Videogames have gotten a lot nicer in recent years, and simpler too. The industry itself is a much bigger deal than it was in the past, and disproportionately more profitable.
Transmission is the first game by Pasadena-based studio Paper Unicorn Games. The goal is simple: You wake up on a mysterious planet with no memory of how you got there. Players will uncover the planet’s secrets as they search for a way home. The game’s aesthetic is very reminiscent of classic sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Blade Runner. The style is bolstered by a stunning, completely hand-painted art style and exploration-based gameplay. The studio is currently running a Kickstarter campaign where it is looking for $84,000 in funding.
CGMagazine sat down with Nathaniel West, the art and creative director at Paper Unicorn Games, to talk about the ambitious title.
Nathaniel West: We were officially founded at the start of this year. Before that, it was a bit more informal. Chris Page (the lead programmer) and I have been a two-man crew working on and off together for the past year or so. We have a number of freelancers doing animations, modeling, music, etc. that pop in from time to time as needed.
CGM: What has the development process been like?
W: It’s been very fluid and dynamic. I’m a concept artist by trade, so the art and design side is natural. But the gaming side has been a huge learning curve. Thankfully, Chris has worked on some big projects, ranging from military projects to XCOM and other games. He’s very well versed in development and is a great asset to have in that he is a designer and creative mind as well. Initially, I had the idea for the game, but once Chris came onboard the game has begun to tell us what it wants to be. It’s very organic and we are enjoying the process of exploring how all of the components in the game fit together.
W: Game development is very hard in general. It takes a long time to balance things, and the biggest struggle has been juggling so many components with such a small team. It means you have to wear many hats, and each day you might be doing 4 or 5 different types of jobs.
CGM: What inspired the decision to go with a hand-painted art style?
W: It really came naturally for me, since I do concept art for a living. I really wanted an excuse to paint environments in order to set a tone through art. I don’t see much of that done in games, but when I do see it, I’m always really inspired by that handcrafted quality.
CGM: You guys mentioned in your Kickstarter that some of your influences include classic sci-fi movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. Was there anything that you guys were suddenly inspired by mid-development, or was it all laid out from the start?
W: I ended up watching Ex Machina midway through, and I think that movie was brilliant in terms of tone and story. It definitely reinforced the tone and vibe we’re shooting for. Beyond that, we’re always inspired by photography and artwork that we come across. What’s nice about design projects is that your personal life creeps into them so random things that impact you can make it into a project. The project ends up being a collage of all of these influences that are important to you during that time. Ideas branch off into new ideas, and so forth, so the project ends up evolving and changing until the very end. It tends to be an adventure in itself!
W: For me, a lot of the technical aspects had to be learned from the beginning. Now that we’re midway through, a lot of our issues are balancing the game mechanics. We have to try things to see what elements fit together and which don’t work. Currently, we’re doing a lot of assessment on how our mechanics reinforce the tone of the story, and editing out things that may be cool but end up detracting from the main theme. Sometimes less truly is more powerful. I imagine that even the most hardened veteran learns something new on each project they work on because no two are ever alike and they always have unique problems to solve.
CGM: Jeremiah Pena’s score really helps convey the feeling of isolation you guys are going for with the game. Was he someone you guys always looked at to create the sound?
W: I heard Jeremiah’s music, and asked him to write the trailer score for us. In one shot, he nailed it. I really felt something special and knew that he should continue on as the game’s composer. He’s got a very filmic sense to his music and a vast knowledge of musical references that have been really key to where this soundtrack is heading.
W: There are a lot of similarities in terms of the design process between films and games. You begin with gathering photo references; start sketching out ideas, and then rough in some concepts. Then those end up evolving into more refined ideas. Where it starts to differ is in the output. The environments you create, for example, impact the pacing of the game and therefore the player’s feelings towards it. There is more weight on spatial design in games because a player can walk around an environment completely, rather than just witness it from one specific angle that is chosen in a film.
Paper Unicorn hopes to complete Transmission by late 2017. More information on the game can be seen on their Kickstarter page.
As someone who only dabbled in Mega Man games in my childhood, I played both the originals and the X series before digging into the spiritual successor by original character designer Keiji Inafune.
The vision of a platformer “rare-vival” is becoming much more clear, and now, we get our first real look at what we’ll get to play come 2017.
It may not be the bear and bird, but the lizard and bat are really shaping up to take their spots as platforming superstars.
We Happy Few was one of my personal standout games from Pax East 2015. It innovated on the first person survival style game by not only introducing a drug-fueled, Mod-inspired dystopian England but did it all within a procedurally generated world that would change with each playthrough.
Pyschonauts 2 has officially met its 3.3 million dollar funding goal, marking it as one of the highest crowdfunded videogames ever.
Fig, Double Fine and the videogame community have made history with the Psychonauts 2 crowdfunding campaign which achieved the largest campaign goal for a videogame ($3.3M). The goal was reached through a combination of reward and investment backing.
In a press release CEO of Fig, Justin Bailey said “The Psychonauts 2 campaign is the first video game crowdfunding campaign to allow unaccredited individuals to invest in the development and publishing of a video game and share in the earnings. This is the first of many campaigns that will allow everyone to financially share in a game, making it a true community experience.”
Tim Schafer also released a statement saying, “We’re so grateful to our backers for giving us this chance to continue the story of Raz and the Psychonauts. Knowing that they will be able to participate as investors in the game makes the whole thing feel more fair and more rewarding,” Along with the statement, Schafer released a video thanking all the supporters.
While it’s good to see a cult-classic like Psychonauts getting a much-deserved sequel, I’m still leery of these huge crowdfunding projects. In the initial video for the Psychonauts 2 campaign, Schafer details that the initial sales for Pyschonauts on Xbox was around 500,000, while the re-released updated version sales were double; 1,217,761 units sold to be exact. Much like the Shenmue 3 campaign, it seems odd to me that big name companies are still demanding for our money up-front, making us prove to them that we want a game, despite the overwhelming evidence that the want is there.
Recently announced We Happy Few by Quebec developer Compulsion games, is hard to describe, even though it is easy to understand. The game is a procedurally generated post-apocalyptic survival game set in a retro-future Britain. It’s a fist person survival game taking cues from games such Don’t Starve and Bioshock with a hint of Fallout for good measure. We Happy Few teleports the player to an incredibly happy all be it, incredibly creepy London. Everyone in the world is happy, wearing masks to show just how happy they really are. What could be a simple adventure game, under the surface is something far more interesting.
Starting the demo off, you wake up in a bunker. There is no clue how you got there, or what you have to do in this world. Supplies are scattered around the room and in cabinets, but there is little clue what you will need to do with everything. As you get your bearings on the world, a 50s style TV personality comes onto the TV. He talks to everyone in the city about how they must be happy. He makes very strange demands on the population and makes vague threats on what would happen if people do not comply. It is clear this personality has something to do with the control of the world, although little is clear to the extent his power spreads.
Moving out of the bunker into the real world, you witness a screaming man come running towards you, a masked bobby strikes him down before greeting you in a pleasant cordial tone. No one seems to find this incident strange, although it is clear something is very off within this city. The developers at Compulsion games indicated that everyone in this world is drugged up on an odd cocktail of narcotics. You, the player, are only just now becoming sober, so the true horror is starting to become clear. Everyone is living in a drug fueled haze, unaware of what is going on or what decay the city has fallen under.
The city is procedurally generated, so players as they explore will all experience a new and interesting series of events. That all works with the overall premise of the game. Unlike many first person games such as Bioshock, Fallout, the object of the game is not to kill the other people of the town, but to survive and eventually escape the city. To do this you will need to explore the city and scavenge it for supplies, all while trying to mask the fact you are sober to the other members of the city.
Now these drugs don’t just make people “joyful,” they also have the fun side effect of making people psychotic if anyone breaks their idealistic state. If you manage to do anything odd or abnormal, the population will get angry and attack. Jumping, running, or exploring for supplies will all alert people to your true nature, so you have to ensure you keep yourself looking as docile and bland as possible.
Although We Happy Few is taking tried and true concepts, the way they are implementing them all, just works. It is rewarding to be able to evade the people of a town as you slowly try to find your way through the goals. The fact the first person mechanics are being used in a way that promotes exploration rather than killing is also a nice touch. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite presented a world that begged to be explored, yet when it really came down to gameplay, more focus was put on the killing and fighting then it was on the world building and exploration. Diving into the dark past of a story at the pace introduced in this story is something that only interactive fiction can allow, and it seems Compulsion games will be using this to the fullest. Already there are hints of a truly unique experience, and it is still very early on.
We Happy Few is a game that should spark the imagination. If all the ideas come together in the final release it may give players a slew of ways to explore and live in the dystopian future that compulsion games have built. Right now, the game is in pre-alpha, and the team is looking for feedback on what people think of the experience so far. The final game is a ways off still, although the team at Compulsion games want to get people involved early. They will be planning a Kickstarter/Early Access sometime in the future and want community involvement in the development. If the team can build and expand on what they have shown so far, We Happy Few could be a title to look out for. The game is coming to PC first but may expand to consoles at a later date.
After numerous rumours, it finally happened. Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is coming, and this time, the series promises to be much better. Even more surprising than basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal’s return to gaming is the development of the title. Instead of having a big developer take control of the title, The Legend Reborn is trying to get its primary funding from IndieGoGo.
The campaign is hoping to raise $450,000, but it’s important to remember that even if they don’t reach their goal the company will get however much is funded already.
The original Shaq Fu was released way back in the ’90’s to horrible reception. This time though, developer Big Deez Productions say “we are gamers, not executives. We know what’s good and we know what stinks. This isn’t about trying to make a quick buck, it’s about creating something that both we and Shaq can be proud of. We want to make a slick, fun, rock-solid game.”
Now, what you’re all wondering is why does Shaq need IndieGoGo? The page answers this query in the following manner:
“He is the best center ever to play the game. Of course he’s got money, and yes he will be investing a lot of his own time and money in this project. We will be investing considerably more of our own money in the game than we are asking for. The purpose of bringing the game to the public is to see how much interest there is in becoming Shaq’s partner and in seeing the game happen.”
The campaign has already raised $52,294, and still has 44 days left. Also of note are the perks, including things like going to Shaq’s house and watching NBA in the TNT studio. But will the game be any good? This all remains to be seen. You can check out the IndieGoGo page for Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn here.