Rezzed 2014

I attended Rezzed last week and had a fantastic time. I was there for the whole 3 days and still didn’t get to go on everything I wanted! It was twice as big as last year’s event and I think I liked a much greater proportion of the games I got to try.

Though the contents were great, I think the NEC could have done a little better with the presentation. The two cloakrooms right next to the Rezzed hall were inexplicably closed, and to get to the event we had to walk through an empty hall. Why not just put Rezzed in that one? Nothing had been done with the empty space – no advertisement hoardings, no enterprising merchandise sellers. On the other hand, top marks to the NEC chef who made me a stir fry the day there was nothing vegan on the menu.

Here are the games I tried, in more or less the order I did so.

Narcissus by AlexvsCoding
Narcissus is great fun and twattishly hard (‘just annoying enough’ was one of the comments written on the booth wall). Literally all you have to do is make a running stickman jump. It takes one button. The catch is that there are two stickmen and one is upside down, running in an inverted landscape. You have to control them both (one arrow key per man), or go 2 player. It’s easier and you can’t really get frustrated with each other because you’ll both crap out from time to time.

Narcissus makes use of one of the same tropes as Swift*Stitch – causing you to fail (through no fault of the game) by acting when inaction was necessary, so great is our expectation that when playing a game we must always be doing something. Narcissus seems impossibly hard until you twig that if the man only needs to jump if he needs to reach a higher platform (relative to his local gravity), and lower platforms he can just run onto under his own steam.

I chatted to one of the devs to ask if it was based on the Greek myth. He said it was and that the idea behind the two figures in the game is to make you uncertain which one is real and which one is the reflection.

Dungeon of the Endless by Amplitude Studios
This was great, speaking as someone who has never played a roguelike before (I don’t even know what that is, I just took the dev’s word for it that that’s what this game is), and who generally doesn’t like tower defence games. I had no idea what to do at first and didn’t understand the mechanics, being unfamiliar with the genre, and initially I had to just click on whatever the dev told me to click on because I couldn’t work it out on my own. I think she kind of thought I wasn’t ever going to get it.

I picked it up after about 1 and a half levels, then died from mostly bad luck. Dungeon of the Endless has procedurally-generated levels in which you must explore to find the exit, then safely bring your crashed spaceship’s power core there. In the meantime, you must protect the crystalline power core and your characters from attack with tower defence elements. To place these elements, the room they’re to be in must have power. Unpowered rooms remain dark and will periodically spawn enemies (unexplored rooms don’t do this, presumably because the monsters can’t work the door seals). Once you’ve discovered the exit and decided it’s time to pull out the crystal and make a dash for it, the rooms start losing power and allowing enemies to spawn and give chase. It is pretty darn hard, which I’m told is a staple for roguelikes, but is not unenjoyable for it, and the procedural generation of the levels kept me wanting to try again.

Hearthstone by Blizzard Entertainment
I’m not going to buy Hearthstone because I decided never to give Blizzard any of my money because of Reasons, but I had to concede this was good fun and easy to pick up with no instructions. It’s very easy, but in an accessible rather than boring way. You can do whatever you like each turn, as long as you have the mana to pay for it. It’s fast-paced (not frantic; it’s just that each game is quite short) and moreish.

Kaiju Panic by Mechabit
I liked it well enough, but it’s so similar to Puppygames’ Revenge of the Titans (monsters are coming, build defences to keep them from annihilating your base) that I have no incentive to buy it. They’re pretty much identical. (I think I pissed off one of the devs a bit when I pointed this out. Oops.) I guess buy this if you prefer happy candy-coloured visuals to dark neon pixelly ones.

Enter the ARC by Pixel Balloon
This was one of my favourite games of the show. It’s a 2D platformer with gorgeous artwork, set on a circular world. You’re a jumping orb of light and you evade buzzsaws and shooty robots. It’s saved from being just yet another 2D platformer by its amusing style/play disparity (it’s a cute little saccharine world but with quite violent play), the art style itself, the bent world, and the jumping mechanic. The orb (your avatar in an evil computer simulation from which you’re trying to rescue your friend) has not a double but a triple-jump, and this can be extended even further provided you can grab the necessary energy pellets. I had great fun with it and I’m looking forward to seeing it completed.

Biome by Knick Knack (beware flashing gif)
Biome is a toy rather than a game (I took it for a tech demo at first). It’s a ‘digital zen garden’ that’s supposed to respond to your actions, but when I asked the dev how the actions mapped to effects, he admitted that it wasn’t fully implemented and it’s still semi-random. It’s very stylish (I love that the developer went for a strong art style rather than realism) and fun to just play with, though. I suggested that some stars in the sky might be an improvement, and when I came back the next day there were stars!

forma.8 by MixedBag
This was a 2D sidescroller – you can’t really call it a platformer because you play as a floating little robot. I guess we’ll go with ‘2D action adventure’, because that’s what Beat Buddy, another 2D game with a floating character (and one of my favourites from Rezzed 2013), styles itself as. I found it a nice mix of environmental obstacles and evasion-based combat.

Forma.8 has a lovely art style, with some bold palette choices I wouldn’t have thought to try. The foreground elements (including the little robot/probe) are all in shadow, with only the background in vibrant colour. It’s both pretty and atmospheric. I also liked how big/zoomed out the world is and how tiny the little probe is, adding to the sense that you’re a tiny creature in a hostile world. The only thing I didn’t really like it was that the energy orbs (health) don’t really fit the rest of the visual style. They’re magical-looking glowing things that look out of place in the otherwise cel-shaded world. I kind of hope they’re just placeholders.

InFamous: Second Son by Sucker Punch
Disappointingly not that fun. I loved the first game and was hoping for a return to form after the slightly underwhelming (and a tad superfluous) sequel. This one has even more bizarre morality choices – destroying drugs is good but beating up bigots is bad? Plus being able to teleport along smoke clouds or neon tubes just isn’t as cool as destroying things with lightning. I would still quite like to play this from the start, so I can get invested in the story and find out how they can possibly do a sequel after the events of inFamous 2 (the good ending of which has been declared canon after Sucker Punch looked at trophy information and found that 70% of players chose it).

Fez by Polytron
This was one of my favourite games of the show, and I ended up buying it for my Vita afterwards. It’s a colourful 2D platformer in which you must rotate the level in order to navigate. Though it looks like it, you aren’t actually viewing a 3D world one side at a time: the world’s z-axis is collapsed, meaning that you can jump on platforms that ‘really’ would be in the background if the space was truly 3D. It’s been done before, but Fez’s world rotates only in satisfying 90-degree increments, meaning that you can concentrate on actually playing instead of fannying around trying to make two bits of a ladder line up. (As in Echochrome. I got fed up with that game quickly.)

I liked the audio and the graphical styling of this game a lot, and found myself rapidly rotating the world just because I was fascinated by how a tree looked as it rotated. I like how pretty your exposition fairy Dot is – she’s apparently a glowing rotating tesseract.

Cloudbuilt by Rising Star Games
I wanted to like this. It’s some sort of jetpack-assisted wall-running game, which is a cool concept but I wasn’t sure what I had to do. Plus I was either playing in hard mode or the game was bugging, because every failure sent me back to the level start instead of to the last checkpoint. It got too frustrating for me to continue in the end – I’d planned to just clear one level but had to admit defeat. I quite liked the cel-shaded visuals, though.

Three Body Problem by Robin Burkinshaw
This was mint. You’re a purple cube, and you have to collect purple squares while two bastard yellow cubes attempt to smash the shit out of you. It’s like the bastard yellow cubes are inside your head, and it makes you want to keep trying because you aren’t going to let those bastard cubes keep smashing you. It helps that it’s so polished and with sweet particle effects.

Super Exploding Zoo by Honeyslug
This demo was disappointingly short. Blowing up aliens by marching exploding meerkats into them is fun! It’s terribly simple, though, so I’m a bit dubious about the full game’s lifespan. There doesn’t seem to be much more to it than amassing enough exploding animals (blow up their cages to release the animals, who then follow you) to overwhelm the aliens by pyrrhic victory. It looks and feels quite like a party game, but it’s single-player. The dev I spoke to did say they would be adding abilities to each animal type, so as to introduce more puzzle elements.

Murasaki Baby by Ovosonico
This wasn’t my favourite game of the show, but it’s the one I can’t stop thinking about the most. It’s hauntingly creepy, and I feel sorry for the poor wee (freaky mutant) baby. I kind of want to get the game just to make sure she’s okay! Baby is a Tim Burton-esque abomination (not only is her mouth above her eyes, but she has a full set of mismatched blocky teeth), and the graphical styling is cross-hatched in a way that is probably meant to evoke Edward Gorey.

Instead of controlling the titular Baby directly, you use the Vita touchscreen to gently lead her by the hand. I’m not sure if this makes this a second-person game – you aren’t controlling the character as such (as you are in games where you move the character with the analogue stick); you’re playing as yourself. When you tap the screen to kill enemies, it’s not Baby doing it, it’s you. Baby carries a purple balloon on a string that you must protect. If it pops (including by accidental taps from you), she dies. Poor Baby also dies if she is made to let go of the balloon by an enemy, and it floats off the screen. If she lets go of it, you have to use the touchscreen to pull it back to her by the string and put it back into her hand before she finishes dissolving into black ooze.

I did like this game (it has an interesting mechanic I’ve not seen before, in which you swipe the rear touch pad to change the background, which changes which active power your taps have), but it has the same problem as all touch-heavy Vita games, which is that you’re always supporting the full weight of the controller with just one hand. The Vita is pretty hefty for a handheld and really needs its weight taken in two hands to be comfortable to play. Sometimes the game requires two touches (one to lead Baby by the hand and the other to swat enemies or pull her balloon out of the way of spiky stalactites as you walk along), making it pretty much impossible to do this while holding the Vita in two hands. Murasaki Baby also has a tendency to show you a new puzzle then have you do it twice more. Baby is too scared to walk into a dark cave, so you pick up a lightbulb and put it into a fitting, which lights up the cave. Great. Then you have to do it twice more in a row. Yeah, I got it the first time, game.

Luftrausers by Vlambeer
I finally got to playing this after seeing it at last year’s Rezzed but never getting an opportunity to play it. I found it kind of hard, because there seemed to be a knack to steering the wee plane that I didn’t know. I ended up buying it for my Vita anyway, and got into it much better upon being able to play from the start, when the steering and damage-repair mechanics are explained to you. Weirdly, I don’t remember seeing any of this information written down at Rezzed (nearly all games had a printed list of controls), where it would have helped.

Luftrausers is a bullet heck shmup (it’s not tough enough to be bullet hell) with a minimalist peach and terracotta palette (though you can unlock other colour schemes). You’re a lil plane being shot at by bad planes and bad boats. Shoot ‘em back and don’t die for as long as possible. Do it enough times and you can get different engines, fuselages and weapons. You probably won’t last more than a couple of minutes, and the game autosaves after every fight, so you can easily dip in and out of this. It’s a great little game very at home on a handheld.

Containment Protocol by Xiotex Studios
I found this stressful as heck because time limits in games do that to me. Apparently this is a ‘vertical slice’ from the full game. I’m not too sure what that means – whether that means all the game will be like this, or whether this demo represents just one of many things you can do.

The demo level is a simple maze, made difficult to navigate by virtue of the fact that the walls are invisible until your vehicle (a quadcopter) gets close to them with its scanning lidar. You have to find keys in the maze and use them to unlock ever more highly-secured doors, discovering secrets on the way and taking care not to let the copter run out of battery (which I did because I was too busy worrying about the time). I didn’t like it all that much.

Octodad by Young Horses
Everyone watching or playing this was weeing themselves laughing! You play an octopus disguised as a man and you have to do ordinary things (with your human family) without fucking it up too much and getting exposed as the fraudulent man-mollusc you are. It’s terribly funny.

Unfortunately, it’s graphically not that sophisticated and doesn’t really look as though it needs the PS4 rather than the PS3. However, I pondered this on my Twitter a while back when I first saw the trailer, and got an informative reply from the devs explaining that the PS4 really is necessary to handle all the physics in moving Octodad’s tentacles. I do think they could do more with the art style, which looks like far less than the PS4 is capable of (it could almost pass as a good PS2 game) and lets it down a bit. I’d like to see this game with more of a bold cel-shaded style, or really anything else that makes it look like a deliberate design choice.

Hohokum by Honeyslug
I found this quite delightful, though I would have liked some indication that I’d found all the stuff there was to find in the area. Instead of wrapping a level up, you kind of just stop. You play as a colour-shifting rainbow snake who can pick up and let off passengers. It’s by the same developer as Frobisher Says, and shares that game’s silliness and colour. In one level I had to give a ride to some measuring jug/elephant creatures, who could suck up custard with their trunks and store it in their transparent reservoir bodies. We flew around gathering custard and then depositing it in the big vat of a custard-processing machine. As the vat got fuller, I was able to send my snake through the machine’s pipes to explore (the jug-elephants waited outside) and dislodge some cheesed-off bugs stuck in the machinery. I was pretty sure I’d freed all the bugs and gathered all the custard the level had to offer, but there was no declaration from the game that I’d done so.

Towerfall Ascension by Matt Thorson
This is wonderfully silly and joyously simple. I loved it! You have to shoot arrows at other players and avoid being shot by them. You have 3 arrows, though you can pick up anyone else’s dropped arrows and use them too. Out of arrows? You can still kill people by jumping on them. Many of the levels also have moving platforms that can crush you if you’re not careful, and crystalline blocks that players can’t go through but arrows can. All levels ‘loop’ in that jumping down a hole at the bottom of the screen will drop you out of a hole at the top, making it possible to jump down and then land on the head of someone who was above you, or shoot an arrow through a crystal block on the right side of the screen and have it fly back into the stage from the left. It needs at least 3 players to be really good – with 2 it’s over too quickly.

Unrest by Pyrodactyl Games
I wanted to get into this because I like the idea of an RPG with multiple characters whose pathways influence each other. It seems a bit unpolished for something 2 months from release, unfortunately. The art style doesn’t have anything distinct going for it, looking as though the artist was going for realism but ran out of time. The pathfinding isn’t very good, forcing you to click in lots of little straight lines to send the character where you want them. I can’t help but think this would have been better as a text adventure or StoryNexus game.

OlliOlli by roll7
This game is rubbish. It certainly didn’t deserve the two monitors and two Vitas it had. Are PS4 games really so thin on the ground that Sony will showcase this? OlliOlli is a 2D skateboarding game with no jump button, and looks and feels like a free tablet game with placeholder art. Utterly devoid of fun.

Fract OSC by Phosfiend Systems
I thought this was a Proteus-like pure exploration game and quite liked it, wandering around in a crystalline cavern, but apparently it does have puzzles and objectives and I just… missed them completely? Even when I tried the game again after hearing it had puzzles, I couldn’t find anything to actually do. The game has an ‘interact’ mode but I never found anything I could manipulate with it.

I first played it when the sound wasn’t working, and my brain added cave-like ambient sounds to it, which I preferred to the synth backdrop that I discovered it actually has. For some reason the game has CRT-pixels emulation, which I disliked and hope you can turn off.

One Spear Arena by 36peas
This has the same kind of compelling simplicity as Towerfall. You’re a grunting/farting cube and you throw spears at other grunting cubes. Throwing your spear into a gas cloud causes the cloud to explode. Fun!

Broforce by Free Lives Games (beware flashing background)
I wanted to like this because it’s a funny concept (even if it is a bit LOL MEMES) but it’s nowhere near as fun to play as it is to watch. It’s fiddly and difficult, there’s visually too much going on to keep track of your character, and it seems to be arbitrary which checkpoints will work. Frustrating.

Light by Just a Pixel
This was good but I ended up ragequitting it. I’m rubbish at avoid-‘em-ups. I liked the minimalist glowy style and palette, and the information gathering aspect. It seems twattishly hard and only good for playing in short bursts. The time limit to discovery once you kill a guard seems rather arbitrary – the other guards might have discovered that one of their comrades has died, but logically they shouldn’t have any way of knowing it’s me. I’m still tempted to buy the full game.

Standpoint by Unruly Attractions
I liked this a lot, even though I found it frustrating at times. It reminded me a little of Narbacular Drop, in that it’s a first-person puzzle environment game in which you can’t jump. Standpoint’s thing is that you can click on a wall or ceiling to align the gravity to that plane. Obstacles must be ‘jumped’ over by clicking on the ceiling and falling/floating past them. You can realign gravity only once while you’re in the air, to prevent players just floating down corridors all the time. I found the narrator’s lines a bit wanky, and in danger of falling into Antichamber-like pretentiousness. I had quite a nice chat with the devs and I’m interested in playing the full game to learn more about the story. Unfortunately, the Kickstarter doesn’t look as though it’s going to be funded, and its main purpose is to hire an artist, which the (currently basic-looking) game could really do with.

Dream by Hypersloth
This was hard to judge because the Oculus Rift made me feel sick. I had to stop playing after a couple of minutes. It looked… okay. I think it would have been soothing if I could have played it without nausea. Without the 3D and the VR I think it would be just an okay exploration game.

Modulate by Polychrome
This was tough but still woefully short. It’s a first-person puzzle adventure (like Portal), the selling point of which is that you can toggle objects between being solid and being ghostly wireframes. Objects have either a blue or green wireframe – pressing the toggle button switches states for all objects, so if all blue objects become solid all green objects phase out. For example, you might step onto a blue launcher and be boinged across the room, and have to toggle before you land so as to make the green landing platform solid. I found the game impossible at first because it doesn’t explicitly tell you that some objects can be reassigned colours. You can tell which objects these are because their wireframe twitches instead of being completely static lines. I thought the twitching was a glitch and didn’t realise it was part of a mechanic. I’m all for games not being hand-holdy but I would have liked some indication that what looks like a graphical glitch is actually part of the game (especially as this part of the game is explicitly supposed to be a training level). I got stuck again later on when I couldn’t work out that an innocuous-looking plate on the ceiling was actually a box dispenser that would give me the necessary box for solving a puzzle if only I right-clicked on it. This game has potential but it would really benefit from adding a GlaDOS-y voiceover. I’d also like to play what lies beyond the basic training levels in the demo.

TRI by Rat King
I didn’t get to play Tri but I enjoyed watching it so much I bought the beta on Desura. It’s a game in which you explore the world by constructing triangles to walk on. Exploring worlds and finding hidden items is pretty much my favourite thing in games so I’m definitely interested in this. I asked one of the devs if there was a limit to the number of triangles you can have at once, and she said there isn’t. (Or at least that they tested it up to 100 triangles with no problems).