Terra Nil was originally a more pixelated prototype on itch, and is now a more full game with not-pixelated 2D art in development for Steam by the team called Free Lives who previously developed Broforce, but both versions of Terra Nil share a terrific idea the developer calls a “reverse city-builder.” Where you’re helping to restore a barren wasteland and then removing everything man-made in order to leave the environment better than you found it.
I checked out the free demo available as part of Steam’s E3-ish goings-on called Next Fest (running until the 22nd) where there are a lot of demos for download from upcoming games. This new version of Terra Nil is very interesting. Terra Nil involves a bit of planning ahead to determine the best course of actions in order to restore as much of the procedurally generated map as possible while balancing three different types of biomes. For example, you can place different structures to clean the land to make it arable and then irrigate it with the irrigator structure, but it turned out that you also need some irrigators near streams in order to make the wetland biome. There’s a whole lot of if you’ve done this in Terra Nil, then you can do that. It seemed overwhelming at first but after a bit it became clear that you’re not trying to be perfect, just a bit strategic in advance.
Lexaloffe’s Zep announced a new fantasy console today, Picotron is the third in their line after the original Pico-8 and the voxel-y goodness of Voxatron. According to the announcement we can expect an early alpha of Picotron in late 2022, and that the system is more focused on being a “practical and flexible development environment.”
As part of some E3 schenanigans a trailer for Battlefield 2042 came out today alongside some details including a release date for the game (October 22, 2021) a date for an actual gameplay trailer (June 13), and an enticement to pre-order for access to a pre-release version of the game (don’t buy games in order to get demos).
There is a lot going on in this trailer, however as the second release date above hints, this is just pre-rendered nonsense even though it hints at old Battlefield stuff that might be possible in the full game. Battlefield is one of my favorite series even if the last few games have been less entertaining and of course some people at the company have incredibly odd things to say about whatever is going on in 2042 although there won’t be a single-player campaign to even really feature much of a message about what’s going on in the game. There’s also no Battle Royale mode, both the campaign and BR information come via Eurogamer who have more details on Battlefield.
It’s been over two years since the Playdate was announced!
Speaking of infomercials, the software developer and publisher Panic had their first big update for the Playdate handheld in two years!
This is the portable handheld gaming console that has a wild yellow color, a weird reflective black and white 400×240 screen without a backlight that Panic assures us will look amazing and not be a glare-y mess, and maybe the most notable feature is the crank on the side for interesting gameplay possibilities.
Panic is developing the Playdate in collaboration with Teenage Engineering, the people behind some incredibly wacky music making equipment.
Here’s a brief summary of what was announced during the update.
The Playdate handheld costs $180, pre-orders go up in July. Panic said that there would be a week’s notice before orders go up.
A Playdate Stereo Dock, a stereo bluetooth speaker accessory that can magnetically hold the Playdate in place and charge it, and it is also two pen holder slots which is wild. I didn’t see a line-in or anything on the speaker for non-bluetooth connections but there might be one. I’ll ask Panic about that. This thing is cute as hell.
An app for the Playdate to play music from Poolsuite (used to be known as Poolside.fm)
There’s no release date for those, they’re “coming soon”
24 games in Playdate Season One instead of the 12 that were originally planned for it.
Originally the plan for Season One was that a new game would unlock each week for the first year after users boot up the Playdate, now users will get two each week.
Those 24 games are all free to Playdate owners.
There’s game development software for Playdate called Pulp that enables development without programming inside of a web browser. Panic said this is inspired by Adam Le Doux’s Bitsy game-making tool. Pulp is supposed to let people make art, music, and a simple scripting language to tell narrative stories easily. Panic said this tool would be “available this year” and free.
The marquee title is still Crankin Presents Time Travel Adventure from uvula (the legendary Keita Takahashi (who designed Katamari Damacy) and Ryan Mohler) and Shaun Inman and Matthew Grimm.
Other games include:
Battleship Godios by TPM.Co Soft Works
Boogie Loops by May-Li Khoe and Andy Matuschak
Casual Birder by Diego Garcia and Max Coburn
Demon Quest 85 by Alex Ashby, Lawrence Bishop, Duncan Fyfe, Belinda Leung, and Jared Emerson-Johnson
Echoic Memory by Samantha Kalman, Everest Pipkin, Carol Mertz, and Rachelle Viola
Executive Golf DX by davemakes
Flipper Lifter by Serenity Forge
Forrest Byrnes: Up In Smoke by Nels Anderson and Christina “castpixel” Neofotistou which is clearly a Firewatch-inspired thing
Hyper Meteor by Vertex Pop (Mobeen Fikree, Robby Duguay, and h heron)
Lost Your Marbles by Sweet Baby Inc. & Friends. This got some demo time and is a visual novel game that has some kind of pinball-ish mechanic. The story was described as a character named Prota looking for their lost dog Minty and to make to the annual Festiball before the day as over.
Omaze by Gregory Kogos, I’m not sure if I’m spelling that right because the logo was just a weird eyeball thing in a circle.
Pick Pack Pup by Nic Magnier, Arthur Hamer and Logan Gabriel
Questy Chess by Dadako
Ratcheteer by Shaun Inman, Matthew Grimm, and Charlie Davis
Sasquatchers by Chuck Jordan and Jared Emerson-Johnson
Snak by Zach Gage
Spellcorked by Jada Gibbs, Nick Splendorr, Ryan Splendorr, Tony Ghostbrite and A Shell in the Pit (Em Halberstadt)
Zipper by Bennett Foddy. I cannot describe to you how much I love Bennett Foddy’s games so please accept that I do and am psyched for that.
Saturday Edition by Chris Makris, A Shell in the Pit (Good McGladdery and Alfonso Salinas). This got some more demo time, and the game was described as featuring John Cornfield, looks a little bit like an adventure game.
Whitewater Wipeout by Chuhai Labs also got some time on-screen. It’s looks a little bit like the old TNC sports games for the NES, it looks like it is mainly about surfing. It was described as “Surf, crank, and repeat.” Cranking is apparently how you do Tony Hawk Pro Skater-style tricks off of the top of waves.
Whitewater Wipeout is apparently the game that ships on each Playdate.
“We’ll also be dropping some fun surprises along the way” I guess that means even more stuff released during Season One.
That’s 23 games, hmm.
Sweet Baby, Inc is also developing Recommendation Dog by Xalavier Nelson Jr. and Reel Steal two more games for the Playdate that that features teams of developers from marginalized communities who are new to development in collaboration with people who have more experience developing games. Sweet Baby’s CEO, Kim Belair had a little pitch about those and promised more from Sweet Baby in the future.
Lucas Pope (Return of the Obra Dinn, Papers, Please) also showed up to say he is working on something called Mars After Midnight and had a short gameplay demo. The gameplay looked similar to Papers, Please in the sense that the player appeared to be judging admittance to a Cyclops Anger Management group who knock at a door in a city on Mars. There wasn’t a lot to it, but Pope opened a big rectangular peep-hole in the door by turning the Playdate crank and then peering at and around the aliens or monsters at the door to see what’s up with them. Pope said he didn’t really know when the game would be done.
Other Playdate games outside of Season One were previewed including:
Widget Satchel II: Return of Sprocket by Noble Robot
Oxy Con Brio by Matthew El-Jamal
Daily Driver by Matt Sephton
Date of Life by Andrea Interguglielmi
Faraway Fairway by Rokashi Games
Getting There by Michael Frei and Raphaël Munoz
Robot Fishing by davemakes
Direct Drive by DACvector (Dmitry Zhukov and Chris Mandra)
It’s not hard to trace a general trend: Major publishers got a lot, while indies only got a little. Admittedly, some smaller games went free long after their figurative sell-by dates, but those are still some pretty paltry prices.
The real winner here is Epic. As many industry figures pointed out on Twitter, those user acquisition cost numbers are awfully low, with Epic picking up nearly five million new users for dollars or cents per person. It is not easy to attract new users to a barebones store when a veritable monopoly like Steam is sitting just across the way—with everybody’s friends also on it—but Epic’s spend-to-win strategy appears to have paid off. Now it can boast a large user base to both publishers and players. Many other stores have failed where Epic is now improbably succeeding.
Epic has been offering different free games to users daily or weekly in order to get more people to sign up for the Epic Game Store and the loser in this is absolutely smaller developers. One look at the numbers makes it clear that the developers got absolutely ripped off as Epic got their users for pennies and then the developers of these games may have missed out on actual sales.
I can’t believe Epic isn’t more embarrassed by these numbers, I wonder if the free games experiment is done now that it has been running for years and they don’t mind giving it up or they may feel that the developers won’t have a choice but to ship with their store now because the deal is still slightly better than you get with Valve.
Some part of Epic’s sentiment isn’t wrong: Apple screws developers over just like every rent-seeking business that isn’t big enough to earn a special deal, it’s just that Epic is at least as awful as the facts the lawsuit reveals over and over again, Epic is just less successful and wishes they could put their own app store out on iOS so that Epic could be the ones taking rent even if it is at a more reasonable 15%.
For example, this lawsuit also revealed that Epic would have stopped campaigning against Apple if Epic had gotten a special deal like other businesses have on iOS. And of course Epic doesn’t sue Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo, because they do get special deals on consoles there and you’ll even see Fortnite editions of consoles.
I hope that in some way Apple is forced to make some of their platforms more open, because that would enable great things to be done there, but it’s clear that there’s nothing good natured in this fight between two large companies. We don’t win in the end and these numbers made it clear that small developers certainly aren’t getting enough out of it.