Monthly Archives: January 2013

Volgarr the Viking

 

Wicked Snake and Volgarr in promotion Art by Kris DurschmidtWicked Snake and Volgarr promotion Art by Kris Durschmidt

 

This article dedicates itself to sharing details about the most exciting game to release within the past DECADE. I’m a a gigantic fan of both SNES and Sega Genesis games. I’ve fallen on love with some Nintendo 64 games as well, but nothing really beats my early childhood experiences with the SNES.

That said, it only makes perfect sense as to why I’m now writing about Volgarr the Viking. As of now Volgarr the Viking doesn’t have a website dedicated purely to itself, so you’ll have to check out its KickStarter page in the meantime. In short Volgarr the Viking is “an arcade-style platformer that hearkens back to the golden era of arcades”, as summed in the aforementioned KickStarter video by artist Kris Durschmidt. Volgarr is the main character in Volgarr the Viking, and there never existed a viking so awesome and hardcore until now; even the name “Volgarr” resembles the word vulgar, and just leads one into feeling Volgarr is both vulgar and brutal.

Volgarr the VikingVolgarr the Viking

 

Volgarr the Viking currently undergoes development by Kris Durschmidt and Taron Millet, two game development veterans who have worked on many big-name AAA titles. The last sentence alone should be enough to convince many that this game is going to warrant excitement. The two seemed to have left their well-paying positions in order to work on their own in order to create a game that they truly love and enjoy. Judging by the amazing KickStarter campaign, wonderful promotional art, and enticing Alpha gameplay display Volgarr the Viking will be a huge success.

Here a couple videos, inside of a clickable spoiler, recently put up on youtube displaying various players who have access to the Alpha development build:

Keep in mind that the above videos are of an unfinished game! There may be missing or strange artifacts and whatnot. In my opinion this game looks extremely polished, and can’t imagine what things will be like on release.

Lets start talking about some of the game mechanics present within Volgarr the Viking. The developers Taron and Kris both expressed how much deep thought was put into the creation of their core gameplay mechanics. Within the KickStarter video there were explanations of other various games that they drew inspiration from. They also seemed to have taken great care in placing their own unique style into Volgarr the Viking.

What stood out to myself most was the reminiscance to the game Super Ghouls’n Ghosts for the Super Nintendo. Lets talk briefly about Super Ghouls’n Ghosts (SGnG).

Screenshot of SGnG taken from a SNES EmulatorScreenshot of SGnG taken from a SNES Emulator

Released back in 1991, SGnG is a game of a knight who must venture through lands of zombies and demons in order to save his Princess, which was stolen in the game’s introductory cut-scene.

The gameplay consists of platforming and throwing various types of weapons. The armor of the knight can be upgraded up to three times, and when upgraded provides boosts to weapons, and other various abilities. When hit the player’s armor falls off, leaving the player to run around in mere undergarments.

Today still SGnG can be regarded as one of the toughest games ever made. Despite the difficulty of gameplay, the gameplay consistently stays at a very fair level of interaction with the player; no matter what happens, if something negative happens to the player (hit by enemy, losses a life) the player almost always feels like it entirely fair. SGnG was carefully designed so that a player can master the very mechanics of jumping and throwing, and play the game in a truly impressive manner. There are three main points here I want to make note of:

  • Jumping in SGnG is unique.
  • SGnG is highly difficult to master, yet incredibly fair (most of the time)
  • Simple mechanics are expounded upon in many interesting ways

Starting with the first: jumping is unique. Whenever the player jumps the trajectory of the jump cannot be changed once in mid-air. This makes sense physically, but many games allow the player to influence their direction of travel after jumping. MegaMan games in particular are famous for allowing this. The ability to influence a mid-air jump allows the player have fine-grain control over their movements, and as such interesting interactions with platforms can arise. SGnG took a completely different route, and to great affect.

Careful planning and tight decision making are required in order to platform from place to place with the knightly character. The original game designers took great care in laying out their levels to accommodate such a unique jumping mechanic. Seeing a masterful player jump and dodge enemies and projectiles in SGnG is sight to behold. Mastering SGnG isn’t an easy task. The quirky jump mechanic along with the limitations of throwing projectiles make for a very difficult game to beat. However, this doesn’t deter a lot of players from continuing to try again and again to fight their way through the ghoulish levels. This is due to the fairness of play. Fairness of play in SGnG particularly seems to arise from careful level layout; rarely does the player encounter a situation they didn’t have a chance to learn about in a controlled environment.

For example in the first level of SGnG the player starts in a fairly flat area with no nearby enemies. Then some zombies start walking towards the player. After introducing jumping, weapon throwing and basic combat, the player then experiences a loud grumbling as the ground of the level itself heaves upward, changing the terrain in real-time. This terrain chance happens in an area where the player is pretty safe for their first experience. However soon thereafter the player is then hit with a barrage of enemies along with shifting ground, all at once. This is a great example of careful planning put into the level layouts that allow players to learn while playing. When a player is able to learn a game by playing meaningful and fun gameplay likely arises thereafter  and in SGnG the gameplay is definitely both meaningful and fun.

Lastly, simple mechanics are expounded upon in interesting ways. Jumping and throwing. These are about as complex as the game gets in terms of the fundamental inputs the player must perform in order to play. Simply listing “jumping and playing” really does not sound very interesting, however by mixing and matching various interactions with the player, interesting circumstances often arise. In this way a player can easily press buttons in order to both successfully jump and throw objects. However in order to jump, throw objects, dodge enemies, kill other enemies, all the while constantly planning what to do next can become highly complex. What I’m saying is that SGnG is comprised of easy-to-use mechanics and this allows anyone to immediately play without hardly any learning curve. However in order to master the use of such mechanics, one must be able to navigate complex interactions with multiple variations of many variables all at once. Easy to play and difficult to master.

As detailed in their KickStarter campaign the design of Volgarr the Viking withdrew some of the best aspects of SGnG and brought them to life within their own game. The unique jumping mechanic makes for a very interesting type of platforming. Armor falling off of the knight, as seen in SGnG, exists within Volgarr the Viking in a new reincarnation of barbaric awesomeness. I could go on and on about the similarities between Volgarr the Viking and: Castlevania; MegaMan; Rastan; Zelda. I’m sure you get the idea from all the explanations and references to SGnG. Volgarr’s iconic blue helmet, as well as a shield can be gained if gathered from various treasure chests placed around levels.

Once the player gathers one of these items special boosts are given to the player. The shield can deflect certain enemy attacks, for example. However, just as seen in SGnG, the armor falls off of the player in dramatic destruction when the foes of the player land a hit upon Volgarr

Volgar as seen with full Armor UpgradesVolgar as seen with full Armor Upgrades and Flaming Shield

In this way the player is rewarded for the ability to consistently prevent enemies from damaging Volgarr, thus influencing players to think about how to approach obstacles throughout levels in an intelligent manner, in order to anticipate what actions are necessary to take in order to achieve optimal play.

Fanart created by Randy Gaul for a Volgarr the Viking fan art contest

Fanart created by Randy Gaul for a Volgarr the Viking fan art contest. Volgarr’s flaming sword is used to cook a giant chicken atop Volgarr’s mighty spear!

Not only does Volgarr the Viking draw from excellent arcade style games, like Rastan and MegaMan – Volgarr the Viking features a very vast well of in-depth gameplay. I’m not talking about an immersive storyline, or advanced interactive cutscene elements. Volgarr the Viking has simply ingenious level layout. Here’s an example:

Volgarr the Viking GameplayVolgarr the Viking Gameplay

In the above image the player sees a chest to their immediate right. The instinct of a player in this situation is to approach the chest and strike it with Volgarr’s massive sword. Knowing this and understanding the instinct a player experiences in this situation, the level designers then decided to hide additional content above the player, in order to reward players for challenging their natural impulsion to strike the chest.

Player spotting a hidden chest!Player spotting a hidden chest!

If the player decides to pause and observe the environment with the camera zoomed outward, an additional hidden chest can be seen. In order to acquire the chest, the player must expertly throw spears into the wall, in which to jump upon:

The spears are commonly used as a tool in which to traverse walls. However, the designers Kris and Taron take the simple concept of throwing a spear into the wall even farther, and extrapolate upon the idea in interesting ways…

Volgarr riding a spear struck into a zombie's shield.Volgarr riding a spear struck into a skeleton’s shield.

In the above image the player has the ability to strike a skeleton’s with the spear, and then ride the spear. Riding the spear like so avoids the spikes within the pit and allows the player to reach an otherwise seemingly impossible to reach location.

Striking the same enemy upon the shield seems to only make large sparks. However Volgarr can easily crouch. Requiring the player to crouch to hit certain enemies with the sword adds an interesting dynamic of crouching into combat. Little subtleties like this are what really contribute to Volgarr’s depth of gameplay.

Volgarr striking the shield of a skeleton.Volgarr striking the shield of a skeleton.

All in all Volgarr the Viking should excite every single person who has ever owned a SNES, Sega Genesis, NES or enjoyed old-style arcade games in the past. Volgarr the Viking brings out the best from some of the best past-times, and infuses them with a lot of original ideas and modern technologies in order to create something wonderful.

I myself don’t have access to the Alpha at this time, so I don’t have experience playing the game first-hand. Those that currently have Alpha access did so through pledging to the original KickStarter campaign – which I was totally broke and out of money for. You should expect some gameplay videos from myself as soon as I can possibly upload them.

Be sure to purchase Volgarr the Viking, or better yet purchase multiple copies and give them out to people you know. This game, as stated in the introduction, is only the most exciting game to have been made within the last DECADE.

Game Programming Primer

I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing a fairly long article over at a website I frequent TeamLiquid.

Now it’s time to share the article in finished form here for all to see! The article is called Game Programming Primer, and here’s an excerpt from the introduction detailing what the article is all about:

Hello! My name is Randy Gaul, and I am a computer science student. I study at DigiPen Institute of Technology, and am majoring in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (a fancy way of saying game programming). I’d like to share my know-how in the ways of game programming as a profession for anyone interested in learning. I encourage anyone interested in programming or creating games, no matter how little knowledge you have in either topic, to check out this article.

And here’s the finished article:

Download (PDF, Unknown)