Category Archives: Indie

How Nidhogg Is Like Real Fencing…Sort Of

From the first moment I saw the indie fencing game Nidhogg, I knew I had to play it. There isn’t much to it really: two brightly colored, blocky figures that remotely resemble humans duel to the death with pixelated lines that kind of look like swords, all in a frantic game type that can most closely be likened to tug of war.

There is a reason the game grabbed my attention immediately — I duel with swords in real-life.  I started fencing around five years ago when I started my freshman year of college and since then the sport has become one of my favorite hobbies (aside from playing games and writing about them that is.) I watched the game from afar and learned more about it, and in June during the Steam Summer Sale I finally managed to pick the game up and play it for myself. It’s super fast paced, intense, and features a fantastic soundtrack. I also found that for a game about people dueling to the death for the honor of being sacrificed to a crudely drawn worm monster called the Nidhogg, Nidhogg the game actually has a surprising amount in common with real fencing and martial arts in general. Minus the Nidhogg, of course.

In sport fencing, two fencers duel to a specific number of points on what is called a “strip.” The strip is basically a narrow playing field where the duel will take place. You can move forward, back, and slightly to the left or right. Depending on what weapon you are using the rules are different, but for epee, the type of fencing that most resembles actual dueling, you can stab your opponent anywhere and receive a point. In foil fencing players earn points only by hitting the chest and having what is called “right of way,” which is basically a way to determine who will receive a point if two attacks land at the same time.

The objective in Nidhogg is a little different, but along the way does manage to incorporate many of the rules of actual fencing. In Nidhogg, one player needs to run all the way to the right of the level to win, while the other needs to run all the way to the left.  The map is symmetrical, and both players start in the middle of the arena. Killing the other player grants the winner “right of way,” which allows them to run and progress to the next screen, with the eventual goal of running far enough in their respective direction to win. The only catch is your opponent will respawn shortly after death in your path, requiring you to defeat them again. If they defeat you instead, they are granted right of way and can progress in their respective direction, essentially erasing your progress and creating a game of deadly tug of war. Watching the game in action will give you a much better understanding — it sounds kind of complicated, but in practice it is painfully simple.

Like in actual fencing, duelists in Nidhogg are restricted to a 2D plane not so different from a fencing strip. You can move forward and back but not to the side. While in sport fencing you can jump and duck, because in Nidhogg the actual objective is to get past your opponent and run to the end of the level, you can actually jump or roll past your opponent and make a mad dash for the objective. This is likely to get you killed, as players can also hurl their blades through the air in Nidhogg, something that as you can probably guess is illegal in actual fencing. Players can also punch their opponent if they happen to lose their sword and even sweep kick their opponent off their feet before killing them and taking their weapon. So you know, Nidhogg is basically real fencing.

When it comes down to it, fencing is really all about three things: distance, timing, and reading your opponent. Speed comes in at a close fourth, but without understanding the first three and putting them into good practice, speed won’t get you very far. Each of these essentials for being a better fencer just so happen to have a place in a game about virtual fencing as well.

First up is distance. Distance in fencing is everything. Distance is knowing when you can hit your opponent, knowing when they can hit you, knowing how many steps you need to take to be able to make that critical lunge, and knowing how long it will take for your point to hit its mark. Without a good understanding of distance, you will find yourself on the end of your opponents point far more often than you would like.

This applies in Nidhogg as well. Unless you are running the opposite direction, players always have their sword tips pointed towards their opponent in Nidhogg, and can raise or lower the level of their point. Depending on the height of your weapon, the longer or shorter your lunge distance (attack) is. If your opponents blade occupies the same height as yours when you attack, your blades will bounce off one another. Knowing when your opponent can hit you at any given time is critical in Nidhogg. If your blade is high and your opponent’s is low, you have to know who has the longer reach or else you will wind up bleeding neon orange blood all over the stone tiles. Unlike in real fencing, in Nidhogg players can run forward and backward as well as  jump and roll, which opens up more possibilities for setting up your distance and striking when the time is right.

That brings us to our next important factor — timing. Timing is basically just that, and is hard to exactly train for. You just have to be able to see the opportunity and take it, going all in on pure reflex and gut reaction. The moment you see your opponent flinch, lower their blade, or take a moment of relaxation, you have to be ready to spring that instant. Wait even just a second and the moment will be gone, along with your opportunity for victory.

Nidhogg is no different.  In the game you can disarm your opponent by having the tip of your blade half way past the tip of theirs, and then moving your blade either down to land on top of their weapon or coming from under and hitting their sword up to perform what we in fencing would call a “beat attack.” In Nidhogg it is a disarm, and gives you the perfect opportunity to strike. Timing, however, is essential. Moving your blade far enough in to perform the disarm isn’t easy, especially when your opponent can simply lunge and stab you at any moment, made all the easier the closer to them you are. The perfect time to disarm then is to wait for your opponent to lunge, allowing them to bring their sword to you, and then disarming them before their sword point finds its mark. This requires excellent timing and a little bit of anticipation. Hesitate for even a moment or misread your distance and you are done for.

Reading your opponent is by far the hardest ability for any fencer to learn, and you never stop learning. Every opponent is different, and it is a constant challenge to keep up. As one of my fencing instructor’s likes to say, fencing is like playing an extremely physical game of chess. You have to always think a couple of steps ahead. If I do this, what will they do? What if I do this instead? To succeed, you need to be able to anticipate your opponents actions and be able to understand what his or her reaction might be to any given attack, all while trying to not get stabbed. By knowing those reactions, you can further set up your opponent to put them right where you want them. This is where gauging your opponents defenses and baiting them come into play. By doing attacks never meant to hit their target, you can see what your opponent does and adapt. By presenting yourself as a target, you can invoke an attack from your opponent, and as long as you are expecting it and are fast enough, can turn their attack into one of your own.

These tactics work just as well in Nidhogg. Knowing that if you turn your back and run your opponent may hurl their sword at you gives you an advantage. As long as you are fast enough to dodge the weapon, you can then quickly turn the tables on your unarmed opponent. Knowing your opponent likes to lunge high whenever your blade is low gives you a similar piece of vital information. By knowing what your opponents habits and strategies are, you can adapt and take advantage of them.

While these aspects of fencing apply especially well to Nidhogg due to the dueling inspired nature of the game, timing, distance and the ability to read your opponent can be applied to any fighting game. In this way games really do imitate life. While specific skills or techniques from martial arts don’t carry over to the virtual world, the knowledge and understanding of the concepts do. Professional fighting game players exhibit an extraordinary understanding of distance, knowing exactly how far they need to be in order to land a hit at its maximum range. They show an incredible sense of timing, having memorized the exact number of animation frames any given attack in the game takes and the time associated with it. They know when their opponent makes a mistake, and they don’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity and turn a game in their favor. They know how to make their opponent react and anticipate those reactions to come out on top.

In spirit and in concept, virtual duels and fights are not much different from ones in real life. They take the same kind of discipline, knowledge, and practice as any martial art in the real world does. Games just sometimes have giant unicorn worms that swallow you whole after you win.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

DinoZ: Surviving in The Stomping Lands

You lay prone, the tall grass concealing your body as you wait for your prey to approach. Fast, agile, the Gallimimus will certainly flee out of your reach if it senses the slightest hint of danger. You equip your spear. With one well placed thrust you can bring the dinosaur down. The moment of truth, the Gallimimus is right there, a few feet away. You stand in a crouch, approaching slowly, but the Gallimimus becomes spooked — it knows you are there. It begins to run, but not before your spear finds its mark. As you reap the spoils of your catch, you hear footsteps. Heavy footsteps. Something big is coming your way.

And then another player comes riding by on a massive Carnotaurus, attaches you to a rope, drags you to his camp, locks you in a cage, and watches as you slowly starve to death while he feasts on your hard earned dinosaur meat. This is The Stomping Land, a Kickstarted survival game that is part DayZ and part Jurassic Park. The game recently launched on Steam Early Access, and being the dinosaur fan that I am I couldn’t wait for the full release to get my hands on the title.

Many of the game features are yet to be implemented including character customization, additional dinosaurs, more craftable items, and all around improvements. What is in place is the core experience of the game, hunting dinosaurs, forming tribes, and fighting or teaming up with other players.

Each player starts near the beach of a large island equipped with a tomahawk. This starting item has a number of uses. It can be used for extremely close ranged combat, but more importantly it is used for obtaining the games two primary resources, wood and stone. By gathering large amounts of these two components you can craft an assortment of weapons and items, ranging from a bow and arrows to totem poles.

Starting off, you almost always want to build a better weapon ( a spear or a bow) and a campfire. The Stomping Land is a survival game — you must eat to survive — and the only food around is dinosaur. Thankfully there are a number of smaller dinos to pick off, allowing you to take their meat and cook it over the campfire to sate your hunger.

As you survive longer in the world, you gain expertise, one for every 30 seconds alive. Killing other players nets you 20 percent of their expertise as well. What is expertise used for? Probably the coolest feature of the game — dinosaur taming. The higher your expertise, the larger and more fearsome of a dinosaur you can tame. Of course, you must also have in your possession a healing herb, found in a handful of caves that are found on the island. After killing a dinosaur and having the necessary expertise, you can heal the creature using the herb and then mount it. Now you can navigate Capa Island in style.

This of course leads to dinosaur drive-bys. The world in The Stomping Land is a dangerous place. While the dinosaurs can be deadly if provoked, players more often than not are much deadlier. Just like in the zombie survival game DayZ, some players in The Stomping Land are much nicer than others. Some will want to form a tribe with you and go on hunting parties to bring down the larger dinosaurs, while others simply want to run you over with a Carnotaurus and take all your stuff. It’s just part of the game, and part of what makes the game so fun.

Running on the Unreal Engine, the game looks solid, and boasts a slick UI that keeps your screen clear of health meters and items bars. That being said, the game is definitely in Early Access. Currently there are no graphic settings, meaning even my fairly decent computer struggles to run the game at times as heavy rain pours down in a forest densely populated with all manner of grass, bushes, ferns, and trees. It makes the game difficult to recommend in this current state for anybody who isn’t using a higher end machine. Some game systems, like in-game chatting, are unnecessarily clumsy, requirng way too many clicks and button presses to type a simple message such as “Please do not murder me.” I expect most of this will be cleaned up at some point as more content is added, but unlike some Early Access games The Stomping Land truly means it when it says “you may want to wait until the game progresses further in development.”

That being said, what is included in this Early Access package is a blast to play around with, especially if you enjoy games like DayZ, Rust, and Minecraft. If so, or you really love dinosaurs, you might want to give The Stomping Land a try even in this early state. Otherwise players may want to wait for the game to receive some more polish, but don’t worry though — there will be plenty of dinosaur drive-bys to go around when you do decide to jump in.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Luftrausers Review: Flying High

You blast off into the sky in your high-speed super weapon, ripping enemy planes apart with ease. You dive, roll, and boost circles around enemy fighters, but before long the battle intensifies. Battleships fire streams of anti-air rounds, and you do everything in your power to evade. Instinct takes over, and before long your aircraft is performing a deadly aerial waltz. A storm of bullets comes your way, and you see no other option than to dive straight into the depths of the ocean to escape. This would be suicide for any normal aircraft, but you aren’t piloting any old plane — this is a Luftrauser, a deadly piece of war engineering that can be customized with a variety of experimental weapons and engines. When you emerge from the sea you show no mercy, but for every enemy you defeat three more take its place. You die in a hail of bullets. Thankfully, you have an ace up your sleeve. Your craft goes nuclear, taking out any and all enemies in the surrounding area.

You check your score: 20,000. Not bad, but you can do better. You launch your Luftrauser once again, and the battle begins anew. That’s Luftrausers in a nutshell, a frantically fast paced game that looks and plays like it’s straight out of an old arcade cabinet. That’s part of it’s charm.

With one battlefield, one mode, and a few plane customization options that you can mix and match to craft your perfect flying machine, Luftrausers doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t. But it doesn’t need to be. Like the classic arcade games of old, Luftrausers is all about the score. Killing enemies in succession builds up your combo meter, with each kill granting you increasingly more points until it maxes out at 20. Keeping your combo up is the key to posting big numbers, but the way the game is structured means you can rarely keep it up for long. With every kill and second that passes on the clock, Luftrausers becomes more and more difficult as it spawns deadly new enemy types, ranging from dangerous battleships to enemy aces that maneuver in ways similar to a real player. The game reaches its climax once the massive and heavily armed blimps begin to appear, flying fortresses that only the most skilled pilots will be able to defeat and live to tell the tale.

As you can probably guess, Luftrausers is hard. Really hard, and even harder when you turn on the games unlockable bonus mode. It’s classic bullet-hell, but rather than confining you to a box in which to maneuver like other games in the genre, Luftrausers gives you a freedom of movement that essential if you want to survive. Players manually use the boost on their craft to propel their plane, allowing for some fancy aerial acrobatics as you let off the boost and tumble through the air, rotating to shoot an enemy plane behind you before hitting the throttle again and ascending to the heavens.

Even if Lufrausers only featured one plane to choose from it would still be replayable due to its score focused nature, but I couldn’t imagine myself logging in more than a few hours. The inclusion of multiple engines, weapons, and aircraft bodies that unlock as you play changes that entirely. Parts can be mixed and matched, adding a great deal of replayability. As a result I’ve logged in way more time than I ever imagined I would. After dying I would almost always head back to the hanger to make a new plane combination. Trying to find the perfect aircraft for your playstyle is a game in itself, with my personal favorites being a plane that could dive into the ocean without taking damage and fire massive cannonballs or one whose entire strategy is to kamikaze ram enemy units thanks to it making you immune to collision damage. Each plane variation comes with various challenges to be completed, adding goals to strive towards every time you take off in your Luftrauser.in to ascend skyward. Watching a good Luftrausers player is awe-inspiring, as they flip and roll with ease between streams of bullets and enemy planes.

What really sells Luftrausers though is its visuals and soundtrack. The 8-Bit sepia tone look creates a 1950s vibe that invokes a post-Word War II world where aerial supremacy meant everything and new and experimental weapons were becoming reality. Adding to the package is an amazing soundtrack unlike any other I’ve experienced in a game. It’s really only one core track, which can be listened to here, but becomes modified and transformed according to which parts you choose for your craft. What begins as a triumphant military march becomes a sci-fi space battle as electronic sounds begin to blend into the familiar theme, and there are literally dozens of unique versions, each one the perfect background music to accompany your aerial achievements.

There has been some controversy surrounding Luftrausers — its art is clearly inspired by that of Nazi Germany, leading many to criticize the games creators. I can see where they are coming from. Luftrausers definitely glorifies the idea of aerial dogfighting, and with the inclusion of all the eagles, crosses, and character portraits like the ones seen above, it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The developers were clearly looking for an alternate history that would fit in with the the game they wanted to make. What they landed on was a unnamed country reminiscent of Nazi Germany that emerges victorious from World War II and in turn is able to implement many of its fabled “super weapons” that never saw the light of day. It’s important to note that none of this is ever explicitly stated. Being an arcade game at heart, Luftrausers has no real story. Kill planes, get score, test your Luftrauser, rinse and repeat.

Minor controversy aside, Luftrausers is a great fun. For me it conjures up memories of hour long 1942 sessions at a local arcade trying to beat my previous score, entering a trance-like state as the pounding military march that is the games music blares into my ears. If you love bullet-hell shooters, a great challenge, or want to feel like an aerial ace for a few hours, Luftrausers is more than worth the $10 it will cost you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,