The Humble Indie Bundle is back, but this time with a greatest hits collection featuring some of the best games from past bundles. It's an amazing selection for anybody that's new to indie games, or gaming in general. For everyone else, there's a pretty good chance you already own most of what's here.
As usual, the action is split into multiple categories depending on how much you're willing to pay. Whatever you pay, you'll get Super Meat Boy, World of Goo and Dustforce DX. Beat the average (currently $4.78) and you'll also get Dungeon Defenders Collection, Limbo and Braid. Finally, if you pay $1 over the average price (currently $5.78,) you'll get Risk of Rain and Antichamber. Whatever price you settle on, you'll need to pay $1 or more to get Steam keys for the bundled games.
After settling on a price, you can then decide exactly where that money will go. The sliders allow you to set how much of your cash will go to the developers, to Humble and to this bundle's two charities, Child's Play and Watsi.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (John Walker)
The world’s most accurate ranking of the 25 best puzzle games ever to reach a computer. Plucking the peak of PC puzzling, we break down what makes them so special, and put them in the correct order. Read on for more time travel, rearranged tiles, hidden objects and hexed cells than you could ever want.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (John Walker)
It is literally impossible that World Of Goo is from SEVEN YEARS AGO. That absolutely, categorically cannot be the case. There has simply been a malfunction in chronology. We had that world exclusive review maybe three years ago at most.
Think about it: World of Goo. Simple game, simple premise. Move the goo, stack the goo, get to the ending point. There was some kind of narrative, but that didn't matter so much, did it?
The game is good. Really good, really fun. But my favorite thing about it, hands down, is Kyle Gabler's flabbergasting soundtrack. It combines the superheroic, soaring choral melodies of Tim Burton with all kinds of various ethnic and cinematic influences to create a musical pastiche that is at once epic, driving, hilarious and surprisingly emotional.
What possessed Gabler and 2D Boy to imbue their silly puzzle game with such a grand soundtrack? We may never know. We can just be glad they did. Best of all, you can download the entire thing for free at Gabler's website.
He talks about the process he used to make the soundtrack:
The majority of the instruments you'll hear are computer instruments, with a few live performances on top to add a bit of warmth. For the older music, I used one of those Sound Blaster cards that let you load samples into memory. More recently, I've been using the freeware sfz soundfont sampler. I have an m-audio keystation 49e midi keyboard for picking out melodies. Influences include Danny Elfman, Vangelis, Bernard Herrmann, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, and all the big movie guys. I grew up listening to them, and they remain a big influence in everything I write.
Man, anyone who cites Danny Elfman, Vangelis and Ennio Morricone as influences is cool in my book.
Here are some of my favorite tracks from the World of Goo Soundtrack. Though they're all favorites, really.
"World of Goo Theme"
Beetlejuice meets, well, Beetlejuice—you can just picture the gears spinning, the goo flying, the oddly cheery, sinister world welcoming you.
This track reminds me of nothing so much as the noble "Agent Cruller's theme" from Psychonauts. Epic in its own way, but I love this kind of stuff. Another one with a killer modulation.
Man, this is an easy favorite. Spinning, cycling, growing, changing, tumbling.
This is like, some extreme superhero music, straight to the epic build at the end.
"My Virtual World of Goo Corporation"
This one deserves a spot just for variety—suddenly, out of nowhere, we've got a chippy freakout. Perfect.
"Best of Times"
Such drama! Such emotion! Again, I remind you: This is a game about goofy little balls of goop.
"Red Carpet Extend-O-Matic"
I mean, what is this even? Part club-jam, part aria, part I-don't-even-know-what. I would dance my ass off if this played the next time I was out dancing. (What? I totally go dancing sometimes.)
There are a bunch more, and they're all good. And as a reminder, you can download the whole soundtrack for free at Gabler's website.
The long-running Humble Indie Bundle initiative has finally made the leap to smartphones.
The latest pack includes Android-compatible indie gems Osmos, Edge and Anomaly: Warzone Earth. What's more, you'll also get versions for Mac OSX, Windows or GNU/Linux.
As is traditional, you decide how much you pay, and what proportion of your donation goes to the developers, to charity (choose Child's Play Charity or the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and to the Humble Indie Bundle organisers.
If your payment is above the current average ($5.29 at the time of writing), you'll also get World of Goo thrown in.
The pack has got off to a solid start, with over 24,000 sales so far and revenue of $131,000.
Acclaimed physics puzzler World of Goo has been downloaded one million times from the iOS and Mac App Store in the 13 months since launch.
According to Gamasutra, 29 per cent of those sales were for iPhone or iPod Touch, while 69 per cent were for the iPad. Mac App Store downloads only contributed two per cent, though a separate Mac version has been on sale since 2008 when the game first launched on PC and WiiWare.
iPhone/iPod sales made up 17 per cent of all revenue, whereas the more expensive iPad version constituted 79 per cent.
The Android version, which only launched in November 2011, has racked up 70,000 sales, although a free demo has been downloaded 450,000 times. The game sold 180,000 downloads over the same period of time following the iOS launch one year previous.
Life-to-date sales figures for the original PC and WiiWare versions have not been made public.
Not played the 2D Boy-developed gem yet? You really should give it a whirl - Eurogamer's Kristan Reed attempted to award it 11/10 in his World of Goo review.
From Zelda to Final Fantasy, we've seen plenty of dedicated video game orchestral concerts over the years. Only a week or so ago, there was a huge Legend of Zelda concert in Los Angeles, and next week will see the release of a collection of video game music from the London Philharmonic.
I've listened to much of the Philharmonic album in advance, and I found that the tracks I enjoyed the most were the ones I'd never heard played by an orchestra. Orchestras tend to be going for a mainstream thing with these performances, so they focus on the themes we all know and love. But while I'm all for hearing the Mario "1-1" music or Cloud's Theme from Final Fantasy VII, I found that I was really digging hearing a full orchestra play the opening music from Grand Theft Auto IV, or the theme from Angry Birds.
I thought it might be fun to list five pieces of music that aren't the first choices for game concert programmers, but which I would get excited to see on a concert program.
(And for the record: I know that image up top isn't technically from Far Cry 2 due to the weird compass, but I still really like that image and theoretically we're in an alternate universe anyway so whatever.)
Instruments ready? Everyone tuned up? And a 1, 2, 3, 4….
Actually, I'd almost be up for an entire segment of a concert dedicated to Kyle Gabler's wonderful soundtrack from World of Goo - it's this unhinged, Elfman-like thing, all momentum and balancing. I listen to the soundtrack from World of Goo and I hear a clown on a unicycle, wearing a one-man-band outfit, riding in desperate circles around a big top, trying to stay upright. In other words, it's about as perfect a fit for the game as could be. I'd say the orchestra could bring out a featured accordion soloist for this one, maybe Rob Reich or something. #justathought
Final Fantasy Tactics A2 — "Exceeding the Hill"
As much as I enjoy the opening music from this game (which plays when you hit "play" on the above video), my favorite track from this entire game (and, for some weird reason, one of my favorite pieces of video game music full-stop), is the second part, "Exceeding the Hill," which comes on at 1:50. It captures everything Tactics is to me—playful, thoughtful, and tense in an enjoyable way. Also, it is called "Exceeding the Hill," which is one of the best song names I have ever heard.
Just listening to it and I want to start placing my party around the grid. Watch out for my juggler.
The Secret of Monkey Island — "Intro"
Of course, this game has a much beloved soundtrack. And while it would just be cool to see an orchestra tackle its iconic themes, something I've found with this theme is that it actually sounded different depending on your sound card. As a result of that, the video I've posted above is what I think of as the "definitive" version, but for many folks theirs was. So, there's wiggle-room on the soundtrack, and it would be fun to hear what an orchestral arranger would come up with.
Plants vs. Zombies — "Watery Graves"
Of all the pizecatto string tunes that would work well if performed by an orchestra, Laura Shigihara's "Watery Graves" from her Plants vs. Zombies soundtrack might be my favorite. This is a track that was clearly created within a recording program—the delay that's bouncing off of all of the instruments gives it a watery, echoing quality that would be difficult to reproduce in a traditional orchestra. But that's exactly why I'd love to hear it!
This video actually cuts out when the beat drops, but you can hear a full version of the tune here:
Far Cry 2 — "Dark River"
Stephen has started joking that I'll post about Far Cry 2 whenever I'm given an opportunity. I have no idea what he's talking about. But speaking of Far Cry 2, let me tell you about this track!
In all seriousness, many of the tunes that are performed at these orchestral shows are the main themes from games, the big heroic anthems, the most iconic moments. But in music just as in games, pacing is very important. A good concert needs some other contours, and Marc Canham's Far Cry 2 soundtrack is loaded with contours.
This track, "Dark River," is one of my favorites. Canham ditched the more common focus on heavy percussion and driving melodies to focus on sparse, textural stuff, appropriating a lot of African harmonies and rhythms along with a surprising amount of horror-film string tricks. This track makes me think of Far Cry 2 more than almost any other, and if it fired up in the middle of a video game concert, I would probably leave my chair and start sneaking up on people in the lobby. With a machete. Y'know, if I'd brought a machete.
Has Xbox Live Arcade really peaked, as World of Goo creator Ron Carmel yesterday argued? No, analysts have told Eurogamer.
"But Microsoft should take a look at Ron Carmel's piece," declared Billy Pidgeon of M2 Research, "which eloquently makes the case (and backs it up with data) that XBLA has peaked for a specific group of independent developers who are responsible for high quality games that outsell the average XBLA game.
"Sony is acquiring more unique content for PSN, and in many cases it's exclusive content, which will cost Sony more but will clearly differentiate their online games store from XBLA and other competition."
"In terms of digital games delivered through a home console, Microsoft will continue to be the market leaders," stated Jesse Divnich of EEDAR.
"I am not disagreeing with Mr. Carmel, I believe some of his points are valid and any digital service provider has its own restrictions and hurdles. Not every game is the right fit for every service.
"We certainly are seeing some fracturing among developers, and Xbox Live and PSN are no longer the only option for game distribution."
"That doesn't sound right to me," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan, responding to Carmel's claim. "If anything, there are more titles than ever, but we haven't had a Braid or Limbo so far this year.
"As the 360 price comes down and the installed base continues to grow, there should be a significantly larger addressable market for XBLA games, so I think it continues to grow."
Ron Carmel surveyed 200 independent developers. His results, which he admitted weren't sacrosanct, showed dwindling support for Xbox Live Arcade. Part of this is due to laborious XBLA constraints. The other part can be attributed to the rise of PC, Mac, iOS and Android gaming. Billy Pidgeon said that "viable alternative marketplaces" are "good news for developers and gamers both". Whereas Xbox Live Arcade and PSN are "predictable", he said, other markets can be "risky".
"Indie games are like indie songs: most of them suck, but the ones that don't are unique and deserve to be bought, played, talked about, discovered and awarded."
Billy Pidgeon, analyst, M2 Research
Divnich said the investment in social and mobile gaming "is not necessarily at the cost of XBLA and PSN titles". There's greater flexibility there, but "the recipe for success is not as established".
"Of all the online games markets," added Pidgeon, "I think Steam may have the best offering for gaming enthusiasts so far. The PC is the ideal platform with the most reach, Steam's timed specials help games sell more but hedge price erosion, and it's a great experience for gamers who use it.
"Nintendo's online shops are getting better, but still have a long way to go. The App Store has got great reach, but the best games get lost in the crap and rapid price erosion is a given. Android download stores are the worst, with all the downsides of the App Store and none of the upside due to fragmentation."
Apple has made iOS an easy platform to develop and publish for. One of Ron Carmel's suggestions was for Microsoft to make every Xbox 360 a dev kit, and relax the submission process so that more content can get through. Xbox Live Indie Games already does this, to a degree.
"The Xbox Live Indie Games market seems a waste of a good opportunity," Pidgeon went on to say. "What should be a showcase for indie games is more like a swap meet.
"It's worthwhile to let anybody make a game with XNA, but there should be a 'top shelf' for the best independent games. Indie games are like indie songs: most of them suck, but the ones that don't are unique and deserve to be bought, played, talked about, discovered and awarded."
Nicholas Lovell from Gamesbrief, in a lengthy dissection of Ron Carmel's piece, accused Microsoft of "artificially trying to restrict consumers to a limited number of choices, similar to a retail store". Whereas Carmel had hope Microsoft could turn it around, Lovell isn't so sure.
"Ron is relatively upbeat about the future, if Microsoft adopts some of his ten-point plan. I am less so," Lovell wrote. "I think that the company is stuck trying to recreate the limitations of the physical distribution market, rather than embracing the opportunities created by the digital market.
"I was going to say that I hope that I am wrong, but I'm not sure that's entirely true. The sooner the world becomes more open, the better."
World of Goo developer 2D Boy believes Xbox Live Arcade "peaked" last year (2010) and that "Microsoft is not yet aware of this".
Studio co-founder Ron Carmel surveyed 200 independent game makers, some of which are responsible for significant - but undisclosed - XBLA titles.
He discovered that more developers want to make PSN games now than titles for XBLA. He also found PSN and XBLA seventh and eighth in a list of target platforms for 2011. The most popular was Windows, followed closely by Mac, iOS, Linux, Flash/browser and Android platforms.
Nearly three quarters of the developers surveyed said ease of working with a platform holder was paramount - followed by installed base and platform suitability.
When asked about specific platform holders, the majority deemed Steam, Facebook and Apple "very easy" to work with. Sony's PSN majority, like Google's Android, was "so-so". Most people found WiiWare "difficult", whereas Microsoft's XBLA was "excruciating".
"Given that ease of working with the platform owner was voted the most important factor in choice of platforms, it becomes perfectly clear why XBLA, despite being a very strong channel with a large audience and huge earning potential, is dropping in popularity among these developers," observed Carmel.
"But if things keep going the way they are, and XBLA keeps losing talented developers, I believe the diversity of games available on XBLA will diminish, quality will suffer, and revenue numbers will drop as players start to move away from an unremarkable portfolio of games. We will see a lot more 'genrefication' and big publisher franchises."
"XBLA is no longer the king it used to be. Microsoft is no longer in a position to demand exclusivity now that PSN has more developers and is growing."
Ron Carmel, co-founder, 2D Boy
"Once players start to leave in large numbers it will be too late to turn things around," he added. "Given that it takes at least a year or two to make an XBLA game, no developer would want to start working on one knowing that XBLA is declining in popularity and could be significantly weaker by the time the game is ready.
Carmel believes full-scale gamer "migration" away from XBLA is "a few years away", which allows "more than enough time for XBLA to change course".
To this end, Carmel shared "10 Things Microsoft Can Do To Improve XBLA".
Create a fair contract that doesn't require negotiation. "It's the most exploitative, one-sided distribution contract I've seen. We each waste months of our time and Microsoft's time negotiating the same stuff out of the contract, over, and over again."
Solve the content discovery problem. "The platform owner needs to make it super easy for their users to buy software."
Stop requiring independent developers to publish through MGS. "Every other distribution channel allows independent developers to self publish, without a producer, and I see no evidence that having a producer on a game makes it better."
Drop the TCRs, make updating easy. "TCRs add months to a game's development time that could be better used polishing the game."
Get rid of the exclusivity requirement for independent developers. "XBLA is no longer the king it used to be. Microsoft is no longer in a position to demand exclusivity now that PSN has more developers and is growing."
Drop the greenlight process and open up development to everyone. "Players judge the quality of a platform by the quality and quantity of the best games available on it, not by the average quality of all games."
Make every console a dev kit. "It may require a lot of work, but there is nothing stopping Microsoft from doing this as well. This is actually one of the reasons Microsoft is the console maker best-poised to undergo this transformation."
Automate everything. "With the App Store, everything is automated and a developer can release a game without ever talking to a human."
Drop the ESRB in favor of a self administered rating system. "It takes weeks, and thousands of dollars, to get a game rated by all the domestic and international ratings agencies needed to launch a game globally. The ESRB in particular is a nightmare to deal with."
Make avatar related requirements optional. "I don't know a single developer who wants to make toys for avatars. It's not fun and it inflates the game's budget."
"XBLA played a pivotal role in the popularisation of independent games," concluded Carmel, name-checking N+, Castle Crashers, Braid, Limbo and Super Meat Boy.
"Microsoft proved that indie games can be million sellers on consoles, and then sat on its laurels for half a decade as more nimble and innovative companies like Valve and Apple took the lead.
"I would love to see Microsoft rise to the challenge of adapting to new digital distribution landscapes," he wrote. "More healthy platforms means more interesting, creative games that push the limits of our medium."
World of Goo, already a hit on WiiWare, PC and iOS, is building a gooey bridge to Android. Yes, that means phones and tablets, says 2D Boy, which is "working out the final kinks in the machinery." [2D Boy]