In this instalment we cover 2015, our second year of indie games label games like Beyond Eyes and Sheltered, the year of our first licensed game with The Escapists: The Walking Dead, and a year that still found room for a couple of Worms releases!
“Have you ever wanted to be a Loose Cannon that gets results? Do you feel like you’re complicated and no one but your partner understands you?” These are the questions asked by British studio Modern Dream when they announced LA Cops to the world in July 2014 alongside a super cool trailer filled with door kicking 70s police action and a rockin guitar soundtrack. Two months later, we signed it to the Team17 games label!
The enterprising folks at Modern Dream had previously approached Sega and secured permission to develop House Of The Dead spin-off Typing Of The Dead: Overkill, so we knew they understood the value of a cheesy cop action game. LA Cops was soon made available to PC players via Steam Early Access and eventually, thanks to the partnership, was able to come to consoles too.
Upon release almost every review compared LA Cops to the incredible Hotline Miami, and as you might imagine, the review scores were mixed as a result. But in reality the game was developed to be a more traditional action game, with its own 70s cop show vibes, and a unique partner mechanic that allowed players to, for example, cover an exit while their other cop bust through guns blazing. If you’re looking a fun top down shooter – maybe you’re an Alien Breed fan who also likes cops with long moustaches? – then why not give LA Cops a shot.
Year: 2015 | Developer: Team17 | Publisher: Team17 | Format: iOS
Now here’s an unusual one. Mobile puzzle game (R)evolve was a winning entry in the 2014 Great British Game Jam and just so happened to be made by Teamsters from Team17. To design and developed any game in just 48 hours is no mean feat, and to win against other talented studios from the UK games industry is a special achievement indeed. So we decided to polish up the prototype and officially release the game for Team17 fans on the iTunes App Store, free of charge.
Unfortunately, Revolve is no longer available due to the unending march of technology forcing compatibility issues with modern phones, although you could in theory still play it on a very old device. Good luck!
Worms World Party Remastered
Year: 2015 | Developer: Team17 | Publisher: Team17 | Format: PC
Buy on: Steam
Worms World Party has always been one of our most popular Worms games with old school Team17 fans so, on the 14th anniversary of its release, we decided to update the game to make it compatible with modern hardware and available once more for today’s gamers to play via Steam!
While the core look and feel of the game was persevered (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it) we did bring Worms World Party up to modern standards with a handful of new additions such as 1080p and 60FPS HD visuals, enhanced sound effects, controller support, easily accessible online play and a few other bits and pieces like cloud saves and Steam Achievements.
Other than that, there’s not an awful lot to say about Worms World Party Remastered that wasn’t already said in our coverage of the original game. Check out that article for a few fond memories from game designer Kev Carthew.
When you run an indie games label, your dream signing is a game that’s not just great fun to play but also has a unique spin. One that does something no other game has done before, or looks like nothing you’ve seen before. Beyond Eyes is one such game, conceived by Dutch developer Sherida Halatoe, this adventure game is told from the perspective of a blind girl called Rae, who uses her remaining senses to picture the world around her, all done with a watercolour painting style that simply looks beautiful.
After signing to the games label, Beyond Eyes was granted a number of Team17 staff to help bring Halatoe’s vision to life, and this included one of our most talented artists, Chris Black. “The first time I saw Beyond Eyes I was very impressed by the originality of the concept,” says Black. “It was open to all sorts of potential for artistic exploration. The premise that the watercolour illustrative style was from Rae’s own memories and how these were intertwined with her reality and imagination as a child was a very exciting and unique concept for videogame visuals”
Black tells us that one of the biggest challenges in representing the unique perspective of Rae is that traditional videogame tools are generally designed to achieve a certain sense of realism – something Beyond Eyes just doesn’t do! “Doing a completely new style from scratch requires a far higher degree of creative thinking and problem solving,” he explains. “Every single thing from a leaf to a rock has to be considered and explored then it all has to tie together in a consistent unique style. It’s about representing the form and colour of objects. This is actually incredibly difficult to do well as you’re aiming for a human interpretation of an object as opposed to the actual object. You have to think a lot about how people see things in their mind.
As an example, when a person looks at a tree they don’t see all the leaves and branches. Their mind sees something much simpler and registers it as a tree. It was that perception we were trying to connect with, exploring how simply you can represent a tree and if people will still recognise it. This ground between perception and reality is an exciting place for an artist to inhabit.”
The results, we think, speak for themselves and Beyond Eyes, even years later, remains one of the most visually astonishing games Team17 has ever released. When the first trailer was shown live on stage at Microsoft’s E3 conference in 2015, the reaction in the auditorium and around the world online proved that all the hard work and original thinking was worth it! Though Beyond Eyes eventually gained a mixed critical reception, we saw that its thoughtful style and touching story really struck a chord with certain players, unlocking emotions that not every game is built to address. And that earns Beyond Eyes a special place among our first 100.
This post-apocalyptic management game in which you look after a “nuclear family” in a nuclear bunker, remains one of our most popular games label titles. So much so that it continues to be updated over three years afters its release with new content like the Surrounded and Stasis updates and was even ported to Nintendo Switch last month! Not bad for the first proper commercial release from a tiny studio in Shropshire.
“I started making games a long time before working on Sheltered primarily prototypes and small games that were fairly easy to make,” says artist-designer Sonny Meek. Eventually the projects started getting bigger and I realised I wanted to make a fully-fledged game. Dean Foster (programmer-designer) and I were interested in making the same kind of games, so we decided to take a stab at something larger.”
“Dean and I are big fans of The Twilight Zone,” Meek continues. “There’s an episode of it that depicts a family using their own personal fallout shelter and the idea formulated from that – especially the family aspect.”
As outlined in the original Kickstarter pitch, Sheltered allowed players to take care of their family in a bid to survive the apocalypse, by sending family members out on scanger missions and generally maintaining the shelter. But it also include some darkly unique twists, like the option to eat the deceased – including a family member if the player was so inclined.
“Debbie Bestwick (Team17 CEO) actually contacted me a few weeks into our Kickstarter campaign,” recalls Meek of the first time he heard from Team17. “It was a bit of surprise, and suddenly quite a few other publishers were in contact. Debbie made everything clear from the start and we were impressed with Team17’s history in gaming, as we had both grown up playing their games.”
With development assistance from the Team17 studio, Sheltered entered Early Access on Steam and benefitted greatly from player feedback during development. “Feedback from our community was very important to us,” says Meek. “There were people who played the game for hundreds of hours that had a good idea of what worked and what didn’t. It was feedback like this that really helped us when we finally launched. “
“We’ve been working on Sheltered for a long time now,” concludes Meek who has continued to add new content along with Foster and the rest of Unicube for years after release. “A lot has changed in our skill sets and the ideas we have, so it’s something we’re proud of, especially for our first game. We’re glad Sheltered was well received, and we hope it can be enjoyed for many years to come.”
The Escapists: The Walking Dead
How incredible is it that a games company can reach its 80th game release and still end up doing something its never done before. In this case, it was a licensed game! And not just any license; one of the hottest multimedia properties of its day. And all wrapped around an otherwise unrelated indie game conceived by a games industry outsider too! Just how did The Escapists: The Walking Dead come to be?
“I’d been reading the Walking Dead comics and thought I could do an offshoot of an Escapists map which was a prison, as seen in the comics,” remembers lead designer Grant Towell. “A side idea for the gameplay was also to relax the ‘instabust’ and hard-nosed antics of the prison guards in the base game and swap them for walkers. The idea got traction internally at Team17, which naturally led to talks with The Walking Dead owners Skybound Entertainment and away we went!”
Based on the original comics, and not the TV series or any other offshoot of The Walking Dead, the game actually required very little approval from Skybound, which gave the designers the freedom to make sure the game stayed true to what The Escapists players would expect, while also taking place in the familiar comic book world.
“I remember during the development of the game there wasn’t any real sticking point with feedback from Skybound,” says Team17 art director Nick Gomersall. “I remember seeing Rory, the artist on the project, had a really thick graphic novel, full of sticky notes picking out which of the panels we would faithfully replicate in pixel art. The comics were beautifully illustrated and including these in the game world was cool.”
“We weren’t allowed to do proper animations based on the comic strips themselves,” recalls Towell, “so we re-imagined the panels with Escapists pixel art and then added minor tilts and jolts to our version.” Check out some of the comparison shots below to see just how close the game was to the source material, of course with some cheeky Escapists style…
Releasing to favourable reviews, The Escapists: The Walking Dead was received well as a licensed game but was also praised for making some of the hardcore game mechanics more accessible to a wide audience. Design choices which in turn carried over to The Escapists 2, making The Walking Dead an unexpectedly important part of the series’ evolution.
For every great game you play, there are probably one hundred prototypes and concepts that never saw the light of day. Testing ideas with prototypes is a fantastic way to prove if gameplay is fun before diving into months or years of production, and that’s exactly how Self Made Miracle came up with frantic arcade action game, Penarium.
“For a week straight I made one gameplay prototype per day,” recalls Penarium designer Rick Van Ginkel. “Afterwards we picked the best one to develop into a full game. I wanted to do a concept for a platformer that would take place in a single screen and would rely purely on running and jumping. Inspiration mainly came from the original Mario Bros. arcade game. We tried a bunch of different settings but ultimately decided on going with the circus theme as we felt it would glue the gameplay, visuals and narrative together in most interesting way.”
While some games label games are “incubated” into the studio and assigned a development team to help complete the game, some are left in the hands of their creators and given a producer to help keep development on track. This was the approach taken with Penarium. “Team17 kept in touch regularly with genuine enthusiasm about our demo and future plans for the game,” says Van Ginkel. “This gave us a good feeling and, since we were relatively inexperienced at the time, we really liked Team17’s background in development. So we decided to sign with them. We had a dedicated producer (Hi Jessica and Dan!) with whom we would call regularly to talk about our milestone schedule and adjust it if needed. Overall it was a very positive experience and super nice people to work with.”
“I think my personal favourite memory was attending Gamescom 2014 and meeting up with the Teamsters in Cologne,” answers Van Ginkel when reminiscing about the marketing phase. “Up until then we had mainly been communicating over the internet so it was great to get to know everyone over food and drinks. More of these kind of business trips would follow in the next few years and they were always a blast. I genuinely felt like I made friends for life with some of the people involved. I still drop by the Team17 booth at any event I go to and meetup with whoever is on the show floor till this day.”
Penarium was received rather well by critics looking for some arcade-like action. Destructoid called it “incredibly fun” while GamesMaster magainse awarded an 83%, praising both the single and multiplayer gameplay.
“I am super proud of the fact that we managed to create a game that really has its own unique flavour and feel to it,” says Van Ginkel. “There’s nothing quite like Penarium out there, even to this day. The fact that we managed to do it with a group of friends and kept drama to a minimum made it all the more special. In terms of the game itself, I’m super satisfied with how Penarium’s core gameplay loop turned out. The basics of running, jumping, dodging and even dying feel super good. Furthermore I really enjoy the silly dark humour that is consistently present throughout all facets of the game.”
After repeated success on mobile it was inevitable that more Worms would follow and in 2015 we released another mobile exclusive dose of wormy warfare.
Drawing upon, by 2015, years of mobile gaming experience, the aim with Worms 4 was to create the most streamlined online Worms game possible, with shorter matches and a more streamlined menu system to get players having fun as quickly as possible. A brand new, unique art style that emphasised the cartoon fun of Worms was also added to give Worms 4 its very own look and feel.
Worms 4 remains our most recent mobile Worms game and, like the others before it, proved popular with both fans and critics. If you’re looking for a fast way to enjoy a bit of wormage on the go then we highly recommend this version.
That’s all for 2015! We hope you enjoyed it. In the next instalment, we’ll be looking at the games of 2016, including our first VR game, the most recent Worms, a game designed just for charity and a multiplayer cooking game that took the world by storm!