Carving out the light: Eric Sabee, the artist of Ascension’s weird, wonderful world

"I think my favorite card so far is the Hectic Scribe. I think I see myself when I look at him."

“I think my favorite card so far is the Hectic Scribe. I think I see myself when I look at him.”

On a couch in a cramped Boston apartment — one of those glorified cubicles for recent grads where you can just about reach the kitchen sink from your bed — Eric Sabee and Justin Gary are playing Tekken 4. (Justin prefers Panda, for the record.) It’s 2002. Sabee, who works in a picture framing shop, and Gary, a law student, live down the hall from one another and spend a lot of free time pushing thumbsticks in front of Sabee’s Playstation.

Gary made a living playing Magic: The Gathering, a whimsical-sounding trade that amazed Sabee. Gary had played in the professional Magic circuit for years, capping his career with a victory in the 2002 Pro Tour. Gary won’t last much longer in law school. In a little while, he’s going to drop out, move to California, and start his own game company with other folks from the Magic scene.

Sabee graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a degree in illustration, and like young artists since time immemorial, was struggling to catch a break. It would be a long time in coming. On the walls of that Boston apartment are oil paintings that Sabee has been making over the past few months.

“I was frustrated with trying to break into illustration and getting nowhere,” Sabee told me a couple of weeks ago. “Someone convinced me to start painting scenes of Boston. People liked them a lot. I wanted to emulate Van Gogh so there was a lot of big expressive marks, bright colors.”

One of the people that liked those paintings a lot was Justin Gary. “The first piece Justin ever bought from me was a scene of a restaurant on Brighton Avenue that was familiar to us both,” says Sabee. “He gave me his old big-screen TV for it.”

Gary took a few more paintings with him when he left for California. And a few years later, when he started designing the game that would become Ascension, he knew which artist he wanted working on it.

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Whiskey chaser: Debut trailer for 2D space sim Jameson the Pilot

I'm not such a bad pilot myself.

I’m not such a bad pilot myself.

Why is it that games where you flit around an open world trading swashbuckling always take place in space? Doesn’t anybody want to be a rogue trader on the Spice Road? Or the Roman Mediterranean? Or Cleveland?

11-bit have just announced Jameson The Pilot, an apparently unrelated-to-mid-tier-whiskey sci fi adventure where you can mine, pirate, trade, or be a bus driver, apparently. The tone is decidedly more light-hearted than your average Elite-like — the trailer talks about seducing giant space octopi, which will definitely be the most entertaining reason yet that a game is banned in Australia.

Jameson will be tapped for Steam Early Access “this autumn”, with mobile releases following. After years of laser-focus on the Anomaly series of tower offence games, Polish devs 11-bit are really branching out as publishers — they’ve got the very intriguing civilians-in-a-war-zone sim This War of Mine and space strategy game Spacecom in the works.

Watch the trailer below.

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Swords into plowshares: The end of Infinity Blade comes this week

"The noise of a large pot galloping in the fire, mixed with the rumble of a gigantic tom-cat purring."

“The noise of a large pot galloping in the fire, mixed with the rumble of a gigantic tom-cat purring.”

Paradoxical though it may seem for a game franchise called “Infinity Blade”, Chair Entertainment’s 4-year-old series is drawing to a close. “All good things must come to an end, even the Infinity Blade trilogy,” the developers said on their blog last week. “On September 4, Chair will release the final content update for Infinity Blade III, titled Kingdom Come.” The update will include one final quest to defeat “one very pissed-off dragon”, presumably the scaly chap in the screenshot up there.

We’ve never written too much about Infinity Blade around here. The battles in the swipe-controlled action games are simple affairs that I never really felt like I was in control of, like a modern spin on laserdisc games like Dragon’s Lair. But Infinity Blade games are a bit of a national treasure for iOS: the first game was unveiled at the Steve Jobs-hosted Apple event in 2010 and there’s a whole universe of spun-off novels, a web video series, and customised collectible figurines 3D-printed from your in-game character.

This is surely not the end of iOS games from Epic Games subsidiary Chair, though. We’ll keep our ears to the ground for what they’re doing next. A video retrospective of the Infinity Blade series is below.

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The ol’ one-two-end turn: Bullseye Boxing, a turn-based pugilism sim

A killer, a chiller, and a thriller.

A killer, a chiller, and a thriller.

I tried to box a few times in my youth and found that, despite my enthusiasm for watching it, I had no particular talent for actually performing the sweet science. With the advantage of age, I can see the root of my deficiency so clearly: boxing was an RTS. What I needed was turn-based boxing. Get me in the ring with Floyd Mayweather for some turn-based boxing. I get the first turn, though. And a baseball bat.

Solo developer Jonathan Bell has written in with a solution to my problem: Bullseye Boxing, a turn-based boxing sim for Android. I’ve asked him to get cracking on a time machine to restore my youth and he’s told me that he’ll get right on that. Bullseye is Bell’s first game but he’s an experienced developer of guitar instruction apps. Boxing, guitar-playing… Jonathan Bell is basically the 1950s ideal of a cool teenager. I’m sure his next game will be a sim where you have to smoke a Lucky Strike down to the filter in the high school boys’ restroom without getting caught.

In Bullseye, you build up your boxer with attacks, blocks, and special abilities, then get in the ring with 30 AI opponents to win the three boxing association belts in the game. It’s an actual game with no IAPs or similar boondoggles. Bell tells me that there’s hopefully an iOS version of this coming soon.

Review: The Nightmare Cooperative

"Meg, look at this place. This place looks like a mansion! It's like a mansion, look at all this stuff!"

“Meg, look at this place. This place looks like a mansion! It’s like a mansion, look at all this stuff!”

Let’s go ahead and stick “The Nightmare Cooperative” on the list of Surprisingly Literal-Minded Titles, just under Quantum of Solace and above Face/Off. It’s either a roguelike-y puzzle or a puzzle-y roguelike, one where you’re given a randomly selected pair of adventurers and tasked with plundering all four levels of a dungeon to drum up funds for a cash-strapped town. New pals sit sleeping in this subterranean deathtrap, waiting to join your fellowship should you wander over and wake them up.

The trick–and this gets worse with each new pledge for your gang–is that all your characters move and act in unison. That’s the “cooperative” bit. The “nightmare” part comes in, oh, around the thirtieth or fortieth time your priest gets dunked in an acid pit so the rest of your adventurers can snag some treasure.

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Make it terrain: Rubicon tells us of Ultimate War Game’s map editor

Make your own Mount Hexmap.

Make your own Mount Hexmap.

Paul Johnson revealed Ultimate War Game to us about a month ago, the final installment in Rubicon’s long-running series of lighter turn-based tactical titles. What he had to show back in July was mostly just the scale of the game, which will be the biggest of any of Rubicon’s offerings to date.

He got in touch last week to reveal a little more about what’s coming — namely random map generation. The previous Great Little War Games were all played out on pre-built terrain, but Ultimate War Game will offer infinitely varied maps and the ability to do the Amerigo Vespucci thing and craft your own.

“When we ship the game we’ll probably give access to the map editor which allows you to tailor a landscape in fine detail,” Johnson tells me. “We’ll be using the very same tool to make the mission maps when we start on the campaign stuff, so everything needed will be there.

“We’ll also add something that uses a phrase you can type in as a seed to make a totally random map, like they do it in Worms and other games. That way players can share good ones amongst themselves and not have to spend all day dragging sliders about just for a quick ruck.”

After the jump, a (very) short video showing off UWG’s base-building, another new feature that’s in the works. Ultimate War Game will be out for iOS & Android later this year.

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Ten towns to go: Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition announced

The Icewind Dale Business Improvement Board really prefers you use the name "Refreshing Breeze Dale".

The Icewind Dale Business Improvement Board really prefers you use the name “Refreshing Breeze Dale”.

Here’s the first big announcement to be trumpeted at PAX: Icewind Dale is getting the same makeover and tablet port that fellow D&D RPG Baldur’s Gate got back in 2012.

Besides running on modern PCs and mobile devices, Canadian devs Beamdog say that the isometric RPG includes both expansions to the original and will have new content including new character classes and loot, plus cross-platform co-op multiplayer. Another first is that, unlike the two previous Baldur’s Gate remasters, Icewind Dale is coming to phones as well as tablets.

The original PC game from 2000 is the favourite RPG of many D&D heads that I know, and the remake of Baldur’s Gate got top marks from our man Phil, with Clancy being similarly enthusiastic about BG II. I wonder how well this is going to work on phones, given that the UI was a bit of an owlbear to wrangle on a larger device, but hey — more D&D on your mobile.

There’s video after the jump, y’all, and there’s more details at IcewindDale.com.

Hat-tip to PT‘s Master of Whispers Pitta.

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The ninetieth degree: New StarCrawlers gameplay trailer

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The Aristocrats.

The Aristocrats.

Lovers of right-angle-only turn-based dungeon crawlers are holding their collective breath for the eventual release of Legend of Grimrock on iPad. But if you prefer your RPGs with nuclear missiles and not magic ones, StarCrawlers (which we talked about here and on RDBK earlier this year) is getting closer to release on PC, after which there’s hopefully a tablet version in the works.

San Diego-based devs Juggernaut Games are going into PC early access in November, and back in February they told me that the game had been built on iPad originally, and they hoped to return it to the platform whence it came after the desktop version is done.

Besides the sci-fi theme, a major point of difference for this dungeon crawler is its reliance on procedural generation: the dungeons are different every time you play, and a “Narrative AI” creates missions for your party based on previous decisions you’ve made and which factions you’re in good with aboard the derelict colony ship Stella Marin. My favourite thing about a sci-fi dungeon crawler? No spiders. The spiders in Grimrock freak me out, man.

A gameplay video is below (dig that Mass Effect-flavoured soundtrack), and you can track Juggernaut on Twitter.

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