Coked-up neon murderfest Hotline Miami was originally a one-off project from developer Dennaton, but fans took to trial-and-error spree killing well enough to prompt co-creators Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin to start development on a sequel. The duo shares a few extra details with Joystiq, saying the the setting moves on to the quieter early years of the '90s.
No, this doesn't mean bemasked protagonist Jacket will don faded cutoffs and wax angst on teenage hardships while Pearl Jam blares in the background—in fact, he's not the focus of Hotline Miami 2 at all, though he'll play a minor role with whoever his trigger-happy replacement turns out to be. Don't expect a grunge-encrusted score, either, but do expect to hear some "sweet tunes."
Hotline Miami 2 will also be Dennaton's "grand finale" for the storyline, and it hopes to start work on a new concept beyond having you rip the faces off nameless goons over and over until your ballet of death is just right.
The IGF winners will be announced on Wednesday alongside the GDC awards in San Francisco. The Independent Games Festival has turned out another strong field of nominees, some of which you can play entirely for free right now. Here's your guide to the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF awards 2013, with interviews and details on the five finalists, Cart Life, FTL, Little Inferno, Hotline Miami and Kentucky Route Zero.
Click on the links below to go straight to your game of choice:
FTL Little Inferno Hotline Miami Kentucky Route Zero
And let's start with Cart life.
Creator Richard Hofmeier describes the scrolling, grey world of Cart Life as a "retail simulator," but that's a bit of an undersell. It celebrates the mundane and touching aspects of everyday life, at work and beyond. You can choose from a pair of characters, including a single mom working in a coffee store and a Ukrainian immigrant trying to keep his newspaper stand afloat (you can pay $5 to play as a third character, Vinny the bagel guy). Melanie must look after her daughter and earn $1000 to fight her side in a custody hearing. Andrus must take care of his cat, Mr Glembovski, and fend off a racking smoker's cough.
Cart Life is about the struggle of day to day existence in an unglamourous monochrome cityscape, rendered in excellent pixel art. On the business side, you're choosing products, balancing stock and selling as much as you can against the clock. Outside of work, you're trying to balance what little time you have between eating, sleeping, drinking and socialising.
You can play for free by downloading the .exe file from the Cart Life site. For more on Cart Life, Chris Livingston documented his experiences as part of our Sim-plicity series. Read all about it here. Cart Life is in the running for the Nuovo award, the Excellence in Narrative Design award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF.
I sent over a few questions to Cart Life creator Richard Hofmeier to find out which indie gems he'd like to see do well at the competition. "I'd enjoy seeing IGF give their highest endorsement to Porpentine's Howling Dogs, which is a dour enchantment in that holy dread kind of way, but, because it's text-based and rarely classified with other videogames, it's largely unplayed by people interested in good games." You can play through Howling Dogs on Porpentine's site for free.
"Now, it's important to note that Howling Dogs wasn't submitted to the IGF (and where the hell is Dwarf Fortress, anyway?). So Thirty Flights of Loving would be a great winner, too, but I'd really like The Stanley Parable in such a position, because it secretly remarks on the fact of videogames, themselves. If IGF wanted to be The Oscars, Stanley would make a suitable "best picture", which often confess something useful of their medium. Then again, both Dear Esther and Fez (which do this exact thing extremely well) were released this year, but aren't candidates on account of having been candidates previously... All right, okay - I'd pick Emily Short's Bee. Yes yes yes yes." Here's Emily Short's Bee.
Why is the IGF important? "I'm not fond of this question's presumption that your interview subject feels this way," Richard responded, "It's important because sponsors and GDC attendees have elevated the means by which it's carried out, and an elevated assessment of small videogames seems comprehensive, conclusive and respectable-- but I guess that'd be "How is the IGF important?". Either way, IGF will get some excellent games into the lives of people who, otherwise, wouldn't have found them. That's useful, and it makes the world a better place in a small way."
"But, when you presume its importance, I just think about how much money it must take to put together, and how it wouldn't exist without the games themselves. Wouldn't you say that the IGF is less important than the games it declares? Of course IGF nominees and winners will sell higher numbers for having been recognized, but I think the premise of determining merit is much more interesting and, you know, important."
How could the IGF formula be improved? "Mostly, I just want to see the submission process deteriorate entirely, over time. It seems like there are better judges every year, so I'm increasingly inclined to trust their own choices, from all they've seen in a year instead of limiting candidacy to a submission pool. Like the MacArthur Fellowship Grant or Nobel Prize nomination process. Easy for me to say, right? You set me up with that last question, you bastards, didn't you? Anyway, the distinction of "indie" games vs "regular" games will become obsolete and they'll have to come up with something else for the "I" to stand for."
An IGF nomination won't drag a paparazzi horde to one's door, but has life changed for Cart Life's creator since nomination? "I'm getting more freelance illustration and design work this year than last, so I'm able to keep up this fantasy lifestyle of the bathrobe and coffee cup."
He adds: "The best part of making games, though, is the shared premise which allows me to start conversations and sometimes even befriend the people I most admire. At Indiecade, I kissed several of my heroes, I spent a few hours with two vibrant luminaries in an emergency room, I spilled whiskey on my idols. Almost like having coworkers, only without the building resentment."
FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL was the first Kickstarter-funded game to see release, which has set the bar nice and high for all those to follow. At PC Gamer,w e've been lucky enough to have access to a few pre-Kickstarter prototype builds. Long before release, this roguelike space exploration sim showed promise. You control the crew of a small, upgrade-able ship as they flee from a pursuing army across randomised sectors of space. As you jump from star to star, you encounter moral dilemmas, pirates, attack drones aliens and intergalactic superstores. You must improve your ship with new weapons, drone bays and teleporters and nurture a competent crew to put out fires and stave off attackers.
It's good. In fact, we gave it our short form game of the year award this year, and gave it a score of 89 in our FTL review. Check out Tom F's description of an FTL encounter for an idea of how tense FTL's ship vs. ship showdowns can get.
So how do the developers feel about the IGF nod? "It feels pretty great," says designer Justin Ma. "We went from having Honorable Mentions in Design and the Grand Prize last year to being officially nominated this year. It's validating to find out we improved on last year's prototype."
IGF mentions have proved helpful when the team started promoting the polished version of FTL late last year. "Last year's Honorable Mentions certainly changed our situation," says Justin. "It was a ton of publicity and helped launch our Kickstarter which started around the time of GDC 2012.
As for other contenders, Justin mentions that he'd like to see Mark of the Ninja getting some future recognition, fellow designer Matthew Davis would pick Super Hexagon. "I haven't tried all of the games so I cannot fully comment" adds Justin, "but I just played through Ep. 1 of Kentucky Route Zero and I was blown away by the art and atmosphere. It felt like a spiritual successor to Out of This World (Another World)."
Subset are currently working on finishing up backers' Kickstarter rewards. "The next big project is still up in the air," they say.
Why is the IGF important? "The IGF is one of the most influential events that celebrate independent gaming partially because of its connection with GDC. They are able to get a large assortment of judges with specific knowledge about their category from all over the game development world. This not only means it is prestigious but it also helps promote independent game development by putting it in the spotlight."
2D Boy co-founder Kyle Gabler is certainly no stranger to IGF success. World of Goo scooped IGF gongs for design innovation and technical excellence in 2008. Now he's teamed up with software developer Allan Blomquist and Henry Hatsworth creator Kyle Gray to make Little Inferno. It's is up for the Nuovo, Technical Excellence and Grand Prize awards in this year's competition.
Little Inferno invites you to burn all of your toys in a huge fireplace. Once you run out of stuff to torch, you can order more flame-fodder from a catalog using the currency you've earned burning things. For some, it's a sly comment on time-sink social games, for others, it's a hypnotic way to wile away a few hours immolating innocent possessions. It's as dark and charming as it is divisive.
Kyle Gabler is chuffed to be nominated. "The mighty orange orbits are mesmerizing, and we're surprised to be included" he says, "but we're also well aware Little Inferno is a controversial experience up against some insanely beloved and beautiful indie games."
But which ones would he like to see win? "A few years ago, World of Goo totally lost the grand prize to Petri Purho's Crayon Physics (that jerk!!). He's a fellow who we'd known for a long time as someone who consistently submitted memorable and creative games to the Experimental Gameplay Project competitions. This year, we once again hope to lose to another friend of EGP: Kentucky Route Zero or Hotline Miami."
Kyle Gray says "I'd love to see Incredipede win Best Visuals. Colin and Thomas took a risk pushing Incredipede's artstyle in the direction of wood carvings, and it would be great to see that pay off." (you can read about Tom's experiences with Incredipede here, and learn more about its globetrotting creator in our Incredipede interview.)
Gray reckons that the IGF is useful for generating the sort of exposure that big developers pay PR departments manufacture. "Because indie studios are so small, we often don't have the resources to promote their games properly. IGF does a great job of pushing these games into the spotlight, and can really help indie devs find their audience."
Gabler, meanwhile, has some suggestions for how to improve the event. "The IGF is modeled after real award shows like the Academy Awards with all the lights and glamour and thumping music and scary disembodied voices announcing categories and nominees - but indie game developers like us would probably be just as happy, and possibly more comfortable, having a barbecue in (IGF/GDC/Gamasutra overseer) Simon Carless's backyard."
I've no idea how big Simon's backyard is, but the steak point is hard to argue. Things are going "great!" for the Little Inferno team, according to Gray. "Except my family still thinks I sit in front of the TV all day with a controller glued to my hand, making a game where you shoot people in the face. One day we'll reach a state where people know what an indie developer is, but we're not there yet."
Dennaton's frenzied murder death kill rampage sim bludgeoned its way into our hearts last October. The top down perspective does little to distance players from the lurid and sudden torrent of violence that pours out of the monitor every time you kick in the front door of a new level, but none of it would be quite the same without the soundtrack (hear it here). Crazed bouts of electronica bring a psychotic sheen to every improvised killing spree. Grab the knife. Stab the dog. Throw the knife. Grab the gun. Kill the man. Kick the door. You're on a dance floor. Kill them all!
Hotline Miami's strange delirium is so infectious that IGF nomination seemed assured. Our pick for the best music in a game last year is in the running for an audio excellence award, and it's battling for the top spot in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize category too.
Dennaton's production habits may be partly responsible for Hotline Miami's sense of pent-up, frenetic energy. Jonatan "Cactus" Söderström is used to turning games around in less than a day. "I usually stop when it gets hard to push the idea further or doesn’t feel like it’s worth it to keep pushing," he told us in an interview in PCG247. "Some game concepts work a lot better if you keep them small and concentrated and would just get repetitive if you try to make something bigger from them."
The concept of Hotline Miami has been around for a while, however. "My original idea, when I made the first prototype called Super Carnage, was just to make the goriest game I possibly could, with as many weapons as possible. I was only 18 at the time so it was a pretty silly and incomplete idea," he said.
"Then I remade it about a year later, this was after playing some of Ikiki’s games and I really wanted to capture that feeling of always being outnumbered and having to master the controls and plan your actions to beat a level. I had to quit though, because I couldn’t solve the pathfinding I needed for the AI. Then last winter I realised I was now able to do the whole thing without any technical problems, so I showed the old prototype to Dennis (Wedin, Dennaton's artist). He liked it a lot and started doing graphics for it before I knew it."
It turned out pretty well. In fact, we liked it so much it secured a score of 86 in our Hotline Miami review. If you've played through it five times already and need another fix, cool your jets. Dennaton are preparing a sequel. More "sweet tunes" are planned.
Kentucky Route Zero
This dark and enigmatic adventure game is described by its creators as a "magical realist adventure game about a secret highway." The tale is set to unfold across five parts over the next year or so, but part one has already done enough to catch the eye of the IGF judges. Kentucky Route Zero is more about atmosphere and exploration than complex puzzle solving. The beautifully restrained, moody artwork evokes a sense of quiet unrest quite marvelously. "It’s a game about hard times, and people trying to connect with each other," the developers told us earlier this year. "It’s also about the culture of Kentucky."
It's made by two chaps - Jake Elliot and Tamas Kemenczy - who, when merged, form a single indie devzord entity known as Cardboard Computer. As well as Kentucky Route Zero, they released Limits and Demonstrations - an examination of the work of installation artist Lula Chamberlain - for free last month. That offers a short shot of the quiet, introspective pacing that makes Kentucky Route Zero such a hypnotic experience.
A modest Kickstarter campaign gave the team the capital they needed to license the game engine, but the benefits of Kickstarter extended beyond monetary gain.
"As a solution to our financial roadblocks in getting the game made, it worked very well, but the continuing support from folks who backed the Kickstarter drive has ended up being the most valuable part of the experience for us. Some of them helped beta test the game, or just provided feedback and encouragement as we updated them on our progress."
"We never seemed to run afoul of supporters’ expectations," they added, "even when the release of the game was delayed, we just communicated frankly about it with our supporters, and they were all very understanding in their responses to us.
Part One of Kentucky Route Zero was released in January this year. We gave it a score of 84 in our Kentucky Route Zero review. You can find out more and buy the game on the Kentucky Route Zero site.
To coincide with IGF, PAX, GDC, OMG and WTF, Steam have slung up one of their impromptu sales, discounting tons of indie games to ensure that our libraries continue to heave under the sheer weight of unplayed games. How nice of them. I hope you've hidden your wallet after last time, because there are some cracking deals to be had, including Super Hexagon, Binding of Isaac and Terraria for silly money.
There's no countdown, so I'm assuming the many games on sale are going to stay the same price until the sale ends on March 29th (the 'Featured' games will likely rotate day by day, without offering any additional savings). There's a lot of games going cheap - more than is evident from the main page - so be sure to poke around for the ones you're interested in. Here are few of the better offers:
FTL - £3.49 (50% off) Hotline Miami - £3.49 (50% off) To The Moon - £2.79 (60% off) Amnesia: The Dark Descent - £3.24 (75% off) Miasmata - £5.99 (50% off) Lone Survivor - £3.39 (50% off) The Blackwell Bundle - £3.74 (75% off) Retro City Rampage - £3.99 (67% off) Ultratron, which came out like yesterday - £3.49 (50% off) Euro Truck Simulator 2 - £12.49 (50% off)
It may have won our Best Music of the Year honour, but Hotline Miami's excellent soundtrack wasn't previously commercially available. Sure, you could hear it in a browser, or even dig into the game's root folder to get at the .OGG files inside, but there was no single, purchasable MP3 album for fans of those frantic, trippy sounds to enjoy. Until now.
Steam has just released a soundtrack pack for the game that, when purchased, will add the MP3 files to Hotline Miami's directory. The pack is £6.99 - arguably expensive at the same price as the game, but worth it for tracks like Sun Araw's meandering Deep Cover, El Huervo's urgent, glitchy Turf, or the ultra-cool Paris by M.O.O.N.
If you're not sure why you should care about the soundtrack, or the game it's attached to, you can get Hotline Miami at half price this weekend. £3.49 is a great price for the improvisational violence ballet that results from Hotline's best levels.
The shortlist for the 15th IGF award finalists has been revealed. There were more than 580 entries this year, across an incredibly diverse range of genres, requiring the attention of some 200 judges to help pare down the games into seven award categories, with five nominees apiece.
Contenders for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize are as follows:
Meanwhile, honourable mentions went to Gone Home (The Fullbright Company); Thirty Flights of Loving (Blendo Games); The Stanley Parable (Galactic Cafe); Super Hexagon (Terry Cavanagh); Starseed Pilgrim (Droqen & Ryan Roth).
Head over to the IGF site to see the full list of nominees each of the categories - visual art, narrative, technical excellence, design, audio and the Nuovo award for "abstract and unconventional game development". The winners will be announced as part of the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, on Wednesday 27 March.
The fact that FTL lets me command a craft called The Space Badger with Don Draper at the helm isn’t the main reason I love it (although it is a factor). Ever since I saw Firefly, I’ve been eager to take charge of a crew and lead them to almost certain death. FTL lets me do that, over and over again.
Your primary objective is to outrun the rebel fleet, which advances like a red wave across every sector. Dozens of jump points form an explorable web in each system. You can encounter anything from a drone guarding treasure to a planetary distress signal or a secret space shop. These quick interludes offer a short list of choices, which may result in a fight, a reward, or nothing at all.
For the first few playthroughs, these little choices formed the narrative of my ship’s journey, but that novelty began to wear off as I saw the same choices repeating. Then I started to game the system. I would always ruthlessly destroy pirates even if they tried to surrender, knowing that the more resources I earned from early sectors, the better my long term chances would be. It soon became obvious that FTL isn’t a game about canned stories or alien encounters, it’s about survival.
Then the important decisions came to the fore. Should I spend precious resources on upgrading my energy drive? Should I repair? Should I buy fuel? FTL’s upgrade systems present a fascinating ongoing conflict between the need to keep the vessel ship shape and a desire to make it better.
It helps that FTL’s most devastating weapons are a joy to use. They let you sketch streaks of laser death across the hulls of your enemies. They can teleport bombs right into your enemy’s engine room. They let you order drones to surgically slice up your enemy’s oxygen supply. You can even see the doors on their ship opening and closing frantically as the crew dash to repair what remains of their vital systems.
Everything you can do, however, can also be done to you. FTL’s campaigns are often tales of continuous, worsening crisis. Like the hero of a hardboiled detective novel, your ship becomes more battered and bruised with every encounter, limping towards the distant final boss with a naïve sense of hope.
FTL’s finely balanced systems deliver great strategy, but it’s in the slow demise of your craft that the game finds its drama. That it manages to do so much in such short bursts of time is remarkable.
Read More: Our FTL review and Tom F's FTL Diary.
Runners Up: Hotline Miami and Thirty Flights of Loving
Ever wonder what the PC games of 2012 would be like if they were text adventures? Of course not, no one in their right mind would ever wonder that. In related news: I wondered that! So, rip out your GeForce GTX 680, plug in your dusty 10" CRT monitor, and stuff your programmable eight-button mouse in a stocking, because this week we're going to imagine five of this year's games the way all PC games used to be: as text adventures.
With its addictive soundtrack, nerve-wracking combat, top-down view and 8-bit throwback graphics, Hotline Miami is a slick and challenging action game. Luckily, the violence is so over-the-top gruesome and gory that it's hard to feel repulsed by it until you suddenly feel pretty darn repulsed by it. Throw in unsettling masked characters, an arcade-like scoring system, and some disturbing mindgames, and what do you get? I have no idea. This game is bonkers. Take out the graphics, and what do you get? Hotline Miami: The Text Adventure!
I became lost in the sprawling city of Dunwall a total of 14 times after receiving the teleporting Blink ability. The culprit wasn’t entangling level design or oblique objectives. It was curiosity – a hunger for the unknown rivalling Corvo Attano’s desire for revenge in its intensity.
From the moment salty ferryman Samuel Beechworth deposited me on the silty, moonlit shoreline of Dunwall’s outskirts, I sensed it: the compelling need to uncover the beating pulse of this once-mighty industrial city.
The best thing about Dishonored isn’t its kinetically scrumptious combat, which has certainly reaped its fair share of praise. It’s the simple existence of an immersive story churning independently from Corvo’s own narrative. Abandoned apartments, garish brothels, rusted whaling factories – each locale offers another slice of Dunwall’s identity for ravenous absorption. The ubiquity of snippets of lore captured in tattered books and note scraps peppered along Corvo’s path only fuels my hunger for more.
Corvo’s accomplices and detractors leave equally unforgettable marks exacerbated by the cryptic whispers of the cogwork Heart. It’s like a remote control of truth and gossip. It lays bare the innermost secrets of the pallid, downcast faces encountered in slum and suburb alike. Samuel’s life at sea, for example, was a response to the numbing loss of a hopeless love. He also can’t sleep in a normal bed. (Presumably due to their very non-wavy construction.)
Dunwall is a grim and grisly place filled with horror and despair, but Arkane’s creation also brims with possibility. Sure, Corvo seeks closure, but I relished the opportunities to tell my own brand of story at every turn. Dunwall’s presence made me feel the density of my rain-slick pea coat as I perched on high. It underscored the angular juxtaposition of technology with old-world architecture. Brushed tableaus of history leapt forth from Sergey Kolesov’s fantastically detailed paintings. An impromptu eavesdrop revealed an aristocratic couple reduced to squabbling amid the ruins of their lives in a plague-infested district.
Dishonored doesn’t force your nose up against everything it offers, but its revelatory depiction of a believable world tearing itself apart springboards the need to explore and travel beyond Dunwall’s cobblestone streets. Such a distinction exists in but a few predecessor titles considered staples of PC gaming, and Dishonored wholeheartedly deserves its seat beside such exploratory games as Deus Ex, Thief and Unreal.
I could go on. In a genre that defines variety mostly by the amount of ammo left in a gun, Dishonored’s richness both solidifies its legacy as a keystone stealth game and etches memories that linger far beyond the last credit line.
Read More: Our Dishonored review and Dishonored video diary.
It’s a busy and varied field this year: exquisitely picked soundtracks tussle for our affection with gorgeous bespoke scores, covering every genre from bustling chiptune beats to orchestral epics. Dishonored's sparse but potent use of the sea-shanty was fittingly iconic, while Jesper Kyd’s Darksiders 2 score swept from Celtic pipes to Mongolian throat singing, and Spec Ops: The Line’s astutely selected records patched both Deep Purple and Verdi into its eclectic, psychedelic ambience.
A hat tip is certainly due to Jessica Curry for her intensely unsettling Dear Esther score, managing to create a bleak, lonesome space for your neuroses to fill, without ever overtly forcing emotion upon the player. At the other end of the scale, Far Cry 3’s weapons-grade dubstep was hardly subtle, but a delirious, irresistible indulgence nonetheless.
However, the final battle here is to be fought by just two contenders - Hotline Miami and Super Hexagon, both offering a line in pounding electronica. Super Hexagon’s is chirpy, hypnotic and deployed with the level of craft witnessed in every area of the game: the way failure skips the track to another section avoids grating repetition without ever shattering the game’s sense of pace. But it’s Hotline Miami that triumphs, if not for the skill with which the tracks are woven into the game, then for the air of illness, caustic unease and pitiless violence that they collectively conjure. I can think of few games, or few anything, which have been able to sonically construct such a powerful sense of psychosis. An achievement, albeit a dark one.
The hyper-stylish indie revenge/murder/pizza-parlour simulator Hotline Miami has sold 130,000 copies since it launched. But according to publisher Devolver Digital, it's also been pirated to "extraordinary levels".
In an interview with Eurogamer, Hotline's Project Manager at Devolver, Graeme Struthers, said, "It has been torrented to such a staggering level, and given the file size of it, I mean, you can't really be surprised, right? You could pass this thing around on the world's smallest memory stick."
That's not to say the team are angry about the piracy rate. Hotline's co-creator Jonatan "Cactus" Söderström previously posted comments on the game's torrents, asking uploaders to update the downloads for an upcoming patch, ensuring that people were at least playing the best version even if they weren't paying for it. He later clarified his position: "I don’t really want people to pirate Hotline Miami, but I understand if they do. I’ve been broke the last couple of months. It sucks."
Struthers commented on the act, saying "that's what he's like. He just felt he didn't want people playing the buggy version of his game however they got it. He wanted them to get the patch. He basically said, 'I'm not going to criticise this, it's a fact of life. It would be nice if guys could find it within themselves to pay for it, but that's the world I'm in, so you know, you just have to take it for what it is.'"
If you've yet to pick up Hotline Miami, you can read why you should push that 130,000 sales total higher in Graham's review.