West of Loathing

EGX Rezzed was wonderful, wasn't it? Tim Schafer of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango fame came to shoot the breeze with editor Oli Welsh on stage, the teams behind Two Point Hospital and Phoenix Point delved into their upcoming creations, and Digital Foundry explained how Sony might get on the road to its next console, the PlayStation 5.

There were plenty of things to play, too, and it was arguably the strongest year yet - with studios big and small showcasing fascinating new games, and some truly innovative things to play them with in the Leftfield Collection, RPS area and elsewhere.

As with previous years, this isn't a definitive list, but a personal selection from the team at Eurogamer as we roamed the show, and will hopefully serve as something to keep an eye out for in the coming months.

Read more…

West of Loathing

Zack Johnson, designer of open world comedy RPG West of Loathing, detailed the difference between a comedy game and a game with just some comedy in it during two talks he gave at GDC 2018 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Instead of a game with jokes in it, which happens all the time," Johnson said of West of Loathing, "this was sort of a game made out of jokes."

With humor being the primary focus of West of Loathing, and funny text appearing in everything from item descriptions to conversations to menu options, Johnson didn't want to throw roadblocks in the path of players who were bent on discovering every last bit of humor. Combat, therefore, which some reviewers criticized as being too easy, was easy by design.

As Johnson put it during his talk: "A joke is better than a good thing that's harder to make than a joke." You may have to read that a few times before it makes sense, but Johnson cited two of the gambling minigames in West of Loathing as example. The first game, poker, was something he agonized over and kept putting off during Loathing's development.

"It was a bunch of work," he said, "it resulted in this thing that was not particularly interesting, nobody talks about it." The poker game wasn't bad, in other words, it just wasn't funny.

"If there's a puzzle that requires a needle as its solution, we don't want the player to live in a world where there is only one needle"

The other game, found in the town of Breadwood, was called Pharaoh, and it was a game in which players simply lie about how many Egyptian pharaohs they could name. "That works, right?" Johnson said. "That is actually kind of funny."

The poker game took 268 lines of scripting, and was "not funny at all," admits Johnson. "The Pharoah game was 89 lines of script." That brings us back to Johnson's statement, that a joke is better than something good that is harder to make than a joke.

Puzzles, too, were designed to not be so challenging that they'd slow a player down for long, and while there are a few pretty complex puzzles in the game, they're off the beaten path and not required to make progress.

"If there's a puzzle that requires a needle as its solution," Johnson said, "we don't want the player to live in a world where there is only one needle, and if you didn't find it you can't get past the puzzle. So we just decided to put the needle in every haystack."

Johnson also spoke about the value of the narrator of West of Loathing.

"The narrator as sort of an honest character and honest reflection as who we are as writers also lets us be a little self-deprecating about stuff," he said, "which is a fantastic way to cover up fundamental flaws with your game, act like they're on purpose. 'We meant to do that, because isn't that funny?'"

Does this room have a Couple of Pointless Gags?

Zack Johnson

Breaking the fourth wall, as the narrator does from time to time, is also more than just a gag: it's a way to simply and plainly give important information to the player. When players reached the final cutscene in West of Loathing, said Johnson, "It just tells you, this is not gonna change anything about your character or the state of the world, you can just watch this cutscene and then you can leave and do something else and then you can come back and do it again.

"I wish [more] games sort of had the confidence to let you know stuff like that," he continued, "because there's nothing more annoying to me than getting 40 hours into some RPG and then not knowing that I'm about to do something that means I should have saved, or have to revert to an hour ago."

Johnson also revealed a spreadsheet used during development of the game to track the status of dialogue, interactions, items, and monsters in each of the game's locations. One column of the spreadsheet was labeled CPG.

"CPG was my metric for whether this was a Loathing game," Johnson explained. "Does this room have a Couple of Pointless Gags?"

He referred to an area of the game where the player could explain to another character how mining equipment worked, despite not knowing how mining equipment worked, thus earning a perk called 'Minesplaining.'

"That stuff," Johnson said, "I think that is where a lot of the kind of memorable soul of the game lives."

West of Loathing

No development tool has had quite the same impact on indie games as Unity. Its impressive knowledge database, flexibility, and tiered pricing scale all ensure that Unity is one of the most accessible engines available. According to Unity’s website, five billion copies of Unity-driven games have been downloaded since late 2016. Even Telltale might be jumping on board the Unity train soon.

The 'Unity Look' many gamers lament may become a thing of the past, but who knows.

Ethan Redd

Unity is currently changing things up quite a bit with its annual version update, 2018.1, which went into beta in January. Unity 2018.1 is putting an emphasis on performance and graphics, and is expected to expand on what developers can do with the tool in some big ways.  

The updates and tweaks arriving in the version update can get quite technical, so we opted to talk to a few indie developers about their thoughts on Unity 2018.1. Is it the panacea for the plentiful challenges facing indie developers, or is the update honing in on the wrong issues? 

What developers think

The developers we spoke with were most excited about Unity 2018.1’s Scriptable Render Pipeline and the new job system. The pipeline gives players a lot more control over their graphics and rendering. Ethan Redd, who is currently working on mech schmup Blazing Legion: Ignition feels it will better enable artists to explore their individual styles. "I'm a huge proponent for heavy stylization, and more explicit control over rendering is always welcome," he says. "The 'Unity Look' many gamers lament may become a thing of the past, but who knows."

The new job system is going to have a big impact on performance, especially for consoles. As it stands now, Unity relies on single-core performance, which is bad news for our console neighbors who have it pretty lousy when it comes to single-threading. The new job system instead embraces multi-threading, which will grant a huge boost in performance across all platforms.

The greatest impact will likely be seen by smaller developers, who will now be able to attempt projects that embrace a much wider scope. "Assuming the backwards compatibility is solid this time around, it'd be a huge boon for games like mine with hundreds or even thousands of active entities on screen at a time," Redd says. 

However, immediately jumping over to a freshly baked version of Unity is often not worth the headache. Many of these developers are in mid-development on existing projects, and the change could prove risky. Inkle’s Joseph Humfrey, whose team is working on sci-fi narrative adventure Heaven’s Vault, notes that many developers only switch to newer versions of Unity out of absolute necessity. "Each version brings new features, but also new surprises," Humfrey says. "While the geek in me looks forward to the opportunity to try out new toys, my pragmatic side dictates that updating immediately could cause problems."

Most of the developers we spoke with cited backwards compatibility issues with different versions of Unity. New bugs and changing features can drastically set back projects already operating on a tight deadline. "When you’re working towards a deadline such as a demo for a publisher or for the public, you need a rock-solid foundation to build on," Humfrey adds. 

To be blunt, making games in Unity is wonderful right now but shipping them is a bit of a nightmare because of bugs

Bennett Foddy

Redd seems to agree. "All of these new features are incredible, but as someone midway through the lifecycle of their current project, I doubt I'll be leveraging them. Unity is notorious for their lack of backwards compatibility even between minor version updates, with major version updates being more or less a roll of the dice. I just recently upgraded from 5.x to 2017.x and some techniques I was using for my core gameplay had to be re-implemented because certain under-the-hood things simply didn't work how they used to anymore."

Bennett Foddy, creator of QWOP and Getting Over It, says developers commonly advise others not to upgrade to newer versions because bugs are a such huge issue. "To be blunt, making games in Unity is wonderful right now but shipping them is a bit of a nightmare because of bugs in the systems (particularly in iOS rendering and the 2D physics systems). A ridiculous amount of the development time on Getting Over It was spent trying to fix things that turned out to be bugs in Unity, some of which were regressions," Foddy says. "Being close to bug-free should be the number one priority, and I would like to see Unity spend a whole release cycle (or two) on stability and unit testing. I know that’s boring, but it would make a huge, huge difference." 

Backwards compatibility is just one item on the list these developers want Unity to work on. The team at Inkle are masters when it comes to interactive storytelling, but their games aren’t incredibly demanding in terms of performance. Still, they have suffered from stability problems, and they aren't alone. Unity has struggled with maintaining a steady stream of new bells and whistles while ensuring the engine is stable. Humfrey says simple stability is the one thing he’d like to see from Unity in the future.

Redd is on the same page, going so far as to call for Unity to put a hold on new features and simply focus on streamlining the engine. "Unity has this tendency to announce so many wonderful new and shiny features you didn't know you wanted, while certain quirks, inconsistencies, and quality of life fixes fall by the wayside," he says.

Despite the bugs we see, it's an excellent tool that genuinely democratizes game development for smaller developers.

Joesph Humfrey

Viktor Thompson of Asymmetric Games, whose stick figure RPG West of Loathing was our pick for Best Comedy Game of 2017, hopes that Unity will continue to expand in the future. In fact, he feels that many developers may not even need to move beyond Unity to other technology if the engine continues on its current trajectory. "As the engine becomes more customizable, the desire to move to other technology—to 'graduate' from Unity—may be pushed farther down the road or eliminated," he posits. "At the same time, the Unity system can become a more appealing choice for experienced developers who want control, but don't have the time or the money to spend developing their engine from scratch."

The future of Unity

Unity is still the great equalizer when it comes to indie game development. It remains accessible to newer developers working on a budget, but provides the tools more experienced studios need. Humfrey thinks we’re heading in the right direction. "Despite the bugs we see, it's an excellent tool that genuinely democratizes game development for smaller developers."

Foddy certainly sees accessibility as the engine's great strength, but is worried that Unity 2018's emphasis on performance features could leave beginner developers behind. "From Unity's point of view, gamers associate [Unity] with ugly or low-performance games, so I guess that's why they’re focusing so heavily on performance right now," Foddy observes. "Having said that, I'm worried that some of the changes they’re making in pursuit of performance will make the engine less beginner-friendly, and less prototype-friendly, just by adding a lot of complexity. If that happens, the engine will ultimately become less relevant to beginners and indies and it’ll be battling for the same market niche as Unreal and CryEngine."

Unity has been pivotal in the indie games boom. Now we're starting to see the path it might be headed toward in the future. Will Unity continue to be welcoming to new developers while still appealing to creators looking for more performance-heavy tools? Ethan Redd is hopeful for the future of indie development on Unity. "Much like Twine and GameMaker, Unity has done well to embrace the DIY culture flourishing in the modern indie games sphere," he reflects. "As long as they remember their roots, I believe they will prosper as a pillar in the community."  

Cuphead

The 2018 Independent Games Festival—the 20th one, as it happens—will be held on March 21 ahead of the 2018 Game Developers Conference. Nearly 600 indie games were evaluated this year, but as the festival's organizers announced today, only 35 made the cut for the annual awards ceremony. Here's a full rundown of the nominees and categories:   

Excellence in visual art

Excellence in audio

Excellence in design

Excellence in narrative

Best student game

  •  IO Interloper 
  •  Don't Make Love  
  •  Penny Blue Finds a Clue 
  •  We Were Here  
  •  Baba Is You  
  •  Guardian of the Gears  

Nuovo award

Seumas McNally grand prize

While most categories are self-explanatory, it's worth noting that the Nuovo award is for "thinking differently about games as a medium," in case the nominees didn't give that away. You can find more details and the honorable mentions in the official IGF listing. 

FTL: Faster Than Light - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

igf-2018-finalists

It’s that time again already – 2018’s Independent Games Festival hands out its best-in-indie gongs on March 21 (as part of the Game Developers Conference), and these are the games in line for a prize. And, more importantly, a big shot at success thanks to the profile, although it should be noted that a fair few of these have done rather well for themselves already.

Scooping the most nods at 4 is veritable brain-frying, rule-rewriting puzzler Baba Is You, while the singular, surreal climbing game Getting Over It… With Bennett Foddy and charming, cups-on-ears narrative adventure Night In The Woods both boast a respectable three, followed by FTL follow-up Into The Breach with 2. There are many more lovely, lovely things on the full list of finalists below.

(more…)

Cuphead - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alyse Stanley)

cuphead

This year it has felt like there’s been a string of quality games releases. Games that I m proud to support, whether it be for their tackling of serious subject matter or excellent writing or unique concepts that push the industry forward. Games that are already redefining preconceived standards of play.

In short: next year has a tough act to follow. (more…)

Dec 25, 2017
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

RPS-calendar-header

The calendar’s doors have been opened and the games inside have been eaten. But fear not, latecomer – we’ve reconstructed the list in this single post for easy re-consumption. Click on to discover the best games of 2017. (more…)

West of Loathing

Our Best Comedy Game 2017 is West of Loathing, as voted for by the PC Gamer global team. Below, the writers who enjoyed it this year share their thoughts. Check out the rest of our GOTY awards and personal picks.

Chris Livingston: Some worlds you explore for loot or collectibles, some for secrets or bits of story, some for beautiful scenery. Open world stick figure RPG West of Loathing will have your scouring the world for jokes (there's plenty of loot, too). Even with the main and side quests complete, it's a world to linger in until you feel certain you've uncovered every last scrap of humor, read every last item description, absorbed every last line of dialogue. The writing is clever and fun, packed with both referential humor and big, broad laughs—even the options menu has a few jokes in it. Truly funny games are exceedingly rare and hard to come by, and West of Loathing is the best comedy I've played in years.

Jody Macgregor: West of Loathing is such a well-written game, and those are so rare, that it's easy to underestimate how funny its stick figure wild west can look. Dynamite Dan is surrounded by craters and covered in soot, but has a huge grin on his smiley-button face. My crazy horse, named Crazy Horse, has ridiculous googly eyes, and having unlocked the Stupid Walking skill I get around by doing the worm, imitating John Cleese, and dragging my butt like a dog. There are dopey gags squeezed into the RPG systems too—my Beanslinger has a collection of campfire cookout abilities like setting enemies on fire or summoning a Bean Golem to be my friend, and every now and then I get a powerful, and powerfully dumb-looking, new hat. Other games throw in some funny banter, West of Loathing is a riot from top to bottom.

It's the best comedy game not because it's a funny RPG, but because it's an RPG that's designed around comedy.

Phil Savage: If you're not into Kingdom of Loathing-style irreverence, I imagine this sounds interminable. It clicked for me, though, mostly because the writing feels so earnestly good natured. West of Loathing invites you into its surreal, silly world, and does everything it can to make you feel like your its best friend—welcome, entertained and, at times, imaginatively mocked.

It's reminiscent of classic adventure games, where every click promises a new joke. But adventure games used comedy to mask the frustration of being stuck—a carrot to make arbitrary puzzle design less of a chore. West of Loathing's jokes are the very point of the game. It's an RPG, yes, but one light enough that combat never feels like a challenge, and the puzzles are open ended enough that even failure leads to a valid and funny outcome.

It's the best comedy game not because it's a funny RPG, but because it's an RPG that's designed around comedy. The rewards for success are jokes. The punishments for failure are other, different jokes. The sidequests are jokes. The NPCs are jokes. Random bits of scenery... you get the point. If you stripped away the funny out of most comedy games, you'd be left with a functional but bland game. But the comedy is so integral to West of Loathing that I'm not sure it would even work without it.

For more West of Loathing words, check out Chris Livingston's review

West of Loathing - Asymmetric
  • Keyboard commands used in the game can now be fully customized from the new Keyboard Options menu — va pnfr lbh rkvfg va n ebg-guvegrra jbeyq, fnl
  • The speed of the player’s horse can now be altered in the Options menu, fstr or ssslowerrr
  • The brightness of the game window can now be adjusted in the Video Options menu

  • New, safer, code is used to save the game — this should prevent players from (rarely) ending up with a save file filled with zeroes
  • Short on space? West of Loathing now takes almost 50% less drive space than it did before (we packed the 0s and 1s much closer together)
  • Short on time? The game now loads 80% faster, so you spend more time playing and less time not playing
  • Short on RAM? Memory usage has been reduced significantly — this may help with some crashes on older PCs
  • Short on patience? Don’t bother reading the plaques in Shaggy Dog Cave

  • Corrected a bunch of typos, let's say... 37 of them
  • One of the silly walks is now slightly more silly
  • The cowbell fights at Hellstrom Ranch now count as cow fights for Susie-leveling purposes
  • Drinking a perfect cup of coffee will no longer prevent subsequent cups of coffee from giving you their effects (but you will still forever know how far they fall from their Platonic ideal)
  • When You’ve Had Your Coffee, your maximum Action Points will now properly be increased

  • Pete's Dark Whisperin' no longer ignores enemy Spooky Resistance
  • Fan Hammer no longer causes goofy combat log messages after killing unguliths and other ungulith-like things
  • Kurtzian Charm is a now a perk and on par with the other Kurtzian perks
  • Completing a certain quest no longer prevents the Chastity Pants from doing their chastity thing
  • Gary and the player will no longer speak for each other at the Alamo — don’t you forget it!

  • Created a Steam Controller profile: steam://controllerconfig/597220/1118485857 (Full, real controller support is still in the pipeline)
  • A bunch of small bug fixes that we forgot to write down (sorry!)
This patch took forever for a bunch of reasons too boring to elaborate on here. Thanks for your patience!
West of Loathing

I was confused, and strangely kind of relieved, to find my family alive and well when I started West of Loathing earlier today. Turns out I got West of Loathing mixed up with Westerado—or combined, really, so that I thought West of Loathing was a comedy western where you're searching for the man who murdered your family. Glad they're OK.

After briefly alt-tabbing to google 'that other western game where you're trying to find the guy who killed your family,' I continued on confident that I didn't actually know what West of Loathing was about. Very quickly I unlocked the 'silly walks' option, and was certain that I would never turn it off and will definitely continue west for whatever reason I selected (fortune, I think). I'm enjoying playing something that isn't about serious people doing serious war stuff.

But what are you playing this weekend, or whenever you have some time off? If it's Battlefront 2, which I reviewed this week, let me know how you're feeling about it. Some think I liked it too much, some think it's brilliant and I just don't get it, while others think I am wonderful and perfect and always right. I'm just assuming.

An update on West of Loathing before I go: I opened it just now to grab a screenshot, and my dog is currently tilting her head every time my character steps in horse poop and it makes a squish sound, so it looks like we're both fans. Check out Chris' review if that isn't enough of a recommendation. And speaking of Chris, I highly recommend his story about pumpkin farming and extreme duck ownership.

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