within the next week to pick up some beautiful music and support some great artists in the process.
Ha Ha! The Fine Has Been Doubled! Holy frijoles Batman! Tim Schafer, founder of venerable game studio Double Fine Productions, probably didn't expect to see his Kickstarter project funded in eight hours after it was posted. Especially since he wanted four hundred grand. Never underestimate the power of a fan base who knows just how talented you are, however; Schafer promised to develop a classic point-and-click adventure game to be released in October of 2012 if he received enough funding. Well, surprise! Double Fine has not only met but shattered their goal in a third of a day, and as of this writing the total stands at $801,629. Seriously? Seriously! If you still want to donate or just want to learn more, hit up the official page
Extreme Home Makeover: Torchlight Edition The site for Torchlight 2 got a redesign this week. Yes, some of us are that desperate for news about the sequel to 2009's incredibly addictive action-RPG original that even this makes us prick up our ears in hopeful anticipation, like a dog watching their owner carry a platter of freshly carved turkey to the dinner table. Yeah, we're probably not going to get any yet, but MAYBE. There are actually some new screenshots to check out, some additional artwork, and more general greatness to keep you salivating. Fans of the original should definitely be excited since Torchlight 2 promises to keep everything you loved while adding in character creation/customisation, online multiplayer, and more. Who's excited? We're excited.
Games as Smart Clever and funny gaming icons Extra Credits haven't technically done anything immediately newsworthy this week apart from releasing a new episode in their online series as they always do, but I want to talk about them so I am going to. If you're not watching Extra Credits, you really should be; this free series of videos released weekly by the immensely talented trio of James, Allison, and Daniel examines games of all kinds from every angle you could imagine. Discussing design, specific titles, industry, the audience, reviewers, and even concepts like sex, art, microtransactions, and much, much, more, the series is as informative as it is funny. You can easily lose an entire afternoon catching up on episodes (as I have) and come away feeling thoughtful and informed. They're just very talented people, so you should absolutely check them out and get thinking about your games a little more deeply. Whether you're a designer, a producer, or even just a player, they prove that any topic can be fascinating if you approach it the right way.
Interview! Continue reading for an interview with Lucas Paakh!
Foxes, fish, and fairyflies... these are just a few of the things that the multitalented Lucas Paakh is responsible for. Most people know him as the creative mind behind the stunning and relaxing William and Sly 1 2, which captured the adoration of our readers with their heady blend of subtle mythology, open exploration, and captivating gameplay. We reached out to find out more about how he works, and what his plans are for the future.
The release of William and Sly 2 thrilled a lot of our community members for good reason. The original was one of the most popular games on the site for a long time, and everyone loved the free-roaming exploration and beautiful visuals. What do you think you learned from the creation of that game and the feedback you received from players for it? How did player feedback influence William and Sly 2? The first William and Sly has easily been my most successful game both in terms of profits and popularity, so I decided not to mess with the basic formula too much on the second one. I don't think I got one positive review about "that damned ghost snake at the end" or the darklings, so removing the enemies was probably a direct result of player reviews, haha.
If I'm being honest, though, I actually wanted to make a very different game from the first one. The game I had in mind was more level based with enemies that didn't attack you but just hindered your progress a bit. I was going to do something more like a fighting game with movement combos and a kind of wrestling mechanic. In the end I realized it wouldn't have played to the same audience and people would have been disappointed.
I've always been a bit surprised that the first one was so successful, though. When I released it I didn't like it at all; the whole thing felt like a tech demo to me. There really isn't a lot to do in the game, if you think about it. It's an empty world with a lot of secret passages that don't even hint their own existence and a main objective that's basically a fetch quest. I thought people were going to call me out for focusing on the graphics too much and doing nothing else. A few people did, but it was only a few and no one seemed to agree with them.
I really tried to add more to the second one to make it worth playing, but it was difficult. Without a lot of action there aren't many rewards you can give the player aside from more items. I thought the story would make the journals more worthwhile, at least, but I still failed to find a good purpose for the mushrooms. People still search for them though, lol! I guess if you dangle a carrot (or mushroom) people will get hungry for it.
In addition to being a game developer, you're an artist and something of a musician as well! Do you prefer any sort of creative outlet (music, art, or game design) over the other, or find comes more "naturally" to you? Between sound and visual, which is the most important to a game in your opinion? I don't think I like any specific type of art the best. I do a lot of dabbling, and I think if I tried to focus in on one specific thing it would get boring pretty quickly. I tend to look at everything the same way, though, so you might say I'm doing one thing a lot of different ways, haha. I feel like when I learn something in one medium, I can apply it to other things, too.
A good example of this sort of thing happened when I was learning to paint. I always really hated abstract art and all the paintings I did were meant to be realistic. (I say meant to be because I wasn't very good, haha...) After a while I realized I was just being stubborn, so I did a bunch of experimental abstract paintings and finally realized how to paint because of it. You might say ALL paintings are abstract, and some of them just have clearer references.
I'd been spending all my time painting these neat little bits of color - where this little bit is supposed to be the arm of a person, and this little bit is supposed to be the coat they're wearing - that I totally missed the overall picture. Paint is messy and squishy and doesn't make neat lines. You have to kind of dance with it and let the colors smoosh into each other. You can't paint the leaves on the tree or the fingers on the person, you can only paint colorful masses; if they suggest things, then you're painting "realistically." There are rarely any "objects" in a painting. Things just kind of disappear into each other and our minds make the lines for us.
Anyway, when I went back to write music after all this I realized layering instruments together worked the same way. You can't develop a bunch of synths on their own and then just slap them together. You're really only making one sound wave in the song and each instrument is just adding harmonics. You have to think about it as a whole thing, one scene or one sound.
So then, as far as games go, I think everything is important. To me, if the game doesn't play well, no one's going to see the graphics, and if it's wonderfully open and free but has nothing to see, people will get frustrated with the size rather than interested by it. I think graphics and music play a big part in William and Sly, but that's because the game is supposed to be about feeling free and running around in a wild place. If there wasn't an environment, there wouldn't be much of a game. In a game like tetris, graphics and sound don't matter a great deal because the game is driven by the gameplay rather than the environment.
William and Sly probably has some of the best relaxing, open-world exploration around in both games. How do you go about designing a world and an adventure that big? Was there any particular challenge you encountered in creating a world you knew players were going to be running around willy-nilly in, and still making it feel like a coherent game so the player wouldn't feel lost? It's actually pretty easy to make an open game like William and Sly. It's probably the way it is because I don't like making menus, haha. No need for a level select in an open world, you know? For both games I basically just started at the left and went right. I made myself a pretty cool level editor where I can just paint the level in with the mouse as I steer around with the WASD keys, so the hardest part is probably making the tiles. I've gotten pretty fast at drawing them after doing three games with the tile system, though.
My main worry has always been "is it big enough." You just have to tell yourself to stop at some point. After I get sick of looking at it I usually figure I've made enough level and I can extend the game with a puzzle or something if it's too short. With a sandbox game, though, people will end up finishing at all different times. I'm sure I could do a lot more planning, but I've never bothered. I like to just freeball it and see what happens. It's easy enough to change a piece of the level I don't like.
For a platformer, I think the most important thing to think about is the lyrical quality of the jumps. I always loved playing the Donkey Kong Country games because you can just blast through a level and every cliff and enemy is perfectly placed for you to go through without stopping. I learned early on in the first William and Sly that the key was removing anything that stopped momentum. You just lay out a bit of level, then play it to see if there's anywhere to snag on a wall or a cliff. I usually play it through from all directions because I know people will be running back and forth.
Another important aspect is repetition. I tend to lay out jumps in threes, like, left-right-left, or up-up-up. If it repeats too much, it's frustrating, and if it doesn't repeat enough, it's not lyrical. There aren't any hard rules though besides keeping momentum, though. You just have to play it and see how it feels. After I released the first one everyone said they really liked the controls, but I think that really meant they liked the level design.
While Azurefish didn't receive quite as strong a reception as William and Sly, it still shared the same free-flowing gameplay and huge, imaginative world. Is there any chance you might revisit the game or at least that surreal underwater setting at some point in a future game? Is there anything in particular you learned from that as opposed to William and Sly? I really liked doing the underwater environment, so I might revisit that at some point. The main criticism I got on Azurefish was that it was hard to navigate the level since half the passageways are behind the environment graphics. I think I just went overkill on it. It's kind of sad, though since the mechanic was actually pretty interesting. One of the sponsors I talked to wanted me to do a game that was completely based around the jumping mechanic. I might do that sometime in the future.
William and Sly 2 is without a doubt and amazing game and you clearly deserve to rest on your laurels for a while with that one... but of course we want more! What sort of plans do you have for the future in terms of game creation? Are there any types of games you haven't tried your hand at yet that you might like to?
I don't really know what I'm gonna do next yet. I tend to spend a few months floating around various ideas until one suddenly solidifies. I might do some smaller games for fun, though.