Of Space Chickens And Men: Humans Must Answer

By Nathan Grayson on October 19th, 2012 at 10:00 am.

Looks just like STALKER, right?

Was my decision to write this story influenced strongly by the fact that I’d get to include the phrase “space chickens” in a headline? Future scholars will argue over the answer to that very question for generations, and they’ll be wasting their time because duh. But eggstraterrestrials galaxy-faring coop-flyers are – believe it or not – only part of what makes Humans Must Answer intriguing. The other half of that equation, then, is the oh-so-silly shmup’s pedigree. Developer Sumom Games, you see, rose from STALKER 2′s irradiated ashes when GSC Game World ceased to be. So now the team’s making shmups starring “intelligent and dangerous chickens,” naturally. Apparently, though, the storyline – which sees said chickens encounter hostile humans – is “subtle and surprising.” I honestly can’t tell if they’re joking.

Yep, that’s definitely a shmup. That weapon selection looks pretty interesting, though – especially the one where you fire the one thing and then shoot it with the other thing, and it blows up in all of the directions. Hm, I just described every game in this genre ever. You should probably just watch the trailer.

It’ll be out in 2013, and it’s doing that whole Steam Greenlight thing right now. I’m actually curious about this, though: ravishingly handsome and beautiful RPS readers, are any of you frequent shmup players? Is it even cool to call them shmups anymore? Have I grievously offended you with my careless word choices? If so, will I ever be able to earn your forgiveness?

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31 Comments »

  1. Pryde says:

    Well, albeit sentient chickens in space this game’s design looks quite “Space truckers-y” in a good, goofy way. More “do want!” than not.

  2. Inigo says:

    I was wondering when someone would make a videogame adaptation of Prince of Space.

    • iucounu says:

      I get that reference. You are not alone.

      Har, har, har, har, har, har, haaaaarrr!!!

  3. Spoon Of Doom says:

    I got somewhat tired of shmups a while ago, to the point that even the best looking ones wouldn’t stir any interest in me. But this… I don’t know how they do it, maybe it’s the different weapons, maybe it’s the silly chicken-setup, but I feel an odd urge to buy and play this.

    • Prime says:

      Not sure I will. I think of all the genres these kind of limited scope, reaction-time stress tests are the ones that burn out the quickest. There’s just nothing to do but shoot, evade, shoot ad infinitum. I think I prefer more complexity nowadays. And less stress testing of my poor old reflexes!

      • Spoon Of Doom says:

        I know what you mean, that’s why I hate the ‘bullet hell’ variety of this genre. And usually I’m quickly bored and/or frustrated of such games (the same goes for a lot of jump&run games, to be honest).

        But this gives me a bit of an R-Type vibe, so I guess it’s nostalgia speaking, but it looks like it could be fun. Also, I seriously dig the space chicken backstory.

        • fooga44 says:

          Airmech is where I spend my time now. Airmech is basically where shmups should have gone. I can see even more potential in an airmech spin off where you can do other vehicles besides flying ones. I’d venture to say most shmups are trapped repeating the same old thing.

          http://www.carbongames.com/

      • squareking says:

        If you want something with more depth, I’d look into the Raiden Fighters series. Easy to get into, huge ship selection (different weaps and ship characteristics), understandable yet difficult ranking/medal system. Borderline bullet hell. It’s more hectic than average but nothing ridiculous.

        Or just skip right into Hellsinker.

    • fooga44 says:

      Airmech is basically where shmups should have gone. I’d venture to say most shmups are trapped repeating the same old thing.

      http://www.carbongames.com/

      Most 2D side scrolling shmups = bad unless you’re going to do free range movement and exploration of the world and you can get out of the vehicle and get others (jeeps/tanks/etc).

      The age of the pure ‘vehicular shooter’ is over. FPS games basically are man shoots + vehicles (Unreal tournament 2004, Battlefield, etc). People want to do other things in the worlds besides just be trapped in a vehicle shooting/dodging.

      Notice all the games that are pure tech/ship (freespace 1 + 2, descent, and many 2D traditional shmups, etc) are all but dead these days.

      • squareking says:

        Honestly, they all might look the same on the surface, but beneath is where the meat is. You have a variety of scoring mechanics, invisible ranking systems based on your performance, unlockable ships, hidden areas/easter eggs/random other goodies, etc. They’re actually a bit similar to the FPS in some ways — Crysis and Battlefield 3 and Doom 3 all have guys running around with guns, so the genre’s played out and has nothing new, right?

        If you look at stuff like Mars Matrix and Batsugun and Battle Garegga and Crimzon Clover, you’ll see they’re vastly different games, yet you’re a ship battling against the odds. To me, the shmup is somewhat like your standard deck of cards. The parameters are set in stone, but what fresh and exciting concepts can you create from those parameters?

        Oh, and never forget — even if a genre is “all but dead,” it doesn’t mean it or its fans are gone. New shmups are released almost monthly abroad; we’ll get X: Rebirth soon and the internet’s all crazyballs about the latest pseudo-Freelancer in the works.

        • fooga44 says:

          FPS games have something shmups don’t have — MASSIVE BUDGET so they can compensate for stale mechanics with story/ amazing visuals+sfx. You won’t see 30 million+ blown on a shmup.

          The real problem is immersion, things like starfox 1 and starfox 64 (basically 3d shmups) never took off in a big way. That and most shmups don’t really have interesting choices going on. There is also something fundamentally immersion breaking with traditional sidescrolling shmups. The screen feels too cramped and you really can’t do anything interesting /w the ship, the ship (in most shmups) is locked facing forward, you can’t turn 360 and float / perform moves, etc.

          It comes down to your avatar not having interesting properties and interesting things to do in the end. Traditional shmups are just too constrained. A couple games that break the mould a bit (but need a lot more work) are Beat hazard and Space Pirates and zombies. Beat hazard’s ship control style could be made into a giant open world type game /w you exploring space doing other things besides just arena shooting. Spaz tries to combine some 4X elements /w free roaming but hasn’t nailed anything super addictive. BTW all the games you mentioned are totally traditional shmups. They all have the super same limitations on the ship/weaps that we’ve all seen 1000x before.

          http://www.coldbeamgames.com/

          http://spacepiratesandzombies.com/

          • squareking says:

            Eh. At this point we’re no longer talking about shmups but various permutations of. Beat Hazard and SPAZ are not shmups. If you’re looking for story, immersion or compensating for stale mechanics with big budget doohickeys, these definitely aren’t the games for you, and they never have been. If you want a stressful challenge, then it works for some people. I’ll go back to my cards analogy. Some people love the thousands of games you can play with a deck of cards.

            The games I mentioned are traditional looking. If you think Battle Garegga, Mars Matrix and Crimzon Clover play similarly, you either haven’t played them or haven’t played enough to see how they work.

            Also, this genre is 95% about beating your best score, which is sort of a lost concept today. If you need unlocks, stat points, story elements and cinematics, you won’t be well-served.

  4. yonsito says:

    I think this look rather nice.
    I do enjoy a good SHMUP, hope it’s not too difficult though, my reflexes are not what they used to be.
    Does it have COOP, by the way? Jamestown, for instance, was even more fun with two players.

  5. Velko says:

    Eggstraterrestrials? My, that is indeed a pun most fowl.

  6. Nenad says:

    Jets ‘n’ Guns anyone?

  7. Premium User Badge tumbleworld says:

    Interesting that so many commenters are mentioning reflexes not being much good any more. Mine certainly aren’t… Maybe shmups mostly appeal to those of us who were gaming during the 8-16bit era? If so, the smart move would be making them 30-something / 40-something friendly!

    Hm. Maybe calibrating difficulty based on a series of reaction tests? I’d certainly buy the hell out of a shmup that did that.

    • Wulf says:

      That’s not actually a bad idea, and I’m 99% certain that I played and enjoyed a shooter that did just that. I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of it, though, because I’m not so good with names. My memory is going down the bog.

      Maybe someone will step forward with it, though, so that you can be informed. It was really quite fun, as I recall. I just wish I could remember its name…

    • ulix says:

      SHMUPS like this (that aren’t of the Bullet Hell variety) are much more about pattern recognition and most importantly about memorizing the levels, not so much about reflexes…

      Sure, reflexes help and are important. But if you know the level inside out you don’t really need good reflexes.

    • squareking says:

      Triangle Service (awesome name) released Shooting Love 200X on Xbox a while back, which had a few of their odd shmups and a shooting skills test.

      If you want to try a refreshing take on the bullet hell genre and don’t mind the whole Touhou aesthetic , check out Shoot the Bullet. You’re a photographer and you snap shots of bullets to clear them out, increasing your score/multiplier. One of the most brilliant non-shmup shmups around.

  8. Premium User Badge Vesuvius says:

    It reminds me quite a bit of the awesome Jets’n'Guns. http://jng.rakeingrass.com/

  9. SominiTheCommenter says:

    Bah, bring back Chicken Invaders.

  10. squareking says:

    PULSTAR ’13

  11. The Army of None says:

    I play Schmups pretty regularly! Particularly the recent spectacular one Jamestown!

  12. Urthman says:

    A good shmup is like a racing game. The point is not seeing everything once and getting to the end of the track. The point is to play it over and over, perfecting your skill, getting the best time / score you can.

    I enjoy playing shmups for score this way, but I’d like to see if someone couldn’t make a good shmup that was more like Half-Life, a big long thing you play for the journey once or twice rather than a short little thing you play over and over for score. Like Half-Life it would have to be much more forgiving — giving you shields and health to replenish, rather than GAME OVER with two or three hits.

    It’s hard to tell from this trailer, but it looks like that could possibly be the direction they’re going with this game — adding story and exploration and stuff to traditional shmup mechanics. I’d love to see the STALKER of shmups.

  13. bVork says:

    Over in the shmups community, we have a somewhat disparaging term – “euroshmup.” This denotes a shmup, seemingly always developed in Europe, that has several of the following features: a shop system (check), slow weapons that don’t kill enemies very quickly (looks like it), a lifebar (probable given the armor section of the shop), an unreasonably large hitbox (can’t tell), and inertia (doesn’t appear to be there). These are almost all bad design decisions, and Humans Must Answer clearly has enough to make me very cautious about this game. They tend to result in slow games where you spend more time avoiding enemies than killing them and occasionally take unavoidable hits thanks to the breathing room a lifebar allows for sloppy game design. It looks to me that Humans Must Answer is heading down this bad road.

    Why are these poor design choices? To me, the key draw of a shmup is the contradictory feeling of at once both being a powerful badass able to destroy everything in your path, and a pathetic mosquito one misstep away from destruction. This works on both the surface level of survival, and on the higher level of scoring, which ideally encourages you to take greater risks for high scores. Euroshmups mangle this balance. Furthermore, I don’t see much indication of a scoring system in the trailer, which is the most important aspect after the basics (that I think they’re going to screw up).

    • squareking says:

      Yeah, the trailer also reminds me a bit of Soldner-X, the PS3 shmup from a few years back. Most Euroshmups are also pretty/highly detailed (check), but yeah, the negatives far outweigh the positives.

      I really enjoyed Tyrian, though.

      It’s worth mentioning that you can do an upgrade system or shop-type mechanic well and preserve the shmup tradition. The Gradius series, especially V, does an awesome job at that.

      • bVork says:

        Upgrade systems ala Gradius work fine because they limit the player’s options. It’s less about choosing what to upgrade and more about what upgrade order is most efficient and beneficial. There’s no chance of ending up with an utterly worthless weapon, which is generally a problem with shop systems.

        Even the shop system isn’t a problem in itself, but rather a symptom of another problem: the lack of proper weapon balancing. Fantasy Zone is proof that a shop system can work. But they usually lead to a quantity-over-quality situation where only a few of the many weapons are actually worth purchasing and using.

        And this is really the problem the tropes I mentioned in my first post. It isn’t that most of them are inherently bad (except for inertia IMO, which made me despise Tyrian – control in a shmup needs to be as precise as possible, and inertia wrecks that), but rather that they tend to be indicators for lazy and sloppy design, which is the real problem affecting most so-called euroshmups.

  14. PleasingFungus says:

    ” the one where you fire the one thing and then shoot it with the other thing, and it blows up ”

    Another way to describe it would be as something like this.