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Meet the Developers behind Downward, Caracal Games Studio

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Downward throws a lot into the mix right from the start. Describing itself as “post-biblical-apocalyptic parkour”, the Unreal 4 powered indie project from Italian developer Caracal Games Studio isn’t short on ambition, with the small team opting for an open-world in what’ll be their first professional game.

The Downward team are old friends, and have always been into gaming, but last year they saw the opportunity to get the gang back together and make the game they’d always wanted to.

“Most of the members of Caracal Games Studio have known each other since we went to High School together,” they say. “Many years have passed, and at the moment we’re all around 25.

“We’ve always had an interest in videogames and in studying programming, but this is the first time that, starting from last year, we’re working under our Chief and Designer, who reunited us with this project in mind.”

There’re only five staff at Caracal, a lead designer, a programmer and animator, a production assistant, a concept artist and a PR manager, so each member has lots to deal with. But they’re committed to making Downward something that’s attention-grabbing and different, to do that, they needed to start with a company name that reflected that spirit.

“As with everybody that’s searching for a name, we wanted something interesting, new, but at the same time linked to our past and our background,” they explain.

“The caracal is a beautiful and proud feline, which embodies, in a way, the idea of wilderness and creativity of our young and energetic team. At the same time, the name Caracal can be seen as a short version of Caracalla, which was the nickname of the Roman emperor Antoninus (188-217 A.D.). Another reflection of our Italian heritage.”

TheAltars

Funding is always a big issue for indie-start-ups, and in some countries, government institutions step in to help out, like the Nordic Game Program or the Screen Australia Interactive Game Fund. However in Italy, Caracal haven’t found such opportunities forthcoming. Despite this, they’re happy to be part of the Italian indie-scene, and are looking to lead the charge of more innovative and ambitious titles coming out of the country.

“Italy has many independent videogame studios, all with their own interesting projects with national and international visibility,” they say. “At the same time, both as developers and gamers ourselves, apart from the great race simulator Assetto Corsa (by Kunos Simualzioni), we’re still waiting to see really big and ambitious projects come from Italy.”

They continue: “In all honesty, as a team we’ve noticed that there’s a generalized prejudice against the videogame world in Italy. When there’s a more established and accepted videogame culture in our country, maybe we will see bigger and more amazing projects, who knows?

“With regard to government funds, so far there are none worth mentioning in Italy. A few years ago we had the MEDIA Program in Europe, which was interesting and was really something for independent developers to consider. But for us, at the moment, we’ll have to make do with what we have.”

TheArtefact

Crowd-funding isn’t on the cards yet, but is something that the Caracal team might explore in the future. Right now, they’re choosing to focus on making Downward the best it can be, before holding out the hat.

“It’s difficult to say, since so much of Downward is still a work in progress,” they explain. “If and when the time comes that a crowd-funding service is the best option, we’ll let you know. Our aim for now is to design something that’s interesting and has a high level of performance, which draws people’s attention and shows our dedication and commitment to the project.”

Follow OnlySP on Facebook and Twitter for the latest on Downward and more news, reviews and interviews.

Lead Interview and Features editor. Eats, games, and leaves. Tweet at me! @Jiffe93

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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