Let’s talk about … – Former AAA developer turns to Kickstarter to fund indie title Sol Trader

Chris Parsons is a former AAA developer who worked on titles such as Evil Genius and Republic: The Revolution for Elixir Studios. Three years ago he decided to return to his roots in writing his own video games as an independent developer. Enter Sol Trader; “a cross between Elite and Asteroids, with a deep and thematic storytelling RPG elements”.

For those of you into your sims this may be one to watch, and you can have your part in making it a reality. Sol Trader is currently looking for £20,000 on Kickstarter to bring it out of Alpha through to a finished project in 2015.

 sol-trader-1

Keen to distinguish Sol Trader from similar games in the genre, Chris posted the following on the games Kickstarter:

I decided to build a rich world history which allowed players to discover and forge their own story in the context of their family, upbringing and childhood. I wanted players to uncover secrets about their rivals that go back seventy years and use them against them. I wanted them work their uncle’s contacts in the senate to secure lucrative diplomatic missions. I wanted them to meet school bullies on the space lanes, and teach them a lesson.

Even in the Alpha builds of the game this shines through. Before you even start there’s a large number of decisions that you make that generates a full family history that you can browse. Each individual has a full breakdown of their life, their interactions with other people etc. it’s incredibly in-depth.

sol-trader-2

Moving past the lore and depth of the world around you, while core mechanics are there, such as trading and combat, gameplay is a little thin. Given the game is in Alpha that’s hardly surprising so we’re going to hold off on a review until the game has progressed a little further and we can give it a fare shot.

If you like the sound of a space trading/exploring/shipbuilding/combat sim then check out the games Kickstarter and help get the game released in 2015. Sol Trader is also currently on Greenlight, so head over there to drop your vote.

Let’s take a look at … – A-Maze-In

A-Maze-In is a very polished, casual maze game from MAROBI Entertainment Inc. You play as Mino, a teenage Minotaur, and have to use his special abilities and potions to progress through many mazes, overcoming a range of enemies and obstacles as you do so. It’s currently available on IOS and is a free pickup.

A-Maze-In looks great and has quality production value. I love the cartoony-feeling art style and the sound quality is just as good. You can really feel that time and effort has been put into polish and as a result it feels nice and solid. The main menu has a couple of simple settings for sound and some social media buttons.

The game starts with comic book style narration that outlines the premise of the game. You’re Mino and your princess Mina gets kidnapped by another evil Minotaur and your adventure is to save her. It’s a neat way of introducing the player to the game; it’s much more engaging that a wall of text.

A-Maze-In-1

And now we’re into the main screen of the game, the map, and it’s huge! There’s over 110 unique mazes in the game so there’s plenty of content to go at. My first nit-pick with the game comes here though and it lies in the ad. At the bottom of the map screen there is an ad and I think it’s a shame it’s there blocking the nice graphics.  It’s also there every time you view the screen which is a bit of a pain, I feel there’s other places it could be placed that’s less in the way.

A-Maze-In-2

Gameplay is a very traditional maze game; work your way through each maze, find the key and get to the end. No awards for innovativeness but it’s certainly a solid implementation of the genre. As you progress through the levels there’s continuing running dialogue from Mino and cast which ensures the story doesn’t get lost along the way.

The controls feel great. I was worried when I saw the virtual D-pad as I’ve played games with a pretty awful implementation of it, but A-Maze-In’s is nice and fluid. Abilities and potions are used via 4 icons in the bottom left which is nice and simple and the quality of art is consistent with the rest of the game.

There are various enemies and obstacles throughout the levels that you can either avoid or fight and various pickups that give you score. Each level also has a number of objectives that you have to accomplish to get a maximum of three stars on each. I also believe there’s a number of unique bosses that you fight after X levels. I didn’t reach one myself, however I’ve been informed they add some interesting variety to the game and the screenshots I’ve seen certainly seem to hint at this. A-Maze-In is fun, but is certainly designed for a casual gaming audience. I think the gamers out there looking for a real challenge would be left somewhat short-changed.
A-Maze-In-3

My main problem with A-Maze-In lies in the fact that once you run out of lives you have to either buy more, ask friends on Facebook or simply wait for 30 minutes; the whole social-coupling and pay-to-play game model. It’s a tricky subject. You can’t say ‘You wouldn’t have to buy lives for [insert AAA title here] so you should here”; they’re different markets. You don’t spend millions on an IOS title and making money in such a saturated market is hard and these are tried and tested techniques that have become a common feature in this type of game. I do however think that neither in-app purchases nor social integration should hold-back gameplay and in this case it does. If you want to add those things to extend gameplay to those willing to pay then fine, I’m still not a fan but I understand. I think however when it actively stops you playing the game a line has been crossed.

One item in the app-store I do like is the ability to remove ads. I like the fact that the game is free to attract an audience then you have the ability to pay and remove ads. That’s a good way of gaining an audience as opposed to having separate free and paid versions of the app.

A-Maze-In-4

I’m going to give A-Maze-In a solid 8/10.  If I were to change my ways and become a social gamer A-Maze-In would be one of titles I’d download. As it currently stands however it’s a bit casual for me. Production value is there, it’s definitely a quality app, just I’m not a huge fan of social-media coupling and pay-to-play mechanics interfering with gameplay so directly.

Let’s take a look at … – Super Bomb Noms

SuperBombNoms is the latest title from Super Cookie Games. In their own words “It’s a cross between Bomberman and Pokemon, where you can collect all the Bomb Noms and play with them.” It certainly is, and the result is really rather pleasant.

I played the game for roughly 20 minutes so I’ll run through my experience.

The first thing that I took note of were the graphics which are very cute! The aesthetic works perfectly and everything is very well tied together. There’s a wide range of BombNoms you can collect that are all different designs and colours so you can collect them all! I’ll cover that more when we talk about gameplay. With bright, vibrant graphics you need the soundtrack to match and they certainly have that. The music is very preppy, bubbling and light hearted much like the graphics. All in all, my first experience on running the app was great. I have a particular fondness for this style so mileage may vary, but I think everyone can agree it’s a cute looking, and sounding game.

Screenshot_2014-10-17-21-32-49

Onto gameplay. There’s 2 modes, online and solo play; I only played solo. After a short tutorial you’ll pick your starting Bomb Nomb, much like picking a starting pokemon, and then the gameplay begins. Solo gameplay is, from what I can tell, a tournament which you enter and play against AI opponents through a number of rounds.

Actual gameplay is much like the classic BomberMan. Try place your bombs strategically to blow up your opponent. Here’s where I ran into my first negative. For my preferences the controls were a bit slow. The games implements a virtual keypad and I found trying to perform quick moved on it just didn’t work. For example, if you were to press down-up-right pretty quickly it would only action down-up. It’s not a huge problem, but I felt it slowed down the gameplay a bit would could be avoided with tighter controls. Keeping your finger on the keypad and moving it, as opposed to individual presses for each action, felt nicer but I feel could still be tighter.

Screenshot_2014-10-17-21-12-32

Collecting BombNoms is another major part of the game so let’s look at that. If you enter the ‘Bomb Center’ (the big bomb on the main menu) you’re taken to a large screen filled with unlockable & purchasable BombNoms. Most of them for me were not filled in as I hadn’t played much, but there’s LOADS that you can unlock. Clicking on the few that were unlocked I could see that you unlock them with coins and there’s some that get unlocked by liking their Facebook page etc. like in other social games.

Screenshot_2014-10-17-21-22-07

SuperBombNoms uses an in-game purchase revenue system which I’m not a huge fan of, but it’s not too forced; You can certainly still enjoy the game without making purchases and there’s lots of content to unlock through Facebook etc. You can buy coins in-game to speed up the processes of buying the characters you want. One area of this ‘pay to play’ mentality that I don’t like is the lives system. If you run out of lives you either have to wait for them to recharge, buy more with coins (which promoted in-app purchases) or ask friends on Facebook. I understand that in the app marketplace in-app purchases a leading source of income, but having limited gameplay been indirectly related to purchases (coins >> irl money) is not ok in my book. A game should be a game. You buy it, you can play all you want.

Screenshot_2014-10-17-21-16-31

All things considered I really did like SuperBombNoms. The graphics are cute, complimenting audio, the gameplay is solid and the app is well polished. Sure I think the controls could be tighter, and the tight coupling with social media and in-app purchases will deter some ‘hardcore’ gamers, but that’s not the demographic. For the ‘cacual’ mobile gamer SuperBombNoms I’m sure will be a much visited app and the Google App Store reviews mirror this. I’d rate SuperBombNoms 7/10.