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04 November, 2015

PAX Aus Diary: Forts Hands-On - Worms Meets Missile Command

Earthwork's indie game Forts for PC is hard to put down.

Forts sat in the centre of the indie pavilion at PAX Aus 2015; a PC game about strategy, subterfuge and out-thinking and out-planning your opponent. It feels like every game you used to play as a kid, like building pillow forts or castles in the yard, or playing dodgeball at school. Forts is being developed by Earthwork games, and this competitive multiplayer gem is hard to put down.

The build of Forts that I played was single player against the AI, but there is 8 player multiplayer and a single player campaign in development.

The aim of the game is to build your own fort out of wood and metal, harvest resources and then fire lasers missiles and bombs at the other player. It plays like Worms meets Missile Command, and I can see multiplayer matches getting hectic and complicated.

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The crux of the game is in building your fort: an accurate physics model means that the structure can tilt and lean like a palm tree in the wind. You view the map from the side and need to build your fort in triangles to keep it from toppling over. Placing weapons to wreak havoc and resource buildings to fund the havoc is as simple as clicking and placing in the open spaces of your fort.

Weapons range from snipers to missile volleys and lasers, all of which vary in price and effect. There are also defensive options, such as reinforced walls, sand bags and machine guns that can be used to shoot missiles out of the sky. I can see players easily developing favoured playstyles and rushing one weapon or another. I for one loved the missile launcher, but it's an endgame tech, so I was more open to defeat in the early game.

The physics of Forts makes a wonderful little balancing act (literally) as only the front facing rooms can house weapons without shooting your own structure, and that means going taller to add more guns. However, the taller structure is more prone to toppling like a house of cards, and taking your hard-earned weapons with it. To that end, the weapons that you can lob at your opponent's structure all do varying amounts of damage, with some peppering holes, some setting fire, and later ones blowing great chunks out of its side. The balance for the developers is in making sure that all of the weapons are fair as well as easy to use. The missile launcher, for instance, is balanced by the fact that it needs a sniper to paint a target on the enemy fort, or else it can't be fired.

Forts is being developed by a two man team, with a freelance sound designer working tirelessly in the wings. The game has been showcased at a number of smaller events in and around the team's hometown of Brisbane, but PAX Aus is easily the largest showing thus far. Artist Nick Smith said that the reception has been fantastic, with players finding new ways to win that the team hadn't come across yet. Programmer/Designer Tim Auld was frantically scribbling into an overstuffed notebook throughout the half hour that I spent with them - they really seemed to be soaking up the experience of having so many playtesters eager to try something new.

Eventually we would love to see an iPad version of Forts, as the controls just feel like they would flow well on a touchscreen. But for now, check out Forts at EarthWork Games website, which has test matches and development blogs to learn about the best strategies and failures.

The intended release date is between early and late 2016; Tim and Nick seemed to disagree on that.


Nathanael Peacock

05 November, 2015

PAX Aus Diary: Tiny Titans

The debut title from Terran Studios gets its first hands-on session.

Earlier in the year as part of our Global Game Jam coverage, we spoke about a new indie team named Terran Studios. I was pleased to see them at PAX Aus this year with their first commercial release.

In the corner of the indie pavilion, surrounded by a mob of parents and kids, was a colourful little booth with a roaring cartoon t-rex emblazoned on the side. The game was Tiny Titans, the first release by the fledgling developer.

Tiny Titans is simple and effective: a perfect example of how a developer can avoid getting bogged down trying to do everything and just stick with doing a few things very, very well. A mobile title currently available on Android, Tiny Titans tasks you with destroying a miniature city with your chosen titan by stomping, chomping and causing havoc wherever you go. Havoc is the thing that Tiny Titans does very well, you move your titan by tapping the screen, and the act of moving causes destruction. You stomp on cars, smash buildings and crush police who try to shoot you down. It really does give you a feeling of being a miniature Godzilla, so it's no wonder then that the first titan is a giant lizard.

The objectives are simple; get a high score, get some coins, unlock more monsters and cause more destruction. This is a game to be played in short bursts on the train or in-between meetings at work, a cathartic experience that lets you blow off some steam and unleash your inner beast for a few minutes. Each character has a special ability that augments the way you play, whether that is breathing fire or charging through buildings. These abilities are flashy, satisfying and cause a lot of destruction. To compliment this, the art style is cartoony and over the top - bright colours make the explosions look great and plumes of smoke erupt out of buildings when you crush them.

Terran Studios are relatively new to the indie scene and Tiny Titans is their first official release after the four developers graduated university last year. Lead developer Michael Breen told me how their intention was to make “something simple and easy to play”, that “any kid could pick up and have fun with, and any parent would be happy to download.” This is seen in the lack of in-game transactions or additional payments, the game is free and the only monetisation is in optional ads that can be played with a button after a round, or coins that can be purchased. Neither of these options feel forced on the player and the game is friendly for kids and their parents bank accounts.

The development team has been helped out over the past year with interns from major universities, and they are in talks to take on more students next year. Michael said that the goal was to fill in the knowledge gaps from their uni students, and help them to get their name on a released title to help them find jobs.

The game is currently available on Android in Australia, the UK, NZ and Canada, with iOS and other countries coming after this first wave of release.

Nathanael Peacock


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