Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Invaders: Corruption (PC/Mac)

Spinning around on your axis and shooting at stuff that appears in the corners of the screen and tries to crash into you is not a new concept; it's the gaming equivalent of the discovery that throwing pointy sticks at mammoths makes them into food.

Arena shooters are hardly a new deal, and Invaders: Corruption isn't even a new release (it appeared in 2010), but a game this good deserves an RGCD mention no matter how long it has been on the market.

Invaders: Corruption plays like the elegantly written, polished piece of work that it is, which is all the more impressive as Manuel Van Dyck, the developer responsible for the vast majority of the game, is primarily a graphic designer who writes video games on the side.

Mechanically, the game works in the same way as arena shooters from Asteroids onwards have always worked - a ship or whatever controlled by the player that starts the game centrally placed in the screen, with 360 degree blah blah blah... you've all played at least one, right?  However, it is the innovative nature of Invaders: Corruption that really sets it apart from its cohorts.

The game began as a design experiment in randomly generated graphic logos, which eventually gave way to the procedurally generated shooter it is today. Put very simply, everything you see on the screen outside the menu and high score page is generated by the seed word you are asked to enter on start-up. Everything from the ship you pilot, to the weapons it fires, to the hordes of enemies (and there’s tonnes of them after the first couple of minutes!) is generated by an algorithm, and aside from giving the game a fascinating visual style this also makes for constant replay potential using different seeds.

Uploading your high score makes the seed you used visible by the way - just a bit of advice to those of you who, like myself, ashamedly went through every swear word imaginable before settling down to more mature language.

Moving back to the gameplay, I must confess that for my first few goes I stuck to my old tried and tested method of just pivoting on my axis and shooting stuff. However, after a couple of minutes I found myself having to scoot all over the place to avoid enemy attack, chasing down weapons upgrades and dodging swarms of Invaders, which is really the way that the game should be played. You see, near misses and dangerous flying actually award the player with 'frenzy points'; collect enough of these and a special frenzy mode is activated that slows down time and quadruples your fire power, allowing you to place your shots with ruthless slo-mo efficiency. It's a interesting and rewarding concept that encourages risk-taking, and dissuades people from staying sat in the middle of the screen for too long.

All in all, Invaders: Corruption is a brilliant take on a primeval game concept, and if loving it makes me a caveman then so be it!

Download the game here (from the Invaders: Corruption website).
5 out of 5

Developer Interview

As a way of introduction, could you tell us a little about your background? Were you a graphic designer before you became involved in game development?

First, I would like to send a huge "Thank you!" in the direction of Carlo Castellano (music) and John Nesky (sounds). Without these guys I probably wouldn't have pulled through on Invaders: Corruption as smoothly as I did. Thanks guys!

I was playing computer games long before I was interested in design, so, no I guess I started out as a gamer, or rather geek, like many in my profession. My first experience of playing and making games, was on the C64. The earliest game I remember making is some sort of text adventure. It was not very good.

Design came later in my life, as I started studying design after trying to study IT, where I learned that doing what you are good at doesn't mean that it's fun. In fact I hated it.

Are there any games from your past (or perhaps more current games) you would say influenced you?

I think the games of the late 80s and early 90s influenced me most. The ability to save was mostly unheard of and if you died you usually ended up cursing yourself or the game, relenting and trying again... and again. I don't think I ever beat more than one or two games.

The games I remember fondly, I weirdly enough never owned, but played at a friends place instead. These would be Bubble Bobble, Bruce Lee, Contra 3 and F-Zero, etc. Mostly good co-op arcade games that allowed you to yell at your friend for screwing up. F-Zero being the odd man out here. I do love racing games; I just invariably suck at all of them!

More recently I have been watching the indie-scene off-and-on discovering games that bring back the joy of having to figure out the game and it's quirks on your own. An aspect that I sorely miss in today's triple-A games, where they basically force-feed you everything you'd ever need to know.

Which languages do you code in, and which development tools do you prefer to use?

Before Invaders I produced some other games, namely aforementioned text adventure and some simplistic shooter games and clones in DOS using mostly QBasic, as I was coming from the C64 and programming in basic was natural to me.

Later I switched to BlitzMax, which is what I still use thanks to the fact that it allows me to bang out prototypes quickly while being flexible and allowing me to write performance-critical code in C/OpenGL.

For the graphics and assets I usually use the same tools I use for work. That means mostly Adobe's creative suite and freeware tools like Sfxr.

Could you tell us about the other games you have produced?

My first larger project was Blobbit. Initially it was an incredibly Spartan strategy game that I simply wrote because I remembered playing a similar game but was unable to ever find it again. I recreated it using ASCII graphics.

After a frustrated hiatus - I quickly wrote Earth is a 3D Planet, an asteroids like game. From a graphical and design perspective I am very fond of it. I still love the black and white effects.

Could you give us a technical insight into the production of the game?

Invaders: Corruption took roughly three months to make. If you add the time spent on the previous design-experiments it's probably closer to four and a half. In this time I also collaborated with Carlo and John whom I recruited from the Tigsource forum.

During that time I tried to come up with a good tile engine together with a friend, but in the end the effort fizzled out, probably due to time zone differences and both of us being committed to full time jobs, making the engine very slow to progress. Coming up with your own tile engine is a daunting task.

After this I started playing around with the logo-generation algorithm and plugged it into the tile engine. Due to CPU limitations, not wanting to wait forever for my results, I simplified the algorithms and patterns used, and it ended up making the generated sprites look quite a bit like classic space invaders. I was intrigued at the variety and personality these sprites still managed to squeeze into a 5x5 pixel grid.

Ultimately my goal was to make a game that's easy to pick up and play, but if the player died he shouldn't have the chance to be angry at the game for long. Instead he should be able to quickly restart the game.

Can we expect more games from you in the future?

I absolutely hope so! I just need some new ideas. I am tired of shooters, for now, but I'd definitely love to put all the things that I've learned during the development of Invaders to good use.