We recently sat down with acclaimed indie developer Thunder Lotus to discuss their latest game Sundered (which I bloomin’ love - check out the review), the difficulties of turning a profit in an oversaturated market, the power of conversation, PC emulators and more. Enjoy!
Can you tell us about your team at Thunder Lotus Games?
We're a small team, around a dozen people at the peak of each project. We're based in Montreal, Canada. The company was founded by Will Dubé, a young veteran of a now-defunct mobile game studio (Sava Transmedia) here in Montreal. Back in 2014, Will left Sava with the goal of bringing an indie game to Kickstarter. In a few months, he had recruited most of the core team from his old colleagues at Sava, and other friends that had some experience among the AAA devs that pepper this city. That core team would go on to produce our first game, Jotun, in September 2015 - and the same core was on-board for Sundered as well!
How difficult is it for indie developers in this current market? Can you take artistic risks and still make a profit?
It is difficult, and only getting more so. The golden age of indies, where just releasing a game on Steam or Xbox Live would almost guarantee a profit, has long since ended. It's definitely no longer enough to simply make a great game. Great games are now coming out weekly. We would suggest that it's almost impossible to expect a viable product unless you take risks, artistically and otherwise, so that you (and your potential audience) can take one look at your game and identify what is unique about it.
"Strike up a conversation with a dev at a game con, or a local indie meet-and-greet, and you'd be surprised what professional opportunities might come from it!"
What advice would you give to someone looking to work in the video gaming industry?
It's not a hard industry to break into, at least in a city like ours, where a solid core of AAA devs have bred a healthy indie scene. It's staying profitable, so you can keep making games, that's the real challenge. But if you're just starting out, don't know where to begin, you just need to go out and meet people. Indie devs are by far the most approachable creators I've ever seen, speaking from experience, having worked in the music, movies, and TV industries. Strike up a conversation with a dev at a game con, or a local indie meet-and-greet, and you'd be surprised what professional opportunities might come from it!
Where do you think the industry is heading - is VR the future in your opinion?
Tough to say. VR doesn't seem ready for mainstream prime time in its present form; maybe next generation, once it credibly evolves beyond on-the-rails-lower-res-FPS-ports, prices come down, and some unanimously praised revolutionary killer apps start appearing. In the mean time, it looks like more of the same for the industry over another two or three years, just with slightly better resolution and HDR.
What game(s) have had the biggest effect on your life, and why?
Strictly personal response here, but the games I played obsessively when I was young basically fused themselves to my DNA, and still define "fun" for me in their specific genres: (in no particular order) NHL 94, Wonder Boy III, Ultima V, Revenge of Shinobi, Civilization I, Pirates!... I could go on.
What does the future hold for Sundered & Thunder Lotus Games?
Most any news will be revealed when the time is right. Anyone who followed the Sundered Kickstarter knows that we have some DLC planned for the game, but our lips are sealed as to what and when it will be. Meanwhile, prelim work on our next project will begin in parallel - but it will be a while before we're ready to give any details!
If you were on a desert island (it has power) and could only take one console, what would you take, and why?
No single console would keep me from missing the others terribly. I'd cheat, and bring a PC that could emulate as many of the classic machines as possible.
Thanks to Rodrigue at Thunder Lotus for talking to us. Both Sundered and Jotun are available now - go and check them out!
The Domaginarium describe their third-person horror platformer as (old) Tomb Raider meeting Lovecraft, in space - a pitch we found difficult to resist. With The Nightmare from Beyond’s final release slated for Q3 2018, the current Steam Early Access build is far from content complete, but does it seem poised to deliver on the promising concept?
The Domaginarium describe their third-person horror platformer as (old) Tomb Raider meeting Lovecraft, in space - a pitch we found difficult to resist.
As Sanja, a young D’nyg woman in search of her sister, Dajana, you’ll traverse environments that seamlessly shift from stoney fantasy to techy sci-fi. While starting out linear, things open up to reveal some solid, looping level design that’s complimented by platforming and light puzzle solving elements straight out of a classic Tomb Raider game (as promised).
The disparate-yet-connected world, which houses interesting architecture and artefacts that make it enticing in the absence of impressive graphics, definitely has us curious to explore more in the hope of uncovering how exactly the scattered sections came to coexist. It serves as much more a driving force than the beginnings of the bland story, which isn’t helped by a reliance on nonsense fantasy terms that haven’t yet been explained.
As a D’yng, you're marked with tribal patterns that emit a neon glow, dimly lighting your way through the bleak nightmarescape. When you encounter the mysterious creatures within, you’ll need to hold your breath to extinguish the light and sneak past them, avoiding a swift and inevitable death.
The one creature you directly encounter can’t be combated - though you do get some bombs used to open a shortcut later on, so it’s possible you might eventually be able to put these to use - and is obscured by a black smog to preserve an air of mystery, with otherwise indirect encounters seeing you relentlessly pursued or your ankles snapped at from an off-screen presence to push you through platforming sections at pace. What you don't see is often more unnerving than what you do, and that's the case here.
The disparate-yet-connected world has us curious to delve deeper, serving as much more a driving force than the beginnings of the bland story,
If you're caught, you’ll need to go back to the last manual save point. These are fairly frequent, so you’ll never lose too much progress, and help to highlight the game’s '90s inspirations by feeling very Resident Evil.
Weighing in at around two flawed hours, what we essentially have at the moment is a paid proof of concept demo. As a result, we’d recommend waiting to see how The Nightmare from Beyond develops before laying down your hard earned, especially considering the price isn’t set to increase once the game leaves Early Access. There’s reason to remain optimistic in the interim however; The Domaginarium have put in a decent first showing and hold both a commitment to frequent updates and a development roadmap that looks set to iron out the acknowledged issues.
The Nightmare from Beyond is scheduled for release in Q3 2018 on PC, PS4 and PS Vita. It’ll set you back £14.99 or your regional equivalent.
Milkstone Studios’ White Noise 2 looks to horrify players, but are the shudders it induces brought on for all the right or wrong reasons? Join us in our eerie, torch-lit tent for a spooky quick one.
Investigators are progressively driven insane when observing the creature, leading to intense hallucinations that cause confusion as individual members of the team begin to see and hear different things.
How does playing as the creature fare?
Naturally switching from hunted to hunter saps the scares, but it’s nonetheless devious fun being the one to inflict them. While it’s an entertaining means to mix things up now and then, it can feel quite solitary, which had us missing the camaraderie of working in a tight-nit team to overcome the odds.
Does it get your stamp of approval, then?
White Noise 2 has plenty of maps, creatures and investigators that can be taken in on your own, cooperatively or competitively with any combination of players - adaptive balancing seeing to it that things remain challenging but fair - making for an accommodating and long-lasting experience in which you can both be terrified and inspire terror. If that sounds at all like your bag, it’s an easy recommendation at just £7.99.
Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming let's play in which Sam and James fumble their way through a few early rounds of White Noise 2. It doesn't end well for them...
Wetsuits on, shake that hair and, like, totally grab your board, dude! Let’s hit the waves with Portsmouth-based developer Climax Studios’ Surf World Series.
Sounds sweet so far, but what about the bad?
If you’re not a huge fan of surfing or combo-based, arcadey games, Surf World Series definitely won’t be for you. If those elements do tickle your fancy, there’s nothing much to complain about; it’s a great sports/arcade mash-up that’ll give you a good few hours of fun for not much money.
Safe to assume it’s a winning run and not a wipeout, then?
For us, it’s definitely a winning run. £11.99 gets you a generous, challenge-filled single player campaign and a fun online component that’ll keep you in the water until your skin wrinkles.
Surf World Series is available now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
If it sounds like your thing be sure to keep your eyes peeled for next week’s giveaway, in which you could win a copy on Xbox One!
Of all gaming’s many genres, fighters are my least favourite. They’re just not my forté. Back in the early 2000’s I was known to boss a game or two in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and going back further still I could just about hold my own in Street Fighter II on the SNES thanks to some full-on button mashing (so many blisters!) but my appreciation for fighters piqued with those two.
Even a rookie like myself had no trouble dismantling the AI opposition, which got boring very quickly.
It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with Pokkén Tournament DX, it’s just the demo’s lack of online multiplayer did not feel like the best way to advertise the game’s arrival on Switch. Failing to include an online component was a particularly significant missed opportunity, as even a rookie like myself had no trouble dismantling the AI opposition, which got boring very quickly.
The unpredictability of human combatants is, in my admittedly limited experience with the genre, what makes fighting games - and multiplayer in general - engaging, challenging experiences. A simple control scheme coupled with a surprisingly in-depth tutorial means Pokkén Tournament is very easy to learn, but with the demo’s lack of a human element, it was impossible to tell if it would be difficult to master.
Yes, the Joy-Cons do facilitate couch co-op, and getting two Switches in the same room would also allow you to take part in local multiplayer matches in the demo, but unless you’ve got people on hand ready to jump into a game at a moment’s notice (and of a similar skill level) these weren’t really viable options.
In the end, the Pokkén Tournament DX demo served only to reinforce my desire to see Nintendo pull their finger out and get Super Smash Bros. onto the Switch in some form. If not as a new entry in the series or some sort of virtual console offering of Melee, then at least a port of the Wii U’s release, another well-received title from the doomed console’s back catalogue that remains frustratingly out of my reach.
Vivid Helix’s Semispheres releases on Nintendo Switch today, so we’ve taken the meditative parallel-puzzler for a quickie to see how it fares on the hybrid console.
It’s almost worth playing Semispheres solely in handheld mode for the easier headphone use, letting you really appreciate the mesmerising soundtrack.
Don’t worry, there are only a few fiendishly difficult puzzles, with most taking only a few minutes to beat, and the game is good at easing you in as new abilities are introduced. If you do end up stuck though, you at least get to enjoy the excellent soundtrack while you mull over the solution.
How’s the presentation on the whole?
Semispheres is described as having a “soothing” art style, and it’s hard to disagree. The soft, warm colour palette and impressive use of light, coupled with composer Sid Barnhoorn’s atmospheric score, can feel almost hypnotic at times.
While it may look best on a bigger screen, it’s almost worth playing Semispheres solely in handheld mode just for the easier headphone use to really appreciate the mesmerising soundtrack.
Is there a story to go with all this?
Sort of. After every few levels, you’re presented with a storyboard sequence depicting the tale of a young boy and his robot. There’s no dialogue, with the story simply told through a series of images.
What relevance, if any, this side-story has with the rest of the gameplay isn’t obvious at first, but it does at least serve to break up the sequence of levels.
Would you recommend it?
Yes. With more than 50 levels on offer, there’s plenty of value for money here. And if you’re willing to sacrifice a portion of the challenge when playing solo for some local co-op, the Switch’s Joy-Cons facilitate that.
Semispheres is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $9.99/€9,99/£8.99. If you don’t own a Switch it’s been knocking around on PS4 and Steam since February, and is also making its way to PS Vita in October and Xbox One soon after.
Knack was Sony’s flagship title in showcasing the PlayStation 4 pre-launch, which meant the console-warring Internet had a field day when it turned out to be a flop. Knack’s now back, but is it better than ever? Wade on through that sea of memes and join us for a quickie.
Knack 2 really feels like the globe-trotting adventure the original was intended to be.
The game’s a decent looker - pretty good, actually, we’ve just been spoilt by Uncharted: The Lost Legacy - with HDR available to all PS4 owners and 4K an option for Pro users. There’s also a 1080p/60FPS mode available to the latter group that trades in the higher resolution for a more consistent technical performance (this is how we’d recommend playing).
A varied and orchestral OST complements the action, succeeding in rousing some enthusiasm for events where the narrative fails.
Is it worth picking up, despite the weak story?
Oh yeah, the gameplay really shines and that’s what’s important. Knack 2’s a budget release that doesn’t feel like one, boasting numerous significant improvements over its predecessor, a lengthy campaign, collectables and challenges to keep you coming back, and local co-op that adds unique new abilities to the mix.
Knack’s turnaround is admirable, and Sony should be commended for sticking with the series so that it could make good on its promise.
Hello there! You've stumbled across a treat: we have a brand new podcast for you to watch and listen to, which features Gamescom 2017 and also includes some exclusive gameplay from Conan Exiles (as you can see above), which is currently in Game Preview on Xbox One.