Indie Games Spotlight: The Pedestrian, Tooth & Tail, and ROKH

Featured Stories, Indie Spotlight

Indie games can offer some truly creative and addictive gameplay, especially on the PC. And with NVIDIA’s Indie Spotlight program, we work with indie developers to help spread the word for their latest projects, building indie awareness and excitement for gamers. We’ve seen a multitude of quality indie titles over the years, and 2017 is certainly no different. To celebrate some of the best the genre has to offer, we’re showcasing three excellent upcoming games—The Pedestrian, Tooth and Tail, and ROKH. Check out below for hands-on descriptions of each game, including questions and answers with the developers.

The Pedestrian

In puzzle-platformer The Pedestrian, you’ll jump from sign to sign as an animated male or female room symbol. The Pedestrian is a sidescroller at its core, but with a 2.5D twist—in addition to directing your two-dimensional silhouette from one picture to another until you reach each exit, you can also poke around the depths of the 3D urban environments where the signs are fastened.

As you progress onward, you’ll make your way through a modern office building, a warehouse, a subway, a cityscape, and beyond. You’ll also move the signs around with your cursor, and then draw lines to connect the doors on them to areas on other signs, creating new pathways. But that’s only part of the puzzle; each sign can also contain extra brain-teasers within, adding multiple layers of problem-solving. You’ll need to harness your imagination, ingenuity, and spatial awareness to conquer dead-ends, drop-through floors, disconnected ladders, powered levers, locked partitions, and more.

To challenge you even further, some signs hold deadly hazards in conjunction with the puzzles. It’ll take some platforming skill and twitch-based mechanics to get past them. You’ll run, jump, and dart past buzz saws, industrial compactors, and other nefariously planted items throughout your journey. And speaking of the journey, there’s plenty of story nestled under the surface. But rather than having the plot revealed through standard text or narration, The Pedestrian relies on gameplay, animated videos, and symbols to convey all the info. Because of this, the title helps transcend traditional language barriers, making it easy to pick up and understand by just about anyone.

Developer Q&A with NVIDIA:

NVIDIA: What games inspired you? Where did the game idea come from?

Daniel Lackey, Co-Founder—Skookum Arts: The Pedestrian started as a sort of “What If” story: what if that sign-man was alive and was just trying to go to the bathroom? Then with our idea we began creating a game around it. Something that was within our capabilities as novice game developers, [and] a sidescrolling platformer was our answer. We pulled from games like Braid and Super Meat Boy for inspiration for what an indie team can create, gameplay elements from The Talos Principle and Limbo, and story direction from Portal and The Witness.

NVIDIA: How large is your team and where is it based, and how long have you been developing the game? What is your target release date?

Daniel Lackey, Co-Founder—Skookum Arts: Our team is three plus our sound designer, based in Waldo, Ohio. The Pedestrian has been in development for 4+ years. We’re aiming to release the game in 2017.

NVIDIA: What have been the biggest challenges with developing the game so far?

Daniel Lackey, Co-Founder—Skookum Arts: Since this is our first game, a lot of the challenges so far have been learning the necessary skills to make the ambitious game that we want. Learning through our own trial and error has been one of the more time consuming portions of our game development, but it has also been the most rewarding aspect. The ability to overcome all the small obstacles without having been taught or being able to find a similar example is more exciting than “copy-pasting” a solution.

NVIDIA: Creating a puzzle system that involves manipulating multiple paths with various outcomes sounds intimidating, to say the least. What kinds of processes did it take to generate and test these? Was it a group brainstorming effort for each one, or more trial and error and seeing what eventually worked, or some combination of those?

Daniel Lackey, Co-Founder—Skookum Arts: The puzzles are initially created by a single person. Over time they are integrated in our level lists, then we refine them as we continue to develop in other areas. If we find issues like unintended shortcuts or puzzles that are too tedious, we enhance them as a team until we find a good solution.

NVIDIA: You mention the importance of The Pedestrian conveying its story through animations and gameplay, rather than on-screen narration or text. What kinds of challenges did this unique approach present? Was the outcome of the presentation different than you originally envisioned?

Daniel Lackey, Co-Founder—Skookum Arts: The challenge was first brainstorming a compelling story that could be told non-verbally and then creating the different moments in the game where the players experience those story elements. Whether that be through animations, 3D design, or just simple textures. A challenge we are currently dealing with is refining these moments to be subtle yet noticeable. The goal has always been to have the story be told non-verbally but the way it is implemented has changed. Back when we were developing it as a 2D game we had story elements in different layers of the sign. As we’ve progressed, the story has become more built into the world. Different aspects of gameplay and the 3D environment are telling different portions of a cohesive story.

NVIDIA: During testing, what's the fastest time you've seen someone beat The Pedestrian? Due to the malleable puzzle/platforming mix, do you foresee this game being friendly to speedrunners?

Daniel Lackey, Co-Founder—Skookum Arts: We don’t have a recorded fasted time, but we have seen a large range of different times it takes to complete the demo. It’s always fascinated us the puzzles that people get caught up on. More advanced puzzle players sometimes get slowed down by things that kids have been able to breeze through, and vice versa. We think that’s the way with all puzzle games—the perspective or attitude you come into a puzzle can significantly change the difficulty. In terms of speedrunning, running a timed first completion would be testing the player's quickness solving the puzzles while any consecutive run would be testing their memorization and ability to find shortcuts. So in terms of friendliness to speedrunners, we hope so. We’ve been trying to create puzzles that have multiple solutions, thus creating potential shortcuts. As well as having some challenging platforming to make proper execution important for a competitive time.

Tooth and Tail

Developed by Pocketwatch Games—the folks responsible for the popular Monaco: What’s Yours is MineTooth and Tail takes place in an animalistic universe where different collectives vie for control. It’s a mashup of WW1-inspired technology and medieval agriculture, where windmills and wheat fields sit beside gunpowder-toting infantry.

There are four customizable factions: the Civilized, the Commonfolk, the Longcoats, and the KSR, and you’ll see fantastical units such as skunks with mustard-gas launchers, boars with flamethrowers, foxes with powerful sniper rifles, mice with pistols, cannon-armed badgers, and ferrets wearing bombards on their backs. It’s a lot like the famous Redwall books, but with guns and explosives instead of swords and shields.

Amid the intriguing setting, Tooth and Nail is an RTS that caters to both hardcore e-sports fanatics as well as the casual crowd. It’s seamlessly playable with either a gamepad or keyboard and mouse; your main character acts as a mouse cursor of sorts, and you move them around using WASD or the analog stick issuing orders. Tooth and Tail keeps the gameplay accessible with eight-minute matches, and it curtails the typical micromanagement and actions-per-minute (APM’s) found in many other RTS games. For controls, you can burrow home as a quick escape, select a structure, create a structure, sell a building, call a group, or call and direct your units. But the streamlined order system doesn’t mean there’s a low ceiling on the skill-cap. Far from it. A seasoned RTS veteran will find plenty of tactics to uncover and execute as they play, and the game encourages creative battle-plans and experimentation.

When it comes to gaming modes, you won’t be left wanting. There’s an expansive single-player story mode, 1v1 battles and 2v2 teamplay (each with competitive online match-making and AI bot battles), local multiplayer via split-screen, and a level-editor for aspiring designers. Topping it all that off is a majestic soundtrack composed by Grammy Nominee Austin Wintory.

Developer Q&A with NVIDIA:

NVIDIA: What games inspired you/Where did the game idea come from?

Andy Schatz, CEO—Pocketwatch Games: Tooth and Tail is inspired by the Golden Era of RTS games: Command & Conquer, Warcraft 2. I have very fond memories of late nights in the college dorms playing Command & Conquer: Red Alert with my buddy, back in the days before e-sports took over the genre.

NVIDIA: How large is your team and where is it based, and how long have you been developing the game? What is your target release date?

Andy Schatz, CEO—Pocketwatch Games: We have eight primary contributors on the team, with three of us working full time on the project here in San Diego. And we’ve been working on it for much longer than I expected! Tooth and Tail has now been in development for three-and-a-half years. The game is available for pre-order from Steam and GOG, and will be out on September 12th!

NVIDIA: What have been the biggest challenges with developing the game so far?

Andy Schatz, CEO—Pocketwatch Games: Tooth and Tail is a sprawling project: we have online multiplayer, ranked play, and a massive single player campaign. We're launching on PlayStation 4 and PC/Mac/Linux, and we've been managing a private alpha community all along. And at the same time, it is in our studio DNA to iterate repeatedly on all of our work, which has caused the schedule to grow far longer than we expected. Luckily we're wrapping things up now and getting super excited for launch!

NVIDIA: The Tooth and Tail premise reminds of Redwall with guns, which is possibly the best elevator pitch ever. What types of influences inspired you to do a WW1/animal-kingdom mash-up?

Andy Schatz, CEO—Pocketwatch Games: We were speculating about what it would be like if the animals you saw in your backyard had a real society, and we realized how brutal it must be. Death is a part of everyday life for urban birds, squirrels, [and] mice. Hunger and starvation is a constant threat. So we mashed up the forces that caused the Russian Revolution with an animal society, and voila—you have an animal world that is entirely run on the currency of meat. This is some dark stuff, folks.

NVIDIA: Do you have any favorite unit combos? Any suggestions for newbies on which units to pick when they start? (The turrets seemed to help quite a bit in our first few matches.)

Andy Schatz, CEO—Pocketwatch Games: I'm a fan of sneaky, underhanded tactics. So I like to use the speedy lizards, for hit and run attacks. Landmines are also a favorite, because they are a great way to play mind games with your opponent. And I love bringing a sniper fox to the battlefield, so that I can pick off units one by one in harassment-ad-infinitum style play.

For new players, I recommend squirrels and turrets, but also some offensive units as well. Defensive strategies only work so long as you are also applying some sort of pressure on the enemy. Harass their back lines and then retreat behind defenses. Defense only works if you can convince your opponent that they need to attack you.

NVIDIA: Since Pocketwatch began back in 2005, what are some of the biggest changes in the Indie realm you've encountered? How has your approach to creating games evolved since then?

Andy Schatz, CEO—Pocketwatch Games: Every three years, everything changes. As an example, in 2005, you had to make sure your download size was under 20MB. A huge percentage of the market was still on dial-up, and they wouldn't download anything larger than that; that actually placed some pretty serious design constraints on things, particularly with regards to audio. Things are different now, and of course one of the considerations is streaming: how fun is it to WATCH your game being played? We’ve put a lot of emphasis on trying to make sure Tooth and Tail is fun to spectate. Of course, the evolving technology and platforms give all sorts of new opportunities for interesting design, so I embrace the yearly churn. Evolving conditions lead to innovation. Tooth and Tail is designed for a modern version of classic RTS players, and we're hoping that strikes a chord.

ROKH

Ever wanted to be Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, but without the threat of actually dying? ROKH is the next best thing. Developed by a group of industry veterans from such previous games as Half Life 2, Thief, Dishonored, Assassin’s Creed, and Age of Conan, ROKH focuses on freedom of play, improvisation, and scientific realism. After landing on Mars to join your fellow colonists, you quickly discover that all the old outposts are now in shambles, and you’re already low on supplies. With the red planet beautifully rendered on top of the Unreal Engine 4, you’ll need to explore its vast surface and adapt, survive, build, and cooperate with other players in a persistent, multiplayer world.

After going at it alone or banding together with fellow Mars-based vagabonds, you’ll start managing vital resources such as oxygen, food, and water. To keep a steady flow of these necessities, you’ll need to build a livable shelter, which has the potential to eventually transform into a thriving, prosperous colony, so long as everyone stays cooperative. There are no design limitations to overcome, so it’s completely up to you how to proceed. You’ll collect and scavenge resources, craft your own tools, and assemble your own vehicles. The construction system is based of modularity too, which means some items can be attached to surfaces to automate important functions. Of course, the developers realize that the likelihood of everyone getting along for the greater good won’t always go as planned. That’s why you’ll need to barter, extort, cajole, ally with, or sometimes, when things are truly dire, even outright attack your neighbors.

No matter what approach or playstyle you land on, you’ll have to tread carefully, because Mars contains deadly sandstorms, nasty radiation, and freezing nighttime temperatures. You can always opt to stay outside, but it’s a decided balance of risk/reward, coupled with an always changing in-game environment. Basically, ROKH’s Mars is a blueprint, and the players act as the artists who forge and ultimately define the game.

Developer Q&A with NVIDIA:

NVIDIA: What games inspired you/Where did the game idea come from?

Benjamin Charbit, Creative Director and CEO—Darewise Entertainment: There are multiples. Of course, we're big fans of recent survival games such as DayZ, Rust, and ARK. but we've gathered inspirations from so many other games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or Eve Online, or even way older like Mankind for the real persistency.

NVIDIA: How large is your team and where is it based, and how long have you been developing the game? What is your target release date?

Benjamin Charbit, Creative Director and CEO—Darewise Entertainment:We started as a small team but we are now a team composed of 20 strong. ROKH was developed under a partnership between Darewise Entertainment based in Paris, and Nvizzio Creations based in Montreal. The game has been in development for more than 1.5 years with pre-production starting in September 2015 and production in January 2016. We released the game on Steam Early Access on May 16th, 2017. We aim to stay in Early Access for a year or so.

NVIDIA: What have been the biggest challenges with developing the game so far?

Benjamin Charbit, Creative Director and CEO—Darewise Entertainment: In ROKH a lot of systems are interconnected to each other; the main difficulties were to assemble all these systems into one main [aspect of] gameplay. Also, the crafting system is really deep, especially with how raw resources influence the crafting tree. This system is truly unique, and was a strong challenge we faced during the development.

NVIDIA: In 2016, you mentioned that if a player logs out of a server, their buildings and gear will remain vulnerable to less-than-scrupulous players. Is this still the case, and if so, are there still automated defenses available, such as turrets and other AI-controlled elements?

Benjamin Charbit, Creative Director and CEO—Darewise Entertainment: We will add PvP to ROKH indeed. But before integrating weapons and long-range combat, we will soon introduce PvP mechanics into the game using gadgets and turrets. That means sabotage and defense of the habitat. For example, if you are away, another player can try to come sabotage your pressure system, create an over-pressurization, blow up one of your walls, and get access to your base. On the other side, players will be able to protect their habitat using turrets they have crafted. Turrets will [defend] your habitat, even when you are not online.

NVIDIA: Since the game started in Early Access, what are some of the most memorable and inventive player-created situations you've come across?

Benjamin Charbit, Creative Director and CEO—Darewise Entertainment: Since the beginning of Early Access, we’ve seen some really cool stuff from the community. Best things are the crazy bases we see each week being built by the players. The tile system is offering a lot of freedom. They have thought of really cool ways to take advantage of it. For instance, to gain some height for his base, a player decided to create a base made only of doors (which are higher and count as one tile):

Some players are really thorough regarding their base setup, and we have seen some awesome electric systems with a lot of machines, solar panels, and pressure systems:

Also, players getting hit “for scientific reasons” in the meteor shower is really funny:

NVIDIA: What kind of research did you accomplish to achieve the scientific realism found in the game? Any surprises along the way?

Benjamin Charbit, Creative Director and CEO—Darewise Entertainment: Most of our map was based on real NASA data. It helped us create this realistic topography. What surprised us most was the scale of everything: mountains and volcanoes are gigantic compared to Earth, and deep valleys are abyssal too! (Remember the biggest peak of the solar system is on Mars!)

Of course, we could not simply copy and paste the data to create our own map. We had to adapt them so it complies with our level design and make it interesting to play.

We also had to learn the composition of Mars soil. What looks like just rocks and sand is, in fact, far more complex, and offers a wide range of materials. It is great for us because it opens a lot of possibilities for our deep modular crafting system. We were able to really bring our vision to life with the stats and properties of each material impacting the final item you are crafting. For example, if you want to craft wires, depending on the conductivity property of the material used, your wires will have better or worse stats, and bring more or less energy to your machines.

Indie Games and The PC: They Go Great Together

No matter which of the above indie games you end up playing—whether it’s one of them, two of them, or all three—you’ll be in for a treat. The Pedestrian, Tooth and Tail, and ROKH are all excellent, varied examples of what indie games can offer on the PC. Plus, with a GeForce GTX graphics card on your side, you can expect speedy performance and rock-solid stability to go along with them.

Got a PC indie game that’s a personal favorite? Any thoughts on The Pedestrian, Tooth and Tail, or ROKH? Drop us a line in the comments below!

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