The Advent of Indies 2013 ended 

We hope you had a bit of fun with this year's advent calendar. Although we couldn't dedicate as much time as for the last one (which is why it's just a blog, not a prize draw), writing about 24 games sure was stressful enough. We probably will do more spectacular event next year again.

All things considered this blog was an interesting experience for us, as we had to think hard about which games to choose and what exactly we liked about them. That every game we write about is an inspiration to us was the leitmotif this year, because obviously we're game developers ourselves. And perhaps some of the games inspired you too. :-)

Merry Christmas
and a happy New Year 2014
full of games!

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Day 24 - Beatbuddy and Secrets of Raetikon 

My last article for this year is fully dedicated to platformers, a genre I rediscovered for myself this year again. 'Beatbuddy' by Threaks and 'Secrets of Raetikon' by Broken Rules are two games I'm currently playing, which couldn't be more different but are both enjoyable for their own reason.

Beatbuddy is all about a beautifully hand-drawn water world full of music. Everybody nods with the beat and your little blue, sweet character joins the pulse with his headphones and clicking his non-existent thumbs. The complete dedication to music, rhythm and songs is what makes Beatbuddy special among other platformers. The music for every level is made by different composers. Moreover the sound tracks of every song are assigned to different instruments represented by enemies and obstacles, which creates feedback and orientation for the player at the same time. Even the characters speak in music and therefore use beat boxing as a language.
If you go with the rhythm instead of rushing through, Beatbuddy creates an interesting flow you experience from games like Guitar Hero.
Finding all the collectibles is additionally satisfying as you will unlock the developer's photo journal to show you how Beatbuddy was created and who the Threaks are.
The Threaks just received another award additive to the long list of awards they already got: two German Developer Awards for Best Game Design and Best Serious Game a week ago. Well deserved!

Buy the game and watch the trailer here

Let's move out of the water carried by the winds up to the mountains. You are a Phoenix flying through the mysterious landscapes of the Alps. While Beatbuddy guides you beat by beat through mazes of water caves where you solve puzzles and transport keys to open large portals, Raetikon is a calm and more relaxing game. The open world can be traveled freely by finding the different entries to the levels, themed by different animals like foxes or sparrows. While some screens are pleasant, silent scenes other parts of the world are more dangerous, spiked with thorns or with evil birds hunting you and your precious keys.

Although you have the clear task to collect golden triangles to free the caged animals of the mountains eventually, you can take all your time and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere, explore hidden caves or help birds to bring back their brood to the nest.
Physics are very important in Raetikon, for collecting spread parts of statues, killing evil birds with thorn clubs or moving huge chains by flying against them. That can be frustrating, because of certain physic chains rather destroying your bird instead of the evil ones, but also add the magic of pickable trees, moveable, crashing stones and other details that inspirit this world. Which is surprisingly clean, but the graphics are fantastic nonetheless and create an even more mysterious atmosphere.

In addition to the game you receive a level editor to build your own world.

Buy the game and watch the trailer here

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Day 23 - The Dark Mod 

If I had to describe myself as a gamer, "fan of the first two parts of Thief" would pretty much summarize it. Sure, I play and like other games (the Gothic series comes to mind), but Thief will always have a special place in my heart, and be one of my greatest inspirations. I remember the moment when I played it for the first time, on my new Pentium. I couldn't believe a game could be that awesome. The immersive sound design, the enthralling story, the believable NPCs and enemies, the great level and mission design, and yes, I even love the graphics.

When I played Thief – Deadly Shadows, the third part of the series, it felt like the magic was gone and couldn't never be brought back. Well, to some extent I was wrong! Not only awesome fan missions for Thief 1 and 2 exist; for quite some time now there is also a mod for (the still good looking) Doom 3, called The Dark Mod. And this might be the best thing since sliced bread. It removes all the stupid stuff normally found in shooters (like guns) and implements everything from the Thief series: a bow with broad arrows, water arrows (for turning lights off), rope arrows and fire arrows, flash bombs, lock picking, leaning, hiding in shadows, and so on.

And then the map makers came. The Dark Mod gives people the tools – the people give you great Thief-inspired missions. And you can download new maps comfortably via the interface, no need to get them via a forum or so. This way it feels like a complete game, especially because some of the missions are really top-notch, even when they don't try to copy the feeling of Thief completely. For example, I played a horror-themed mission where you have to kill one man and are constantly on the verge of getting discovered by unkillable ghosts in a haunted mansion. Although you can/must steal valuables, too, being an assassin doesn't sound like Thief – yet the atmosphere is right, and it was extremely intense. So just don't consider The Dark Mod canonical and you're golden.

One of my favorite ways to play Thief is trying to ghost through the whole game. Which means the AI should never even know I was there – hiding in the shadows, leaving no traces, and not a hint of violence. This doesn't work always (especially with those nasty spiders), but Thief still embraces it, instead of forcing you to use your sword or arrows. All missions offered by The Dark Mod that I played so far are the same, and for that I am thankful. It also shows me that this kind of gameplay is actually loved by other people, too. Nowadays in games "stealth" means "grabbing your enemy from behind, snapping their neck, hiding the corpse" too often. I'm all in for looting, but killing should be optional only.

The only gripe I might have with The Dark Mod are the stiff character animations, but I guess not everyone can afford a motion capturing system. :-P By the way, there is a a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 (called Thievery), also transferring the rich and deep gameplay of Thief into the guts of a simple shooter. It's a bit older, from 2006, but you get multiplayer! Unfortunately I never had the chance to explore this further as I can't find anyone playing with me. Master thieves sure are lonely ...
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Day 22 - Of Guards And Thieves 

Of Guards And Thieves is a game currently work in progress, but open beta and already a lot of fun. The most interesting part about it is that it's an asymmetric multiplayer-only game – either you play as the member of the guards, defending valuable stuff and shooting the thieves, or you're a thief, trying to steal said stuff (and sometimes killing the guards). While the thieves have the ability to hide in shadows and crouch through funnels and windows, the guards mostly have the firepower.

Both parties can use their flashlights, but this only really makes sense for the guards, as they can't see anything in the dark like the thieves. Thieves can use their flashlights for confusing the guards, though (so they have some kind of a disguise as guards). The game generally is pretty dark, but a lot of rooms in the neatly designed maps have light switches – constantly turned off by thieves and turned on by guards. It's already a delight to watch this. ;-)

As I said before, the game is still work in progress, and a lot of parts of Of Guards and Thieves show this. There are only two modes implemented currently: thieves versus guards (thieves have to steal one of six possible items), and survivors versus zombies (where the guards defend a Big Brain, which has to be eaten by the zombies). I didn't notice a big difference between the modes, sadly. There are only a few maps, and at least one of them is far too big for less than 8 players, so you will not see a lot of variation on the servers. A lot of the buttons don't work yet, like "Training" or "Tournaments". But overall the game just feels right and already polished, and you should join me in watching it grow to something awesome. Especially because there are always some servers online.
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Day 21 - DataJack 

I only discovered DataJack very recently on Desura, and at first the graphics threw me off a bit. While the pixel art is more than good enough and atmospheric and the general aesthetics pleasing, the game unfortunately has a fixed resolution which makes it hard to recognize everything. There is a fullscreen launcher, but on my monitor it deforms the pixels (unacceptable!).

As far as a I got into it, DataJack is a cyberpunk adventure where you play a mercenary, doing some tasks one could describe as crimes – the very first mission is about robbing a Burger World, the second one about hacking a TV station. As a big fan of stealth I adore the possibility to crouch and generally being a sneaky guy. Every mission allows a varying number of deaths, sometimes even civilian casualties, and an abstract number of damage and chaos. It's up to you to undermatch these requirements.

It plays a bit like a low-fi version of Deus Ex. You can heal and upgrade your character and equipment in-between missions, in an adorable city hub where you find a clinic, a gun dealer and so on. What I yet have to see is some kind of a bigger story that glues the missions together or explores your motivation, and I'm suspecting there is none. At least you can find some lore about the world in the in-game computers.

What I can testify definitely is that the sound design of the game is great; it actually isn't what you would expect from the retro-craze nowadays and from the graphics of DataJack. Overall it's more realistic, you hear the typical buzzing from machines, and your footsteps can matter when you try to be stealthy (just don't walk on metal surfaces). The music complements the cyberpunk atmosphere perfectly.

I'm eager to try more missions soon! Oh, and did I already tell that the game is free? Unbelievable!
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