Atmospheric, enigmatic and magical, Pencil United‘s digital native graphic drama series Northern Souls follows the quest of a young man, suspected of having schizophrenia, to find his identity in Europe’s last wilderness, Swedish Lappland, at the same time as WW2 reaches northern Scandinavia. The first episode of the interactive touchscreen reading experience is now available for download, exclusively through the Pencil United app which can be retrieved from the App Store for all Retina iPads.
The series’ main character Mielat, as the strange voices inside his head call him, is contained and tormented by the fact that he doesn’t remember who he is or where he comes from. Everything before the point where he found a peculiar piece of bone with metal pendants is black. With the twisted logic of the mentally ill, he believes that the artefact will lead him to the answers while the voices keep insisting that he has a hidden calling. As a result of a life-threatening flight, Mielat is reluctantly joined by a female German Red Cross doctor. Gradually it is revealed that the rational and determined woman, named Elke, has an agenda of her own but also that the two wanderers’ destinies are mysteriously entwined.
Northern Souls is aimed at a broad adult readership and is full of complex and charismatic characters. In addition to the adventure’s dramatic action the story also holds existential, ethical and political dilemmas. The time period during which the drama is set, right at the beginning of the 1940s, is not just the starting point for the progressive welfare state in Sweden but also the start of the atomic age and the series deals with themes such as the soul and materialism.
The publisher sees themselves as similar to HBO when it comes to original comics focusing on a few carefully chosen in-house produced high quality series in different genres. Going beyong repurposed print, Pencil United has decided to cultivate and enhance interactivity and closeness by adding touch-the-panels navigation, dynamic dual-layer full screen graphics, slideshows, panning widescreen images and info hotspots, in order to create an intimate digital native experience unlike anything else on the market. By focusing on this, the company hopes to reach a broad audience that is interested in modern comics culture and a digital experience.
As a part of Pencil United’s belief in the power of stories and the importance of education, creativity and humanism for development in the world, the studio has decided that for each and every downloaded issue through the Pencil United app they will buy five pencils from UNICEF who will distribute them to schools all over the world.
Sequential, the iPad app for digital graphic novels, has announced that it has partnered with House of Illustration to provide a free digital guide for their new exhibition Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics, as well as digital graphic novels displayed within the exhibition itself.
Comix Creatrix: 100 Women Making Comics is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of work by pioneering female artists working in the comics medium. It presents original artwork from 100 innovative creators – much of it never been seen in public before – and debunks the myth that women have a limited stake in the world of comics. The exhibition recognises the extraordinary variety of comics by women; from observational comedy to surreal fantasy, challenging biography to subversive protest.
The digital guide will be available for free, exclusively on SEQUENTIAL, for the duration of the Comix Creatrix exhibition which runs until May 15, 2016. It features over 150 pages of artwork and information from the exhibition, including work by Audrey Niffenegger, Posy Simmonds, Emma Vieceli, Hannah Berry, Isabel Greenberg, Suzy Varty, and many more.
Sequential have also created a bespoke version of their acclaimed comics software, which will run on iPads in the exhibition and features 15 full-length graphic novels for visitors to browse through – all by women whose work features in Comix Creatrix.
A large pizza rolls down a snowy hill, smashing evil skeletons as it gets closer and closer to its destination. Wings flap as a flying man straight out of Greek mythology tries his best to traverse as much as he can. The weight of a large silver-mining company on his shoulders, an executive fights werewolves to defend his livelihood.
These are just a few of the games from Riverman Media, a game development company made up of just two people: brothers Jacob and Paul Stevens.
“Until we became adults, we played every game together. Actually, we still do, for the most part!” said Jacob via Skype interview.
Jacob (Left) and Paul (Right) Stevens. Taken from Riverman Media Website.
After Jacob and Paul finished schooling from Northern Arizona University and Arizona University (CORRRECTION: UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA) respectively, both with degrees in computer science, they got to work on game development full-time. Over the last decade, the duo have been releasing games on mostly iPhones and iPads, with one release on the Wii’s old online store for digital games, “WiiWare,” and some for Windows computers. Jacob does the art and music for the games, while Paul does the programming.
Their first games were first Cash Cow and then Primate Panic, both released for Windows. Cash Cow, a puzzle-game based on familiar mechanics of matching shapes together, is probably their most mass-market game, Jacob explained.
“A lot of people, including our relatives, still play [Cash Cow] all the time,” Jacob said.
The two then developed a game called Madstone for WiiWare, which released in 2008. The game was another shape-matching puzzler, which received some negative reception. IGN critic of the time Mark Bozon gave the game a 4/10, writing “it’s a title that isn’t worth your cash, your Wii storage space, or or [sic] attention.” He criticized the game for overly simplistic gameplay, lack of pointer-controls and widescreen presentation, and a dearth of game mode variety.
“Ultimately I think [the review] drove us to make better and better stuff, even though I don’t quite agree with their review,” Jacob said with a laugh. “I do think that it’s intelligent critiques that push you forward.”
Reception was not entirely negative, however. Nintendo Life critic Spencer McIlvaine gave the game a 7/10, writing “Madstone provides just enough new ideas to make it worth checking out.” The review praised the retro aesthetics and simple-to-play mechanics.
Madstone. Image from Riverman Media Website.
The two were invited to a “Developers Summit” hosted by Nintendo of America in April of 2008, before the release of Madstone. The two said they loved the event, focused on interaction with fellow indie developers as well as guidance given by Nintendo employees. This was one of Paul’s favorite moments of his tenure with Riverman Media, he explained.
“We grew up on Nintendo. It’s what we love,” said Paul.
In 2009, the brothers released a port of Cash Cow for iOS, published by Chillingo, the publisher behind smash-hit Angry Birds. In 2011, IKAROS, a procedurally-generated endless runner, Space Frak, a shoot-em-up, and Deathfall, an arcade-style game, released on iOS, all games made and released quickly as experiments in iOS game development, Jacob explained.
Space Frak was originally released as an ad-supported game, but the team didn’t like that model for game development, leading to that version being replaced with the $2, ad-free version available now. Deathfall, a $3 game, is very similar, in terms of gameplay, to another game released by Riverman Media during that time, called Fat Roll Santa, released for the holidays. Because Deathfall was the more popular game and Fat Roll Santa was so tied to a certain time of year, the two decided to cease support of Fat Roll Santa, which is no longer available to download, according to Paul.
Noticing a trend? Riverman Media is not prone to releasing games with micro-transactions or ads, both models popular to implement into mobile games.
“We don’t really understand ad-supported or freemium games because it’s not what we grew up with,” said Paul via Skype interview.
Jacob said similar things, offering more comments about these practices.
“I really don’t have any principal against in-app purchases, but in practice I think it makes games less fun,” said Jacob.
Games including in-app purchases have been widely criticized by players and pundits alike, one of the loudest critics being former Reviews Editor for Destructoid and The Escapist and current independent games critic Jim Sterling. In a half-star out of five review for The Escapist, Sterling described free-to-play mobile game Dungeon Keeper Mobile, published by Electronic Arts, thusly:
“A cynically motivated skeleton of a non-game, a scam that will take your cash and offer nothing in return. A perversion of a respected series, twisted by some of the most soulless, selfish, and nauseating human beings to ever blight the game industry.”
Sterling recently reviewed Riverman Media’s latest game, The Executive, for his website The Jimquisition, and awarded it a 9.5/10. He praised the game highly as “brilliant,” and pointed to the lack of micro-transactions as its best feature.
“No bullshit premium currencies, no insidious paywalls. It’s sad that such a thing should even be worthy of praise, but that’s the world we live in now,” his review states.
The Executive. Image from Riverman Media.
The Executive is widely loved by not just iOS-focused websites but also general video game enthusiast sites, in fact. Kotaku writer Mike Fahey wrote that it’s “a brilliant amalgamation of classic concepts that’s dressed to impress – and it certainly does.” App Spy and Touch Arcade both gave the game a 5/5, and Pocket Gamer gave it a 9/10.
The Executive, a $3, soon-to-be $5 (after the launch sale) beat-em-up game with elements of platforming about an executive of a silver-mining company fighting off werewolves, went through a three-year development cycle and was made with a myriad of influences, Paul explained. He recounted a story about driving home from a video store, thinking about the blisteringly fast and action-packed Jackie Chan movies, and how they’ve barely been properly represented in games. Mad Men’s suited characters also found themselves in Paul’s (CORRECTION: JACOB’S) brain when brainstorming for The Executive, which was originally called “Linear Ninja” behind the scenes, he said.
On the subject of the abnormal enemy designs in the game, Jacob told me a funny yet accurate comment he said he has said on multiple occasions.
“I was trying really hard to make a game that wasn’t as strange as Pizza vs. Skeletons, but I guess I failed,” said Jacob with a laugh.
Pizza vs. Skeletons. Image from Riverman Media Website.
Pizza vs. Skeletons was their game previous to The Executive, released in 2012 to similar acclaim, brandishing a 90% score on the review aggregate site Metacritic. The game is hard to describe, the best genre descriptor being a platformer, but with lots of other elements. It took 9 months to finish, according to Jacob.
Riverman Media focuses mainly on developing games for iOS devices, finding Apple easy to work with, Jacob explained. He also sees the marketplace as both advantageous and disadvantage for them to release games in.
“The App Store is oddly more competitive and less competitive. It’s more competitive because there are a hundred games being released a day… it’s less competitive because the scopes of those games is usually small compared to a console game,” said Jacob.
The team would like to get more games on home consoles in the future, because of the additions of a controller and a television, Paul explained.
Riverman Media also offers consulting services to other designers, and have helped small, college-enrolled indie game developers as well as big, non-game companies on general design. Fees are sometimes charged for these services, but small, local jobs to little guys tend to be free, Jacob explained.
The two developers have been passionate their whole lives together. Jacob had been doing art and music since a young age, learning through self-teaching and various lessons.
“Video games are really the perfect melding of [technology, art and music] for me,” said Jacob.
Programming is something a lot of people probably see as dull, but it’s far from that for Paul.
“To me, programming is like playing with Lego’s, except rather than a physical creation it’s on the screen,” said Paul. The process of building something others can interact with is still present, he explained.
Their passion doesn’t seem to be dying any time soon, either.
“We both hope to do this as long as we can,” said Paul.
Wizards of the Coast has released the second Deck Pack for Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers on all platforms: Playstation Network, Xbox LIVE Arcade, Steam (PC), Android, and iPad.* Available for $2.99, the Deck Pack features two brand new decks – Enchanter’s Arsenal and Up to Mischief.
Here’s a quick look of what each new deck offers:
Stack your powers and smash your foes with the brute force of green and white. Your countless enchantments will frustrate your opponents and infuse your creatures with overwhelming might!
Up to Mischief
Confuse, disrupt, and annoy your enemies with blue faeries! Your spells and creature abilities will allow you to control the flow of the game before releasing a devastating cloud of tiny-winged fury!
Playdek and Wizards of the Coast have announced the release of the highly-anticipated Lords of Waterdeep on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Available on the App Store, Lords of Waterdeep is a stunning digital adaptation of the award-winning Dungeons & Dragons strategic board game.
In Lords of Waterdeep, two to five players assume the role of masked Lords controlling the intriguing city of Waterdeep, one of the most beautiful yet dangerous port cities in the Forgotten Realms. The Lords’ identity remains secret during gameplay so strengths won’t be visible to opponents. The masked Lords vie to purchase buildings and control the city by recruiting agents, whom they send on quests to gain power. Often employing shady dealings in the underbelly of the city and back alleys, the Lords, through their agents, negotiate and outwit each other to rule the city, its treasures and resources.
A strategic board game with worker placement mechanics, Lords of Waterdeep unfurls in eight rounds of action. At the end, the player with the most victory points wins. Agents must complete quests to score victory points and can expand the city by purchasing new buildings that open up new actions and either hinder or help the other lords by playing Intrigue cards to enact carefully laid plans.
Cards and characters will be familiar to those who know and love the tabletop board game. The characters and stories will immediately intrigue those new to the game. Three different types of quests will keep players trying to outguess each other.
With Lords of Waterdeep for iOS, players can now instantly engage in D&D action and are able to play against the computer, friends or the online community through Playdek’s real-time and asynchronous game servers. The digital game will support between two to five players in pass-and-play and asynchronous online multiplayer, as well as play-versus-computer, giving players the chance to play whenever they want.
Other features of Lords of Waterdeep for mobile include:
Universal game application – buy once and play on all your devices
Selectable online game clocks
Rematch button for online and offline matches
“Next Game” button takes you to your next online game
Multiple player offline profiles (for households)
Select your faction to act for you in the town of Waterdeep
Rule book and card gallery to review game text and effects
Options for music and SFX, animation speed, and confirmation pop-ups
Ignite Your Spark! Wizards of the Coast has announced the product lineup for Magic: The Gathering 2014 this summer, which includes the Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkersvideo game, the Magic 2014 – Core Set for the paper trading card game and Magic Online.
Available on the Android platform for the first time ever in addition to iPad, Xbox LIVE Arcade, Steam and PlayStation Network, Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers will offer players exciting new features as they partner with Planeswalker Chandra Nalaar to track down a manipulative and dangerous Planeswalker foe. An immersive storyline and strong integration with the Magic 2014 – Core Set ties the experience together for players, culminating in an end-of-summer Magic Celebration that brings all Magic fans together in stores across the world.
Overall this continues to show that Wizards of the Coast gets synergy, bringing their properties to as many platforms as possible and enhancing the experience by doing so.
Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers builds on the success of previous games in the franchise and adds all new features including an immersive storyline, 10 brand new decks, 15 new encounters, 10 new puzzle challenges, and an all-new play mode in addition to other exciting features. Magic 2014 players will get the first look at cards from the Magic 2014 – Core Set in Duels of the Planeswalkers, creating even more seamless integration between the online and offline games.
ComiXology is ending the year strong with a slew of announcements we’ll be covering. The first of which is the Comics by comiXology iOS app charted as iTunes’ #3 Top Grossing iPad App of 2012 and is the only app repeated in the top ten in both 2011 and 2012, showing remarkable power in the fickle world of apps by moving from #10 to #3.
ComiXology also revealed that they have served over 2 billion pages of comics since the inception of the platform just three short years ago.
David Steinberger, comiXology co-founder and CEO had to say:
We started comiXology because we believe that – with a great digital experience – graphic novels and comic books will be much more widely enjoyed. Actually climbing the top ten year-over-year – and the only app to do that, no less – speaks volumes to the quality of work both the comiXology team and our amazing publishers and creators have done this year. We’re not anywhere near done yet but we’re clearly off to a good start.
ComiXology co-founder John D. Roberts said:
This is a spectacular way to end what has been a spectacular year. It’s clear that people want to buy where they want and read what they want, and only comiXology delivers this amount of amazing content with a consistent shopping and amazing reading experience on every major platform.
2012 marked a year of records for comiXology, including both the 50 millionth and 100 millionth downloaded comic from comiXology, and many additions to the comiXology store, including many graphic novels and collections, from literary fiction to biographies, science and superheroes. It also marked the addition of Windows 8 to the buy once, read anywhere platform.
ComiXology’s top ranking digital comics platform has over 30,000 comics and graphic novels to read from over 75 of today’s hottest publishers, comiXology offers the widest selection of digital comics anywhere. ComiXology’s availability on the iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows 8 and the Web makes it the best digital comics platform for newly interested, current and lapsed comic and graphic novel fans.
NARR8 has released an all new video for the motion comic series Final Feat launching on the NARR8 app on the new iPad and iPad2 this November 2012. Final Feat is only one of the five fully animated motion comic series available at launch. Complimented by music and sounds each page comes to life to bring action and adventure to readers’ fingertips.
The time when honorable Gods protected the world and maintained peace passed. Ceaseless wars ruined earth and humans quickly lost faith in the Gods. With hordes of hideous beasts spreading terror and death, the world plunged into chaos. In these dark times, only the Gods’ envoys — heroes of the past – will be able to save the Earth. Find out if these heroes will be able to prevent the land from plunging into darkness in their final feat.
Filled with terrifying monsters and godlike heroes to great leaders of the past and academia in the form of edutainment, all content will be free to download at launch next month, November 2012.
With the official release, now seems to be a perfect time to go over my first hand experience with Wizkid’s Heroclix TabApp which blends the real and digital when it comes to the popular figure game. The first thing this game isn’t, a recreation of the table-top game on the iPad. That caught me off guard as the teasers leading up to it, lead me to believe that’s what I was checking out. Instead, what we have is a fun game aimed at a younger audience that uses Heroclix physical characters in combination with an app for the iPad. It’s a good bridge to get the younger set into the game.
With two sets, one featuring X-Men characters (Wolverine, Cyclops and Iceman) and the other being Marvel Super Heroes (Captain America, Iron Man and Thor), six figures total, each has a story over 15 maps and 30 enemies. The game is pretty simple. You put the figure on the screen and then enemies come at you forcing you to attack the enemies by tapping your finger. It took me two games to get it down, so it isn’t quite as simple as that.
It’s a fun solo experience, and with the figures usable in regular Heroclix games it’s a great way to get your young kid into the physical game. Cut scenes entertainingly introduce you to each level and threw a swipe of your finger, you’re able to use power-ups and special attacks. It’s fun and definitely has an audience in mind, ages 8 and up.
While the person I talked to was rather coy, there’s plans to expand and integrate DC characters. We can expect two sets, one based on The Dark Knight Rises and another general DC super hero set.
If your son or daughter constantly want to play with your Heroclix, but are too young, this is a great alternative to get them interested.