You Got Point-and-Click Adventure in My SHMUP!
The Kickstarter Spotlight returns this week with a game I got a chance to preview up close and personal at PAX South last month, Starr Mazer. First impressions are a big deal, and video games are no exception to that rule. I walked up on the Starr Mazer demo area where a huxster of sorts was spreading the news of Imagos Softworks’ game. The booth, positioned right in the midst of the main expo hall lane, saw a lot of visitors all three days, and rightly so. The first thing I noticed, even with the din of the crowded hall, was the music. It called to me like a siren’s song and felt so familiar. I knew I had heard this sort of quality before on PATV (Penny Arcade the TV series). The Starr Wolf theme, produced by Alex Mauer, dug deep into my brain and has been stuck in there ever since. The hooks were already working their way in, but then I got my hands on Starr Mazer and saw just how deep the rabbit hole went.
LucasArts-esque adventure games have been seeing a sort of renaissance as of late (per the usual “everything old is new again”) so it’s no surprise to see a title paying homage to Secret of Monkey Island or Full Throttle like Imagos Softworks’ title does. Few, if any, ever take a horizontal Shoot ‘Em Up (SHMUP) and toss it into the mix. It was this delectable amalgam of genres that drew me in and made me forget I was at PAX for a moment. The adventures of Brick M. Stonewood (the “M” stands for “Metal”) enthralled me and scratched an itch I didn’t even know I had for not only a Gradius-style game but one that featured the humor and wit that I’d grown up loving from one of my personal favorite genres: the point-and-click adventure. Sadly, I did not spend long at Holloway-ExeterStation — the place Brick calls home — as there were simply too many developers to talk to and games to demo that weekend, but Starr Mazer lingered in the back of my mind.
The Kickstarter campaign has gotten the group at Imagos Softworks close to their $160,000 goal with over $110,000 raised. The game has been grabbing attention that’s long overdue, and should reach the finish line. One of the first stretch goals includes bringing in other fantastic artists like Manami Matsuame (composer, Mega Man), Jake Kaufman (composer, Shovel Knight), Eirik Suhrke (composer, Spelunky) and more. The usual console goals are in there as well, but for now only the PC release looks to be guaranteed.
A Man Out of Time
Brick M. Stonewood, adrift in a LOKATT MkII DSP and stuck in a very long sleep-lock sequence, must find a way to survive and unravel the mystery of his past. Now he resides on the Exeter-Holloway space station, a frontier town of sorts that has its fair share of problems from gentrification to all sorts of seedy characters calling it home. Stonewood must deal with space pirates, corrupt officials, con-artists, sinners, and saints in a place that has transformed from a backwater outpost over the course of a century.
Brick, penniless and completely out of touch with present trends and music, must take odd jobs with seedy folks to start bringin’ in the bucks. He’ll meet Bunny Bitshift along the way — a set of gams topped with bunny ears (or she might be something else entirely) to accompany him and require the occasional rescue.
He’ll have to fly into a galaxy still putting the pieces together after the GREAT WAR. Space is full of pirates, prospectors, smugglers, colonials, imperialists, and more. If ever there was a time for a hero to rise up it would be now. One of the primary antagonists of the game are the G’ell, a race of “meticulous mathematicians, incorporating advanced calculus into every shot. Their attack patterns would look beautiful if you weren’t stuck in the middle of a parabolic demise.” You’ll encounter this alien race and numerous other things that want your head floating among the cosmos.
So much SSSSTTTTYYYYYYYLLLEEEEEE
The 16×16 pixellated tiles of the time forced artistic teams to seek out directions that not only pushed the envelope but still worked within the framework of the time’s technology. Starr Mazer’s aesthetic, championed by Lead Artist Christina Antoinette Neofotistou, definitely evokes nostalgia though it’s doubtful 16-bit processors could pump out visuals this gorgeous. It is classic-meets-modern in terms of design direction. The typical episodic/setpiece feel of this sort of game is present, though each scenario can be approached in numerous ways. The developers detail the Open-Middled Gameplay (OMG!) narrative via their Kickstarter page:
An entire playthrough of the game is like a season of a show, but each episode within can appear in almost any order. These episodes all have many entry points and exit points, but the core content of each episode is meticulously crafted. We record not only how a player starts an episode, but the decisions that player makes within, and how that player decides to end it. Your actions modify situations and outcomes of future episodes. As you complete key episodes in the overall narrative, the scenarios start funneling into one of a few logical and satisfying endings influenced by your actions throughout.
Enemies you encounter during the SHMUP sequences will have their own tactics; you’ll have to think on your feet and decipher their attack patterns. Don’t worry though, this isn’t the bullet hell we’ve seen from games like Ikaruga and various Tohou titles. The aforementioned OMG! narrative system will also affect the SHMUP sequences as well: different playthroughs may omit some characters, and dialogue choice affects the available jobs and missions. One example cited involves a Space Lord, Declination Jane, who manages to broker peace between two factions and offers assistance, but catch her at a bad time or say the wrong thing, and combat might just get more complicated with an angry Space Lord’s army at your heels.
Imagos Softworks’ indie cred is further established by the presence of several crossovers featuring characters from other Kickstarter-backed titles like Aegis Defender, Shovel Knight, Hyper Light Drifter, and even Children of Morta. Characters will not only appear in Starr Mazer‘s universe, but in future updates to these titles.
Starr Mazer has the potential to be a highly rewarding genre mash-up. The title’s designer, director, and writer Don Thacker has been percolating this idea in the back of his head for years now. His prior work includes feature films and games via PixelJam, XGen Studios, Robot Loves Kitty, RocketCat Games, and TOO DX. Auston Montville, Starr Mazer‘s lead developer, is also notable for programming and designing his art for Sportsball. Miles Tilmann is a PixelJam veteran (better known as “Commander of Robots”) who has worked on over 20 titles prior including Dino Run and Glorkian Warrior. The rest of the team, including Alex Mauer (Music/Sound) and Christina Antoinette Neofotistou bring further experience with composition in both sound and visuals. Imagos Softworks looks to have a strong team backing Starr Mazer.
Those who decide to back the game have a wide range of rewards available including posters, early access, digital and boxed copies, exclusive tees, 3D-printed scale models of the Lokatt Mk II DPS, and even the potential to be digitized as an NPC or pilot. There is a little over a week remaining on the Kickstarter and Imagos is not too far from their $160,000 goal.
Know of a title that should be featured in an upcoming Kickstarter Spotlight? Let us know via the comments below, on Twitter (@APGNation) or let me know directly (@ScrivenerJeff). Are you an #IndieDev looking to have their game featured on this weekly segment? Let us know at Info@APGNation.com