Riot: If one peasant like you can’t do anything, perhaps a hundred peasants can
Me: Hey! Who you calling a peasant?
These are the first lines in the Readme.txt that accompanies the download of Riot from Itch.io. I don’t think I’ve ever been abused so early on in a game. Riot was made during the Brackeys Game Jame 2021, and received a fair amount of praise upon submission. This off-hand, jaunty attitude runs all the way through Riot. It opens with a pirate sea shanty and a bunch of faceless characters being hurled by trebuchets (a catapult to you non-historians) into the wall of a fort and exploding.
I’m not sure why these little fellas explode but there we are. It’s slightly comedic and sends the message….we’re here to have fun. I haven’t seen that many medieval games in 2021, and I would be hard pushed to list the best medieval games for PC. But I’m thinking I’d probably include Riot.
Reverse Tower Defence
Riot is a sort of reverse Tower Defence or a simplistic reduction of an early Total War game, where you play as the attackers and you get given hundreds of them to throw into the breach. You must begin a short distance from the settlement, you are always attacking a small circular settlement, which will be increasingly well defended; towers, turrets and double walls all making more frequent and dense appearances as each level passes.
You choose a spot to attack from and press the left mouse to begin deploying your men. They appear and immediately and lemming-like, charge at the nearest building to begin attacking it (which seems to mean clubbing it with their fists). You end up with a long line of synchronised running guys all heading for the palisade.
The goal of each level is to break into the fortified medieval style village and storm the ‘Town Hall’ at the centre, although it looks little more than a barn. In compensation for the increasing fortification of each level you are afforded an increasingly large mob of peasants to deploy, an ability to place trebuchets and eventually the addition of ‘bombers’.
The medieval trebuchet will only engage action if some of your men are attacking a structure and then it will fling a single fella through the air to land on top of the building roughly every five seconds or so. The unfortunate volunteer seems to like it as the little flung men ‘wheee’ with excitement, they land however, with the visible splat of a pancake and motionlessly slide off the structure like Wylie Coyote hitting a rock wall. The bombers on the other hand appear to be flaming mummies that run straight to the nearest building and explode like some sort of bandaged, possessed suicide bomber.
There is an element of managing your resources to Riot as the trebuchet costs 15 peasants to place, but does not seem to deplete your reserves with the men it flings (there’s an exploit here) and the bombers costs 5 peasants. The only other strategic element is where you choose to drop your mob, because this matters. We’re not talking Terra Invicta level of strategy here, of course.
The little fellas are programmed to charge at and attack the nearest eligible structure and when they destroy it they charge the next nearest one from there. So where you place and launch attacks from matters.
This all sound wonderful fun and it is, but…
Whilst classes of men might differ the overly simplistic AI your peasant mob is endowed with is does not. For example, having breached a wall they do not head for the next wall or the tower blocking the way to the town hall…no they just start to attack the next segment of wall, because it is the next nearest eligible structure. All the while the towers defending the cities are bombarding your idiot crew. Even if you reserve men and dispatch them later when a gaping breach in the wall has been made in front of you they will still head off at a 50° angle and attack a pointless barn off to the right.
You will shift around the gap trying to find the sweet spot to stop them running that way and then all of a sudden the men you lay start running off at a 50°angle to the left now.
Best Medieval Game 2021 Nominee: Riot
The Trebuchet’s just follow suit and so do the bombers. It is frustrating and there are few more annoying things in a game than controls which result in an action you did not input or want and there being little you can do about it.
This does promote a disengagement with the game in the latter third, which is a shame, because I began by thinking this was reasonably fun.
Riot offers 12 levels of increasing difficulty and can be completed in an about two hours. There are not many decisions to make or much variation in play; make a choice of where to start, release the mob, watch for results, move and repeat. Simply calling Riot a medieval game is doing it an injustice. I mean, I did compare it to Total War not long ago.
With improvements Riot might become something more interesting, it has character, charm and appeal. I do love the menu soundtrack, but overall Riot is a nice idea that starts well and does not really develop.
Somewhat spoiled by poor AI, Riot still has enough about it to make a decent, lunchtime distraction; a surprisingly relaxing and unstressful one for a game named Riot.
This GRIS review looks at the first game developed by Spanish team Nomada Studio; the result of a meeting at a party between some triple-A designers, and an artist who expressed a desire to make games. Devolver Digital are the publishers of GRIS, and looking at their back catalog, Nomada Studio are in good company.
Looking at the numbers, GRIS has sold well over a million units since being released in December 2018. In that time, it has consistently remained in the top 10 most popular indie games on Steam. These numbers would suggest the game is a bona fide hit. Or is it?
Years ago, I took the lady to a posh cinema for Valentine’s day. There, flunkies would whisper in your ear when delivering a glass of chilled wine and some Vol-au-vents as you reclined in an enormous chair. The only trouble with this was the completely inappropriate choice of Valentine movie on offer for this romantic date; it was either 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street; both of which being potential deal spoilers. Playing GRIS is a little like that date…
GRIS means grey in Spanish and whilst the game starts off all binary colors of black and white, the choices GRIS makes in being a game are anything but grey and ordinary. There is no death, no dialogue, no killing, no enemies to fight and color bleeds into the game gradually. At its heart GRIS is a platformer and a fairly simple one at that.
Playing the game feels like designers want you to experience something here – not be perplexed by it. To that end, puzzles are simple, levels are short, and the game can be completed in one sitting.
The art in the game is genuinely wondrous; color oozes into the game gradually as you progress. It is a beautiful game to see in this respect. The movement of your character is fluid, graceful and interacts with the environment seamlessly.
The camera zooms in and out at various points to show you goals, destinations and moments when you have to tackle larger sections. The viewport zooms back in for tunneled sections and works so well that there is no disappointment in being delivered to either camera point.
GRIS is played with a controller, or keyboard if you are on PC, but you will find there are no instructions. On the PC facing no help at the start I gave the WASD keys a shot and discovered I could move left and right. To begin with all you can do is walk in this 2D platformer, you cannot even jump.
Objective Of The Game
The object is to work your way out of the game by collecting orbs of light scattered around the world to build bridges in the sky and so gradually climb out of the game world and back to where you began. It does a good job of presenting a sufficient puzzle for you. It is a little too simple at times, but this helps GRIS to avoid the plague of many platformers – that of tiresome repetition attempting to complete that one jump sequence again…and again.
You are gradually introduced to new movement skills: jumping, becoming a stone block, floating and singing.
As you move through the levels the ways these skills can be used varies and develops in different environments.
The designers never want you to have to look far or get stuck or bored and the way platforming gradually changes through the game keeps you well involved.
You will get about four hours of gameplay out of GRIS, but there is no real replay value in it. Once complete, the main menu opens levels to replay but you cannot do so with all of your acquired skills… you are reset for each level. A bit pointless there then.
Elsewhere you can access some artwork and it is so nice that you might well take a screenshot for your wallpaper (which I have done for the purpose of this GRIS review, incidentally). You also get access to the game music. Whilst it sounds like a bridge ripped from a terribly clichéd and achingly worthy Coldplay song and something I winced at to begin with, it does suit the subject matter of the game well.
GRIS Review – Is It Worth Buying?
The problem with GRIS is the subject matter.
The game is about grief, depression or mental collapse, and your character metaphorically shatters, falls down into a dark pit and has to work through problems to rebuild herself. Although done well and evocatively, it may not be an especially happy prospect to indulge in.
I can admire the beauty and it was nice to have a gentle game so very different to what I might normally play, but we all come to games for a variety of reasons, to frighten ourselves, for the excitement of combat, for the speed of play, or the high of successful collaboration in today’s plethora of co-op games. What I doubt most of us pick up a game for, is to experience grief or mental breakdown…it just isn’t enjoyable in that sense.
For some it will probably hit like swinging brick and be their GOTY. For others, like me, it will be a good game albeit with some faults. Certainly though, there is enough great stuff going on here in a coherent, smooth and well-constructed gaming experience that will have gamers very much looking forward to what Nomada Studio do next.
Should you play it? Well the movies on offer didn’t spoil my Valentine’s date and the flaws of GRIS will not spoil the overall pleasure of the gameplay on offer here, you just probably won’t return to it. So yes, go ahead, it will be different to most things you play and that’s probably a good thing.
Did you ever wonder how to approach a game publisher with your game idea? Do you like axes? Annoying monkeys? Dinosaurs? How about flannel shirts? Well, this interview is going to be the highlight of your week.
We spoke with the team at Another RoadPublishing, the publisher behind Lumberhill – a crowdfunded chaos-filled lumberjack game you can play with friends. Play in co-op, PvP or solo mode and swing your axe through insane levels that put your axe wielding skills to the test… all against the clock. Expect to see beautifully drawn pirates, raging wildfires, (annoying) monkeys & pandas among other unexpected things along the way, and get unlocking your way to new worlds and skins. Bags of fun, and already critically acclaimed, Lumberhill is well on its way to a raging success.
Sharpen your axe and iron your flannel – this wild co-op will throw you right into the middle of action! Try to get your job done in a crazy race against the clock: collect orders, fight wildfires, pirates and extremely annoying monkeys! Unlock tons of new skins and worlds playing in co-op, PvP or solo mode… and save the world – lumberjack style!
We have started as a video games accelerator, offering financial support and mentorship to students and young studios, aiding them in completing their first professional projects. It became apparent to us that these fledgling studios would also need help with promotion and marketing of their games. So, the Another Road Publishing was created to do just that.
Congratulations on the Kickstarter. At the time of writing, you are almost halfway to your goal! What was the reason you went with crowdfunding?
The team working on the game is young but very ambitious. At this moment, most of the workload is already completed, but we’ve decided that there are still some things that we would like to expand and polish in the game. It could use an additional round of testing, more levels, a few new mechanics and skins. The game will be released in the beginning of 2021 regardless of the result of the Kickstarter campaign, but at the end of the day we would love to include everything we have planned!
The campaign story, video, GIFs and images on the crowdfund page at Kickstarter are very slick and professional. Did you hire a third party or is it all done in-house?
All in-house! We have amazing artists on board who created all of the beautiful images and GIFs for the campaign!
All of the drawn elements were hand-painted and animated by us, and our video editor put together these amazing videos you see in the campaign. Also the live action scene in the promotional video where we are chased by a definitely real dinosaur was one of the most fun things we did this year.
You already have a great following thanks to previous releases. Do you get a lot of organic feedback on Discord, for example, which helps the developers polish a game before release?
Yes, all of the feedback is extremally valuable for us. We’ve got a lot of it on our Facebook page, Discord servers and from youtubers and streamers playing the game.
Sometimes it helps us in not so obvious ways. Let’s say, we have a specific feature in the game, and we feel like it should be visible and clear to the players that it is there, but we get a lot of feedback that says “it would be cool if I could do this that way”. We get a very clear message that there is something wrong with the way we’ve placed that feature in the game and it should be changed. We also listen very carefully to what people think of the game overall and make adjustments where we can. One great example is the tutorial area, which is now completely different from what we had in the previous demo version of the game.
I’d like to take my time here to thank all of our community for their feedback and support! You guys are the best!
Lumberhill looks and sounds like crazy, chaotic fun, enjoyed by many at the Steam Games Festival. What sort of feedback helped the development process?
All of the feedback helped us immensely in creating the experience the players will love to play. As we published the demo version of the game twice (once during the Summer Steam Game Festival and Autumn edition) we’ve received not only a lot of feedback on the game itself, but we could also see how the changes we’ve introduced for the second demo influenced the experience for the players.
We value any feedback, because even something seemingly irrelevant, like a question about the way that the quests work in the game, might push us in the direction of: “Oh, if they ask about it, maybe we didn’t explain it well enough in the game and we should fix it”.
Have there been any in-house full on, all out Publisher vs. Developer Lumberhill battles during playtesting?
Yes! And we had a lot of fun together! (Well I guess the developer had more fun since we have lost all of the matches, but we gave it our best!)
If we can talk about Weakless for a moment: – When publishing Weakless with Punk Notion, how did Another Road help bring the project to life?
As I mentioned before, Another Road Publishing stems from a video game accelerator that was providing support for young developers just starting out in the business.
Weakless came to be as a student project and when we accepted it into the acceleration programme, it was little more than a big pile of concept art and a bold dream of two girls. You could say Weakless was with us from the very beginning, from the conceptual phase, through first prototypes, to the mature, enchanting game we can play today – and we supported it as much as we could along the way.
Weakless is a very unique slant on a traditional puzzle-adventure. The deaf and blind characters are an incredible twist. Did this evolve or was it planned from the beginning?
Actually, it was one of the first thoughts that sparked the game into existence: to have two characters that complete themselves and find their strengths not, like it’s usually found in games, in their superpowers, but through something that is traditionally considered a disability.
The idea for Weakless came from two incredible young artists, Ania Kowalczyk – a graphic designer, and Agnieszka Wlazły – a composer, so somewhat naturally the concept drifted towards deafness and blindness, or rather – an extraordinary sense of hearing and sight. So, yes, it was planned from the beginning and served as a form of foundation for the rest of the game.
Have you ever been approached by a developer and absolutely knew the game would be a hit? …or even hated a concept and didn’t want to get involved with a game at all?
Yes, sometimes we happen to see a certain game and just know that it will be a great fit for players in terms of innovation, fun, polish and overall quality. But we are just people, and sure we have a lot of experience in the field, but we are still limited by our personal tastes and opinions that could not always be in line with specific player base. And that one amazing or not so great game might be great or not so great only for us. This is why we try to remove ourselves from the process a bit and let the player base speak.
We conduct marketing tests to see if gamers like or dislike certain idea and only then we decide if we want to continue to work with the developer. One thing that can cause the project to be rejected from the get-go is the quality of the presented alpha or tech demo; we feel that even the most incredible ideas won’t be successful when realised poorly.
What gives Another Road the edge when developers choose you?
We base a lot of our approach more on “what will the community think” rather than on “what we think”. We conduct a lot of early marketing tests to make sure that we are a good fit for each other. When they start to work with us, we help and fund \ creation of their Steam page (or work together on reworking it) and then conduct the marketing test. If it works out for everyone, we go ahead. If it doesn’t – we part ways leaving developers with all of the marketing assets and a polished Steam page. We also offer extensive marketing campaign plans reaching from community management to performance campaigns on various channels (FB, Twitter, Reddit etc.)
Reddit is known for its “unique” community. What has been your experience with Reddit marketing?
…”be active on different boards, be a part of the community – and genuinely love it”
Another Road Publishing
As for the performance marketing campaigns via Reddit Ads, I found it to be a straight forward experience – if you ran something on Facebook you will feel at home. But outside of paid marketing, Reddit is really specific as a platform. Overall we feel that there is a change coming (and a really overdue one, in my opinion) to the way marketing works on social media channels.
To this day, many games were promoted across multiple channels, creating a situation where we were active on all the channels, but not *really* present on any of them. This, of course, changes with the size of the team: in bigger companies each channel can have a specific person assigned to it, but in smaller teams usually there is one person operating all of them. And I feel that Reddit is the prime example of that need to be *really* present on it to work out well. You have to not just come around once in a while and post one or two updates, but be active on different boards, be a part of the community – and genuinely love it. To sum it up, during the Lumberhill campaign we decided to put more effort into our Discord community, but perhaps with our next projects we will find Reddit to be the best fit.
There has been an outpouring of praise on YouTube for Lumberhill. Do you feel YouTube is a good platform for an indie developer to find “Let’s Play” creators etc. to get it into the wild?
Yes, working with YouTube creators was a pleasant experience and we didn’t stumble on any serious hurdles along the way. Additionally, we were really happy to see that many of the creators just picked the Lumberhill demo straight from the Steam Game Festival without any prior contact with us, and loved it! For us it was more than just marketing, we watched every gameplay video closely and noted all the comments people had while playing, which resulted in a few changes to the game. So it is not only a great way to get more eyeballs on the project, but also receive extensive and very organic feedback on the gameplay.
How would you suggest indie devs approach creators on YouTube?
I would recommend to approach the creators just like you yourself would like to be approached – we all have limited time in our busy days, and presenting your pitch in an organised manner usually works the best. If you contact them via their business e-mail, first tell them what your game is about in quick points and then present the rest of the materials.
If you pick their interest in your “elevator pitch”, there is a bigger chance they will like to learn more about your game. If you try to include all of the info in one huge paragraph, the essence and the novelty of the game might get lost in the details.
As a publisher you must be approached by people all the time who just have an idea to pitch. What is the most common & overused game pitch you hear?
I don’t feel that there are any “overused” game ideas, as with Indie developers due to the smaller production scale they have a lot more freedom to experiment and take creative risks. So even if we receive a lot of game ideas within the action-RPG genre, every one of them will have a different hook or interesting twist to stick up from the crowd.
Have there been any issues with Coronavirus lockdowns impeding progress on Lumberhill?
When the government rung the first alarm bells about the pandemic outbreak in our country we quickly transformed our physical office in to a virtual one and worked from homes ever since. And as easy it was to move computers and other essential hardware in to our homes, the switch to this new way of working took significantly more time. Also the worry about our loved ones – our parents and grandparents didn’t help. In the end we had to push Lumberhill’s release a few months forward, but thankfully we are now at full speed ahead and focused on our goals.
Are you working with any other developers right now on upcoming games?
It is too early to share 😊
The industry as a whole has seen an increase in interest for indie games, throughout Coronavirus lockdowns. Have you noticed an uptick in developers coming to you with games?
Most of the game pitches come to us through gaming events that we participate in, such as Gamescom, and usually the devs include some kind of demo or tech demo in their pitch, which naturally requires some time to produce. Since the pandemic started around March I feel that if we might see the increase in the amount of the pitches presented, it will happen in 2021 once the devs will have sufficient time to gather their teams and produce first alphas.
What are the steps Another Road takes to ensure the development runs smooth?
Firstly, we conduct a marketing test; we fund, help to rework or create the Steam Page for the game and present it to the community. If it works out we push forward and fund the development of the game. From that point forward we start to work on the marketing and increase the awareness about the game (so this is not something that happens just one month before release of the game). We also provide QA to the developer if necessary, so they can focus on making the game and we can focus on making sure everything runs alright.
One of the burning questions for every indie developer is: how do I approach a games publisher? What advice can you give an indie developer who wants to get their game published with you?
It is the best when we have a pitch document and some kind of demo/alpha/technical demo to work with. Some important things we are looking for are: what is the overall quality of the presented gameplay, what genre it is, what are your past experiences as a studio, what is the USP of the game and what are the estimated development costs. It is much easier if the pitch document is structured in a way that we can easily deduce what is the essence of the project.