Retro Power Issue 8: Pop Con Special
GREETINGS READERS! We just got back from the second annual Indy Pop Con. Ok, that is a bit of a fib, it took place on the last weekend in June. We did however attend the con, and had a blast. Both of us attended the inaugural Pop Con last year, and were excited to attend as members of the press this year. That’s right, we are going to bring you some highlights of our favorite parts, and some interviews. We hope you enjoy reading about the con as much as we enjoyed attending it.
Val’s Pop Con Reflections:
After attending Pop Con last year, I definitely wanted to go back! It was my very first convention experience, & I am now addicted. For this year, it felt like they broadened the interest-net even more, so you could find all sorts of interesting things, both familiar & new. They cut down on the mass-produced merchandise booths, the stuff I’d easily find in a store or online if I wanted, & instead brought in more grassroots products to show off. I really thought that was the best decision ever, perfectly in line with my interests.
There was a nice easily-distinguishable section for game devs! There was an arcade area raising money for the local children’s hospital! There was a stage just for recording podcasts! There were even movies being played! I’ll admit, only one of the celebrity guests drew my interest, but that celebrity was JOHN DE LANCIE who is FANTASTIC. He gave us the “number” (that’s what he called the web address) to check out an upcoming Star Trek game for mobile, so if that’s your jam, click here.
I did also attend Troy Baker’s panel, that’s a name you may recognize if you’re into modern games. The only work of his with which I’m familiar is his part in Mass Effect 3, but apparently a lot of people care a lot about a lot of other games he’s been involved in. He’s a talented voice actor, & he seemed like a pretty great guy!
The two games-in-development that were most exciting to me out of all of the ones I saw at Indy Pop Con would be Ira (point-&-click story-driven puzzle-solving, all in a fun & beautiful setting) & Codemancer (you actually learn about how to code, all while having fun in an imaginative & appealing fantasy world as a magical young girl)– I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out those links! I felt pretty captivated by them, in a way that 99% of modern games don’t reach me.
Alex’s Pop Con Reflections:
It is probably a secret to no one that a strong first act is hard to follow. As soon as I got home from the 2014 Indy Pop Con, I could not wait to attend again. My excitement turned to concern when I didn’t see any updates about the 2015 Pop Con even late into the year. It wasn’t until mid February of this year that the Con was officially announced. Needless to say, I was hesitantly excited about the upcoming event. As I scanned through the featured guests, I quickly realized that I hardly recognized any of them. It wasn’t a huge deal because I knew there was still a good time to be had. I was right, for the most part. See, while the first year at Pop Con contained a lot of high energy and excitement, this year I had far less energy. Much of which is due to just the type of year I have had. That being said, I would argue that pound for pound this year’s con was just as fun as last year’s if not on a much smaller scale. As I talked about in my reflection from last year I found more enjoyment in the personal interactions than anything else. That’s not to say there weren’t attractions that caught my eye.
Let me start from the beginning, or close to it. I arrived at the convention center housing Pop Con at around 6:00pm on the first day. After jumping through a few hoops to get my press badge, I found Val and was off to the the main floor. The first thing that struck me was just how claustrophobic everything felt compared the previous year. I couldn’t tell if it was a different setup, more vendors, or a combination of both. After meandering around for a while I decided to make good on the offer we received to judge some independent games. The winner of that night’s judgment would receive a prize of $10,000. Val stuck around for a little bit while I tried to decide my opinion on the games. She proved to be quite helpful in that she got some of the games’ details that I neglected. I was bit too preoccupied with playing games, so I appreciated her help. All of the notes I took on each game were turned into the judges panel unfortunately. I do however have some recollections of a game called Impulse. It is a free old-school hardcore space shooter, that can be played in your browser right now.
After I finished deciding what games were worthy of consumption, I met up with Val who had left to attend a panel. I caught the tail end of a talk on storytelling in games. It sounded like it had been an interesting topic. After that wrapped up, the Awkward Twitter Mingle ”panel” began. I put panel in quotes because it was more of a meet and greet. It was basically a away to make offline connections with online friends. After a while the main conversation somehow devolved into candy babies, and that is all I will say about that subject. Since it was a meet and greet I did meet some new people, including Jessica. She actually made the next thing we attended much easier to sit through.
After the awkward twitter mingle, Jessica joined Val and myself in attending a panel on Pokemon Myths. It sounded like an interesting topic, but there were a few problems. First off, the presenter did not speak into the microphone half of the time, so he was hard to hear. Secondly, he was too much of a ‘nice guy’ for crowd control. An audience kid who could not have been older than 8 took it upon himself to crack the same joke about 50 times, thus interrupting the poor man’s presentation. I could nearly feel waves of rage emanating from Val who was sitting to my left. I paid about half attention to the presentation, opting instead to have a side conversation with Jessica. We discussed whether or not some of the Pokemon theories were correct, our street passes and of course the episode of the Pokemon anime in which James kicks his Magikarp. The panel itself may not have been the best, but fun times were had regardless.
Thus ended the first night of Pop Con.
On Saturday I had but a few simple goals. First, find a birthday present for my brother. Second, win a shirt from a game booth I had visited previously. Third, interview some game developers. Right off the bat after we arrived on the main showroom floor I lost Val. I got scared, real scared. Not scared for her, I was scared for myself. I don’t know if I have shared this publicly, but I can be quite shy. After wandering around scared for a little while I remembered that I had a t shirt to win. I was promised by the developers of the wonderful game Text Quest a t shirt if I beat their game demo. I was up for the challenge, because I always love a free shirt. It didn’t take me long to complete the demo and claim my prize.
It was not until a little while later that I realized I had lost something quite valuable to me. My microphone. Without my microphone I would not be able to record the interviews I had later in the day. On top of that, I knew it would be expensive to replace it. So I retraced my steps back to the game booth I was at earlier. The guys there had seen the microphone and had turned it in to lost and found. After tracking down where exactly that was, I was reunited with my lost microphone. It was really nice to see just how honest some exhibitors and staff at a place like Pop Con can be.
Alex got the chance to chat with a few indie game developers. It may seem a bit odd to talk about indie games on a retro gaming site, but these games are steeped in classic gaming. The first person Alex interviewed was Carol Mertz, the narrative designer and character artist for the upcoming game SmuggleCraft.
Alex: Tell me a little bit about Smuggle Craft.
Carol Mertz: Smuggle Craft is a game where you play a smuggler in a quest-based procedurally- (or randomly-) generated hovercraft racing game. It features both single player and multiplayer modes, and right now in the demo the multiplayer features couch co-op with split screen. The single player is a little more story-centric. You’re gonna be picking a quest, running through the story and learning a little more about the world around you.
Alex: Ok, so that answers my next question, as to what the title refers to.
Carol: *laughs* Yeah, you play as a smuggler, and drive a hovercraft. Also there is a crafting mechanic where you can craft and customize parts of your ship.
Alex: You told me in the email that Smuggle Craft was inspired by the classics. So what classic games have inspired Smuggle Craft?
Carol: So we played a lot of Podracer *laughs*, F-Zero, a lot of people say it feels like Wipeout. A lot of those old classic racers, that we feel have not been done justice since they were around. A lot of people wish a game could recapture some of the feeling of the games I listed, and when people play SmuggleCraft they kind of have that sense of nostalgia. Even though this is something totally new, they have that warm fuzzy feeling in their guts, ya know?
Alex: It’s interesting you brought up Podracer, and F-Zero. I think Mario Kart is emulated more often than those two games.
Carol: That’s exactly the idea. Those were great games (Podracer and F-Zero). We just realized that most people do tend to recreate games like Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing. The circuit kart racers, where you’ve got all four tires on the ground. We wanted to do something that was familiar, but at the same time different and fun enough that you had to re-master it. With the hovercraft system, we actually added a strafe mechanic, so you can strafe left and right as well as steer. It adds an extra sense of freedom you don’t have when you have all four tires on the ground.
Alex: So are there any specific elements you borrowed from the classic games you named?
Carol: The Podracer element is that the game is really really difficult. If you lose while you’re racing you’re out. There is no respawn like in Mario Kart. There is no Lakitu dropping you back on the track. You’re just out. That poses a pretty great challenge that makes it that much more exciting when people win. We notice a lot of people will cheer each other on, and just really get hyped at the end of a race because it is so difficult just to finish.
Alex: What games or developers made you want to get into game design?
Carol: Oh wow. That’s a big question. So we really were inspired by Nintendo and Sega. All three of us are business partners at Happy Badger Studio.
Alex: Just the three of you?
Carol: There’s there of us (here), and then we have two employees back in St. Louis. So there are five of us total. But between the three of us when we got together, Dana was a huge Genesis player, while Ben and I both played a lot of Nintendo. We were both really inspired by Miyamoto. We were also really inspired by the classics like Mario and Zelda. Those were just kind of what warmed us up to making games. After we saw how inspiring and unique indie games can be, how many different kinds of stories they can tell and how they can push the bar with gameplay and graphics, we figured we could do almost anything. That was really exciting to us, because we’re all so inspired by art in general and wanted to play and see how we could merge the worlds to the best of our ability and tell stories while still creating really neat worlds and great experiences.
Alex: I know nothing about game design. Were all of the versions of the games designed at the same time? Or was one version made then ported to other systems? Along the same lines, was it hard to develop for Linux? My brain is telling me something about open GL.
Carol: *laughs* So the game was actually developed in Unity. Which is pretty industry standard. You can essentially develop it once, and port it to each platform while only having to tweak for button configuration.
Alex: So you think it is probably easier nowadays than maybe 10 years ago?
Carol: Yeah, we already have really solid graphics engines like Unity, or Unreal. Resources like those make it easy for developers to publish to multiple platforms instead of redevelop and work from the ground up.
Look for SmuggleCraft in early 2016 on PC, Mac, Linux and PS4.
The next developer Alex talked with was Dave Welch from Experimental Gamer. Boot Hill Bounties, the game he presented, seemed both familiar and fresh.
Alex: Right off the bat, the game reminds me of Earthbound. Was that intentional? What other games have influenced this one?
Dave: This game was made by people who love classic Super Nintendo RPGs, like Earthbound, Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. We kind of wanted to revive the things we loved about those games, but at the same time add new features that we like, such as multiplayer co-op.
Alex: Were there any specific elements from that you borrowed from the games that inspired you?
Dave: The look and feel, pacing, and cutscenes were all influenced by Final Fantasy. I really like how the creators of Final Fantasy cut down the dialogue and made the story points hit. The letterbox rooms are from Earthbound. Also the perspective of the gameplay is borrowed from Earthbound as well. You can see the front and sides of the buildings.
Alex: I noticed the combat is first person.
Dave: The combat is actually more unique. It is first person, but it is not turned based. It is command based and real time. And I’d be glad to show you how it works.
Alex: Since the game is Western themed, did you throw in any staples of or nods to the Western movie genre?
Dave: Yes, all of them. Probably by the last game of this saga is finished there won’t be one western trope that hasn’t been used. It’s a fun challenge, because we wanted to make a straight forward western. It’s not a weird west, it’s not a supernatural demon-filled west. It’s just taking traditional RPG things, and instead of having dragons and wizards you have grizzly bears and outlaws. You don’t fight anything that isn’t plausibly real.
Alex: What did you learn by making Boot Hill Heroes (the game to which Boot Hill Bounties is a sequel)?
Dave: I learned how to scale things. I learned how to focus. In the first game I tried to do a whole lot, and I learned that I should do just a little bit and do it really well. For example I made the town huge, because I thought there would be a lot to do. But instead I found that people were bored with it. So I cut it down by 50%, but it still didn’t feel tight enough. So I cut it down another 50%. All that to say is I have learned what to focus on in Boot Hill Bounties.
Alex: What else has changed between games?
Dave: There are a lot of new features. So people who have played the first game are familiar with the vantage system that allows you to wear different hats which allows you to learn different moves. That system has changed a little bit. You now get combat bonuses, so that keeps things interesting in co-op. For example, if you never miss an enemy, or get too many critical hits, you’ll get VP at the end of battle which helps you learn new moves. So it is competitive, but it helps you earn achievements in that you learn new moves quicker.
Alex: Are there any plans to port the game to other systems? I don’t have a PC or an Xbox.
Dave: There are plans, but I can’t say anything at this point.
A few of our great readers wrote in to tell us about their love of modern indie games! Here’s their input:
The thing I love about indie games is that they are not bound by customer or shareholder expectations and allow for more experimentation. This often leads to a more unique game with a lot of the developer’s personality in it. Off the top of my head there are two indie games that I really enjoyed and I’ve played over and over again. The first is Fixation, a Flash puzzle platformer with a deep story about overcoming obstacles in life. The second is Digital: A Love Story which is a visual novel with a compelling love story that takes place entirely in the Amiga Workbench. While it makes me sad that these games will never reach as large an audience as their commercial counterparts, I realize these games are meant for a smaller audience. Not everyone would enjoy them. Fortunately, there is an indie game for everyone.
Oh, gosh. How’s about a long list? Braid, Guacamelee! Gold Edition, Xibalba, Rogue Legacy, Bastion, Super Mario Bros. Crossover, Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures, Abobo’s Big Adventure, Volgarr the Viking, Hammerwatch.
There’s loads more.
These are the ones I spend countless hours in and keep coming back to.
1. The Binding of Isaac (orginal) (148 hours)
2. Terraria (96 hours)
3. Don’t Starve (56 hours)
4. Orcs Must Die (17 hours)
5. Sword of the Stars The Pit (15 hours)
All of these games are worth buying at full price and sale.
-Fredrik The Hunter
Ah, there’s so many. A couple favourites are The Swapper, a puzzle platformer, and The Fall, an adventure game, both of which are set in space (best setting). I also really like the Blackwell series of adventure games, and the survival sim This War of Mine.
Thomas Was Alone,
Since 1 More Castle will be going offline, this is our last official article. We will be posting a finale article soon, with some of our thoughts and feelings about the site. Thanks everyone for helping make this such a fun community to be a part of.