Assault Android Cactus

In June of last year, Housemarque launched an arcade shooter named Nex Machina. After years of Sony exclusives like Resogun, Nex Machina gave PC players their first taste of Housemarque's style of refined twin-stick shooter since The Reap came out in 1997. Even more tantalisingly for genre connoisseurs, Eugene Jarvis—designer of Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV—came on board as a consultant. Nex Machina was a spiritual successor to those games, and was widely praised as an exemplar of the form. Our own review called it a "a breathless modern arcade classic that delivers more thrills per minute than almost anything else out there."

However, several months after Nex Machina's launch, Housemarque took to its blog and burst the bubble. "ARCADE IS DEAD," the headline declared. "Despite critical success and numerous awards, our games just haven’t sold in significant numbers. … Lackluster sales of Nex Machina have led us to the thinking that it is time to bring our longstanding commitment to the arcade genre to an end."

Nex Machina, Housemarque (2017)

That commitment, spanning more than 20 years, can hardly be questioned. And yet Housemarque found itself announcing to the world that it is now "exploring something totally different than what you might expect of us." It had made possibly its finest arcade shooter yet, and still saw no viable road ahead.

What could Housemarque conclude, then, other than that the genre is dead? 

People's perception of the genre is that it's a kind of lower tier

Tim Dawson

The statement caused ripples among the other game developers working on arcade-style shooters. "Housemarque is a very influential developer and we've run into them a couple of times, so it was a big blow for us to hear that," says Tim Dawson of Assault Android Cactus developer Witch Beam. "Kind of demoralizing."

"A big part of development is trying to guess a lot about what the market's doing and trying to answer unanswerable questions like that," he says. "So it's scary when someone you think of as a peer says the genre's dead." 

Assault Android Cactus, Witch Beam (2015)

But while there was disappointment among Witch Beam's three-strong team, there was little surprise. The team had fielded enough questions about its choice of genre during the promotion phase of Assault Android Cactus to get "a sense that that market is not as big as other genres."

"People's perception of the genre is that it's a kind of lower tier," adds Dawson. "It's distractionware, it's not like a serious or significant game. Which is a problem when you're trying to convince people that your game is worth their time and their money."

Witch Beam was adamant that Assault Android Cactus was "priced appropriately, or even too low," yet continued to receive messages calling for the game to be discounted to $5 or lower. Dawson also recalls Jamestown developer Final Form Games sharing similar concerns when they met at an expo, reporting that players were positive about it after deep discounts or its inclusion in bundles but were largely reluctant to pay full price. Final Form has written that "Jamestown has been downloaded illegally countless times." 

Jamestown, Final Form (2011)

For Dawson, historical associations have a part to play in skewing perceptions of value for arcade-style games. They're seen as dated throwbacks, he says, saddled with undeserved baggage in much the same way that indie games featuring pixel art have been accused of lazy bandwagon-jumping. In fact, a keenness to steer clear of these stereotypes led to Assault Android Cactus avoiding the lo-fi, abstract look in favor of a more complex style. It's an even greater consideration now, with Witch Beam prototyping ideas for new games.

[Housemarque] have actually sold, relatively, a metric shit-ton of games

Caspian Prince

"Thinking about ways to make a game read as richer or more complicated has actually been a huge part of our internal prototyping method," says Dawson. “We're deliberately considering games that will look more impressive, more like 'bigger' genres, but still manage to keep that arcade feel at their heart because it's something we love and are good at."

Witch Beam's stance is not quite 'arcade is dead', then, but part of its approach is an acceptance that the genre is not particularly marketable. Puppy Games, an indie developer of 'neo-retro arcade games', came to the same conclusion four years ago. "Nobody actually buys these kinds of games anymore, and specifically nobody buys them on Steam," states Puppy Games co-founder Caspian Prince.

Revenge of the Titans, Puppy Games (2010)

So he was hardly shocked by Housemarque's big statement. "I was so totally unsurprised that I could have even put a fiver on it," he says. The key issue, Prince argues, is one of scale. While Puppy Games has a core team of just two people, working from home and with relatively little overhead, Housemarque's Helsinki studio houses more than 20 employees. 

"They have actually sold, relatively, a metric shit-ton of games," he says. "If you look at the sales for Nex Machina, it's sold 100,000 copies or something. It's done fantastically well by anyone's standards. To make a game that sells that many on Steam these days, you're not even in the 1%—you're in the 0.1%."

Those are sales numbers would delight Puppy Games, who "scratched away in the dirt for years and never really made any coin," according to Prince, and Witch Beam, who "definitely didn't find a huge audience" with Assault Android Cactus. But these small teams have found something sustainable on a smaller scale, and this is where the future of the genre seems to lie.

Son of Scoregasm, R C Knight (2017)

Prince points to the recently released Son of Scoregasm, "which is just amazing and was made by a bloke called Charlie in his bedroom. It's a perfect example of the genre, and it's cost him peanuts to make." 

Dawson echoes the point. "I don't disbelieve that Housemarque's decision was right for them," he considers. "I imagine they have all the numbers, have followed the trends, and that sounds like what would be a correct call for them. But I don't think it's right for everyone."

And as long as that's the case, as long as there are passionate individuals operating at a small enough scale that not every game needs to be a smash hit, it won't truly be the end of the arcade shooter.

Oct 23, 2016
Community Announcements - Sycle

Changes and Improvements
  • Daily Drive highscores have been migrated to Steam from the third party service we were using in the past. This is a backend change meant to work the same way as before but a side effect is an increase in responsiveness and being less prone to failing to save scores.
  • Daily Drive now includes a Time Bonus like the Campaign levels to make the leaderboards more competitive.
  • The Daily Drive now shows the date of the Drive you are about to play on the menu
  • Final Boss Medulla has had hitpoint tuning intended to make specific phases slightly faster / easier. If you have struggled with Medulla's fight in the past, please try again now!
  • With Pro Mode enabled (S+ Indicator or Auto-Restart) the Stage Clear screen will now display seconds with two decimal places of precision
  • When Auto Restart is enabled, the in-game S+ Indicator turns purple
  • Some older scores on Vespula, Venom and Medulla have been removed for no longer being possible to obtain with current scoring rules

  • Fixed shadow projection issues on Zone 4 Boss Venom stage
  • Improved/consistant lighting on the background Genki Star in all Zone 4 levels
  • Fixed the transition effect at the end of the Final Boss Medulla fight to slide under particles/effects as intended
  • Fixed mouse controls not correctly driving volume sliders on Main Menu
  • Main Menu Leaderboards now have navigation sound effects
  • Esc key now backs out of Leaderboards in Main Menu (consistent with other menus)
Oct 4, 2016
Community Announcements - Sycle

  • mapped Q and Z to movement to better handle some European keyboard layouts
  • brightened the energy tether on Fetcher Fidos and Justice's Grapple Balls and tinted the player blue when attached for increased visibility
  • Improved look of Rocket trails on Lemon's Rocket Launcher
  • Added more movement to Lemon's ponytail in-game

  • Fixed rare case where a framerate stutter or other large time step would cause Titan's to be unresponsive after spawning
  • Fixed issue where music would play during the pause menu if the game was paused before the level music started
  • Fixed issue where the grid of the Aethersphere would remain black instead of purple
  • Stage Select scoreboards now show the correct leaderboard for the number of players
  • Corrected discrepancies and interpolation of high score comparisons at the end of stages
  • Fixed a few places where cultural formatting (based on language) wasn't applied
  • Corrected minor hair clipping occurring on Cactus and Lemon's stage entry animations
  • Fixed issue where enemy lasers could appear wrong for a frame on initialisation
  • Fixed issue where Liquorice's Vorpal Blade range indicator would appear for one frame
  • Tutorial markers follow target visual position for smoother results at very high framerates
  • Characters slightly clipping through the floor no longer display floor silhouettes
Community Announcements - Sycle
We're part of this weekend's sale for Big Picture-Friendly Games

Not only does Cactus work great with Big Picture mode, we've been a good fit for the Steam Controller from the beginning - you may remember our unexpected appearance in Valve's announcement trailer at around the minute mark
One cool thing about the Steam Controller is it can be customised, by anyone, and thanks to improvements made by HERO 01, we now have two Recommend configurations which can be reached by choosing Manage Game and looking for the Controller Configuration option.

  • AAC Gamepad Aiming emulates a gamepad and is the easiest to get up and playing with, particularly for local multiplayer! Be sure to let your thumbs trace big easy circles towards the edge of the trackpad surfaces to get the full aiming accuracy the Steam Controller is capable of.

  • AAC Mouse Region Aiming emulates Mouse and Keyboard and suited for players with a bit of experience. The right trackpad positions the aiming reticle directly, allowing for lightning fast adjustments and precision Helo movements. If you have a Steam Controller, give it a go as it's a fun and new way to play!

We've put these two profiles under Recommended to to make them easy to find and use, but take a peek in the Community section to see what other people have come up with!
Community Announcements - Sycle
this shirt is only available to order for the next two weeks

In the same style as the Holly t-shirt, this one has Coral on the front and the AAC logo on the back and is available on blue or dark grey.

Get a look at all the colour and t-shirt options here

There's a range of shirt types, suitable for men and women. I was really happy with how well the Holly t-shirt came out so I feel pretty good about this one! Last time people seemed sad to have missed out, so if you know any Coral fans, do them a favour and let them know!
May 25, 2016
Community Announcements - Sycle

  • fixed a visual glitch where a players Chain meter could fade out even though non-player kills had revived the Chain in time
  • controller disconnect menu can no longer appear once a stage has ended
  • Centrifuge (zone 5 - 1) animates more smoothly at higher framerates
  • Helo spins down better on Stage Clear / Battery Depleted
  • Aubergine's Press Fire text is no longer reflected by the floor in Zone 3

Also added a few new Avatars, including Liquorice and icon versions for characters that didn't have them!

You can find them under Assault Android Cactus in the list of Official Game Avatars
May 17, 2016
Community Announcements - Sycle

  • minor animation pass on Keg enemies fall-in spawn animations
  • consistently capitalised the term Section Lords in boss dialogues
  • tweaked Drone movement physics processing

  • Fixed recently introduced bug that caused Aubergine's Helo Companion to not spin while attacking after a boss dialogue intro
  • Fixed edge case where preventing a stage transition in Influx (zone 2 - 2) would cause blocks with no physics to appear in the stage
  • Fixed bug in Boss Rush where using a Shutdown to defeat Justice before he used his laser attack would cause the music transitions to get out of sync
  • Fixed Starch's lasers being able to fire through some walls when using Accelerate
Apr 30, 2016
Community Announcements - Sycle

Features and Changes
  • Bosses attempting to drop a battery will now trigger an existing battery to expire, instead of just not dropping a battery at all
  • Boss Venom's web ball splats had their effect range radius reduced slightly
  • Boss Indicator Lights now remain visible through the flashing damage effect
  • Indicator Lights have been tweaked to lose less saturation - enemies now have a more distinguishable blue, purple and red stage to their health
  • Downed Androids will now vocalise battery status if there's no one else around to say it
  • New texture for Shiitake's Propeller Mine weapon
  • New textures for Justice's Capture Ball and Missile projectiles

  • Fixed issue where the multikill bonus could be incorrectly applied in boss fights
  • Fixed issue where Medulla stage Vespula wouldn't spawn wasps if she was hit with a shutdown during her spawn animation
  • Corrected geometry on Filament that could allow Liquorice to reach out of bounds on teleport dashes
  • Fixed noticeable position pop when Boss Venom crawls onto the stage
  • Fixed issue where Propeller Mines could be created at strange angles [first person mode]
  • Fixed mistimed transition effect in Boss Rush mode [first person mode]
  • Fixed reflections not updating when far away from stage center [first person mode]
  • Added smoother movement to Justice's Capture Balls, Missiles and Drones
  • Added smoother movement to Boss Venom (in his final phase) and Venom's Spider enemies
  • Added smoother rotation and effects to Peanut's Giga Drill weapon
  • Added smoother movement to Aubergine's Helo companion
  • Added smoother movement to Tanks, Spectres, exploding crate debris and Venom's drill casings
  • Fixed visual glitch on the Singularity where a shutdown effect would reveal the quad
  • Fixed small visual pop on weapon position during weapon swap
  • Fixed Helo not getting the correct silhouette colour when using Aubergine's metallic skin
  • Fixed Shiitake's Railgun weapon not creating sparks at the center of certain enemy types
  • Fixed Previous / Next highscore text appearing in the wrong colour on the Infinity Drive / Daily Drive battery depletion screen
  • Fixed Infinity Drive / Daily Drive results screen not reporting the layer correctly if an EX mode that disabled high scores was enabled
Community Announcements - Sycle
Check it out now, only one week left to order!

We're running a teespring campaign, where orders are taken over a fixed period and at the end, they all get made and sent out to everyone. That means this may be your only chance to nab one unless there's enough demand to re-run this campaign.

Reserve your Holly t-shirt now!

Note there are six shirt types, three mens/unisex and three womens cuts, and the colour varies by shirt type, so check sizes and options carefully!

Personally I'm really happy with the art and am looking forwards to getting my hands on one of these myself, but we're open to feedback, and I'd like to continue doing designs of all the other Androids if things go well.
Apr 8, 2016
Community Announcements - Sycle

  • when using the AI Players EX Option, Androids will randomly select from their unlocked costumes

Fixes and Changes
  • Linux and OSX now use SDL2 for input (recommended drivers for OSX users with xbox gamepads are )
  • Fixed minor visual artefacts that occurred when transitioning from the after tutorial cut-scene to Android Select with more than one player
  • Adjusted Venom's hitbox to prevent cases where some weapons would not reach him correctly in some circumstances
  • Fixed even more edge cases to Liquorice's teleport attack
  • Made enemies in Centrifuge less likely to get delayed outside the game space on spawn
  • Low graphics setting now disables reflections but leaves Image Effects on. Image Effects affect the look of the game and have a low performance hit, but can be disabled manually
  • Fixed bug that could occasionally result in the leaderboard scores displaying incorrectly on the Stage Clear screen
  • Restored the Witchbeam video on the Attract sequence in Linux (had been deliberately disabled in the previous release)
  • Tweaked an environment texture in Zone 3

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