Indie Focus – Highlights of DubLudo XII

In case y’all weren’t aware I hail from Ireland. The emerald isle. Known throughout the world for it’s green fields, excessive alcohol consumption and Irish Dancing. Luckily, there is much more to Ireland than is typically seen in T.V and Movies. For example, Ireland has a burgeoning indie game scene – one I’ve been involved with for quite a few years now. I’ve helped form two Irish game start-ups (Open Emotion Studios and Time Machine Games) and helped many more along the way, wherever possible.

So I guess you could say it’s something I’m very passionate about.

FrankNJohn is a very impressive title considering the size of it's development team.

FrankNJohn is a very impressive title considering the size of it’s development team.

I decided to attend DubLudo for the first time this weekend. DubLudo is Ireland’s premier game development showcase which runs every month. The event was created by a close friend of mine named Owen Harris; a champion of the Irish game scene and head of BitSmith Games. This was DubLudo’s first birthday and developers turned up in their droves. I got to meet up with many old friends from my time as a developer, but more importantly I got a hands on with some stunning Irish Indie gems.

First let me talk about the centrepiece of the event – A PC roguelike by the name of FrankNJohn from the folks at BitSmith. FrankNJohn is a unique game in that the lead characters primary weapon is his head… No, not in a puzzle solving sense, as in he literally swings his head on a chain and bashes enemies into smithereens with it. Playing with a wired Xbox pad, the left stick does your usual movement duties, while the right allows you to swing your noggin in all directions.

This is not the only interesting aspect of FrankNJohn however, as the game also boasts a unique visual style, expansive dungeons and something called vertical traversal. Unlike other dungeon crawler RPG’s, players will not be restricted to roaming singular dungeon floors or using ladders and stairs to get up and down. No, in FrankNJohn, players can drop down through holes in the floor to different parts of the dungeon and use air vents to blast themselves back upwards. It really does feel like a game-changer, completely altering the way you would traditionally explore a dungeon.

At yesterdays event I talked to Paul Conway of BitSmith Games who told me that at present the company are making some amendments to the games combat. The version on show was very different to others I had played previously. Instead of enemies feeling like bothersome pests, they had become the focus of the level, with dexterity and strategic thinking becoming your most valuable attributes in terms of survival.

FrankNJohn has a unique setting, theme and art style seperating it from the pack.

FrankNJohn has a unique setting, theme and art style seperating it from the pack.

The game also allows players to swap out their head at large “Skull-cap” machines. This is a random process and you could end up with anything from a Turtle Shell skullcap which allows you to shield yourself from enemy attacks, to an isometric skullcap which changes the perspective of the game itself. BitSmith are actually asking the community to get involved in designing Skull-Caps and assured me there will be a huge selection of different caps present in the finished game.

The next game on my list is Honourbound, a beautifully crafted 2D samurai hack and slasher, in the vein of Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry from Dublin based BatCat Games. Players take control of Jiro, a samurai out for revenge against a demon lord who has destroyed his village and those he loved. The game is absolutely sumptuous, with some of the most gorgeous 2D art I’ve seen of late. The animations and particle effects really bring the game to life. Combat is weighty and there is a real sense of feedback behind every move.

Honourbound 1

Honourbound is absolutely gorgeous! Just look at that lighting! WOW!

In the demo build I played, I had access to three of Jiro’s weapons. On a wired Xbox pad, X and Y were different sword slashes – light and heavy respectively. The left and right triggers , changed the currently equipped weapon on the fly, meaning I could start a combo using my sword, change to my tonfa and finish up on my large club, with just a flick of the triggers. In a game like this combat is the most important element and it seems as though BatCat Games nailed it here. I honestly cannot wait for the release of Honourbound as this type of hack and slasher is right up my street.

John O’ Kane and Chris Gregan, co-founders of start-up Snozbot, were at the event demoing two very different projects. Chris was demoing Fungus, a unity package specifically designed to make text or story based games easier to develop in Unity. I’ve spent some time with Fungus over the past few weeks and I have to say it makes the prospect of building out an old-school point and click adventure much more achievable. You can check out Fungus over on the official site and get involved in the forums if you want any help when it comes to using the program.

John was showing off the companies latest game; a hilarious little romp by the name of  Super Sword Sword Shield. SSSS is a gorgeous 2D runner, with a delightful pixel art visual style. The aim of the game is to use your Sword and Shield to survive for as long as possible, while taking out skeletons, ghosts, archers and demons. It’s a pretty simple little concept but it belies the hidden depth. You can play the game free online at Snozbot.com and John assured me that the next update would add some pretty interesting mechanics into the game.

Discman is honestly, all joking aside, one of my favourite platformers ever!

Discman is honestly, all joking aside, one of my favourite platformers ever!

While shmoozing I got to chat with Lee Cullen and Brendan Sutton of LoPoly Games – creators of my all-time favourite indie game – no hyperboleDiscman. The guys were not yet ready to debut their new game but promised me that it will be a parody title that pokes fun at mobile games and microtransactions. Sounds like my kind of game. You can keep up to date with LoPoly by following their development blog which gets updated weekly.

DubLudo is an incredible event and all kudos goes to Owen Harris and co. for fostering such a strong sense of community and encouraging developers of all shapes and sizes to get involved. I was glad to be there to cover these games as, stated earlier, I care a lot about the Irish games industry and would love to see Irish Indie games get the international platform they deserve.

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