Enzo is a writer of Italian descent. He has lived in Germany, Switzerland, and recently settled in New York City where he works as a freelancer. When he is not exploring the city or losing at Street Fighter 5 tournaments, he likes to play role-playing and strategy video games. You can check out his work at www.enzoscavone.com.
Shining Pixel Studios released Oriental Empires on September 14. The action is set in ancient China, where warring factions fight for supremacy over what is to become a tremendous empire. While at first sight, Oriental Empires appears like other 4X games, with a campaign map, factions, and armies engaging in battle, there are key differences. The battles are not being decided on a tactical map anymore, but take place on the campaign map in real-time.
It’s hard to pinpoint the inception of the esports movement, but much speaks for placing it somewhere around the year 2000. Fueled by fears of the end of the world (brought about by the Y2K bug), public sentiment took a downturn. In Asia, specifically South Korea, a financial crisis had ravaged the economy and conjured a bleak outlook onto the future. Scores of yuppies were fired and turned into NEETs. Instead of browsing the internet and doing nothing at their office jobs, they now passed their time in cyber cafes, playing online multiplayer games.
The studio itself was established in 2012 by three people — two programmers and one artist — who had gained experience working in different studios before, but mostly with one studio (that is) in Quebec City, which is called Frima Studio. They decided to try it on their own and began working on a project which was later canceled because it had been too ambitious. Their first successful project was BeatBlasters III which is a game they released on PC. It’s a rhythm game with platformer and puzzle elements — a unique take on those genres. It didn’t perform very well, like most first games of a studio. They didn't invest much in marketing.
I interviewed Luca Dalcò from the small Italian indie studio LKA located in the picturesque landscape of Chianti, Italy. Luca Dalcò recently released The Town of Light (ToL). Particular about this title is its treatment of the subject of mental health. While it is an important issue here as well as across the big pond, it is a topic that, if it doesn’t receive a sexy packaging like the Joker in the Batman franchise, seldom is subject matter for video games, because of the stigma and taboo it still carries.
An event like no other has been gearing up in the ecosystem of New York’s conventions. We attentive observers of the indie game scene first took note of it through articles on OPN, Polygon, and TechRaptor — we who broke the news that Playcrafting was organizing New York’s first dedicated video game convention. After having interviewed Dan Butchko, the CEO of Playcrafting, in the week leading up to PLAY NYC, I was curious about how the event would turn out. Was the excitement justified, and especially: would it be a seminal event in a series of many to come, setting a movement into motion to grow the video game development scene in New York?
Enzo Scavone, senior journalist at OPNoobs, traveled to Mexico and met some of the leading figures of the wider professional videogame community in Mexico. Although his wallet was picked, his interest in the state of game development was also piqued, and he shares his thoughts here.
The four members of Windy Games, Adam Michaan, Alexander Ahlberg, Emily Compton, and Tom Brooks II, took a tour through Howe Caverns in upstate New York, conducting field research for their upcoming title Miasma Caves, a JRPG and cave-exploration game for which they need to generate an authentic cave environment.
Despite a flourishing indie game development scene, New York does not have host a games convention. Many claim that the need is covered by PAX East, in Boston, or GDC, far away on the West Coast. Furthermore, the supposedly little interest that is suspected to exist locally would be covered by branches of New York ComicCon or the Tribeca Film Festival. The success of the video game components of the two events, however, shows that the interest is growing and might not be satisfied as it is.
OPN had an opportunity to speak with the developers at length about their continuing work with Slime-san. Their answers show inside-track glimpses of the challenges and expectations of indie studios who seek to maintain and expand a title after release.
Reservoir Dogs: Bloody Days by Big Star Games is a third-person top-down shooter with few connections to Quentin Tarantino’s film other than it being about gangsters with color-coded names; and yet Bloody Days partially succeeds in its aspiration to revive a classic for crime and gangster films, while offering a time-rewind mechanics that helps the game distinct itself from the pool of titles in the top-down shooter category.
“Jus’ watch me, you joyk,” New York might say. While the city doesn’t attract big name game studios yet, it has a growing and energetic indie game scene. The members of this scene are gaming devotees looking for communal support and wishing for New York to support small entrepreneurship and can-do attitudes. Programs to help start-ups exist, like NYU-Poly, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, and NYC Seed. However, the landscape lacks initiatives which support video game developers, specifically.
With Prey,the developer Arkane Studios has built on the proven success of its stealth shooters. The gameplay discourages a head-on approach, slowing down the pace of the action. However, the frustration of having to hide instead of fighting enemies is remedied by excellent graphic and sound design, a strong RPG element, and the possibility to gather resources and build useful devices. An additional perk is the inventive writing, which manages an immersive, haunting atmosphere.
While there are some problems with making the player feel truly relevant in influencing the plotline, there are occasions where this does happen, and then you feel taken along for a fascinating ride. Together with the superb voice acting and quality soundtrack, this episode leaves you thirsting for more.
Faithful to the franchise, PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness manages to involve the player into speculative science-fiction that poses fundamental questions about the human condition. While the graphics rely on still images and, at times, follow dialogue to an extent that feels tedious, the storyline creates a gripping experience on crime and mystery that leaves one pondering their own views on happiness and self-determination.
Dawn of War 3, by Relic Entertainment, is a worthy successor to the first two installments in the series. While it struggles to implement the grimdark theme of Warhammer lore visually, the title manages to reference the theme through its elite units. The heroes and doctrines a player chooses before a multiplayer battle offer the possibility to customize strategy and develop individual playstyle.
The neon-clad, Japanese-themed platformer Slime-san is a cute 2D puzzler with simplistic yet endearing design. Requiring all of the skills and reflexes of Super Meat Boy, Slime-san is not a challenge to take lightly. While the intricate levels and fast-paced gameplay have an initial appeal for speedrunners, Slime-san lacks enough substance to keep the player’s attention for long.
The attention to detail in the game mechanics, the developers’ efforts to maintain relevance and historical accuracy, and the rewards of mastering its intricacies set Afghanistan '11 apart as an exceptional title. However, an unusually steep learning curve, which might be hard to accept for someone who wants to casually try a turn-based strategy game, keep this release from broader appeal.
With Mandate of Heaven, Paradox Interactive has proven once more that they consistently deliver expansions which incorporate suggestions from players and satisfy their gamership's desire for new, immersive content -- once a newcomer overcomes the steep learning curve. Additionally, the downloadable content offers improved features for the game interface and new concepts in gameplay, contributing to a deep, involving, and rewarding experience.