Downspiral

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By Chris

Recently, I had the opportunity to play a demo of the newly-greenlit “Downspiral”, a game by developer Hey It’s That Dog. This RPG dungeon crawler takes a humorous spin on fantasy tropes, from elves to fabulous vampires, while contributing its own race of anthropomorphic salad toppings to the genre’s pantheon of protagonists.

Set in an abandoned fantasy theme park, you must create a party of four adventurers to explore the ruins. With an array of races and classes, you are given a classic RPG experience, and the game is expected to have 4-player local co-op.

The demo provided a glimpse of the game’s humour and the gameplay, both of which I enjoyed. The experience is scored by a jazz soundtrack that will consist of twelve tracks.

So, what did I think of the game so far?  Having had a taste of the tutorial level, I am certainly intrigued. I enjoy the music and the selection of races (mostly the Dumpster Elf). As far as gameplay goes, there is potential for a fun and challenging experience, but this potential will be tested in the deeper levels, when the game can finDownspiralScreenshot02ally show its teeth. I will be following Downspiral through development, and hope that it reaches its projected 2016 release date.

I had a chance to ask Matt Gunter of Hey It’s That Dog about the game’s features, his inspiration and his development studio.

Firstly, congratulations on having your game greenlit. Have you yet recovered from the post-approval buzz?

Thank you! No I haven’t recovered yet, preparing for the Greenlight was a huge amount of work, and I was expecting at least a month of promoting the Greenlight while finishing things up on the game. While I’m thrilled the Greenlight passed so quickly, I feel like I have to get right back into working non-stop for the release, but I’m trying to slow down and take a bit of a break before doing that.

What inspired you to eschew the elements of grinding that have been endemic to role-playing and dungeon crawling games?

I’ve tried a lot of dungeon crawlers and I’ve never been able to get very far into them. Whether it be because I found the gameplay too dated, or the dungeon felt too large and maze-like. I’ve always wanted to enjoy them, and I love the idea behind them, so I thought I would try making one of my own to see if I could eliminate the issues that prevented me from enjoying other games in the genre.

The Dumpster Elf, though created as a joke, quickly became my favorite race. Do you fear that your creation may escape the confines of Downspiral and crop up in future Elder Scrolls and Warcraft installments?

The dumpster elves do seem to be attracting the most attention. It’s definitely not the race I thought would be a fan favorite, but I guess everyone just loves elves! When I was working on getting things ready for the Greenlight, I kept debating whether I should change their name or not. I was worried it was too dumb (in a game that has twerking purple dinosaurs), but I’m glad I decided not to. I’ve already seen someone using the dumpster elf moniker on Twitter, and I’d love to see more people embracing their inner dumpster elf! The playable races in the game are supposed to be a group of weird but lovable underdogs, so it’s really great to see people getting super into them!

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What made you select a jazz soundtrack?

I was introduced to wonderful local musicians Bruce Mackinnon and Jonathan Sloan by a mutual friend, and up until this point I had worked on the game exclusively on my own. I didn’t want to stifle their creativity by telling them exactly what I wanted, so I told them the setup for the game, the tone I was going for, and told them to just do whatever they wanted. They came up with this funky, jazzy sound that was nowhere near the typical kind of music you hear in most games. I was really drawn to that, because that was basically my goal creating this game, to make this weird adventure that’s familiar but unique at the same time. They surprised me with what they created and I just thought the music really fit and was perfect. But all credit goes to Bruce and Jon, I just thought it was a great fit.

When Peter Jackson picks up Downspiral for a movie franchise, how many films can we expect (prequels included)?

Well first, you have at least six parody movies right out of the gate, with potato people replacing hobbits and dumpster elves who are allied with Sauron because of the incredible amount of waste his war machine generates. After that the options are really limitless.

Is there a secret cow level in Downspiral? You don’t have to answer truthfully here, but just give me one blink for “no” and two blinks for “yes” as you write this (I’ll be able to tell).

There’s a lot of secrets in Downspiral, and I am really bad at keeping secrets, so you shouldn’t ask me about secrets because I won’t be able to keep them, and then they won’t be very secret anymore. But to answer your question, there aren’t any cows in the game, but there are a couple goats.

How did you get the name for your studio?

Resident Evil 4 is one of my all-time favorite games, early on in the game you can rescue a dog from a bear trap. If you chose to free him, later in the game during a boss fight the dog appears again to aid you and the game’s protagonist exclaims “Hey! It’s that dog!”, the line is goofy, the whole setup is silly, it’s great.

 

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Hey It’s That Dog Facebook

Fotonica

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Review By Chris

The one-touch arcade-style games seem to be primed for the iOS. By having fewer controls to clutter your field of vision and a simple pick-up-and-play format, the right indie game often mixes convenience and affordability.

Fotonica is an example of such a game. With a minimalist visual style, reminiscent of the old arcade aesthetics, and a price landing under the $5 mark, Fotonica fits well with its casual peers in the App Store.

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Using a one-touch control scheme, you must run non-stop down courses and carefully time your jumps across gaping chasms. You will pick up speed as each course progresses, and there is a considerable difficulty threshold despite its basic mechanics.

If you find yourself in need of practice, you can always switch from the start-to-finish arcade mode to the endless mode. Additionally, you can race a friend on split screen, though I recommend using an iPad for this mode.

The visual style is best enjoyed in motion, so still photographs should be taken with a grain of salt.  There are games that dazzle with rich environments and games that find their strength within elegant minimalism; Fotonica fits into the latter category.

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An Aspiring Artist’s Maiden Voyage

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By Cher

When I was asked to write for Grog Boat from the perspective of an aspiring artist, I was thrilled, and then when it came time to actually writing, I felt a little intimidated. What could I write about? I started to think about my own experience with art. At thirty five years old I had no interest in art. I was a long-time subscriber to the belief that artistic talent was something with which you were born. You could either make art or you couldn’t. I certainly couldn’t. My artistic skill was limited to stick men or the occasional doodle. Art wasn’t something that could be learned.

My initiation into art was a form of therapy. Adult colouring books and doodling was recommended for relaxation. As a long-time anxiety sufferer, I was willing to give anything a try. Armed with a biro and printer paper, I began to draw patterns made up of simple shapes. These evolved into mandala-style designs, and I did find the process relaxing. The finer the required detail, the more relaxed I became, at times it was almost like meditation.

I soon swapped the biro and printer paper for a pack of fine liners and a sketch book. With practice I gained more control over my lines, and a better idea of which patterns worked together and which didn’t. This is where I discovered that practice really can pay off.

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Eventually, I quite liked some of my creations and I showed them to friends and family who, to my surprise, also really liked them.

Support and encouragement from friends and family have played a huge part in my journey. If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I would have pushed myself to try new things, nor would I feel confident enough to show people my work.

Later that year, I stumbled across InkTober. This was an event, started by Jake Parker, wherein artists challenge themselves to do one ink drawing every day for the month of October. This was where I branched out in my drawings. It took me a half a day just on a sketch before any ink came into the equation. Some of them never made it to the inking stage, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

After InkTober, I had a nice little collection of drawings. Some I shared with friends, some I even posted on social media, and others sit at the bottom of the drawer, destined never to see the light of day. I wouldn’t part with even those drawings I didn’t like, as I found each piece to be a learning experience; each page of disaster was a lesson.

The next big step came when a visiting neighbour saw some of my work and told me that there was an art club every week held in a building opposite to me. It was there that I was introduced to other mediums, including my favourite: acrylics. I would also lean about the use of colour, but that is the subject for an entirely different article.

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I get so much enjoyment from this new-found passion that I really encourage anyone who has ever wanted to sling paint at a canvas or grab a sketch book and pencils, but feels as if they just don’t have that natural talent, to just try! It’s not only about the final outcome; it’s about the process (although creating appealing works is a joy in itself).

There are thousands of artists on You Tube who create tutorial videos that can be really helpful. The internet is an endless supply of reference material. With these resources, improvement is simply a matter of practice.

I have a long way to go until I can call myself an artist, and I might never make it, but it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be an expert at something to enjoy it.

So I’m going to bring you along on my little artistic journey. I will share with you my many, many failures and frustrations, and, who knows, maybe even some success.

Pouring the Cosmos with Fraser Radford

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“Cosmos”, courtesy of Fraser Radford

 

By Chris

We’re coming up on the first year anniversary of our Artist’s Cove series, and I wanted to take this opportunity to catch up with the subject of our first installation, Fraser Radford, and see what he’s been up to.

As it happens, Fraser has been working on a new abstract series called Pouring Galaxies. As the name implies, a pouring method is used to achieve this cosmic effect. Once he has carefully chosen his colours, Fraser then begins the mixing process.

Emperor, Fraser Radford, Acrylic on Canvas, 15x84, $2,900
“Emperor”, courtesy of Fraser Radford

“Some colour pigments are denser than others so it can be a challenge to break them all down into a even, liquid substance and not have too many paint chunks left behind in the final piece. When I have a rough idea of where I will pour the colours, I soak the canvas in water to make sure the paint spreads and pools easier, and seeps into the weave of the canvas. As I am pouring the paint, I watch where the colour flows, trying to make sure each colour doesn’t overpower one another too much. Once all of the paint is poured, I will lift up the sides of the canvas slightly just so the water/paint mix doesn’t flood everywhere, and finally after a few days to a week, sometimes two, the painting will be dry and ready to photograph.”

It was fairly early in the process of painting that Fraser noticed the emerging theme of his work. His first piece was even named Cosmos. Having been inspired by photographs taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, Fraser set out to make impressionistic representations of these images. The hope was to produce paintings that drew their inspiration from the cosmos, but would be able to stand alone as pieces for reflection.

Artists from the Colour Field movement of the late 50’s to early 70’s are key influences on Fraser’s work, and his current line stands as a testament to his love for colour experimentation.

“Using colour as the subject of the painting, and nothing else, is fascinating to me. Artists like Friedel Dzubas, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Sam Gilliam, Leon Berkowitz, Morris Louis, etc. all just focused on colour and its potential. They all used different methods to portray colour but made absolutely sure that colour was front and centre. No figurative subjects, no still lifes, just bands, puddles, and stains of pure colour. The artists were also not afraid to create large scale works. Something that I am still working on as galleries are more interested in large scale works, and not small scale paintings. Dzubas, for example, created a painting that is 57 feet long and is considered one of the largest, if not THE largest canvas in North America.”

Still, there remains a perception of the role of these types of paintings. This is a perception that Fraser, with a growing sense of his own voice, seeks to challenge.

“The majority of critics only like to think of it as decorative art (paintings to hang over your couch), and nothing else, which I think is nonsense. I have only recently become truly confident in calling myself an artist, and having adopted the label of a Colour Field artist makes me feel more confident in knowing what kind of paintings I will create for the rest of my artistic career.”

You can view more of Fraser’s artwork by visiting his website at http://www.fraserradford.com/.

Ookujira: Giant Whale Rampage

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Review by Chris

Now that springtime has arrived in my neck of the woods, with all its sunshine and joy, I figure it’s high time that I shut myself in and do another iOS review. Luckily, a charming little game called Ookujira caught my eye in the App Store.

Ookujira is an arcade game where you play as a giant whale. As said whale, it is your job save the innocent from an alien invasion. You do this by flopping across a seemingly endless city, destroying alien spaceships and crushing buildings. So, I guess you are something of an antihero (granted, a very cute one at that).

Ookujira3You break stuff, you get points. You break more stuff you get more points. As you collect floating diamonds (I know, I know), you can buy more power-ups to help you break things easier or for a longer duration. Obviously, character motivation isn’t a focal point of this game.  Diamonds accumulate with each run you do, and each run ends when your whale does a belly flop on the ground instead of on top of someone’s home. I suppose paved roads are a whale’s kryptonite.

The micro-transactions are ever-present, but are mercifully non-intrusive. I actually did buy an alternate whale, so that I may look fabulous as I etch myself in the nightmares of a generation of digital city-dwellers.

The aesthetics are, as you can see, quite stimulating, with bright colours and arcade music accompanying your mission to monopolize the destruction of civilization against your extra-terrestrial competitors.

See? And you thought I should get some natural sunlight.