Showing posts with label Alastair Low. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alastair Low. Show all posts

The Best Dreamcast Merchandise: a Post-Christmas Breakdown

As a group of proudly obsessed Dreamcast fans here at the Junkyard, we don't simply leave our admiration for Sega's 128-bit box of wonders at talking endlessly about the games, hardware or accessories that most people associate with the console. For us, the Dreamcast is life, and we need little encouragement to escalate our borderline obsessive behaviour by purchasing as much plastic tat merchandise associated with the console as our little wallets can handle. Genuinely, we would buy a bin full of sick if Sega printed a swirl on the side and called it the “DreamBin” (Lewis, copyright that shit right now).

But of course, we don't actually need to stock up on vomit-filled metal containers, because Sega, and the various publishers of Dreamcast games, have seen fit to release or provide their license to a whole assortment of items related to the console and the games that made it great. Some of these are awesome… so awesome in fact that this article will mark the start of what will become a long-running series of “Mike's Random Dreamcast Top Tens”, with this first one looking at some of my favourite pieces of merchandise that you too can buy and put on a shelf, and admire from a distance with a tear in your eye as you realise you'll never have enough time to play all those games you've bought, but purchasing mass-produced nonsense for display like your 80 year old grandmother’s collection of porcelain dolls is now your life. 

Enough waffle. Let’s get on to today's random list, and too late for you to be able to get these in your stocking for Christmas! A pre-emptive warning - I may have my tongue firmly in my cheek for much of this article.

Dreamcast Socks

I write this as the full charade of Christmas is upon us. There are the sounds of happy little children outside, seasonal songs fill the airwaves and I can catch a glimpse of a tinsel and fairy light bedecked tree from my games room. I hate it. The children are little arseholes, the songs are shit and that tree is a fire hazard. No one remembers the true meaning of Christmas anymore - no, not Jesus (hail Satan), but family members you see for one day a year giving you shitty socks because they are bereft of ideas and refuse to indulge you in your childish love of gaming. 

But here's an idea - get those family members to buy these snappy little numbers and everyone's a winner! When Sega remember they have licenses they haven't used for decades they release some cool stuff, and this selection of two different Dreamcast sock designs fulfils both our collective need to keep buying Dreamcast stuff while also allowing us to be all grown up and shit at the same time. 

You can get these in traditional festive sock grey with a swirl on them or in a slightly wrong coloured approximation of the controller. They obviously missed a trick by not putting some kind of hilarious message in the VMU window, such as “I wanted a new Skies of Arcadia game but all I got were these socks”, but who cares when you can proudly display your love of the 128-bit wonder to your significant other every night with these?

The fetching grey of the socks on the right doesn't quite embody the blue-sky aesthetics.
A pile of socks! Christ - what a time to be alive.

Review: Tapeworm Disco Puzzle

2022 began much as 2021 ended - with a bumper crop of healthy Dreamcast indie games for us all to enjoy. It seems the answer to the question "what did you do in lockdown" for many in the scene was "make a new Dreamcast game" and you know what? If the only positive thing to come out of that whole ordeal was more Dreamcast games, then that’s a small win for us here at the Junkyard. Give us more indie games! 

In January 2022, one Tapeworm Disco Puzzle arrived at the Junkyard headquarters. I say "headquarters", it's actually just a wooden shed in the New Forest that we initiate new members in, using a combination of audio-visual psychological warfare techniques, a pair of secateurs, a copy of Spirit of Speed 1937 and a signed picture of Peter Moore. I may have said too much. Forget you read that. Anyway, Tapeworm Disco Puzzle is one I'd been looking forward too for some time, as it was announced as a "spin-off sequel" to Lowtek Games' title Flea! which had released a couple of years earlier. I previously reviewed Flea! here on the blog and thought it was rather good. Tapeworm Disco Puzzle, just like its predecessor, is an 8-bit title that, whilst limited technically due to its Nintendo Entertainment System origins, packs a whole lot of game and bags of charm onto its disc.
Much like the Dreamcast version of Flea! I reviewed previously, Tapeworm Disco Puzzle is a NES game that has been ported to the Dreamcast. Lowtek games originally ran a Kickstarter for the title back in December 2020, which was successful funded - probably thanks in no small part to the positive reception that Flea! had garnered previously. A Dreamcast and a PC port were also listed alongside the NES cartridge as part of this initial campaign, and it finally made its way out to backers within a little over a year's time, which is a quick turnaround time by Kickstarter standards.
If you've ever played Lowtek Game's first outing Flea! (which is probably a fair few of you now, since its re-release by WAVE Game Studios), you'll be familiar with the colourful pixel world that designer Alastair Low has created. A world of greedy, blood-hoarding monarchs, "refu-fleas" and undeniably cute, hopping heroes; it was a credit that for such a simple title, it created a genuinely charming little in-game universe. This world is expanded upon in Tapeworm Disco Puzzle, in a rather odd way. Your main character this time is the tapeworm, proprietor of the local night club where all the fleas like to hang out. Problem is, something strange is happening to his parasitical patrons, so as well as making sure there's plenty of banging party tunes and enough blood to go around, you'll have to try and work out just what is going on. Along the way, you'll come across some other club-owning worms, as well as all manner of other denizens of this surprisingly well-crafted mini-universe that Alastair has created.
Whilst inhabiting the same universe as Flea!, Tapeworm Disco Puzzle - as its name may suggest - takes an altogether different approach when it comes to gameplay. This is a grid-based puzzle title, in which you must collect musical notes and blood with your tapeworm. Our hero, however, is limited in size, so to collect all the elements, you need to work out the best way to navigate the stage, as well as collecting tapes which will increase your worm's length (ahem...) which will allow you to reach areas that you'd otherwise be unable to. It sounds simple - and to be fair, the core concept here is - but the game quickly throws all manner of different elements in. Wormholes see our hero popping up in other areas of the stage, fleas will often be present in stages (the only way to collect blood) and it's your task to assist them, buttons need to be covered by your extended worm body to open doors, and there's plenty of bad guys spread throughout the stages too, which you'll need to avoid contact with.

HarleQuest! - A new 3D Dreamcast Game launches on Kickstarter!

HarleQuest! Kickstarter artwork
A game that I know myself and the other members of the Junkyard team have definitely been excited for is HarleQuest!, which started its life as a prototype called Dungeon Ross for a Global Game Jam event that was held back in late 2016 in Dundee, Scotland. The developers were a two-man team made up of Ross Kilgariff (also known as ross.codes) and Alastair Low (of LowTek Games). We covered a more fleshed-out build later in 2017, and it was looking mighty impressive, even back then.

Since those days of yore, Ross went on to  work on contract with LowTek Games, porting Alistair's NES games Flea! and Tapeworm: Disco Puzzle to the Dreamcast, both of which have gone on to be regarded as DC indie staples in their own right. This gave Ross a taste of the process of bringing a new game to the Dreamcast, and along with being introduced to WAVE Game Studios (who re-released Flea!), it also inspired him to turn his and Alastair's 3D prototype into a new independent game!
Dungeon Ross being demoed
Dungeon Ross being demoed
We've been following along with Ross' development progress on Twitter for quite some time now, and it's fair to say the footage of HarleQuest!'s work-in-progress gameplay has never failed to wow us. While we champion Dreamcast indies of all shapes and sizes here at the Junkyard, there's nothing quite like seeing a fantastic-looking 3D game for our little box of dreams, and HarleQuest! is exactly that. This top-down roguelike dungeon crawler boasts a distinctive style too, with character designs that almost hark back to games like MediEvilJersey Devil (does anyone remember Jersey Devil? No one?) or 40 Winks. With all this going for it, no wonder we were buzzing to learn it was coming to Kickstarter on April 1st.
HarleQuest artwork of its main character
And no, before you say it, this isn't an April Fool's prank. On this wretched day of fools (which has only been amplified to insufferable levels by the very internet with which I am beaming you this very information), I am happy to tell you that HarleQuest! has launched on Kickstarter, with a goal of £11,250. Let's take a look at it.

The game's pitch reads as follows: 
"HarleQuest! is a tough-as-nails roguelike with technical combat, randomised dungeon layouts and tons of weapons and loot! Combat encounters require precise control and care, enemies lurk around every corner and bosses guard your only exit. Death is permanent. This is not a game for the faint of heart.

"The unlikely hero of our story is Estienne, a jester who has been thrown into the dungeon by a cruel and capricious king. He must run, spring, tumble and sneak his way through the twisted depths below the castle. Can you help Estienne regain his freedom and put an end to the King's tyrrany?

"Go it alone, or invite a friend to play couch co-op!"
Working on versions for both Dreamcast and PC, Ross states that with the help of backers, he can take HarleQuest! from being a "simple, fun" game, to a "fuller,  more feature-packed" title, and potential stretch goals of £15,000 and £20,000 even hold the promise of digital versions for the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation/Xbox respectively. Ross' goal is to deliver the game by October 2024.

But we're here for Dreamcast, and with the help of WAVE Game Studios, HarleQuest! can be delivered to our doorsteps in the professional, high-quality DC packaging that WAVE are very much known for. This means proper pressed discs (CD-ROMs) that are region-free, a full colour instruction manual, and your choice of EU Blue, US White or JP Orange theming in a standard CD jewel case. To get yourself this physical Dreamcast release, the lowest you'll be paying is £35 (excluding postage), although a genuine EU PAL case “upgrade” is on offer for the purists at an additional charge of £10.
A photo showing a Dreamcast controller, keyboard, and two versions of the physical HarleQuest! Dreamcast game
A lower tier that includes both digital versions (Dreamcast and PC) is available, for those who run ODEs, etc. There is also a £10 "goodies pack" tier, which gets you an enamel pin, a sticker and badge pack, as well as an embroidered patch (to sew onto your battle jacket, of course). It doesn't get you the game by itself, but could definitely be added onto the physical game tier to get you some extra goodies.
HarleQuest! gameplay footage showing the main character about to fight a hoard of skeletons
If you're looking for the real deal stuff though, look no further than the collector's and developer's editions. Including the physical Dreamcast game, the collector's edition includes a metallic print inlay, enamel pins, stickers, badges, an embroidered patch, a branded beanie (to wear while you rock your HarleQuest!-branded battle jacket), a personalised letter of thanks from the developer, as well as the ability to help "shape the game as it’s being developed". This basically means people who back this tier get priority on the feedback and ideas they share with the development team. 
HarleQuest! gameplay of the main character fighting a knight
The developer's edition includes everything from the collector's edition, but also grants you full access to the game's source code, art files, audio files and tools, as well as a copy of the game's design document with extensive details on every aspect of the game. This edition would also grant you permission to distribute a modified version of the game on the HarleQuest! website (non-commercial), and it even says that if you do make something great with the HarleQuest! assets, engine, etc., Ross would maybe consider it for a commercial release! Let's hope this could be the start of more special things to come from the Dreamcast indie scene.

Wrapping up these two editions, if the campaign reaches a stretch goal of £25,000, vinyl figures of in-game characters will be added to them! This would be really awesome to see, and I sincerely hope the campaign can reach this stretch goal.

If you want to try the game before you back the Kickstarter, Ross has released a demo .CDI which can be burnt onto a CD-R or put on an ODE. In this demo, you have to defeat all the enemies in each room to win! You can download the demo here.

Finally, and this is the most important bit: we have until Sunday the 30th of April to get this Kickstarter fully backed (and reach those stretch goals), so in order to get that "fuller, more feature-packed" version of HarleQuest!, the Dreamcast community will need to get backing! Again, you can back the Kickstarter here.

Review: Flea!

2020. It's not been great, has it? But whilst we all seclude ourselves in our homes, proclaiming how bored we are whilst ignoring our game backlogs, something has been stirring in the Dreamcast Indie scene. The year kicked off with the rather glorious Xeno Crisis - perhaps the finest Indie game yet on the DC, and we've got some delights on their way with the high speed thrills of Arcade Racing Legends from JoshProd, the wonderful Xenocider in all it's 3D glory from Retro Sumus, and Indie masters Senile Team back with the fantastic looking Intrepid Izzy. That's not even mentioning the impending release of Summoning Signals, JoshProd's Indie onslaught with 8(8!) more titles, and almost certainly others that we've simply forgotten to mention! It's a never ceasing cause of amazement for all of us here at the Junkyard that we could see more than a dozen titles added to the library in a matter of months.


It seems though, that even more is on the horizon - including a game which has come as somewhat of a surprise - Flea! which is out now and available from the developers own Etsy page here. A successfully funded Kickstarter project this year, the game was designed for the NES, but has jumped it's way onto our chosen platform, caught us all by surprise, and left us itching to tell you more. I promise that's the last awful Flea pun I'll be making...

Playing as your cute little Flea protagonist Henry, your task is to collect blood from the games 80 levels, blood which is being horded by the greedy King, and is desperately needed by the Refu-fleas. To that end, each unit of blood you collect can, at certain points, be converted to extra lives. It means that very quickly you'll rack up substantial numbers of lives - but that's something you'll most certainly need here. The game creator, Alastair Low (featured on the DCJY before, for the very cool Dungeon Ross), clearly has a fondness for tough NES era platformers, as Flea! is designed with plenty of tricky sections and death is frequent. Luckily, such death is not permanent in Flea's world, for a few seconds later you're back on the hunt for blood at the beginning of the level. Just as quickly as you build the life stock up though, you'll see the numbers going down when you get to one of the games tougher stages.

The game's deaths don't come by way of Uzi wielding parasites or anything so extreme though - here, death will come by way of your continually jumping little critter finding his way into a particularly nasty obstacle. These litter the stages, and whilst only a few syringes seem to be your issue early on, you soon come face to face with other creatures and more extravagant obstacles. Not every creature you meet is a bad guy though - there are plenty of colourful and interesting characters throughout the game to interact with as well.

The game is a tough one to master, in the time honoured 8-bit fashion. However, this toughness doesn't come with unfairness - if you die, it's due to a mistake you've made. Control is generally simple - Henry jumps continually, but you can press the A button to keep his jumps lower (a skill you will require early on in the game), and later on you can dash as well (although I've got to be honest, I've not actually got that far yet! I've never said I'm any good at games...). The main challenge here is to maximise your blood collection whilst navigating the obstacles with well timed jumps. The instant restart of the single screen levels makes any frustration minimal, luckily, but the game does induce a feeling of rage when your life supply dwindles as you fail at a decidedly crafty stage for the umpteenth time - but there's a not insignificant amount of satisfaction when you finally make it. It's a classic risk-reward strategy of gaming of yore, tried and tested, and it works well here, a tribute to the games developer once more.

At times the game does mix things up a little, ditching the single screen approach and going for a forced scrolling platforming experience - a sort of endless runner type affair, only, er, it ends. It shows a little bit of versatility off that makes for a nice change of pace, and again technically, it runs smoothly.  

Visually, it's not going to blow anyone away. It's clearly a NES game, with chunky pixels and bright colours, a look evocative of an age before the Dreamcast, but one which is very much back in fashion. Of course, it looks this way through functionality (being an actual NES game) rather than style alone, but it's competent, cute, fun and cheery. In fact, I'm officially starting a campaign to get Flea! to become the official mascot of the DC indie scene, as I look at his cute little face looking at me from my VMU during the game. The stages vary in their colour schemes - different beasts that the fleas infest - but all have that 8-bit colour and brightness to them, which is very visually appealing. 

There's no denying the games NES roots though. The pixels are colourful, the action is smooth, but this isn't the sort of title that's going to push the hardware. That doesn't matter at all, of course, as the core gameplay is fun and challenging enough to justify itself a place in the library, but we know there will be some out there who will baulk at the idea of a Dreamcast game looking this way. To them, we blow a giant raspberry. Personally, it's a style of game we've not had much of on the console, and I welcome it's arrival. 

I also welcome the chiptune music, so insanely catchy that I found myself humming it to myself on the bus this morning. It perfectly captures the fun, nostalgic retro-ness of the game, and deserves special mention just for that. The packaging is also great - a US style look (despite Lowtek Games being a Scottish based developer), it has a great disc image, and full colour manual (although it's only 2 pages), and the cover is great. For a game none of us were expecting, it's level of professionalism in design was surprising but most welcome. 

The game is available for £30 from Lowtek Games Etsy store, limited to just 200 numbered copies,  and you can find the games creator Alastair on Twitter  so go give him a follow!


 

A Very Early Look At Dungeon Ross

Dungeon Ross is a self-titled dungeon crawler for the Dreamcast that was put together in a weekend for Global Game Jam back in January 2017. Created by the two-man team made up of Ross Kilgariff and Alastair Low, Dungeon Ross is a charming little proof-of-concept that is still in the very early stages of development, but holds plenty of potential. The game was actually revealed back in late 2016 after the Global Game Jam event held at MakerSpace in Dundee, Scotland but we wanted to allow the guys a bit more time to add more content to the dank, subterranean world of Dungeon Ross before really delving in and showing it off.
For the uninitiated, Global Game Jam is a worldwide event during which game developers and programmers have a set amount of time (usually a weekend) to come up with a totally original game or piece of software. The idea is to allow developers to get as creative as they can over the 48hr period, nurturing teamwork and collaboration with a view to producing original games and concepts.
While Dungeon Ross is still very early and the game consists of little more than a fairly small section of dungeon, the engine is up and running and the visuals are pretty crisp. There's also a pretty interesting two player mode in which gamers can assume the role of either Ross or Alastair, and the way the camera zooms out to reveal more of the map is a nice touch. There's no collision detection and the AI is also fairly rudimentary but from what we've seen the beginnings of a really cool game could be in the offing with Dungeon Ross. We spoke to the eponymous Ross to get the full lowdown on his brand new Dreamcast adventure...