Say what you will about 2016, but at least it’s been a heck of a year for games. January feels like about a decade ago, and with all the great releases since then it feels impossible to keep track. Here are some of the ones that stood out for us the most:
This game was hotly anticipated in the wake of its predecessor, Limbo, and the consensus around here is that the long wait was worth it. We loved Inside’s puzzles, its surprises, and its jaw-dropping polish. The only complaint Graham could manage was that he wished it let him spend more time in such a well-realized world.
Speaking of long-awaited followups — several Drinkboxers spent weeks trading notes and expressions of awe about the unyielding, intricate puzzles of The Witness. Said Graham, “I’ve been waiting to play this for years, and it definitely lived up to the hype. Some of the most satisfying puzzle solving I’ve ever felt in games. Now I guess we’ll have to wait another 7 years for Jon’s next masterpiece?”
Thumper proved every bit as intense and overstimulating a rhythm game as the trailers promised. David loved getting to play a fresh new take on this slightly calcified genre, especially such a lovely-looking and -sounding one.
Pony Island is the best playing-a-satanic-arcade-machine game we could have asked for. Graham called this ridiculous trip down the rabbit hole his biggest surprise of the year.
Hyper Light Drifter
Hyper Light Drifter draws you in with fantastic music and pixel art, then treats you to a mysterious adventure filled with intense, snappy combat. There’s no words, no nonsense, and the sum of it all just feels immediately classic.
Dark Souls 3
As enigmatic, melancholy and hellaciously tough as ever, Dark Souls 3 kept some of us in its sadistic grasp for a good while. Cuxo praised the game’s “haunting and memorable imagery”; David thought From’s ongoing refinements to the combat mechanics made it the best-feeling Souls game yet.
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Hey, I’m Ryan, a producer at Drinkbox Studios. The Blog Team has asked me to provide, for your reading pleasure (to use that expression loosely ;)), a summary of the steps we took working out our touch-screen controls for Severed on iOS.
Slashing, interacting with on-screen objects and player movement are all essential parts of the experience in Severed, and sometimes players alternate rapidly between moving and slashing / tapping objects.
On PS Vita, the game’s initial launch platform, slashing and object interaction was touch-based, while camera and player movement was controlled using the stick / d-pad. On touch-only devices, this posed a bit of a challenge.
The process for coming up with a control scheme that would work on iOS turned out to be non-trivial…there was a ton of playtesting, a few meetings with some UX experts, and a lot of internal head scratching.
In the end, our final iOS control scheme can be summarized as follows:
Click to enlarge
Tap middle: Move forward
Tap sides: 90-degree snap turn (quickly rotate camera to next cardinal angle)
Drag with two fingers: Look around (free-rotation of camera)
The middle tap-zone is slightly wider as a % of overall screen size for phones, narrower on tablets
A limited form of movement queuing is supported, allowing players to queue up their next tap-movement as the current movement approaches completion
Tappable pickup zones on most parts are a bit more generous on iOS than they were on PS Vita, making it harder to miss parts when tapping to pick them up
A very short cooldown period is applied after part pickups to prevent players from moving accidentally after tapping frantically to pick up parts
The length required for a slash to be considered ‘long’ is shorter on IOS, as a % of overall screen size, compared to PS Vita (with the difference being more substantial on tablets with larger screens)
Turns out what we thought would be a straight forward process ended up being much more of a challenge than what we had anticipated. The reception for the iOS controls was overall positive so let’s chalk that up as a success.
The original article can be found over at Gamasutra:
WHO: Augusto “Cuxo” Quijano, Concept Lead at Drinkbox Studios.
Hello, I’m Augusto. I present outlandish ideas to the very talented team at Drinkbox Studios, and usually (after much struggle) we end up with an amazing videogame. I’m responsible for pitching the world and characters for Guacamelee, and a crude version of what Severed became.
Severed’s Initial Internal Pitch Animatic
We’ve done a wide variety of games, starting with the stylish puzzle-platformers About a Blob and Mutant Blobs Attack!, to our most famous title, the mextroidvaniaGuacamelee!, but our latest endeavor Severed is in my opinion the weirdest of them all.
WHAT: THE DARKER IT GOES…
For those unfamiliar with Severed, it’s a combat/exploration game that plays like an old-school Dungeon Crawler, but with touch control swiping used for the battles.
One of the first things I settled on with Severed was that the story and the world should be a deeper dive (!) into the protagonist Sasha’s psyche. The atmosphere is all about mystery, death and loss, and the story centers around Sasha coming to terms with these, so you would naturally expect it to look dark and gloomy.
Severed’s setting in not conventional fantasy either, even though I love euro-centric folklore and have drawn more than my share of orcs and elves, I felt that if we’re making a fantasy world anyways, we didn’t need to be bound to pre-established mythologies. We could do anything we wanted.
We also wanted it to feel visceral; I wanted to stress the “tactile” feeling. I remember being young and turning the pages of an old atlas in my grandma’s house and not wanting to touch the pages with worms and salamanders. I thought it would be great feeling to have a bit of a repulsive aspect to the characters. But the problem: this could be really distracting and off-putting.
A couple of our programmers felt uneasy working on this enemy when we added the holes in the mushroom caps.
WHY: …THE BRIGHTER WE GO
How did we decide to tackle the problem of making this gross, sad game fun to experience? Making the art style bright and colourful softens the impact of both these things! The game stays visually appealing and varied. Plus it plays to our strengths.
We discovered that if we packaged these dark themes into a world built with simple shapes and bright colors (a style that comes natural to us if you know the studio’s history) we found that we could push the themes further.
Shroomster’s character design process
I’ll give you a concrete example with one of our enemies we call “Shroomster”.
The first thing is to get something– anything, and having it working in the game. Like an animated sketch that we can test in the game.
Then we had to adjust art direction. In the case of “Shroomster” the direction involved ‘less cupcake’ and ‘more boils, tadpole eggs, and spores’. We also wanted to adjust the color palette to be bright, but not as friendly. Ben Thomas did some explorations with this and we picked one.
We did a polish pass on the animation file. (Sometimes several iterations because of gameplay tuning).
The stylization is a tool for both the gameplay and the story. We didn’t want to dilute the gravity of the situation Sasha is dealing with, but our aim was to portray the weight of the situation, not the gore of it. It was important the character felt the consequences of what was going on, but the player was not put off by it all. It feels like a great victory when a player slashes a monster’s eye, then chops off its limbs amidst spraying blood, and comments, “This game is so pretty.”
But settling on a visual design wasn’t easy, it was a constant balance. We didn’t know with how much we could get away with. Sometimes we had to tone visuals back a bit because they became distracting, and sometimes we had to add more.
In a way, the mindset was to make it real for Sasha, I mean, when you first meet her in the game she has just lost her arm and is given a living blade by a mysterious dark figure. The game is not ‘friendly’, so thematically we couldn’t allow ourselves to pull punches. But in the execution of the game and the art style, the character’s journey was always the beacon, and when things distract from that you’re no longer serving the desired player experience.
Sasha, Severed’s protagonist
It was also a challenge to get the team in the same page. After wrapping up Guacamelee, it took a while to get the tone for Severed. This wasn’t a Saturday morning cartoon fantasy. Instead, this was a dark story about a character letting go of guilt, and accepting loss. That’s quite a switch! I praise the studio for having the guts to make such a dramatic tonal shift successfully.
It was a goal of mine to not end up with enemies that looked like orcs, or ogres, or humanoids for that matter, since a lot of times nobody challenges these conventions. I also found out why: It is way harder to make up new stuff than to go along with established ideas.
This was also a very technically challenging game to build. There was so much weight being carried by the enemy animations having to be so tied to the gameplay. At the end of the day, the game is about communicating the atmosphere and story clearly, but more importantly, the art and animation needed to communicate the rules of gameplay clearly. Simple shapes, clear animation, and leading the player’s eyes is what MUST work for players to have a smooth gameplay experience.
Sometimes I wonder if we should’ve just gone with ogres and axes instead of a robed creature with no eyes and arms on its head, that transforms to a split-faced horned demon with intestines hanging out and wings and arms…
…but it looks so pretty.
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With the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, I figured why not share some of the office’s favorite moments:
Mayuran: “They used Mario as the mascot for the next Olympics! That’s a scandal! It should have been sonic, who actually runs, and doesn’t take performance enhancing drugs! Ban mushroom kingdom! Send a message”
Background: With athletes and viewers exhausted, the closing ceremony for Rio2016 was passing off as expected…
Until Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe popped out of a giant green pipe dressed up as video game character Mario from the Super Mario games, one of Japan’s best-known exports.
Graham: “I didn’t realize how openly corrupt Olympic Boxing was. Definitely an eye-opening moment“
Irish bantamweight Michael Conlan controversially crashed out of the Olympics to complete a dismal Games for Ireland’s eight-strong boxing team.
Conlan appeared to do the better work in the opening round but all three judges gave it on a 10-9 scoreline to 2013 world championship silver medallist Nikitin.
Conlan’s highly contentious defeat comes after a hugely controversial decision in Monday’s heavyweight boxing final when another Russian Evgeny Tishchenko was given the verdict over Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit.
Alex: “My favorite part of olympics was our women’s soccer team. Nice that we won bronze, but mostly they represent a nice diversity of Canadian women.“
Deanne Rose and Christine Sinclair scored to give the Canadian women’s soccer team back-to-back Olympic bronze medals with Friday afternoon’s 2-1 victory over host Brazil.
The Canadians rushed the pitch to celebrate while the crowd, never wavering in its support, chanted for its team. Sinclair, for so long the face of Canadian soccer, was sobbing as organizers set up the podium for the medal presentation.
ChrisM: “Sometimes being a bully comes back to get ya“
France’s Aurelie Muller, wearing the white cap, has been stripped of her silver medal after she is seen grappling with Italy’s Rachele Bruni in what was an incredibly close finish to the Women’s 10km open-water swim…
The silver medallist of the women’s marathon 10km has been disqualified after she wrestled with another competitor who came third.
This week I thought it might be interesting for people to see what tools we use internally at the studio when working on a project. Over the years we’ve changed how we’ve communicated on a daily basis and track our work tasks. As Drinkbox grew, we adopted new practices – but as you’ll see, we also have stuck with some old school tools.
For daily communication we’ve recently started to use Slack – although Slack isn’t the perfect solution, we enjoy the ease at which we can break into teams and add media files. For me it provides an easy way to harass the art team, or pop over to the coders to see what are the newest memes. Also, my favorite channel is the #bookclub.
When Drinkbox wants to coordinate tasks at a high level we prefer to use Trello. The tool provides a simple way to pass tasks around to each other. We usually are much more active on Trello earlier in a project where having microscopic control over tasks isn’t all that important. Some of our pros include the drag-and-dropness, comments & image sharing capabilities.
As a project starts to enter final production / bug fixing we move over to the nitty gritty greatness of bugzilla. Although not the prettiest, bugzilla is a powerhouse in providing a multitude of ways for us to track bugs, asign bugs, and statistically evaluate how our bugs are being fixed.
Below is a list of bugs currently for the Severed project
Here is a really cool graph of our Severed bugs tracked over time – a lot of information can be gained seeing the # of new bugs found (hopefully decreasing) and the rate at which we’re fixing assigned bugs. For example you usually see a big spike up when a big QA pass happens, and big drops during intensive periods of production as we knock down tasks.
Hope you enjoyed your dose of insight into Drinkbox game production.
Hi, I’m Augusto (aka Cuxo) and once upon a time, I concepted a crazy game about loss, burden, sword fighting and a lot of purple.
We were wrapping up Guacamelee and a few ideas had begun to nag at me, like a stone in your shoe. Every game idea is different and has a different process, for Severed I was making thumbnails and notes on post its and loose paper, until one week I realized I had enough notes to make a short/crude video of this game.
And that’s what I want to share with you today! This is the very first version of Severed (called Slash, or rather “/”, back then) and this is what I e-mailed my colleagues at DrinkBox one Sunday midnight.
(Dated, Jan 27, 2013)
Over the last little while I’ve had some ideas stuck in my head from the game pitch meetings we had a while back. So there’s something about it that I couldn’t just ignore, so this week I made a little sort of video thing because it was bugging me.
Please forgive the crudeness and some of the unimaginative designs
I don’t know if it would be good or useful, but i couldn’t resist, for my own peace of mind
Fast forward to today and I couldn’t feel more proud about the game we made. Super challenging, unique and vibrant.
Just got back from E3 showing off Severed on iOS devices and the WiiU/3DS so figured I should write something up.
Apparently what I was going to write about has already been scooped by Kotaku (dem scoops). In a nutshell, there is an interesting theory that E3 is trying to block out the Devolver “anti-E3” booth across the street. What I can add to this amusing story is that it must be incredibly hard to setup trailers in such an awkward manner – you really need a good reason to do it in such a way…
But turf wars aside – just wanted to give a thanks to the Indie Mega Booth and Devolver for providing a great space to chat about Severed while simultaneously providing a break from the E3 floor. We had space in a very hip Airstream trailer – courtesy IMB & Devolver – and also at picnic benches situated within a beer garden (again, generously provided by Devolver). I must admit, it is very civil to sit down with a beer to chat about one’s game versus standing in the loud throngs of E3. Solid job Devolver.
Indie Mega Booth Airstream trailer available for developers to privately show off their game.
Alright folks. This blog post is not the usual long winded diatribe you’d come to expect from me. Instead we have glorious gifts of information, and a barrage of media to assault your senses.
SEVERED RELEASE DATE:
We’re excited to announce that Severed will be released April 26th, 2016 on PlayStation Vita on for $14.99 (or €14.99/£11.99). PS+ subscribers can also expect a 10% discount during the launch week. (/highfives)
I love the track that’s been made for this trailer!
SEVERED OST AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW
Composed by the Juno nominated YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN and special guests Pantayo AVAILABLE HERE
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Hi all! Augusto, Graham and me just got back from GDC 2016 and we’re here present some cool games we saw:
The best game at GDC this year was Line Wobbler.
For those unfamiliar with Line Wobbler (e.g. most people), it’s a physical installation made up of an ultrabright LED strip connected to a springy joystick. The game is described as a 1-D RPG. You play as a dot that’s climbing up the line, that has to deal with threats like enemies (red dots), lava (yellow blocks) and a bunch of other interesting hazards. You dot has a “wobble” attack that is invoked by releasing the springy joystick so that it wobbles around.
A lot of games at GDC 2016 were noteworthy, but the one I’m most excited about is Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn. Not only the 1-bit art direction is impeccable, the games he makes play like no other. Just like its aesthetics, the gameplay and narrative have depth in its simplicity. The game guides the player elegantly through its mysterious setting: an 1800 cargo ship with a missing crew. With the aid of an equally mysterious device, you can transport to the time of the crew member’s deadly fates.
Part detective story, part ghost ship, the somber atmosphere puts death at the center in a way not even shooters with 100 headshots a minute can do.
I don’t like heights. Standing on ledges makes my stomach fall onto the floor. I think that’s why I got such a kick out of the VR game The Climb. At first it started off fairly straight forward – players use the shoulder buttons on a controller to move their hands from one hand hold to another. The real shocker took place when I spent a moment to look over my shoulder to see that there was a LONG drop behind me. My heart started to race and I had to take a moment to remind myself it wasn’t real. I’ve become sold on VR because I keep on having little conversations like this in my head when playing such games. It feels really really fresh and unfortunately means I’ll be one of those (sucker?) early adopters.