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.
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.