We first had the pleasure of meeting Ole Toubro back at Rezzed 2018, when he was part of the team at Danish developer Mighty Moth, working on the aviation exploration title Above. He’s since moved on to form an even smaller team, with his new studio Not-Disclosed Games. We caught up with him to discuss games, the industry, lockdowns, Pilsners, the connotations of the word "tolerate" and last, but by no means least, hot tubs.
So, tell us about your new company, Not-Disclosed Games.
We are currently two people working with coding and design. We have been working together for quite a while and we do some contract work together as well. We also have half a guy doing sound and we are actually looking for an artist with the right finesse and skillset.
Your first game is twin-stick horror/sci-fi shooter Universe Apart. Can you tell us about the game, and what led you to combining these genres?
We both really like twin-stick shooters and my buddy had made a tiny playable one so we just built from that - adding everything around it. Trying out different art, ways to make it tile-based and random, have long-term gameplay etc. etc. After we got the shadows working we knew we had to make some horror elements - that gameplay and implementation is ahead of us: So if people have suggestions they should hit us up on Discord :)
What impact has COVID-19 had on the development stage?
Well I guess indie game developers have a pretty clear advantage in this - most of us were already used to working from home. I actually think this might have been a benefit for indie games, I mean just look at this February Steam Festival - the line-up is pretty fucking awesome.
What is it like to be such a small team in such a humongous ocean of development companies? How big a risk is it to release a game in the current climate?
Yeah the talent out there is quite amazing isn't it. I actually don't mind being a tiny fish swimming among all these different companies. Be they huge or small, multicoloured or grey, quirky or mainstream, hypers or truthers. I think the medium has far from matured - perhaps it never will - and it is just quite wonderful to be a part of. Our game is still in an early stage, but we like what we are creating - so we are pretty sure others will too.
We discussed the process of creating, and releasing, games/music/art last night; how strongly we both feel about actually getting stuff out there and provoking a reaction - good or bad. Could you elaborate on that?
Yeah that was quite a good chat wasn't it :) I mean to really piss people off you can't be charging them as well, can you? Or is that exactly what the giants excel at with various broken products, stupid release schedules, in-game purchases or advertisements. I don't know. I just think many people outside games see every little hiccup as a catastrophe, they take it personally and some even want the drama. And the marketing teams behind the large games fuel this: There is no such thing as bad press! Fact is very few people know how stupidly hard it is to make a good game - and to make art, as we were discussing last night, you have to infuse that tremendously hard process with message and meaning, dare I even say soul. Some teams are at the right place and time to do that, and some even get hyped and reach a broad audience - to the benefit of everybody involved. Let me sail on my own tiny little hype train or boat or whatever: Universe Apart will have existential dilemmas and abusive elements - they are just not in the demo yet - or are they? :)
"Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines."
Where do you see the future of gaming? Is it VR? Streaming services? Traditional consoles/PCs?
All of those… and implants and AR and huge simulations and tiny interfaces and stuff that game us. I actually think game theory integrated with everyday stuff is the next big thing - you already see it to some degree in software like TikTok, Instagram etc. Whole processes we interact with are currently being designed for our conscious and unconscious selves to interact with - and that is pretty much games.
Coronavirus has put the pause button on life, allowing many people to assess where they are, and what they actually want to do with their time/for work. With that in mind, what advice would you give to someone looking to get started in the gaming industry?
Ha yeah - I don't know if I am the right person to ask that - but here goes: Don't be too hard on yourself, trust your feelings and reach your deadlines. Listen to old songs you liked, games you played and loved, movies you adored - none of them are perfect. If caught in the right sardonic mood you could tear each one of them apart and paint them in the worst light possible... So: Do your best, believe in yourself and release!
What game(s) have had the biggest impact on your life?
I am quite fond of simple ones from my childhood that set a mood and let you live there for a while: Lotus, Wolfenstein, Lemmings or Commander Keen - and I could go on :)
In terms of real impact there was this aesthetic little game where you can only move right and you get older as you move, find a dog and another person to love and take with you, then the hair greys and the dog and other person are left behind as tombstones and you also end as a tombstone - that game made me cry. I can't remember it's name, or find it online, it might have been a flash game - that we the human race moved right and left behind…
I also thought quite a lot about the profound idea in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail where this guy hosts simmed VR hells for several other races. Consider that: Hell or gods does not exist, but if you violate certain religious laws your sentence is to be uploaded to a virtual hell! WTF? I love how that sets one's mind going about mortality, souls and life itself.
Final question... You're stranded on an island that happens to be blessed with power. Which console/gaming machine do you take and why?
Being stranded on an island sounds like a lot of hard work. I think I would bring a switch so I could play a twin-stick shooter, while being busy on the latrine :)
Thanks to Ole for taking the time to chat to us. Click here for more information on Universe Apart.
M2H, the team behind Verdun, have finally brought their latest WW1 shooter Tannenberg to consoles. Join us as we take a quick look at the multiplayer title on Xbox One.
I enjoy Verdun, but finding online matches is tough. How does Tannenberg fare?
At the time of writing, close to the game's release, the Tannenberg player base seems relatively healthy.
There’s usually enough players around to make at least one or two full matches, though it is a niche game and that may soon change. While we haven’t had to make use of the included bots to bolster numbers just yet, there could be a time when AI opposition becomes a necessity and not a luxury.
What about the visuals?
Tannenberg isn’t the prettiest game out there, but it looks decent enough on console. Motion blur can be enabled to soften some of the rough edges and the frame rate can be unlocked, though even when running on an Xbox One X the latter caused noticeable screen tearing and occasional performance stutter.
Would you recommend Tannenberg?
Yes. The old-timey weaponry and rugged looks might not be to everyone’s taste, but give it a chance and you’ll find a fun, alternative multiplayer experience that can be genuinely thrilling.
We Were Here Together makes its console debut this week; join us on an expedition to the Antarctic for some cooperative puzzle solving on Xbox One.
I enjoy a good brain teaser; will I find the puzzles too easy?
Puzzles start off fairly intuitive, but there’s a sudden spike in difficulty after the first hour or so that sees things get a lot tougher. We also enjoy a challenge, but too often it felt like we were relying on trial and error rather than our grey matter, with some solutions proving to be fiendishly difficult. More than a few times we had to resort to referencing outside guides after drawing a blank trying to find patterns or clues for puzzles that seemingly had none.
Would you recommend it?
Those who prefer a good amount of guidance with their games might want to steer clear, but if you’re a fan of the previous titles, or affordable puzzle games that don’t hold your hand, then at £10.74 We Were Here Together is worth a go.
We’re back with another quickie, this time for WarpTrough, a portal-grabbing platformer from indie developer Roofkat.
Campaign, you say?
Aye, but a very short one, maxing out at around an hour or two. It’s a decent enough offering (if a tad nonsensical) with monsters, demons and otherworldly beings all making an appearance. Throw in a couple of bad puns for good measure, alongside some alternate outcomes, depending on your choices, and the mode is worthwhile.
However, it’s WarpThrough’s gameplay, rather than its story, that’s the real draw. The weekly challenge mode prompts players to rack up high scores with a select character and level, and is arguably the meat of the experience.
Would you recommend it?
Yes. The £9.29 price tag might seem a little steep at first glance, but collecting shiny orb-like portals is surprisingly addictive (as anyone who’s played Crackdown can likely attest to) and there’s a good amount of replayability, particularly for those who enjoy climbing leaderboards.
The final frontier has been the setting of choice for countless titles over the years, but Surgical Scalpels are upping the ante when it comes to vacuum-based fun by putting the vast, empty void we call space front and centre in their upcoming game, Boundary.
After a brief rundown of some of the game’s basic features – customisable weapons, gun range, multiplayer modes etc. – we were handed the controls for our first match against a few members of the development crew. Despite being well experienced in the FPS genre, the lack of gravity and our newfound ability to move in six degrees of freedom initially took some getting used to.
The slower, considered movement of our avatar (a heavy Support class, but the floaty nature of space means nearly all classes move at a similar pace) coupled with the temptation to go blasting off across maps led to more than a few deaths as we were caught in the open by the opposition. Drift too far from the action, as we often did, and you’ll suddenly find yourself lit up on enemy radar. Linger even longer near the fringes and you’ll end up in the middle of a micro meteor shower that’ll quickly rip through your suit and health. Safe to say it took us a couple of matches before we eventually found our space legs.
Surgical Scalpels are aware that for many players, like us, this will be their first taste of zero-g combat in a competitive FPS. The development team have, therefore, tried to make gameplay as intuitive as possible by implementing a control scheme that’ll feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a mainstream shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Some elements are naturally going to be a little different, given the setting; there’s no jump or crouch/prone in space, after all, so those are swapped for ascend and descend abilities, while shoulder buttons traditionally saved for grenades are instead used for rotation.
Most classes – save for the Flanker, which we’ll discuss in a bit – come with a grapple that can be used to navigate close-quarter areas at a slightly faster pace than the standard thrusters allow (we used this method to pull off a particularly impressive surprise kill during one match) or quickly reach floating structures, from where players can set up ambush opportunities or catch a moment's respite to regenerate health and manually patch up any major leaks in their suit. The game also makes excellent use of the DualShock 4’s gyro sensor, which allows for easy precision aiming while on the move – a feature that was particularly handy while we were still getting to grips with zero-g traversal.
Maps themselves, like the rest of the available tech and weaponry, are in keeping with the game’s near-future aesthetic; we played one that was dominated by the scattered remains of a destroyed space station, with plenty of solar panels and pod-like compartments to hide behind. Some parts, like those huge solar panels, are destructible, with players able to shoot holes in them and peek through in a way that was very reminiscent of Rainbow Six Siege’s breakable walls.
When I asked if Surgical Scalpels had any plans to add maps set on the surface of a planet or moon where there might be a touch more gravity, I was told that it could be a possibility in the future, but that post-launch DLC would first focus on adding more classes, with three more said to be arriving at some point after the game launches. The base game will begin with five classes in total, of which we tried the Support, Recon and Flanker (there’s also a Sniper and Medic class).
The Support class is the most armoured, with a huge exoskeletal-type chassis on its back that, while bullet proof, also has the largest silhouette. Most come with two main weapons, an ability, and two secondary weapons - such as heavy cannons or missiles - that are attached to the frame of the big backpack. Recon was our favourite, thanks to a gadget that detects enemy players once it is dropped or launched. Every class’ suit will alert you with audio (and eventually visual, once they’re close enough) warnings to the presence of a nearby enemy, but having one of these beacons floating around proved to be extremely useful at helping us track down the other team’s players amongst the large map’s debris and hiding spots.
We definitely see the aforementioned Flanker class being the most popular, however, due to its “ninja-like” abilities and speedier movement. This class never shows up on enemy radar, and instead of a grapple it has a triple action quick-boost ability that easily outpaces the standard ‘sprint’ found in other classes (it also won’t reveal your position to the enemy if it overheats, unlike the latter). Even though the loadout we tried only came with a shotgun/pistol combo, the reduced range was worth the trade-off for the extra speed and stealth. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a nerf coming its way post-launch.
While our session drew to a close before we could really get to grips with what the game had to offer, what we did play was enough to convince us that Surgical Scalpels could have something special on their hands. First person shooters can often feel formulaic, but Boundary brings something refreshingly different to a crowded table. Once you’re over the initial (albeit gentle) learning curve, the controls prove to be comfortably intuitive, and the extra freedom of movement considerably liberating. Most importantly, underneath it all is a decent shooter that, a few pre-launch bugs aside, felt reassuringly solid, despite the unconventional lack of terra firma underfoot.
Following a recent game update rectifying accessibility issues on Xbox One, we were finally able to dive back into the unique stealth and XCOM-like combat of Mutant Year Zero for an all-new adventure in the Seed of Evil expansion.
So you would still recommend SoE for MYZ: RtE fans?
That’s a tough one, honestly. We loved revisiting the rich gameplay and setting, but the shambolic technical state that Seed of Evil finds itself in on Xbox One is frankly unacceptable.
It doesn’t completely wrap everything up with a neat little bow, which in a way fits the fiction, but otherwise it’s more of a great thing - when it works. If you’re looking to play on another platform, this is a good way to invest £12.99, but Xbox fans should definitely wait with crossed fingers for a significant patch.
A newbie to the DOOM scene, I went into our time with sequel DOOM Eternal, due out 22 November, with some trepidation.
New to the party this time around are mobility upgrades like a grappling hook, a double dash move and the ability to climb walls. Offensively, a shoulder-mounted flamethrower and an arm blade help to bring more of the series’ staple violence to the table. From what we've seen so far, the wall climbing and dash mechanics look to impact the game the most, allowing for a platforming section on Mars and plenty of interesting ways to hide away secrets.
Resource management seems to be a more important aspect here too, as you juggle to keep your health, shields and ammo topped up constantly. Health is straightforward enough - execute a gory glory kill by meleeing an enemy in the stunned, near-death state - while coating them with your new flamethrower tops up your armour and using the chainsaw once again forces them to spit out ammo.
Depending on your playstyle, you could find yourself constantly short of one resource or another. If you're like us that was ammo, constantly flailing our way through demon-infested areas, powering through every gun in our arsenal, rinsing ammo as we went.
The aesthetic and enemies all look familiar, and the overall style has the same sort of irreverent disregard for context, or reason to really care about Doomguy's plight. Combat seems even more frantic than before, thanks largely to the additional dash, which (as noted) also helps with traversal.
While dashing about is good fun, platforming and utilising boost jump pads can feel quite unforgiving, as can the timing for latching onto climbable walls, though they are at least marked by a distinctive texture. All of this added up to quite a lot of falling to our death in these sections, though it’s likely something players will get increasingly accustomed to, as with first-person platforming in general.
So far then? A thoroughly frenetic affair bursting with style, boasting guns that pack a punch and solid gameplay - very much in line with what you’d expect from a new DOOM. While its older brother re-established the series, Eternal looks to be putting in just enough new ideas to keep it fresh without spoiling what caused the previous one to be held in such high regard.
Doomguy returns 22 November on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, then later on Nintendo Switch.
You can watch the full DOOM Eternal Keynote Presentation from QuakeCon below.
Telefrag VR is a bold new arena shooter from developer Anshar Studios (who we recently interviewed), hoping to bring the intense competition of Unreal Tournament and Quake to virtual reality. We’ve spent some time with the finished article on PlayStation VR, minus online play due to it being pre-release, so let’s throw down the lowdown.
Those firearms are all on different cooldowns (no manual reloads), have two alternative fire modes, plus feature a unique form of weaponisable teleportation. More passively, you can also warp onto designated surfaces to bring a new dimension to fights, perhaps launching an ambush from upside down on the ceiling.
Mix these things together and the result is an experience that is, more often than not, frantic fun.
Sounds great, but just 1v1 deathmatch? Really?
It might sound sparse, but with the game being built around head-to-head play it’s one seriously action-packed tango! Telefrag is also set in an alternate future where the Roman Empire never fell and Gladiators now compete for glory in sci-fi coliseums, which helps to contextualise things.
Moreover, considering VR’s relatively small install base, only requiring one opponent for online matchmaking is much easier to accommodate - especially with cross-play between all major headsets also enabled.
Thumbs up then?
If you’re a fan of 90s FPS games, complete with gravelly announcers, Telefrag does an admirable job of distilling that familiar feel down to fit the VR landscape.
It can certainly be enjoyed solo against bots, as in our case, but online balance is a potential issue due to cross-play. PlayStation players have to choose between analogue movement and independent control of both arms, whereas Oculus and Vive users don’t, most likely placing them at an inherent advantage. If you can, opt for the PC version as a result.
We take Tate Multimedia's Steel Rats for a wreckin’ test ride in our latest Quickie.
Are the unlocks enough to encourage replaying stages?
All stages can be replayed with any unlocks you've acquired so far, excepting the characters who weren't originally available at that point. The first time around, you may want to blitz through the level, ignoring the trio of Trials-like challenges that award bonus scrap, just to get a win on the board and come back later when you're better equipped.
The reason for this is that when all of your riders are killed you have to restart the level entirely, which, even though they’re relatively short, can be enough to discourage exploration.
Sounds tough! Should I be worried?
Limited use Repair Stations provide a marginal safety net, but yeah, kinda, since restarts feel like unfair setbacks when they stem from a mistimed jump and the game then respawning you in an endless falling death loop... This was a persistent annoyance which grew ever more cruel with each occurrence.
That’s unfortunate. Still, can you recommend it at all?
Whilst driving and combat are about competent in isolation, together they pull the game in two different directions, meaning Steel Rats lacks an identity and instead wears the masks of better games that came before it. Even at a wallet-friendly £12.49, it's hard not to recommend you just play Trials.
If you fancy giving Steel Rats a go for yourself, be sure to keep an eye out for our next giveaway, in which you could win the game on Xbox One.
Having begun life on Steam and iOS devices, FDG Entertainment’s Venture Kid made its console debut earlier this month on Nintendo Switch. Join us for another quickie as we take the retro-inspired platformer for a spin.
Eek! Sounds frustrating.
Don’t worry too much, as after every victory you’re given a new toy to aid in your quest, and perks such as extra lives or additional hearts can be purchased at any point (except during boss fights) using orbs collected within levels.
Would you recommend it, then?
Yeah. It’s pretty short, taking us just over two hours to reach the final level, but hidden collectables and additional Switch-exclusive modes (Survival and Boss Rush) offer some extra staying power.
Venture Kid is also cheap as chips at £8.99, and potentially even cheaper if you already own an FDG staple in Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, Oceanhorn or Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.