Spirit Levelling Up: The Spirit Engine 2

By Kieron Gillen on November 26th, 2008 at 11:39 pm.

A hit. A palpable hit.

Yesterday, CrispyGamer quoted another of Kyle Orland’s press-pass columns, this time about Indie games coverage in the mainstream press. One bit made me sit right up…

Of course, there are exceptions. Indie games like Braid, Everyday Shooter and World of Goo, to name but a few, have broken out of obscurity thanks largely to glowing coverage from the press. These success stories, though, can help obscure how shallow the indie coverage is on most sites. “In the last half year I’ve seen people give a lot of attention to a few [indie] games, but less so to the second tier,” Gillen says.

God, I sound so hot. Anyway, that was followed by…

Game Tunnel’s Carroll agrees, calling out most sites’ coverage for inconsistency. “Some games, like Audiosurf, get noticed; others, like The Spirit Engine 2, don’t. … Lots of sites will cover indie games with a few great articles in a month and then not mention anything for months.”

And the RPS chatroom said as one: The Whatyoutalkingaboutwillis Engine?

Yeah, we’d never heard of it, despite favourable reviews on a good chunk of the major indie sites. I went forth and did some digging. By which I mean, downloaded the demo.

And it’s good. You should too.

To be honest, I don’t feel too bad about not being aware of it beforehand and while I share Carroll’s sadness it hasn’t got more coverage, it’s easily understandable by the developer probably not following lesson one on my guerrilla-marketing-for-indie-devs guide. I’d read the dev’s candid confession that he’s not much of a salesman on his latest post to mean “He didn’t try and get reviews on any site”. He certainly didn’t mail us. If I’d made a delectable and novel indie RPG, I’d have mailed fucking everyone.

(And hell – after winning game of the month award from something as big as Game Tunnel, I’d have written again using the award as an implicit justification why someone should spend their time giving it a shot. Coverage justifies you’re worth covering. And… oh, I’ve done this routine before)

Anyway. Spirit Engine 2. Delectable and Novel. Play it.

Fucking squid

Okay, some more then, from my brief time with the demo.

Its primary influences are the jRPG, but there’s enough things to separate it from the traditional hair-spray-with-everything model to make it of interest to those who hate that approach. Mostly, it takes the linear approach seriously by making the whole game play in two dimensions. Each section is a left to right scrolling level, with you triggering the encounters as you bump into them. If it’s monsters you fight in a phase-based recharging-timer battle. If it’s friendly people, you talk. If it’s shops, you buy stuff. There’s something really appealing about literalising the linearity in this way – the fact it’s clearly embracing being a videogame and not trying to hide it means you can embrace it as a functional world without being brought up short constantly.

(By which I mean… well, in most 3D exploring or shooting games you find yourself wondering why you can’t go through any of those doors. In Kung-Fu Master you never wonder why you can’t climb through those windows behind that.)

The battle system seems to be agreeably direct yet tactical – there’s building of skill chains for your characters to work up and… well, it’s more than just selecting the biggest attack. You can also swap your party order of three – a Knight, a Swashbuckler and a Priest, ideally – at any time to mitigate damage multiplication and… oh, it’s a battle system. And a good one.

But the thing which I think will attract non-trad jRPG fans is the basic choice in it. Yes, you’re following a linear story. But you’re able to select your three party members from a group of nine to begin with, and all the dialogue options are customised. There’s a few limitations – the nine are arranged into groups of three, and you have to select one from each, but that’s still a mass of interactions to consider and frankly, a scary amount of writing. And, from what I’ve seen, its crisp and appropriate and often funny, occasionally edging into slight-heavy-handedness but with a lot of gusto elsewhere to make up with it.

In other words, it’s a highly professional, highly likeable game and I suspect that if this sounds appealing to you at all, you’ll like it a lot. If I find a spare few hours in this Christmas season, I’d certainly want to go back.

It also helps that my Swashbuckler, Ionae, is a total cow:
She's agreeably tactless and reminds me of a friend of RPS I won't name.

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33 Comments »

  1. Polysynchronicity says:

    Looks cool. I may have to try this.

  2. SofS says:

    If further convincing is needed, try out the first one, which is free. It still holds up for me. The sequel looks even better, though I haven’t bought it yet due to lack of disposable income. It’s all about overcoming tight times with the joy of anticipation.

  3. LST4R says:

    Looks like Tales of Phantasia with numbers from where I’m standing. Which is… on an article on Rock Paper Shotgun. I’ll download the demo and see what it looks like from closer in.

  4. garion333 says:

    That article just got me to check out the game also. I love it even though it’s a bit rough around the edges dialogue-wise, but the game is great.

  5. Island says:

    It’s not just marketing knowledge. All the indie games that get really noticed give good screenshots, whereas this made me think “they’re covering GBA games now?”

    N is the only counter-example I can think of, and that’s at least striking even if it isn’t pretty.

  6. Pags says:

    Not only that Hammer, they appear to be professional, loyal AND reliable at getting you your gold, fast! Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse.

    Anyway, I stopped playing this a while back because of a few bugs, but it appears as though they’ve patched most of those out. Might be worth revisiting, though I can’t really remember it being all too fantastic.

  7. Adam Bloom says:

    Does the gold seller spam on a post that talks about marketing count as ironic?

  8. pkt-zer0 says:

    I’ve only played the demo of the first game, but that didn’t resemble Tales of Phantasia aside from the side-scroller viewpoint. The action element to battles is entirely missing.

    I wasn’t too impressed by that one, anyway.

    Just mentioning The Desolate Room as another fairly obscure and quirky indie JRPG-type thing. You run around with a coffee machine collecting eggs and wandering cyberspace to exterminate a virus.

    buy WOW gold for cheap

  9. Kieron Gillen says:

    The moral here is don’t comment on the spam-comments, because when we delete the spammers it leaves you looking like you’ve gone mental.

    KG

  10. Pags says:

    You bastards.

  11. Trithemius says:

    *cough*mental*cough*

  12. the affront says:

    Disappointing, you guys should have had already heard about this earlier. It really is rather good – I especially like the music, which you failed to mention at all. Turn on sound next time, guys :P

    Its only problems are the tiny, tiny resolution and the somewhat arbitrary way it throws experience at you at certain points in the game which often doesn’t really feel like you earned it.

  13. Tei says:

    I have to admit I practice the “guerrilla-marketing-for-indie”. But also I NEVER pimp a indie game that don’t deserve pimping. If a game is bad, is bad, even If is a indie game, and don’t deserve atention. *And there are lots of horrible bad indie games*

    Here is a good tutorial to pimp a game, can be usefull to indie guys, but is designed for mods :
    http://www.moddb.com/tutorials/getting-the-first-impressions-right
    Here is mine, is atrocious on all levels:
    http://www.moddb.com/tutorials/mastering-pimping

  14. cliffski says:

    That article was excellent. I totally agree about indie coverage being confined to a very short group of games. It’s like people all get together and agree which indie games everyone will mention all the time, and to be honest it gets as irritating as sites always covering the same triple-A games.
    Sites that want to attract loyal readers have to give them a reason to actually visit their site rather than the next one. If a games site reviews the same stuff as gamespot and gamespy, why would I ever need to visit it. We all KNOW about The Sims 3 and World of Warcraft. What we need are people to tell us about games we never heard of, exactly like this excellent story here.
    Good job RPS :D

  15. Denton says:

    I’d heard of the game, but I honestly didn’t even begin to understand the hype surrounding the first one. The combat was so exceptionally bland that I stopped playing after about an hour.

    The Affront is right, though – their composer is superb.

  16. Grill says:

    Is Ionae a Rastafarian?

    (Woo! A pun that only works if you read it out and have a deep knowledge of Rasta stereotypes.)

  17. dadioflex says:

    “Is Ionae a Rastafarian?”

    Brilliant!

    Every month the Gametunnel indie games roundup gets posted to Slashdot and I remember to go check it out. Let’s be honest, if people are that interested in indie games why don’t they already have the GT spotlight bookmarked?

    The latest one is

    http://www.gametunnel.com/articles.php?id=721

    and features a lot of old favourites.

  18. Redford says:

    I personally find the problem is there are so many indie games worth some sort of merit that no one has heard of, it’s hard to justify pimping any single one. I suggest visiting an indie blog and seeing what you can find.

  19. Mark-P says:

    Hello! I am the rather-pleasantly-shocked author of the above-mentioned game, who is also a regular heavy consumer of RPS’s bandwidth.
    I don’t condone or encourage the cultist elevation of any personality in our industry, but I will say that it gave me considerable joy to find that Kieron had spent some of his valuable time playing something I have worked on, then written some kind words about it.

    I had indeed read Kieron’s marketing articles, and many others. Whilst I know the prime importance of publicity for any product, I had to ignore them because I am psychologically incapable of acting out the role of publicist. There’s plenty of reasons – my own dislike of noisy self-promotion, lack of confidence, the niche nature of the title, fear of the critical response.

    The creator’s vulnerability feels especially strong for a linear RPG. It’s difficult to try and write a sincere story without it acting as a window back into your own soul. And sometimes what the audience sees is your own limitations and failings. Which is rather embaressing! Many commercial developers are safely insulated from the world outside their offices. Most are able to do their job, ship, and move on to the next title. Not so when you’re just a forum post away from your audience and you’re personally responsible for the end product.

    Indie games get something of a soft ride, thankfully. But it’s still a terrifying process, especially when you’re asking money for a product to try and justify the development time and effort. It’s a weight of responsibility to do right by your customers. You know there’s a lot of rough edges and some crap bits, and little guarentee that the good stuff will shine through.

    There aren’t a lot of indie-RPGs, because they’re content-heavy and a lot of hard work. Many take the safe route and are fairly derivative. Almost all suffer from varying shortfalls in production values, as I’ll freely admit The Spirit Engine 2 often does. The general public has little time for games that are lacking in presentation, especially when you have ‘blockbuster’ indie titles like Aquaria and Braid and World of Goo that do manage a high level of professionalism.

    There’s certainly multiple strata of indie development, from the freeware bodgers up to the likes of Introversion and the big casual games developers. It makes sense that there are associated strata of publicity as well. Most indie games *are* a hard sell, even when they’re free, so it’s not surprising to see sites focus on the easier candidates. I certainly don’t hold it against them, nor do I feel any entitlement to wider coverage.

    The existance of the first game has been a mixed blessing for publicity. On the one hand, some people will download almost anything for free and adjust their expectations appropriately. On the other hand, the first game is a bit rubbish and that immediately turns plenty of others off a sequel, no matter how improved it is.

    Interestingly, the top referrers to my site for the past month or so have been a number of private torrent sites. I don’t know whether this is a net positive or negative event, but there’s little I can do about it so I’m trying not to get too down.

    I’d love to see more independent RPGs myself, rough edges and all. If nothing else, I hope that a game like The Spirit Engine 2 will encourage a) more people to actually make them b) more people to try breaking, or a least playing with, genre conventions. I’m very happy with the battle system in the second game. Its potential only starts to show towards the end of the demo, unfortunately.

    Whilst I’m rambling I would like extend the appropriate thanks to my partner in crime, Josh Whelchel, a very talented musician and programmer whose homepage can be found at http://syntesis.org/
    I’m also most grateful to Jim Riley for his work on testing, and to the lovely Russell Carroll of Gametunnel, who has been most kind with his promotion of the game.

    Anybody who would like a review copy is welcome to drop me a line in the forums at http://www.thespiritengine.com/forum/ or the email address at the top of http://www.thespiritengine.com/links.html ;)

    • MadMatty says:

      Oh cmon… bad self esteem? grab your knob or something, and jut your pelvis forwards in a repetitive fashion while reapeting the line “I am sexy- and so is my game!”

      seriously tho
      You must´ve gotten something right, yeah?
      Just give a brief statement that the game is out, tell them about the main features, include screenshots- and thats it. You´ll come across as the person you are- and whats wrong with that?
      Most gamers see through some of the more bullshit-type ads anyway: “Our new game can be best described along the lines of the second coming of christ.”

  20. Hypocee says:

    Well, at least when you do write you’re eloquent and fun to read. Skimming through, your post just before tab-close kicked me from ruthlessly passing by to grabbing the demo.

  21. Dizet Sma says:

    You do realize, Mark, that you’re going to get several dozen requests for ‘review copies’ now.

  22. Pags says:

    Interestingly, the top referrers to my site for the past month or so have been a number of private torrent sites. I don’t know whether this is a net positive or negative event, but there’s little I can do about it so I’m trying not to get too down.

    You baited the bear! This is where the thread devolves into a mass piracy debate.

  23. Kieron Gillen says:

    Mark-P: Thanks for commenting. I understand the thinking which means pushing your game is something to be avoided, but it’s a shame – I think a lot of indie games suffer because their creators don’t want to do it.

    (People occasionally comment about Introversion’s more-biz-people model to doing things, but it’s pretty much because of things like this. I kind of wish someone would perhaps act as an umbrella to other indie games devs who can’t afford an individual marketing man. The idea of devs binding together under a flag of convenience to sell more strikes me as worthwhile.)

    Good work, anyway. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to come back soon. And I just plugged it to a journo mate who i suspect will dig it. Hi Richard!

    KG

  24. Richard says:

    (downloads!)

  25. としあき says:

    For those of you who feel you’ve missed out on indie titles, /v/ has archived a collection of many awesome freeware games (with the diversity of having ADoM, Ur-Quan Masters, Sumotori, and Gang Garrison 2 all in one collection) here:

    http://www.mininova.org/tor/1974034 (a torrent of PC games? CALL THE PIRACY POLI–oh right, nevermind)

    ………..
    ……………….__
    …………./´¯/’…’/´¯¯`·¸
    ………./’/…/…./……./¨¯\
    ……..(‘(…´…´…. ¯~/’…’)
    ………\……………..’…../
    ……….”…\………. _.·´
    …………\…………..(
    BRO FIST
    Pass these games on to 5 bros or you aren’t a bro.

  26. Tei says:

    I think the real problem is:

    Long version:
    – People is lazy
    – Indie guys release his games in a very small and isolated community, that community is like a isle, so everything that is created inside, stay inside (like a fight club, I guest)
    – People is lazy, and a AAA title has like 9000 filters already. If you “discover” a good indie title, maybe you are wrong and is a crap game. There are zero or very few filters to eliminate the crap.
    – People is lazy. And talking about a game no-one-know is too much work, you have to write about everything to comment a minor detail. People love to share ideas, but talking about the unknom is too one-side, is not fun.
    – Most of the indie games are *NOT* good.
    – Tons of these games are casual/too short games.
    – We like the taste of AAA titles with 40 million dollares on budgets. A small game with only 2 guys behind feel… different. (exception:Mount & Blade, it has levels and levels of hugueness and awesomenes).

    Short version:
    – Lazy people is lazy.

  27. matte_k says:

    I like its simplicity, in a time when you’re confronted by these massive, open world, go anywhere and do as you wish games, having all that stripped away from you is a pleasant change. It’s quite pacy, and a good way of cramming a quick game in before, say, going to work/college/pub/see a man about a dog. The graphical style is clean and aesthetically pleasing, and the music is excellent too. More where that came from, please :D

  28. The Guy says:

    I’d love to make a service where indie developers could sign up for a shared publicity service for a low amount of money that would ensure them coverage on specific sites.

  29. Hmm-hmm says:

    What.. like buying publicity?

  30. Tyjenks says:

    Great article Kieron.

    Also, wonderful, humble and honest post from Mark. Indie games have come a long way. Everything being five minutes away is great for smaller developers, but it has also bred impatience in us gamers. AS long as RPS, GameTunnel, TIGSource and others keep up the good work, hopefully, not too many gems like SE2 will get by us.

    I had heard about SE2 from several places, but have yet to give it a shot as I typically spend more time reading (Typing) about games more than playing them. That will change over this long (American) holiday weekend where Spirit Engine 2 is concerned.

  31. malkav11 says:

    The biggest issue for me is simply this: most of the indie games scene are either variations on common casual games or aim at a couple of very niche genres I don’t care about (i.e., SHMUPs). Also throw in really simplistic, if quirky webgames. Most sites that write about indie games regularly therefore spend 95+% of their time focusing on these sorts of games that I don’t give a flying toss about and there is no easy way for me to sort out the stuff I might actually find interesting. Like this, or Yahtzee’s Trilby series. Most of the other sites will cover the occasional really hype-intensive title like Braid or World of Goo (not saying they’re not deserving, by the way) or maybe Audiosurf, but I will have heard about them as much or more than most big studio releases so the umpteenth round of coverage doesn’t do much for me.

    Rock Paper Shotgun has been a godsend in this regard, and I still don’t really care that much about over half the indie games you talk about.

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