Why Indie Games?

This article might start off a little bit… differently, but please! Bare with me here!

Do you remember the last time you felt awe playing a game? Campaigns that make you feel alive and refreshed are far and few these days. Half the time I play games I can predict exactly what’s going to happen. For the life of me, I can’t remember the last time I played a Call of Duty game that stimulated my narrative needs. Back in 2015, my gaming life consisted of multiplayer first-person shooters on an endless loop. From COD to Battlefield to Halo, over and over and over again. My whole gaming diet was lacking that sustenance. The slice of cake rich with plot twists, character designs, and emotional attachments. And then I found what I was looking for (which I’m going to assume you know from the title): Indie games.

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Games that weren’t there to pander to massive demographics and had more to show than cleaner graphics compared to the previous year’s edition. Indie games envelop you. The titles, although sometimes unheard of, are unique and crafted by small teams, many times starting from nothing. I’ve just been going on and on about how indie games give a whole new life to gaming, but let me give you a more personal example.

For those who’ve played OneShot by Little Cat Feet, you know exactly where this is going. For those who haven’t enjoyed the game themselves, I implore you to go check out our review, here, and possibly pick up a copy, then continue reading. There will be spoilers ahead!

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OneShot gave me something I haven’t felt from a game in a very long time. It gave me a connection. From the moment I entered the dimly lit, pixelated world, I knew something was going to be different about this game. The soundtrack from the moment I entered this game made my chest swell with excitement. If that wasn’t good enough, something refreshing happened that I was definitely not expecting. We were NOT the main character. In OneShot, the beautiful minds behind the game decided to have you play “God”. You were the influencer. While you did walk around and control Niko, all your interactions with him were between you and Niko. Two completely different entities.

We went the whole game watching and bonding with Niko. We explored the world with Niko. We met every individual we could spot with Niko. Helped countless people with Niko. And in the end, what does the game do? It presents you with a choice of two wrong answers. You can sacrifice Niko to save the world or you could sacrifice the world to save Niko. Reading this without playing the game might not do you much good, being that you didn’t grow that connection that felt eternal with Niko. Me myself, I didn’t know what to do. I won’t lie, it brought tears to my eyes. This poor innocent boy who’s done no wrong is faced with an ethical dilemma and turns to you, his God, for help. I couldn’t take it. I shut off the game then and there.

Too many thoughts clouded my mind, I returned the next day, ready to make a decision. The only choice that would be right was saving the world at Niko’s expense. But, when I finally hit clarity, the game threw a curve-ball that hit me in the gut as hard as a truck. I opened the game and saw this:

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Indie games are your favorite stories mixed with your best friends. So, why indie games? Because they’re the closest thing to true, real games.

Burying the Dead – Graveyard Keeper

Ever wonder what it would be like to be in complete control of a graveyard? How it would feel to have to prepare the bodies and to eat chunks of their remains? Not the last part? Well with Graveyard Keeper you can do all of the above! Graveyard Keeper is a management sim game where you are the person in charge of running and taking care of a medieval kingdom, but it isn’t by choice. Your character was on his way home one night when he was struck by a car and killed, when he awoke he was in a medieval land and was told he would be in charge of the graveyard. After that it delves into how to maintain your graveyard, how the bishop will be ranking your graveyard, and the town nearby where you can have new shovels made, or get a drink at the bar.

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The game is energy based, meaning any action you do will cost you energy, but the good news is that you can regain the energy fairly easily. All you need to do to regain energy is cook some food, once the food is cooked and eaten you can get back to burying corpses. How you corpse part works is a little odd though, you are brought a corpse to bury, but first you have to bring it to the morgue and do simple surgery on it (remove parts of the flesh) and only then can you bury it in a grave. The bishop will visit you from time to time and give you a “style rating” on the graveyard, your style rating determines the types of graves and decorations you can have in your graveyard, which in turn raises the style rating even more.

The games tutorial is somewhat lacking in information, it gives you all the knowledge you should need to play the game, but doesn’t go very in depth on how to apply that knowledge. But aside from that there should be no trouble with learning how to play the game with no understanding of how management sims actually work. The music and sound effects in the game are also very good, they fit the theme and are quite appealing to listen to. As for the graphics, they chose to use a type of pixelated graphics, not so far as to be 8-bit, but not a stunning realism. That works out for it though as it allows for you to focus more on the matters happening in the game as oppose to the graphics accompanied by them.

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All in all the game is fun to play and it has a good feel to it. I hope to see a lot of excitement following this game release.

Get the game here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/599140/Graveyard_Keeper/

Fortnite – Marvel Infinity War Crossover LTM

As a lot of you have probably heard by now, Fortnite has released a limited time mode which is a mash-up between the normal Fortnite Battle Royale, and Marvel’s main villain from Infinity War, Thanos.
The game mode is an amazing amount of fun for the amount of time I’ve put into it and it is by far my favorite limited time event they have released so far. The idea of the game is that you drop in an already closing circle and once the battle bus disappears the Infinity Gauntlet will drop from the sky as a meteor and strike a random spot in the circle.
After that, it’s free game to whoever can pick up the gauntlet to wield the mighty power of Thanos. Now you won’t see Thanos just running around with a gold scar, he has his own ability set which sets him apart from the other players:

Power Stone – Thanos uses the Power Stone as his main weapon for range by unleashing a line of power towards his enemies. This attack is a beam that you can follow the enemy with for a short amount of time dealing 15 damage for every hit.

Time Stone – The Time Stone is used in an odd way for this event, as it is Thanos’ Melee weapon. He uses the time stone to “Send them to a different time zone” as the kill feed will say. The melee attack is a straight lunge and destroys breakable objects around it.

Mind Stone – The Mind Stone is used by Thanos to jump exceptionally high. Thanos does not have a normal jump, but instead a jump that will charge up and allow for him to jump almost as high as the top of a mountain. This ability is useful for trying to get out of combat or to combo with the melee attack which I will describe below.

Mind/Time Stone Combo – If Thanos jumps into the air and then uses a melee attack, he will dive into the ground and create a small crater where he lands. This attack deals a lot of damage and can in most instances one-hit if the enemy is under you. But, it can also be used to destroy buildings quickly, because that the ability will go straight through any breakable objects.

Now, all of these abilities make it seem like Thanos is an all-powerful god who is unkillable (as he should be), but there is a couple of other things you should note.
– Although Thanos has 700 health and 300 shield, he cannot regain any health, and only regains shield through killing other players
– Thanos is visible to all other players on the map, minimap, and radar throughout the entire game.
– Thanos cannot build.
Once we take all of that into account, it really isn’t that difficult to kill Thanos, you just need to have a little bit of skill. And, once Thanos dies, the Gauntlet drops as an item for anyone else to pick up and wield.
I’m not sure how long this limited time mode is here for, but I hope that this opens the door to more amazing crossovers like this one.

Hellish fun – Tormentor X Punisher Review

EDITOR WARNING: Article may contain profanity/vulgarities, and may not be suited for small children. Read at your own expense.

Tormentor X Punisher is one hell of a thrill ride. When I sit down to play, I feel like I’ve just injected caffeine into my bloodstream and strapped speakers blasting metal music to my skull. The game oozes violence and spews vulgarities like an edgy teen trying to impress his ‘cool’ friends. Even the title screen is a treat. Scrolling through the menu invokes unearthly screams from the titular female character. The bold title font pulses like a beating heart, and in the background, the face of a demon stares into your very soul. This game exposes us for the violent, crass animals we all are, and it makes us love every second of it.

Welcome to Planet Fuck You! It’s a real planet, between the giant sun of I don’t Give a Shit, and a moon shaped in a middle finger. Look it up.

Demons populate the planet, and it’s the perfect place for the pink haired demon slayer to unleash her fury. She hates demons with a burning passion of a thousand pyres. It comes across not only through her words, harshly screamed obscenities spat with enough distaste to make toes curl, but also in how she takes them apart. By blasting them into tiny, meat sized chunks, leaving them as bloody smears on the ground.

The game throws you into an enclosed arena, where you have to survive unending waves of demons for as long as possible. The controls are simple enough. Shoot to kill, fire your shotgun to reload, and always keep moving. It sounds disarmingly easy when you realise everything in the game can be killed in one hit, including you. It isn’t. On my first run, I lasted less than thirty seconds before being reduced to fleshy pulp.

The starting waves are a cakewalk. But things become maniac as demons spawn relentlessly, swarming you with single-minded determination like flies on manure. Once you survive past a certain time, anywhere between forty to sixty seconds, a boss spawns in the centre of the arena. The bosses that spawn are entirely random, and successfully killing one depends on luck or skill (I rely on the former). This mechanic is infuriating, but it ensures replayability. No single run will be alike.

The game has me hooked. Playing once isn’t enough, because each time you sit down and blast through it, it feels like a kick in the nuts. An adrenaline booster made of demon tears, head banging music, and copious amounts of muttered expletives. The tight controls are crucial for a game like this, because no one likes artificial difficulty brought on by shitty mechanics. Tormentor X Punisher focuses on gameplay and does it extremely well.

The only downside is the lack of the story. It’s a great game, but I generally like my games with a bit of lore, or backstory. With a colourful name like ‘Planet Fuck You’ and the main character’s hatred of demons, it’s hard not to wonder how everything came to be. Regardless, the game is still ridiculously fun, even without a story. If you’re looking for a fast-paced top down shooter rivalling the likes of Hotline Miami and Devil Daggers, Tormentor X Punisher is definitely worth a spin.

How do I Game Writer?

I once read someplace here on the worldwide web that game writers are an often misunderstood sort. I read that we can be underutilized by designers, sometimes looked down upon by team members in other departments for fear of what we’d do with our dreaded cutscenes, etc etc etc. There is a point to be made that so many of the newbie writers on professional development teams know nothing about game development, that they stride in proud from the realms of a novelist, a screenwriter, or a comic writer, and think they’re ready to take over the whole development world. Oh, if only they knew better.

Indeed, in my early days as a fledgling game writer (which are actually still ongoing, lulz,) I think I learned the reason for just why this is, why so many writers (not designers) of so many experience levels couldn’t quite tell ya the specifics of what makes a good game story and what doesn’t. The answer: a lack of information.

Not to hate on other articles and outlets, but I feel that so many of them fail to touch upon the good, nitty-gritty, important details that all aspiring game writers crave. I’m definitely still searching for all of those answers myself, but I think it’s high time that I share some of the precious chunks of knowledge that designers and directors from all over the internet have been trying to beat and pound and force through my thick skull for over half a year now.

Choose Your Words Wisely

The worrisome look on Lee’s face when he comforts Clementine is not unique to Telltale’s The Walking Dead. No, it is the face a game writer makes on a daily basis, for in no other medium does a storyteller need to cut it down to bare essentials more so than in video games.

“But Dylan,” I can hear you asking now, “whatever do you mean?!” Well, let me introduce a concept that I call “the word count dilemma”. Whether the piece in question be a novella, (which is apparently the fancy term for a really short novel,) a novel (also known as a phat novella,) or a movie script, the average reader’s word count is about…

                 130 words per minute

Not a very huge number. 130 words when grouped up together seem small, and they most certainly are. Depending on how writing-heavy your team wants to go, you may end up with a story that’s 20,000 words long, (the same as a movie script,) or The Witcher 3’s absolutely monstrous 400,000 on paper, and that’s fine. But, very few people are going to be reading your story, aren’t they? What are most people going to be doing? Watching it unfold during gameplay. So what’s the problem?

Well, a very famous Youtube channel dedicated to game development known as Extra Credits (which I highly recommend every aspiring dev pays very close attention to,) once talked of this very same concept. The creators behind this wonderful channel couldn’t find a de facto study to determine the average WPM of most story-driven games, so they decided to experiment on their own. What was their average? The answer may surprise you…

                    16 words per minute

(The Extra Credits video on that can be found here.)

Isn’t that interesting?! Mind boggling?! INSANE?! It most definitely is! It is all of those things and so much more! Thus, it is important that every single line of dialogue is kept down to an absolute bare minimum. No fluff. No flowery descriptiveness. Just quick, dirty, and right to the point. The definitive litmus is making sure that every word matters and has some sort of relevance to the plot, the characters, the world, and the story.

Funnily enough, this is actually a very old concept in storytelling, and I bet that if you’re a seasoned writer, you’ve heard of it before: “Chekhov’s Gun“. Chekhov was a playwright and novelist who lived in the olden, pre-soviet Russian Empire. He had a saying: “If there’s a gun on the wall, it simply must be shot.” Simply put, how many of those lines are meaningful, and how many of them are meaningless? How many of them actually need to stay, and how many can be removed? If you can tell a good story that trims down on as many words as possible, you’re well on your way to gripping gamers with the gratuitous gift of good game storytelling. (How’s that for alliteration?)

You Are The Game’s B*tch

This is a different rodeo, cowboy. In a book, comic, or movie, things are much more “controlled”. The audience can’t do much other than watch and pay attention, so as long as your story’s good, it’s nice and peachy in the hood.

But this is a game.

Your audience members are not just audience members, but players. They can move, jump, sprint, kill, exploit bugs, travel to places you may never have intended for them to go, and do things (terrible, terrible things) you would have never wanted for them to do! Thus the plot can be totally turned on it’s head.

Hell, they make videos about all the crazy feats of brainstorming, planning, and testing that game developers have to go through just to save the players from…. (wait for it)…..

THEMSELVES!!

As such, you need to take all the things (ALL OF THEM) that the player can do that would interfere with your story into consideration. Not only this, but you need to build a story that’s still believable, even when the game’s mechanics come into question. Do you have a cutscene in which a character is killed by a single bullet? If so, would the player be similarly one-shotted if put in the same circumstance outside of a cutscene, or would they be able to absorb those bullets like a sponge absorbs all the tears that you’re shedding because you didn’t find this article sooner? A good game story does not work against these mechanics and player-based variables, but works hand-in-hand with them. As such, the GDD or Game Design Document, the physical blueprints of your game and all it’s features, should become your new best friend, and don’t be afraid to consult your resident designer.

This is a Game, Not a Movie

It had to be said. Unless you’re making the next Heavy Rain with your very own Shaun-screaming protagonist, you need to put the gameplay first. The player shouldn’t be made to sit through several minutes of dialogue, cutscenes, or quicktime events. They need to have a good story, of course, but the greater bulk of their time needs to be spent doings like engaging in combat, traveling across the world, moving through levels, stealthing around enemies, etc.

As a game writer myself, I spent several days bouncing ideas off another fellow game writer as we jointly constructed what we felt was the best possible plotline for a game like the one we were making. The characters had deep motivations, interesting dialogue and interactions, etc etc etc. But what did the director say when he saw our work? “The story’s great, but in real time, I could play through all of this in under two hours. This is an open world game, and two hours is nothing.”

And he was right. So incredibly right. Our in-game conversations were too long and needed to be cut down to the bare essentials. In our open world game, whenever the player characters reached a certain point in the quest and had to travel a long distance, we’d have a time skip when we should have instead been giving the players a quest marker and getting them to physically walk to their next destination. As such, we had to revise our plotline.

You need to tell a good story, but the story needs to work specifically for the format of a game. Even better, if you can set things up in such a way to where a player who doesn’t care all too much about a story can easily skip it and move on to the next level while also still making that story an essential part of the experience, then you’re absolutely golden. In conclusion, it turns out that, when people want to play a game, they don’t want to watch a movie; they want to play a game.

The Cutscene Controversy

This is a very shaky topic for a lot of game developers, but simply put, there’s a controversy revolving around cutscenes. I don’t have a definitive answer on how this should be addressed, but I feel all aspiring game writers should be aware of the debate. Long story short, some people have no problems with cutscenes and think they enhance the experience, some people think cutscenes should only be used in certain circumstances, (like when the player is made to feel helpless,) and others feel that cutscenes shouldn’t be used at all.

To elaborate, is often said that cutscenes are lazy because everything in your game should be done through gameplay in some shape or form. The player should be able to interact with the world because it’s better for engagement, not sit and watch a small movie.

On the other side of the coin, games like The Last of Us have cutscenes that span that, when put together in a single Youtube video, span the length of a whole movie. The Last of Us, despite this, is often regarded as having of one of the greatest stories a game has ever told. Never have I heard anyone complain of it’s cutscenes, just like I’ve never heard anyone complain of the cutscenes in Final Fantasy or Mass Effect. Heck, many of my friends (game developers and standard gamers alike,) hated the way how Bethesda overhauled the dialogue system for Fallout 4, but liked the way how it was made to be more like an interactive cutscene that happens in live action.

I’m not about to take a side in this debate, but I personally think the question of when to use a cutscene varies dependent upon the situation and needs to be a factor of Chekhov’s Gun, as we discussed earlier, more than anything else. If it’s necessary or helps in some way, use it. If it isn’t, scrap it. Only keep what’s necessary.

Extra Credits made three excellent videos on the subject which I recommend any aspiring game writer gives a good watch. One that makes a case for the good that can be done with cutscenes, one that talks about how they are an often underutilized tool, and one that discusses why Skyrim’s opening cutscene is no bueno.

A Gameplay Narrative vs. A Narrative in a Game

Probably the most challenging thing a game’s story can ever hope to achieve is a good game narrative, and this is something that’s done by more than just a game writer. When you read a novel, the words set a scene. If you’re stuck in a sewer, the floor is wet, the smell is rancid, and the world is cramped and dark. It’s not just a location, it’s a psychological experience. As such, your game needs to be doing the same thing, and this “game narrative” of sorts should play out through every aspect of your game, be it art, writing, design, SFX, etc, and it really boils down to a much more intense version of a common point in storytelling: show, don’t tell.

In The Last of Us, the world feels bleak and hopeless, but why? It’s not just the characters, who each have their own personal struggles and hard times dealing with life after the apocalypse, shaken to their cores by their losses. No, it plays out in every aspect of the gamer’s experience.

The art was modeled after Chernobyl, so the post-apocalypse looks so real in-game because it was modeled after an actual post-apocalyptic setting. We know that there is a lack of resources because every crafting component is rare (especially on higher difficulties) and so too is ammunition. You have to be very careful and strategic about how you engage your opponents, and more importantly, you have to take the path of least resistance (which usually means stealth). The clickers are terrifying outside of their raw appearance because of their grotesque movement animations, the creepy, creepy, CREEPY clicking sound they make, and their propensity to one-shot the player if they get too close (and the player doesn’t have the shiv master perk).

So why does this matter? Well, you may not have full control over all these elements if you’re just a writer, but you need to observe and work with them. Your story needs to work with the art, the design, sound, everything. It should be a part of a nice, cohesive bundle, and if your story’s standing out too much, you’re SOL bud.

Of all the videos I’ve seen on the internet, none explain this concept more thoroughly than this one on Youtube which compares Thief: The Dark Project to it’s contemporary cousin. Definitely worth a watch.

It’s Still Storytelling

 

And finally, this is the moment we (mainly just I) have been waiting for. This is the #1 thing that gets under my skin about most of the articles I read which talk about game writing. They give your strategies on how to tell a story, but not specifically for a game. As such, I’m no better typing in “how to tell a story” in Google’s infamous search bar.

Even if you execute on all the elements above, you need to have a refined understanding of just what a good story is before you can write one. You need to be able to take feedback, to understand concepts like character motivations, believability, relatability, and plot vs. story. The sad truth of the matter is that you’re not going to learn those things by writing specifically for games.

So what do you do? Pick another medium. Try comics, screenplays, novels, or anything that’s fun. Learn the ins and outs of whatever medium you choose, experiment with it, and never let yourself fall into a comfort zone. Always push the boundaries and always keep learning. Then, when you’re done, you will not only seem like someone that a studio will seriously consider taking on, but you’ll be more than ready to tackle all of the prior elements listed above. Storytelling is it’s own skill, and a wise man once said, it’s a practiced one.

(Wow, the tone of this article shifted somewhere midway. Dunno how that happened, lol.)


Dylan Russell has worked in over 10 different creative projects and as a game writer in over 5 different fan development studios.

Indie Games to Support on Kickstarter

 

The beauty of Indie games is how humble they are. Developers pour their hearts out for our enjoyment. The love, sweat, and tears of beautiful minds clashing and coexisting to create their dreams. It’s sad that not as many developers have the opportunities to paint their canvases. So, when we do get the chance, we should definitely consider supporting developers. Here are some epic games you can support on Kickstarter right now!


Your Adventure 

Knight Time is a wave-based survival combat game. The adventure begins with our small floating hero setting out across the kingdom on a mission to vanquish evil and set the balance straight after a great corruption.

The Book

Each new page of our dark fairy tale book holds an individual realm ready to be conquered. Each realm contains an enemy stronghold– all of which are themed differently and boast an array of enemies, challenging combat and the mighty lords themselves. Reaching the final pages of our story will produce three outcomes dependent on the overall achievement of your adventure.

Knight Time is a game that we’ve put so much time and effort into already, so we’re excited to be able to finally show everyone exactly what this adventure is all about. We’ve already built a functional and solid foundation for Knight Time, and with your help, we can make this experience something truly amazing.

For us to really make this game work and bring out its full potential, we need to start working on it full time. This is where you can make all the difference. With our small team completely focused on completing Knight Time, we can bring to you a truly epic adventure across an expansive fantasy kingdom. For you, we will build a large array of enemies, interesting new realms and heart-stopping boss battles that reach our full design potential.

Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/256827408/knight-time/description


  • A game by students and junior animators, made by fans for fans;
  • A Colorful cartoon universe based on the top English-speaking gaming YouTubers;
  • Fast gameplay with crazy and easy chainable combos;
  • Various humorous interactions to experiment inside with YouFight, a fancy parody of YouTube hosting the wildest combats!
  • Numerous Unlockables like in the Golden Era of easy to learn fighting games!
  • Fighting style impacting the narrative;
  • At least 5 Characters to Play: Poodiepie (Pewdiepie), Jackaboy (Jacksepticeye), ToastyKen (Cinnamontoastken), Markimoo (Markiplier), Unannounced Boss;
  • 3 more Characters depending on the Stretch goals: YandereMinx (RPGMinx), Cryatomic (Cryaotic), The SexBo’Bomb (Game Grumps).

Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1886196940/subscribe-and-punch?ref=video


NetherWorld is a horizontal side-scrolling adventure game, where character development, dialogues and narrative have a special role.

Immerse yourself in a sinister world: explore its darkest corners, get along with weird NPC’s, use flames and handguns to battle horrific bosses or just get drunk in a bar.

Your life is perfect in the dark and decadent land of NetherWorld… until your wife abandons you for a creature with longer tentacles.

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You handle your misfortune with alcohol and other sins

…and in no time at all, you’ll be involved in a surrealbloody and twisted journey surrounded by quirky fellow travelers.

Gameplay

Dialogues and relationships between characters will be key for story progression. That’s why most of the fights will be against final bosses.

Fight with swordstorches and shields alongside of firearmsFlamethrower too? Of course.

Each final boss will have unique mechanics, ensuring epic and intense battles. To defeat them and help our miserable hero to get over his depression, we’ll have all kinds of weapons. However, sometimes we’ll have to use nearby objects or just flee as fast as possible. (More or less like Shadow of the Colossus with bigger pixels and more tentacles.)

Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1522665641/netherworld-drugs-sex-and-pixels-adventure-game/


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Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/80348891/once-upon-a-coma-from-the-creator-of-pinstripe?ref=video


Foundation is a grid-less, sprawling medieval city-building simulation with a heavy focus on organic development, monument construction and resource management.

The game features in-depth resource management akin to the Anno (Dawn of Discovery) series, expertly mixed with city building elements from SettlersSimCity, and Pharaoh all topped with narrative encounters inspired by Crusader Kings II to create the ultimate medieval ant-farm simulation.

In this strategy city-builder economy simulation game, players must create a prosperous settlement as the newly appointed lord of a region untouched by man.

Setting to redefine the city-builder genre, Foundation puts the emphasis on the organic aspects of urbanism in the cities of old, powered by Polymorph Games’ in-house game engine, Hurricane, which allows for full mod support and is optimized for the thousands of moving parts that come with building humongous cities.

Among other things, the engine provides the player with robust building tools to create countless unique monuments that can then integrated into your settlement.

With medieval architecture and urbanism at the forefront of its design, Foundation’s vision is to allow players to recreate cities of that period as they envision them or even as they really were.

Grow your untapped land into a great sprawling kingdom as you appease the political factions of your area, all while listening to a beautiful original soundtrack by the veteran composers who’ve created music for Paradox Interactive’s Crusader Kings IIEuropa Universalis IV and The Guild 2-3!

Here’s the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/polymorph-games/foundation-a-new-era-of-organic-city-building-simu?ref=video

Lunar New Year Steam Sale – Indie Games

10. Slay the Spire

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Roguelikes have been a dime and a dozen over the last decade. While it is an interesting video game genre with a high difficulty level and clever progression mechanics, many of the games that belong to it have flown past the radar for many because they failed to differentiate themselves from kingpins like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky. Not only that, but all too many games seem to be implementing Roguelike elements into their gameplay seemingly at random. But despite the over-saturated market Slay the Spire, which just released on Steam early access, manages to feel fresh and engaging.

I know, I know, it’s heresy to review a game while it’s in early access, but this is one of those games that deserved to be checked out now. You’re not missing out on any story (of which there is none, in typical roguelike fashion) and all mechanics are in place. All to be added is some additional game modes, characters and cards. ‘Cards?’, I hear you ask. Yes, cards. In this game, you defeat your enemy using a deck of cards, each with unique offensive, defensive or skill based powers. You use these cards in turn based fashion to deplete your enemies health pool while saving your own hide. If you are thinking Hearthstone, then you are on the right track. Check out our full review of Slay the Spire here!

Slay the Spire is on sale for 20% off on steam! Click here!

9. Hollow Knight

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Come one, come all to those with creative minds, a willingness to learn, and patient, patient souls. In this, the player moves from chamber to chamber–room to room–in an attempt to solve first-person puzzles to progress.

While it may get a little too well-acquainted with this games stylized art approach, Antichamber’s game designers clearly had originality in mind–and their game will get your critical thinking juices flowing any day.

8. Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

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The forest of Nibel is dying. After a powerful storm sets a series of devastating events in motion, Ori must journey to find courage and confront a dark nemesis to save the forest of Nibel. “Ori and the Blind Forest” tells the tale of a young orphan destined for heroics, through a visually stunning Action-Platformer crafted by Moon Studios. Featuring hand-painted artwork, meticulously animated character performance, a fully orchestrated score and dozens of new features in the Definitive Edition, “Ori and the Blind Forest” explores a deeply emotional story about love and sacrifice, and the hope that exists in us all.

With a sequel coming out, it’s the perfect time to pick up Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition. At 50% off, click here to check it out!

 

7. Oxygen Not Included

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Not everyone likes the sound of a tower defense, but the RPG elements intertwined within Dungeon of the Endless have a way of pulling you in. As the member of the crew that fell victim to a crash landing, your goal is to go deeper. Deeper. And deeper into the depths of a strange dungeon–as implied by the name.

While this game is definitely a tower defense, expect to feel like you’re also sometimes playing a top-down dungeon crawler like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. Advance through every floor and find out if it ever truly ends.

6. Don’t Starve Together

The game may be called “Don’t Starve Together”, but there are a lot more ways to die than pure starvation in this colorful, but bleak little world. Playing as a scientist, your job is–fittingly–to experiment with your surroundings to learn best how to survive.

Just about everything you encounter will beg the hopeful question of “Can this help me survive?” and the not-so-hopeful question of “Will messing with this get me killed?” A grimdark naturalist will be forever at home here.

Pick up the game at 40% off here! 

5. Dead Cells

Very few rogue-lite, Metroidvania, action platformers hit the nail on the head like does Dead Cells. Controlling a character without a head, you battle through and delve across a perilous castle with enemies galore.

There are no repeats in this game. No saves. No respawns. No checkpoints. To quote the description on Steam: “Kill, die, learn, repeat.” Though that description leaves out the key difference that you always keep all your upgrades–unlike other games in this genre. If you want a real challenge that’ll leave you feeling like a champion after your first playthrough, then this is the game for you.

We mentioned this game in our Top 10 Indie Games of 2017 article, which you can check out here.

Check it out at 25% off here!

 

4.  Human Fall Flat

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Human: Fall Flat is an open-ended physics based puzzle game in which you take control of builder Bob helping him resolve the mysteries behind his recurring dreams of falling. Your goal is to escape those dreams full of puzzles, dangers and surprises using everything you find in the levels. The world of Bob dreams is built on his daily experiences, hopes, fears and memories interweaved in a net so sticky and hard to escape. All this mess is actually a carefully crafted work of… wait! You are the one to find it out! Bob is a human. Just a human. No hero. Zero superpowers. Period. Bob is more handy than he’s handsome, but latter would not help much in:

  • pulling the stuff around
  • pushing the stuff with hands
  • pushing the stuff with feet
  • carrying the stuff
  • climbing the stuff
  • breaking the stuff
  • using stuff to interact the other stuff

With open-ended simulator at its core “Human: Fall Flat” allows you to relive Bobs story your own way. Every shortcut can be taken, every solution is welcome! The game requires creativity and imagination. These often surreal environments do obey very real laws of the physics, if you think an object could be moved then rest assured it can. Replay value is limited only by your imagination.

Check out the game here at 50% off here!

3.  The Long Dark

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How Far Will You Go to Survive? Imagine the lights go out, never to return. Bright aurora flare across the sky, and all humanity’s technological might is laid to waste, neutralized in a kind of quiet apocalypse. Everything that has shielded humanity from the disinterested power of Mother Nature is suddenly wrenched from us, dropping us a few links down the food chain. Food and water are scarce. The roads are no longer safe. And winter approaches… Welcome to The Long Dark —an immersive survival simulation set in the aftermath of a geomagnetic disaster. Experience a unique first-person survival simulation that will force you to think and push you to your limits with its thought-provoking gameplay and mature storytelling.

Our review of this awesome survival game is coming soon, but you can start playing it here!

2.  Cuphead

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Cuphead is a classic run and gun action game heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by cartoons of the 1930s, the visuals and audio are painstakingly created with the same techniques of the era, i.e. traditional hand-drawn cel animation, watercolor backgrounds, and original jazz recordings. Play as Cuphead or Mugman (in single player or local co-op) as you traverse strange worlds, acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves, and discover hidden secrets while you try to pay your debt back to the devil!

We’ve talked about this game a ton over the past few months. Check out our review here, and the game at 15% off here!

1.  Enter the Gungeon

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Enter the Gungeon is a gunfight dungeon crawler following a band of misfits seeking to shoot, loot, dodge roll and table-flip their way to personal absolution by reaching the legendary Gungeon’s ultimate treasure: the gun that can kill the past. Select a hero and battle your way to the bot­tom of the Gungeon by surviving a challenging and evolving series of floors filled with the dangerously adorable Gundead and fearsome Gungeon bosses armed to the teeth. Gather precious loot, discover hidden secrets, and chat with opportunistic merchants and shopkeepers to purchase powerful items to gain an edge.

We LOVE this game. Definitely check out our review here, and pick up this addicting game at 50% off here!

Alpha Computing – Computer Tycoon

I was introduced to this lovely screen… then the game crashed. I thought, maybe this was a one time hiccup, so I launched the game again. The game launched successfully on my second attempt, and I was introduced with some nice hip music. I started getting in my retro grove, I immediately felt like I was on roller skates in some archaic restaurant with a jukebox playing. Not to mention, the game was nice enough to show me all of the people whom had contributed to the game by writing reviews, and the like. Since I also approve of this kind of help from the community, and that every game developer should always show appreciation to those whom help them, I’ll repost this achievement wall.

After clearing through the thoughtfulness of the developers by clicking the big red X in the top right of the window, like it was an annoying pop-up. Somehow even though the previous screen was extremely thoughtful, the art of this game still had me convinced that it was some annoying Windows pop-up that had to be deleted. I was introduced with a portrait of the young Steve Jobs next to his brand new Macs. All I could think of was Steve yelling at some employee, and telling him to get the hell out of his building. I was excited, I got amped. I was a little disappointed that on the right there was a C:\ drive reference, when that doesn’t match their overall theme of Apple references. I feel like this screen needs a bit of design work. I continued on to the ‘New Game’ option. It was time to ride the rainbow of this multicolored display.

After clicking new game, I was prompted with the new game screen. Where I could select all my options for the new game. I clearly had to become Steve Jobs because I couldn’t find a good avatar for Billy Gates, which I hoped for. There are a few avatars that are well created that represent avatars from the past, however they’re not all there. I will say they’re very good graphics, but there was nothing to actually design my character which was a disappointment.  On this screen, I could also tell that the game is still in early build phases because they also have a button for ‘Random Events’, which is disabled. It’s a work in progress, but I pushed forward. A lot of the screens here need polished.

Pressing forward like the train that I am, choo-choo. I was introduced by a dialog that emphasized how this was a new game in alpha, and that a single developer created all of this. I was impressed by how much work was done for a single developer already. I can tell that the game needs a lot of work, but it looks like it may still be fun to play, so I hunkered down and began to play. The game was simple, don’t go bankrupt, and survive until retirement. Retirement was defined as the year 2034, Elon Musk made it to Mars yet? I then read about two other ways to win, by running my enemies into the ground by bankrupting them, or to invent all technologies before my opponent. Seemed easy enough, I prepped for my crash course into the game. Helmets on!

The tutorial to the game is looonggg and teeextttt based. I wish there would have been a walkthrough of the game showing visuals right away, as I’m one of those people who can’t focus on text that long and I get distracted easy so I skipped through hoping the game would explain itself. I clicked my starting country of Madagascar, and had no idea what I was doing other than the fact that the preference was largely blue. Once I established an industry site in Madagascar, I got excited by the 3D design layout. I was ready to build my empire and rock this island. Anyone have some buckets in case this plan starts going down with the ships?

I immediately built one of everything, not sure what I was doing. I also found out it takes time to build all of these things, I had accidentally paused the game. With 4 million bucks to spend though, I was worried. Then I was hit with a voice that sounded like Mom, my buildings were upgraded and built! She disciplined me, just like she use to with my homework, that my research queue was empty. After a few minutes of tinkering, I got distracted by gameplay.

In-depth, steep learning curve. I spent at least a half an hour trying to figure out how all the things fit together, and immediately was glad that I’m a computer developer by trade because there is a lot of technical depth to this game. If I didn’t have the background I do, I feel like I might drown. However, that is also a good thing, showing how much time and effort went into all the details of this game. After several hours of gameplay…

I’ll wait until the game is more polished.

Check out the game for yourself, here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/686680/Computer_Tycoon/

A Guide to Failure at Game Development

There are many among us who would wish to succeed in game development. Article after article, seminar after seminar of what you should do as a game developer, how you can succeed.A daunting task, you might say. The video game industry, already oversaturated and mired with competition, has only grown more so in recent years. From an outsider’s perspective, it might seem impossible to get in. Harrowing. Unrealistic.

So instead of that, why not try something simpler? Why not find out the things that you shouldn’t do as a game developer, how you can’t succeed? Why not, instead of win, lose every skirmish and every battle and every war that a game developer must wage? Why not, my friends, do everything you can to weigh yourself down with the anchor of failure, stranding your ship out at sea until your sailors of progress die of starvation, madness, and scurvy?

My friends, if it be failure you seek, then failure you shall have. Here lie just a handful of the steps to the path of defeat:


Build Your Army

Whether you’re making a Pong reskin or the next World of Warcraft, (you should definitely be making the latter, but more on that later,) make sure you bring on as many people as possible. How much is enough to stifle progress? There’s never enough, of course! Projects with 3-4 more members than is realistically necessary to complete a task for a particular team not only fail to get things done, but tend to bog down on the strength of your most hardened soldier’s spirit. As an aside, make sure you never pay any of them, no matter what you’re asking them to do, when you’re asking them to do it, etc. etc. etc.

Fit lazy, unskilled, and inexperienced workers up together with their foil counterparts, the hardworking, skilled, and seasoned developers, and tell them to split work equally on a task. This will not only lead to a lack of progress, but in-fighting, tension, and a loss of morale. Soon enough, people will lose their motivation and laugh at your project, thinking it as something akin to a meme and want to leave. Success!

In truth, any size will do, but if you can break the 50+ mark, or better, the 100+ mark, you’re golden. As long as you aren’t keeping it down to an absolute minimum of who you need and don’t need, and instead bumping it up to a maximum, you’re well on your way to achieving that sweet, succulent, success-void soufflé.

Promotion Before Production

Always make sure that you get to promoting your work and thinking about how you can get as many people as possible to see it before you actually worry about getting stuff done. Simply put, googling “how to pitch my game to a publisher” before googling “how to use a game engine”. This one’s much easier than the last one, as it doesn’t take nearly as much effort as going on an internet-born membership crusade, but it’s still just as effective for its ability to turn into an endless cycle that you nor anyone else on your team can ever hope to escape from. It’s so beautiful in that way, isn’t it?

Know all those social media platforms you like to go on? Youtube? Google+? Twitter? Facebook? Make sure you make a page for all of those, and more still. Put an “official” at the front of the name for each of them as, after all, you want everyone to know that you’re not an impersonator. Through those accounts, emails, or some other means of communication, talk to bigger developers that are already established. Ask them to help with or promote your work so you can only further climb the ladder of fame and feel good while you’re doing it.

In keeping with the last tip, the one about bringing on as many people as possible, know that, in a way, this tip returns in form of promotion. As a part of your growing game dev armada, make sure that many of the people you hire are either translators or representatives from various countries all over the world. Make sure your studio has a member from every country there is to be a member of. Be it Denmark, South Korea, Singapore, or Iran, your soldiers should be a part of global, growing force.

The Invisodev

Make sure you’re damn near unseen by your colleagues, spoken of only in myth and legend. Remember: motivation is key in creative projects; they have a tendency to bleed and die when you lack it. One of the best ways to bolster that motivation is to establish a sense of comradery. It helps to talk to your teammates, keep up consistent communication, and care for them not only as a fellow developer, but maybe even as a friend. <<< So make sure you don't do that.

Don’t talk with anyone on your team unless it’s work-related. A sucky developer knows that the only topics that matter are those pertaining to the game they are making, and even those topics can take a back seat to whatever they’ve got going on at the given moment. A coldly professional, but lazy demeanor should be so radioactively present that it irradiates everyone around you.

If you ever do respond to people, make sure that response comes only after the grueling wait of hours, days, and weeks. A returning response should never be immediate, and almost always delayed. The only time it should ever be immediate is if it has to do with the two most important factors to the unproductive game developer: their reputation and their level of popularity.

Master this point, and people will swear you have 101 Sneak not only in Skyrim, but in the real world too. Ninja! 

Grow Your Neckbeard

Ever had dreams and aspirations of getting in shape? Well, go ahead and kill them immediately, as they won’t serve you well here. Stop going to the gym, stop working out, and just stop going outside in general.

You’re already going to be staring at a screen for long hours as a part of your work as a game developer, so make sure you continue the trend and stay glued to that screen for as long as you possibly can. Choose one room to work and, well, live in, and rarely ever leave it. Turn off all the lights to keep it as dark as possible. Sit in a chair that makes your back hurt, then slouch. Angle your head down as far as you can and keep it held down like that; using your phone for extended periods, dependent upon the physical position you’re in, is a great way to do this. Never sleep until you pass out, eyes always fixed to something that glows.

Take on a daily diet that consists of soda, fast food, and fried everything. Fried chicken, fried cheese, and even fried butter! (It’s an actual thing, look it up.) Eat what you feel like when you feel like it, never keeping track of what you put into your mouth.

Hell, remember those Twitter and Facebook accounts you started awhile ago? Put those to extra use and start getting involved in all the political nonsense that’s going on both platforms these days. Pick a side and fight ’til the end, riling yourself up with as many unsavory feelings for the human race as you can muster before taking to the arena, armed for a flame war to end all flame wars. Get obsessed with something you have absolutely no control over and let it become your life.

Oh, and to conclude, when you’ve made a habit of all these practices, make sure that you follow your instinct. Very important. The human mind is constructed in such a way that, if you get into the habit of living a corrosive lifestyle, you will continue and continue and continue to be drawn to pursue it.

Deadlines Are The Devil

Even when you’re doing your best to follow a routine, it can still be hard to get things done in a reasonable timeframe. The setting of a goal itself guarantees the possibility of failure from the onset, which is good. However, we can amplify the effect by making sure that, instead of working off a checklist, mandate, or deadline, you work only when you’re motivated to.

Motivation is a shifting, amorphous thing. It is not SMART, (Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, for which you are Responsible, and Time-Bounded,) but instead, VAPID (Vague, Amorphous, Pie in the sky, Irrelevant, and Delayed). If you begin to do things only when motivation strikes, then it will soon feel as though completion for every goal that you set is like waiting on that one high-level construction project in Clash of Clans… except the construction finishes first.

When dealing with your coworkers, make sure to tell them to only “get it done when they can” or “get it done soon”. Setting a specific time for things and holding people accountable when they fail to get things finished when they’re supposed to is a sure path to success, so be sure to be vague about when you want it done, and like a teacher that can’t stand up to their students, let all the missed assignments slide under the rug.

The Corrosive Commander

A truly corrosive project lead is essential to poisoning progress, but what makes one, you might ask? Well, there all kinds of ways to be a planet-destroying director, of course!

If some of the members of your team are slacking or putting off work, then don’t try to hold them accountable for it. Instead, gradually build upon the belief that those people aren’t going to be very helpful in the future. Do not delegate assignments to them and instead work on it yourself. Become your studio’s design team, 3D team, playtesting team, programming team, and 99% of it’s writing team, for example.

Don’t be mindful by using proper manners or executing on effective communication. Either be so grimly professional that people will never be able to approach you, or if English isn’t your first language, speak with such broken grammar that people will never be able to understand you.

When someone says they feel you could improve upon your leadership or that you aren’t doing a good job, hit them like Shepard himself likes to hit that reporter. Feedback is one of the most crucial elements to getting better in any field, and thus is not at all acceptable here. Keep it up champ, and before you know it, you’ll be cultivating a galactic harvest ripe for the Reapers.

Dream Big

Oh yes, best for last, right? This point right here, more so than all the others, is an absolute project killer. It is the star destroyer of game development, the Hercules of bodybuilders.

Remember when it was mentioned earlier that you should be trying to make the next World of WarcraftWell, instead, try to make that and six sequels afterwards. Don’t start small by trying to make a portion of a single level in Mario. Give the world it’s next Assassin’s Creed, it’s next Grand Theft Auto, etc. If it can be made in Gamemaker Studio 2, then it shouldn’t be made at all. Shoot for something like Unreal in place of it.

This shouldn’t just be a part-time group activity, but the world-changing masterpiece you live and die upon. Advanced art, graphics, animation, and music. A story that will make you weep and mechanics that will give you cause for gaming addiction. If there was ever any one thing you could do to assassinate your progress from the inside, it’s putting your ambitions before reality.


A list like this may seem depressing. It might also seem like common sense. Who would just mindlessly speak with broken English, not set deadlines, or set their scope so high that they couldn’t see it above the clouds, I can hear you asking now. The unfortunate answer is “all kinds of people”. Not a single one of those points was something I pulled out of a magic hat. None were copypastas pulled from another site. These were all things I witnessed in the dozen or so creative projects I’ve been a member of, all things that drove those projects into the ground.

In the end, the most important thing to take away from this article is that common sense isn’t common. As a part of an experiment, studies have shown that over 47% less people died in hospitals that utilized checklists for the most basic of things, like washing your hands, making sure your surgical tools are clean, etc. Imagine how much more success we could have if we simply stopped, dropped, and made sure that we were fulfilling upon all the basics in our own lives and, of course, in our creative projects.

If you really want to succeed as a game developer, than simply look to the follies and pitfalls of those who came before you, as mentioned above, and do the opposite. (Oh, and check out some of my other articles about game development. Shameless self-promotion FTW)


Dylan Russell has worked in over 10 different creative projects and as a game writer in over 5 different fan development studios.

Indie Game Movies – Don’t Go There

Video game movies have been, more or less, not done well at all. While there have been good movies about people playing video games, movies based off of the lore of a game have resulted in failure after failure along with some moderate semi-successes. Let’s face it, though, there has never been a huge blow out success in video game movies. Silent Hill, Resident Evil (the first one), Mortal Kombat, Warcraft and maybe you could count Wreck-It Ralph among the decent successes. Although, Wreck-It Ralph was not based off of a single existing video game storyline (and, ironically, the video game sucked). There are several reasons why the VG movies are not successful, and fail to bring in any kind of serious cash as far as audiences are concerned.

Now, there is talk of the serious successes in the indie game culture becoming feature-length films. To no one’s great surprise, producers are making the same mistakes that they always make. They think that just because something is a huge multi-million dollar success, they can capture that lightning in a bottle in another form and the property will just sell itself. This is 100% wrong! You can’t just slap a label onto a movie and just magically make people pay for it! The thought of indie games starting their own generation of movies may sound ridiculous, but guess what, Angry Birds was a phone game based on simple mechanics and a simple physics engine. IT COULD HAPPEN TO INDIE GAMES NEXT.

So, what if they make a good indie game movie? Well, that would be wonderful! Many would love to see an amazing iteration of something such as Castle Crashers in the form of a movie. Well, of course the characters would have to actually have voices when they talk, which they did not in the game, so that would kind of ruin one aspect of their identity. Then they would more than likely have to not exist in the 2D visuals, they would have close-ups and different angles. Then the ladies you have to save would have those shrill screams that no one really wants to hear. Honestly, it would just turn into your normal, generic fantasy cartoon movie that’s been done to death. Yes, there are ways of capturing it, but you would need to do some thinking, which is not the strong suit of bigwig producers.

What if they wanted to do Cuphead? Cuphead was a smash-hit success! Of course, there have been ideas of making a movie out of it. Well, there’s the problem of the cell art and the hand-drawn animation that is all but a dead practice nowadays. So they would more than likely snatch that away in favor of that balloon-like 3D CGI animation that they’re turning everything into. Well, there goes one of Cuphead’s most defining features. They couldn’t possibly have the DEVIL in a kid’s cartoon movie, so they’d have to replace him with Santa instead, so while they are on their journey to repay Santa for the bet they made against his elves, they would need to wag their fingers at snowmen and reindeer, because obviously, we can’t have scary monsters and sea beasts attacking them with intent to kill them. And the wagging fingers certainly can’t have gunshots of any kind because guns are just not appropriate for the demographic they are aiming for. Our children are entirely too fragile for such horrific images. So we will be joining Cuphead and Mugman on their voyage to the North Pole with their horrific debt to Santa Claus and the twenty large they owe Dasher.

Games are games for a reason. You can’t turn Amnesia into a full-length horror film because it would just be a samey horror flick we’ve seen twenty million times. Dark halls with torches and empty libraries and something in the background going “Ooooo!” It’s different for games because as the player we have a new way of experiencing these events and have an interactivity that we wouldn’t have through the ways of the motion picture.

Don’t get the wrong idea of this article, there can be good video game movies, and there have been some decent success rates with a small number of them. It’s just the problem of the dollar bill. Some production companies can’t see an inch in front of their nose when the thought of spending money is involved. The only thing they want is what test audiences want to see, they don’t care about the fandom that loves the property. They want to aim in all different directions, so they play it entirely safe and add in all of the things that they think the vast populace wants. Thus, they water down the premise in favor of a flavorless, soulless piece of trash that barely resembles the source material.

The biggest problem with large production companies have all the money, they just lack the creativity, while indie companies have been known to possess creativity, just lack the funds to make their movies the way they would want to. There is always a chance that some small production company will come along and create the most immaculate, money-making fan-servicing video game movie that the world has ever seen. It could be a smash hit success that could triumph even over one such as the Dark Knight or, dare I say it, Titanic. The world will all line up for miles around the corner to see this gargantuan supergiant of a film, and all shall bow down to its majesty!

That will be the day we all shall praise and recognize the glorious divinity that is Plants vs Zombies: The Motion Picture!