pixel pop

Zap Blastum: Cover-Based Action for All by Caleb Sawyer

Zap Blastum is fun. That is the first thing I thought as I tapped away at the screen, strategically placing myself against cover to take potshots at less guarded foes. An isometric perspective cover-based shooter, the game uses touch controls, a feature that will make the game a blast on mobile devices and tablets. It is easy enough to pick up. Touch the spot you want to run, touch the enemy you want to shoot. The complexity comes in the form of enemy types and cover angles. 

Developer Kevin Dressel (@kevinddressel) says that he and his collaborators were inspired by games like Gears of War, but he wanted to make the skill requirement more forgiving. Zap Blastum accomplishes that goal extremely well. The ease of tapping commands makes the game a breeze to pick up. Once you get those controls down you can challenge yourself by firing while moving, aiming to beat time limits, and finding weapon upgrades hidden about each level.

Dressel also said he wanted to make a game that anyone could play. The violence of most shooters means that kids can't get in on the fun. Zap Blastum's cartoony style and robotic villains makes it perfect for hardcore gamers and kids alike.

Zap Blastum is a addicting game I could easily see myself putting several hours into on my phone. The combination of cover-based gameplay with XCOM's camera angle makes for a slick combination of mobility and visibility. By the end of my sit-down with it, I was shooting between cover and tossing grenades over enemy cover with ease.

For now, Dressel plans to release a Beta later this year with hopes of a full release in early 2018. To follow Zap Blastum check out developer Shiny Dolphin's website and Twitter.

Marshall's Theory: Wading Through the President's Holographic Nightmares by Caleb Sawyer

With the current political climate as it is, it only makes sense that it impacts as many levels of media as possible. Benjamin Poynter's (@BenjaminPoynter) Marshall's Theory, puts players in control of the President of the United States during one of his nightmares. A strange mix of hilarity and morbidity, "Marshall's Theory [is] a game with a central theme of paranoia."

Players control POTUS as he attempts to fight back protesters, encircling him with arms raised and signs hoisted. You can fire tweets to mow them down, carpet bomb them, or call in an Area-of-Effect strike a la Vladimir Putin dive-bombing the ground, Russian flag cape and all.

Marshall's theory utilizes a type of holographic projection provided by the minds at Looking Glass (@LKGGlass). The HoloPlayer One is an interesting piece of tech, and with a game like Marshall's Theory, the unsettling setting is complimented by the fuzzy holographic display.

Developer Benjamin Poynter, when asked about the role of games with social stances, thinks that games could say more. His experience travelling through D.C. with his wife during the Travel Ban protests, inspired him to take a stance and make games that voiced that stance. Marshall's Theory being the first.

Putin flies in to do damage.

Putin flies in to do damage.

Marshall's Theory definitely uses that voice without pulling punches. As players survive the nightmare and the protesters all drop dead, a prompt follows that says, brought to you by "The American Health Care Act." This is followed shortly after by an image of Abraham Lincoln falling on a spike. "It is a message that illustrates the death of Democracy," Poynter says. It certainly gets that point across.

Marshall's theory is also playable on PC. 

~Caleb
@LubWub

 

Lucah: Carving Through a Nightmare of Self-Discovery by Caleb Sawyer

In the last year, several games have tried to revisit the aesthetic, both in appearance and difficulty, of retro Zelda. Perhaps the most notable to do this was last year's Hyper Light Drifter. A title by a small team that knocked the socks of of nostalgic gamers and newcomers alike. Next in that same lineup comes Lucah, a gritty game about a boy's journey through a world of nightmares on the way to self-discovery.

The first thing that makes Lucah stand out is, well, its high contrast art style. The game is built in a black and white world of harsh lines and jittery animations. The jitter here isn't a lack of polish however, it is an embodiment of tumultuous mental state. Enemies shudder across the battlefield as they shamble towards you. The game's protagonist, the eponymous Lucah and his familiar stand out like beacons of light against this background of black and white nightmares, etched in neon blues or oranges.

Lucah's combat feels familiar (pun intended) but fresh. Your familiar floats around you to provide ranged attacks, and Lucah is capable of Heavy and Light attacks. It may seem favorable to rely on the heavy attacks right away, but after putting in a bit of due diligence, the light attacks add a lot of flexibility to your playstyle. 

Lucah's art style and knack for creative storytelling does wonders for first-time players, and the demo that was available at Pixel Pop was extremely well crafted, giving players enough time to get familiar with the controls, but cutting them off with a cliffhanger of a boss fight that made me want so much more than I got. 

Lucah recently was fully funded on Kickstarter and plans to release in 2018. The demo is up now, and I encourage anyone who has a PC and some free time to go give it a shot. The potential here is visible. To stay in the loop on development updates and release news follow Lucah on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.

~Caleb
@LubWub

 

Anthromancer: Beauty, Mystery, and Deadly Aesthetic by Caleb Sawyer

The goal of any game, table top, digital, or otherwise, is to catch your eye. Walking the floor of Pixel Pop 2017 there was one game in particular that shouted "Come look at this!" Anthromancer is the creation of the multitalented folks at Dancakes. Yes, that is correct. Pancake artists by day, the people at Dancakes are also hard at work on a board game that is damn beautiful. 

In Anthromancer, minimalistic geometry meets otherworldly occult. Dan himself (@drdancake) describes the game as "the Voyager Record from another planet." For those unfamiliar, the Voyager Record was a bank of information stored on the Voyager 1, a space probe launched in 1977. In the record was a mix of media that included images, sounds, greetings in 55 different languages, and music. A time capsule sent into space for any intelligent species that may find it. For those playing Anthromancer, you have found a time capsule from another planet, and boy does the game get that across beautifully. 

You are immediately confronted with a board covered in geometric symmetry, save for the faction logos at the compass points, Claws, Souls, Gears, and Blades; four factions with advantage against one and weakness against another (Claws beats Souls in a tie, Souls beats Gears, and so on...). Aether sits in the middle, a confluence. 

Anthromancer plays like a game of checkers if each piece were summoned and had attack ratings on each side of the piece. And if you had Hymn cards that played a myriad of different strategic roles. So in other words, not like checkers at all. Anthromancer is a unique blend of conventional mechanics retooled into an experience that is part divine, part sacrilege, all enthralling. 

And that is just the surface. There is an musical component that will come with the full game, albums that hint at deeper truths hidden in the cryptic language littered about the board and cards. I played my game against Hank Gustafson (who appears to be better than Twitter, pff!) and as I played he regaled me with a lore richer than even the most heady expectations for a board game.

Anthromancer is a beautiful creation by people that desire nothing more than to bend your mind. Look for more news as they launch their Kickstarter soon (planning to coincide with the solar eclipse, as if there were any more appropriate timing) and we meet with them to get even more hands on in the future (even I am being mystical now).

Oh, and did I mention the game can also be used as a Tarot deck? Yeah...prepare to "Be Moved."

Follow Anthromancer on Facebook and Twitter!

~Caleb
@LubWub

Defend Neo Tokyo: Co-op Pacific Rim for the Dining Room Table by Caleb Sawyer

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Amid the overwhelming lineup of indie videogames at Pixel Pop 2017 was an impressive crowd of tabletop games on display. One of those games was @STLGatewayGames Defend Neo Tokyo. I spoke with creators Jamie Toon and Jason Mayer about their ambitious board game at length and I can tell you this much, they have my money.

Conceived as a co-op monster fighting game, Defend Neo Tokyo gives up to five players the ability to build their own mech to fight towering abominations set to destroy Neo Tokyo. Players get to choose the arms, legs, and chassis of their mech from a pool of possibilities, allowing a level of freedom in customization that, in Jason's words "leads to a lot of different possibilities."

After players assemble their mechs they are tasked with beating a faction of monsters besieging Neo Tokyo. The launch game will come with sea monsters, land monsters, and giant insects, each with their own unique traits and tendencies. Before you ask, yes they plan to introduce Alien invaders in future expansions.

Defend Neo Tokyo is handsomely built, with what appears to be a complex system of power nodes and damage slots that is deftly explained and easy to get a grip on. The mechs that players build have abilities based on their choices that need accumulated power to use, the more powerful the ability the more power consumed. Take damage from a rampaging baddie, and you may need to spend a repair bot to restore functionality. 

If you're lucky enough to beat the team of monsters, a boss beast enters the game that serves as the final showdown. It's five on one monster slaying mayhem that is sure to leave players with memorable moments in the aftermath. 

Behold the menacing Gorganus!

Behold the menacing Gorganus!

Defend Neo Tokyo will be headed to Kickstarter in October, so keep your ear to the ground for more news in the coming weeks and months. We also plan to sit down with the folks at Gateway Games to play a game or two of our own. So stay tuned!

Check out Defend Neo Tokyo.

~Caleb
@LubWub

The Humans Behind it All: Pixel Pop Festival 2017 by Caleb Sawyer

I have been to three of four Pixel Pop Festival's, each in a different capacity. This year, as a journalist, I hoped to hone in on the theme in the bones of this year's indie showcasing festival. Within hours it was clear what Pixel Pop was trying to say. Games are made by humans. Normal people like you and me. Their successes and sacrifices were given a spotlight here, illustrating one message clear as day: Behind the games you love are people who have dedicated themselves to creating what they love.

I went to the original Pixel Pop Festival on a whim. My uncle and I had just learned about the event and, as gamers, content creators, and hopeful developers, we felt it too good an opportunity to pass up on. We bought our tickets at the door and walked through the halls of Webster University a bit aimlessly. Pixel Pop was small then, but had the heart of a dragon. There was an air of excitement in those halls. The realization that St. Louis had a vibrant indie game community was still fresh for most of the people there. There was this mild dumbstruck look on a lot of people's faces.

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Fast forward to 2017. I got my Press credentials in the last days of June and began to gear up for attending Pixel Pop as a member of the press. As more and more information came out I began to build my schedule for the two day event. Based on the information presented alone, it was clear that PxP2017 was going to be bringing a lot to the plate. A full schedule of panels and talks, an impressive list of content on display. I thought of the first Pixel Pop I went to. In a short four years a lot had changed.

That isn't to say that Pixel Pop was less organized before. It was young. It still is. But stepping through the doors onto the Expo floor this year made one thing effortlessly clear. The showrunners behind Pixel Pop had been hard at work. Pixel Pop Festival 2017 was bigger, better, and had something to tell its attendees: the St. Louis indie community is here to stay.

As a journalist I knew I wanted to find a theme. I knew, as soon as I arrived, that there was a message in the air. It was in the smiles of the exhibitors. In the games they were showing off. In the words of each and every panelist, speaker, and community member. In an age where technology so easily removes the faces of those responsible from their work, Pixel Pop Festival 2017 put the human element on glorious display.

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The Keynote Speaker, Rebecca Saltsman of Finji (@BexSaltsman) spoke about her family's triumphs and struggles adapting and creating in the game industry. From harsh lessons about preparedness, to sacrifices made for fiscal solvency, to being full-time developers with two young boys. It was refreshing, enlightening even, to see someone who, by most people's standards, made it, speak to the difficulty of the journey. The sea of heads nodded and hummed in acknowledgement and laughed in agreement throughout the talk.

Other talks focused on helping new developers get started on their own, bootstrapping their own games, balancing life and game development, and gaming for a cause. It was a lineup chock full of heart and down to earth advice from important voices in the game industry. 

The Expo floor was no different. Creators of all ages waited with eager hearts as attendees stepped up to their booths. In passing, at any moment, you could hear the stories behind these games. You could feel the pride in the developer's voices. Voices like @Waffle__Works Isaac White smiling next to a proud family as people played his charming, submarine side-scrolling shooter Submerged. Voices like Jason Mayer and Jamie Toon at @STLGatewayGames who gushed about their board game Defend Neo Tokyo (there was a SOLID showing by board games at Pixel Pop). Everywhere you turned, people in love with what they had created stood tall behind their creations.

In the short four years that Pixel Pop Festival has existed it has grown leagues beyond what I thought it could have, and this year's showing sets the bar high for next year. It was a privilege to be able to cover this event. The amount of love on display was palpable. St. Louis has a lot to be proud of in Pixel Pop. The most sincere thank you and congratulations to the team behind the scenes putting it all together. You all made an event deserving of every bit of praise it receives. Here is to a stellar 2018 show.

~Caleb
@LubWub