Beginner’s guide to indie (2020): part two

It’s time for the second part of the 2020 edition of the beginner’s guide to indie. If you didn’t find something that tickled your fancy in the first post yesterday, then hopefully we’ll manage to put that right today.

While part one focused on independent titles that came out during the past 12 months, we’re now looking forward to 2021 and checking out some indie games which are due to be released in 2021. As mentioned yesterday, I tend to favour the adventure genre or titles with strong narratives and this is obvious from the following list – and I’d encourage you to give them a look even if they’re not the sort of thing you’d usually play. Without further ado, let’s round off 2020’s guide!

Beyond the Veil

Perhaps my favourite title from LudoNarraCon this year was Beyond the Veil by Sun’s Shadow Studios. Thanks to a love of creepy stories (although I’m too scared to play scary games on my own) and a long-time desire to visit New Orleans, this text-based horror has earned its spot on my wishlist. Although much wasn’t given away in the live broadcast, the end of the alpha build made it clear that something bad was about to happen to the protagonist – and I’m looking forward to finding out what waits in store for her.



Black Book

I’ve written before that I don’t enjoy turn-based combat, but Morteshka’s Black Book demo convinced me to back the for Kickstarter campaign. This game tells the story of a young girl destined to become a witch and left heartbroken when her beloved dies in mysterious circumstances. She’s given the Black Book, said to be powerful enough to grant any wish to the person able to unlock its seven seals, and sets out on a quest to bring him back to her. Will she surrender to its forces and become a lost sorceress or will she atone for selling her soul?



Book of Travels

Book of Travels is another game I backed through Kickstarter and is somewhat unique. Might and Delight have said this is going to be a very different sort of MMORPG experience, even going so far as to call it a ‘tiny multiplayer online’ because few players will be on each server. It takes place in a world called Braided Shore inspired by fairytales and Eastern mythologies, and focuses on social roleplaying, exploration and non-linear narratives in a beautiful place with darkness at its edges.



Chicken Police

I went into the demo unsure of what to make of Chicken Police because you don’t often come across black-and-white titles featuring protagonists with feathery heads and beaks but human bodies and mannerisms. But two hours later and it was added to my wishlist immediately. The interesting contrast between these crazy characters and a mature storyline brings us something completely different and it kept me on my toes throughout – and I’m a complete sucker for noir detective games. (Disclaimer: Chicken Police is already out but I haven’t played it yet and wanted to include it on today’s list!)



Children of Silentown

I really enjoyed the demo for Children of Silentown during this year’s Digital Dragons Indie Celebration. There was something about its dark, fairytale atmosphere of Elf Games’ title that drew me in straight away. The story revolves around Lucy, a young girl growing up in a village deep inside a forest where people frequently disappear, and there were just enough hints of something sinister happening in the section I played to leave me wanting more. Looking forward to this one when it’s released in full.



Chinatown Detective Agency

General Interactive Co.’s Chinatown Detective Agency is inspired by the classic Carmen Sandiego games and will take players on an adventure across the world in hot pursuit of criminals, witnesses and clues. Its setting was influenced by media including Blade Runner, The Da Vinchi Code and Black Mirror, and the cases you choose to follow up on as private investigator Amira will matter. Do you side with the shadowy underworld informant or root out corruption for a junior politician?



Gamedec

Gamedec takes place in Warsaw City at the end of the 22nd century, where many people choose to escape into virtual worlds to enable them to fulfil their fantasies forget about the horrors surrounding them in real life. These digital lands have therefore given rise to the problems of human nature and their residents often call for specialist private investigators to aid them. Players step into the shoes of one such Gamedec, and it looks like Anshar Studios are going to give us a release which is full of moral dilemmas.



Ghost on the Shore

I wishlisted Ghost on the Shore by like Charlie as soon as I’d finished the demo. I want to discover the history of its characters, the mysterious reason for one of their deaths and whether the other manages to escape a deserted island. Walking simulators only work for me personally if I can find some way to connect to their characters and the developer seems to be working on a gorgeous project which is going to achieve this. Any protagonist who says the line ‘Let’s investigate the shit out of this’ is going to be one I can relate to.



Rosewater

After enjoying Grundislav Games’ Lamplight City in August 2018, I couldn’t wait to give the demo for Rosewater a try when I heard the developer was working on another title. This time it’s a Western adventure which takes place in a sleepy border town once the prospectors have realised that there’s no gold in them thar hills. It’s here that Harley Leger has found herself several years after leaving New Bretagne and heading west to leave the past behind – but she doesn’t expect to end up on a journey across Western Vespuccia in search of a hidden fortune.



The Wild at Heart

My favourite demo from the summer Steam Game Festival was The Wild at Heart by Moonlight Kids. It was a wildcard (no pun intended) as I picked it randomly thanks to its artwork – and I was left impressed, with another title added to my wishlist. It’s similar in gameplay to Overlord and Pikmin, and its story about two kids finding a mysterious realm within a forest is charming. I may have encountered a bug during the demo which prevented me from finishing it (the developer is working on fixing it) but I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.



Hopefully you’ve found a few indie releases in this year’s guide that have inspired you to give them a try. If you have any other recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments below so I can add a few more entries to my wishlist!

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Black Book: facing your demons

Is there a standard mechanic used in video games that you just can’t seem to gel with? Maybe it’s tricky timed jumps in platformers, pixel-hunting and in point-and-clicks or having to stay behind cover in shooters (I’m speaking for my other-half here).

As I’ve written before, it’s turn-based combat which does it for me. It just doesn’t feel representative of a real fight: if you’re confronted with a huge monster, you’re not going to politely wait while it considers its options and then takes its turn to strike. This says an awful lot about my personality and it’s obvious I don’t have the patience required for the genre. I’d much rather run into the battle with a scream and swords raised, and hopefully come out victorious. No guts, no glory as they say.

So why on earth did I decide to back Black Book on Kickstarter last week? Morteshka’s project is being advertised as ‘an adventure game with deck-building turn-based combat’ so you’d think I would have run away screaming. The truth is that I’ve had this one on my Steam wishlist since it appeared in my recommendations at the beginning of the year and when I found out about the crowdfunding campaign, I headed over become a backer and cuoldn’t wait to try the prologue.

This game tells the story of a young girl named Vasilisa, destined to become a witch and left heartbroken when her beloved dies in mysterious circumstances. She is given the Black Book, an ancient artefact which is said to be powerful enough to grant any wish to the person who is able to unlock its seven seals, and sets out on a quest to bring him back to her. Her journey will see her face the destructive influence of dark magic: will she surrender to its forces and become a lost sorceress or will she atone for selling her soul?

The prologue begins as Vasilisa becomes initiated and prepares to fight her first shadowy demon. She must choose three cards from the Black Book during each round (at least, it’s this number at the start of a playthrough) and use them to cast both defensive and offensive spells against her foe. The cards consist of two suits called Orders and Keys, and it’s necessary to select the correct amount from each for your turn to drive your opponent’s health down to zero while protecting yourself.

You can get a feel for the enemy’s intentions by checking out the symbols displayed over their head. This enables you to think strategically about your actions and plan the best spell response. Some cards work better together – for example, I came across one which gave an additional attack point for every other card of the same colour used in that round – and you’ll obtain further spells during the game by completing quests, receiving them as drops from encounters or buying them from the shop.

Once I’d completed Vasilisa’s initiation, it was time to take on several tasks and help the people around the province of Cherdyn. We banished two demons in Kusheva Village so a family didn’t have to spend the night sleeping on the streets and battled another who tried to ambush us at an Old River Bed. In other locations, it was possible to make a choice upon entering and this affected what happened next; for example, reading a prayer at Kachevo Lake caused two silhouettes to immediately disappear without a fight.

Black Book features a variety of Northern Slavic mythological creatures and Morteshka say they took extra effort to achieve authenticity in their portrayal. The development team grew up with these folk-tales and remember them fondly, but also took the time to consult with historians and anthropologists to make sure their project’s narrative accurately reflects the beliefs of their ancestors. You can see from the images provided on the Kickstarter page how they used illustrations from old books as reference for their artwork.

Towards the end of the of prologue, we encountered our biggest challenge yet: a larger foe called the Thirteenth Brother. Thankfully I’d had the foresight to collect as many medicinal herbs as possible in previous locations so we were well prepared. After impressing him with Vasilisa’s knowledge, he asked us to take him into our service and I accepted – but now I’m not sure it was such a good idea. The Steam page advises that you can recruit a flock of demons to do your bidding, but idle creatures will torture you if you don’t find them something to do.

When we returned home with our rewards of roubles and knowledge points, our grandfather Egor updated us on his research into opening the Black Book. As ‘every single piece has its meaning’ and ‘every seal needs a devil’, it sounds as though many more battles are going to lie ahead for Vasilisa. Will she be able to defeat every enemy that stands in her way? Will be able to stay strong and not succumb to the dark forces of black magic? And most importantly, will she be able to bring her beloved back from the dead?

Black Book, video game, witch, spell, circle, candles, Vasilisa, old man, Egor, dog, demon, dark, night, forest

It’s these questions that caused me to become a backer for Black Book. Turn-based combat won’t ever be my favourite mechanic, but I liked how the narrative for this project was darker than a lot of the fantasy stories you usually find in the genre and I’m genuinely intrigued to find out what happens to the protagonist. Forget knights battling against the forces of evil, because I’d much rather spend my time with a young sorceress who’s brave enough to battle demons.

As my other-half pointed out too, this could be a good game for us to play together in the evenings once we’ve finished work. Having to wait for your turn means there’s no rush to respond and you can take as much time as you need to think about your next move. Maybe it’s time I faced my own demons and finally learned enough patience to see a turn-based title through to its conclusion; who knows, there might even be a stream once the title is released next year.

The Kickstarter campaign has already far surpassed its £28,916 target and three stretch goals have been unlocked. There are still over two weeks to go before the deadline (at the time of writing) so if Black Book appeals to you, there’s still time to make a pledge. Check out the official website and give Morteshka a follow on Twitter for more details.