10 Single sentence game reviews (part 3)

Yup. Even after all the time I spend on making Penarium and Mutant Gangland I still have the energy to play games when I come home. How can I not? It’s fun! Here are some reviews. I’ll keep it short. I did this before. Here are part 1  and part 2.

y3aehtValiant Hearts
A warm and stylish visual coat laid over a set of mechanics that somehow just not represent the game’s story in any way.

Shadow Of Mordor
Being a powerful death machine is hardly ever challenging but does invoke creative sadist planning and that’s fun.

Thief
A muddy maze of a city sucked me in and made me forget that it sadly falls short as a stealth game, But only for so long.

Assassin’s Creed; Black Flag
It’s telling that the series’ sidestep to sailing and pirating is more fun than any of the series’ trademark mechanics.

Wolfenstein New Order
Cut scenes and characters well above standards on top of a shooting game that is simple, Brutal, And effective.

Steamworld Dig
Digging deeper and growing stronger is compelling enough even without its lovely setting.

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Proteus
An undemanding mellow stream of impulse with always something new to walk to and always some new to hear.

Sniper Elite III
Strong alert guards that see you from the corner of their eyes plus open levels make this the ultimate stealth game.

Watch_Dogs
After a while the wonderful illusion of a pulsing techno world falls apart and a solid superstructure of minigames remains.

Hearthstone
With short matches and twists at every turn this could be the card game of the future.

That was it. Also; Somewhere long ago I apparently had the time to play Fallout. Take a good look at this lifetime achievement. Yup. That’s a lot of hours. I’m amazed by how proud I am of this. Achievements really do feel like achievements to me.

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Penarium, An artist perspective.

Good news! Me and my friends have agreed with Team17 to publish Penarium. Being on the project from the start by doing all the artwork and seeing it evolve was pretty cool. The fact that a big company has the faith to put their name on it is also cool. I’m proud but I have to say that it hasn’t really sinked in yet. Probably because we have so much stuff to do yet. I will tell you how it was for me as an artist.

About a year ago my friend and former-classmate Rick came to me with a neat idea for a platformer game in a dark circus theme. I was instantly excited because the 19th century circus has always intrigued me, Especially in video games. It’s a place where weirdness meets fear and nostalgia, A nostalgia for a time I never even lived in. I thought “Yes, We should make this game together.”

It was time to start pixelating but where did I start? The colours. For my pixel art I use a limited number of colours. I’t maker for small files and easier restyling if needed. I figured I needed some colours that were associated with the theme. Which is the 20’s if I wanted to get the game’s theme across. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly is a colour linked with a time period. It’s very subjective. Generally if you watch a movie and you see a colour in the background or on somebody’s dress and it hits you then that’s a good indication that you’re on the right track. I myself got hit a lot when I watched the TV show Carnivale which is about a circus traveling the US in the 1930’s.

Those bleak canvas colours just scream 'old circus'.

Those bleak canvas colours just scream ‘old circus’.

I paid attention to the things happening in the background. Stopped the screen and took color notes (which is just picking a color in Photoshop). With those colours I started working on the game’s player sprite. We wanted to create an unusual hero.  One whose juxtaposition between his physique and his athletic performance would create a comical effect but most important: One you felt sympathy for when he would die. I created a round shaped character in the line of Laurel and Hardy. Slapstick is a form of comedy from another age but it’s very present in Penarium. There are so many ways the player can come to an end and so Penarium is kinda what you’d get if Laurel and Hardy was really really brutal. I gave him a red hairdo because I have a friend who worked at a circus fair who also had red hair. Yes. It’s just that simple. My friends name is Wilco, We call him Willy. And so the name for the game’s character was born.

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When he’s not being chased by death machines Willy is actually quite cheery.

Then there was the level background. It had to be circus-like and there had to be some audience. I started pixelating everything and it took a while for me to get something nice on the screen. At first I tried to draw everything on a big canvas of 800×600. but I wasn’t good enough at pixel art to bring detail to such a giant screen. It would be a lot of work. I proposed to make the game 400×300 instead and just scale up every pixel to twice its size. We did. And the game got its current chunky pixel look. First I tried to make some indoor levels. With a circus tent an all. Didn’t really work. Then I tried to do an outdoor level at night because this game was going to be ‘dark’. It worked for a while and we developed and tested the game for quite some time with a beautiful nighttime level with spotlights and lit-up clouds and a starry heaven. And for a time all was good.

From a time where the deathtrap circus was the only form of entertainment.

From a time where the deathtrap circus was the only form of entertainment.

Then. After a while, As if fate demanded it. We started questioning it again. We asked “Is this right?”. It was not right. At that time we did not know what platform Penarium was going to be released upon but we would want to showcase our game on events to potential investors. The quickest way to do that was to have the game ready on our phone so we could whip it out during a conversation. I figured that if this game was going to be mobile then we needed to change the level background. Mobile players have to be able to play their games anywhere anytime, That means outside during the day. That means screen glare. The nighttime level wouldn’t cause the screen to light up enough so people would have trouble seeing what’s going on at the screen. We changed it to a bright daytime level.

I make it sound like smooth sailing don’t I? For the most part this project is fun to work on but I had my share of nightmares! Like the old animation system. To amplify the sense of spectacle we aim to make the player’s demise visually gruesome. It was my job to make a separate specific death animation for every single obstacle in the game. Imagine a guy being blown to pieces by a rocket. There’s blood and body parts flying in every direction. Right? The problem was that these animations could only fit in a very small frame. I spent a long hard week making about 20 different animations while biting my knuckles out of frustration with the small frame. And then we used none of them. Was I mad? No.

Gruesome to see? More like gruesome to make!

Gruesome to see? More like gruesome to make!

We tested it but found out that with this fast-paced platformer there were a lot of situations where the death animations did not cope with the the moment. After that I just made a separate head, separate limbs and some body parts, Which we call ‘gibs’, and we put it in the game. This time we let the game do the animation. For example: When Willy gets hit by a giant bowling ball the game calculates how hard he gets hit and from what direction. Then it lets blood and gibs fly around based on that. It’s a rough version of physics we apply to a lot of things in the game. Like our water. But that is a story for another time.

More things like these tend to pop up over a game’s production but there are three things that pull me through this: I like the setting of the game. I like the people I work with and I think Penarium is a super fun game to play. If any joy or despair comes up I will certainly share it on Twitter. See you in the circus.

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GDC is not the coolest thing ever.

I went to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. It’s a big conference. It was fun and interesting but it wasn’t all that great. I will tell you the why but first: Why did I decide to fly to the other side of the planet and spend over a €1000 for the largest game developer conference there is? Because I thought it would help me make new contacts, Profile myself as a game maker and spread word about the two games I’m working on. One of these games did not fare so well.

First there is Penarium which I make with my friends at Self Made Miracle It’s a crazy arcade survival platformer. Words don’t do it justice so here’s a trailer:

We got invited to pitch the game to representatives of a major game/console manufacturer in a hotel conference room. This is one of the things we did. The presentation was very informal and the other side showed a neutral/positive reception. We can’t really tie any conclusions to it yet. The other game is Mutant Gangland. A turn-based strategy game for mobile and desktop. Inspired on Advance Wars and set in a future war between robots and mutants. I make this game with Bacioiu and Grace.

I love this game but not many people got to see it. Penarium is easy to introduce to people. It’s a platformer with almost no premise but ‘survive’ and ‘collect barrels’ through jumping an running. Mutant Gangland is harder. Most turn-based games have unique mechanics that only show their elegance after multiple turns. It requires easing and explaining and on a conference not everybody has time for that. I feel like this is one of the reasons Mutant Gangland did not get the attention it deserves and I need to find a way to fix that for future events. Another reason is that I found it very hard to spread word about two games simultaneously. Meeting new people (and potential future supporters) on the  conference floor can be a very short ordeal. When I meet someone who asks me what games I make I feel like the time shortage forces me to pick just one. Most of the times I picked the instantly understandable one: Penarium.

I also booked the trip, the tickets and the hotel together with the Penarium team. Often this conference felt like a Penarium mission and it would feel like a jerk move to plug another game during that. I need to find a solution for this because I really love both games. On the other hand the TBS (turn-based strategy) genre has some hardcore fans. Some people straight up love these games. I think it’s up to me to find those people and maybe a conference is not the best place for that. Or maybe I just don’t know who made what cool strategy game and did I just not pull the right people on their sleeves. A good move for next time would be to get in touch with the people at 17Bit who made the extremely amusing Skulls Of The Shogun or the people from Xcom. They were probably there at the conference and it hurts my head just thinking about this in hindsight.

I think that’s the one great thing about GDC. There’s a lot of people there and if you really want to hook up with them you can. I saw many people who I think I know somehow. I just didn’t know what to say to them. Maybe it just feels unnatural to me to force myself into a conversation or to steer a conversation to “play my game!”. Not everybody has. I met some people who seamlessly eased a nice conversation into just basically boasting about all the things they did and what they were known for. I also heard a lot of namedropping. Like “I went to school with famous dude X”. This was often followed by a short moment of silence because I don’t know famous dude X. I am an ostrich. Maybe on purpose. Maybe I just want to make friends and maybe those friends will one day be supporters. Maybe that’s why Mutant Gangland rolled so slow.

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From http://www.andrewle.com/about

I also noticed how people come to this conference with various intentions. Before I went there I thought everybody at the GDC would have the same mission as us: To show the world what they are working on, Spreading the word hoping someone would pick it up. But no: We booked 3 beds in a 4 bed room and the fourth guest turned out to be a Ohio student and artist who also attended the conference. His goal was to find a job but he also took part in many a drinking game with his fellow classmates who also slept in the hostel. It’s not that he did not take this seriously but the way things were done is going to the conference floor at day, Going by all the career booths to show his portfolio, And go out to a beer party at night. Get boozed up. Hope to randomly run into a bigshot and then maybe get a job offer somehow.

There are also people who attend the show to learn things. There are a lot of talks being given and some of them can be extremely useful. I myself have a hard time sitting still on a chair. This is one of the reason I did not go the IGF Awards, Which is apparently some kind of relevant award show for games. I never heard of it before but it looked like a bunch of people sitting in a giant hallway listening to one category after another. I thought that to be a detraction from my mission. We saw this GDC as our only shot to show the world what we are up to. We need to actively work and lobby our game in order for it to generate results. Then there are the AAA studio people. The programmers, designers and artists who are already in the clear. Their PR person takes care of all the talking and for these folks GDC is just one big school trip where every night is about partying for the sake of partying. We party too. But only in the hopes we get to make connections somehow.

This brings me to the next point: Don’t rule people out based on their appearance. First of all because this is a vain and mean thing to do and second because everybody is a potential friend and supporter. We went to a dance party in an industrial area. The doorman sat on a stool and he looked pretty savage. He was a big guy with spiked bracelets. He had had piercings and tattoos all over his face and body. He wore a shirt with a skull on it and had a list with names of people who were allowed in. When we were up he asked us if we made games and gave us all his business card with a huge Sony logo. This badass brutal doorman worked at Sony and just managed a club as a side thing. We did not know this but we were friendly and it paid off. So be friendly, Always.

It’s also safe to be careful about what street you walk in the dark. San Francisco has a dark side. Many drunks and addicts roam the street and many homeless people also. I have no problem with this but some are extremely persistent about getting your money. Like walking along with me  while begging for change, Not taking ‘no’ for an answer and shouting “f*ck you you one armed b*tch” when they give up. To even beating  you up and taking your wallet after dark. This did not happen to me but it happened to others in seemingly safe areas. I think it’s best to not travel alone in the evening and night.

Something I need to better prepare next time is the reservations for the parties. The five days of GDC go like this: Until 6 PM the conference floor is open and in the evening there are multiple parties spread all over the city. All of these need reservations and I felt this was always this buzz around the  air of “Where are you going?”. Always that feeling I might miss out on the coolest crew or the hippest party. It’s not good for me at all. Also: going out for five days is a row is extremely tiring.

So tiring that I was sick twice during my stay in San Francisco. I think due to a number of reasons, I didn’t sleep enough, I did somehow not get enough vitamins and I came across a lot of people.  And man San Francisco can be expensive! Somehow a bowl of fruit was one of the rarest and most pricey things on many menus. At all the places I went people looked at me like I was crazy when I said “Just fruit”. Sodas are cheap though. You can get cola everywhere and I paid many visits to the deli across our hostel. I thought Cola, with all its bubbles and chemicals would help me fight the cold. I’m not sure it did.

Then there is the Indie hostel. Somewhere in time one of San Francisco’s 57890 hostels was dubbed The Indie Hostel. You have to make reservation quite early. It’s pricier than the surrounding hostels and it’s chock full of game people. If you haven’t booked at the hostel you can’t get in though (as in all SF hostels). But reading from Twitter it seems like the most fun place in the world. Meetings, parties, Cool indies hanging out. It’s all there and if you haven’t booked you’re missing out. There’s people tweeting about how much fun they are having, Making inside jokes about things nobody understands. It makes me feel left out and I can totally understand if the rest of the world would rather turn Twitter off during the week of GDC.

I believe there are a number of people saying their GDC was super awesome because they thought it was so but I also believe there is an even greater number of people who had a mediocre GDC but will still say it was super awesome because everyone else says it was super awesome. For me it was just mediocre. It should’ve prepared better but even then I doubt I’d have much from from seeing way too much faces for five days. Afterwards I’m still not sure the total experience paid off. Maybe this is a thing that benefits from repetition. One of the days I saw a kid with a laptop sitting outside asking passers by if they would play his game. Many people did and he paid $0 for it. He never bought a GDC ticket. He just sat outside hustling his game. For now that kid is my hero.

 

 

 

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Mutant Gangland So Far

Mutant Gangland, Our uncomplicated turn-based strategy game that just hit Alpha. It’s set amid a future gangwar between robots and mutants. I will now tell you about this game’s past, present, and future.

History:
First of all this game is made by a core crew of three people who never met each other in real life. Bacioiu is from Romania, Grace from England, and I’m from The Netherlands. How did we meet? On Twitter. I’ll call Bacioiu ‘Zapa’ from now on. Zapa loves strategy games. To be even more specific he loves the TBS* Advance Wars. About a year ago he started coding and playing around with his long brooding idea of making a turn based strategy game like Advance Wars but even shorter battles. Or a coffee-break TBS as he called it. *Turn-Based Strategy game. Where players take turns.

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Being my friend he asked me if I could make some temporary art he could use until he found a final artist. I liked the idea of the game and I offered to be that final artist myself UNDER ONE CONDITION!: I got the to make up a theme and setting for the game. Being a supporter of creative freedom, Zapa said “Yes, Whatever”. Great! So? Where to start? I wanted to do something with masks. And then came the robots and then the mutants and the concept was born. A futuristic wasteland where gangs of robots and mutants fight over turfs of land. We figured it would take us about a few weeks to make it.

Five months later and we’re are all still working behind our desks. All in different parts of the Europe We promised the world a release for January 28. Of course nobody in the world really cares for that but we feel it. It looms over our shoulder as there are but hours to go. Zapa is smoking, cursing, and coding, I myself am destroying my only hand over attack animations that I by now see even when I sleep, and Grace is chained to her headphones as she forges the final pieces of sound and music. It’s hard and it’s tense but on January 28 we did deliver Mutant Gangland Alpha 1 to the world. Clap.

Present:
It’s our first personal release. We put it up own Itch.io along with an amazing trailer. So far we sold 60 units.  I suspect most of them are Twitter friends that humour us along with some family. That’s all part of the plan. Before we go really large we waited for big bugs or mistakes to arise out of the initial feedback. Some useful mails were written to us and we took a few days to adress most of those. Even add some smart interface touches. We now have that new version up for download.

Future:
From here on we are going to sit back and analyse the response. We’ll mix that with our own idea with what we like to see in the game. Fierce discussions will be had because Zapa and I are two different sides of the same coin. Where he has a giant legacy of played games I have the intentional view of an oblivious newcomer. When I stare at a small corner of a painting Zapa sees all of the gallery as a whole. He is coffee, I am tea. There will be blood and when the dust clears there will stand a box for all of you to open. Mutant Gangland Alpha 2.

No release day yet.

 

 

 

 

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Mutant Gangland Alpha 1 is out

It’s the distant future, Gangs of mutants and robots fight each other over city blocks and turfs. Mutant Gangland, The game I did lots of art and design for is now up in Alpha 1 version. If you have a thing for Advance Wars or pixel art you might want to check it out.

This amazing trailer was made by Elise The, A wicked skilled editor and filmmaker.

Working on this game is a blast. Me and Zapa (co-maker) are having fun debates over the game’s design. Making the mutants and robots make me feel like a toymaker and the background story I’m crafting is so cool I’m having a fight to not get sucked up by it. I think so far I’ve grown a bit in my art capabilities thanks to this game and Penarium. So much even that I’ve felt it was needed to redo all the units in the game three times so far.

You can follow updates and see more info on mutantgangland.com.

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10 single sentence game reviews (part 2)

I don’t like reading reviews. Too many words. That’s why I started writing super short reviews myself. I had fun doing that last time. Did you like it too? Good news! I gamed enough again so here’s 10 more single sentence game reviews!

Walking Dead
Unreadable facial expressions and awkward pauses aside every choice sticks and there are some tough one’s to be made in this tale of people you hate or like or care about.

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Hitman Absolution
I won’t notice that it’s less open than the others because that instant thrill of handling the unexpectedness with brutal decision making is still there.

Dead Rising 2
I felt both laid back by the daylight setting and stressed out by the ticking clock and oh there are zombies too.

DMC
Constantly kicking ass and constantly being challenged doing so and still making you feel like a badass is an accomplishment.

Spelunky
It looks cute and plays delicious but dying a thousand deaths feels like something from an age I left behind on purpose.

Bioshock Infinite
It has pointless looting, unfitting combat and a heroine that looks like a pedophile’s dream but it’s staged in a world I will remember for years.

Tomb Raider
It would only be acceptable if this too gunfight heavy spectacle was not a game about Lara, the undisputed queen of climbing.

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The Last of Us
High polish and pacing trick you into believing that sneaking and choking from cut scene to cut scene is something extraordinary.

Gome Home
In its mechanics I see no innovation at all but damn this love story makes me want to hug and never let go these people.

Dark Souls
Even its insanely cool dark style and setting and glorious world can’t pull me through dying over and over and over again.

That’s it. I have a few more games stacked on my couch. I’m just buying to to release a whopping ten more reviews in a third part. In the meantime feel free to discuss games and gaming with me on Twitter. 

 

 

 

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How GTA 5 makes driving fun

I like driving around in GTA 5. Unlike real life it’s quite smooth. Driving like that doesn’t just fall out of the sky. This is the oompth 3D GTA and the makers have picked up lots of little tricks and tweaks to save you from annoyances. Here are some of those tricks explained.

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The Plastic Pole:
The most obvious of them all. Streetlights, lanterns and fire hydrants snap loose when you hit them as opposed to stopping your car. It just slows the car a bit down. This highlights a concept that most of these tricks are based on: Driving is fun, Standing still is awful. Think of that frustration that jolts through your body the moment your car comes to a sudden halt. That has to be avoided and that’s why most poles won’t stop you.

Nobody likes hitting them though. Based on knowledge of real life, players still know you’re not supposed to hit them. The bonus is that when you actually do it gives you a small sense of power. It’s you vs an obstacle and you won.

The Perfect Space:
It’s one of the mostly glorious things to do in GTA. Speeding down the road and slipping through the perfect space between two other cars cars on the road. Feels good right? You’d be amazed how often you can pull this off with a bit of practice and the fact that GTA meticulously places each car with just enough space to fit your vehicle in. All that driving in the gap between two cars is part of the plan. In fact: even the space between cars is so well aligned both front and side that you can perfectly swerve left and right as you pass them by.

The blind eye:
Secret: You make more bumps than you know. The game is just protecting your feelings by letting very tiny collisions go unnoticed. They don’t make a sound and they don’t stop your car. If you got so close to a car that you thought “Good I didn’t hit that one” then you probably did.

The Slow Rest:
You don’t notice it until you stand still but most other cars drive way under the speed limit even on the highway. This has 2 effects: you feel like you are going fast because you are passing by everyone else even if you drive a garbage truck. Also: On intersections cars coming from the left and right don’t pop up as sudden as they would when driving regular speed. Because most players have total disregard for stopping lights I suspect the number 1 cause of crashes is still being rammed from the side though.

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The Magic Flip:
After driving a car for a while you kind of bond with it. Nothing is worse than finding yourself being upside down when all you did was racing off a cliff with 80 mph.  To prevent you from having to part with your new friend the game lets you jinx the laws of physics but wiggling the car with your stick until it flips on its wheels again. This is where the game sacrifices realism for the sake of you keeping your car.

Mid-air Magic:
An evolution of the car-flip and a  gimmick that’s most arcade-ish, least realistic. You can steer the pivot of a car when it’s making a jump…so that’s in mid air. It looks fake but only a bit. It benefits the smoothness because you can prevent cars from hitting the floor face first. More important: it puts you in slight control and in driving games (or almost any game) being in control feels good. even if you crash horribly afterwards.

The Self-conscious Hood:
Sometimes your car is dented and the hood pops up blocking the view of the road for the third person camera. After 5 seconds the front hood grows a conscience and knows it’s not welcome anymore. it will automatically let loose and you’ll be free again. This happens every single time a hood pops up. Guaranteed.

The Ghost Door:
It might mean nothing to you but if you are only slightly compulsive then driving around with a car with one door closed and the other open may rub you the wrong way. It does me. Good that when making a turn the door slams shut and there is symmetry again. Inner peace. Real life car doors have a mechanism the prevents them from shutting but GTA knows that just doesn’t make players feel good when driving 120 mph. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t close automatically but only when you make a turn. Giving you the feeling you are in direct control of the situation.

If you’re curious what difference this makes you can play Sleeping Dogs which doesn’t feature these super doors. It’s agony.

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The not much traffic:
On one side it’s a performance saver but it’s also extremely convenient the streets are not sprawling with cars. It’s not exactly empty on the streets but it’s not crowded either. Why? Because you probably couldn’t handle driving as fast as you like with so much traffic around. The game tries to strikes a balance between believable crowded but also manageably empty. GTA knows you are a lunatic and though a certain amount of obstacles can be fun there’s really not much use for more cars than there are already.

The invisible hand:
There is an invisible hand at work here. When hitting the brakes it’s amazing how often your car comes back on track after it seemed to spiral out of control. I suspect this is staged. The game knows where your car is and also where the roads are and I feel like every once in a while it pushes the car slightly back on the road because the most important thing about driving is keeping on driving.

And finally the coolest of them all…

The reverse and brake move:
I like to see this as a secret move. The race gods are always in your favour when you want to get out of a situation by doing this: Drive in reverse, Hit the brakes, Steer to a side and hit the gas. You will have turned around your car almost perfectly in line with the road again. I can’t help thinking this is predetermined. Pulling this move is like an invisible hand reaches from the sky to make sure you get back on the grid to continue racing but it also makes you feel like a totally cool driver.

Those are the tricks I know. I could be seeing things that aren’t there and maybe I’m missing out on some huge aspects but what do I know? I’ve only made $950.000 doing cab jobs so far. Don’t worry though. There is still plenty of things to be annoyed by. Like the fact sometimes cars can instantly explode upon crashing…yeah.

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In development: Penarium

Me and my friends are working on a little platformer where you are trapped in an eternal carnival ride of death! Fun!


Here you control Willy. You’re stuck on 5 platforms and you’ll have to dodge a crazy variety of deathmachines and environmental hazards while collecting bucks. Maybe you can make it out.

In other news: Laurent is plowing and reshaping the code of Robo Danzor Tactics so we can add new special effects and single player mode. Give it some time.

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Announcing: Robo Danzor Tactics

A turn based multiplayer where you strategically place robots and let them do dance-offs. Yes. This is happening.


If you follow me on Twitter you might know this already but we spent the last couple of weeks working on a game for Android and IOS. It’s not done yet but it’s pretty fun already. I can happily inform you that this my first own game that I’m actually addicted to playing with.

In Robo Danzor Tactics you and a friend can take turns placing tiles in a grid. Every tile has 4 sides with different degrees of dance-power, aka the ability to do wicked dance poses during battle. The key is to place your tile because if you run out of dance-power during battle you lose the whole tile. And losing your tiles means losing the game.

We’ll just leave the explaining up to the trailers and videos. What you have to remember is that this game is about fabulous dancing robots willing to throw their life on the line for your entertainment. And for glamorous glory.

Robo Danzor Tactics, people.

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Paper vs Paper is out

Yes! It’s out now. Paper vs Paper is playable on Ipad.
There are some reviews out and so far they are all very positive.
I’m positive about it too. During development it’s hard to look at the thing you work on clearly. I do see it clearly now and I like the game.

If you think you like it too you can get it here:

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