Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Buzz: Figure Drawing

Artists may have a natural aptitude or ability. They may also have a burning desire that drives them to work hard at honing their craft. However, no great artist became great without putting in many, many hours of hard work. There is no way of getting around it. There is no shortcut. I hope that I never feel fully satisfied with my artistic ability or I might have reached a cap on my progress.

One of the best ways to become a better artist is to study the human figure. I find figure drawing can help just about any artist improve. Because of this, at NinjaBee we try to hold figure drawing sessions often. A wide variety of artists attend. Everyone, from our highly skilled professional artists or those who just want to give it a shot, is invited to our (almost) weekly figure drawing sessions. We are blessed to have a steady pool of models willing to help us develop our skills.

Being a game studio, we have plenty of unusual props and poses. Our models are kind enough to oblige our needs, and our artists have produced hundreds of sketches in their quest to master the human form. Even when creating, drawing, and animating non-human creatures, many of the same rules apply. Every character we make will benefit from the dozens of hours of development we pour into our art. And we pass the improvements on to you, our fans.

Here are some of the results from artists of varied skill levels. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Friday Review: Orcs Must Die 2

Sequels are a mixed bag. Sometimes the games improve over time, either incrementally or fundamentally. Other times, not so much. Thankfully, I can say the Orcs Must Die 2 has taken everyone’s favorite Orcish genocide-machine building game and kicked almost every dial and widget up to 11.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the franchise, Orcs Must Die places players in the role of a War Mage. The last War Mage, to be precise. The order that protects our world from the blasted and overrun world of monstrous Orcs and Trolls, defending the rifts between worlds and safeguarding the magic crucial to the “happily ever after” kingdom beyond the fortress walls, has fallen on hard times. In fact, after the last game, the order was defunct. Magic had ceased after the player closed the portals and cut the worlds apart, stranding the evil enchantress (who may have done evil dances) with her newly freed subjects and no powers.

But neatly wrapped up endings are boring, so Orcs Must Die 2 brings it all back and makes it co-op. The enchantress is back! But not as a villain. Instead, she and the protagonist of the original must team up and defend the newly-formed rifts from an even greater Orcish terror. The War Mage character plays on the worst football jock dude-bro stereotypes for plenty of laughs, complete with end-zone dances at the completion of each level. The Enchantress, meanwhile, is made out to be a morally unhinged cougar. The two characters play off each other well, and the dialogue continues to be vapid and humorous. They also play well stylistically. The War Mage brings a heavier array of traps and explodey weapons and boasts a beefy health bar to offset his terrible magic skills, while the Enchantress is equipped with a wide array of tricky spells and neat gizmos that help her control the flow of battle with a large mana pool. When played with a friend, their variable strengths mesh to create the ultimate greenskin-mulching sociopathic buddy-game duo!

In my campaign of comical mass-bloodshed, I played as the War Mage to my wife’s Enchantress. We both quickly developed a stable set of tools we defaulted to, choosing an array of traps, minions, trinkets, spells, and weapons that worked best for us. The sequel’s new skull system allowed us to specialize fairly early with our favorites. In addition to upgrading the base stats of each entry, we were able to choose specializations that complemented the devious combos we favored. My wife, for instance, took an upgrade to the ceiling dart trap that sometimes charmed enemies while I grabbed an addition to the void wall that kept us swimming in potions and coins. She primarily wielded the Stone Staff, while I felt naked without my crossbow. I felt like there were enough options to make dozens of different combos work. I personally favor two rows of tar traps backed by two rows of floor scorchers repeated down long corridors, but some call me unimaginative.

There is literally more of everything in Orcs Must Die 2. More monsters, more traps, more upgrades, more outfits, more levels, more, more, more! And yet, none of it ever felt tacked on. While there are a couple of traps or items I would never use, I am sure there are other War Mages out there that balk at my preferred load-out.  Some might prefer sprawling death-mazes where I favor compact kill-boxes. Either way, every player should find a method for brutally dismembering Orcs that satisfies without feeling compelled to take certain options.

It is hard for me to say enough good about Orcs Must Die 2. I find every element of the game satisfying. I like the graphical stylings, the exaggerated animations, the satisfying squelch of exploding kobolds, the arcade satisfaction of the combo and killing spree pop-ups, the tight control, the flow of money and progression of upgrades, everything. I am compelled to continue playing, to achieve just one more ludicrous victory dance. I am hooked. And yet, the game does have flaws. The number of skulls you can sink into each individual trap makes me wary to try a new style. I default to my proven strategy and avoid going too far out of the box. The upgrade system can be reset at any time, but spending all of my skulls again is too tedious for me to regularly shake up my style. When played solo it becomes obvious that the game was designed for two, not one. There are levels that are easily bested in co-op but require so much frantic bouncing around in solo play that I felt like I was being actively punished for trying a level before bringing my wife along.

Still, those are minor quibbles. If you are the sort of gamer who can get silly, who wants to inflict every conceivable form of death on an endless tide of humanoid grunts, please get this game. But get it with a friend. You can play alone, but it is really a two-player game. It is easily among my favorite games of the last few years, and I am sure it will be an enduring classic in my library. You will not be disappointed.

As a final addendum, I find the cartoony violence to be appropriate for my young sons. Your mileage may vary, but my two small children find the game uproariously hilarious, and insist on sitting in our laps while we mow down baddies. Watching mommy and daddy play “Morcus Die” is among their favorite things to do. That is quality family entertainment, right there!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Nutjitsu Update Available: New Levels, New Ranks, More Added

Another two weeks have come and gone, and we have more Nutjitsu content for you. We added three new handcrafted levels to the game, which you can unlock by attaining additional ranks in your ninja mastery. Teikoku no Yousai, Ushinatta Marsh, and Yugure Cemetery offer new experiences, new paths, and new visuals for the discerning burgling squirrel. Each level is tied to a new rank. Seven new ranks have been added overall, giving players new options as they continue to play and master the art of Nutjitsu.

Additionally, the new update fundamentally alters the way that players experience the game and acquire power-ups. Gone are the days when smoke bombs spawned on the game map. We saw that play quickly became an effort to dash from one smoke bomb to the next in order to stay ahead of the guards. That didn't seem very sneaky at all! As of this update, power-ups must be acquired with the new acoin currency. Acoins are acquired through play as the squirrel collects nuts. Those hard-earned coins can be spent on smoke bombs that may be used manually during play. Up to three bombs may be used in a single session. You can buy as many as you like, but you can only carry three with you (those outfits only have so many pockets).

The change to limited smoke bombs helps to emphasize the stealth and planning aspects of Nutjitsu, as well as encouraging more "bite sized" play sessions more suitable to those spare moments in line or on the bus. If you are anything like us, you will probably still sink hours at a time into collecting ruby acorns. But we want to accommodate players with less time on their hands. If you haven't tried it already, head over to the game's page and download Nutjitsu for free! Those acorns won't liberate themselves!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Friday Review: Surgeon Simulator 2013 (PC)

Do you really know what happens to you under general anesthesia? Who really operated on you? Were they qualified surgeons? If Surgeon Simulator 2013 is any indication, probably not. In fact, I would venture to say that protagonist, Nigel, may be a hobo with some sort of neuromuscular disorder and delusions of grandeur. He is certainly no doctor. By extension, neither is the player.

As Nigel, the player controls one hand of a decidedly dysfunctional doctor as he attempts several anatomically forgiving operations on helpless patients. By default, the A, W, E, R, and Space keys contract the individual digits of the hand, whilst the mouse controls the movement, angle, and rotation of the inept limb. The control scheme is exceptionally unsettling at the outset, which only adds to the hilarity when accidentally dropping a spinning drill into the subject’s exposed innards. I managed to master the controls after several minutes of humorous fumbling and set straight to my medically dubious butchery.

Three basic operations are available to the player: a heart transplant, a double kidney transplant, and a brain transplant. The initial operating room procedures are incredibly entertaining in their own right, but become vastly more wacky (and fatal) as Nigel is asked to perform the same operations under increasingly difficult circumstances. Having a fire extinguisher bounce off the shelf and into the patient’s lungs while operating in the back of an ambulance driven by Evil Knievil adds an extra layer of difficulty. I won’t spoil everything, but Surgeon Simulator does feature a number of additional circumstances and special stages that will keep you maiming victims, I mean patients, for plenty of hours. While not stipulated by the game itself, I found myself attempting to clear each operation without unnecessary blood loss or as quickly as possible.

There are dozens of things to mess around with in Surgeon Simulator. The game creates a need to explore, to mess around with everything in the game. From sticking a scalpel into an electrical socket to zap the controls backwards and slamming Nigel’s hand onto a syringe for a psychedelic surgery to messing with the various floppy disks in the lobby, there is plenty to do beyond the stated goals of the game. There are alternate ways to complete each surgery. A player could conceivably complete an entire surgery with the laser scalpel, or hack apart a ribcage with a hatchet. The options are multitudinous.

The game is not without fault, however. During the kidney transplant operation I often find myself unable to grab the patient’s right kidney because of the rotation limits on Nigel’s hand. I often have to poke the kidney to the side with a pencil in order to get my slippery digits on the errant organ. This seems like a specific oversight, but does give me occasional fits. Additionally, I often find myself yanking at the patient’s liver for inordinate lengths of time. It isn’t just the difficulty of dislodging it, I feel like it gets stuck, which is irritating. The same can be said of removing the dressing over the patient at the beginning of the heart and kidney transplant operations. My hand tends to clip through the cloth, leaving it stuck on my wrist and forcing me to restart the operation.

These few faults do mar an otherwise uproarious experience. I have rarely laughed more when playing a game. Having an audience to my malpractice vastly improved my experience, and I would suggest everyone try this game with a bystander on hand to enhance play. I would not suggest this game to anyone who is particularly squeamish, as the medical detail may cause discomfort. Nor would I recommend the game for anyone who is easily frustrated. Surgeon Simulator 2013 actively works against the player. If that is liable to throw you into a rage, do not play this game. Otherwise, if you are looking for a highly original experience with buckets of laughter (and organs), pick up Surgeon Simulator 2013. You will not regret it. Your patients might. But you won’t.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Buzz: Casual Connect

This week we finish up our summer retrospective with Casual Connect. Starting next week, we will have fresh new things to talk about, rather than going back in time any further.

Right at the end of July, some intrepid explorers from NinjaBee flew out to beautiful San Francisco to attend Casual Connect, a conference designed primarily for mobile game developers and their business partners. We enjoyed three days of panels and talks designed to help mobile veterans as well as scrappy newcomers. Coming from a different sphere of the industry, the whole experience was very new for us. The aims, metrics, and practices of traditional and mobile development are very distinct. Having primarily developed for traditional consoles, many of the values and models seemed very new and different.

Nutjitsu wasn't ready for release at the time, and we hoped to get some really great input on how to make our thieving little squirrel a true standout. We learned wisdom from top people behind mobile titans like Candy Crush, Fruit Ninja, and Royal Revolt. It was an awesome look behind the curtain at games played by millions of people every day on platforms we have not yet fully explored. We learned a lot, and we will continue to put the ideas and techniques we learned to good use in Nutjitsu as well as any other mobile titles we may create in the future.

Of course, we would be remiss in our tourist duty if we didn't hit the sights of San Francisco. We rode the trolley, ate crab in the shadow of Alcatraz, and took a gander at Lombard Street with the best of them. Business by day, tourism by night! After all that learning we flew merrily back home with dreams of app stores dancing in our heads. Casual Connect was a great experience that will help to shape our games for the better as we explore the mobile space with you.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Friday Review: Gunpoint (PC)

The relationship between a man and his pants is a special one. Especially when those pants are electric pants. Like, leap over tall buildings in a single bound electric pants. Hurl a man out of a fourth story window and walk away unscathed electric pants. Yes, these pants are very special indeed. And they belong to one Richard Conway, a freelance agent who gets wrapped up in a good old fashioned mystery when his most recent contact is immediately murdered. The player, as Conway, must get to the bottom of her murder through a series of side-scrolling stealth puzzle jobs utilizing an array of fancy gadgets.

The meat of Gunpoint lies in solving puzzles using Crosslink, an overlay that allows Conway to rewire almost every device in each of the building cross-sections that make up the game’s levels. As long as the player can access the correct circuit, Conway can make a light switch open a door, make a camera cause an outlet surge, or even make a sound detector discharge a guard’s gun.

One of the chief delights Gunpoint offers is the unexpected behavior that emerges as a result of player tinkering in Crosslink. In one particularly interesting serendipity, my linking caused trap doors to open on two floors simultaneously, which promptly dumped two guards to their death. Of course, I was only trying to rig the circuits so that I could jump through the trapdoors when no one was looking. Thankfully, I am not the sort of person to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The other major gameplay element is leaping around in the aforementioned Bullfrog electric pants. They give Conway the ability to spring vast distances, leap to the ceiling, and survive ludicrous falls. These pants give you a fantastic toolkit to tackle (sometimes literally) every obstacle your electrical jiggery pokery does not solve. There is a trick to the pants, though. The aiming and power of your jumps can be a bit hard to master at first. After the first couple of outings though, you feel right at home in your bionic trousers.

The physical element of the Bullfrog device and the cerebral planning stage of Crosslink work well together, creating a satisfying flow between thoughtful manipulation and twitchy execution. Gunpoint gives players a variety of ways to approach each level, though certain upgrades are required to complete some missions. I felt like I often detected a “correct” way to solve the level, but never felt punished for avoiding it. I also never felt locked into a particular approach to the game as a whole. On some levels I would kick down doors and throw guards out of windows, while in others I would silently bypass all challenges without alerting security to my presence at all.

While I am thrilled overall by my experience with Gunpoint, there are a couple of criticisms I have for the game. There wasn’t enough of it. In one sense, that isn’t really a criticism at all. I clearly enjoyed the game and wanted more. But I feel like I didn’t have enough puzzles to throw myself at. Maybe five more missions would have rounded it out, I don’t know. But it was over too quickly. The second isn’t much more severe. After each mission, your employer evaluates you based on your performance. They have criteria which they emphasize. On some missions it wasn’t very clear what my optional objective was until I reached that evaluation screen. A touch more clarity might have rounded things out nicely. These are barely nitpicks, however, and do not detract for a fantastic core experience.

Final Thoughts

I wholehearted recommend Gunpoint to anyone who is a fan of puzzles, platformers, clever writing, detective stories… pretty much everyone. If you haven’t already picked it up, I would advise doing so. The trip may be short, but it is fantastic. The same might be said of a majestic fourth-floor leap in electric pants, and I can hardly think of a more ringing endorsement than that.

Nutjitsu Update is Live! More Levels, More Features!

The first major content update for Nutjitsu is out! Everyone should rush to the Windows Store and check it out. This update is just the first of many designed to make Nutjitsu the most addictive and awesome game on Windows 8. This update brings five new levels and a rank system to give you more content. Tiptoe through mountaintop shrines and pine forests to continue your never-ending quest for more acorns. Rank up to become the ultimate ninja.

There will definitely be more features, more levels, and more news on the way. Stop by this blog to get the latest information on Nutjitsu's development. We will keep you up to date on our continuing plan to improve your favorite feudal squirrel stealth game. There is plenty more to come.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Buzz: Summer Vacation

Morale is an important part of the development formula. Keeping up spirits promotes productivity, creativity and a healthy relationship between coworkers. Basically, we just wanted to take a day to ride roller coasters and shoot down water slides. So we went to Lagoon. For anyone unfamiliar with Utah, Lagoon is an amusement park in Farmington, packed with coasters, rides, slides, and even a zoo! We packed up shop one beautiful summer day and headed out for some thrills.

We could not have picked a better day. Just a little overcast, toasty without being scorching, not too crowded. Everything was open and NinjaBee had a whole day of fun ahead. Some people made a beeline for the biggest coaster in the park, others split and headed to Lagoon A Beach to lounge in the warm weather or float by in the lazy river. Making games is serious business, and so is partying!

It was also a chance for us to all bring our families together. NinjaBee is a very family friendly company. Many of us have children and love to spend time with our beautiful families. The summer party is a great chance to celebrate the achievements of not just the employees that make this studio great, but the fantastic families that love and support us. There is nothing quite like enjoying a company barbecue at the amusement park. 

After a magical day celebrating our fantastic friends, coworkers, and family, it was time to head home and get ready to create games! Another summer party wrapped up, and the rest of the year ahead of us. We are all eager to be working on the great titles we will be showing off in the next year. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The Buzz: PAX Prime 2013

I told you we would start catching up on the summer! Last month we had the honor of attending PAX Prime, courtesy of Nintendo. Although we had not originally planned on visiting Seattle this year, Nintendo graciously invited us to enjoy the hospitality of their booth to exhibit the upcoming Wii U release of A World of Keflings on the Nintendo eShop. There was plenty to see even just inside the booth. Plue, we got to hang out with some of the cool people over at Nintendo and some of the other developers sharing the luxurious space near the Indie Megabooth.

Even with a busy exhibiting schedule, there was plenty of time to hang out and see the sights. Hundreds of awesome people, dozens of dazzling new games, and memorable experiences beyond count greeted us at every turn in the series of exhibition halls, hotels, and lobbies that served to contain the bubbling crowds of geeks that descended on Seattle for the show. You couldn't throw a twenty-sided die without hitting someone worth talking to, including our awesome friends at Twisted Pixel! They were showing off their riotously hilarious game, LocoCycle. Keflings are terrible drivers, by the way.

We got hands on with all the hottest upcoming titles, like Titanfall, Transistor, and WildStar, as well as surprising gems like Secret Ponchos, Hohokum, and SpeedRunner. We also got to pose with some awesome statues and met some cool fans (including the Rocketeer). From tabletop to next gen, every facet of our favorite hobbies got to sparkle brilliantly for four crazy days of nerdy excess!

Overall, it was a blast! We can't wait to come back next year and see what the world of gaming has to offer. And who knows what NinjaBee will have up our sleeve next time around?